Thursday, Apr 24, 2014
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Hernando school board not sold on computer-based teaching programs

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BROOKSVILLE - Hernando school board members expressed support for the district's computer-based teaching programs this week but want better oversight to ensure they are being used effectively.

The programs, which schools in the district have used in some form since the early 2000s, help teachers evaluate student progress to determine who needs more help, school administrators said.

But at least two board members wanted more evidence that they are working.

Though the programs have been in use for more than a decade, the district still has declining FCAT scores and school grades, board members Dianne Bonfield and John Sweeney said.

Perhaps something should change as far as the way the programs are used, or implemented, they said.

"It concerns me," Bonfield said. "If we keep doing the same thing expecting different results, it doesn't usually happen."

It is important for administrators to train teachers on how to properly implement the programs and effectively use data as it is intended, board members said.

Eastside Elementary School Principal Mary LeDoux used the programs while principal of Brooksville Elementary, a Title I school.

Programs like "Success Maker" allow teachers to judge individual student strengths and weaknesses in math, science, and writing, and provide estimates for what scores students are likely to earn on their FCAT tests with 86 percent to 93 percent accuracy, LeDoux said.

Students can spend 30 minutes a day working on specific subjects and reports can be generated based on those sessions every two weeks, she said.

Those reports show how individual students compare to their overall class.

This helps teachers monitor student progress and more accurately group Title I students needing extra help into small groups one-third the size of their normal class.

Through an extended day program, these students can stay after school until about 6 p.m. for extra help, district officials said.

"Sometimes you're in a classroom with 18 kids and they're all over the place . and 'Success Maker' can be used to help with enrichment and skill level," LeDoux said. "I believe in this program, and if you follow the program you're going to get 93 percent accuracy."

Although computer-based teaching programs will never take the place of personal instruction, LeDoux said, the programs can serve as a tool for teachers to do their jobs more effectively and help improve academic performance at schools like Eastside Elementary, which received the district's first F grade last year, and Fox Chapel Middle, which received a D grade last year for the third year in a row.

At Deltona Elementary, more than half of the students in some grades were not meeting requirements on state math tests before the computer-based teaching and extended day programs were implemented, said Principal Debi Vermette.

"The No. 1 thing we need to look at is FCAT scores, because that truly determines whether our children are successful," she said. "I had to kind of diagnose the deficits at the school . We were in crisis."

The programs helped improve elementary math scores between 10 and 20 percent, and increase math scores in the lowest 25 percentile from 34 to 67 percent, Vermette said.

Last year, Deltona earned the highest gains in the district.

Other programs like "Tunein to Reading," used at Spring Hill Elementary the last three years, seeks to improve student vocabulary, phonetics, and reading comprehension through music.

Since the program was implemented, the school has seen an increase in reading scores, according to Principal Terri Dewey.

However, it is difficult to attribute those gains strictly to the program because a variety of programs and methods have been applied, she said.

"It brings somewhat, hopefully an excitement to learning," Dewey said.

The board will revisit the topic and vote whether and how to further the programs at a later date.

mreinig@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5271

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