Chapter Three: November

29 Nov

Confessions of an Urban Principal

by Frank Murphy

Installment (9 of 9)

Today the local newspaper reported that the alleged shooter in the Strawberry Mansion High School incident surrendered to the police.  The suspect’s attorney made a plea to the public to not rush to a judgment regarding his client’s guilt.   The article shed a bit more light on the history of the boy who was murdered.

The victim of this crime had previously been charged with shooting a fourteen-year boy in the back during the past summer.  This case was dismissed when the fourteen-year refused to testify.  The article inferred that the boy who had been shot was fearful of retaliation. There had been a pending drug charge against the Strawberry Mansion murder victim. The boys involved in this tale are actors in a mad and complicated play.


The disappointing test scores on the Terra Nova and PSSA tests last year have caused doubts about the effectiveness of our instructional program in the minds of our Instructional Leadership Team.  We needed answers.  We decided to track our current fifth grade students’ reading levels year-by-year, starting with second grade.  We were looking for trends.  While we were doing this, we stumbled across an interesting discovery concerning our school’s transient rate.  It is much higher than we had previously thought.

The school district’s computer network deletes student enrollment information after one year.  You cannot discern from the data available on the district’s network how long a student has been in ant particular school. Robert Ong, our technology coordinator, had created a database, which tracked the reading levels of students who have been in our school for several years. I asked him to print out the second, third, and fourth grade reading levels of the current fifth grade students.  This would provide us with three years of previous reading levels for examination as we sought an answer to the following question.  If ours student met grade level expectations at the end of second grade and these same student continued to make expected progress in third and fourth grade, then why were the test scores so low in fifth grade?

As we matched up kids with their previous years reading levels, we discovered that sixty-seven students who had been in second grade with us were gone by fifth grade.  There were one hundred seven kids in the second grade class; thirty-two of them were still at Meade in fifth grade. Half of these thirty-two students had been the struggling readers in second grade.  This turnover of students represented a two year 70% transient rate.  It is difficult to sustain program improvements and student growth when a major portion of your student population leaves after such a short period of time.  More problematic was the fact that many of the students who have left our school were the better readers.  It appears that the students who struggle the most are the ones who are more likely to remain with us. However when we closely examined the growth in reading levels and test results of the thirty-two students who have been with us since second grade, some encouraging data did emerge. Half of these students were reading at or above grade level. It felt good to know that we were indeed making progress with the students who remained with us.


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