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Providing rigor and college readiness for all students

Florida district promotes educational equity with help from College Board’s SpringBoard program for English and math

Educational equity is central to the mission of Florida’s Polk County Public School System. To achieve that, district educators believe that rigorous coursework and college readiness skills should be available to all students beginning in middle school. But creating such an environment has posed challenges for the sprawling central Florida district, which serves approximately 95,000 culturally and economically diverse students.

“We were looking for a way to provide all our students with more rigorous coursework at the secondary level, specifically in Advanced Placement and college preparatory classes,” said David Lewis, associate superintendent for learning.

Polk County found its answer in a program called SpringBoard, the foundation of the College Board’s College Readiness System. Participation in several workshops convinced district administrators that SpringBoard would support its drive to raise the bar for all students, according to Rebecca Braaten, director of academic rigor.

Based on the College Board Standards for College Success in English and math, SpringBoard provides students in grades 6-12 with culturally and personally relevant activities designed to develop higher-order thinking and critical analysis skills, with the goal of making college a reality for all students.

College Board has always been very accessible and willing to help us.”

The SpringBoard curriculum breaks down a concept into manageable activities, which allow students to see what is expected of them at each step in the process. “As the students work through activities and put the pieces of a lesson together, SpringBoard builds rigor,” explained Braaten.

SpringBoard’s learning expectations track closely with Common Core curricular standards. “We felt SpringBoard would help our students successfully meet the Common Core standards,” added Lewis.

SpringBoard uses an approach to learning that incorporates interactivity and collaboration. “It helps students better understand the purpose of why they are studying something,” said Braaten. “The kids enjoy working together in groups instead of sitting in rows and not talking to each other.”

For teachers, SpringBoard’s approach is a paradigm shift, explained Lewis. While direct instruction is a component of the program, the SpringBoard curriculum relies on facilitation by the teacher, whose role is to keep students on track toward a learning goal. “In this way, it’s a more student-centric and constructive approach,” added Lewis. But because SpringBoard is a departure from the classic stand-and-deliver teaching format, the district relied on the College Board for professional development, Lewis noted.

“Professional development is extremely critical in making this type of transition in curriculum delivery work,” he said.

“We have access to a College Board district coach who has been a big part of our implementation. She has provided professional development, filled in background about the program when we’ve had questions and facilitated progress-monitoring visits,” said Braaten. “College Board has always been very accessible and willing to help us.”

Taking a grade level approach to implementation, the district initially introduced SpringBoard into nine of its middle schools in 2010 and then moved the program into six high schools last year. Approximately half the district’s secondary schools now use SpringBoard for English and math instruction.

Because SpringBoard is still in the pilot phase, it’s too soon to see an impact of the program on test scores. Even so, early indications are positive, according to Braaten. “We’ve seen some levels of writing improve,” she said.

“For example, some sixth graders who were using SpringBoard are producing essays that are stronger than some eighth graders who aren’t part of the program.”

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