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Sledding in North Park. Photograph by Kate Buckley.
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Woodland Hills school is national Title 1 'Distinguished School'

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Three teachers and the principal from Woodland Hills' Dickson Elementary have led their fourth graders to multi-year science score improvements on the state's standard test. As a result, they were invited to represent Pennsylvania this year as a Title 1 Distinguished School, one of two from the state sent to the Title 1 National Conference in Nashville, Jan. 21-24, out of 113 qualifying schools in the Commonwealth.
 
The improvements have been dramatic. In 2010, only 35 percent of the school's 4th-grade science students were proficient or advanced on the state's PSSA test. The next year, 58 percent achieved those levels, and by 2012 it was up to 87 percent, with no student rating below basic. The Title 1 Association recognizes overall growth in scores as well as schools that are closing the achievement gap.
 
The three teachers leading the effort are Lori McDowell, instructional coach, and two fourth-grade teachers, Mary Margaret Gleason and Laurie DelRosso, working under principal Allison Kline. On Jan. 28, they also attended the Title I Improving School Performance Convention at Station Square, presenting their methods for drastically improving scores.
 
"It wasn't a new curriculum," says Kline. "I gave the teachers collaboration time with the coach [and] everything was hands-on experiments. They used a lot of Bill Nye, the Science Guy videos. They made rhymes and songs, for instance, to learn the phases of the moon.
 
"And the other thing," she adds: "They used leveled readers. The kids all read about the same concepts but they got it at their reading levels."
 
Title 1 schools are those with a higher percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, which describes 83 percent of Dickson kids. In fact, Woodland Hills is a Title 1 District.
 
"There's a push district-wide for hands-on and more real-world performance tasks," she says. The improvements at Dickson under Kline also helped her students overall. "Their science scores went up, but they also had the highest increase in their reading scores too. So it trickled down to other subjects.
 
"I have a plan," she concludes. Her student will begin learning subjects relevant to the Common Core, to which state testing standards are shifting. "I've already added extra collaboration time to our fifth-grade reading teachers," she says.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Allison Kline, Dickson
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