Our counselors reviewed student achievement data from the previous school year and learned that Biology (a required course for all freshman) had more semester 1 failures (35 out of 400 students or 9% of students) than any other course during the 2016-2017 school year. Compared to all other grade levels in science courses, freshmen failed science at a higher rate than sophomores, juniors, and seniors. We decided to focus on freshman science failures as our closing the gap goal. In August of the 2017-2018 school year we approached the science department chairperson with our desire to work together to decrease the number of freshman Biology failures and, together with Biology teachers, developed a plan for identifying students for targeted interventions. This area was also connected to one of our department goals, because we know that students who are on track with earned credits at the end of first semester freshman year are 3.5 times more likely to graduate high school in 4 years.
After the end of the first quarter of school (early October), we identified 30 freshmen who were currently failing Biology and targeted them for our interventions. We asked the Biology teachers to also provide feedback on contributing factors (attendance, homework completion, executive functioning, and behavior concerns) that led to the students failing the course at that time.
For interventions, all students in this group received two individual meetings with their counselor to discuss their grades and to create an action plan in order to pass the course. Secondly, each student’s counselor also called parents/guardians to discuss the concerns and communicate the action plan. These two interventions were selected to help the students understand why they were failing, assist them in creating a successful plan for passing the class and including parents/guardians helped ensure that the students were getting a consistent message and support at school at home. For a third intervention, the students were assigned to our school’s academic support and tutoring center where they received tutoring and assistance for their Biology class. Students were assigned for multiple weeks and exited the academic support center based on meeting academic standards set by the Biology teachers.This intervention was selected to ensure that all the students had additional teaching for the content of the class in order to support any gaps they had in their learning. Our fourth intervention for the students was a series of group lessons devoted to improving executive functioning skills. The 30 students were divided up into 3 groups of 10 and taught 7 lessons (once a week for 7 weeks) on executive functioning. The curriculum for the groups was from the Rush Executive functioning curriculum which is researched based curriculum created through the Rush Neurobehavioral Center (a division of the Rush University Medical Center based Chicago, IL. It was selected because it had been a successful curriculum used in other interventions. Our teacher/student survey found that many students were failing because of lack of these skills.
Of the 30 freshmen in our targeted group, 26 of them (86%) passed Biology for semester 1. 2 of the 4 students who did not pass withdrew from our school prior to the end of the 1st semester, so we did not have any completion data on them.
While there was significant success with our student outcomes, we know that we can improve on this process. We would like to identify students earlier in the process in order to reduce the number of students who have to go through this intensive intervention system. As a department, we believe that we need to spend more time with all freshmen at the beginning of the year teaching executive functioning skills, since that was the primary reason these students identified for failing the course during quarter 1. The focus of the mindsets and behaviors was build self confidence, improve executive functioning skills, and creating a positive attitude towards school and learning. We included parents in the process to help with creating a positive school and home balance, and we wanted students to be able to learn how to create an effective plan to overcome barriers to their learning. While we believe that each intervention was important in the success of students, we do not know the extent that each intervention worked. For next year, we would like to survey students on what they felt was the most impactful intervention to their learning in order to focus our time and resources on that type of intervention.