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Friday, April 11, 2008

Gering Public Schools: The School District to Watch

Another Education Blog I check had this article about a successful program on reducing the achievement gap. Read the article and check out the blog.

Gering Public Schools: The School District to Watch

Keep your eyes on the Gering Public Schools district in Northwest Nebraska.

Gering, a smallish 2,000 student district with 30% ethnic minorities (mostly non-ELL Hispanics) and with 43% of students on free/reduced lunch, was an underperforming school district back in 2002 when new district administrator, Don Hague, decided to do something drastic (and smart) with the district's new Reading First grant. Hague didn't just adopt a new research-based basal reading program for Gering, he didn't even adopt a research-validated reading program, he went whole hog and adopted a district-wide research-validated whole-school reform. Like I said, a smart move because most administrators would only have done the bare minimum needed, having the least amount of changes, to give the appearance they're doing something to solve the problem. Real reform requires more serious effort.

Hague also wisely chose, Direct Instruction (DI), as his whole-school reform and implemented the reform with the assistance of the National Institute of Direct Instruction (NIFDI). It's a wise choice because DI has a proven track record of success in grades K-3 along with some longitudinal data for grades 4 and 5. By adopting the whole-school version of DI, there is strong likelihood that Gering students will acquire all the fundamental skills they need for learning content area sbject matter starting in sixth grade.

After three years, Gering is already starting to see results.

Before implementing DI, there was a 23 point gap between Hispanic and white students in fluency benchmarks in second grade in the Gering. Last year, not only was the gap closed, a greater percentage of Hispanics met the fluency benchmark than did white students -- a -2% gap.

The district, not content waiting for the elementary students receiving DI to reach junior high, adopted the remedial DI reading program for its junior high students to improve their chances of succeeding in high school. After one year of remediation, Terra Nova scores went from a 39% pass rate to a 55% pass rate. That's an effect size of about 0.4 standard deviation (ó). Let's put that in perspective.

A 0.4ó improvement is about 60% better than the gains made in the Project Star class-size reduction study. And, in order to get similar gains via improving teacher effectiveness, you'd have to replace teachers with an average effectiveness at the 50th percentile with super teachers performing at the 94th percentile.

But, the best part about the intervention in Gering is that it will be producing a great deal of longitudinal data. Gering has five elementary schools. Each elementary school, and only those schools, feeds into a single junior high school. That junior high school, and only that junior high school, feeds into the sole high school. Hopefully, Gering will stick with the intervention for the next ten years or so, so the longitudinal data can be collected.

I've been in contact with Gering and NIFDI trying to get some additional data for the intervention and plan on reporting any results and answers I can get. In the meantime, take a look at the short documentary on Gering that was produced. Note in particular, the interviews with the teachers and the responses they give, especially with respect to the children's reactions to the intervention.

I will be following up with much more.

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