Passport Program at Baltimore County Public Schools, Maryland
Blending online and face-to-face instruction to create an engaging Spanish experience
When Dr. Dallas Dance became superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) in 2012, one of his goals was to have all graduating students be proficient in a second language. At the time, most BCPS schools did not begin foreign language instruction until 7th or 8th grade, which made it difficult to ensure students graduated with this skill in just five or six years. BPCS piloted the Passport Program at 10 elementary schools during the 2014–2015 school year to introduce foreign language instruction earlier in students’ academic careers, and to better meet the district’s equity policy. The district implemented the Passport Program in schools where gaps in second-language instruction were identified to serve students who were underserved.
“When Dr. Dance came to the district, we became ‘Team BCPS,’” says Brian Schiffer, the Director for Social Sciences, Fine Arts, and World Languages at BCPS. “We adopted the same idea for the Passport Program. Learning Spanish is for everyone, not just native-speaking teachers or students in world language classes. It also gives us the opportunity to include the community and talk about the language’s culture, so we can build a perceived value of learning a second language.”
The Passport Program is a blended learning instructional model for 4th and 5th grade classrooms. Students spend a minimum of 40 minutes per week completing online coursework developed by Middlebury Interactive Languages™ (MIL), now part of Fuel Education®. The online courses deliver reading, writing, listening, and speaking activities and are aligned with the American Council of the Teaching of Foreign Languages’ (ACTFL) national standards. Students complete the online coursework at their own pace, and teachers can easily monitor student progress. In addition, a fluent, Spanish-speaking instructor teaches a 25–30-minute lesson each week using district-created curriculum that incorporates the concepts students are learning in MIL, thus fusing online and in-person instruction.
During the first year, the Passport Program served 4th grade students at 10 pilot schools and used two Spanish teachers to conduct face-to-face instruction. The following year, the program expanded to include 5th graders and an additional 15 schools. After the second year of the program, BCPS requested that the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) conduct an evaluation of the program to document the status of the implementation and measure success. The CAL found numerous strengths in the program, including “students continued to participate and actively engaged in face-to-face Spanish classes” and “students are engaged in the MIL online activities.”
The Passport Program’s success has encouraged the district to actively grow the program from year to year. Going into the 2017–2018 school year, the fourth year of the program, the Passport Program will be in 45 elementary schools across the county and will utilize 18 Spanish teachers.
“For many BCPS students, the Passport Program can also be the first step on the journey toward the new Maryland Seal of Biliteracy,” says Kim Shinozaki Coordinator of the Office of World Languages at BCPS. “The Seal, which requires students to demonstrate a minimum Intermediate High proficiency in two languages, will offer benefits no matter what path students may choose to pursue in the future.”
Ector County Independent School District, Texas
Helping close the achievement gap for students with special needs, English Language Learners, transient students, and more
Ector County Independent School District (ECISD) in Odessa, TX has a unique challenge: the local oil industry causes families to move from rig to rig, and their children follow. This transient lifestyle makes it difficult for students to have continuity in their education. Other challenges the district faces include a large population of English Language Learners (ELLs), first-generation college students, and more. To help support students across various skill levels, ECISD uses Stride™, an online supplemental learning tool from Fuel Education®.
“We try our very best to give students access to tools that will reach them at their existing skill levels,” says Leslie Bonds, Curriculum Facilitator for Secondary Campuses at ECISD. “Stride supports all modalities of learning while providing a systematic analysis of successes and areas of need. Most students have smartphones, which they can use to access Stride anytime, anywhere. Having this at their fingertips has led to their success.”
Stride motivates students toward mastery of math, language arts, reading, and science concepts and rewards their learning with “coins” they can redeem for playing games. The adaptive technology meets students at their skill level—even if they are several grade levels behind—and helps them identify and practice concepts they need to improve upon. The built-in benchmark and formative assessments gauge whether students are at grade level for end-of-course and end-of-year tests and provide real-time data and in-depth reports detailing classroom achievement. Additionally, its Spanish translation features support English language learners.
