For more than 20 years, John Muir Elementary School in South Seattle and Powerful Schools, a nonprofit organization, have partnered to help increase achievement and offer more opportunities to students. During summer 2012, this collaboration expanded outside the school year with a pilot program aimed at reducing summer learning loss.
The school’s principal and teachers teamed up with Powerful Schools staff members to select 87 struggling kindergarten through 5thgrade students to participate in the program. For five weeks during the summer, the students met for day-long sessions that included both instruction and enrichment activities. The school’s preschool was also involved and provided care before and after sessions.
The pilot’s results were very encouraging. Based on a comparison of spring to fall Measurement of Academic Progress (MAP) scores, summer learning loss was eliminated and, on average, students made good gains in reading and math.
The Kent School District and Green River Community College have teamed up to create iGrad, a program aimed at helping students who dropped out earn a high school diploma, college credentials or career skills.
iGrad, short for Individualized Graduation and Degree program, is located in a strip mall in Kent and relies on a more personalized and supportive approach to help students succeed. Participating students can choose from four options: Kent School District high school diploma; Washington State high school diploma; GED; and associate’s degree or certificate. All routes are intended to help students come back into education and advance career prospects. The popularity and need for the program are evident in its dramatic increase in enrollment.
The program began in the fall of 2012 with 159 students. As of Nov. 1, 2012, iGrad was serving 368 students. Once enrollment reaches 500 students, an expansion plan will be developed.The program is the first to be formally approved to implement the landmark legislation called the Youth Re-Engagement Act, HB 1418 (2010), which created a statewide dropout retrieval system with a single regulatory framework. The objective is to make it much easier to work across systems to serve older youth who have either dropped out of school or would not graduate before the age of 21. As a region, we need the talents of all our young people. This partnership is a great example of what we hope will encourage all youth to reach their full potential.
Many students have an area of significant skill and mastery and would like a way to receive credit for that knowledge without sitting through a semester of class. This sounds like common sense but until recently, it was hard to do.
In 2011, Seattle Public Schools saw an opportunity to help its growing population of English Language Learner (ELL) students get credit for native language skills by taking a test rather than a class. Students by the hundreds have expressed interest in this competency-based crediting approach. From October 2011 to June 2012, the district had 207 students earn world language credits using the competency method and 90% of them were awarded the equivalent of four years of credit for their demonstration of knowledge.
Highline Public Schools is also a pioneer in this arena. The district piloted the program in 2011 with 21 students and all of them earned world language credit. In the 2012–13 school year, the program is being scaled up and 600 students are anticipated to earn credit in more than 30 languages.
This new approach took off in 2010 when the State Board of Education developed policy encouraging districts to give credits for language competency. Getting world language credit in this manner is especially helpful for ELL students because it frees them to take other classes. The new crediting approach also helps students meet college entry requirements because two credits of world language are required by Washington State four-year colleges.
Too often, we see few low-income and minority students enrolled in the most challenging courses, but the Renton School District is working hard to change this practice. Over the past two years, the district has doubled Advanced Placement (AP) participation by low-income students and tripled AP participation by Black and Hispanic students. At the same time, pass rates on AP exams have remained relatively stable.
Renton’s leadership is working closely with teachers and principals to provide the types of resources and support they need to expand AP offerings. Equal Opportunity Schools, a nonprofit, has also been a strong partner in working with the Renton School District to help them identify the causes of participation gaps and target “missing students,” those who are qualified but not yet enrolled in challenging classes. Many of these students have over a 3.0 GPA and/or a teacher who believes they are ready for higher-level course work. Now these students are being encouraged and supported to enroll in AP classes. The College Board has also provided strong support to Renton teachers and administrators in building their AP program.
The Renton School District intends to continue its efforts to increase AP enrollment among under-represented groups so their participation is more in line with AP enrollment rates experienced by White, Asian and higher-income students while building the capacity to help all student groups experience improving success rates.
Highline Public Schools has made notable progress in improving math proficiency and narrowing the opportunity gap. Over the last four years, the district has shown steady increases in its 7th grade math scores, moving from 36% to 54% of students meeting the standard. Highline Public Schools has implemented a blended-learning model to improve math achievement for K–8 students. This model combines great teaching with online learning by using tools, such as the program ST Math. The use of online tools has helped increase parents’ involvement in their children’s education because these tools can be used at home as well as in the classroom. These tools have been especially effective for English Language Learners because they do not rely on extensive English language fluency.
While the district has made good gains overall, one Highline school deserves particular recognition. At Chinook Middle School, the percent of 7th grade students meeting the math standard has increased from 25% in the 2008–09 school year to 60% in 2011–12. Hispanic students, the largest student demographic at Chinook Middle School, made an even more impressive jump from 20% in 2008–09 to 57% in 2011–12.
The Auburn School District focuses on early literacy using a two-pronged approach: improving kindergarten readiness and powerful primary grade teaching. The resulting improvements in early literacy have been significant. Comparing 3rd grade reading scores, Auburn has made big gains (increasing from 68% to 84% proficient over four years) while the rest of the region has remained flat. Auburn’s progress was even faster for low-income students, closing the achievement gap by half.
The District has a unique partnership with independently run preschools to strengthen instruction. It funds professional development and provides instructional materials. The District also offers literacy screenings for kids entering kindergarten, and provides a pre-kindergarten course for at-risk students before the school year starts.
The District is expanding full-day kindergarten and has worked to ensure uniform quality of early literacy instruction. New assessments allow teachers to know the literacy level of each student. Teachers also have time for collaboration and other supports to use these data to improve the quality of instruction.
Schools in Federal Way have seen a huge increase in the number of seniors signed up for the SAT, a test used in the college admissions process, thanks to a district policy that foots the bill and offers the test during the school day.
School officials say seniors have responded en masse to the innovation, and sign-up rates jumped from 25 percent last year to 83 percent this year. Testing this year was held on Oct. 17, as part of Federal Way Public Schools’ College Preparation Day.
According to the district, providing college testing during the school day and at the district’s expense is unheard of in the state and may be unique in the nation. The new approach helps increase participation by students who work on the weekends, who may not have transportation to get to a testing site on a Saturday or for whom there are financial barriers, school officials said.
For more information, head to the Federal Way Public Schools website.