March 17, 2012

Maine Voices: Riverton school exemplifies improvement funds well spent

Students at the Portland school make huge gains, thanks in part to strong leadership and teaching.

By HEATHER MORE WOOD

At the very end of the March 7 article about the Portland school superintendent's budget proposal ("$94.9 million school budget proposed"), the Portland Press Herald mentions that Riverton Elementary School's reading and math test scores "have increased steadily" in the past few years. In fact, the just-released test scores show an increase in student achievement that is nothing short of astounding.

click image to enlarge

Riverton Elementary School held an awards ceremony for a unique program, sponsored by cPort Credit Union, designed to foster early interest in higher education, in May 2011.

2011 File Photo/John Ewing

Schools often celebrate gains of a few percentage points on standardized tests. At Riverton, however, the percentage of third-graders proficient in reading increased from 36 percent to 65 percent in just the past year.

Students improved greatly in math, too; for example, the percentage of fourth-graders proficient in this subject increased by 22 percent.

These one-year gains are impressive, and the Portland community should feel proud of this school.

As a parent of a child at Riverton, I can attest to the improvements taking place there:

strong teaching;

high-quality student work displayed on the walls;

effective leadership in the new principal, Jeanne Malia;

an early start time (8:15, with extra learning time and breakfast for all students in their classrooms);

targeted use of technology, including iPads;

ongoing professional development from Columbia Teacher's College that teachers rave about;

and a wonderful literacy program that has my first-grader reporting about the techniques he uses in persuasive writing and realistic fiction.

He is learning by leaps and bounds and has come home excited about school every single day since he began at Riverton Elementary School. What more could a parent want?

Because my son is reading far above his grade level, I was worried at first that he wouldn't be challenged at Riverton. I have found just the opposite to be true.

Riverton school differentiates instruction to meet the needs of students, and I have visited classrooms there to see this in practice.

My son reads huge amounts in class daily from books that excite him and are right for his level. In math he is grouped with students who, like him, are ready to move at a faster pace.

Teachers at this school get together regularly to look at the data on every student's learning, and then place students in specific groups to get them the targeted instruction that is just right for them. It is not easy, but it is top-of-the-line teaching practice, and it's working.

All of this, of course, is in a school where many students are learning English and must participate in high-stakes tests long before they have mastered the language -- an accomplishment that takes years and years.

Imagine moving to another country and being required to take tests in the language there within a year or so of your arrival. It is a testament to the good work going on at the school that English language learners there have seen their test scores improve significantly, too.

Riverton is an example of school improvement funds well spent, strong leadership, a talented and hard-working staff that did not give up in the face of big challenges, and a highly diverse school that is succeeding.

The success at Riverton provides a model for other schools of how to improve student academic performance.

I firmly believe that Portland's future rests on having strong, effective schools. Businesses look at the local school system when deciding where to locate, and schools are one of parents' top considerations when deciding where to purchase homes.

Great schools will help Portland prosper as one of the best places in the country to raise a family.

We need to build on Riverton Elementary School's recent success by providing the same type of student-centered learning throughout the Portland public schools, as called for by the district's recently approved Comprehensive Plan.

The Portland Press Herald has reported on Riverton's struggles in years past; missing, so far, has been meaningful coverage in this newspaper of the great strides that the school is making now.

I urge you to shine a light on Riverton Elementary School's impressive progress and its culture of student achievement.

Heather Moore Wood is a resident of Portland.

 

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