In her first year teaching at a public school, her students’ test scores were good. When she came to Advantage she said it took some time for the kids to get on board, but as soon as they did, COVID changed things.
Kids were out of the classroom from March to August.
Attendance became a problem.
While learning remotely, they either weren’t joining the session or were distracted.
When students returned in-person, Starks found they were not retaining information. Even with all those factors to blame, she looked inward and began to doubt herself and her methods.
Math Teacher LaTisha Starks has helped Advantage Academy be recognized by The Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) as a Comeback Campus.
“It was a big challenge,” she said. “It was making me feel like I wasn’t doing anything because the kids were not retaining any information, and I'm like ‘Am I the problem?’ I was determined to work extra hard because I knew I could do better than this.”
Now in her fourth year at Advantage, Starks and her students persevered as Advantage was recognized by The Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) as a Comeback Campus. A Louisiana Comeback Campus is a school where students are performing at higher levels in math and reading than before the pandemic. Forty-one schools in the state earned the honor by increasing the percentage of students scoring mastery and above and decreasing the percentage of students scoring unsatisfactory in both math and ELA on 2022 statewide assessments when compared to 2019. Advantage exceeded pre-pandemic proficiency rates in ELA (+10%), math (+12%), and overall (+5%).
There were other factors as Starks’ weighed her future as a teacher. She thought about putting her master's degree in business administration with a concentration in finance to use in another profession. She also had concerns about putting her family members at risk if she returned to in-person teaching with her dad having asthma. But in the end, she wanted to prove to herself and others that she could succeed as a teacher.
LaTisha Starks is in her fourth year at Advantage.
“I said, ‘I have to come back.’ They can’t look at me as a person who doesn’t know what they were doing,” she said. “When I came back last year, I said, ‘This is my year.’ I have to prove a point. I had no excuses.”
Starks had one thing in her favor – in moving to seventh grade math, she would be teaching students she previously taught. As students returned to in-person learning, she found they were lacking in multiplication and division, which made for a time-consuming period of catch-up. They also were having trouble comprehending word problems for their interim assessments. Starks began incorporating small groups into her class based off observations from the intervention team, which also provided help with kids who were on the spectrum.
Starks said data from the interim assessments before holiday break showed the kids had done well but some scored on the lower end. In January, intervention groups for sixth, seventh and eighth graders were implemented, and students were pulled out individually to review questions.
Starks also had the students read the questions and let them navigate the path to the solution. The entire class discussed a problem on the board, asked her questions, and found their mistakes instead of the teacher reading to them and steering them toward the answer.
“That helped a lot because I started getting a lot of feedback from the kids,” she said.
To combat the time spent learning those foundational skills, Starks made sure she was as organized as possible with her scope and sequence to make sure certain standards were covered before advancing. She worked out test questions herself to break down the process of arriving at an answer. During the second half of the school year, she took the remaining units and condensed what needed to be covered before the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP) test.
Throughout the year she stressed the importance of exercises that would help students on the LEAP, but the students were on their own once the test arrived. When she heard of the positive scores, her nerves were put at rest. Among the results:
- Advantage closed the learning loss gap in proficiency on the state test faster than the local district, closest schools, and the state in every subject.
- In 2021-22, Advantage outperformed its local district in every subject and by 14 percentage points overall.
- In 2021-22, Advantage outperformed its closest schools by 2 percentage points overall.
- In 2021-22, Advantage received an overall letter grade of a B, the first time an NHA school in Louisiana has earned this grade.
- Advantage’s overall School Performance Score (SPS) change from 2020-21 to 2021-22 was at the 98th percentile of all K-8 schools in Louisiana.
“When times get rough, don't ever give up. Keep thriving,” Starks said. “If it wasn’t for my students, I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today.”
Keep up the excellent work, Ms. Starks!
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Advantage Charter Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school located in Baker, Louisiana, serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes over 95 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit nhaschools.com.