Independence High School reaches #2 in testing growth

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Schools are measured by two things: Proficiency and Academic Growth. For the latter of those two, Independence High School has become a beacon of growth in both its community and its entire state. For the past few years the local school has moved up rapidly. They currently are ranked number two in their district and seventeenth in the state.

“This is a testament of our staff and their dedication to really identify what it is kids are expected to learn within the content area, and taking them beyond that,” saysIndependence High School Principal, David LeGrand.

A school is expected to create at least one year of academic growth in each student. This growth is measured during the End of Course exams provided by the state. A school’s Education Value-Added Assessment System, or EVAAS, is evaluated every year through these state tests. A normal year of growth is anywhere from a -2 to a +2. Independence High has consistently been scoring well above that, recently reaching a 10.9 on the EVAAS scale.

“It’s that Academic Growth that we’re most excited about because that is a true indication of our impact as educators on a student’s academic performance.” LeGrand shares. “There’s still work to do in terms of Proficiency. We’d like to increase our Proficiency by at least five percent overall. However, we are excited about and proud of the work that we have done. Our staff has been able to take kids from where they are and exceed expectations.”

LeGrand says this success is in large part due to educator-driven implementation of reading strategies and differentiation in teacher instruction of the material.

“Reading is that fundamental skill that all kids must have in order to access the content or the curriculum whether it be Math, Biology, Chemistry – even in the Performing Arts like Theatre and Chorus. Students have to be able to read and understand in order to be able to solve problems.” LeGrand explains. “Our teachers quite often use those reading and literacy strategies even though they may not have been traditionally trained as a reading or literacy professional.”

Differentiation is another important part of Independence High’s program. Principal LeGrand encourages his teachers to be creative and employ a certain amount of autonomy in their classrooms to help each individual succeed. He uses a powerful metaphor to explain: “The hypothetical I use is, if I have to get a person from the first floor of a building to the second floor, what are the ways I can do that? There are stairs and an elevator, but a person may not be physically able to use the stairs. They may have a phobia of closed spaces that prevents them from using the elevator. What do you do then? They still have to get from the first floor to the second floor. How can we think outside the box? I tell my staff to take that concept and apply it to their curriculum. What is that we need to do to get that kid to access his/her learning. Is it reading? Is it translating in a native language to help them understand the concept? Is it more one-on-one tutoring? Can they draw a picture out to show what they know as opposed to writing? So, teachers have to figure out what it is they need to do to help that kid access the content.”

Mastery of these elements are what really inspire an esteem boost in a student. Being successful on an End of Course exam lets a child know they can be academically strong and do well. “Our work is mostly empowering the student to go forward with confidence.” LeGrand states. “We say to students you have to prepare and plan or plan to prepare for life beyond high school. What is your plan and how do you prepare for that or how do you prepare so you can have a plan after high school?”

LeGrand also believes the continued success of Independence High is because there is a strong group of teachers who have remained in place for a number of years. “When teachers are willing to invest in students for years, that definitely sends a message to the kids. They absolutely pick up on that.”

With the end of the current quarter happening this last week of October, LeGrand is excited and ready to continue the great work his staff is doing. “We will have some data analysis this week. Teams of teachers will meet and look over how our kids did in each standard on the assessment. We want to continue to address any gaps in the curriculum and go back to reloop and increase the students’ skill levels with the content.”

Teaching is tough but rewarding. Independence High School and its employees are ready to continue their current trajectory. “Teaching is a job in which you never stop learning.” LeGrand states, and he and his team are more than prepared to keep moving forward.

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Kourtney received her BA from the University of South Carolina in 2009. Her true love is storytelling. She loves literature, film, music, drama, and dance for the unique ways each fine art can tell a story. She is married to Tyler, the best part of her own story. She loves Jesus, her 16 nieces and nephews, her three cats, her church and Life Group, doing celebrity impressions, hot cocoa, Oreos, PB M&Ms, and Disneyworld.