Details on Riverton Elementary School’s skyrocketing test scores

First of all, a big, serious “congrats” to the Riverton Elementary School community — administrators, teachers, parents, support staff and students — for a Cinderella-like one-year turnaround on the school’s test scores. The school’s bump in New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) numbers from 2010 to 2011 is downright startling, to the point where I’m not sure anyone would have thought such increases were truly possible in the age of diminishing budgets and fiscal constraints.

The numbers in a little bit… first some short-term background.

Jo Anderson, senior adviser to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, chats with a student at Riverton Elementary School on Jan. 31, 2012. (BDN photo by Seth Koenig)

Almost exactly a month ago, Jo Anderson, senior adviser to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, came to Portland to see how the city’s schools were using federal aid (which Riverton, for one, qualified for under the federal No Child Left Behind Act because of its poor test scores in previous years) to boost academic achievement. The entire time, Anderson and the local teachers and administrators kept referring to eye-popping gains made by students at Riverton Elementary School in the most recent rounds of standardized testing. But with reporters all around — and the looming chance that one of us might pass along word of those gains to the public before the appropriate plodding government process could painstakingly make those test numbers official — nobody was terribly specific about how much ground the Riverton kids made up.

Descriptors like “huge” and “significant” and “major” were tossed around, and that’s what we reported at the time, along with a disclaimer that information about exactly how huge, significant or major the score increases were remained to be divulged.

Nobody was trying to be cagey, mind you, it’s just that the scores were still unofficial. The last thing anybody wanted was for the test results to be announced only to have the final in what I imagine to be a line of dozens of government or subcontracted officials to review the figures later point out that somebody somewhere along the line forgot to carry the 1.

So that brings us to today. The district unveiled those results hinted at a month ago, and boy, they weren’t kidding.

Huge, significant and major indeed.

Here’s a couple of paragraphs provided by the district. Take a look:

In October 2010, only 36 percent of Riverton third graders were proficient in reading, as measured by NECAP. A year later, that number soared to 65 percent. The percentage of Riverton fourth graders who were proficient in reading rose to 47 percent (up from 35 percent) in that same time, and the percent of proficient fifth graders rose to 58
percent (up from 35 percent).

Additionally, in reading, the percentage of English Learners who scored proficient in third grade rose to 34 (up from 26 percent).  In fourth grade, the percentage rose to 33 (up from 16 percent), and in grade five, the percentage rose to 27 (up from 21 percent).

Riverton also saw a boost in its math scores as measured by NECAP.  In 2009, only 24 percent of Riverton third graders were proficient in math. Last October, 48 percent of Riverton third graders were proficient, an increase of 100 percent.  Between October 2010 and 2011, the percentage of Riverton fourth graders who were proficient in math rose to 53 percent (up from 31 percent), and the percentage of proficient fifth graders rose to 39 percent (up from 33 percent).

So how did they do it? Here’s what the district announcement said — including some administrator statements — about their methods in pursuit of excellence:

“The gains made at Riverton reflect a major effort by students, staff and parents as well as strategic use of resources for professional development and technology,” said David Galin, the chief academic officer for the Portland Public Schools.

Riverton’s growth in achievement coincides with significant changes supported by a $3.4 million federal School Improvement Grant:

  • The teaching staff has participated in professional development focusing on literacy, technology and the needs of English language learners.  The school has a partnership with Teachers College, Columbia University, to support implementation of the Readers/Writers Workshop model.
  • Teams of teachers at each grade level meet regularly to collaborate on learning activities, review data and develop next steps for improvement.
  • Riverton held NECAP rallies last September to focus students’ attention on the test and to give test-taking strategies. That was followed by literacy and math coaches going into classrooms to model test-taking strategies.
  • The school has purchased state-of-the-art technology, including iPads for use by staff, and soon for students as well.
  • Riverton offers pre-kindergarten for families in the neighborhood.
  • The school’s start time has been moved up to 8:15 a.m. so that students get a jump start on learning.
  • Riverton has redesigned its Parent Center into a cozy place for meetings and for families to learn about the school’s academic, social skills and enrichment programs.

“We are very proud of the rise in our test scores,” said Riverton Principal Jeanne Malia.  “All of our stakeholders have worked together to make this happen. We are determined to keep improving and making each student successful and prepared for the 21st century.”

Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.