by Gary Kaplan
Blended academic support helps teachers focus and differentiate, raise achievement and close gaps
As we move into the new school year, the pandemic still casts its shadow over our classrooms. Media articles and academic reports stretching back to the spring of 2020 have documented the efforts of schools to adapt to the crisis, and the effects of the extended disruption on student learning.
In the 2021-2022 school year in Massachusetts, the first year back in the classroom for most districts, there were scattered gains but an overall continued downward trajectory. 10th graders remained 3 percentage points below 2019 levels in English Language Arts (ELA) and 9 points down in math. Third through eighth graders were 11 points down in ELA and 10 points down in math. (All data are percent of students meeting or exceeding expectations on 10th grade MCAS from 2019 to 2022.)
Despite the overall downward trend, there were bright spots. Two schools that worked with JFYNetWorks throughout the pandemic swam against the current and recovered their 2019 achievement levels. They are East Boston High School and Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational High School—Northeast Metro Tech.
Both schools are large and diverse. East Boston is urban. NE Metro includes a wide range of cities and towns in its 12 communities. Both have high needs student subgroups among their 1000 plus populations. And both reversed almost all the learning loss of the pandemic in the aggregate and for every subgroup.
At East Boston High, ELA dropped only two points from 2019 to 2021 and surged 10 points in 2022 to surpass the baseline by 8 points. Math lost 16 points in 2021 but regained 15 of those points in 2022.
The subgroup story is equally positive. Hispanic/Latino students gained 10 points from 2019 to 2022 in ELA. In math, after losing 14 points in 2021, they gained them all back in 2022 to even the score. Students with disabilities streaked 11 points from 2019 to 2022 in ELA; after losing 4 points in math, they gained 10 points in 2022 to end 6 points above the baseline.
English language learners held steady, gaining 1 point in ELA. They dropped 11 points in math in 2021 but recovered 7 in 2022. Low income students gained 10 points in ELA from 2019 to 2022. In math, they fell 11 points in 2021 and recouped 6 in 2022.
Northeast Metro Tech is a vocational school, which means that its schedule is bifurcated into academic and vocational weeks. It has only half the class time for English and math that traditional academic high schools have. Considering that constraint, its performance has been extraordinary.
NE Metro gained 15 points in ELA from 2019 to 2022 and 7 points in math. Its Hispanic/Latino students gained 11 points in ELA and 7 points in math. Its students with disabilities, after losing 4 points in 2021, regained 9 points to finish 5 ahead of the baseline in ELA; in math they held steady. NE Metro’s low-income students gained 18 points in ELA; after dropping 22 points in math in 2021 they regained 16 in 2022. English language learners shot up 20 points in ELA and held within 2 points in math.
These schools outperformed the state and all their peer schools. The credit for their achievement goes to the skill and dedication of their teachers and administrators, who added JFY’s methods and materials to their tool box to counteract the effects of the long disruption. An extended description of these tools and their utilization can be found in the JFY Whitepaper Raising Achievement, Closing Gaps
Like any artist or artisan, a teacher needs good tools. During the pandemic, teachers tried many tools and strategies. A July 2023 study by the Center on Reinventing Public Education, Teaching recovery?, focused on the practices employed by teachers during the pandemic. The study identifies as the central issue the conflicting needs to improve overall core grade-level instruction and yet provide individualized targeted supports to students with skill gaps. The many strategic variants resolve into two tactics: individual tutoring and extended time.
Much has been written about individual tutoring. This study concludes that it is ineffective because of its high cost and the inconsistent quality of its personnel. The many permutations of extended time—extra periods, after school, weekends, vacations, summer—are also found to be ineffective because of inconsistency of attendance and staffing.
The JFYNet academic support program implemented at East Boston High and NE Metro Tech is fundamentally different from these external strategies. Its four cardinal elements—Assessment, Instruction, Measurement and Support– are integrated into the core curriculum and deployed by the teacher, with the constant support of JFY staff. Individualized skill building is folded seamlessly into grade-level instruction under the teacher’s supervision. The model is Blended Learning—customized technology delivered into the hands of the teacher. The program elements are summarized in the acronym AIMS.
Gary Kaplan is the executive director of JFYNetWorks.
Other posts authored by Gary can be found here.
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