LOGANSPORT — After Columbia Elementary School teachers found out their school would be receiving an F from the state Department of Education, one wrote a single word on a hallway whiteboard: “Up.”
It’s the only direction left to go, explained gym teacher Dena Kuhn, who wrote it.
Kuhn, also the parent of a Columbia student, felt “defeat” when she was notified of the school’s grade. Other teachers echoed her, saying they were devastated.
“We work so hard, they work so hard at everything we do,” Kuhn said. And students get good grades, she added, “but they take one test and we’re told we’re bad.”
School administrators are looking to improve their grade next year by raising third-, fourth- and fifth-grade ISTEP scores this coming spring. They’ve already implemented several things this year, said principal Elizabeth Loposser, to help students acquire better English/language arts and math skills.
Math is a known weakness at Columbia, Loposser told teachers at a meeting Thursday night. That’s why this year they’ve begun assigning math facts for students to review each night after school.
Students are also being told to read at least 20 minutes after school each day. They have been assigned reading logs to complete when they do, and the school will start collecting those logs in the next few weeks. The goal this year, Loposser said, is to have students read a million minutes, all together.
The reading and math facts are “our main homework now, and that is not what we were doing before,” Loposser said.
Those changes were implemented early this year, before the school’s F grade was announced. Changes to instruction are meant “not only to improve scores but also to get us and the kids ready for the Common Core standards that are coming,” said Loposser.
Teachers of special subjects, like Kuhn, are incorporating language arts and math into their classes, too.
“A lot of my games have to do with math now,” said the gym teacher. Kuhn also reads to second-graders and drills students on vocabulary for math and English while they stand in line or do stretches.
She will also tweak game rules to teach students to listen closely to instructions — practice for listening to test instructions later on.
“The other specials teachers do that as well,” Kuhn added in reference to special subject teachers. “Art and music and library — we’re trying to support the core teachers as much as we can.”
Kathy Weaver, a fourth-grade teacher at Columbia, said she’s incorporating science and social studies into her reading assignments more often now, trying to make the most of the time she has with students.
She’s also seen students improve their grasp of math after instituting a new math activity this year.
“But I do need parental help,” she said. “Read with your kid 20 minutes a day, outside of class. ... When Dad comes home from work at night and pulls the change out of his pocket, drop it on the table. Have your kid count that.”
Loposser estimated that no more than half of her students’ parents consistently supported student learning at home, by reading with them each night or drilling them on math facts, for example.
“I think we have a lot of families that education is not the priority,” she said.
Many parents have no more than a high school education themselves and have other things to worry about — like meals.
About 75 percent of Columbia students receive free or reduced-price meals, according to state data. Less than 59 percent do in the school corporation as a whole.
For many of Columbia’s families, “getting by is the focus,” Loposser said. “And that makes it harder for them to focus on education.”
• Sarah Einselen is news editor for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-732-5151.