Guest post by Beth Middendorf
What else could I have done to support that freshman academically in the first six weeks of school? I found myself asking this question each time I transitioned a freshman class to Parkway West High School. By the time we had sufficient in-progress data to review, too many freshmen were already struggling academically. Repeatedly, I observed students’ confidence and effort levels decrease when I needed them to be open-minded to academic interventions. Because of our reactive approach to intervention placement, some freshmen were not able to recover and experience success.
To address these academic transition issues, my colleagues and I designed a proactive process for placing incoming ninth graders in systematic interventions. Since the implementation of this process in the spring of 2015, we have observed significant growth in our freshman performance.
Systematic Interventions for Ninth Graders
To address the diverse learning needs of our freshmen, we have developed a variety of academic support programs. Each one addresses the needs of a particular population of students.
- Study hall: This is a traditional study hall, and the teacher routinely monitors students’ grades.
- Drop-in academic support centers: During their study hall period, students have the option to seek help.
- Required academic support centers: During their study hall period, students are required to report to academic support centers for skill building.
- Push-in group: Students who have historically struggled academically are grouped for core classes. Essential course outcomes remain unchanged, but teachers provide instruction at an appropriate level and pace. Teacher assistants offer additional support in these classes.
- Guided study hall: Students who need support with both academics and executive functioning are assigned to this study hall with no more than five students.
- Literacy lab: Students in this course read at a seventh- or eighth-grade level and are concurrently enrolled in freshman English. The teacher provides literacy instruction as well as instruction to support the freshman English curriculum.
- Reading support: Students in this course read below a seventh-grade level and are concurrently enrolled in an English course. The teacher provides instruction in reading strategies. (This intervention is new for the 2017–18 school year.)
Placement Process for Incoming Ninth Graders
While we already had some of these academic support programs established, our biggest challenge was placing students in the right one. We realized that in order to get students into the most appropriate intervention environment, we had to modify our process and make time to identify the needs of each freshman. The new placement process begins in January before the upcoming school year and the steps are as follows:
- Based on the intervention criteria above, we review incoming ninth graders’ standardized test scores and grades to identify students who may benefit from interventions.
- We meet with the eighth-grade teachers, counselor, and principal to review rosters generated in Step 1 and record their recommended changes. Staff anecdotes also allow us to note strategies that work best for individual students, as well as students we should avoid placing together in interventions.
- We finalize intervention rosters considering recommendations from the middle school staff, as well as the need to balance demographics.
- We notify parents of the placement process and recommended interventions.
Once school starts, we conduct biweekly reviews of freshmen earning D/F grades. We change interventions as needed and maintain a log of these changes.
Evaluation of Our Interventions
Our data for this approach to systematic intervention indicates positive growth. Overall, the percentage of ninth-grade students earning D/F grades continues to decrease each year. View our data from the 2016–17 school year.
While we continue to make improvements, we have established a proactive process that helps our ninth-graders make a successful academic transition into high school. As a result, freshmen are more receptive to academic interventions and see them as a normal part of learning. Our staff has noticed a growth in student confidence and an increase in overall effort. Supporting our ninth-graders through these systematic interventions paves the way for their continued success throughout the rest of their high school experience and beyond.
Could systematic intervention placement help your transitioning freshmen? What process does your school use to place students in systematic interventions?
Beth Middendorf, PhD, is an assistant principal at Parkway West High School in Ballwin, MO, and the 2017 Missouri Assistant Principal of the Year.