ANDERSON — Hands cupped together in front of them, a half dozen fourth graders ponder the size of a bat. One student reads aloud about the furry winged mammals. Teacher Karen Crist, seated among her students at Anderson Preparatory Academy, frequently pauses to ask questions and hands eagerly shoot up.
“Reading is the foundational skill the kids need to have,” said Crist. That’s because reading impacts every other subject the kids approach. At APA, they’re focused on improving their students’ reading skills, and they’ve got the scores to prove it.
The public charter school’s first IREAD-3 test came in March 2012, during the first year of the elementary school’s existence. The test measures foundational reading skills through grade three. APA's first score was 67.4 percent. The summer IREAD-3 test saw the score rise to 73 percent. By 2013, the rising scores were dramatic.“We are very proud of our improvement,” said principal Kelley Graves. “A 10 percent jump in one year is tremendous improvement.” The 83 percent score was just slightly higher than Anderson Community Schools’ 81.9 percent. Graves noted that APA has the same demographic as ASC.
“We face the same challenges they do,” said Graves. Still, the improvement in the scores suggests they’ve discovered some winning strategies.
“I can’t say we actually teach to the test,” said Graves.“We teach to the child here.”
Small class size helps. The largest class at APA right now has 21 students in it. “We want to keep it small. We teach the students where they’re at,” said Graves. She noted that APA’s structured environment also helps kids learn, since there are few disruptions. “Being affiliated with the military is a big help. Kids are very respectful.”
Another key is the rotational model they use within the classroom. Instead of heads lined up in rows all aimed at the teacher in the front of the classroom, the kids are dispersed throughout the room in small groups that rotate to give each student various opportunities, including individualized instruction.