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How Erskine Elementary improved by two ratings on the Iowa School Report Card
Teachers encourage students to set their own learning goal, and they celebrate every achievement — big and small
CEDAR RAPIDS — Erskine Elementary School teacher Brooke Tauber celebrates with her students when they achieve something — big or small — with a 10-second dance party and a phone call home.
It’s individual students meeting “those little goals” each day that she attributes to Erskine Elementary improving by two levels on the Iowa School Report Card rating in the last year. The achievement is “almost unheard of,” Deputy Superintendent Nicole Kooiker said in a school board meeting last month.
Schools are scored based on state assessments, academic achievement, student growth, progress in achieving English Language Learning proficiency, conditions for learning survey — which gathers information about how students feel about the culture and climate of their school — graduation rate and how prepared students are for life after high school.
There are six categories in Iowa performance ratings. Highest to lowest, the categories are exceptional, high performing, commendable, acceptable, needs improvement and priority. Erskine Elementary went from “needs improvement” to “commendable.”
Educators look at student data every six weeks to identify where students might need extra learning, to be retaught a skill or spend time one-on-one with a teacher. “Even a five minute phonics routine can help them succeed,” Tauber said.
This mindset inspires students to set goals for themselves as well. Tauber was assessing how many words per minute third-graders could read when a student — who was reading at 97 words a minute — set a goal to be over 100 words a minute within the next two weeks.
“I told him I was going to hold him to it,” Tauber said.
Tauber worked with him on phonics, sight words and comprehension, and by the end of those two weeks he was reading at 105 words per minute, she said proudly.
Stacy Lynn, Erskine Elementary fourth and fifth grade English language arts teacher, said she loves those “ah-ah” moments. “I love when something clicks and they know it’s clicking,” she said.
Educators at Erskine work in grade-level groups called professional learning communities — for example, all the third grade teachers — to get advice from each other and improve learning outcomes.
“Every kid at Erskine believes they can be a learner,” Erskine Elementary instructional coach Stephanie Stulken said.
Teachers assure students it’s OK if they learn differently because everyone’s brain is different, Stulken said.
Sometimes, students are shuffled into different classrooms to be matched with a teacher better suited to meet their unique learning needs, she said. The focus is always, “What does each child need to be successful?”
Erskine Elementary Principal Annette Zimmerman said this is a “huge part” of improving student academic achievement and gives teachers a sounding board when they’re struggling to help a student make progress.
“I see the hard work the teachers put in every day. They’re so responsive to student needs and data. To see us grow was not surprising. To make that jump was a huge celebration,” Zimmerman said.
Staff at Erskine also spend a lot of time building a sense of belonging for students, which gives students a feeling of security and community that helps support academic and social development.
Christy Bryant, Erskine Elementary kindergarten teacher, said that while the school is celebrating the success of the past year, the work is never done. It’s just as important to celebrate what students are good at as it is to help students improve in the areas of learning where they struggle. It can help them develop a lifelong love of learning, she said.
Sometimes, all it takes to make a new learning concept stick is finding a different way to teach it by incorporating movement, singing or painting, Bryant said. “There’s no one way to learn,” she said.
"Each year I get a new set of students and it starts all over,“ Bryant said. ”August is going to come with big bright eyes and big smiles who have had varying experiences.“
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