College, Reinvented

iStock_000014379691XSmallU.S. colleges need to provide more counseling and academic support for students who are at risk of dropping out, according to a recent report. Student loan debt is at an all-time high, and barely half of students who start college get a degree in six years.rnrnThe report, Debt to Degree: A New Way of Measuring College Success, from the non-partisan research Education Sector group says students need to be better prepared for college and colleges need to find ways to make higher education more effective for students.rnrnCurrent examples of how colleges worldwide are using Merit programs include:

  • providing English grammar training and support at the start of the academic year.
  • nurturing students’ mastery of expository writing techniques – to persuade, inform, and describe.
  • enabling students returning to school to reacquaint themselves with reading comprehension, writing, and math skills before enrolling in credit courses.

Learn more about Merit Solutions for College Prep.

Read Debt to Degree: A New Way to Measure College Success.

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.

New Report: High School Graduates are Falling Short, Need Help

60 percent of recent U.S. High School graduates are at-risk of failing in their college and career endeavors according to new research by ACT, Inc.

“The best way to help students prepare for successful futures is by monitoring their achievement, academic behaviors and goals starting early in their academic careers and providing appropriate help whenever we find they are not on track for success,” says ACT Chief Executive Officer, Jon Whitmore.

Merit Software programs are developed with these features in mind.

Merit programs cover a wide range of academic skills and track students’ progress while they work. The programs provide context clues and built-in supports. Students automatically receive help when they encounter troublesome concepts.

{read the complete article from Reuters}

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.

Cheating in Schools – Lessons Learned

cheatingThe recent discovery of vast numbers of teachers in Atlanta who faked students’ scores on high stakes tests is an astonishing twist in the use of tests in U.S. public schools.

To deal with this issue, some have called for the elimination of standardized tests. However, we feel that accountability data is too important to stakeholders to drop completely.

Hopelessness about how to improve student achievement is one of the reasons teachers felt compelled to cheat on these standardized tests.

If teachers had a better way to know where students stood academically, if they had a better idea about the areas where their students needed help, if the teachers felt they had a chance to help all their students, then perhaps there would be less incentive to cheat.

And it goes without saying that if students received the evaluation, support, and direction they needed, their scores improve.

Teachers need useful, formative assessments to help them determine each student’s strengths and weaknesses. Administrators need a way to know during the school year if their teachers are actually helping their students. Students deserve to learn and achieve.

All groups need a partner to show them how this can be done. This is where Merit Software fits in.