By ABI GETTO
Teachers and faculty at Thomas H. Benton Elementary have a very important role in the Benton-Stephens community. With 90 percent of students at or below the poverty rate, the school has a history of low test scores and high mobility rates, making the job of educators even more crucial.
Yet improvement is on the horizon according to test results. Not only have the school’s Adequate Yearly Progress math scores jumped 19 percent in one year, the school has also been granted a Bronze level referral from the state in recognition of their improvements in positive behavioral support.
The progress test is part of the 2001 No Child Left Behind act. The standardized test evaluates schools in the areas of math and communications. Schools that do not reach a certain percentile are given Title I designation, and are encouraged to enact changes in their curriculum to enforce better results.
The improvements are based on a number of dramatic changes the school has made, principal Troy Hogg said.
The school has hired 10 staff members in the past year, as well as whittled down the mission statement to three key goals: building positive relationships, valuing diversity and empowering learners.
These changes, along with an updated math curriculum and new the Math Wizards program have given the students the necessary tools to improve their math skills, Hogg said.
Math Wizards is a new program that uses positive reinforcement to improve math skills. Students are given incentives such as pencils, their wizard wands, their picture on the bulletin board and punch cards for free ice cream.
The drop in mobility rate also points toward Benton’s improvement. In 2008, Benton’s mobility rate was nearly 47 percent, meaning nearly half of the students started their year at the school and moved to other schools by the end of the year, Hogg said. Mobility rates tend to correlate with poverty levels.
By 2010, the mobility rate dropped to a little more than 30 percent. The dramatic 16 percent drop is an incredible leap, Hogg said.
“More families who are with us are staying with us because they are seeing our progress,” Hogg said.
Despite changes to the curriculum, the school has not met necessary scores to lose its Title I designation. However, Hogg maintains that the changes in curriculum are just the first steps toward overall improvement.
“There is a tradition of excellence at this school,” Hogg said. “I want to stress to the community that they have a reason to be proud of their local school.