Local elementary school earns perfect marks on academic index

By K.E. Sturgeon IIIThe News-Record

Fifth graders at Rockdale Elementary School studied the innards of a frog Friday.

Katie and Brady, Jordan and Chance, two Merediths, and others, identified the frog's organs one by one, discovering them somewhat randomly. Pointing they found the liver, then the bladder, next the thorax and, finally, the hard to find small intestine.

As they located each organ the children checked each off on a list they kept nearby.

The children performed this task with the help of software the school district has recently begun using in its science lessons. Their teacher, Debbie Witten, projected the frog, back down, onto a Smart Screen at the front of her classroom.

“There's a lot of technology out there that we can use for instruction, Witten said in the darkened classroom. “Then the kids can go home and look at it there too.

The district makes the dissection software available to students who take the software home and use on their home computer.

Witten is one of a 13-member instructional team at Rockdale that has led the Miami school to one of the highest distinctions in the State of Oklahoma. Rockdale is just one of five Oklahoma schools to score a perfect 1,500 on the Academic Performance Index, a measurement tool that takes into account test scores and attendance.

“It means all third graders, fourth graders and fifth graders at Rockdale tested at satisfactory or advanced levels in math and science, said Don Pullen, the district's curriculum director.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education set a target score of 923 for all state elementary schools. All of Miami's elementary schools exceeded the target score.

Pullen said 110 Rockdale students took the math and reading tests in 2006-2007, the academic year on which the API results are based.

Students at all grade levels take the tests several times a year. Each testing takes about two hours of a student's time and tests taken at the end of the year are used to assess each school.

“The teachers just work so hard, said Jera Rendel, the mother of Elia Rendel, a first grader, and Job Rendel, a second grader at the school. “They are so good at motivating the students. All they ever ask of the children is that they give their very best effort and then they help them to give that best effort.

That means a lot of hard work for teachers. All of them are available for after school tutoring of students and the teachers are also veterans with years of experience in the classroom.

“You need to identify their learning styles, said Terri Riley, a first grade teacher. “You introduce them to the abstract in the style they prefer and then you move into the concrete so they can apply what they learned.

That means a curriculum filled with rhymes, songs, show-and-tell, story-telling and games where students are introduced to a variety of concepts before making the jump to applying the concepts to real-life situations. It also means before and after school tutoring and teaching throughout the day.

“Our teachers know the value of teaching the basics, said Robyn Barnes, the Rockdale principal. “We stick to the basics and we don't have too many frills. We teach those basics every minute of the day. We don't try something new just because it's the latest idea. We only try something new when we think it will help to motivate and inspire a student to do things they never thought they could do.

The school also celebrates success and rewards students for achievement.

“We work hard to create winners, Barnes said. “We give students a hug and recognition when they achieve something.

The scores of the Miami district's elementary students bodes well for a district at a time when many other schools are failing to make adequate progress towards federally mandated standards.

API is used as a measurement device to quantify compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act, a federal iniative meant to hold schools accountable for educating students to their grade level. The federal legislation has led Oklahoma education officials to set a benchmark that will require all schools in the state to have an index of 1,500 in the academic 2014-2015 school year. Oklahoma began setting benchmarks in the 2001-2002 school year and has been raising them each year since then.

“Test scores are not the only thing our schools are about, said Bill Stephens, the Miami superintendent. “Schools are also about building character, understanding personal responsibility and learning good citizenship, but we're required to do the tests and to achieve such a high number, we're very proud of our test scores.