J.M. Wright Regional Vocational-Technical School
The practice: Assessment
Administrators and teachers at the J.M. Wright Regional Vocational-Technical School in Stamford, Connecticut had long been concerned about their students' academic performance. Compared to their peers at the other Connecticut Vocational-Technical schools, the students of this small urban high school consistently scored at the lowest levels in reading and math on state standardized tests. After studying the eighth-grade state test scores for their incoming students, the Wright Tech staff identified reading comprehension and problem-solving skills as the areas most in need of improvement. They hypothesized that a Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT) intervention using a digital classroom model would not only improve these skills but also increase students' motivation, confidence, behavior, and metacognitive awareness.
The digital classroom model incorporates the use of technology with content area material through the use of Web-based learning units. The Connecticut Regional Vocational-Technical School System (RVTSS) had already partnered with the Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium (CTDLC) to create the template for these learning units and piloted them a year before Wright implemented the intervention. Dr. George Cicchetti of the CTDLC, who had trained the teachers involved in the pilot, trained all the remaining Wright Tech 10th grade teachers for the intervention and developed six learning units that included standards for success on the CAPT and explicit rubrics for assessment.
Teachers used the template to develop their own learning units and worked with two master teachers, Peg Sonntag and Trevor Jones, to make sure students understood the expectations and processes for completing each assignment. Dr. Cicchetti also helped teachers embed rubrics for behavior and respect of others' ideas into dialogue center activities.
When teachers made these expectations explicit, students felt comfortable sharing information and taking advice from peers during dialogue center activities. Students were also given paper copies of each unit and transparencies to provide them with a clear path to improvement and success.
This strategy increased students' motivation and personal responsibility for their learning. Following the intervention, Wright saw 21.6% (2002) and 19.6% (2003) decreases in the students scoring at intervention level in reading on the CAPT. A more detailed 2003 study also found a 20.5% drop in the number of free and reduced-price lunch students scoring at intervention in math and significant gains for English language learners on the Language Assessment Scales. Wright also had dramatic drops in disciplinary incidents, failing grades, and absenteeism in 2002 and 2003. (See the Results section for more details.)
Wright Tech acknowledges that it took a team effort to implement the intervention. The following staff members gave their time and effort to ensure the success of the digital classroom model: Peg Sonntag and Trevor Jones, master teachers and coaches; Diane Bauby, school director; Dr. Maria Romero and Edward Kennedy, assistant directors; John Tarnuzzer, Ann Sandagata, and Mike Suntag, central office administrators; and Don Bartels, Peter Clark, Dave Cronin, Sara Gonzalez, Dr. Charbel Herayoui, Justo Karell, Phil Lepinasse, Doug Moffat, Joe Rios-Ninos, Roberta Schwartz, Karen Stabile, Shannon Winchell, and German Yanez, teachers.
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