By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
The percentage of Birmingham City School students who scored at or above grade level in both math and English/language arts (ELA) has improved, and the percentage of students who scored at the lower levels of proficiency decreased in both areas, Superintendent Mark Sullivan, Ed. D., announced Wednesday.
Surrounded by school administrators and principals at the Birmingham Board of Education building, Sullivan said students have made big academic improvements and scored better in this year’s spring assessment of K-8 academic proficiency across the state.
“This success is very, extremely pleasing to us, particularly because of the last two years, from the pandemic,” Sullivan said. “We saw some significant learning loss as it relates to students, either via virtual or hybrid [learning environments], and even as students came back, and they had to quarantine for 14 days initially.”
Even with the improvements, Sullivan said much work is still to be done.
“We own our data…We are the educators, we are the professional teachers, principals, administrators, so we know that even though we’ve made some successes, we have a long way to go,” Sullivan said.
Much of the success comes from new standards that have been put in place throughout BCS, according to Academic Officer Jermaine Dawson, Ed.D., that have focused schools on continued improvement among teachers, greater individualized instruction for students and specific guidelines for each subject.
“We changed our instructional flow to create instructional frameworks for every subject, literacy, math, science, social studies, to health science, P.E. and every subject in between, that every teacher will have a common language around what instruction and high-quality instruction looks like, sounds like and feels like for every student, bell to bell,” Dawson said.
Two principals from schools in BCS who oversaw significant gains spoke about leading students toward proficiency.
Melvin Love, principal of Oxmoor Valley Elementary in Southwest Birmingham, saw a 10 percent decrease in students not on grade level in ELA and a 29 percent decrease in students not on grade level in math.
At his school, Love said they live by a “framework” implemented by BCS leadership that focuses on individualized instruction and tutors to help increase proficiency.
After the press conference, he emphasized the importance of involving parents in education.
“You want to make sure you’re addressing those parents. We really brought the parents in, had collaboration with them, to explain where we were, where we wanted to go and what we needed them to do at home because we know that is important,” Love said.
Alicia Washington, principal of South Hampton Elementary in Birmingham’s North Pratt neighborhood, saw a 17 percent decrease in students not on grade level in math and a 10 percent decrease in students not on grade level in ELA.
Washington said small-group instruction, differentiated instruction for students and weekly meetings among educators to talk about improving their work all drove the higher proficiency scores.
Sullivan said the new framework involves a system-wide shift from “remediation” to “achievement.”
“For far too long, people assessed students based on a belief that students needed to be remediated, so [a student] comes into my classroom, and I see [them] from a deficit mindset…[they’ll] never get exposed to Tier 1, grade-level instruction, but the test is on Tier 1, grade-level instruction, so if I never expose you to that, then you’re never prepared for that,” Sullivan said.
“And it has nothing to do with your academic ability. It has to do with my mindset, and my perception of your academic ability,” he added.
Moving forward, educators at BCS will continue to figure out how to “provide a scaffolding” for students to get on grade level, and leadership with the school system will continue to work to bring in partners that provide mental health, physical wellness and other services, according to Sullivan.