Thursday, January 25, 2001

Tiny Silver Grove shines

Small Campbell County district posts some big scores

By Lori Hayes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        SILVER GROVE — Students practice all year for the state assessment test. Teachers shape their lessons around what the state says students must know. And administrators review student work every week.

        These are key reasons Silver Grove High School posted some of the highest scores in the state on last spring's state test — landing it a spot on a tour recognizing schools that are beating the odds.

[photo] Silver Grove High School teacher Karen Malott credits the one-on-one relationships between teachers and students in the small district with high scores on state assessment exams.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        But the secret to Silver Grove's success goes far beyond practice tests and classroom drills.

        Silver Grove's small size — from its close-knit com munity to classes small enough for teachers to know every student and every parent — is perhaps its greatest strength.

        The tiny high school nestled in rural Campbell County has only 66 students. The whole district, preschool through 12th grade, is housed in one building, with about 300 students. Most classes have 15 to 20 students.

        “If you can't get an education here, there's only one reason: You don't want one,” said Steve Hart, a teacher at the high school. “The attention a student can get at Silver Grove you can't get at bigger schools. ... This is a public school with a private-school setting.”

        Kentucky Education Commissioner Gene Wilhoit is visiting Silver Grove today for the second of eight visits to schools in poor communities that performed well on the state test.

        Test scores often fall along income lines, which means poor schools usually have poor scores. The state wants to highlight schools that are reaching all students, regardless of their backgrounds — a fundamental principle of the Kentucky Education Reform Act.

        At all of the schools on the tour, at least half of the students receive free- or reduced-price lunch, a measure of poverty. And each school also scored at least an 80, out of a possible 140, on one or more of the seven subject areas on the state test.

        More than 400 schools met these criteria, so the state chose one school from each of its eight regions to visit.

        More than two-thirds of Silver Grove's students are from low-income families.

        Yet, the high school received the third-highest score in the state among high schools for both reading and practical living/vocational studies on last year's state test. It also posted high marks in social studies and math.

        School staff started some new strategies last year, after disappointing results on previous tests.

        • Teachers follow state curriculum standards to develop their lessons, assuring that students know the material likely to show up on the state test.

        • Students take practice tests, which feature questions from old tests.

        • Every week, students practice answering essay questions, which make up two-thirds of the state test. After the teachers grade the essays, they go to Superintendent Bill Brown for review.

        “What school in the state of Kentucky would the superintendent work on open-response questions?” Principal Isaac Weldon said. “When it's time for the real thing, students know how to handle it.”

        Performing well on the state tests is emphasized all year. The school's scores are posted in the foyer, ranking them with other Northern Kentucky schools.

        Students say the extra practice and attention helps, but they also credit the small classes and caring teachers for their success.

        “Come testing time, they definitely crack down and make us study. It's a big deal,” said Jason Stewart, a 17-year-old senior.

        “Most of the teachers are friends with the students. It's more than a teacher-student relationship.”

        The small numbers also make it easier for teachers to communicate with parents and give individual attention to students.

        English teacher Karen Malott meets with each student one-on-one every week to discuss writing and class performance.

        “A couple of minutes is so powerful,” she said. “Some of the kids just don't believe in themselves. I've got to show them that they can succeed.”

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- Tiny Silver Grove shines
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