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Sissonville students' work pays off

Chris Dorst
Students at Sissonville High School listen to math teacher Mary Beth Querry share a lesson on financial algebra last week. Sissonville students have increased their standardized test scores greatly, making them one of the county's two "success schools."
Chris Dorst Sissonville High School teacher Katrina Minney teaches a lesson in her 11th-grade English class.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sissonville High School students improved their scores on standardized tests so dramatically within one year that Principal Ron Reedy's colleagues joke with him that the school should be investigated.

To which he says, "Bring it on."

In 2012, only 27 percent of Sissonville juniors achieved mastery in their reading scores on the WESTEST 2. This year, 60 percent of the school's 11th-graders hit the mark.

In math, the number of proficient 11th-grade students increased from 33 percent to 52 percent.

"With these tests, if you see a 3 to 5 percent increase, it's considered significant," Reedy said. "I'm so proud of our kids."

The number of freshmen at Sissonville proficient in reading jumped 15 percentage points, while freshmen proficient in math increased from 26 percent to 47 percent.

Sissonville is one of only two Kanawha County high schools considered a "success school" -- the highest ranking designated under the state Department of Education's new accountability system.

More than 60 percent of Sissonville students are now meeting grade-level expectations, according to data released last week. The state average for proficiency levels at high schools is about 45 percent.

In addition, the school is significantly closing its achievement gap, which means its low-performing students are catching up to the high performers.

Reedy's secret is no secret. He says his staff worked year-round to create a perceived value in the WESTEST for students.

"It's an easy answer. We told our students it was important to us and it should be important to them. Before, they would say that it didn't matter, that it didn't affect their grades or college acceptance," he said. "So we tried to make them understand that there are some things you just do out of a sense of pride and honor."

Teachers started focusing more on motivating students and building morale. For example, the school offered enrichment sessions to prepare for the test. Once students showed improvement and made mastery scores, they could skip out on the sessions -- meaning extra free time.

Reedy met with each class to help them prepare for the test, calling himself "the cheerleader for the school."

"I told them, 'If you don't do it for each other, do it for yourself. Show us what you can do. Show everyone,'" he said. "And they took it to heart."

Reedy watched, within one year, students go from "Christmas treeing" in the answer bubbles -- making designs out of answer sheets instead of actually reading the questions -- to pepping each other up to do well on the test.

"This year there were kids policing other kids. One young lady stood up and said, 'Please give it your best. I want us to do well and for people to recognize us,'" he said.

While the teachers at the school deserve credit, Reedy said, the students are the ones who truly deserve recognition.

"We have great teachers here. But did they teach 100 percent better than ever before? No. It came from the kids," he said. "In short, the kids tried harder. They're ecstatic about the results."

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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