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X-FACTOR: Finalists

Two districts won a one-year unlimited license for Academy of READING and Academy of MATH including training and implementation

Living and Learning Arcade

Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh Charter School

A Living Arcade

A video-game type of environment will draw more students to become proficient in reading and math.

Video games are exciting and challenging to children, something curriculum director Donna Payne is counting on to motivate the students at her Pittsburgh school.

Payne’s program idea, the Living and Learning Arcade, at the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh Charter School captured a finalist position in the Second Annual DISTRICT ADMINISTRATION X-Factor Student Achievement Grant program. The Pittsburgh school won a year’s worth of AutoSkill’s Academy of READING and Academy of MATH software and training to help improve its academic achievement.

“My big thing for this is motivation,” says Payne. “And students today are motivated by video games.”

The school, which has 227 students in grades K5, made adequate yearly progress the past three years, but the goal is to increase the percentage of students scoring proficient to at least 80 percent, Payne says. In 2007, 41 percent of fifth-graders were proficient or advanced in reading, and 90 percent of fifth-graders were proficient or advanced in math.

“Reading is more of a challenge [compared to math],” she says. “I think this will help us reach high standards and raise reading scores. Everything is about testing, and we try to get our kids into magnet and private schools. Those scores mean so much.”

Payne explains that the charter school needs to spend more time just on literacybased activities. The school already offers weekly sessions of reading after school, serving roughly 12 students with volunteer teachers, and it’s just not enough.


The Program

The Living and Learning Arcade, an afterschool program, will take place in the gymnasium and will involve about 30 to 40 students in grades 3-5 who are in special education or Title I programs. Using computers on a mobile computer lab, students will use the Academy of READING and Academy of MATH programs three days a week.

Payne and technology director Clayton Powell are still devising details of the program, but Payne wants the gym converted into a “sort of arcade” and have a large cardboard “universe” or graph on one wall. In one scenario, students would electronically create their own avatars, or video-game characters, on a Web site, which would be projected onto the wall. The avatars would move up or down the wall, showing student progress in the software programs.

During each session, students will complete 45 minutes each of the reading and math programs. When students complete each program with 85 percent accuracy, they will then “challenge” a peer in a physical activity: a basketball game, jumping rope, hula-hoops, obstacle courses, and even Nintendo Wii fitness activities. “They need to let off some steam,” Payne says. “We’re not out to make it competitive, but I know that’s what happens.”

She adds that she wants parents, who must volunteer 30 hours per school year, to get involved in the program, for example, with setting up the game equipment or helping distribute snacks.


Mobile Computer Lab

Sulphur Bluff (Texas) Independent School District

Bringing Mobility

A mobile computer lab for practicing reading and math skills will help raise achievement for at-risk students.

In the small town of Sulphur Bluff, Texas, most residents head to nearby Sulphur Springs for work, as their own small town’s dairy farming industry has dried up over the past few decades.

The Sulphur Bluff Independent School District, which includes a single school building with one section for pre-K6 and another for grades 7-12, struggles financially and needs more technology, including a mobile computer lab, to especially help its at-risk and special education students and English Language Learners.

Kayla Ross, the district’s account secretary and grant coordinator, became one of two finalists in the Second Annual DISTRICT ADMINISTRATION X-Factor Student Achievement Grant program. Sulphur Bluff ISD, which has 242 students, won a year’s worth of AutoSkill Academy of READING and Academy of MATH software and professional development training to help improve its academic achievement.

The district was rated “academically acceptable” for the 2007-2008 school year, with students scoring 75 percent or above in math and reading tests in grades 3-12. This year’s goal is to reach “recognized” status, which means a 75 percent pass rate on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test and State-Developed Alternative Assessment II, and a 0.7 percent dropout rate.

“We’re small and we want to help our at-risk students and help get them where they need to be,” says Superintendent Robert Ross, who is married to Kayla Ross. “I think technology helps teachers get at-risk kids where they need to be. And another reason we wrote the grant [application] was to get technology we don’t have.”


The Program

The Academy of READING and MATH software will be a great asset for students in need. The Reading Achievement Program for Individual Development (RAPID), which the district created, sets aside time each day to reinforce students’ mastery level skills that are critical if students are to retain lessons.

First, at-risk students will be identified via TAKS scores and will go to computer lab three days a week to work on skills that they need to catch up to higher-achieving students, says elementary principal Amy Northcutt. For reading, for example, one group will use a computer station for AutoSkill, and another station will be set up for reading enrichment to accentuate the lesson. Student achievement success stories will be shared weekly in district newsletters and/or schoolwide assemblies. And a TAKS tutorial class to cover the core curriculum will help older students prepare for testing.

The X-Factor grant proposal also included a mobile computer lab, which administrators still plan on creating with other possible funding sources. The lab will complement the existing pre-K6 and high school computer labs.

Administrators want to bring parents in for a reading night during which they can read to their children and see how their children are progressing. —AP