By Zoey Angelucci, Haley Earl, and Chaslin Hoover
When it comes to standardized tests, Shenango students tend to outscore other schools. However, this trend shifted recently, and teachers were determined to change that. Last year, junior high students and faculty increased their workload in hopes of improving the school’s PSSA scores. New strategies and teaching skills were put in place to achieve this goal.
Eighth grade math teacher Mrs. Slamecka explained, “I think the biggest strategy change that we used was that we tried to talk to our students more about the importance of doing their best and about what to expect. We really tried to motivate them to do their best.”
Slamecka, along with other faculty members, used different strategies and incentives. She compared the scores of schools throughout the county to our students’ scores, treating it almost as a competition.
“I think in the years past, we weren’t quite as open with our expectations, so I think that was a major change. We just tried to empower the students more than we have in the past and have them develop a sense of pride,” Slamecka emphasized.
She used the analogy of sporting events to help motivate students. “When we play some of the surrounding schools, like when we play Laurel in football or volleyball or basketball, we always want to compete with them, and we just tried to bring that into the academic realm. One thing that I did was I posted our scores and ranked us in comparison with the other schools. Two years ago, our ranking was really low in the county. We talked about it and were really open about making it a goal that we want as a group to collectively try to improve those scores to make us more competitive with the surrounding schools,” Slamecka stressed.
As for incentives, last year, students had the opportunity to win tickets to get prizes. Mr. Sumner, the previous assistant principal, had a table outside of the lunch room where students could use their tickets to win prizes like Gatorade or ice cream. The staff plans to continue these incentives because it was very popular last year.
Mrs. Barron, 8th grade English teacher, worked just as hard as her colleague, Mrs. Slamecka, to improve students’ scores.
“To help students with their writing skills for the Text Dependent Analysis Essays, I added writing conferences,” Barron explained. “Throughout the year, students were required to meet with me at least three times before or after school for fifteen minutes to work on improving a few elements of their writing.”
In addition to this writing focus, Barron also added interactive notebooks. “To prepare students for the terminology they will see on the exam, I have been utilizing interactive notebooks, which help to increase students’ vocabulary and deepen their comprehension skills” she explained.
Both Mrs. Barron and Mrs. Slamecka expressed the importance of these tests. “They are so important just because it gives everybody, the public, me as a teacher, us as a school, an idea of our performance and how it compares to others in the state. In the past, we have gotten recognition, especially in our Keystone scores, that ranked our school within the top three to five schools in the entire state, which is an incredible accomplishment, not just from the student aspects but from all aspects of the school,” Slamecka said. “I think for me it shows that the hard work that we are all putting in–as students, as teachers, as administrators, as everybody–it’s just a way to see how we are in comparison. I don’t believe one test gives a full picture, but it gives a piece of a picture. It’s a nice to be able to see how we are doing versus other schools” stated Mrs. Slamecka.
Junior high teachers intend to continue these strategies to achieve even bigger goals for their students’ scores. While both teachers are proud of their students last year, they both know there is room for improvement and want to do better and try harder again this year.
“I was very pleased with my students’ scores last year! Obviously, there is always room for improvement, but I know my students tried their best last year. I am so proud of them!” Mrs. Barron explained. A Wildcat student, freshman Katie Bober, who was of many that scored exceptionally well on the PSSA, mentioned, “You just have to stay persistent and try your best. Focus on one question at a time, not the test as a whole.”
Josh Bruce agreed. “We all tried really hard on the PSSAs, and I think it really showed in our performance.”