A panel on education reform at Washington’s Mainstream Republicans’ Cascade 2012 conference presented keys to improve student performance. Panelist Patti Banks, Superintendent of University Place School District said: “We only influence student learning by what we teach, how we teach it, and how long we teach it.” Their program incorporates another principle: frequent assessment with rapid feedback. We all used those principles learning to speak.
Banks’ district adds 40 minutes per day of math for the lowest performing 5-7th graders. Sixty percent of them passed the state standard. Banks added, “There are whole school districts that don’t reach that level.”
Panelist Laura Sloan, district math specialist, insisted, “It’s not just me.” Their Getting It Project is a three district consortium where teams focus on math from K-12.
The District provides a ‘guaranteed and viable’ curriculum so students who transfer should pick up from where they were within a day. Quarterly the District assesses what curriculum is being taught in the classrooms “and then we spend a lot of time looking at that data.” Sloan is concerned about school reform focusing on teacher and principal evaluations because the State Measurement of Student Progress provides less information than their assessments.
Sloan said teams develop the programs and participate in math institutes, working “on models of math instruction, delving deeper into their own knowledge of math instruction and how to bring it to the students to help all students learn.”
A 7th grade transfer student formerly enrolled in pre-algebra at the neighboring district she had attended since kindergarten tested lower than any student in Sloan’s grade. Sloan said, “That tells me that not all districts are looking at the kids who are not achieving and providing those kids an intervention. We spend a lot of time talking about what we can do for every single student.”
Representative J.T. Wilcox, (2nd Dist., R), the third panelist, said, “Olympia hears long, long discussions about why you can’t overcome [the deficit gap]. What we heard today is we can overcome it and every kid deserves this.”
The same principles are working at Westside High School in a diagnostic Comprehensive Reading Program piloted last fall. A team was funded by Wenatchee Rotary to attend an institute on Spell To Write & Read, recommended by retired Wenatchee reading specialist Cheryl Armstrong. Students had reading intervention added to their course load and “monthly assessments pinpointed next steps and specific skills for individual growth.” All of them made substantial progress and over half the students reached or exceeded the 9th grade standard. Armstrong said one student announced, “It makes me feel smart.” Student Monica Sanchez told Rotary members, “Now I can fill out an employment application without spelling errors.”
Warning: placement tests waste student dollars and time on remedial courses. A Seattle Times article on June 12, 2012 noted the Community College Research Center (CCRC) in New York found placement tests are miserable predictors of student performance. Brief refresher sessions can improve placement test results. The Gates Foundation is funding interventions for specific skill deficiencies at Seattle Community College. One refresher on fractions helped Navy veteran Leeia Isabelle, 24, skip a year-and-a-half of required remedial math. She said, “Who remembers how to do fractions?”
Students can refresh their skills individually. On the Internet I searched ‘free online remedial math’ and in two minutes was online at openlearn.open.ac.uk taking a refresher on fractions with immediate assessments in a course rated five star by 20 users. You can buy the Spell To Write & Read text for $35. Our regional library’s Research & Homework Center, has access to thousands of resources and decades of experience helping learners of all ages with a library card. The card is free.
We need to focus educational reform on finding educational programs that work, studying what is taught, how it is taught, how long it is taught and how frequently students, teachers and principals are given relevant feedback. If the school’s curriculum isn’t working, individualize student learning that works.