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A rigorous curriculum promotes higher-order thinking skills in students

SpringBoard®, from the College Board, gives students in a Florida district a leg up on college readiness

At Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa, Fla., college readiness is a districtwide goal for all students. With a diverse mix of over 190,000 students, the nation's eighth-largest school district turned to the College Board for help.

Three years ago, the district began implementing SpringBoard®, the official Pre-AP program from the College Board that provides rigorous instruction in English language arts and math for students in grades six through 12, in four of its high schools. Then, in 2008, Hillsborough's college readiness effort picked up steam when the district received three large federal grants and decided to expand SpringBoard® to its remaining 23 high schools and its 46 middle schools.


The decision to expand the SpringBoard® implementation was based on the early results seen with the program, according to Eric Bergholm, general director, advanced academic access. He said reading scores on state tests and enrollment in AP courses were up and discipline referrals were down in the four schools where SpringBoard® had been first implemented. "When you undertake a program like this one that is likely to be successful, you MUST implement the program for all students. If not, whose child do you leave out?" stated MaryEllen Elia, superintendent of schools.

Another factor that tipped the balance to go district-wide with SpringBoard® was what was happening in the classroom. Bergholm said students were retaining what they learned the previous year, so teachers didn't have to spend time covering old ground at the start of the next term.

As the implementation progressed, acceptance of SpringBoard® techniques in math was fairly straightforward. SpringBoard®'s approach, which emphasizes higher-order thinking skills, dovetailed nicely with revised state standards that focused on a select number of concepts. English, however, was another matter. Some teachers felt the program didn't give them enough flexibility in reading assignments.

"At first, they didn't understand that our objective isn't about reading a specific author but instead teaching kids the skills to access increasingly difficult reading material," said Bergholm. He added that the English teachers were won over as they became more familiar with the ways SpringBoard® supported Hillsborough's long-term initiative to develop independent learning strategies in its students.

"From shipping materials to top-notch trainers to onsite visits to program feedback, SpringBoard®'s support was unwavering."

SpringBoard®'s language arts curriculum explores real-world text through short passages. The amount of text students are asked to master is less than in traditional curriculums, but it requires a far more intense effort by the student to understand increasingly higher-level concepts. Students move from answering factual questions to more inferential inquires, and each level builds upon itself.

Because the curriculum was completely new, " all of our language arts teachers became first-year teachers in the summer of 2007," when the second wave of training was scheduled for math and English teachers, Bergholm said. "It was a tremendous effort to train some 2,000 teachers, but SpringBoard® provided an incredible cadre of trainers who understood our state tests and what we were trying to do."

Support didn't stop there. "SpringBoard®'s leadership team helped us make the program sustainable by developing in-house trainers who can step into that function if grant money or the partnership should end," Bergholm recalled. "From shipping materials to top-notch trainers to onsite visits to program feedback, SpringBoard®'s support was unwavering."

The effort seems to be paying off. Two years into the program, the number of students enrolled in AP courses has increased, and this past year 1,300 more students received a qualifying or better score on their AP exams. "To see increases in both enrollment and scores so close to initial implementation is almost unheard of," said Bergholm.

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