I analyzed the academic outcome data from the Virginia Department of Education school report card and found that during the 2014-2015 school year, Cherry Run students had an overall pass rate of 87% in English and only an 82% pass rate in Math on the VA Standards of Learning (SOL) assessment. The 2014-2015 fourth grade class had a 77% overall pass rate with only a 56% pass rate for students with disabilities, leaving a 21% gap. Based on this data, I decided to target the eight fifth grade students with disabilities who failed their Math SOL assessment. There were an additional eleven students without disabilities who also failed their Math SOL assessment. Based on this need, I decided to target the entire group of fifth grade students in a series of small group interventions that focused on using mindfulness and executive functioning skills to improve their mindset around math. This Close the Gap Goal was also designed to be highly aligned with the Cherry Run School Counseling Program Vision, Mission, and Program Goal One.
My experience and training with mindfulness practices introduced me to the brain-based research that supports using it with students. Studies show that following mindfulness training, the hippocampus, which is critical to learning and memory, becomes more active (Goldin & Gross, 2010) and has more gray matter density (Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J. & Vangel, M., 2011). The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain most associated with executive functioning skills and has been found to be more activated following mindfulness training as well (Chiesa & Serretti 2010). When deciding how to develop my intervention, I started with a list of executive functioning skills for the students to strengthen. The list came directly from the Fairfax County academic habits lesson resources. Our district provides school counselors with a quick reference chart of executive functioning skills. This resource was developed by the division’s central office and a multidisciplinary team to include mental health staff and teachers. I also looked at current research in the field of mindfulness. Dr. Kimberly Schonert-Reichl of the University of British Columbia evaluated the effectiveness of the MindUp curriculum on students in fourth and fifth grade and found that 15% of students improved their math achievement scores (Schonert-Reichl, Oberle & Lawlor, 2015). Using the executive functioning resource list as well as components of the evidenced-based MindUp curriculum, I established a framework for my sessions.
My small group lessons followed a Tier 1 intervention using the Mindful Schools curriculum that I taught to all fifth grade students during second quarter. At the beginning of each small group we spent a “mindful minute” to “check in” with ourselves and the present moment. I collaborated with the math teacher to conclude each group with a math problem in which students would apply the executive functioning skill that was taught that day. Each lesson was tied to the ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors, specifically, ones that were identified as having the greatest need by perception data collected from the teachers.
Thirty-seven percent of all students in the targeted group passed the test. In a closer look at the data, 37.5% (3/8) students with disabilities passed the test while only 36% (4/11) of students without disabilities passed the test. It is important to note that three of the students in the general education group have 504 Plans to support them academically. Although I did not meet my goal of 80% of students passing, 68% of students improved their score. This was a tough test and this is a group of students who have consistently struggled with academics. Unfortunately, the fifth grade math teacher was out on leave for the last three months of school which was an implication that affected the success of this group. Additionally, our school building started renovations in April and students had to transition to trailers which could have also impacted their success. Moving forward, I plan to continue to encourage a growth mindset for students around math and standardized testing as they move into sixth grade. I also plan to collaborate with the sixth grade math and special education team to support this group of students further by implementing mindfulness based practices to promote stress reduction and resiliency.