Schools’ software use raises test scores– and eyebrows

With the accountability requirements of the new education law signed by President Bush last month (story, Page One), schools will be looking for ways to prepare their students for high-stakes tests. They might want to follow the example of Hooks Independent School District, which raised test scores by 10 percentage points within a year using software from Curriculum Advantage.

Located in rural Texas, Hooks ISD is considered a low-wealth district, with 60 percent of its 1,050 students qualifying for the federal lunch program. One of the district’s goals was to level the educational playing field for its students, ensuring they would meet the rigorous demands of the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TASS) test.

To do this, Hooks made a significant commitment to eliminate the digital divide by investing in technology with help from Title I funds and other sources. In 1998 Hooks selected the Class Works Gold Edition 2 educational software system to demonstrate that a small school district with low-income students could reach the highest standards established by the state.

The TAAS test measures student achievement in reading, writing, science, social studies, and math. Every student must pass the test to graduate from a Texas high school. In addition to measuring student performance by grade and by district, each school is given a rating: exemplary, recognized, acceptable, and low-performing. After using the ClassWorks program in grades K-8 for three years, Hooks received its first-ever exemplary rating.

ClassWorks Gold Edition 2 is a comprehensive learning system designed to improve student achievement in math and language arts. It delivers teachers’ favorite educational software within a K-12 curriculum. Hooks purchased the ClassWorks Gold Texas Edition, which was developed specifically for Texas students with input from the Houston Independent School District. The system imports students’ actual scores on the TAAS test and automatically creates a learning path for them based on their TAAS performances.

“Receiving an exemplary score is a significant achievement, because to do this, the district must score 90 percent or better on all tests for its entire school population,” said Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Micah Lewis.”Ever since we implemented ClassWorks, teachers and kids have given great feedback on the product, and we feel that it has been crucial in why our scores have improved.”

And improved they have. The aggregate student scores for the district in 2000 were 86.7 percent.

“Within one year, that number increased to 96 percent,” said Lewis.”In addition, the 2001 scores for 10th grade minority students had 100 percent passing all three areas of the TAAS exam. [It] is extremely impressive for students to score this high on all portions of the test.”

“We were not just seeking a technology solution to help improve scores,” said Hooks Superintendent James Wilcox.”We were looking for a way to have teachers work smarter, not harder. The TAAS test requires a significant amount of teacher time to aggregate data. We do not want our teachers focused on crunching numbers; we want them focused on the students. This is where ClassWorks is a problem-solver. It takes the laborious task of aggregating data and streamlines the process with customized lesson plans.”

According to Lewis, the ClassWorks system helps teachers address the curriculum that students need to master for the TAAS test and allows teachers to identify the areas in which students need additional support. The district appreciates that the software is flexible, allowing teachers to select the skills or content that they want students to work on. The Grade Level Evaluation (GLE) part of the program gives teachers a benchmark for each student and helps them adjust lessons based on the needs of the individual. In addition, previous years’ TAAS results can be downloaded into the program to prescribe targeted instruction.

Technology Coordinator Elizabeth Epps is a 15-year Hooks veteran. She remarked that since the district started using ClassWorks three years ago, she has noticed a positive change in the students.

“Our students love using ClassWorks. In fact, we have some students that are so engaged that we literally have to go over and take the headsets off of them and make sure they get to lunch—or they wouldn’t go,” she said.”It’s like Christmas for them. They can’t wait to get working, and their faces light up as they move through the different programs.”

Epps added that since Hooks began using ClassWorks and its scores improved so dramatically, the district has had dozens of school officials from Texas, as well as Tennessee and Mississippi, visit to view the software in action: “Once [they] see the computer labs in action, they want to buy ClassWorks. It’s a piece of software that the kids love using and helps teachers closely track individual progress.”

Related links:
Hooks Independent School District

ClassWorks Gold Edition 2

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