Burke School is a special education center that provides specialized support to students who have a specific disability and come to our school on varying academic levels and individually have different needs. Some students placed at Burke School qualify for advanced academics, but struggle accessing curriculum due to anxiety. On the flip side, about 40% of the school’s population come with reading deficits and need to attend a reading support class in place of an elective. With administration I was able to analyze data and pinpoint there is an achievement gap between students with reading deficits and a correlation has been found that students with reading deficits are also ESOL students and these students need more adult support in order to access learning. Further data shows that historically at Burke School, it is difficult to schedule parent/teacher conferences with many of our academically at-risk students because they live far away and or parents do not have transportation. Another achievement gap identified was the difficulty in meeting all students’ needs in one classroom when you have one student academically above grade level, and another student who is academically below grade level.
During a 2015-2016 meeting with administration, various interventions were discussed on how to close the achievement gap at our school. I discussed how reading deficit students seemed to be at the highest risk for receiving Fs and Ds in their core classes. At the end of the 2016 school year, 30% of our 8th graders received a D or an F in one or more core subject areas and were identified as having a reading deficit and academically at-risk. Academically at-risk students were identified as reading deficit students who received a D or an F in a core subject area during their 7th grade year, and I created an academic SMART goal targeting these students. Once the academic goal was made for the 2016-2017 school year, further information was discovered when talking with the ESOL support teacher identifying a correlation with identified reading deficit students also being an identified ESOL student. Also, data collected at the end of the 2016 school year found that most of the classes these 8th grade students were getting Ds and Fs in were Civics and Science, which are heavy vocabulary subject areas.
Analyzing academic data collected from last year, advisory council discussions where closing the achievement gap for our reading deficit and ESOL students were discussed, and meeting with core curriculum teachers, reaffirmed that many of our students do not know how to take personal responsibility for their academic success, and I needed to take a leadership role in helping bridge that gap for teachers and students. In collaboration with administration, 8th grade students were divided into academic level classes which made academic differentiation more attainable. I conducted teacher/student conferences so students could learn to advocate their concerns and teachers could communicate expectations, parents were also invited. The ESOL teacher and the Reading teacher were also invited to these meetings so reading strategies and ESOL strategies could be reiterated. Finally, I collaborated with the ESOL teacher, Miss Cronin and we created a study skills group that incorporated key ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors such as self-confidence to succeed, applying self-motivation to learning, demonstrating self-discipline, and social maturity in being able to teach students how to select a topic to study, explore reasons to study any given topic, and then nine specific study skills to be able to use to study any assigned or interested topic.
The results for all three of these interventions was promising with teachers and students reporting that differentiated classrooms made it easier to teach, students were able to access curriculum and ask questions. Differentiation classrooms for our 7th graders will be explored. Students reported feeling more connected and understood by their teachers after the Teacher/Student Conferences. The study skills group focused on helping students pick a topic, and then use nine specific study skills to prepare for tests and projects for that topic. Outcome data revealed that reading deficit students were able to raise their grades in at least one core class which suggests all 8th grade students could benefit from the study skills group. Executive functioning is a skill that can be reviewed and strengthened, especially to prepare our 8th graders for high school. Because of the correlation between ESOL and reading deficits, more research will be conducted next year on how to better support our ESOL students.