SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

April 12, 2013

Column: AP initiative will expand to middle school students

Sarah Morrill
The Salem News

---- — The Salem Public Schools’ accelerated improvement plan describes what the district wants students to know and be able to do, how they will ensure that students are learning and that teachers have the necessary skills and tools, and who will be responsible for ensuring long-term success. The work underway emphasizes high-quality instruction aligned with the Massachusetts Common Core standards; ongoing assessments to inform instruction in a more timely way; a tiered system for providing academic and social supports; and a focus on supporting staff through professional development, expanded planning time and new educator evaluation methods.

In partnership with the schools, Mass Insight Education will be expanding its Math + Science Initiative to middle school students. To date, this program has helped Salem High School realize a dramatic increase of 113 percent in enrollment in Advanced Placement classes and a 200 percent increase in scores that qualify for college credit. Along with preparing all students from all backgrounds at earlier grades for participation in AP courses, this program offers additional benefits, including:

Training for English language arts and math teachers in grades six through 12 in how to implement pre-Advanced Placement in their teaching. This training aligns with many goals in the schools’ improvement plan, including improving performance for students and providing high-quality professional development.

Vertical planning of a Common Core-aligned curriculum, ensuring that teachers in sixth grade know what students need to know and be able to do in order to succeed in the upper grades.

Assessments embedded into lessons, allowing teachers to evaluate rapidly whether individual students have mastered the subject at hand.

Classroom activities that are carefully sequenced, ensuring that students have access to their highest level of achievement within each lesson.

Ongoing professional development programs that are integrated into the new teacher evaluation system, ensuring alignment with teaching expectations.

To improve student achievement in a dramatic fashion, it’s important to pull on multiple levers simultaneously. No single initiative or program, operating in isolation, can be expected to achieve the results that the Salem community wants and the students deserve. Professional development is important, yet when it is supported by a broader array of initiatives, the benefits are multiplied.

Salem is pulling multiple levers at once — quarterly assessments to inform practice, alignment of curriculum through common maps and exploration of extended learning time, to name a few.

The expansion of pre-AP will measure the effectiveness of those levers against the ultimate goal: preparing students for college and career success.

Every hour of the day is valuable. How students and teachers spend their learning time should align with improving performance.

Getting students to high school graduation is no longer sufficient. We must also begin tracking whether our efforts have a continued effect after graduation and into college. Less than 60 percent of students enrolled full time in a public, four-year college or university in Massachusetts graduate within six years, and for Hispanic or African-American students, the rates are even lower — 40.7 percent and 43.4 percent, respectively.

Salem schools have made progress toward achieving the goals outlined in the improvement plan. We can be optimistic about the future, yet there is still room for improvement. Early data indicate that students who have participated in Mass Insight’s AP program are more likely to matriculate to and persist at college than the state and national averages.

We are excited to be working with the Salem community in opening the door wider for more of Salem’s students to enter college and the workforce better prepared to compete in a global economy.

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Sarah Morrill is an engagement manager for Mass Insight Education and Research Inc., a Boston-based nonprofit aimed at providing strategies to transform public schools into high-performance organizations.