On the road to graduation, ninth grade is the place where many students lose their way. To help all students cross the finish line with a diploma in hand, it is vital that we make sure incoming freshmen get off to a successful start in high school.
After graduating from Vero Beach High School and beginning my teaching career there, I worked in a neighboring county for 10 years before returning to my alma mater as principal in 2009. Although the suburban school was high performing, I noticed a growing achievement gap: While students were proficient as eighth graders, their achievement levels dropped as they progressed through high school.
We knew we couldn’t wait for results from district benchmarks or quarterly assessments to help pinpoint the problems. That first semester we implemented an online educational program that is built directly from state standards and, with real-time reporting, gives teachers the ability to monitor student mastery daily and quickly identify learning gaps as they relate to the state standards. Called Study Island, the program combines self-paced instruction with games and rewards to reinforce student accomplishments as they master grade-level content and help students take control of their learning.
Monitoring student progress
Nearly all ninth graders work on the software in math, reading, writing, and science. In addition, targeted tenth graders work on the program to address achievement gaps. With the reporting data, teachers are able to differentiate instruction and provide targeted interventions to narrow achievement gaps in the classroom and help students prepare for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). Teachers also use the data to affirm students’ successes, which boosts their confidence.
To ensure all students make the most of their high school education, I also regularly monitor student progress and disaggregate data by student subgroups. Plus, I created a subgroup for student athletes to track their mastery of state standards and evaluate their performance as a whole.
On our campus of 2,700 students, we have nearly 700 athletes. Almost all the athletes who used Study Island improved their performance on our benchmark exams. The football players, who had the lowest averages in class and the lowest success rate on our exams, made substantial increases. We also saw significant gains among other athletes, including members of our baseball, tennis, and swim teams.
To strengthen the school-to-home connection, we also use the online program’s parent notification system to automatically eMail reports to parents about their child’s performance. With the reports, parents can chart their child’s progress and see how their child is likely to perform on the FCAT.
Strengthening writing skills
To help students stay on track throughout high school, I also believe it is critical to focus on writing as early as possible. If students are not involved in writing every day, they do not perform as well on their state tests.
So, in addition to working on math, reading, and science in the online educational program, students and teachers also use a Writing Assignment module, which provides a paperless way to develop writing skills across the curriculum. Using this module, teachers choose from grade-specific writing prompts or create their own writing assignments for students. Students use online graphic organizers to plan their written responses, and create and submit their compositions online. Teachers then electronically send grades and comments back to students, or ask for revisions.