By Susan Riddell
Considering Kentucky’s recent passing of the graduation bill, Senate Bill 97, you wouldn’t expect to see school faculty happy for students who leave a classroom before a course has ended.
But that’s the case for a handful of classes at East Carter High School (Carter County), where students who exit transitional courses before the year are much closer to being ready and prepared for college opportunities.
“Transitional courses have made a significant difference in our state accountability, college- and career-readiness (CCR) and graduation rates,” guidance counselor Sheila Porter said. “I think that students are realizing the importance of their classroom work and assessment scores.”
Since a transitional course emphasis has been in place at the school –11 classes spread across varying grade levels in all – East Carter High has been earned a Distinguished classification on state accountability and earned increases in its CCR rate (80.4 percent) and a graduation rate (98.3 percent).
“The change in students’ attitudes about assessments over the last three years since we began incorporating transitional courses into our schedules has been amazing,” Porter said. “I have had seniors who have asked to be placed in these courses so they can get extra help before assessments, such as the Kentucky Online Testing (KYOTE) placement or the COMPASS exams are given.”
Jeanne Crowe, education recovery specialist at East Carter High, said students are placed in reading, English and mathematics transitional courses when they fail to meet necessary benchmarks on assessments. Whenever a student meets a necessary benchmark within a trimester-based transitional course, he or she leaves the class and joins an elective course of his or her choosing.
“While students are assigned to the transition classes according to their skill deficits, these assignments are extremely fluid with students moving in and out of coursework as needs arise and benchmarks are met,” Crowe said. “We’re addressing transitional courses through a systemic approach focused on data analysis, instructional practices, progress monitoring and fluidity of class assignments.
“All data is analyzed during monthly professional learning communities following a plan, do, study, act format,” added Crowe, who noted that data analysis is designed to identify targeted students and skill deficits. “Instructional practices are addressed through scaffolded classroom instruction and individual targeted instruction.”
Courtney Martin teaches reading and English transitional courses at the school. She said teaching the classes has made her a more effective teacher because doing so has helped her realize there is no substitute for modeling curriculum and allowing time for students to develop their skill set.
“Students who are struggling usually want to learn, they are just so far behind that they’ve given up,” Martin said. “They need explicit instruction, a lot of practice and praise.”
Martin has seen several success stories in her classroom since she began work with transitional courses, including some students who made benchmark on the ACT in three subject areas in which they received transitional course instruction.
“Obviously, those kids needed the extra instruction and worked hard to make gains in every content area,” Martin said.
Another benefit of the transitional courses, Martin said, is the tendency for them to have a smaller number of students in them.
“That’s made a difference,” she said. “I try to remember that the students already have had English that day, so my class needs to be more interactive and high interest than a traditional class. We do a lot of discussion and incorporate group work as much as possible. Most activities aim to get kids out of their seats and interacting with other students while holding them accountable for how they spend their time.”
Giving students that more individualized attention is paramount to the success of any class, but that’s especially true with transitional courses according to April Pieper, differentiated learning branch manager with Kentucky Department of Education’s Office of Next Generation Learners.
“We’ve been working hard on helping schools understand that the most important part of targeted transitional interventions is the targeted portion,” Pieper said. “The more they can individualize the intervention to the explicit need of the student, the more effective the intervention will be.”
Porter recommends that schools using transitional courses have faculty members available for meaningful conversations with students who might be placed in them once they are in high school. These conversations are good for parents, too.
“I meet with 8th-grade students in the fall to explain the importance of their classroom performance and assessment scores,” Porter said. “I explain to them how their assessment scores are used to determine placement in their high school courses. Students also receive written information to take home to their parents.”
Porter also sends letters home to parents before state assessments that include previous assessment scores, benchmark scores and a list of the transitional courses that students will be placed in if they do not meet the benchmark scores.
“The parents I have spoken to about these courses have been very receptive and supportive in our efforts to help their children,” Porter said.
MORE INFO …
April Pieper, firstname.lastname@example.org, (502) 564-4970
Jeanne Crowe, Jeanne.email@example.com, (502) 564-2116
Courtney Martin, firstname.lastname@example.org, (606) 474-5714
Sheila Porter, email@example.com, (606) 474-5714