News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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November 1, 2012

West Vigo Elementary teachers stressed, discouraged by school’s F

WEST TERRE HAUTE — West Vigo Elementary teachers give up plan time, lunch time and stay after school to help students with classroom work.

They provide much more than academic instruction each day, says Principal Peggy Pfrank. “They serve as counselor, nurse, mentor, coach and sometimes parent.”

The impact these other roles have on the lives of children isn’t measured by the ISTEP-plus test, “but the impact they have on the lives of children is just as powerful,” she said.

But despite their hard work and effort, West Vigo teachers are feeling stressed and discouraged by the school’s F grade as part of the state’s  A-F category placement system.

The new system uses a growth model that compares academic peers, but doesn’t differentiate based on socio-economic factors.

West Vigo Elementary was hurt by “low growth,” in which students “did not make comparable growth to peers across the state” on ISTEP-Plus, said Karen Goeller, Vigo County School Corp. deputy superintendent.

Yet in 2010, the school made the “exemplary” category, which today would be an “A” grade.

“We have outstanding teachers here, but they’re not feeling very outstanding now,” Pfrank said in an interview Tuesday. “That’s the heartbreak of the whole thing, when you see how hard teachers work and how dedicated they are and what they do to go above and beyond for kids every day.”

School staff believe the F grade “is not a true reflection of our school by any means,” she said.

ISTEP-Plus reading scores did improve, while math scores declined somewhat, she said. “It is the growth factor that is causing us the problem … We didn’t show enough growth.

As a result, the school lost two points on a four-point grading scale.

Now, not only do kids have to pass ISTEP, but they also have to show a year’s growth, and “it’s all dependent on that one score,” Pfrank said. The school keeps numerous types of other data on students that do show growth, she said.

The state’s new system for determining growth does not factor in school demographics, poverty rates or percentage of special education students, Pfrank said.

At West Vigo Elementary, 80.2 percent of children meet poverty guidelines, compared to 45 percent statewide. Also, 30 percent of its children are special needs, compared to 14.4 percent statewide.

While teachers are discouraged, they remain determined, Pfrank said. “That’s been a trait of West Vigo faculty for a long time. They continue to do what’s best for kids,” she said. “They are putting their nose to the grindstone like they always do.”

Similar to other elementary schools, West Vigo has had a 90-minute reading block, a 60 minute math block and additional time set aside for intervention/enrichment each day. Intervention time will focus on both reading and math.

It will offer a variety of after-school programming and a summer school program, although she noted that participation was significantly down this past summer. It also will offer a homework club and it has a Title 1 preschool program.

“We’re really targeting everything we do. We’re targeting those low growth kids,” Pfrank said.

The school also has some other ideas about how to strengthen academic performance. It hopes to rally the school community and its families, and maybe even conduct pep sessions, so that attendance improves at after-school and summer programs.

West Vigo Elementary also hopes to increase the number of adult mentors who can work with students. As part of the Kids Hope program, King’s Harvest Foursquare Gospel Church currently provides some mentors to West Vigo.

The school plans to invite additional community members to mentor “so more kids can be involved,” Pfrank said. That kind of interaction with children “is powerful,” she said.

The school has about 335 kids in grades pre-school through five and 29 teachers.

The school community cares about its children, she said. “It’s a community where families truly do support their kids, they want their kids to succeed and the kids are great,” she said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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