By Susan Dawson
Graduation rates, test outcomes, college readiness – on almost every education measure, our students are doing incrementally better. Yet these slow but steady improvements hide alarming gaps between different student groups. For instance, our non-low income high school graduates are four times as likely than our low income students to complete a college degree within 6 years and graduate! By choosing eliminating achievement gaps as the second goal of our regional Blueprint, our community articulated that we have a responsibility to ensure that every child reaches her potential. Indeed, our economic future depends on it!
The middle school years are a key stage when all students should master conceptual learning to build toward college- and career-readiness. However, the data shows that far too many of our middle school students are failing to achieve academic success due to a lack of content literacy and critical thinking skills. To address this key area of need, E3 Alliance, Education Service Center Region 13, six Central Texas school districts, and their partners created RAISEup Texas: a targeted, whole-school approach to improving student achievement in middle school – for all students, but especially our struggling learners.
RAISEup Texas increases student achievement in middle schools using the research-validated Strategic Instruction Model (SIM) created by the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning (KU-CRL). The initiative provides every teacher in every subject with instructional tools to communicate learning concepts and actively engage students in more rigorous learning. At the same time, RAISEup Texas eliminates achievement gaps by identifying struggling students and providing targeted, evidence-based instructional interventions tiered to match the intensity of student need, and monitoring student responses to ensure ongoing data-driven decision-making.
A RAISEup Texas Demonstration Project was launched in 2011, with whole-school implementation of SIM in targeted schools in six school districts in Central Texas (Austin, Eanes, Hays, Leander, Round Rock, and San Marcos). E3 Alliance launched the effort and chairs the Regional Steering Committee, Education Service Center Region 13 provides program and fiscal management services including a robust Professional Development program, the Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk is conducting an in-depth formative and summative evaluation of the program, and KU-CRL provides guidance and support around SIM theories and application.
Eliminating Achievement Gaps
RAISEup Texas includes a broad range of urban and suburban schools, purposefully chosen to demonstrate that the model can benefit all students in any school environment, with a focus on eliminating gaps in student outcomes. Screening of all students in each school helps to identify struggling learners and their particular needs. In both years of implementation, pre- and post-tests of struggling learners across RAISEup Texas schools indicated that they are strikingly exceeding nationally normed outcomes in every grade.
Based on in-depth research and a whole-school reform framework, RAISEup Texas strengthens the rigor of classroom instruction in all subject areas and provides tiered and targeted instruction for struggling students to eliminate gaps in readiness.
Teachers and students at participating schools are excited about the success they are seeing:
- “Last year and before I made 70s or below in all of my classes, but I am now making all A’s & B’s” ~ 6th grade Student
- “I was reluctant at first – is this just another fad? But when I tried it I found my students were really improving quickly. Those students who didn’t learn well from a book can learn this way – all of them do. As I’ve used more and more routines, the students have gotten better and better. Now I’m a total convert!” ~ Math Teacher
RAISEup Texas is cost effective, reaching over 10,000 students in the demonstration project over three and a half years, for approximately $250 per student. The initiative is designed around a platform that can be scaled, replicated, and sustained in the state and beyond. Plans are in place now to expand the model to other Central Texas schools, as well as to launch a demonstration project in the Houston region.
Central Texas research has clearly shown that the middle schools years are critical time when far too many students are struggling to build the deep critical thinking and content literacy skills they will need to succeed in college, careers, and life. It is our community’s responsibility to identify ways to eliminate achievement gaps, providing all students the skills they need to succeed to ensure a brighter future for our region. RAISEup Texas is doing just that.
Susan Dawson is the President and Executive Director of E3 Alliance.