Stories by Madelynn Coldiron
It’s been five years since the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1, which refocused the state’s education reform, retooled its accountability system and set students on the path to college and career readiness. And it’s been three years since Education Commissioner Terry Holliday issued his challenge to school boards, asking them to commit to ensuring that all of their students graduate ready for college and careers.
How have boards and schools taken up this challenge? Here’s a look at how three of the state’s high schools – different from each other in size, demographics and location – have increased their college and career readiness rate.
Photo: Somerset High School students Andy Buteyn and Sarah Estep use the school’s 3D printer as part of its STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) pipeline; Buteyn is adjusting the work area, while Estep designs their next project on the computer-aided design program. Photo provided by Somerset Independent Schools
Somerset High School: No-surprises approach is working
Teachers and administrators at Somerset High School want to make sure there are no surprises for students. For every class, technical courses included, students receive a learning target sheet that tells them in advance what they will be responsible for knowing.
“They know daily, weekly and even further about every learning target they are expected to know and that they will be covering,” Principal Wesley Cornett said. Students, he added, view the material with more confidence when “it’s laid out for them.”
He compared the approach to sports philosophy: “You need to be prepared for the final event and that final event may be the quiz, the test, the end-of-course assessment, the ACT, the KOSSA or WorkKeys. But we’re preparing them with a playbook and the playbook is going to be their learning targets.”
A big focus on data helps drive instruction, Superintendent Boyd Randolph said, and that allows teachers to immediately see where students are in terms of achievement and quickly make adjustments. That is true no matter what the course of study, he said.
“We have the exact same expectations for career-ready performance as we do college-ready performance,” Randolph said.
The independent system has gained steadily in its college and career readiness rate over the past two years, moving from 41 percent of its graduates in 2011 to 81.8 percent in 2013.
ACT preparation is intensive, during and after school, and through an online study program that students can access from home. It’s so focused that in the run-up to the April testing session, a popular Twitter hashtag locally was “#ACT quarantine,” said Cornett, who often takes to Twitter to communicate about the school.
Once those ACT scores are in for juniors, said district assessment coordinator Cindy Ham, counselors and administrators “track those students and make sure we don’t lose any kids that have not met benchmarks on the ACT. We track them and make sure they get training or tutoring or whatever they need” to meet the standard on another try.
From the time they enter Somerset High, students get individual attention with college and career planning. “We look at every transcript and every schedule for every freshman, and then we literally track those as they progress as a sophomore, as a junior,” said Yvonneda Gosser, the district’s coordinator of technology and information.
This ensures in a general sense that administrators provide students with information about their area of interest and in a specific sense that students are getting the classes they need, such as taking the right technical education course they may need to pass a skills test.
The tracking system, in which there’s a spreadsheet for every student, helps school personnel “know who’s doing what where,” Ham said.
Career pathways are set up with some flexibility and overlap in skills, Gosser said, so if students decide to switch pathways, “they don’t feel they’ve just wasted their time.”