Bethel-Tate schools narrow education gap

Shortly after learning that Bethel-Tate Schools received an excellent rating from the state of Ohio, the district has also received recognition from a private source for their work with economically disadvantaged children.

Standard and Poor’s, known to most as a financial market analysis firm and credit rating company, has noted a degree of success in the school district when it comes to narrowing the education gap between students with little economic resources and students benefiting from a higher family income.

“Standard and Poor’s has, for a number of years, has run a national website of school ratings,” said Bethel-Tate Superintendent Jim Smith. “You can go to any state and see any school district and see how well they’re doing based on certain data. Very few people are doing this. What they were doing here was taking a look at schools to see their economically disadvantaged children’s test scores. The middle school was found to have an 18 percent jump in sixth grade scores.”

Each year, standardized testing done in schools is analyzed to see how students are progressing. In Ohio, information on this is pulled from the yearly proficiency testing that also determines a school’s rating. Also, as a part of the No Child Left Behind act, the data is also used to see if students who are economically poorer are keeping up with students with better economic resources.

“The state does rate us on how well we do with economically disadvantaged kids,” said Smith. “That is a part of No Child Left Behind. It shows that we’ve had good progress. Also, we’re an excellent district, so we’re doing well with all groups right now. We have focused on them though, so our strategies are showing promise with at least a certain group that sometimes struggles.”

Steve Gill, Bethel-Tate Middle School Principal, said that the achievement was discovered during analysis of the sixth grade math and reading testing, and noted that the effort that accomplished it was definitely the result of teamwork.

“This was the result of a greater focus by our teaching staff,” said Gill. “And not just the sixth grade teachers, but the entire district. We recognized the students who were economically disadvantaged and provided them with intervention. We also made an effort by doing a book study as a building to understand the framework of poverty. This is a K-12 focus, not just the sixth grade, and we’re seeing direct gains in all areas. I’ve got to compliment the teachers for helping us out here.”

Smith said that the emphasis in their district is in finding out where kids are getting lost and correcting that level of instruction. For instance, if a particular group is shown to be falling behind in a certain class, that class is reevaluated and retooled to make sure that the instruction is able to reach the students.

“We analyze a lot of test data, and a lot of information to determine how we instruct,” said Smith. “If it looks like our kids are not learning something, then we jump on that pretty quick and correct it. We try to see what we’re doing well and what we’re not doing well. We address the situations to fine-tune things.”

In all, Smith said about a quarter of the students in Bethel-Tate are considered economically disadvantaged.

“Economically disadvantaged are typically very reduced lunch, and that’s the only way we can track them,” said Smith. “The district has about 26 percent of students in that range. The gap in academics ranges between grade levels, but wasn’t very significant this time around. That’s not to say that you can’t see a pronounced difference. If you have 26 percent of your kids struggling, then there’s a good chance you won’t get the 75 percent needed to get indicators on your state report card. We’ve done well, but that’s not to say that you will every year with every group.”

Gill noted that the overall struggle for these kids is mostly experiential. Due to their lack of disposable income, they can’t get the experiences and tools that other children can, such as trips to the museum or instructional aides.

“These kids don’t have the financial resources to gain outside knowledge that other kids do,” said Gill. “I took a trip with my family once, and while we were on the airplane, there was a screen that showed your elevation and the temperature outside. My kids noticed that it was getting cold outside. I could then explain to them that, as the altitude gets higher, the air gets cooler. That’s a science lesson, and a lot of kids who are economically disadvantaged don’t get that opportunity. They can’t go to the Cincinnati Nature Center or to Tall Stacks. They don’t get that, and that impacts their education. They may not have a computer and internet access.”

Gill added that the scores reflect only one class, and that further effort needs to be made to continue the upswing for current and future