AT ECISD, students access Stride for skills practice during classes and during a 35-minute homeroom called “homeport.” Once students complete a unit, they are eager to see their Progress Monitoring Assessment (PMA) reports, or “stoplight” reports, which visually depict their academic growth. When students master a standard, it turns from red to green on the report, hence the nickname. This immediate data not only helps students recognize their strengths and weaknesses, it serves as encouragement for students to keep practicing.
Using the Stride-generated assessment data, Bonds helped differentiate instruction by creating student support intervention groups and an innovative classroom rotation schedule for sixth grade teachers. For example, if only some of the class has mastered long division, Bonds would have students struggling with it rotate into the class where the teacher would focus on the concept.
Lisa Wills, Executive Director for Curriculum & Instruction at ECISD, says teachers love using Stride because it’s very user-friendly and they enjoy seeing their students’ growth. “Because Stride is aligned with state standards, teachers feel their students are working on target for what the state requires. It meets the student at their own individual skill level, not the class’ average skill level, and then helps fill in any learning gaps.”
Hermiston School District, Oregon
Expanding course offerings, fostering independence, and meeting unique student needs by blending and flipping instruction in a comprehensive high school
Hermiston High School in Hermiston, OR, has created innovative learning solutions using online courses from Fuel Education® (FuelEd®) to meet the diverse needs of its 1,500 students with varying skill levels and interests.
Four veteran, tech-savvy Hermiston High School teachers are participating in its Flex Program. Instead of lecture-based learning, the classes in the Flex Program—a senior-level English class, two U.S. government classes, and one U.S. history class—use a combination of FuelEd Online Courses and teacher-curated supplemental materials for instruction. Because most of the instruction takes place online, both students and teachers are benefitting from increased flexibility. Students can work at their own pace, and teachers can flip instruction so class time can be used for project-based learning.
The most unique part of the program is that students are not always required to attend class because teachers allow time away from the classroom based on student progress and needs. This has helped many students complete their work portfolio, one of the school’s graduation requirements, as early as midyear, and it also gives struggling students the chance to work with their teacher individually or in small groups if they need extra help.
“Students love the freedom and the fact that this college-like atmosphere requires them to be more responsible for their learning,” said Mindy Barron, Guidance and Career Coordinator at Hermiston Public Schools. “It has also changed the way these teachers plan for their classes since they are putting so much thought into what they do with class time. They’re transforming to meet students’ needs.”
Unlike other blended learning models schools have adopted, the Flex Program only requires minimal classroom adjustments, like rearranging desks. Instead of rows of desks like many high school classrooms, the Flex Program classrooms use elementary and middle school classroom best practices like utilizing small learning stations and sharing Chromebook carts.
Hermiston’s flexibility and use of online coursework does not stop at the Flex Program. Approximately 180 high school juniors and seniors are taking FuelEd online electives such as Latin, computer science, criminology, and fashion design. Students can do their coursework in the computer lab during their designated class period. They can also work on the coursework at home, which gives them the flexibility to work on other projects during their electives class period, if needed. Despite it being the first year the high school has offered online electives, 80 percent of the students successfully passed their online courses.
“We want every student to take at least one online course,” said Barron. “It prepares them for post-secondary life because it helps foster independence.”
Uplift California, California
Creating the opportunity for high school dropouts ages 16–24 to earn a high school diploma while taking career and technical education courses that will help them blaze a path to a new life after graduation
In California, students can only remain in the secondary school system until they turn 18, or 19 if there was not a break in education, which doesn’t leave adults with many options if they want to complete high school. Uplift California gives these students, who may have otherwise forgone their education, an option to better their lives. It is a charter school that is approved to help students between the ages of 16–24 earn a high school diploma while working toward an industry-recognized certification.
Students at Uplift California represent an assortment of skill abilities, but all of them want the opportunity to earn a high school diploma and gain exposure to additional academic and technical skill development opportunities through workforce preparation, personalized learning, and STEAM programming. Working with Fuel Education® allows Uplift California to provide students with all of this while offering flexible learning times that meet these older students’ needs.
“Many of our students have other responsibilities or challenges that led them to drop out of high school’” said Principal Lou Rigney. “That’s why Fuel Education is so important to Uplift California. Online learning gives our students the flexibility they need.”
