Monday, October 15, 2001

Texas teaching method adopted here

10 districts try Brazosport to bolster achievement

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In 1991, 200 angry parents confronted Gerald Anderson in his first week as superintendent of the Brazosport Independent School District, then considered among the worst districts in Texas.

        Mostly Hispanic parents attended Mr. Anderson's first school board meeting, demanding to know why their children had the worst test scores and what he was going to do about it. He seized the challenge, developing techniques that raised achievement levels of all students.

        Today, this 13,500-student school district, 50 miles south of Houston, is nationally recognized for its academic success among low-income students and students of color. Schools nationwide, in cluding Greater Cincinnati, have taken notice.

  These Tristate school districts (and schools) are piloting Brazosport techniques:
  • Deer Park (Amity Elementary).
  • Fairfield (Fairfield Central Elementary).
  • Finneytown (Whitaker Elementary).
  • Lakota (Independence Elementary).
  • Lockland (Lockland Elementary).
  • Mount Healthy (Frost Elementary).
  • Northwest Local (Bevis and Taylor elementaries).
  • Norwood (Sharpsburg Elementary and Norwood Middle School).
  • North College Hill (Clovernook Elementary).
  • St. Bernard-Elmwood Place (St. Bernard-Elmwood Place High School)
  Source: Hamilton County Educational Service Center

        Eager to raise their own student achievement levels, 12 schools in 10 districts in Hamilton and Butler counties are piloting the Brazosport process this year.

        “Teachers are frustrated when they get (proficiency) test results back that are either lackluster or not what they wanted, and then they see other districts that always have these shining scores,” said Norwood Superintendent Barbara Rider.

        “Why can't we be like Mariemont? We're not Mariemont, so let's find a different strategy to use here.”

        That strategy is Brazosport's eight-step process to examine proficiency test data, re-teach areas of weakness, test students and provide tutorials until concepts are mastered.

        “The process is nothing but effective teaching practices,” said Patricia Davenport, former director of curriculum and instruction at Brazosport. She's now with American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC), a Houston consulting firm doing Brazosport training in 100 school districts nationwide since January 2000.

        “It's not magic,” she said. “You identify what kids have to learn, you teach, you assess and you reinforce it. It makes so

        much common sense you wonder why everybody is not doing it already.”

Learning the process

        In January, the Hamilton County Educational Service Center invited school districts in Hamilton, Butler, Clermont and Warren counties to hear about the Brazosport instructional process. About 400 educators attended.

  Here's the eight-step process developed by Brazosport (Texas) Independent School District to bolster student achievement:
  • Educators examine results of state proficiency tests, identifying areas where students need to improve.
  • Teachers develop a time line, determining what they will teach and how much time they'll spend on each objective based on the needs of students.
  • Teachers devise daily 10-minute segments to work on concepts where students need help. Each teacher gets an instructional focus sheet stating the objectives to be taught, dates for teaching each objective, and dates when students will be assessed on them.
  • Students are constantly assessed to determine if they've mastered the concepts, giving teachers new data.
  • Students receive tutorial time so teachers can reteach areas that students have not mastered.
  • Students who master the concepts take part in enrichment activities.
  • Teachers receive maintenance booklets to help them reteach key concepts and keep students on track. They meet frequently in teams to review progress.
  • Principals monitor the instructional process by visiting classrooms and meeting with teachers to discuss students' progress.

  Source: American Productivity & Quality Center
        The process is based on the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle of Total Quality Management business techniques, along with Effective Schools research that identifies characteristics of schools where all students succeed.

        “It adds a component that is missing — very frequent assessments,” said Vikki Clemons, instructional services coordinator at the service center and a 28-year teaching veteran.

        The service center invited districts to apply to be part of a coalition to contract with APQC to provide Brazosport training. The 10 districts selected pay $10,000 per school. While there's a laundry list of programs to improve student achievement, Brazosport intrigued local educators.

        “It was an initiative that a school district became involved with,” said Cecilia Schmidt, director of professional development at Lakota Local School District. “They had data to show the difference it made for those students. It wasn't something a company put together. This was a real school district with real kids and real data, showing real progress.”

        Brazosport educators adopted the attitude that all children can achieve at high levels, regardless of race or income. The district then narrowed the achievement gap between its minority and white students.

        Brazosport piloted the program for two years in Velasco Elementary, its school with the highest percentage of economically disadvantaged students (82 percent) and the lowest test scores on the state assessment.

        In two years' time, students went from less than 30 percent mastering the state assessment to 70 percent.

        In 1991-92, nine of Brazosport's 18 K-12 schools were classified as low performing.

        By 1997-98, in all schools, 90 percent or more of every group — black, white, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged — achieved at or above standard on math, writing and reading portions of the Texas state test.

        Over the spring and summer, Greater Cincinnati teachers and principals pinpointed student weaknesses from the Ohio Proficiency Test and off-grade proficiency results. Staff from the 10 school districts divided the work, creating daily 10-minute focus lessons.

        The districts also developed assessments for each focus lesson. Students who do well get enrichment time, while others take tutorials. The service center and APQC provide ongoing support and training.

        The first year of implementing the pilot program is grueling. Bob Kelly, principal of Frost Elementary in Mount Healthy, sometimes wonders how many more 14-hour days he and his teachers can take, but they stay focused. “We're definitely going to be better off, and our kids are going to be better off.”

        For a half-hour every morning, all Frost students either participate in enrichment activities or tutorials. “We're not taking time away from anything,” Mr. Kelly said. “We're simply as a school making the statement that this is so important we're going to stop all other business and work on this.”

Optimistic about results

        Educators expect to see improvements in proficiency test results next spring. But Ms. Clemons, from the service center, said it takes two to three years before any reform movement posts major results.

        Norwood teachers were so enthused when they heard about Brazosport last winter they tried some techniques before March proficiency tests.

        “We've seen the biggest increases we've ever seen,” Mrs. Rider said. “It's not all due to the Brazosport model, but looking at what's working around the country to see what we can do differently.”

        The superintendent has encountered some district residents who oppose spending money on Brazosport. “I don't care,” she said. “I'm charging ahead. It works. I've seen the data.”

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