Excellent to the Core

Cordova Elementary School earns A on state report card

CORDOVA — Cordova’s littlest Blue Devils made big news last week when the Alabama Department of Education released its report card for public schools. Cordova Elementary was the only school in the Walker County School System and one of only 137 in the state to receive an A. In addition, the school is currently ranked 95th out of 688 Alabama elementary schools on Schooldigger.com, a site founded in 2006 to make school data more accessible. Even the ACT Aspire, a controversial assessment that has now been replaced by the Alabama State Board of Education, could not flummox CES students. The school’s third- and fourth-grades outperformed county and state scores by double digits in reading as well as math last year. A low absenteeism rate and a perfect score in the academic growth category, which measures improvement in reading and math from one year to the next among students, bolstered the school’s overall score of 92 on the state report card. The announcement that CES students are doing well came as no surprise to Principal Dianne Williams, who tracks the progress of every student in the school on a weekly basis. “We meet every Wednesday here to look at data and make sure that any of our students who are struggling are getting intervention,” Williams said. During each grade’s physical education time, a group that includes Williams, teachers, intervention specialists and the school counselor review a range of test scores. If a student has not mastered a concept after it has been presented at least twice by a teacher in a large group and small group setting, then he or she may be recommended for specialized instruction with one of three intervention specialists. Their salaries are paid with the school’s limited Title I funding, which is dispersed to schools that have a high percentage of children who come from low-income families. A commitment to intervention is one part of an overall culture of excellence in place at CES. Two years ago, the school implemented Reading Horizons, a program that provides a strong foundation for beginning and struggling readers. Williams credits her faculty’s embrace of that program with helping students in every grade level become better readers. Last year, the school was the only one in the county system in which all kindergarten through second-grade students scored above 90 on DIBELS, an assessment of literacy skills. “This report card is based on third- and fourth-grades, but they wouldn’t be doing as well as they are if these other grades weren’t also doing their job. We know they are because of DIBELS,” Williams said. At CES, reading is encouraged as much as it is taught.

Every day begins with a 10-minute Power Time in which every person in the building is reading. “Even my custodians stop what they’re doing and go into the lunchroom and read,” Williams said. Three years ago, Williams began offering incentives for the school-wide Accelerated Reading program. Students who accumulate 100 AR points have an opportunity to go to lunch with her at the end of the year. In 2016, Williams took 12 students to lunch on her own dime. Last year, she paid for 100 lunches. CES students are not only becoming better readers but better learners as well. Three years ago, the school began implementing the lessons of “Leaders of Their Own Learning,” a teaching tool that helps students take ownership of their achievement. The first lesson is having clear learning targets. Because students help develop their daily goals with their teacher before instruction time begins, they have a better understanding of what they are learning and why. “When I first came here, I could walk into a classroom and ask a child what they’re doing, and they’d say, ‘We’re doing this worksheet.’ Now, they’ll tell me, ‘We’re doing two-digit with subtraction,’” Williams said. While students are taking responsibility for their own learning, teachers are working together to discuss the most effective ways to present the state’s education standards. Teachers also collaborate across grade levels to prepare students to be promoted. The 137 schools that scored an A on the state report card each have their own formula for success. At CES, it’s teamwork — parents, teachers, students and an administrator all doing their part to live up to the longtime school motto “Excellent to the Core.” “There is no way that you can be an A school unless everyone is pulling their weight,” Williams said.