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EPO math accolades adding up

East Port Orchard Elementary sixth-graders work on math in study groups. - Jesse Beals/Staff Photo
East Port Orchard Elementary sixth-graders work on math in study groups.
— image credit: Jesse Beals/Staff Photo

Look no further than the statistics to explain East Port Orchard Elementary’s National Title I School of Distinction Award from the U.S. Department of Education.

From 2006-07 to the last school year, math scores on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) have improved 7.3 percent at the third-grade level with a 20.9 percent increase in the low-income subgroup at EPO.

Among low-income students, the increases were 17.1 percent and 3.1 percent among fourth- and fifth-graders, respectively.

Math scores in both categories from third through sixth grade also increased.

EPO was one of two schools in Washington state honored by the Department of Education for its progress. The school was eligible for the honor by meeting Adequate Yearly Progress rates for three consecutive years and showing consistent growth in its low-income population.

To be eligible for the award, a school must be a Title I institution. Those schools are determined by the amount of students who receive free and reduced-price lunch. In the South Kitsap School District, EPO, Burley Glenwood, Orchard Heights and Sidney Glen Elementary schools meet that criteria.

Linda Munson, director of special programs in SKSD, said EPO has the highest number of students in the district receiving free or reduced lunch at nearly 51 percent this year. She said the state average traditionally has been around 35 percent.

EPO principal Kristy Smith said the award is reflective of the school’s ability to close the “achievement gap” between the low-income population and others. Smith said the selection committee was impressed that EPO’s low-income sixth graders outperformed the rest of the students on the math portion of the WASL.

“As our poverty rate has gone up, our scores have gone up,” Smith said. “All kids can learn and will learn.”

Smith attributes the school’s success to multiple factors. She said EPO has regular parent training nights for math to assist them in helping their children through homework. Smith said math also has been a significant focus of EPO’s improvement plan, and because of its Title I distinction, it receives federal aid to assist that. The school has support staff, such as teacher Kristine Lange, to work with small groups.

“It’s very targeted,” Lange said. “If we have a group that needs help with multiplication facts, we’ll work with them. It’s based on the kids needs.”

Lange, who has worked at EPO for 16 years, said the school has overhauled the math program during her tenure and has developed a more consistent curriculum for teaching it. EPO doesn’t use the traditional workbook based method that often featured many addition, subtraction, multiplication and division problems — in addition to timed tests — and a few story problems. They still use books, but they feature more practical applications to math, such as balancing a checkbook, in addition to written responses and the traditional workbook questions.

In a sense, Lange said it’s focused toward different learning styles.

“To see the growth we’ve seen in these kids is amazing,” she said. “It’s been a huge morale boost to the staff and exciting for our kids.”

The school will accept its award during the National School Wide Title I Conference on Feb. 18-20 in San Antonio. EPO receives a $10,000 award that’s earmarked for professional development. In addition to Smith, EPO teachers Bill Johnson, Susan Kelley, Richcia Lane, Lange, Kim Lefler and Shirley Wall will attend. Smith said there will be an assembly to celebrate the award with the students after the group returns from Texas.

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