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Lindsay makes finals

Lindsay makes finals

Last week the U.S. Department of Education announced Lindsay Unified School District was one of only four California school districts to be named finalists for Race To The Top funding.

Lindsay Unified was among 61 school districts across the nation to make the finals for the federal funding. So what made Lindsay so special?

Superintendent Tom Rooney said it was LUSD’s performance based system. The No. priority of the Race To The Top program is building “personalized learning environments” to: improve learning; align with college- and career-ready standards; accelerate student achievement; increase the effectiveness of educators, decrease achievement gaps across student groups; and increase graduation rates.

That’s essential what the performance based system has done in Lindsay, Rooney said.

“Everyone learns at different rates and in different ways,” he said. “The performance based system empowers students to be more engaged in their learning and show a deeper understanding of that knowledge.”

Of Lindsay’s seven school sites, Rooney said Lindsay High School has shown the most marked improvement since implementing the system. Since the system was implemented at Lindsay High School four years years ago, the school’s API scores have improved by 77 points and English Learners by 44 points.

“It’s not only improved academics but it has changed the culture of learning in the district,” Rooney said. “It is harder for students, but they have really risen to the challenge.”

LHS Principal Jaime Robles said because the performance based system is student centered, it requires “learners” to take more responsibility and ownership for their academic achievement.

Despite the increases in API scores and overall engagement in learning, Robles said the change did not come easy. About a year and a half ago, Robles said several sophomores had fallen behind in the new system and were not on track to graduate. He said teachers sat the students down and asked a simple question.

“What do you need to be successful?” he said.

The answers included more access to the district’s learning software, Internet access at home, double blocking difficult subjects and more intervention time with teachers.

“Their ideas became the basis for the intervention plans we are carrying out for those students today,” Robles said. “There is no guarantee that anything we came up with would have worked better. After all, we got it from the source. Students know what they need, we just have to separate that from what they want and provide them the tools to successful.”

 

Learning

A walk into a classroom at LHS looks like organized chaos at first. Katryn Gonzales flows from one group of students to the next, using computers, lab assignments, digital whiteboard and even pen and paper to cover a different subject area with each student in her physiology class. At the front of the classroom, a group of three classmates lean over diagrams teaching other about the concepts. In the back of the class, a single student wears headphones as he studies for an upcoming quiz while another types an essay to demonstrate what he has learned.

“It’s no longer about planning a lesson and giving a lecture,” said Gonzales, who has been teaching since 1997. “If someone wants to be a doctor, they need to learn biology on a certain level. And if someone wants to be a welder, they need to learn the standards for biology at a certain level. It’s all about customizing learning for the student.”

Gonzales said after teaching in the district for 10 years, it was difficult to transition into a new way of thinking about education and classroom instruction. She said when Lindsay implemented the system in the 2008-09 school year, Gonzales and her coworkers had to figure out a way to make the system work in the classroom.

“It was very uncomfortable,” she said. “I had to re-evaluate my skill sets. Everyone has to learn the standards but there isn’t a standard way of learning.”

Gonzales said she has seen a huge improvement with each passing class. She said this year’s graduating seniors are much more advanced than those in years past. She said students are learning information at a much deeper level and are being asked to demonstrate that knowledge before being allowed to move on to the next subject. She is also a parent of two learners at Washington Elementary and sees her daughters thriving and carrying on extremely self aware and adult conversations about how they learn, the pace the need to maintain and how long they have to complete different assignments.

“These learners are creating the pathways to their life, in education and beyond,” Gonzales said. “They have to make choices, problem solve, learn time management and be responsible for themselves.”

LHS senior Berenice Yepez the transition was difficult for students as well. This year’s seniors were the first freshman class to learn under the new system. She the initial drawback to learning at your own pace was students slacking off on school work and studying.

“A lot of people were just dragging their feet on purpose,” she said. “And some of us didn’t understand what we were supposed to do. We didn’t know how to ask for help or really take responsibility for our learning.”

Yepez said students like her adjusted to the system as sophomores and are now further ahead in their studies than they would have been under the traditional system. Yepez said she prefers the performance based system because it allows the student to decide how they demonstrate their understanding of a concept, either by taking a test, writing an essay or presenting a report to the teacher.

“I get nervous when I take tests, so for me doing a presentation is much easier,” she said.

Sophomore Sarana McDaniel had an easier time with the transition. McDaniel was in the eighth grade when LUSD expanded the system district wide. She said it is more challenging, because students are graded on a scale from 1-4, with three passing. However, Level III is equal to a B letter grade, meaning that passing is a B average and not a C average.

“It’s really preparing us for college,” she said. “You have to stay on top of things, be organized and responsible for your own learning and know when to ask for help.”

Robles credits his teachers for making the system work.

“They took a great idea and put it into practice,” Robles said. “They are the ones who have made this a reality and not just a theory.”

LUSD is seeking a $10 million grant in Race To The Top funds in order to create a digital training seminar for the performance based system that can be used for training within the district and other districts. Robles said several districts from across the country have already visited Lindsay High School and other LUSD sites to get an up close look at how performance based education looks on the ground floor.

“This is not the next big thing, or a trend in education in Lindsay, this is the way we educate students now,” Robles said. “We aren’t saying we have all the answers, because no one does, but we believe this system is a step in the right direction.”

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