Equity & Diversity

Tool Helps Wash. Teachers Write Learning Plans

By Andrew Trotter — February 15, 2005 4 min read
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Educators in Washington state and a Naperville, Illinois-based nonprofit group are teaming up to solve a daunting problem: how to craft individualized learning plans for thousands of students who are off track for passing the state’s 10th grade test, which is required for high school graduation starting with the class of 2008.

Under a 2004 state law, Washington schools have until this June to craft a student learning plan for each 9th grader who fell short of the state’s standard for mathematics or language arts on the 7th grade version of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, or WASL. Those students are also deemed to be at risk of failing the 10th grade exam.

A teacher grades essays.

“This has become a high-level compliance issue,” said Scott Poirier, the state’s assistant superintendent for secondary education reform, who led development of a new online database that will serve up the bulk of the data needed for the learning plans.

The state’s partner in developing the database was Learning Point Associates, a nonprofit research and services organization in Naperville.

Under normal circumstances, assembling a single student’s test record by hand and generating an individualized plan takes schools 45 minutes to an hour—adding up to thousands of dollars of staff time per school, Mr. Poirier said.

The same task using the database takes 15 minutes per student, said Karen Farley, a consultant with the Puget Sound educational service district.

And next year the challenge will increase, as the law’s mandate expands to cover 8th graders and 5th graders who missed proficiency on this year’s 7th grade and 4th grade state tests, respectively.

Data Trail

By developing the Student Learning Plan Tool, the state hoped to do that task more efficiently—and more effectively, Mr. Poirier said. “What we’ve done,” he said, “is to build a system to personalize education for kids.”

After a district signs up to use the database, information is imported from the district’s student-information system and state records into the database. Many districts, for now at least, are focusing only on students who failed to show proficiency on the state test.

As school personnel are trained, principals decide who should have access to the system and their procedures for creating individualized learning plans.

Users can see the scores for individual students or for entire classes or other groups. The database also can be used to record scores on other relevant tests.

Educators can use the data to plan instruction and to target special programs or interventions to help speed students’ progress.

The database also lets schools record interventions that have been used with a student before. An interactive library of resources, products, and references that is part of the system prompts users with suggestions that address the specific learning needs of a student or a group of students.

The database will have ready-formatted reports that teachers can use to generate individualized learning plans, update plans, or provide access to other schools, which could be helpful when a student transfers.

‘The Right Direction’

Washington’s 296 school districts are not required to use the database, which is free to them, but more than half have already signed up, Mr. Poirier said. Training of the first handful of administrators took place this month and is being conducted through the educational service districts.

Dave Humphrey, the principal of Mount Si High School in Snoqualmie, Wash.

One of the first principals to receive training, Dave Humphrey of Snoqualmie, Wash., near Seattle, said the tool would help teachers at the 1,300-student Mount Si High School keep an eye on the students who are in jeopardy of falling short on the 10th grade Washington assessment. “Any time you can get a piece of software that gets you into something quickly and accomplishes something quickly, I do feel this has the right direction to it,” he said.

He hopes the system will improve targeting of the school’s catch-up strategies for 9th graders, which include after-school tutoring, a “math lab” class focused on the 10th grade math test, and an essay-writing exercise for all 9th graders.

The database, which can be accessed on school computers by teachers and administrators who log in with the proper identification and password, appears similar in layout and function to school student-information systems, but requires some effort to master.

“You really need some training to fully understand how to use it,” Mr. Humphrey said. He plans to have the heads of his math and language arts department, a counselor, and another administrator trained next. “It will be more valuable to us next year.”

Andrew Henry, the chief officer for research and development at Learning Point, which grew out of the former North Central Regional Educational Laboratory and has a division by the same name, said his organization hopes to interest other states in using a version of the database.

A version of this article appeared in the February 16, 2005 edition of Education Week as Tool Helps Wash. Teachers Write Learning Plans

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