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At-Risk Students Succeed

In order to get at-risk students to perform better on standardized state tests, the academic bar for

Problem: In 2002 Rhode Island's North Kingston High School (NKHS) was rated low performing due to at-risk student scores on the New Standards Reference Exam (NSRE). NKHS failed to meet one of the twenty-one performance criteria required under NCLB.

Solution: The NKHS guidance department data results and a review by the language arts and math departments determined that at-risk students were not receiving access to curricula needed for the NSRE.

In order to get at-risk students to perform better on standardized state tests, the academic bar for these students needed to be raised, and missing curriculum needed to be provided.

North Kingston's alternative classroom, called Cross Curricular Academy (CCA), was created to meet the needs of these ninth- and tenth-grade at-risk students. This was challenging because the students had large learning gaps, lacked motivation, and had a history of academic failure. According to math teacher Suzanne Barry, the students needed "requirements and expectations beyond what most teachers would have for them."

How It Works

The CCA premise is that knowledge is better understood when its application demonstrates a subject matter's worth.

It is a project-based learning approach, with enhanced teacher support that presents concepts using clear and frequently referred-to rubrics for assessing student performance, and constant reflection on concepts taught in each unit. CCA and traditional classroom teachers ensure that tests include the same formats as those on state assessments. This helps students familiarize themselves with the test formats, alleviating test anxiety and allowing them to demonstrate their knowledge and skills. Test scores have improved dramatically. "We teach students to communicate in writing about what they are reading, and we never assume that students know," says Deb Santagata, an English Language Arts (ELA) teacher. They have to prove it to teachers every day, she adds.

"They start out doing it for you, but then it becomes about them," Barry adds.

There are two 10/11 classrooms with 21 students in one section and 20 students in another. Four core subject teachers share the same students for two years, and the students commit to a four-subject two-year curriculum. Two full-time certified teachers work with the low performing students and coach regular classroom teachers.

CCA teachers have a common planning period in addition to their individual planning time. The team meets regularly with guidance counselors and administrators to organize schedules, communicate with parents, and discuss student needs.

The focus is on how students answer problems. With classroom discussions, students explain steps and processes, discuss strategies used, and share why they've chosen a particular strategy.


Today NKHS ranks with the best in the state in its graduation rate. 100 percent of our students take the NSRE, and we have the same level of expectations for everyone, said North Kingston School Department superintendent Dr. James Halley, who is also Rhode Island's 2006 superintendent of the year. "We don't have a dual curriculum anymore." DA

Ken Royal is associate editor.