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Continued: How one high school is tackling the achievement gap

  • Article by: SHANNON PRATHER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: February 25, 2014 - 1:44 PM

Now teachers often plan small-group work and learning stations where students move around the room. It’s the biggest adjustment for some teachers, who often equate order with silence.

District spokeswoman Mary Olson said it’s often summarized like this: “Teachers have gone from being the sage on the stage to the guide on the side.”

Part of letting students speak and talk out problems is for teachers to resist the urge to chime in during awkward pauses. “It’s what we call a productive struggle,” Lundgren said. “You’ve got to let the students work through things on their own.”

4. Have teachers compare their work.

Teachers who handle the same subject see their classes’ test scores compared to their colleagues’. That includes quizzes, unit tests and final exams. That side-by-side analysis and discussion helps teachers ­figure out what’s working and what’s not.

“That’s been very private in the past,” Ziegler said.

Teachers kept their student scores private out of fear of judgment or negative consequences. Now they meet regularly to discuss their results. Lundgren helps teachers analyze the data in what is known as “professional learning communities.”

“We also encourage teachers to approach their courses as a team, collaboratively working and planning for the best instruction possible,” Ziegler said.

5. Make tests count.

For generations, teachers everywhere tallied course grades based on a mix of test scores, homework and class participation. Oftentimes, that formula made it possible for students to fumble on every test but still pass without a real understanding of the subject.

“It lets them squeak by,” Lundgren said.

With the advent of standardized testing, teachers and administrators realize “A for effort” is really a disservice to children. Now most courses weigh tests heavily, often counting 70 to 85 percent of the course grade.

Teachers still expect class participation and assign homework, but it’s viewed more as practice where children can make mistakes and learn without it always going into the gradebook.

It’s a transition for kids, too. “They are so extremely motivated by that grade,” Ziegler said.

Giving tests more weight also provides critical feedback for teachers, students and parents.

“This provides parents with more detailed information on how their students are doing in the class,” Ziegler said. “The conversation can change from ‘the student may not be a good test taker’ to ‘your child didn’t master learning target three and this is how we can help.’ We also try to identify whether a student lacks academic knowledge or lacks support and motivation, so we can help.”

Cautiously optimistic

Ziegler stressed that there’s no magic formula and that dramatic gains made in one subject one year with one group of students can slide the next with a new group of kids.

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  • Coon Rapids High biology teacher Nathan Hoekstra, right, talked with junior Beresford Jimmy, who was among those in class making a model of folding proteins. The school is putting a greater emphasis on having students talk and work in small groups, as opposed to listening to teachers all class long.

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