Making a Difference One Student at a Time

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Closing the Achievement Gap: MissouriSt. Louis Public Schools expands the eMINTS program toboost student achievement throughout the urban district.

With less than 10 percent of St.Louis Public Schools’studentsreaching the “proficient” levelin the Missouri Assessment Program(MAP), the district felt some changesneeded to be made, and made quickly.Accordingly, the district turned to theeMINTS (enhancing Missouri’s InstructionalNetworked Teaching Strategies;www.emints.org) program as a model formoving from a traditional role forteachers—which obviously was notworking—to a more constructivist role,which has led to dramatic results.

St. Louis Public Schools is a large urbandistrict that encompasses about 61 squaremiles, including the entire city of St. Louis.The district is the biggest public schoolsystem in Missouri, providing educationalprograms to a variety of preK-12 students,those in adult education, and to 16community schools, with a total of 6,048full-time and part-time employees.

In addition, much of the district’sstudent population comes from economicallydepressed backgrounds. According tothe 2000 US Census, the median householdincome for St. Louis was $27,166—wellbelow the 2000 national median of$40,816. More than 80 percent of studentsin the district qualify for free or reduced pricelunches, and the student populationis about 90 percent black. While our childrenhave challenges, they deserve a high qualityeducation.

Creating a Student-Centered Environment

To achieve the performance levels indicatedin the No Child Left Behind Act(NCLB), and the levels designated bydistrict goals, we examined our instructionalprogram. The district then decidedto continue its successful practices whilemodifying others: We are focused oncreating a student-centered environmentin the classroom; holding all centraladministrators, principals, and teachersaccountable; using data to drive decisions;and designing professional development tobe in line with what students need to learn.

In support of improving the academicperformance of all children, the districtadopted the eMINTS program during the2001-2002 school year. The program waspiloted in four third- and fourth-gradeclassrooms at two elementary schoolsunder the guidance of Myrtle Reed andChereyl Spann at Peabody Elementary andCarol Strawbridge at Lafayette Elementary.

At both schools, the principals clearlyhad a well-communicated vision, as well asclear goals and objectives for theirstudents. They worked to create partnershipswith parents, business people, andthe surrounding community. Inside theschool, they recognized the impact ofprofessional development on studentlearning, understood the relationshipbetween learning and ongoing assessment,and recognized the meaningful role thattechnology can play in the classroom. Thisarticle focuses only on Peabody, asLafayette was one of several schools closeddue to budget limitations.

Impact on Student Achievement

The eMINTS teachers are well-prepared,with ongoing, intensive professionaldevelopment and on-site coaching over atwo-year period. Also, teachers’ expectations in eMINTS classrooms are very high,and cooperative grouping is an integralpart of the program. Students in eMINTSclassrooms are actively engaged throughproject-based activities using higherorderthinking and questioning skills.Children’s cultures, communities, andinterests are used as a starting point formost lessons. The eMINTS model is usedin our after-school, Saturday, and summerschool programs for students.

The pilot program’s efforts were assessedusing a variety of approaches, includingevaluating the overall program, the processof implementation, and the outcomes. Theprocess of formative evaluation focused ondetermining the quality of an activity andhow it could be improved. Through qualitativeassessments such as surveys and interviews,the evaluators examined:

  • The instructional model’s degree ofimplementation
  • The quality of the professional developmentactivities
  • The nature and extent of parent andcommunity involvement
  • The effectiveness of the program’scoordination and communication

The outcome evaluation measured theprogram’s impact on participatingschools and students. In addition, evaluatorsgathered data on student attendance,the number of behavioral referrals to theprincipals’ offices, as well as the level ofparental involvement.

Remarkable formal assessment tools.The impact of the eMINTS program inboth elementary schools was impressive.Teachers’ behaviors changed from a traditionalrole to a more constructivist role inthe classroom. Teachers’ and students’technology skills increased significantly.Student attendance in eMINTS classroomsincreased. Behavioral referrals to the principal’soffice decreased for students in theprogram. And parental involvementincreased in these eMINTS classrooms.

The formal assessment tools ofMissouri and the district highlightedimpressive results: Student achievementscores in eMINTS classrooms significantlyincreased at both schools. The evaluatorsmeasured the program’s impact on studentachievement by using a quasi-experimentaldesign with pre- and post-testing.They selected a comparison groupconsisting of students with matched pretestscores randomly chosen from allstudents in the same grades not participatingin the eMINTS program.

Measuring student outcomes. Theresults of TerraNova (www.ctb.com), a testdesigned to measure achievement in thebasic skills taught in schools nationwide,and the Scholastic Reading Inventory(teacher.scholastic.com/products/sri), acomputer-adaptive reading assessment andprogress-monitoring tool for grades 1-12,have shown that the eMINTS program hashad a positive impact on student outcomes.This is clearly revealed in the MAP’s results,which compare scores from prior years ofstudents in communication arts and sciencein the third grade, and in math and socialstudies in the fourth grade. The table belowrepresents the percentage of students in the“proficient” level of the MAP test.

Continued Success

Due to the overwhelming success of theeMINTS program, both Peabody andLafayette elementary schools were recognizedby our state board of educationduring the 2002-2003 school year. In addition,Microsoft gave Peabody ElementarySchool a Circle of Excellence award forusing classroom technology in a meaningfulway and impacting student achievementin a positive manner. PeabodyElementary School, Ms. Reed, and Ms.Spann also continue to be recognized at thedistrict, city, state, and federal levels.

Because of the success at these twoschools, the district decided to expand theeMINTS program in the 2002-2003 schoolyear to 18 additional classrooms; studentsin these classrooms experienced similarlevels of success. Currently, the district hasexpanded the eMINTS program to 63 classrooms,three middle schools, and one highschool. The children in these classrooms areexperiencing success as evidenced by formaland informal measures. Several of oureMINTS classrooms, especially at Peabody,are being funded through corporate sponsorsand state grants. We also received amagnet school initiative grant this year thatwill support us in expanding the eMINTSprogram to 150 classrooms at the elementarylevel over a three-year period.

We are making a difference, onestudent at a time, one teacher at a time, oneparent at a time, one classroom at a time,one school at a time, one day at a time. Theprogram works for our students, and theyare achieving.

Jo Ann ReeseJo Ann Reese is co-director and leadeMINTS trainer for the St. Louis PublicSchools in Missouri. E-mail: jreese@slps.org

Dramatic Student Improvement Chart

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.

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