Technology + mentoring helps failing schools achieve

Technology + mentoring helps failing schools achieve

Amid growing pressure on public school districts to improve performance of chronically struggling schools, two nationally recognized education organizations have formed a consortium to offer a research-based approach for transforming these schools into successful learning environments without requiring mass dismissals of staff, school closures or turnover to charters or outside management organizations. The new initiative, called SetPoint, pairs classroom technology with intensive coaching to build capacity for sustained change within the local district.

Renaissance Learning, provider of computer-based assessment technology for pre-K–12 schools, and JBHM Education Group, specialists in changing low-performing schools, formed this new initiative based on decades of experience in thousands of schools around the country, and a belief that turning around chronically low-performing schools requires systemic change.

“There’s a good deal of evidence that school closures and mass dismissals of staff are detrimental to kids. At the same time, transformation is not a cake walk, and isn’t business as usual,” said Mike Walters, founder of JBHM and a former school superintendent. “To make big changes in results, you have to make big changes in procedures. That means helping everyone – from classroom teachers to school board members – to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently. That is the SetPoint approach to transforming schools.”The SetPoint Process: Changing Schools From Within

With the SetPoint process, most staff members remain in their positions and receive intensive coaching and modeling in best instructional practices from experienced principals and school leaders. Mentors are in the school daily to provide teachers, staff and administrators with the support they need to adhere to an approach called the “Five Essential Practices.”

The “Five Essential Practices” are designed to turn a dysfunctional school into a thriving learning community.

1) The school must use a research-based curriculum, aligned with district, state and national standards and taught with fidelity to all students.

2) The school environment and culture must be safe, secure and orderly so that learning can happen.

3) Both the amount and quality of instructional time must be increased for all students, particularly in reading, math and writing, including substantial time for guided practice of acquired skills.

4) Student achievement must be monitored constantly and consistently, using technology to both assess and analyze the data.

5) School policies and procedures must support the ongoing implementation of educational best practices – not just on professional development days, but every day of the school year.

The SetPoint model is already working in schools around the country. Just one example is Gibbs Elementary in Franklin, La. In 2006, this rural school, with 75 percent of its students qualifying for free or reduced lunch, was under academic warning and slipped into the “choice” category, which gave parents the option to send their children elsewhere. Gibbs’ School Performance Score (SPS) was only 54.9 when a JBHM specialist started working with its team. In just one year, the school’s SPS increased nearly 26 points, the largest single-year gain in the state. Comparable gains occurred in the second year.

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