Academic audit of LCMS reports racism, inconsistent discipline, need for test preparation

Published 7:05 am Saturday, May 14, 2022

An independent academic audit of Lincoln County Middle School (LCMS) revealed several issues that need to be addressed including instances of racism and classroom disruption, an inconsistent behavior plan, lack of data management and the need for better test preparation. The report also suggests there is a need for more professional development for all of the special education staff.

The Lincoln County Middle School Academic Review Report was completed by Educational Directions between March 20 and April 13. It included site visits, observations and interviews as well as an e-survey and data collection.

The Interior Journal acquired a copy of the review via an open records request.

“The initial study showed evidence of under-performance and/or inconsistent performance on state and school assessment reports, high levels of teacher turnover, reliance on a curriculum platform that may not be congruent to the language and levels of rigor found in the state standards, special education and under-performing student performance patterns, and a data management system that may not represent the format or rigor found in the state assessments,” the review states.

The review placed areas that need improvement into different categories, Murray said.

Key areas that the academic review focused on were school leadership, school culture and climate, student behavior, teacher work, student work, test preparation, student engagement and special education status.

School leadership

“The overall perception of current school leadership is very positive,” the review states. “…Teachers and students all said that the school was different and better since the administration was changed. One teacher noted that ‘we’re finally getting back to the good school we used to be.’”

The review stated it was difficult to assess the current school climate and culture because of the number of issues remaining from the prior administration. LCMS had a change in leadership in March when Stacy Story resigned from her position as principal amid an investigation of alleged “neglect of duty, incompetence, inefficiency, dishonesty, and lack of institutional control.”

School culture and climate

The review stated that all stakeholders seem to feel that LCMS is a good school and that adults and students are friendly and get along.

In most classrooms, the teacher-student rapport was “at least adequate for the students to feel safe and welcomed,” according to the review.

“Other areas of the climate and culture were less positive. Students seemed compliant rather than highly engaged and were comfortable with work that was not overly difficult to complete,” it states. “Teacher work in classrooms ranged from desk work to roaming and monitoring, but rarely involved challenging students or providing shaping feedback for work that was less than proficient.”

The review also stated that teachers, parents and student focus groups mentioned instances of racism in the school and “not all students feel equally safe and welcomed.”

Student behavior

Student behavior varied from classroom to classroom, according to the review, which noted three things after observing classrooms. First, the review stated that most students were compliant but there were instances of misbehavior that caused loss of instructional momentum.

“Some classes had behavioral expectations posted, while others did not, and not all of the expectations were the same,” the review states. “Even when expectations were posted, enforcement was rated as inconsistent.”

The review also noted that behavioral expectations seem to be reactive and focused on what cannot be done rather than “focusing on optimum behaviors that should be done in the learning and performing environment.”

Behavior was not seen as a major issue, according to the review, but it noted there were inconsistencies the caused classrooms to fall below optimum behavior expectations.

“The observers felt that students were taking advantage of some inconsistencies that existed before the change of administration, and teachers were not only reacting inconsistently, but also in ways that did not end the behavior or restore optimum environments,” the review states.

None of the classrooms were “out of control” according to the observers but stated instructional momentum was lost due to students coming to class tardy, frequent requests to use the restroom and off-task behaviors.

Student work

The Educational Directions observers noted that they expected to see student work that was more rigorous than traditional classroom work.

“In most classrooms students were involved with Summit protocols but not at the level the observer thought would be considered ‘highly engaged.’’

Summit Learning is an online platform used at LCMS.

In Special Education classrooms, much of the work seemed to be below the level of the assessment, according to the review and some resource classroom students were not doing the same work as the rest of the students.

“In one case, these students were not doing any work at all,” the review states. “To have students work to their potential and erase the gap between regular program and special education students, all students are going to have to be engaged in appropriate calibrating work before they take the test.”

Teacher work

There were two areas that were noted as needing attention soon including “optimum student work/engagement and optimum student behavior.”

“The fact that teachers and students were involved with the Summit protocols will perhaps give a false read in evaluating teacher work,” the review states.

Based on a rating of one to five, with one being “needs improvement” and five being “optimum,” teachers needed improved access to school systems and student performance data to identify priority needs in learning or performing. Teachers also need to improve linking the learnings of the lesson to assessment questions.

Test preparation

The Educational Directions observers noted three areas that need improvement to better prepare students for state testing.

The review states LCMS needs to improve identifying test preparation priorities in lesson objectives, alert students when they are working on learnings that will be included in state assessments and link learnings to specific types of test questions and to the level of rigor found in state tests.

Student engagement

Protocols for the Summit Learning curriculum included engaging strategies, according to the review, but they were not followed consistently from one class to another.

“The ED observers were unable to determined exactly what the teachers were supposed to be doing while the students were engaged in Summit activities, and when the issue was included in the teacher interviews, a variety of inconsistent responses were given,” the review states.

Data management

The review found several areas that need improvement when it comes to data management. According to the report, the school needs to improve the use of multiple data streams to assess student progress and school plan implementation, as well as build learner and assessment profiles on all students to identify strengths and areas of concern going into the testing window.

“Student-focused data management is a critical part of calibrating work in schools especially as schools move towards the opening of the testing period,” the review states. “ED emphasizes the need to collect data on school management systems that determine how they impact or act as barriers to student performance. They also need to observe students working, and analyze the product that students produce to determine where under-performing work breaks down and possible reasons why it breaks down at that point.”

Special Education

The special education specialist and regular classroom observers recorded positive and negative observations about the Special Education program at LCMS.

“The attitudes of both teachers and students seem very positive,” the review states. “It was obvious from both the interviews and the observations that the students and teachers liked one another.”

According to the review, the schedule at LCMS supports the use of a “co-teaching” model of providing instructions across grade levels.

The review noted that the learning environment for special education needed improvement.

“Many of the physical spaces lacked organization, materials and/or decorations that reflected the topic and/or content of study,” the review states. “Most spaces were teacher-centered with a lack of open-ended questions that promoted discussion.”

The lack of rituals and routines resulted in chaotic transitions between activities both in the classrooms and throughout the school, according to observers.

“LCMS has a great start with the use of co-teaching. More training is needed, and the staff would benefit from being able to observe what good co-teaching looks like,” the review states.

The review recommends more professional development for Special Education staff.

Summary of positives

The review gave a summary of positives found during the educational audit which included the cleanliness of facilities, classrooms and common areas, as well as teachers’ ability to communicate and work well together.

Students’ attitudes were positive about the school and their teachers and students “attended to their assignments and at least complied with what they were asked to do.” 

“Most teachers were able to set goals, set student tasks in the Summit protocols, and at least some of them monitored and gave feedback to students as they worked,” the review states. Teacher attitudes were positive about the school and students and teachers had a desire for students to be successful, according to observers.

“The Special Education teachers mentioned feeling supported by the administration and colleagues,” the review states.

In the summary of areas to be addressed, the review states there is need for improvement when it comes to discipline, classrooms, professional development, test preparation and special education.

Next week’s edition of The Interior Journal will include information about the LCMS action plan to address the areas that need improvement, as well as response from Lincoln County Board of Education members during the May 5 working meeting.