Literacy plan works to improve district ELA skills, standardized test scores

Claire MacKay

Contributing writer

(April 16, 2015) The Nantucket Public Schools’ literacy plan was instituted four years ago, just as Superintendent of Schools Michael Cozort stepped in as leader of the school system. The literacy plan was a coordinated response to low standardized test scores, which were reflected primarily in the elementary and middle schools. The district continues to work to improve students’ overall literacy skills through the plan.

Cozort explained, “It’s something we developed a few years ago when the elementary school was determined to be a level three school. The achievement scores in literacy and reading language arts and math were not good so it really was just as I was coming in, about four years ago.” The state classifies schools into levels one through five, with one being the highest performing level. State law requires schools to be classified into level three schools if “they are among the lowest 20 percent of schools relative to other schools in the same grade span,”  according to the Massachusetts Department of Education website.

Cozort continued, “They developed a plan—Mike Horton was very involved in it at the time. Mary Ellen Caesar from the department of education helped. We had members from the high school, middle school, and elementary school faculties develop it. It really was just making things uniform at each school.”

“I personally think that we do a good job with respect to literacy and English language arts. I think it’s some of our strongest faculty members in the district. I’m confident and appreciative of the work that we do in the area of literacy.

“I think [the goal] was to organize our approach. One of the things that is always a problem in the school district is to make sure that the transitions from elementary to middle school and from middle school to high school are fluid and seamless so that if you are doing something in middle school it really fits with what is happening in the high school. I think our middle and high school English language departments are very much in sync. I think we have pretty good rigor; if you look at our scores on the AP exams, both on the literature and language exams, our students do very well. I think our kids are being challenged.”

NHS English teacher Anne Phaneuf said that she sees definite benefits to this kind of increased communication and collaboration.

“I think we in the high school have a better sense than ever of the kind of writing and reading skills that students are practicing and developing before they come to us. The common core makes very clear what students should be doing at every level and even when we’re all very busy we work hard to integrate our instruction,” she said.

In the past few years the district has increased meeting times among members of the middle and high school faculties. Teachers have collaborated to insure their instruction aligns with the common core state standards. Also, over the past two years teachers from the elementary, middle, and high school faculties have worked together to complete state required course work to meet the learning needs of the districts’ increasing English Language Learner population. That coursework will continue into the next few years.

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