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Gainesville schools get past scores, focus on their students
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Gainesville City Schools are trying to get beyond the test scores and get down to success on a student-by-student basis.

By creating teams that include principals, counselors and support staff, the system hopes to get close to that ideal this year.

Superintendent Merrianne Dyer has expressed concerns that state standards and test scores only show statistics for each year, not progress and improvement for individual students.

“When you look at a standard — 80 percent of students on grade level for reading, for example — it’s such a general, huge statement,” board member Maria Calkins said. “It’s one line that we spend hours to achieve, and so many pieces go into that one statement.”

Student achievement should be more than the end number, she said.

“We don’t hear enough about the strong foundation,” Calkins said. “I want to know some of the strategies that help our students get to the goal and show solid progress.”

The idea started last year when Jamey Moore, director of standards and assessment, looked at the “big picture” of test scores but wanted to figure out how to pinpoint specific problems. Now, she said, the system can focus on exactly what prevents learning.

Goals for student achievement, such as increasing critical thinking skills, are split among groups that will measure student progress throughout the year.

“We might know that we want conceptual learning ... then it’s a matter of how to make certain it’s occurring in the classroom,” said Moore, who is heading the student achievement team.

Using new software, Gainesville teachers will be able to track and comment about each student in the classroom. Likewise, school leaders and principals will be able to track each teacher and notes made about each class.

“Every time informal observation occurs, it can go on this living document,” Moore said. “Then we can get on the same page, speak the same language and get together as a system to make decisions moving forward.”

Principals meet for the student achievement team each month, and then groups meet at each school weekly to discuss how goals can be implemented. Grade level teachers meet to discuss ideas, and teachers from consecutive grades also meet to ease the transition.

“We know the fifth- to sixth-grade transition is a problem,” Moore said. “I lead a team of transitional teachers and pull them together in a monthly meeting. The focus is looking at which practices are working. Does the data drive what we’re doing? Absolutely.”

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