Escalon’s smallest public school, located along Highway 4, is one of only a handful of landmarks in the tiny hamlet of Farmington that a casual passerby might notice while driving by. The bright green, yellow and white fence decoration showcasing the school’s mascot, the Farmington Roadrunner, helps call some attention to the small campus and the good things taking place there.
Farmington currently serves just under 100 students. It has six full time classroom teachers and one class at each grade level, including a mixed TK-Kindergarten class. There are three classroom aides who provide support to those teachers by assisting them with routine classroom operations, such as helping them to work with students in small groups. This school year, due to access to special funding from COVID-related legislation, we were able to add an Intervention teacher onto our staff whose purpose is to work with students who need additional academic help. The same funding source has also allowed us to expand work hours for our classroom aides, thus providing students with additional opportunities to interact with staff in small groups, a strategy often used to work on strengthening specific skillsets. The overall goal is straightforward, though nevertheless challenging: help our students overcome their individual academic deficiencies and push them forward to grade level (or better) status.
Farmington Elementary’s greatest strength lies in its small size and the familiarity that its staff has with its students. As student cohorts move from one grade to the next, communication and exchange of information between teachers help staff to diagnose academic and behavioral problems. While Farmington students occasionally need redirection and firm reminders about the importance of good behavior (what students don’t?), during the past three years only one student has been suspended for poor behavior. That record speaks to the care and thoughtfulness of the staff who work diligently to maintain a high standard of student behavior. Similarly, efforts to guide students toward academic success, despite the numerous challenges created by the pandemic, have witnessed noteworthy results.
The Escalon Unified School District makes use of research-based Math and Reading assessments in grades K-5 called the ‘STAR.’ These tests are adaptive, predictive and diagnostic. As students answer questions, tests become more or less challenging on a student-by-student basis in correlation to student demonstration of understanding, they are designed to predict how well students will perform on state standardized tests, and they provide detailed data on the specific learning standards in which students showed they had difficulty. While our K-5 teachers can give a ‘STAR’ exam at any time during the school year to check on student progress, our district administers them three times a year to measure overall student growth; once in August at the beginning of the school year to serve as a baseline, once again in the winter to measure progress, and one final time in the spring to review the results of the school year. Analysis of the data helps us to continue refining and working toward academic improvement school wide, classroom by classroom, and most importantly, one student at a time.
Farmington’s results for the winter set of exams in comparison to the baseline results from this past August are encouraging and demonstrative that kids are learning, making academic gains and that the efforts and hard work of our staff is having a positive impact. ‘STAR’ results are most easily understood by looking at a ‘grade equivalency’ score. For example, a student in the second grade, during the fifth month of the school year should test at a ‘2.5’ to be at the expected grade level. That same student should be at a ‘2.9’ (or better) toward the end of the school year, meaning second year of school, ninth month of the school year.
Our ‘STAR’ results show that there is classwide growth taking place at all grade levels. Reading performance grew between a range of .5 and 1.6. That means that on the low side, a classwide average improved at least the amount one would expect, demonstrative of five months of growth in five months’ time. On the high side, 1.6 represents a year and a half of growth in five months’ time. The results for Math were similarly noteworthy with a minimum growth of .8 and a high of 1.1. Class averages show that students are working at or near to grade level in Math, and are approaching grade level in Reading. These results are encouraging and suggest that the academic interventions taking place are having the desired effect of helping students who are behind get caught up. Nevertheless, there remains a substantial amount of work to be done if we are to help students who continue to struggle to reach grade level or better status. It is our intention to do so. We may be small, but tenacity and a healthy dose of hard work have carried our students forward. I think it’s fair to say that Farmington’s staff has demonstrated that a small school can achieve big results.
Principally Speaking is a monthly article, contributed by principals from Escalon Unified School District sites, throughout the school year. It is designed to update the community on school events and activities.