As we noted in our Program Goals narrative, we chose to focus on 5th Grade Hispanic students (noted as a “Gap” group by the Virginia Department of Education) because their SOL reading scores were lower than students of all other ethnicities.
In 2015-2016, Prince William County Schools were working with the Department of Justice to improve achievement for Hispanic students. This included examining services that were provided to those students, and improving differentiation of instruction in all schools. Our supervisor, Dr. Deborah Ransom, provided PWCS counselors with a June 2007 article from the ASCA Professional School Counseling Journal: “Promoting Latino Student Achievement and Development Through the ASCA National Model.” This article suggested some combined delivery systems used in our initiative (large group counseling techniques, small group counseling, individual student planning). It should be noted that even though the article is written about Latino students (a geographical group), we felt that it would inform our practices with Hispanic students (a language group).
We established the following Closing the Gap goal: By June of 2016, 5th Grade Hispanic students (Gap Group #3) will increase their scores on the reading SOL tests by 5% (from a 75% passing rate in 2014-2015 to a 79% passing rate in 2015-2016). We decided to work on this initiative in 3 ways:
1. We designed study skills small groups, as we believed that improving study skills could assist in improving test scores. Most members of our 3 5th grade groups were identified because they had below average work habits report card grades. However, we gave special consideration to Hispanic students, and asked for parental permission for them to join even if their work habits grades were satisfactory. We got permission for 6 of the 10 eligible students to join the group (one of our Hispanic 5th graders was severely disabled and non-verbal, and in consulting her special education teacher, we decided that she was not a candidate for this initiative). Each group met for 7-8 sessions, and students explored various study skills, including study methods and test taking.
We administered pre and post surveys to measure how students perceived their own skills. Because we used a Likert scale, we looked for mode instead of averages, and we measured modal changes. In looking only at the survey data from our Hispanic students, we found that they increased the perception of their own organization, study skills, and test taking skills by 1 point, and they increased the perception of their own work habits by 2 points. We also examined the work habits 1st and 4th quarter report card scores of group members, since this is how members are generally referred. As noted in our small group narrative, we applied numbers to the report card grades for ease of analysis (S+=4, S=3, S-=2, N=1). We were pleased to find that our Hispanic group members demonstrated a 20% increase in work habits.
2. We implemented individual academic planning with Hispanic 5th graders. Though not all Hispanic 5th graders had permission to participate in a group, Anne Henry was able to do goal-setting and progress checks with 10 of them. Ms. Henry discussed class grades, report card scores, and served as a consultant if any assistance was necessary.
3. We used the Project-Based Learning method in large group counseling with all of our 5th graders (see core curriculum lesson plans, results report, and GRIP). Because this method flips instruction, allows students to work in groups on topics of their choice, gives them a multitude of options on how to demonstrate their learning, and lets the counselor act as a study skills coach, we thought this would be a great way to further the progress of our Hispanic 5th graders. Our Hispanic students demonstrated a whopping 87% increase from their first project to their second one, which was a greater increase than 5th graders as a whole.
After conducting our Closing the Gap initiative, we found that Hispanic 5th Grade students increased their passing reading SOL test scores by 7%, slightly exceeding our academic program goal. In the future, we hope to continue running study skills small groups and individual academic planning with Hispanic students, but we think we should take a look at more data, and expand the program to other ethnicities or Gap Groups. We also thought it would be interesting to find alternative times to offer these groups, so that students could remain in class as much as possible during instructional time.