James W. Robinson, Jr. Secondary School (2017)

Fairfax, VA

Academic Achievement
Behavioral Issues
Character Education

Closing the Gap

From anecdotal evidence and professional writings, we believe one of the precursors to high school success is a good start as freshmen. When we began identifying a goal related to closing an achievement gap, we looked at incoming freshman data to see if we could identify an achievement problem. In looking at the data, we saw a significant gap between both the failure rates in core academic classes and the SOL scores of students receiving Special Education services versus general education students; 42% of freshmen who earned an ‘F’ in their eighth grade year were receiving Special Education services. On our Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) school report card, we noted that while less than 20% of 8th grade students did not meet statewide Reading, Writing and Mathematics goals, almost half of students receiving Special Education services did not meet those goals. This data indicated an important achievement gap we decided to address. The team agreed that assisting these students to earn better results as freshmen would not only be a valuable emphasis but one yielding both short term and longer term benefits.

The team discussed possible interventions drawing upon past experience with, and from published research, knowledge of successful strategies. We looked for those least intrusive to students’ and teachers’ time in the normal flow of the school year while bringing to bear as many as we believed could be effective. We believe a strategic approach with multiplicity was more likely to meet the needs of more students; different students would respond more positively to different approaches. Consequently, there were several facets of our intervention plan.

Teacher. First, when we returned in August before schedules were given to students, we reviewed the schedules of the identified students to ensure they were assigned to teachers we knew had the most empathic approach and patience with students. Since many of these students were already assigned teachers of Special Education, we had limited flexibility of teacher preference. For team-taught classes (those with both general education and Special Education students and a teacher for each cohort), if there was more than one possibility of placement with a general education teacher, we were able to make an assignment preference. We alerted the teachers of our concerns about the students; we believed that the students would be more inclined to work harder with teachers who demonstrated the most investment in their students.

Class. We worked with the Special Education Department Chair to ensure that our identified students were assigned to the Strategies for Success class. This class provides Special Education students with organizational support, the opportunity for teacher oversight of work being done (or caught up) for academic classes and training in study and organizational skills.

Group. Interested counselors volunteered to lead a Study Skills and academic concern group specifically provided to assist our identified students. After reviewing the data from first semester grades, we identified the students still at most risk of failing and invited them to participate. The group met four times in the spring semester. Based on the results of a pre-survey of group members identifying the most prevalent impediments to their success, the facilitators conducted a review of online and other resources to address those concerns.

Individual Intervention. Once students of concern were identified, counselors were aware of the students on their caseload and committed to monitoring and touching base with the students periodically during the year. Having the students’ schedules and teacher assignments enabled counselors to maintain more frequent communication with teachers; this was particularly important for early notification from the teacher to counselor if a student’s performance began to decline.

Of the fourteen identified students failing a core class in eighth grade, only two failed a ninth grade core class, a success rate of 86% which exceeded our goal of 75%. However, as we analyzed the data and reflected on its implications, we realized that these students already had a high degree of special support due to their status as Special Education students. While we did get positive perception data from the students on our group effort, we could not determine the degree of importance of it and our other interventions on the outcome. Based on the data, we recognize that this population of students may need different supports than what we offered in our small group. In the future, we plan to focus more on motivation and self-investment in their own education, rather than academic skills they may already be learning.

Goal: By the end of the 2015-16 school year, 75% of freshmen receiving special education services who failed a core class in 8th grade will pass all of their core classes in 9th grade.

Target Group: Current 9th grade students receiving special education services who failed one or more core classes in 8th grade.

Data Used to Identify Students: 8th grade year final grades in core classes

School Counselor(s): All

ASCA Domain, Mindsets & Behaviors Standard(s): B-LS 3, B-LS 4, B-LS 8, B-SMS 6

Type of Activities to be Delivered in What Manner?: *In August before school began, we hand-picked teachers for the identified students to ensure they had patient and engaging teachers ready and willing to work with them *In August before school began, we made sure all identified students were enrolled in a Strategies for Success class (this is a full year long class in which the curriculum focuses on providing support in core curricular areas and also provides instruction in study skills, time management, organization, and self-advocacy skills) *We had a small group that lasted from February until April for the identified students. Topics included organization, time management, and study skills. *Students worked individually with their counselor throughout the year *Counselors had frequent communication with identified students’ teachers to check on progress and needs

Process Data (Number of students affected): 14 freshmen students receiving special education services who failed one or more core classes in 8th grade (10 of these students participated in the small group)

Perception Data (Surveys or assessments used): Students in the group were given a paper based pre- and post-survey. Most notably, there was a 20% increase in the students’ level of agreement with question 5, “I have the study and test-taking skills necessary to do well on tests and assignments,” and a 12% increase in question 1, "I feel I have the study skills necessary to be successful in high school." According to the survey, there was a 16% decrease in agreement with question 2, "I have the ability to stay organized with my school work."

Outcome Data (Achievement, attendance, and/or behavior data): Of the 14 students receiving special education services who failed a core class in the 8th grade, only 2 of them failed a core class in 9th grade. This means that 86% of these identified students passed all of their core classes.

Implications: The outcome results show that our work with these Special Education students was useful in closing the achievement gap at Robinson. Most of these students do receive support on various levels (self-contained and/or team taught classes, Strategies for Success classes, less homework), however, the post-survey from the small group proves that students did gain valuable information from our work as counselors. In regards to the results from question 2 on the small group survey, it appears as if these students need more support with organizational techniques, although they indicated verbally that they felt comfortable with that skill during the first session. In planning for the future, we think that we could adapt the role we play in supporting these students, since they do already receive so much academic support. We plan to not only address academic needs with these students, but we will aim to foster a sense of investment in each child regarding their own education. It will be necessary to start our group earlier in the year to get these students motivated and involved.