A preliminary review of the Following the Leaders (FTL) program, released Sept. 28, reports that 122 participating schools have demonstrated marked improvements in both reading and math scores–sometimes at more than twice the usual state averages. Mississippi reported a 39-percent decrease in the number of its schools rated as “low performing” since joining the program last year.

FTL Executive Director Faye Taylor, who spoke with eSchool News about the state of the project last month, said she was pleased with its progress.

“Teachers needed a way to identify students’ needs on an individual basis,” Taylor said. “Historically, technology had not been very effective in the remediation of student deficiencies.”

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    Testing, for instance, often took too long and did not provide teachers with enough time during the course of the semester to properly adjust their teaching practices, she said. Before NCLB, teachers relied primarily on their instincts to identify and address students’ strengths and weaknesses in the classroom. Now, she said, all of that can be done through the use of targeted assessments and individualized reporting.

    FTL uses a variety of programs and software tools to help schools meet NCLB mandates. It employs Achievement Technologies’ Skills Tutor software to give school leaders easy access to achievement data and instructional resources. A product called Homeroom, from The Princeton Review, helps participating schools strengthen their students’ academic skills and improve their performance on high-stakes tests. The Milken Family Foundation provides a tool, called the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP), that focuses on improving teacher quality. Also, AccountabilityWorks provides cost analysis for participating states, as well as technical assistance to help optimize resources.

    School administrators involved in the project say they’re starting to see results.

    At Van Buren County School District in Spencer, Tenn., family resources coordinator and curriculum instruction department analyst Linda Singleton said the online tutoring and assessment tools provided through FTL “have worked very well” for the more than 500 students participating across this small, rural school district.

    “Teachers have had absolutely nothing bad to say about it,” she said of the program.

    Though Tennessee is not expected to receive its NCLB data until sometime later this month, Singleton said she has already seen “some students with gains.”

    She said the district’s FTL representatives have assured her that ELC and its new leadership would remain committed to the project.

    Still, only a small portion of the district’s teachers are involved in the project so far. Based on the results, Singleton hopes more teachers will consider integrating the program this year. Eventually, she said, the district wants more than 25 percent of its teachers using the tools provided through FTL.

    Judy Whelley, a teacher-coach at the World of Wonder (WOW) Academy, a charter school in Dayton, Ohio, told eSchool News last month that educators there also were encouraged by the results.

    Though it took a while to get FTL off the ground, she said, the assessment tool turned out to be “a wonderful source of data” for educators. Of the 18 teachers and administrators participating in the program, Whelley said, nearly all of them used the data to match their teaching styles to students’ individual needs.

    “It’s a tool to help change instruction,” she said. “It’s asking, What can we do to perpetuate the good stuff [in these kids]? We think it has great potential.”

    Taylor said she was “very pleased” with the early returns, especially in places like Mississippi, where FTL has its largest presence.

    In schools that have implemented the model correctly, there is a general consensus that student test results are improving for all students–not just those who are struggling, she said.

    “Some schools have used this program so creatively,” she said. “I think FTL is very, very solid. The program is solid. The data we are getting [are] solid. The merger is going to do nothing but make our program much better.”

    Links:

    Achievement Technologies
    http://www.achievementtechnologies.com

    Princeton Review
    http://www.educators.princetonreview.com

    Milken Family Foundation
    http://www.mff.org/tap

    Accountability Works
    http://www.accountabilityworks.org