Press Release

Getting the job done: How some high schools are boosting student achievement

Publication date: Nov 30, 2005

(Washington, DC) –- The Education Trust will release two reports today that highlight the practices of high schools that are getting the job done and improving student achievement, especially for the poor and minority children traditionally underserved by the American high school.

The first report, “Gaining Traction, Gaining Ground: How Some High Schools Accelerate Learning for Struggling Students,” is the result of a careful, on-the-ground study into the practices of public high schools that serve high concentrations of either low-income or minority children and have a strong track record accelerating learning for students who enter high school below grade level. This study compares and contrasts the practices of these high-impact schools with similar high schools that have only an average impact on student performance.

Education Trust researchers found powerful differences in the practices in the two sets of schools -– ranging from the way they provide remedial support to faltering students to the way they make decisions about teaching assignments.

The second report, “The Power to Change: High Schools that Help All Students Achieve,” chronicles the stories of three very different high schools that are getting strong results for minority students and students from low-income families. The report demonstrates clearly that some high schools are succeeding, even under challenging circumstances.

The reports come at a critical time in the national conversation about high school reform. Driven by dismal results on national and international assessments along with the increasing demands of our rapidly changing economy, Washington policymakers, the nation’’s governors, and leaders in business and philanthropy have brought a new focus to high school education and the urgent need for its reform.

“”We know that there are far too few high schools that are helping all children succeed, regardless of their skin color or neighborhood. But this research shows us that real improvement can occur at the secondary level,” said Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust. “”These high schools give us a window into the practices that could help change high schools elsewhere.””

““Gaining Traction, Gaining Ground”” looked at seven high schools, four of which were identified as high-impact schools because of their greater-than-expected academic gains with previously underperforming students. These high-impact schools were then compared to schools with similar demographics that made only expected gains with previously low-performing students. Both sets of schools in the study served significant populations of low-income or African-American, Native American or Latino students.

The high-impact schools in the study were Jack Britt High School, Fayetteville, NC; Los Altos High School, Hacienda Heights, CA; East Montgomery High School, Biscoe, NC; and Farmville Central High School, Farmville, NC.

It is important to note that these schools are not necessarily high-performing -– that is, schools at which students from all demographic groups test at advanced or proficient levels; where graduation rates are high for all students; and all students are challenged by a rigorous curriculum that prepares them for postsecondary options. Instead, the findings about these high-impact schools point to the needed, but not nearly sufficient steps, schools can and should take toward higher performance, especially for students who enter the ninth-grade behind.

By comparing high-impact schools to average-impact schools, Education Trust researchers found some major differences in the practices between these sets of schools.

Among the major findings:

  • High-impact schools have ““early warning”” systems to help catch students before they fail. Counselors at these high schools, for instance, analyze seventh- and eighth-grade test scores to identify struggling students. Students who are identified are assigned to a variety of supports, including mandatory summer school or after-school tutoring. Average-impact schools tend to offer support only after students have failed.
  • When making decisions about who teaches whom, high-impact schools consider factors such as past student performance and the teacher’s area of study in assigning teachers to specific courses.  In average-impact schools, teaching assignments are more likely to be determined by staff seniority and teacher preference.
  • High-impact schools provide students who arrive at school behind their peers with extra instructional time in English and math in a way that keeps students on track with college-preparatory requirements. Average-impact schools also provide extra instructional time but it is done in a way that delays entry into grade-level courses, therefore making it harder for students to gain the skills necessary for life after high school.

“”As the nation focuses and brings renewed energy to the challenge of improving secondary schools, these high-impact schools offer guidance to those who are truly about the work of improving the American high school,”” said Stephanie Robinson, a principal partner at the Education Trust, and one of the study’’s leaders.

“”This study also gives support, encouragement, and hope to those educators who are working hard on these issues and need examples of how this important work can be done,”” Robinson said.

To delve deeper into the issue of high school reform, the Education Trust also released a second report, “The Power to Change: High Schools that Help All Students Achieve,” which offers an illustration of how three high schools that primarily serve poor students and students of color are working to educate all their students to high levels.

The three schools featured are:

  • Elmont Memorial Junior-Senior High School, a large school located in western Nassau County, New York, where 75 percent of the students are African-American, 12 percent Latino, and 24 percent are low-income. At Elmont, almost all ninth-graders make it to their senior year and virtually every senior graduates, with the majority going on to attend four-year colleges.
  • Granger High School is a small high school located in agricultural Yakima Valley in Washington.  More than eight in 10 of Granger’s students qualify for free and reduced-price meals.  In 2001, Granger had dismal test scores with only 20 percent of students meeting state standards in reading and only 4 percent meeting math standards. Four years later, there’s been a dramatic turnaround: About 60 percent of students met reading standards, and 31 percent met math standards in 2005.
  • University Park Campus School is a small, urban school, in which 75 percent of the students speak English as a second language. At University Park, the majority of their students enter seventh grade reading well below grade level, but by 10th grade they all pass the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) — most at proficient and advanced levels.

“”Recent results from national and international assessments show that as a country we are accepting mediocrity –- or worse – from high schools”” Haycock said. ““But these schools provide powerful evidence that change can happen now.  It is clear that children and our country cannot afford to wait a moment longer.””

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 The Education Trust works for the high academic achievement of all students at all levels, pre-kindergarten through college, and forever closing the achievement gaps that separate low-income students and students of color from other youth.

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