Same programs, constant innovation

By Kathleen King

A few months ago, as I was driving to our office to begin the workday, I heard a story on NPR about changes associated with the implementation of the Common Core Academic Standards. The report noted that many school districts across the country were abandoning fiction in favor of non-fiction texts for literacy instruction.

I couldn’t help but chuckle, because we’d done the same thing. Three years before.

We did it because we recognized that non-fiction texts would help our students expand their knowledge… increase their academic vocabulary… and improve their critical thinking skills. In short, we made the change because it was the right thing to do to help our students.

Summer Scholars (now Scholars Unlimited) has been providing its signature summer learning program for 20 years, and we began our Scholars After School program well over a decade ago. To the casual observer, it might seem that our core programs have changed little over time.

But within these core programs, we are constantly implementing changes in order to provide better programming that helps students achieve better outcomes.

Among the other innovations that have been implemented over the past three years:

The 95 Percent curriculum, an evidence-based program for phonics, was added two years ago to help struggling learners master phonemic principles through explicit instruction and systematic, sequential practice. This curriculum is especially effective for English language learners.

Summer Scholars was a pilot in the implementation of the Youth Program Quality Intervention (YPQI) program in Denver. YPQI helps out-of-school-time providers deliver higher-quality programming through a continual quality improvement cycle. The YPQI method utilizes self-assessments and outside observations to identify areas for improvement within programs. Based on this information, site teams develop quality improvement plans, including goals and benchmarks. After plans are implemented, the process begins again, ensuring continual quality improvement in a number of areas, including interactions and student engagement. As a leader in this community-wide initiative, we have staff members qualified as YPQI assessors and trainers for other out-of-school-time providers.

We also were a pilot in the Community Partnership System (CPS), a centralized database for Denver Public Schools and out-of-school time providers serving DPS students. The CPS system tracks student outcomes on various measures, and links to school district data. In its initial year of available reports, the CPS data demonstrated that Summer Scholars’ students, school by school, had better school-day attendance than their peers not participating in our programs. As the system becomes more functional, we will be able to access more comparative data to assess the impact of our programs.

Summer Scholars was awarded a grant from the Colorado Department of Education Colorado Education Initiative to provide Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELO) to 100 students enrolled in our summer program last year. Because this group of students demonstrated larger DIBELS gains than the rest of our summer students, we incorporated more thematic, project-based learning across our programs.

Finally, we are the only out-of-school-time provider participating in the nationwide Burst study being conducted by the University of Michigan. This study is measuring the efficacy of the Burst system, an online tool that generates highly individualized instruction plans for each student, based on his/her DIBELS scores. In this study, teachers are using Amplify, an mClass web-based system, to administer the benchmark DIBELS assessment. This online testing system enables teachers to receive instantaneous DIBELS scoring for each student. Then, teachers download the Burst curriculum – including reading texts and instructional plans – that is individualized for each student based on his/her DIBELS results. While no data from the study is available yet, our teachers at the study sites report that the regular progress monitoring and updated Burst curriculum enables them to provide more effective differentiated instruction, leading to greater gains for their scholars. And because Amplify enables instantaneous DIBELS scoring, we are using this system for DIBELS testing at a number of sites that are not participating in the Burst study.

We are proud of our record of innovation … because these changes enable us to provide higher quality programming for the at-risk young learners we serve. Through these program improvements, we are confident that we can help students achieve better outcomes and build stronger foundations for lifelong success.

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