Those words, which mean "It can be done," appear on the license plate of a principal's car whose high school was highlighted in one of two reports recently released by The Education Trust. This statement sums up both reports, that no matter what hurdles a district or school faces, progress can be made.
Both reports focus on the administrative and teaching practices at various high schools that support large concentrations of poor and minority students who were not performing at the expected skill level.
In the first report, Gaining Traction, Gaining Ground: How Some High Schools Accelerate Learning for Struggling Students, seven public high schools with similar demographics were examined. Four were considered high-impact schools, which produced unusual academic growth in low-income or African-American, Native American or Latino students, while the remaining three high schools achieved average results in regards to student learning, according to Kati Haycock, the organization's director. The Education Trust is a Washington-based organization that promotes high academic achievement for K-12 students and works toward closing achievement gaps between poor and minority students and other youth.
The Gaining Traction study compared both groups of schools and discovered major differences in five areas--culture, academic core, support, teachers and time and other resources.
One distinction was that the high impact schools focused on life after graduation, preparing students for success in college and the world. However, the average impact schools concentrated on helping students graduate high school.
Other differences include:
* High impact schools designed early warning systems to prevent students from falling through the cracks while average impact schools relied on support systems after students failed.
* Summer school was mandatory at high impact schools for students who fell behind. But average impact schools left that decision up to parents and students.
* Students at high impact schools spent 25 percent more time in class with substantial reading instruction than students at the average impact schools, which translates to 240 additional hours of reading time.
* Teacher placement decisions at high impact schools were based on student achievement and teacher performance data. But average impact schools used teacher seniority and preference as placement criteria.
* Students at the high impact schools received parallel support classes--for tough subjects like algebra--during the day, after school and summer school. But the average impact schools were more likely to provide only remedial support.
"We learned a lot from these schools but the overwhelming theme was an unequivocal belief that these kids could learn and achieve at high levels and an absolutely unwavering commitment to doing what ever it took to get them to those levels of achievement," said Haycock at a December news conference. "The intentionality and deliberateness around what these sets of schools do--nothing is left to chance--is so much of what separates these schools from others."
Ignoring Expectations, Getting Results
The other report, The Power to Change: High Schools that Help All Students Achieve, illustrates three high schools--who also serve significant populations of poor and minority students--that are achieving high proficiency rates, small achievement gaps and, according to the report, "better than average ability to hold on to students through the 12th grade".
For example, at Elmont Memorial Junior-Senior High School in Elmont, N.Y., 75 percent of the students are African-American, 12 percent Latino and 24 percent low-income. About 16 percent qualify for free lunch, 8 percent receive a reduced-price lunch and between 11 percent and 20 percent are eligible for public assistance.
Teachers in this district are observed seven times each year until tenure. Some also deliver instruction on Saturdays. The school supports a teaming program that moves students with the same teachers in the seventh and eighth grades. Lessons are sometimes videotaped and reviewed by both administrators and teachers.
The school is obviously doing something right. Its senior class is 83 percent the size of its freshman class, 100 percent of its seniors graduate and 97 percent attend college.
"We expect our students to succeed," says John Capozzi, principal at Elmont. "Failure is not an option." We believe that every child can learn. Teachers convey that to students every day."
Results from the other two schools are equally impressive. At University Park Campus School, an urban school in Worcester, Mass., 75 percent of students speak English as their second language and typically enter the school at two or more grade levels behind in reading. Seventy percent also qualify for free and reduced-price meals.
The school only teaches a small number of courses, all honors or college level. Students take English, math, science and history year-round in addition to Spanish for three years. Against all odds, every student passes the state high school exam and most move on to four-year colleges.
Granger High School in Yakima Valley, Wash., was no different. Roughly one-third of its 330 students are children of migrant workers. About 82 percent are Latino, 6 percent American Indian and the rest white. Approximately 84 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price meals.
Discipline and attendance were serious problems at Granger. Parents rarely visited the school. In 2001, only 20 percent of students met state standards in reading. Worse yet, just 4 percent met math standards and 10.8 percent met state writing standards.
Not anymore. Attendance at parent-teacher conferences has been 100 percent for the past five years. Students are encouraged to study, read and plan for the future. In 2005, approximately 60 percent of students met reading standards, 31 percent meet math standards and 51 percent met state writing standards. That same year, its graduation rate jumped to 77 percent, up from 59 percent in 2004.
All three schools share common ground: they focus heavily on instruction, use concrete data to identify and help at-risk students before problems erupt, connect students to adults in the building, such as after-school clubs or sports, and support the belief that all students can learn.
"High school level educators are eager for concrete ideas on what to do differently," said Haycock. "The question is how to build a network among those who are trying to get even better. We certainly don't intend to let this issue die." www.edtrust.org
Carol Patton is a contributing editor.