• from the Florida Times-Union - Five Proven Ways That Schools Can Boost Student Achievement

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Five Proven Ways That Schools Can Boost Student Achievement

April 7, 2006

By William L. Bainbridge

The concept of using credible educational research as a basis for instituting practical public school solutions was introduced last week in this column. The following additional 5 suggestions to improve student achievement are also grounded with a strong and proven research base. Our educational leaders need to make concerted efforts to support legislation enabling these practical policies that have potential to produce positive student achievement results. Here are the additional five:
  1. Providing technology for students. Recent studies show the great value of providing students with extensive access to learning technology. On average, students with computers in their homes develop better math comprehension and reading skills than do those without this resource. School priorities need to include resource access programs such as loaned computers and/or software. The "technology divide" is more than a trifling reference used to document the need for more computers in elementary and secondary schools. Rather, the lack of access to technology for many urban and rural poor youth constitutes a genuine educational disadvantage.

  2. Using technology to improve communication between parents and teachers. Modern technology can do much to increase the flow of information between parents and teachers. All classrooms should be equipped with outbound telephone lines for teachers to contact parents and administrators during the school day. Voice mail systems and school-related programming on cable television can be put to much greater use in monitoring student progress. Well-informed parents are in a better position to help students by assisting them with homework, advising them on course selection, and partnering with educators in helping them set goals. Teachers must also be trained to ensure they know how to interact with parents in objective (e.g., "Katie does not understand her number facts") rather than subjective ways (e.g., "Katie is not good in math"). The former provides direction and information; the latter fosters parental defensiveness. In essence, parents need access to knowledge about how to use technology and teachers need to know how to use information in ways that truly inform parents about student behavior and learning.

  3. Eliminating social promotion. Simply stated, social promotion is the process of advancing students to the next grade level when they have not mastered the minimum academic content of their current grade. A symptom of this practice is the unacceptably high drop-out rate in many urban and rural secondary schools as students become less and less able to compete as they get older. Some school systems have had a good deal of success with mandatory summer school programs for academically at-risk students. Others have implemented in-school tutoring and after-school skill development programs. Whatever the plan, ensuring that targeted support and intervention services are available for students when they are needed is critical

  4. "Benchmarking" achievement of students with similar demographics. Research indicates that children with highly educated parents in high socioeconomic homes have a huge advantage in learning potential over those living in poverty. They enter school with more social capital because they come from homes where things such as reading and books tend to be the norm rather than the exception. Expectations of high performance can best be achieved when fair comparisons are established and used as the measuring stick. Setting attainable goals enables students to experience and celebrate success in their schools, encouraging all students to work toward even higher levels of achievement.

  5. Using data-based decision making. School systems are frequently operated with a heavy emphasis on current fads and personal agendas. The rapid turnover of administrators in some state education agencies and local school districts exacerbates the problem because faculty and staff members never really develop capacity-they are in a constant state of transition. Many recent studies have shown that using effective data analysis and communication can result in setting appropriate performance baselines and in identifying more effective instructional interventions. Performance measurements within such contexts then become more accurate. Experience shows school systems that "mine" data routinely have improved results. More important, school officials who know how to use that data to make informed instructional decisions truly create value-added opportunities for their students.

If increasing student success is the goal, then such student focused policies can be a good research-based starting point for school reform. There are no silver bullets in educational reform, but there are ideas, based upon sufficient research grounding, to suggest schools and school administrators with the knowledge of how to put the right resources into the right ideas will begin to see student achievement grow. Once again, some of these recommendations require little or no investment of dollars. All are supported by considerable research and offer significant opportunity for success.

is Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data firm.

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