Our Turnaround Schools Beat State, Local Averages for Progress

Schools in Maryland & Connecticut make strong academic progress in intensive partnership

Historically low-performing schools in Maryland and Connecticut have made a strong academic turnaround, beating state and local averages for progress in an aggressive effort by the school districts and Global Partnership Schools, authorities in both states announced.

Harding High School in Bridgeport, CT, traditionally one of that city’s most underperforming schools, saw a strong academic resurgence this past school year, and school and GPS officials are excited about more progress in the 2012-13 school year. While Bridgeport and Connecticut statewide average scores for 10th graders taking the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT) fell across the board in the 2011-12 school year, the performance of Harding High 10th graders improved sharply.

“Two years ago we (Metropolitan Center for Urban Education) carried out a study at Harding HS documenting patterns of low achievement, low morale and chronic discipline problems at the school. Although it is too early to declare victory it is clear that Global Partnership Schools has provided the guidance needed to begin moving the school in the right direction,” said Pedro Noguera, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education, Professor in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University and the co-Director of the Institute for the study of Globalization and Education in Metropolitan Settings. “Key academic indicators point to improved student outcomes that must be sustained in the years ahead. Turning around a school with a long record of difficulty is never easy, but GPS seems to have found the right levers to make Harding a school where a greater number of children can be successful.”

At the same time, about 250 miles to the south in Baltimore, students at another GPS turnaround partnership, Garrison Middle School, were also gaining academic ground while other Baltimore middle schools were losing ground and middle schools statewide in Maryland were declining in reading and making smaller gains than Garrison students in math, according to results from the Maryland School Assessment (MSA).

“It’s clear; focusing on improving teaching and providing a clear, consistent curriculum and high expectations for students works, no matter what the economic status of the students or the academic history of the school. We’re very proud of the incredible work educators are doing in Bridgeport and Baltimore to turn around the performance of schools,” said Dr. Manny Rivera.
chief executive officer of Global Partnership Schools, a nationally recognized firm that works with schools and policy makers to create learning communities to accelerate student progress, improve the instructional capacity of all educators, and create educational environments that prepare all students to succeed in the global economy and society.

Bridgeport Harding High 10th graders beating the odds in reading improvement
(Improvement/decline in percentage of students at or above proficient in reading, from 2010-11 to 2011-12, CAPT)

Connecticut Average – Down 1 point
Bridgeport Average – Down 5.7 points
Harding High – UP 4.7 points

In addition to the 4.7 point gain in reading, Harding 10th graders also whipped state and local averages for improvement in math, science and writing performance in 2011-12, records show. Harding science scores soared 7.4 points while the Bridgeport high school average was falling 5.1 points and the Connecticut average was down 1.5 points. In math, Harding students gained 4.1 points while the Bridgeport average fell 6.1 points and the state average fell 1.5 points. Writing scores also rose at Harding, by 3.9 points compared to an average decline of 1.3 points in Bridgeport and .2 points statewide. The rate of Harding students achieving at or above proficient continues to be much lower than state and local averages in math, science and reading, but for the historically low performing Harding, the strong gains are a very encouraging sign.

At Garrison Middle School in Baltimore, student performance on the MSA math test surged by five points while the city average was declining and statewide math performance was improving by only half as much.

Baltimore Garrison Middle students see strong math gains
(Improvement/decline in percentage of students at or above proficient in math, from 2010-11 to 2011-12, MSA)

Maryland Average – Up 2.5 points
Baltimore Average – Down 2.3 points
Garrison Middle School – UP 5 points

Garrison students also improved in reading, with the percentage of Garrison students scoring at or above proficient rising .2 points while the Baltimore average was falling 2.9 points and the statewide average was declining 1.4 points.

“We’re seeing strong evidence that our program at both Harding High School and Garrison Middle School are working,” Dr. Rivera said. “As we continue to challenge our students with a compelling, dynamic curriculum, they will continue to make great gains in learning.”

Harding High School
GPS and their partners at Bridgeport Schools made as the cornerstone of their turnaround effort at Harding the transformation of the school’s learning environment. GPS officials said the positive school climate and its emphasis on high student expectations, coupled with new teaching strategies and practices introduced through intensive staff training, sets the stage for the curricular and instructional focus of the plan’s remaining phases.

A reading lab was established for the school’s struggling ninth-graders. In the program’s first 18 weeks, from February 1 through June 15, 23% of participating students improved their reading skills by one whole grade level. A credit recovery program was created that provides ninth-graders with Saturday and summer tutoring. A total of 53 ninth graders in the 2011 summer program gained the credits they needed to advance into tenth grade. In previous years, 35% to 38% of ninth-graders were promoted to the tenth grade; as a result of this program, almost 65% were promoted.

In addition, at Harding four new academies were established, building on existing Harding strengths and programs as well as the interests and needs of its students: the New Scholars Academy for 9th Graders, the Communications and Technology Academy, the Health and Environmental Sciences Academy, and the Law and International Studies Academy. Each academy has its own separate and distinct section within the building. The “school within a school” approach encourages interdisciplinary teaching, helps personalize instruction and provide better support since a team of teachers share the same students, and has been shown to lead to more active student participation and better student conduct.

Garrison Middle School
Over the last 2 years, programs to improve Garrison’s school climate were implemented and the learning environment was significantly transformed. Initiatives to change an ingrained culture of low expectations for students, especially for the students who had a history of struggling academically, living in poverty and exhibiting severe behavioral issues were first on the agenda to be validated. Comprehensive crisis intervention services, mediation, individual sessions and parent engagement became the preventive education model. The Positive Behavior Intervention and Support program enforced proactive strategies for defining, teaching, and supporting appropriate student behaviors. As a result, there is now an orderly transition of students between classes; students are in class, teachers are personalizing instruction and building positive relationships with students and their families. The Alternative to Suspension (ATS) program allowed students to maintain their studies and continue earning credits while out of class. Professional development for teachers focused heavily on crisis intervention strategies. The swift actions proved positive and the suspension rate at Garrison dropped dramatically from 13% (October 2011) to 5% (October 2012).

GPS officials began the work to develop effective leaders, strengthen curriculum, build a system of data-based decision-making and support teachers in reaching disengaged students. Teacher training emphasized the art of effective classroom management, analyzing data to monitor student progress and individualize instruction, hands-on active learning techniques, and strategies to improve student reading and math skills. An in-depth data analysis of each student was conducted to determine strengths, interests and weaknesses. As a result of the data analysis, the Power Hour provided a “rapid response” to student weaknesses and academic need. Additional instructional time and support to struggling students was provided during the regular school day.