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College and Career Readiness through Blended Learning

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Reflections on the Blue Line - A school year draws to a close

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.

Education and Inequality, trying its level best, the “Great Equalizer” needs a lift

Education and Inequality

The “great equalizer” of education can only nudge the scales so far.

By Greg Cunningham, Blended Learning Specialist

In his FY20 budget proposal, Governor Charlie Baker has waded into the discussion of fair funding for school districts in Massachusetts. He has proposed large increases for districts that have been clearly underfunded for years. While presenting the proposed changes and recognizing the fight many districts have been waging for years, some even threatening legal action against the state, Baker proclaimed the adage we have heard many times: “Education is the great equalizer.”

MCAS 2.0: Standards-based assessments support data-driven, student-centered instruction

How standards-based assessments support data-driven, student-centered instruction

by Cathie Maglio, Blended Learning Specialist

The JFYNet program creates opportunity by using technology in the form of student-centered blended learning to help young people develop the skills to thrive in school and ultimately in the world of work. This is accomplished by working in schools to help students improve their reading, writing and math skills. There are a few ways to measure the skill development of each student: MCAS scores, quizzes embedded in the software programs, scores on SAT and Accuplacer, and finally placements directly into college-level classes without remediation.

From Ethiopia to Architecture: My Journey - Selamawit Balcha's Journey

by Joan Reissman, Blended Learning Specialist

One Student’s Brave Journey

As a Blended Learning Specialist with JFYNetWorks, I have met many students. It’s the best part of my job– meeting people and helping them succeed. I enjoy working with all students, but some naturally stand out. Selamawit Balcha is one of those stand-outs. She was in one of my classes at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in 2014 and I was immediately impressed by her determination and focus. I knew she would be successful. She is now working towards her architecture degree at Wentworth Institute of Technology. I asked her to share her story and she responded with the following account.

Seeking the balance; planting the seed for success

There will always be joys and tragedies.

by Cathie Maglio, Blended Learning Specialist

Another tragic and senseless loss. A Haverhill High student who had just graduated was shot and killed last month when he answered a knock on his door. This student participated in the JFYNet program at Haverhill High last year. I did not know him personally, but having spent many hours and days at Haverhill High I know the principal, many teachers, and dozens of students I have worked with over the past two years. I feel the loss of this young life too.

Labor shortage continues. 99% of jobs go to college graduates

Labor Shortage Continues

99% of Jobs Go to College Graduates

by Gary Kaplan, JFYNetWorks Executive Director

“There are no jobs for high school diplomas.”

The May jobs report reiterates a theme we have been hearing with increasing urgency: the shortage of skilled labor. The current 4.3% unemployment rate is a 16-year low. That means there are very few unattached workers available at a time when job openings are near all-time highs. For employers who can’t find qualified workers it means foregoing opportunities for expansion. For the economy at large it means slower growth. But it’s not just a quantitative problem, it’s also qualitative: there aren’t enough workers with the specific skills employers need. The wide range and varied dimensions of the skills shortage are indicated by a survey of Saturday’s newspaper reports.

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    Improved Student Achievement: The JFYNet Track Record

    Impacts of College and Career Readiness

    JFYNetWorks was founded on the belief that all young people can find their own unique path to success in our dynamic economy– if they acquire the right skills.  We put that belief into practice through a blended learning methodology: online curriculum delivered in the classroom and managed by the teacher. This blended methodology– digital content mediated by the teacher– enables teachers to customize instruction to the needs of individual students. Our objective is to strengthen the language and math skills of high school students so that when they graduate they will be able to meet the demands of college and careers. JFYNet staff train and coach teachers through hands-on assistance in the classroom.

    Click here to download the JFY’s SY 2012-2019 Track Record.

    JFYNet saves $3.3M in tuition for students

    Our instructional content is designed, and constantly re-designed, to develop the language and math foundations of college and career readiness. Alignment to academic and workplace standards is the key to meeting the spiraling skill demands of our labor market. We work in urban schools where the achievement gaps are widest and the need greatest. Serving more than 3000 students each year, we have helped tens of thousands of young people overcome personal and social obstacles in our 43 years of career-focused education and training.

    We measure our results by the same benchmarks the state uses: MCAS for high school graduation and Accuplacer for college readiness. While we acknowledge the limitations of these measurement instruments, we recognize their documentary importance for the individual student and their validity as competency measurements against statewide skill standards developed by teachers and accepted since 1998 as valid benchmarks of college and career readiness. We help students meet these standards by building the foundational skills they embody.

    MCAS

    In Boston and statewide, MCAS scores showed no gains from 2013 to 2018 while achievement gaps for black, Hispanic, EL and low-income students widened. In JFYNet schools, by contrast, which are predominantly minority and low-income, scores went up an average of 10.7 percentage points. (The new MCAS 2.0 debuted in high school in 2019 with new content and a revamped scoring system, making longitudinal comparisons with previous years invalid.) JFY’s performance data reach back to 2000.

