Helping Students in Low-Performing High Schools Transition to College

GraduatesExperts and educators say the transition to college can be difficult for first-generation collegians and students from struggling inner-city schools, according to a recent Washington Post article.

The transition to college was difficult said one D.C. graduate because she didn’t have to write very much in high school. The student, who was her class valedictorian, explains: “I didn’t really research anything.”

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Using Assessments to Improve English Literacy Skills – Webinar Recap

ABC School District is looking for a way to help a large number of students in upper elementary and middle school grades improve their English grammar and reading skills.

The school district has several K-8 schools. Many students struggle with English Language Arts skills.

The school district’s high school graduation rate is 64%. Yet, state data show 89% of the district’s graduates need to catch up in college before taking credit courses.

The district is in a state that is part of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium or SABC. The SBAC is one of the two standardized tests being evaluated for assessing how well students are mastering the Common Core State Standards.

To help students improve in English Language Arts, the school district wants to use real-time, formative assessments of performance tasks students could see on a standardized test.

Recommendations:

  • We looked primarily at Grammar Fitness. A few aspects of the program impressed webinar participants.
  • They felt the exercises provided in the program looked like ones students could see on a standardized test.
  • They liked the ability of Grammar Fitness to track entire classes with a few keystrokes, and drill down to see areas where an individual student needed help or where the entire class of students needed additional help.

 

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Students’ ability to be part of the mastery process also appealed to participants. Students can see their own progress with the end-of-round summary screens and within their own online portfolio.

 

online_portfolio

Grammar Fitness is personalized and students receive context-clues to help master troublesome concepts. Teachers appreciated this aspect of the program.

 

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Participants also liked the fact that they could have students redo exercises if necessary, and use the Finals section as part of an end-of-course grade.

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Common Core Practice Update – October 26, 2012

iStock_000018980120SmallWith the advent of the Common Core, Merit has introduced Open Punch, which helps students brainstorm and write assignments on the Web. In the Open Punch program, writing topics are assigned based on timely events as well as texts students have read. Highlights of the program include:

  • Interactive modules for Opinion, Fact, and Narrative writing topics.
  • Built-in tips that guide students through each step of the writing process.
  • A tracking tool that enables instructors to view pupil writing at different stages of development.

Recently the New York Times began posting three Common Core-aligned writing tasks based on news stories. Open Punch program ties in well with this feature.

In the writing tasks published October 26, 2012, the Opinion module can be applied to the “Chickens Threaten to Divide Brooklyn” task, the Fact-based module can be used for the “Gleaning Clues from the Clouds” assignment, and the Narrative module can be applied to the “Finding Zen” article.

Click here to learn more about Open Punch.

Weekly Common Core Practice – Introduction

School children in high school classRecent research has shown that the vast majority of U.S. secondary students struggle with writing. Merit’s writing programs have a strong track record of helping teachers improve students’ writing skills.

With the advent of the Common Core, Merit has introduced Open Punch. Open Punch helps students brainstorm and write assignments on the Web. Writing topics may be assigned based on timely events as well as texts students have read and personal tastes. Highlights of the program include:

  • Interactive modules for Opinion, Fact, and Narrative prompts.
  • Built-in tips that guide students through each step of the writing process.
  • Instructor monitoring that allows online tracking of student writing.

Open Punch ties in well with the launch today of a New York Times Learning Network Common Core Practice feature. In collaboration with two 9th-grade teachers, the Times began to post actual tasks English students have used in the classroom. Each week the Times will target one or more of the Common Core E.L.A. Anchor Standards and provide ideas for developing the task.

Our goal here is to help teachers know which Open Punch writing prompts can be used with the New York Times’ Common Core Practice activities.

For the Common Core activities posted September 21, 2012 the Open Punch Opinion module can be used for the “Medical Manga” and “Restaurant Review” tasks. The Fact module can be used as part of the “Restaurant Review” assignment.

More information:

U.S. Teens Need Writing Help

Schoolgirl in high school classOnly 27 percent of U.S. students achieved a proficient score on a nationwide writing test – the NAEP for Writing 2011. The test was the first nationwide writing test ever given on computers. Students in 8 th and 12th grades took it in 2011.

An analysis showed that the lower scoring writers made fewer key presses to both write and revise their work compared to higher scoring writers. Key presses were not a determining element in students’ writing scores.

Merit’s Punch Writing programs have a strong track record of helping students develop clear, concise written works. The programs guide pupils through the writing process, providing hints and tips at every step of the way.

The hints and tips facilitate the generation of ideas, revisions, and corrections as students’ write. Additional key presses are an inevitable result as students expand, elaborate, and refine their writing.

Plus, student writing is automatically stored in a convenient Online Portfolio. Teachers are easily able to view written work at different stages of development.

Full-working samples, implementation ideas, and pricing may be found on each of the Punch programs’ web pages.

Grammar Fitness is another tool that can improve students’ writing too. It provides interactive grammar practice, combined with progress tracking, to help students recognize and revise errors in their writing practice.

High School Writing and Grammar Help – Webinar Recap

Grammar Fitness Heat Map

Grammar Fitness Heat Map

STEM High School* has 500 students. Many struggle with reading and writing but are good with math and science.

The English department needs to find a way to help a large number of students improve grammar and paragraphing skills.

Last year the department did not have a good diagnostic in this area. They tried to teach writing skills in the context of the curriculum but that strategy wasn’t helpful.

Grammar instruction trails off in the district after sixth grade. STEM High School students are familiar with grammar concepts, but they haven’t practiced them enough to master them. The faculty feels the students need a program devoted to grammar and writing mastery.

Most STEM High School students plan to go to college. The SAT Writing test is primarily grammar, according to the English department head. Improving grammar skills should have the added benefit of improving SAT scores.

*STEM High School is not the real name of the school. It represents an accurate description of how the school’s administrators view its mission and goals.

Merit's Online Teaching Portfolio

Merit’s Online Teaching Portfolio

Recommendations:

First, we looked at Grammar Fitness. A few aspects of the program impressed webinar participants.

  • They were pleased with the broad range of content.
  • They were thrilled with the ability to track entire classes through the heat-map.
  • Participants were also impressed with the program’s ability to drill down and see the areas where students needed help. They also liked that they could have students redo exercises if necessary.

Next we looked at Paragraph Punch.

  • The teachers liked that they could see where students were in the stages of the writing process.
  • They also liked that they could show students their own work at different stages of the writing process.
  • They liked that the program helped students brainstorm ideas.

Progress in Reading Scores?

iStock_000000687118SmallEarlier this month the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress report on 4th and 8th grade reading and math scores were released by the U.S. National Center for Educational Statistics. Reading scores continued to show no progress.

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Can Changing Reading and Writing Instruction Raise SAT Scores?

Common Core Standards for English LanguageSAT reading scores in 2011 were the lowest on record. This is the second time in the past two decades that reading scores have fallen as much in a single year.

It is well known that middle and high school students are reading less at home and rarely write letters anymore. Could greater use of technology strengthen reading and writing instruction in schools and raise SAT scores? We think so.

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