By Nancy R. Elliott
The Herald Bulletin
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.
While Crist is working closely with a handful of kids, other groups around the room work through individualized online curriculum targeted to their reading level. Volunteer Mike Fox sits nearby, ready to help out where needed.
“All of our kids know exactly where they are,” said Crist. Indeed, students happily point out their progress by viewing the data on their computers, proud of their progress and clearly motivated to jump to the next level.
Across the hall, teacher Adam Fraley sits at a table with several third grade students, all of whom are interactively engaged with Fraley as they work on a task.
Nearby, a group of students works on reading packets which also incorporate science. Each packet is leveled appropriately for each child at the table. At other tables, pairs of students sit quietly with laptops working online at language arts, again targeted to their level.
“We’re reading all the time,” said Fraley. “We’re constantly talking about reading strategies to comprehend and really know what they’re reading.” He makes reference to the daily five which includes reading to self, reading out loud, partner reading, writing, and working with words.
“We’ve used a lot of resources from the Department of Education website,” said Fraley. “Another thing we do really well is that once we’ve taught something, we’re not done with it.”
“We have a talented and caring staff working as a true team,” said Graves. “It’s a professional team that collaborates daily.” The team even developed their own IREAD and ISTEP practices.
Graves said the goal this year is to raise IREAD scores another 5 percent as they work towards the state target of 90 percent.
“Our students really work hard,” said Graves. “We expect them to master those standards. We don’t socially promote.” She also noted, “Failure’s not an option.” After school tutoring is also available for students who don’t pass the IREAD the first time.
APA’s website is www.goapa.org or call 649-8472 for more information. APA’s elementary campus is located at 2200 W. 22nd St. in Anderson. APA still has a few spots for the 2013-2014 school year.
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