    EXAMPLES:

    • In 2015 Madison Park’s MCAS math passing rate dropped to 57% and the school was downgraded to Level 4, the last step before receivership. The District brought in JFYNet in 2016. Our math intervention raised passing scores 13 points to 70% by 2018.
    • At East Boston High in 2014 Proficient + Advanced had dropped to 68% in ELA and 47% in math, placing the school in danger of downgrade to Level 4. The District brought in JFYNet in 2015. By 2018 ELA scores had risen 6 points to 74% and math scores 14 points to 61%, avoiding the threatened downgrade.
    • At West Roxbury Academy, also a District placement of JFYNet, math scores rose 13 points and ELA 8 points from 2015 to 2018.
    • JFYNet entered Greater Lowell Tech in 2016-17 working exclusively with Students with Disabilities (SWD), the school’s lowest performing group. During the two years 2016-18 SWD Proficient/Advanced scores went up 12 points in ELA and 12 points in math. Because of the improved SWD performance, schoolwide P/A scores went up 4 points in ELA and 7 points in math.
    • At Holyoke High in 2017-18, 61% of math students who took both pre-and post-tests achieved average gains of 11 points. El and Former EL students raised their MCAS P/A score 11 points.

    COLLEGE READINESS – ACCUPLACER

    JFY’s college readiness program builds reading and math skills to reach college readiness as measured by the College Board Accuplacer assessment, the official state standard since 1998. This is accomplished through individualized online learning plans delivered by JFY’s AIMS methodology (Assess, Instruct, Measure, Support).

    SAT

    Accuplacer and SAT, both College Board products, have been redesigned to align with school curriculum standards. Since the two tests now cover similar content, JFY’s Accuplacer-based course serves a dual purpose as SAT prep.

    EARLY COLLEGE

    Early College (also called dual enrollment) is the next stage of education reform. It makes free college courses available in high school and reduces the cost of a college degree by accelerating credit accumulation. JFYNet works with colleges and high schools to establish early college courses in high schools to maximize opportunity for under-represented groups. JFY supports students in these courses with concurrent blended tutoring. Since 2017 we have enrolled 395 students in college courses in four high schools. The credits earned are transferable throughout the public higher education system. The value of these credits is $517,000.

    EL READING and MATH

    JFY developed this program to help the fast-growing English Learner population improve reading comprehension and math. Our curriculum offers content in Spanish, the most prevalent language of origin. The student can read the same lesson in both languages, a basic technique of language acquisition. Our self-paced auto-translation capability is available in no other program.

    JFY’s instructional software measures reading skills in Lexiles, a national standard unit of measurement for literacy. This measurement enables teachers to track progress day by day. It is the only formative, real-time way of measuring reading gains, a vital tool for teachers. The language aspect of math is critical in the new MCAS 2.0 because of the test’s emphasis on thinking through problems and explaining solutions rather than choosing multiple-choice answers. Our math curriculum allows students to use Google Translate to translate terms and questions. JFY’s bilingual capabilities offer EL students a unique support in mastering both language and math skills.

    Standardized Testing

    Standardized tests have many critics and few defenders, but legions of users. Since the first administration of the College Board exams in 1901, skill assessments based on codified standards have been used in the US with the primary purpose of leveling the academic playing field and counteracting geographic, social and economic imbalances. All advanced countries have used standards-based national testing systems for many decades, even for centuries. The US did not establish state competency tests until the early 2000s. Massachusetts was a few years ahead of the national movement, inaugurating MCAS in 1998.

    The units of knowledge, or “standards,” of which these tests are constructed are selected and compiled by large committees of teachers and academic administrators. In Massachusetts thousands of teachers labored through the 1990s to produce “curriculum frameworks” for every subject at every grade level. The Mathematics and English Language Arts and Literacy frameworks run to 200 pages each. They are continuously revised and updated. The curriculum frameworks represent a broad-based societal consensus on the knowledge and skills required to function effectively as a student, a worker and a citizen.

    Standardized testing does not render a value judgement on the worth of a human being. It renders no judgement at all. It is simply a mechanism for gathering data on defined variables in large populations, such as the 950,000 students in Massachusetts public schools. In our common applications—MCAS, Accuplacer, SAT– it tells us where we are meeting our goals and where we are not. It gives us the detailed information we need to direct our efforts efficiently. There is no other practicable method for gathering performance data from large groups; and there is no way to manage any system, large or small, without data.

    Madison Park Technical Vocational High School Student

    It’s Time for Madison Park To Get Some Respect

    by Gary Kaplan

    The Boston Globe Magazine’s recent article on vocational education (School of Work, 10/2/16) came down like a ton of raw concrete on Boston’s Madison Park Technical Vocational High School.  One commentator blamed Madison Park for “vocational education’s tarnished reputation in Massachusetts” while another recommended scrapping the school altogether and “start[ing] over again.”  There are legitimate reasons to be frustrated with Madison Park; but there are better options than the dumpster.

    Rising to readiness through blended learning

    Readiness through blended learning reaps benefits for all students.

    by Eileen Wedegartner, Blended Learning Specialist

    Since joining JFYNetWorks as a Blended Learning Specialist last fall, I have had the opportunity to visit many schools and interact with many students. Despite my many years of experience in the classroom and additional years in statewide education administration, this was a new and eye-opening experience. It has proved to be challenging, and extremely rewarding.

    Having spent the better portion of my professional life working with students who face barriers to learning, I can empathize with their struggles and with the challenges their teachers face on a daily basis. As an educator, I have always believed that where there is a will, there is a way.