ESHS rewarded for growth in test scores

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Eureka Springs High School is on a path of steady growth, and the state is recognizing it.

Principal David Gilmore reported the school has received four awards for growth from the Office for Education Policy at the University of Arkansas. The awards are: Statewide High Overall Growth, Statewide High Math Growth, Statewide High ELA Growth and High Overall Growth. Gilmore said the awards were calculated using the 2018 content growth score, saying the growth scores reflect how much students at the school improved from 2017 compared to how much they were expected to grow considering earlier achievements.

“They recognize schools for high growth on the ACT Aspire test, which is something we do here at the district from third grade to 10th grade,” Gilmore said. “It’s an honor for us. It recognizes the hard work being put in by our students and teachers.”

Gilmore continued, “I’m the biggest cheerleader for this school. I’m always bragging on our teachers and kids. When we get big awards like this, I want to let everyone know what we’re doing here.”

English teachers Shannon Courtney and Kathy Manus said they’ve used several strategies to help students on the test. Courtney said she has been focusing on problem-based learning, where the students ask a question and answer it.

“I also try to include visual with the text,” Courtney said. “They can relate to that visual piece. It helps them remember the theme in a text or some sort of connection to the text.”

Manus said she used John Baylor Prep to help her students learn better test-taking strategies.

“After getting some feedback from the kids and obviously seeing the test results, I think it really helped,” Manus said. “We took some time out of each one of our classes and worked with a video and had the kids doing some exercise with it. Even now, the kids will come back and say, ‘Hey, we used this particular test-taking strategy.’ “

Manus said she sets aside one class period a week where students study for the ACT Aspire. She’s found ways to make it fun, Manus said.

“I break them off into teams. There’s an element of competition,” Manus said. “The kids want to be the team that wins. I think adding that element of competition helps a lot.”

Science teacher Shawna Miller said she can’t take too much credit for the growth – it’s only her second year at the school, she said.

“The scores were already high before I got here,” Miller said.

To help her students do even better, Miller said, she’s been using previous test results to determine which questions were the hardest for students. The science part of the ACT Aspire is a mixture of reading and math, Miller said, and she’s grateful to work with other teachers at the school.

“Because our reading scores have been so high, they’ve been doing really good on the science portion of it,” Miller said. “We’ve been working across the disciplines.”

Miller said she works with math teacher Nancy Stainer to analyze previous test results and apply that to the classroom.

“We’ve actually discussed where we’re weak, and we both try to hit some of the things the kids didn’t do so well in,” Miller said. “We teach one thing two different ways. We’re fortunate to have such a small school, so we can actually look at the individual students and say, ‘This student isn’t doing so good here,’ and we actually focus on that in class.”

It’s very important, Manus said, to work with other teachers.

“The English teachers are working with the history teachers,” Manus said. “A lot of the same material is covered in those subjects. If a student didn’t quite catch on to a concept in English, maybe they’ll get it in history. It’s important to open up that line of communication, which I think we’ve done a good job with.”

Stainer said she’s helped her students move past test-taking anxiety.

“This is really the only totally computerized test they take. It’s really different for them, especially on some of the questions with split screens where they’ve having to scroll up and down,” Stainer said.

Looking over some of the most-missed questions, Stainer said, helps the students improve the next time they take the test.

“Some of this stuff is from middle school. When you start going over it, they say, ‘Oh, I remember that. I remember that now,’ “ Stainer said. “When they’re on the test, they didn’t remember, so we go over things like that.”

She also encourages her students to seek solutions to questions they might not know, Stainer said.

“If you don’t know the answer, what are some things you might try?” Stainer said. “Rather than just clicking on something and going on, make up some numbers. If you see something and they say, ‘Is this always true mathematically?’ make up some numbers, because if it’s always true, it’s going to be true for the numbers you make up.”

Miller said test-taking anxiety is a real problem for many students.

“We have to challenge them in the classroom, so when they get to something they don’t know, they can handle it,” Miller said. “One of the biggest issues we face is they shut down. They panic. We’re trying to get them to understand there is something in that question they can grasp onto.”

Guidance counselor Rachal Hyatt said high test scores mean scholarship money. If a student gets a 19 on the ACT, Hyatt said, they’ll qualify for Academic Challenge money.

“It’s scholarships. It’s money. It’s kids going on to their future,” Hyatt said. “That’s a lot of money being passed on to local families.”

Gilmore said he’s grateful to work at Eureka Springs High School.

“I’m a very fortunate man to be at the school I’m at,” Gilmore said. “We have great teachers and kids here. We want to continue that excellence.”

Manus said she’s happy to see the growth over the years.

“I’m really excited about it. If we get excited about it, then the kids are going to be excited about it,” Manus said. “It’s contagious. We pass that along to our students. When they see how much we care about it, it becomes important to them.”

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