Are school report cards really all they’re made out to be? Does a grade of an A or a D show how good, or bad a school really is? Tracy Eley, the principal at Battleground Elementary School doesn’t think so. Instead, Eley and the staff at Battleground choose to look at the whole student rather than just a test score.
“They only judge us 80% on proficiency calculated during a one-day test for third through fifth grade,” she said. “It’s not really looking at the whole picture, the whole child and everything that we do to help children grow.”
In the 2018-2019 report cards issued by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, which were released in September, Battleground was the only school within the Lincoln County Schools District that received a grade of a D. Even though the school met growth, it’s still designated by DPI as a low performing school.
There are many things that Eley, the teachers and staff have in place at Battleground to help their students succeed, including a solid lunch and reading buddy program providing children with an additional adult mentor in their lives.
“They spend one on one time with them,” Eley said. “They help them to read and they get to spend time with someone in a non-stressful environment. We’re just spending time enjoying reading and trying to bring back the love of reading.”
If a child has an adverse experience in their life, the number one thing that builds resiliency is a strong relationship with an adult, Kennan Eaddy, a counselor at Battleground added. By adding an extra relationship on top of what they may have at home, it gives them more consistency.
“They learn that it doesn’t matter what happened, their reading buddy will still come on Wednesday,” she said. “It’s a peaceful time for them and gives them someone to relate to.”
Eaddy recently secured a grant from the Northwest Evaluation Association of Educators for an Equity grant in the amount of $10,000. This grant is intended to foster growth for students who face systemic barriers to academic opportunities. She plans to use these funds to pay for intersession and summer camps that provide experiences and instruction to enrich the lives of students and combat the “summer slide.”
Battleground has a benefit that some of the other elementary schools in the district don’t have in that they are able to offer small classroom sizes. There’s no classroom with more than 18 students at the school. They also have guided reading and math for their kindergarten through fifth grade students. This means that instead of whole group teaching and lecturing, students are taught in small groups, rotating between stations.
“So, your level might be really high, and my level may be really low,” Eley said. “Every teacher in this building is trained to accommodate their instruction techniques to best fit you and me all at the same time. All of our groups are one to six kids at a time. I think that’s the best way to teach students.”
The smaller sized classes also equate to there being more technology, Chromebooks and iPads, available to students. Battleground also uses a lot of professional development and have scheduled staff meetings to work towards improving the education they deliver to the students.
“I think the big thing is that our mindset as far as adults in the building is about a whole child,” Eley said. “We can’t really look at just proficiency, we’ve got to look at whether or not they are getting what they need to be successful at Battleground. In the meetings, we talk about academics, relationship building, positive behavior and use all of those things together.”
In the school improvement plan, goals for Battleground include both academic and social and emotional objectives.
“If you stick to only academics, which a lot of times tests do, it’s not setting a child up for the future,” Eaddy said. “It’s setting a child up for a successful three-hour test.”
Sometimes it’s assumed that children come to school knowing how to go to school but that isn’t always the case. This isn’t just limited to Battleground, Eley believes that these deficits are just the nature of elementary schools.
“School’s hard and school’s fun and sometimes we don’t know how to do the fun pieces,” Eaddy said. “Our teachers are very good at teaching kids how to do things and that’s part of the plan as well – not assuming they know how to do things but teaching them.”
There’s a gamut of skills that the teachers and staff at Battleground are trying to teach their students, all in an effort to prepare them for their futures.
“We teach them how to be good listeners, how to be good friends and how to be patient,” Eley said.
Tests are not something that most people look forward to and many people don’t test well. It stands to reason that to expect an elementary school aged student to sit through a three-hour test is difficult. A one-day test may not be a good measure of learning or how a school is performing.
“I don’t think it measures Battleground the way that I feel that Battleground should be measured,” Eley said. “I think people are visual learners, even adults, and right now when we get that D or low performing score, people just see it on a piece of paper that the state gave it to us. I would like for them to come in so I could show them what we’re doing because we’re not a D.”
Eley would like the public to see how they’ve made education collaborative and how their students are learning to discuss and have conversations with each other.
“When you walk into this building in any classroom, you’re going to be able to see that happening,” she said. “That is not what in people’s eyes a D school is. That’s an A school.”
Eley and her staff still need to think about that test that’ll come up later in the school year and prepare their students as best as they can to take and excel at it.
“Ultimately, I’m not going to worry about proficiency in an EOG,” she said. “If we’re growing students I’m happy with growing students. Our students are growing. I think that’s what we should be doing. In time, the better grades will come.”