"Foundations for Success
To broaden understanding of what it takes to keep students in school (or to return out-of-school students to the classroom) and on track for college, this report pulls from the high school reform movement to profile five Gates-supported-sites that are showing evidence of success. Four of the sites are secondary schools; two of them are part of charter management organizations (CMOs) and two are part of the local school districts. The fifth site is a program designed to bring out-of-school youth back into the classroom. All of the sites serve an ethnically and socioeconomically diverse student population and, at some point and in some fashion, all have identified as their overarching goal ensuring that students are college-ready. Staff at these sites recognize that, in the end, not all of their students will opt for college right after high school: some may not be able to afford it; some may want to pursue other interests (e.g., trade school, the military); some may feel limited by personal circumstances (e.g., the need to help support their family, a pregnancy). But whatever students ultimately choose as a next step after high school, these programs are committed to making sure students are academically prepared for higher education should they seek it." (pg. 5)
"Washington State Achievers Program
Mabton Jr./Sr. High School is one of 16 schools in the state of Washington that receives support from the Washington Achievers Program. Created in 2001, the program works with large high schools serving low-income populations to increase the number of students enrolling and succeeding in college. In addition to supporting high school redesign efforts aimed at raising academic achievement, the program has a student scholarship program. Last year, approximately one-third of Mabton graduates received a full-ride college scholarship through the program. The Achievers Program reports that since its inception, its 16 member high schools have shown increases in38 the number of college prep courses offered and the number of students enrolled in them, the number of students passing the state's reading and mathematics exams, and the number of graduating students meeting course requirements for admission to a four-year public university in Washington State."
"To expand and enhance staff commitment, the district invited any interested teachers to join implementation committees that addressed such key issues as curriculum adoption and professional development.
The principal notes that, today in Mabton, "everyone is responsible for their piece of the puzzle to make sure students have the skills, abilities, and the thinking processes that allow them to be successful when they move forward." College awareness efforts begin in the 5th and 6th grades when students visit college campuses. Seventh and 8th grade teachers prepare students for high school to ensure they enter performing at grade level. And the 9th to 12th grade teachers are focused on preparing their students for college.
Implementing an academically rigorous curriculum
Once staff members agreed on the goal of readying students for college success, they developed a plan for meeting the goal, a plan that started with the adoption of a rigorous curriculum for every student. The school eliminated all remedial courses in favor of exclusively offering college preparatory courses. Additionally, the district's graduation requirements were changed to reflect the entrance requirements for a four-year college. "As a school, we raised the bar and the students are meeting the challenge," reports the principal.
Today, this academic shift is apparent in the available courses and in course enrollment. In 1996, Mabton offered no AP classes; today it offers four, and it plans to add more next year. Moreover, 40 of 109 juniors and seniors are now in AP English, with many others in AP Biology and AP Spanish. Approximately 85 percent of Mabton High School students now take Algebra II, and the school offers Algebra III (i.e., pre-calculus) as well. While Mabton's staff are not yet satisfied with student progress in math performance, the improvements are encouraging (see Table 2). A few years ago, physics and chemistry were offered only every other year due to low enrollment. Today, both courses are offered every year. In fact, rising demand has led to the addition of a second section for chemistry.
Examining and improving instruction
While many districts talk of setting high expectations for students, Mabton staff recognized the need to set high expectations for themselves as well. In the course of planning, they had discussed the importance of ensuring that students were receiving the kind of instruction they needed to succeed in the more exacting coursework. That series of conversations led to what was perhaps the most difficult and critical part of the school's transformation: coming to grips with the understanding that, as teachers, they would need to evaluate and perhaps revise their classroom practices. Thinking back to the discussions, the principal recalls, "We had to quit making excuses for why our kids weren't doing well - because of poverty or mobility - and start examining what we were doing in the classroom."
Mabton is committed to creating an environment in which everyone is expected to learn, including the principal and the school's most experienced teachers. A district-level staff member now mentors the principal, and the school's administrative structure has been shifted to enable the principal to provide greater support for teachers. In many schools, a principal's instruction-related efforts are undermined by his or her need to spend untold hours on paperwork and other noninstructional management responsibilities. In Mabton, the principal's chief role is now that of instructional leader, working closely with staff on all things related to curriculum and instruction. In turn, the vice-principal is responsible for noninstructional aspects of the school, such as attendance, discipline, and parent communication.
To further support teachers, Mabton has established on-site coaching positions. These individuals, who spend a lot of time in classrooms doing what staff call "elbow-to-elbow" coaching, have been especially helpful in helping teachers build confidence in teaching the new, more rigorous courses (e.g., advanced math). One significant objective is to create a system in which teachers are continuously assessing student performance, measuring their own effectiveness, and adjusting their instruction accordingly. "We're getting pretty good at looking at our students' data," says the principal. "We know our students and we know them pretty well."
For more information on Mabton School District, visitwww.mabton.wednet.edu." (pgs. 14-17)