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Ben Mays Prep leaders surprised by poor test scores

The response from Benjamin E. Mays Preparatory Schools’ board members to a presentation of state standardized test scores at the June 4 monthly meeting can be summed up in two words: “What happened?”

“It was shocking to me,” said member Jenny Hunter.  “I didn’t see it coming.”

“We were doing what we needed to do,” said member Raashand Hamilton, who works closely with Principal Shanda Gentry on the Academic Excellence Committee.

More than 40 percent of fourth-graders got an unsatisfactory score in English, and more than 50 percent of them received the same in math.  In the fifth grade, more than 60 percent of students received an unsatisfactory score in English.  More than 50 percent of fifth-grade students received the same in math.

Forty-five of the school’s 76 fourth-grade students are attending summer school for test remediation.  Thirty-five showed up for the first day of classes June 4. Gentry said summer school will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., doubling the minimum time required for summer school days.

Third-grade students by far had the best test results. More than 60 percent of third grade students scored “basic or above” in English, and in math, that number was over 40 percent.  Gentry is bringing the third-grade teacher in to teach summer remediation classes, since third-grade performance scores were relatively strong.

Students attending summer school will focus on their weaker subject in the mornings and their stronger subject in the afternoons.  Students will be retested during the fourth week of summer school.  The session ends June 29.

The school added fourth and fifth grades this year, making 2011-2012 their first year of high-stakes testing. The charter will be up for renewal in the fall, and board members are taking the results seriously.

“We had kids that passed fourth-grade LEAP and then scored ‘unsatisfactory’ in fifth grade,” said Hamilton.

Speculation was raised by participants in the discussion that students transferring into Ben Mays may have had their test scores falsified in previous years. Other concerns regarding the testing of special education students were brought to light. Gentry said students cannot be screened for special education placement without a parent’s permission, and in some cases that has been difficult to obtain.

There was much of discussion among board members ranging from how to support Gentry, while holding her accountable for the school’s established goals, to how to hold board members accountable.  A principal’s roundtable was suggested, where Gentry could work with and learn from more experienced principals. It was also suggested that more professional development would help the principal.

The board expressed its confidence in Gentry as a principal but also cited the need for outside support. The board plans to further discuss these items at a retreat later in June.

Gentry said she did not renew contracts with two teachers who taught fourth- and fifth-grade English and math.  She said next year the fourth grade will reflect the daily structure third-grade students followed this year, hoping to keep performance high for that cohort.

In news for the upcoming year, Gentry said enrollment sits at 90 percent. The school has 10 students on a waiting list for pre-kindergarten, which is currently limited to 20 students.

Gentry will tour the Frantz building in the next two weeks with Recovery School District staff.  Ben Mays will move into the Frantz building during the 2012-2013 school year.

In addition to Hunter and Hamilton, other members present were John Williams and Todd James.  Member Kristen Ponthier phoned-in for a portion of the meeting.  The meeting began at 5:34 p.m. and ended at 7:08 p.m.

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