A+ Practice in Mobile: Gilliard Elementary’s Data-driven Success

Individualized instruction is possible in even the most challenging public schools, as demonstrated by Gilliard Elementary School in Mobile. Through the use of data and an intentional focus on each student in this high-poverty community (98 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches), Gilliard moved almost 100 students from struggling to proficient within one school year.

How did they do it? An article published in the Mobile Press-Register details the efforts taken by the school’s leaders and educators to strategically intervene with every student that needs extra help. The reporter describes the non-traditional approaches used to target individual students who were struggling in reading or math, or who have had excessive absences or behavioral infractions.

Going above and beyond academic tutoring, Gilliard’s principal, teachers and instructional coaches provide whatever assistance is needed to improve opportunities, abilities and support for each child.

“What we want to do is make sure that we do not miss a child,” said Principal Debbie Bolden. Because most of the children are dealing with many at-risk factors at home, individual counseling is being provided where needed to help improve family situations and give every child a better chance at success. Bolden formerly served as Assistant Principal at George Hall Elementary where, with Principal Terri Tomlinson and a dedicated faculty, they converted George Hall Elementary from one of the lowest performing schools to one of the highest performing schools — not only in Mobile, but in the state.

In a conference room at Gilliard, there is a wall full of color-coded sticky notes — each containing the name of a student needing special attention. This method represents a growing trend nationally of using student data to not only improve student achievement, but also improve teacher effectiveness.

Mobile County is Alabama’s largest school system, and it has received national attention for its remarkable improvements in achievement among students in high-poverty households.

Taking the standardized testing further than what is required in the No Child Left Behind mandates, Gilliard tests every K-12 student at the end of each quarter. It also gives a new reading and math test three times per year to its elementary students — known as the Star Enterprise. This test generates detailed reports to help school leaders better identify each student’s weaknesses, and it suggests strategies to help. According to the Press-Register article, Star can “even predict how well each will perform on the state tests.”

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