Incentives have gone a long way at James Ryder Randall Elementary School, helping a struggling school post gains on state assessment tests while most other elementary and middle schools posted losses.
When Principal Sonia E. Beckford said took over the Clinton school about two years ago, its students posted their lowest fifth-grade math score — 49 percent — since 2003 on the Maryland School Assessment test, according to Maryland State Department of Education data. The MSA is an assessment test given to third- through eighth-graders each year, testing math, science and reading proficiency, and the test is the Prince George’s County Public Schools performance benchmark.
Now the school is back on track, with gains in almost every scoring category the last two years, Beckford said.
“I’m interested in what you do,” Beckford said. “Everybody can do. They just need you to believe in them that they can do it.”
The school’s gains come at a time when most county schools’ scores have decreased, with overall county reading and math scores down in most categories, according to state education data.
“Changes to curriculum and state tests can make it difficult to determine exactly why test scores for the majority of grade levels has dropped,” A. Duane Arbogast, chief academic officer, said in an email to The Gazette. “That is why it is important to look at data trends over a longer period of time. However, we still have much work to do to improve academic outcomes for our students and will continue to work with all stakeholders to ensure students have the skills they need to succeed after graduation.”
Beckford said the secret to her success is encouraging each student to improve by five to 10 points each test and students are rewarded for hitting certain numbers. Some students participate in “game days” where they can play organized games or bring their Nintendo Wii to school.
These incentives helped the school post its best fifth-grade reading score since 2003, with more than 95 percent, about a 13 percent increase from last year, receiving a proficient or advanced score on the MSA, according to state education data.
Fifth-grade reading teacher, Theresa Dillard, has taught at the school for 15 years and she said this has been the best she has seen the students perform.
“The kids love it,” Dillard said. “It is easy to teach them when they know they have these nice rewards.”
Beckford said she plans to continue using incentives because it has been so successful.
“If they perform here, they will be successful later on,” Beckford said. “We have three children who want to be president of the United States.”