Ford Road Elementary School Charts Progress

By Bill Dries

The school year before Ford Road Elementary School became part of the seven-school Innovation Zone within Memphis City Schools, no more than 17 percent of its students were proficient or advanced in reading, math or science.

The Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program achievement test results showed 16.9 percent were proficient or advanced in reading, 14.7 percent in math and 10.7 percent in science.

Ford Road Elementary School in southwest Memphis, led by principal Antonio Burt, right, and including kindergarten teacher Britney Batson, left, posted double digit percentage gains in math and science proficiency and a 6.6 percent growth in reading proficiency in individual school achievement test results announced Monday, Aug. 19.

(Daily News/Bill Dries)

A year later, the 2012-2013 school year, Ford Road posted a 20.2 percent gain in the number of students proficient or advanced in math, a 26 percent increase in science and a 6.6 percent increase in reading.

The state of Tennessee released individual school results Monday, Aug. 20, in the TCAP testing for third- through eighth-graders during the 2012-2013 school year.

Ford Road principal Antonio Burt attributed the growth at the school, which is among the bottom 5 percent in the state in terms of student achievement, to a fresh start and an intense focus on where each student is, as well as a faculty “with a high sense of urgency.”

“I had the autonomy to hand pick the staff, and the staff that was here previously, I could not bring back more than 50 percent. I chose to only bring back two individuals,” Burt said. “It is having the mentality not to accept any excuses – to have the mentality that we don’t ‘got to,’ we ‘get to.’ It’s a privilege to get to serve kids.”

Students are assessed weekly and, like many other schools, Ford Road has a data room where the performance of students is tracked. The faculty meets each week to review the results and talk across subject lines about common strategies for a particular student or group of students.

“We have not only the tracking charts but the teachers do a weekly data analysis where they have to itemize how the kids performed on their weekly common assessment,” Burt said. “They come into the data room and present on what the data is actually telling you and create an action plan as far as how you are going to reteach the kids you need to reteach.”

At the start of the school year, a group of 30 students is selected from the entire school, with a goal of seeing a particular level of growth for them during the academic year.

“We call them our ‘money kids,’” Burt said. “We really put a heavy emphasis on those 30 kids.”

Kindergarten teacher Britney Batson, who was among the new teachers at Ford Road last year, said the charts and assessments are also shared with the children.

“Even at the kindergarten level, my kids are able to say, ‘I want to read on a certain level. I want to be a level four by the time I enter first grade,’ therefore they can track their reading level. They can track their math goals,” she said.

About half of the students Batson sees in kindergarten have not been in pre-kindergarten, which puts her on the front line of the struggle schools have had with reading and language arts proficiency.

“That’s where you really can cultivate those foundational skills. That’s why at this level, you correct those vocabulary mistakes,” she said. “You really, really push vocabulary, and we have multiple-meaning words every morning for the entire school. For example, trip – there are multiple meanings to the word.”

Reading skills are “an Achilles heel” for education statewide, Burt said.

“A lot of that has to do with in urban, inner-city areas. The kids enter school with that lack of vocabulary that is a prerequisite. A lot of times it has to do with the amount of exposure,” he said. “So, if a kid misses pre-K, they are a certain number of words behind that kid who may have been in pre-K, but also that kid that may have been exposed to a large vocabulary.”

Some of the lag in reading proficiency numbers statewide is also a function of the phase-in of Common Core standards for Tennessee and other states, and the phase-in emphasized math initially.

“We’ve got to now put our attention on reading,” Burt added.

“Here, a strategic amount of time is centered on reading. We’ve got specialized enrichment intervention time that is carved into the school day, where it’s strictly reading intervention and reading enrichment,” he said.