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Hall County special needs students improve test scores
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Members of the Hall County Schools Board of Education were pleased with test score improvements discussed at their meeting Monday night.

Special needs students in the district showed significant increases in Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests since 2007, said Eloise Barron, Hall County assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.

“The percent of increase is 38 percent between 2007 and 2011,” Barron said. “We have seen that increase in mathematics and the state saw an increase of 12 percent. In addition to that, in the area of English-language arts and reading our increase is 28 and the state has been 12. We knew we were doing good things, but we hadn’t taken this look at it to see how much improvement had been made.”

Barron said there were several reasons for the increases, including the school system’s rigorous curriculum, teaching grade level material to all students, more parent involvement and increased use of technology.

Fewer students are in special needs classes in Hall County, which Barron attributed to “the ones who get out of the program are possibly those who are not as fragile as the ones who stayed in the program.”

Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield said these teachers have done a yeoman’s job over the past few years.

“You know you and your people are doing something right,” he said. “We are kind of counter-culture in Hall County and we strive to keep children out of special education and have their needs met in the regular classroom.”

One way the school system might not be improving is in its instructional coach pilot program. The program clusters three schools — Flowery Branch Elementary, Spout Springs School of Enrichment and Chestnut Mountain Elementary — underneath the leadership of one instructional coach.

The coach spends one day a week at each of the schools.

Barron said concerns already raised include a lack of time to establish a relationship with teachers, additional paperwork and workload, and difficulty planning with the schools’ leadership teams.

“We have just one person and she’s trying to do it with three schools and she’s finding the things I read to you difficult,” she said. “This early along they’re already seeing that it’s not as easy for them, and they don’t feel that they’re able to do what they’re able to do when they had someone in their building.”

Schofield said he’s seen this model work in other school systems around the country, and said the difficulty has more do with the amount of things the board is asking of schools.

“Every time we turn around we’re asking our schools to do one more thing. Our teachers are getting tired,” he said. “I think we need to continue to support them and make this work … This is new for us so it ought to be difficult at this point. I think we’ll give it the old college try and see if this isn’t a more efficient way of using resources.”

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