When students enroll at Uplift California, they meet with a case manager. After reviewing their high school transcripts and discussing the student’s interests and career goals, the case manager develops a personalized learning program of online courses that first addresses credit deficiencies and then aligns to the student’s career goals. Once students work through their assigned FuelEd Credit Recovery Curriculum courses, they choose to follow a career pathway in Fuel Education’s Career Readiness Pathways™. The comprehensive online career and technical education (CTE) courses allow students to build the foundational knowledge and skills, and prepare for industry-recognized certification exams.
As they work through their online courses, students are encouraged to meet with their teachers in person or virtually during office hours. “FuelEd provides all of the progress data I could ever hope for,” said Wes Davis, an Uplift California math teacher. “So when a student is struggling, I call them and we talk about why. Sometimes, their life is just stressful as they’re trying to balance work and school or taking care of a child, so I help them use the scheduling tool. If they’re having trouble with a concept, we can do a screen share and I can walk them through it.”
The students’ case managers also monitor student progress. Many students don’t have a supportive family member to act as a learning coach because they are emancipated minors or are families of one. Some students manage their time well on their own, while others need more support. The case manager acts as a learning coach to help students stay on track.
“The goal is to keep students focused on what their next step will be,” said Rigney. “It’s great they want to earn their diploma, but we want students to graduate with the skills they need to get started in a career of their choice. So many of our students have not experienced success before within the classroom, but when they are given this opportunity they quite often shine.”
Rebound School of Opportunity, West Ada School District, Idaho
Giving students a second chance to earn their high school diploma in a flexible environment
Serving more than 38,000 students, West Ada School District in Meridian, ID is the largest school district in the state. Although the number of dropouts and “in lieu of expulsion” students is small compared to its total enrollment, the district wanted to support these students in continuing their education. The district opened the Rebound School of Opportunity as a new-age alternative school in 2010. The school serves high school dropouts, students who have been expelled, in lieu of expulsion students, students with social anxiety and other challenges—and all have the opportunity to earn a high school diploma.
“When they walk in the door, we want them to know there are people willing to help them,” says Mike Hanneman, the Principal at Rebound. “Rebound is a fresh start for them.”
Students attend school five days a week, but have the choice of a morning or afternoon session. This flexibility has been crucial for students with jobs, children, or other responsibilities. When they arrive, students report to one of three virtual learning labs to work on their Fuel Education® Online Courses. Students have six weeks to complete each course; however, Rebound staff can pause or extend courses if necessary—to best meet the needs of individual students.
Each lab has a mentor who acts as a tutor and helps students navigate the virtual learning setting. The mentors have two large monitors, and with the help of monitoring software that allows them to see each student’s screen, they can intervene if a student is struggling or off-task. For students who they deem as high priority, such as those who speed through courses but have poor grades, become idle in a course, fall behind schedule, remain in an extended course for too long, or fail courses, mentors meet twice a week to discuss their obstacles and create solutions to help these students get back on track.
“The autonomy we have with the FuelEd Online Courses, mixed with our strong emphasis on relationship building, are what make Rebound a successful program, despite having such a lean team,” says Tobey Jossis, the Coordinator of Digital Learning at West Ada School District.
Since implementing FuelEd Online Courses in 2015, Rebound’s student enrollment has doubled.
“The school’s enrollment peaked at 216 students during the 2016–2017 school year, and administration is currently looking for a larger venue so the school can expand and increase enrollment,” says Jossis. “Additionally, the high priority list has reduced even as enrollment has increased. Students are engaged in their studies, and course passage rate for the 2016–2017 school year was 91 percent.”
Since its 2010 opening, 117 students have earned their high school diplomas through Rebound. Rebound hosts graduation twice a year. In the beginning they awarded anywhere from five to 15 diplomas per graduation. In January of 2017, 19 students graduated and 26 students—a new record-high—graduated in May 2017.
Rebound’s approach to instruction and support for students has been so successful that it earned an AdvancED® accreditation in 2016, and it now serves as a best-practice example of online learning for West Ada School District’s other high schools.