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Charter teachers, students explain SAT surge

AMANDA SEBASTIANO
Staff Writer

While some local high schools seemed to struggle on the Standardized Assessment Test (SATs) of the 2011-12 school year, one not only surpassed the others but excelled past its own scores from a year earlier — Lincoln Charter School.
What is Lincoln Charter doing that North, East, West and Lincolnton high schools aren’t?
Smaller class sizes, a higher level of teacher commitment and rigorous coursework are a few of the elements LCS students and teachers cited for the charter’s high-scoring results released last week.
Students taking the SAT are graded on three sections — math, critical reading and writing, with a maximum score of 2400.
Lincoln Charter students’ average jumped 72 points to 1546 this year, including a 34-point increase in math – well above all the public high schools in the area.
Seventeen-year-old Natalie Green, along with Ryley Harbour, 17, and Kris Brown, 17, will be taking the test on Saturday in hopes of performing even better than last time — getting their scores up before applying to colleges. Green grew up attending larger public schools, but found that she prefers the smaller class sizes at Lincoln Charter, where she can receive more personal attention from her teachers, she said.
When she took the test the first time, she thought she performed the best on the math section of the course. But after working through vocabulary assignments where she was responsible for incorporating the newly learned terms into context to prove her understanding, and other SAT-prep work, she felt as equally well-prepared for critical reading and writing, too.
Harbour mentioned the variety of teaching methods used in the classrooms to be particularly beneficial to helping him learn and keeping him intrigued. College-type lectures will be given one day, and group projects or individual work will follow the next day — it’s always changing, he said.
Harbour and Brown felt similarly about their strengths, also more confident about solving equations than writing essays, at least at first. Reading novels and writing about what they learned helped the trio better understand what they had just read, and learned how to incorporate that into written responses — something an LCS English teacher prides herself on.
Rather than grading an essay and simply returning it to the student, with the only rationalization for the grade being the red letter on the top of the page, Brown appreciates the “one-on-one time” has with his teachers.
Jessica Schley teaches English III and English IV for 11th- and 12th graders at all levels of difficulty. She gets her students ready for the big test and college by not giving her them “busy work,” but by having them “actually read” novels, fiction and nonfiction.
“Reading the classics makes a big difference in their vocabulary; it’s much more beneficial to them than memorization — that doesn’t help them,” Schley told the Times-News on Tuesday.
Schley also mentioned mention the relationships she builds with each student that goes through her classroom, from getting to know their parents to attending their athletic events. Her technique has brought back previous students of hers who have since-graduated, that sing by her class to say hi to her; they trust her to help them and be a resource if they have questions, even after high school, she said.
Schley is working on her Ph.D. right now, which she feels also benefits the students because they will see that she, too, is a “life-long learner” who cares about education, she noted.
A graduate from Lincolnton High, Schley uses her own personal experiences to better herself as a teacher and to convey to her students that each one (student) matters to her — a mission her co-worker Rachel Drake is striving to accomplish as well, while preparing her students for the SATs.
Drake uses document-based research questions (DBQs) in her U.S. History and Psychology classes for juniors and seniors, that come in the form of political cartoons, primary or secondary documents, or other tools to help students identify and pull out the main points of what they’re reading, so they can apply it later — a method called Cornell Notes.
Learning to sort through the meat of a passage to truly understand, she believes, is helping her students be critical thinkers and readers, which helps them perform better and be more prepared for the assessment.
Both teachers and students testified that enrolling in Advanced Placement (AP) courses has helped them prepare themselves for not only college, but for the sections on the SATs, too. Learning how to self-manage and work independently are skills Green felt were good to acquire and that she used while taking the SATs last year — ones she picked up over time taking college-level courses.
Teachers Drake and Schley believe that when their students leave their classrooms, they are in good shape to do well on the test.
“You have to make the students rise to your level of thinking, don’t put yourself down to theirs,” Drake said. “They’ll be able to do it; it may take more work on the teacher’s part, but they’ll do it. Make them come to you.”
In regard to Common Core and Essential State Standards that changed the curriculum this school year to make coursework more rigorous for North Carolina students, neither have noticed big changes in the way they teach or in their classrooms. The teachers at LCS have always worked collaboratively with each other and have their students doing a lot of cross projects, even before Common Core, they agreed.
Though the tests are on every college-bound student’s mind at Lincoln Charter as their teachers work to mold them into self-motivated learners who work hard even when the assignments may be easy for them, Drake and Schley strive to instill a sense of eagerness to learn regardless of how they score on a test.

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