Schools take new tack in supporting students
Teton County School District is taking another step to address the achievement gap in its schools.
The school board approved just over $50,000 to purchase the first year of Advanced Via Individual Determination resources, known as AVID, during its monthly May meeting. The new curriculum includes an elective class in the middle and high school, as well as professional development, instructional strategies, lesson plans, materials and implementation support districtwide.
AVID provides support to both students and teachers, providing training for educators and elective courses for students. Five areas are highlighted — writing, inquiry, collaboration, organization and reading — as well as a less straightforward piece of education: students envisioning themselves as college bound.
“I would categorize it as a plate upon which all other programming and curriculum is placed,” said Kimberly Hetrick, curriculum, instruction and assessment coordinator.
Ninety-four percent of AVID students, the majority of whom have low socioeconomic backgrounds, complete four-year entrance requirements, according to AVID. Nationwide data has also shown 90% of students who apply are accepted into four-year colleges and 85% continue into their second year of collegiate schooling.
Educators and administrators across the district are aware of what’s called the achievement gap, calculated as the difference between the percentage of proficient students in each category on the state’s standardized test.
While one test score doesn’t necessarily represent individual students, the gap between white and Hispanic students, on average, ranges anywhere from 17 to 46 percent depending on school, grade level and subject tested.
District staff have worked in professional learning communities, a type of working group that brings teachers out of their classrooms to collaborate, to address the issue in the past.
“This is truly an enhancement to what we are already doing,” Summit Innovations School Principal Pier Trudelle said.
The program, planned with a three-year rollout, coincides with the district’s “Success 2022” initiative, which envisions every third grader being a proficient reader and mathematician, every eighth grader as a proficient writer and every graduate as “life ready.”
In its first year AVID will target fourth graders at Munger Mountain Elementary School and two transitional grades: sixth graders at Jackson Hole Middle School and ninth graders at Jackson Hole High School. It will expand to fifth graders at Munger in the 2020-21 school year and be evaluated at other elementary schools. The curriculum will expand to seventh graders at the middle school and sophomores at Jackson Hole High School.
A rollout to the remaining grades could occur in year three.
Students will be identified as being a good fit using a variety of metrics, including test scores, teacher recommendations, grades, an application process, interviews and attendance records.
“I’m looking forward to empowering students to take charge of their own learning with support,” Jackson Hole Middle School Principal Matt Hoelscher said.
Parents can expect district communication about specifics throughout the summer and into next year. Steve Newton, director of instruction at Laramie County School District No. 1, compared the system to a weight-lifting spotter.
“It not only gives you confidence,” he said, “but also a little bit of support to do just a little bit more.”
Laramie County School District started with AVID at East High School a decade ago. Come fall, 25 schools will use the curriculum.
“It actually started here when a high school student moved from Texas and said, ‘I need into your AVID class,’” Newton said. “This girl opened our eyes to it.”
Later, as the principal at Central High School, he saw enrollment in Advanced Placement coursework double from 400 to over 800 students in one year with the help of AVID, he said.
“With the challenges that we’re faced with in public education, the only way we’re going to be successful with these kids is just incredibly strong instructional practice,” Newton said. “I believe that’s what this system provides.”
As a middle school teacher in Washington, Heather Goodrich got to know the program well. She taught AVID Excel — a subset of the program that focuses on academic language development for English Language Learners. The way AVID students “did school,” she said, markedly improved.
“Students who typically were not as well-organized and engaged in the academic process became more and more academically minded,” said Goodrich, a fifth grade teacher at Munger Mountain. “These students began to talk about going to college for the first time, as their self-perception changed from someone who ‘wasn’t good at school’ to someone who was headed to college.”