Plan for improving Vicksburg Middle School ELA

By Jef Rietsma

The Vicksburg school district’s curriculum director, Gail Van Daff, outlined proposals for improving language skills of middle school students in a June presentation to the school board.

The proposals are intended to counter problems revealed in standardized testing following the pandemic.

“We celebrated, certainly, the areas where we met our target and we agonized over the areas that we did not,” Van Daff said. “We want you and our families to know we are not where we want to be, where we know we need to be for our students and where we know we can get to with our students.”

Results in some cases are not due to a lack of effort, a lack of care or a lack of dedication from teachers, Van Daff said.

“As I talk with curriculum directors in other districts, they, too, (experience) struggling,” she added. “Particularly at the middle school, to come out (from) where we were in the pandemic. Not an excuse, but it does explain that middle school is having a really tough time coming out of the pandemic.”

“This year, we started a complete review of our English courses at the middle school,” she said. “We’re looking at resources, time allocation, lesson planning and instruction to better support students in learning.”

Among the proposals:

  • Re-establishing the culture of reading in all classrooms, not just in English.
  • Helping students to review their own data in order to take that data seriously and personally, and help them chart their growth.
  • “Analyzing data at the student level, not just stopping with the aggregate numbers, but actually digging down and looking at who are these students and which students do we need to move to small-group instruction,” she said.
  • ELO intervention – expanded learning opportunities at the middle school. “We looked at how we can better allocate time within those periods as well as use our assessment data better to inform our instruction,” Van Daff said.
  • Analyzing attendance data at the middle school and student engagement, and how those two factors might play into student achievement.
  • “Lastly, summer services have not been an effective format,” she noted. “In fact, we sent over a hundred letters out to students at the middle school level for summer school and got eight positive responses back. Of those, not all those students would be able to attend all the days. So, we’re going at it a little bit differently than bringing the students in.”

    “We’re going to provide some additional instruction over the summer but we’re going to do a more intentional after-school programming and support next year while the kids are actually there and we’ll do some intervention with them at that point,” she said.

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