George Middle School Increases Student Achievement With Comprehensive Learning System
Located in the heart of Portland, Ore., George Middle School defines today's urban school with an extremely diverse student population and nearly 75 percent of its students eligible for federal child nutrition assistance. The school has overcome extreme challenges to reach the academic standards outlined by the Oregon Statewide Assessment Tests by bridging the digital divide and bringing the school to the forefront of technology. Three years ago, the school made a significant investment in technology, including the purchase of Classwell Learning Group's ClassWorks software, a comprehensive learning system designed to improve individual student achievement in math and language arts. It delivers teachers' favorite software within a K-12 curriculum, and features a diverse library of almost 180 software products from 20 different publishers.
Following the implementation of the software, the school's students have made significant improvements in math and reading scores on state tests. "Since we began using ClassWorks, the number of students passing the 8th- grade test has doubled," says Michael Welch, assistant principal. "This is a tremendous advancement for any school, but particularly one with so many students who have special needs." The software allowed the school to focus on individual students and the specific areas where they needed extra help. "As a result, our 8th-grade reading scores increased by 25 percent and math scores by more than 50 percent from 2000 to 2001," says Welch.
Like many urban schools, George Middle School strives to help teachers meet the needs of its diverse student body, many of whom speak English as a second language. Between the 9th and 12th grades, Oregon students may earn a Certificate of Initial Mastery (CIM), showing they have met the state's standards in math, English and science. Standard-ized tests are given to students in grades 3, 5, 8 and 10 to measure progress. "Standardized tests are critical benchmarks that help determine how well we are doing in teaching our students," says Welch. "The results are printed in the local papers and impact student, faculty and administration morale. We don't want to just improve on these tests, we want to make sure that our most at-risk students in this city are given every chance to succeed."
The school developed its technology program in 1999, using monies from technology bonds and Title I funding. Today, George Middle School has a computer lab with 29 PCs and an additional lab in the library with 19 stations. Each classroom has three to four computers, and there are additional computer stations in the special education and Title I rooms.
According to Technology Coordinator Judy Carter, students line up before school starts and during their lunchtime to use the computers and the ClassWorks software. The students enjoy a sense of mastery of math and language arts, and are motivated by the variety of fun and engaging programs, she says. Teachers appreciate the flexibility of the software and its ability to monitor students' mastery of essential skills as they prepare for the state exams.
In addition to the CIM tests, the Oregon Department of Education two years ago designed state report cards to inform parents and communities about school performance. These report cards describe student performance on state tests, student attendance, dropout rates and teacher education. Schools are rated Exceptional, Strong, Satisfactory, Low and Unacceptable. "In 2000, we received 'Satisfactory' ratings across the board," says Welch. "In 2001, we achieved an overall 'Strong' rating, which was a significant advancement for our school."
Teacher reception of ClassWorks has also been very enthusiastic, according to teacher reports. Randy Winn has been teaching math at the school for about 10 years. As a technology enthusiast, he brought the software program to the attention of the administrative staff several years ago. Winn and several administrators observed ClassWorks in action at a nearby school and felt that it would work well in their environment.
Winn teaches a small class of 10 students who need additional skills practice. He has five networked stations in his classroom that allow him to work individually with students, while the others work on ClassWorks. "I can work one-on-one with students who need extra help, knowing that the rest of my students are practicing valuable skills on the computer," says Winn. "What I like about the software is that you can pick, choose and modify the lessons to reflect what you're doing in class. It is an incredibly powerful learning tool." According to Winn, his students enjoy the program as well. "ClassWorks is highly interactive, and the work d'esn't seem like work to them," he says. "Students learn important coursework and achieve a sense of mastery that g'es a long way to making them stronger students."
Joanne Benson, the school's Title I coordinator, uses various educational software titles in her classroom and in the school's computer lab. According to Benson, her students enjoy working on computers and the immediate feedback they receive from the ClassWorks program. Benson appreciates the program's animation and the choices she can make to assign lessons on the computer that support her instruction in the classroom. "George [Middle School] has seen significant growth in reading and math test scores in the last three years," she says. "ClassWorks is part of our ongoing, overall plan to increase student achievement, including small group instruction and frequent assessment."
Classwell Learning Group
This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2002 issue of THE Journal.