Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Barrett School Notes

More and More Kindergarteners, Summer Assessments, and the SOL.
K.W. Barrett Elementary School has a lot on its plate in the coming weeks and months: Principal Theresa “Terry” Bratt expects at least four and “maybe five” Kindergarten classes for the coming school year; over the summer, the staff will be trying to get all the incoming Kindergartners in for an assessment of their pre-reading skills; and students are taking the Standards of Learning exams over the next couple of weeks, with English as a second language speakers taking the same exam as native speakers.

As many as 80 parents crowded into the school’s library last Thursday for a powerpoint presentation that covered the essentials of Kindergarten life—the curriculum, the homework (yes, homework), the readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic of the kids’ daily lives.

Mrs. Bratt said in a later interview that she has been told to expect 71 new faces, but she said she thinks that number is too low, and instead is anticipating, “80-plus.” If the number reaches 89, there will be five Kindergarten classes. Mrs. Bratt called the number a “wild card” that she won’t see until much later.

She said she knows Barrett will get more than 71 based on the number of parents who showed up on Thursday, estimated at over 80, which would work out to 65 to 70 families. Last year, the prediction was for the “high 60s,” and the school had 85 Kindergartners on its first day, she said.

The school reached an enrollment low of about 400 students a few years ago, while other nearby schools were packed. A boundary committee was formed, but rather than shifting the boundaries of the school—a “NASA School” with a strong science focus—it opened its doors to the community and marketed heavily.

Barrett now serves a bundle of six other elementary schools. Parents of students from Ashlawn, Barcroft, Glebe, Long Branch, McKinley, Nottingham and Tuckahoe may apply in a lottery and choose to send their kids to Barrett. As well, students at Barcroft, which has a year-round schedule, can be admitted to Barrett if their parents want the traditional summers-off schedule.

In the first year of the wider enrollment, 30 students came, last year she had to turn students away. The school board predicted enrollment to be about 340 at the start of this year, yet current enrollment is 388, Mrs. Bratt said. Capacity for the school is 525 students (though she said that would fill “every nook and cranny”), and the school is projected to have over 400 students next year.

Barrett will continue with a summertime “assessment” for in-coming kids (this will be the second summer); it measures skills such as basic recognition of letters and words and number recognition for rising Kindergartners. Mrs. Bratt was quick to say in the meeting Thursday that it’s not a test, and there is no way to fail this.

They use the assessment to place students into classrooms in a way that will make a good experience for teachers and students, Mrs. Bratt said.

This is not designed to put all the brightest kids or the best readers together in one class. “All the classes are heterogeneously grouped,” Mrs. Bratt said. The assessment allows the school to put students together in “reading groups” inside each classroom, about four groups to a class. In previous years students had to be shuffled from one class to another to get them with similarly-skilled students. This year, that didn’t happen, Mrs. Bratt said.

“It really made really nice groups of kids working together,” she said.

If your child will be a Kindergartener this fall, stop by school’s main office or call to set up an appointment for an assessment.

Third, fourth and fifth graders at Barrett and all over the county are taking the Standards of Learning Exams, which assess students in Reading, Math, Science and History. The tests are written and administered by the state, but they apply toward meeting federal No Child Left Behind guidelines.

Mrs. Bratt is concerned about the outcomes of this year’s test, as it will not allow students to take the Stanford English Language Proficiency Test, which ESL students had taken over the past two years.

Mrs. Bratt said that the test measures English proficiency, but not content, which the federal government determined was too different from the standard SOL that other students took.
“I’m expecting that we’re going to have difficulty again because we’re not going to have the test,” Mrs. Bratt said. Mrs. Bratt was a language arts teacher before entering school administration, and she said it takes four to seven years for a student to go from being able to listen well in English to being able to read at the level the SOL tests require. Teachers are not allowed to read the exam aloud to the students.

“If [students have] been here only a couple years, they won’t have the skills to read that [SOL] test,” she said. (For a related post on this, see the Sept. 27, 2006 post.)


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