Gaining Traction, Gaining Ground: How Some High Schools Accelerate Learning for Struggling Students

Liam Julian

The Education Trust
November 2005

We know a lot about closing achievement gaps among the very young, but what about among adolescents? This report examines ways to improve American high schools for the 9th grade students who are already behind. Because the focus is on poorly achieving students, the authors didn't look to ritzy schools with high-flying test scores for insights. Instead, they only examined ones with high-poverty, high-minority populations and compared so-called "average-impact" high schools (those whose students achieve, on average, below state test standards) with "high-impact" high schools (those whose students post, on average, achievement data in line with their states' averages) in order to determine the characteristics that distinguished one type from the other. Researchers talked to students, teachers, and administrators and collected class schedules, student transcripts, and assignments. They conducted multiday site visits and observed classroom instruction. The results don't surprise. "High-impact high schools are clearly focused on preparing students for life beyond high school - specifically, college and careers," while average-impact high schools concentrate merely on graduation. Moreover, while schools in both categories offer support for new teachers, average-impact high schools focus on personal and social interaction among staff, while high-impact high schools spend far more time on imparting new arrivals with curriculum and instruction advice. Creating a culture of achievement, setting high expectations that correlate to set standards, and encouraging students to challenge themselves academically is a recipe for success. It's not a panacea for high schools' woes, but it's surely a good place to begin. Check it out, here

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