A school year draws to a close
by Cathie Maglio, Blended Learning Specialist
Here I am at the tail end of another school year. It’s been busy getting students ready for MCAS, both in ELA and Math, and ready for college. This year I have been responsible for two schools, Revere High and East Boston High. Though only a few stops apart on the Blue Line, they present very different challenges. I’ll get off at Maverick first and save Revere for next time.
At East Boston High I am responsible for over 900 students in the JFYNet programs, from MCAS Prep to College and Career Readiness Accuplacer Prep to specialized English Learner reading. I work with students in 9th, 10th and 12th grades. After five years of working in the school, the JFYNet program is fully integrated into the math and English classes.
The 9th and 10th grade students are in our MCAS Prep program. They use JFYNet’s online Reading Comprehension and Math programs to build the skills they will need for the MCAS tests. Some observers criticize our approach as “teaching to the test,” but it is really teaching to the standards. Our curriculum is aligned to the state curriculum standards, from which MCAS questions are drawn. Everyone is supposed to be teaching the standards; that’s been the rule since 1998. We identify gaps in students’ mastery of those standards through assessment and fill those gaps with targeted instruction. We start in 9th grade to make up lost ground and continue in 10th grade to bring students right up to the MCAS. If we have covered enough of the standards, our students will be able to answer the MCAS questions that come directly from those standards. Students start in the fall and work with the JFYNet program twice a week for 40 minutes. Last year, our standards-based instructional program resulted in 8-point gains for East Boston High in Proficient+Advanced in both ELA and Math. The District as a whole gained 1 point in ELA and lost 2 points in math.
This year the new MCAS 2.0 tests appear to be more challenging. We adapted our instruction to meet what DESE had revealed of the new requirements. For ELA, students worked on increasing their reading comprehension scores by reading articles and answering questions about what they had read. We used the Lexile measurement embedded in our software to track comprehension gains. Students also wrote responses to “thought questions” based on the articles. This kind of extended written response is a feature of the new MCAS. We logged many gains in Lexile scores during the year. ELA testing was completed in March. We’ll be waiting anxiously to see the results.
The MCAS 2.0 Math test was given at the end of May. In preparation for this test, students were working since fall on tasks derived from the Massachusetts state frameworks. Before April vacation, students took an MCAS 2.0 practice test that JFYNet created based on practice material put out by DESE. Then students were assigned math tasks to work on based on their performance on the practice test. I enjoyed helping students work through these problems. Hopefully, all this preparation will lead to high scores on MCAS 2.0. At this point in the year, students are mostly looking forward to the end of school.
With the 12th graders I work to get them ready for post-high school endeavors–college, the military for a few, or work. Whatever they do, they will need to be able to comprehend what they are reading and perform basic math operations. They will probably have to write grammatical and comprehensible prose in emails too. It’s no longer just an academic exercise. Their teachers stress how important these skills are for success after high school. I hope the students know it too. I’ve written a lot about what JFYNet does and what I do in my role with the students, but the success of the JFYNet program is really due to the teachers and administrators. We could not produce the results we do if not for the support of the administration and the dedicated teachers who integrate our online assignments into their weekly lesson plans. Teachers also see the results of the program in improved student performance in their classes.
I have the utmost respect for all the teachers I work with. I see every day how dedicated they are to their students’ success. I have been working with the teachers at Revere High and East Boston High for 4 years. I love working with them more every year.
Another school year is ending and it’s time to take a little break, do my year-end reports, and start planning for next year. I wish all the graduating seniors success in whatever they do after high school. And I look forward to seeing my teachers, tanned and ready, in the fall.
Image credit: twitter post @liserbether