A number of factors contributed to this year’s improvement in third grade FCAT scores at Franklin County School.

Teamwork: Over the summer of 2013, teachers were asked to change grade levels. Katrina Ham and I were two of the teachers who were reassigned. I moved from the fourth to the third grade, while my colleague, Katrina Ham, moved from the first to the third grade. Both of us were eager to accept the challenge, as were current third grade teachers Pam Schaffer and Jeannie Ford.

We began developing a pacing guide for the reading and math curriculum to ensure all FCAT-tested standards would be taught by testing time. This guide was followed closely throughout the year. The newly adopted reading curriculum “Journey’s” by Harcourt Publishing presented challenges that were addressed by extending the five-day lesson plan to a seven-day lesson plan, to allow for more in-depth teaching of the material. In this plan they incorporated five 20-minute small group sessions five days a week with the skill based learning stations highly saturated with the Journey’s targeted skills for that lesson. In addition to this, third graders were divided into skill level groups and received 25 minutes each afternoon with one of the four teachers in Intensive Reading Instruction. This was both remedial as well as enrichment to meet the needs of all students. All four teachers worked together to make these groups fluid as students learning needs changed.

Class Size: Each third grade class had between 14 and 16 students.

Fidelity: It was very important throughout the year to teach the core reading and math curriculum with fidelity. Everything taught was based on a Next Generation Sunshine State Standards as well as incorporating Common Core standards. Students and teachers together kept track of their learning and were praised when each skill was mastered.

Consistency: All four third grade teachers followed the curriculum closely and were simultaneously teaching the same lessons each day, that way at the end of the day, hallway conversations were held about what went well and what needed to be tweaked. This kept ideas and creative juices flowing and made teaching fresh and new with each week’s lessons.

Data Driven Instruction: Periodically assessments were given in math and reading using the STAR Reading, STAR Math programs as well as Discovery Education’s Reading and Math Assessments. The data collected from these assessments gave the teachers an idea of what skills needed more attention and on what skills the students had demonstrated success. They also used data from the FAIR Reading test that is given to all students in Florida’s schools. This data helped determine which of our intensive reading instruction the students needed.

Parent Communication/Support: Weekly folders with assessments, reports from assessments, behavior, and grades were sent home on the same day each week. Parents were encouraged to sign and return with questions or comments. Phone calls and email were also used to communicate with students as they met struggles as well as when they experienced success!

One of the most important things we did as a grade level to prepare our students for this year’s FCAT testing period was teaching all of the tested standards before the testing period. We used supplemental materials to make sure we got everything covered; Coach Reading and Coach Math and Mountain Math were some of the supplements used.

Administration worked diligently with the Panhandle Area Education Consortium to provide professional development throughout the year. Many of Franklin County School teachers participated in cooperative learning workshops based on Kagan structures (Kagan Publishing). We used these strategies with our students on a regular basis to help them become excited about learning. Inside/Outside circle, Hand up – Pair Up, Showdown, Quiz-Quiz Trade… these activities helped our students make a physical connection with many of the abstract concepts taught and tested.

Overall, being positive throughout the year with our students and giving them the confidence that they had been taught all they needed to know to be able to succeed! They were READY and they KNEW they were READY to do their very best! If you expect them to succeed... they WILL!

Lynn Clark is a third grade teacher at the Franklin County School.