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Following the leaders

Posted: Thursday, November 18, 2004

 

  LaDawn Druce, standing, helps Susan Wells, left, and Vicki Hollingsworth learn a new computer program during an in-service day last week at Kenai Middle School. Photo by M. Scott Moon

LaDawn Druce, standing, helps Susan Wells, left, and Vicki Hollingsworth learn a new computer program during an in-service day last week at Kenai Middle School.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

The vast and demanding No Child Left Behind federal law and its requirement that schools show annual improvement on state tests has posed some major challenges to teachers around the nation.

Some Alaska educators have decided to do something to make sure their students meet the Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, standards, and they've made it a team effort.

Sixty Kenai Peninsula teachers, along with teachers from more than 600 other schools around the United States, are learning how to use a Web-based education supplement, a program sponsored the by Education Leaders Council, called Following the Leaders.

Paul Droms, project leader for FTL, said the program has seen steady and rapid growth from 82 schools in six states in the first year to more than 600 in 12 states by this, its third year.

Droms said the program is a flexible one, allowing teachers to determine which students and subjects deserve more attention.

"There is no one implemental model. What we're teaching is the usage of tools, not meant to replace a teacher. This helps teachers identify problems so students grasp mastery of skills and can get to a level of proficiency. This all depends on the teacher using the tools effectively," Droms said.

The program is fundamentally a guide or supplement to the day's lesson, mainly for reading and math. Teachers can write tests geared toward state mandated tests and measure, in real time, the rate of progress of their class. The supplements include games, quizzes and tests mostly overseen by the homeroom teacher.

Yet, Droms stressed teachers are not meant to carry all the burden.

"This is more like a partnership among administration, parents, teachers and students. They all have access to the material," he said.

Teachers must have some training in how to effectively use the technology. LaDawn Druce, district coordinator, has overseen the teachers' training in 14 schools in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

She is optimistic, as she has seen all but four sites connected to the Internet within the past two months, and she said she hopes more schools integrate the programs. She sees positive results from FTL in that teachers have the capability to see what their students are understanding, and what they're not.

"It has just remarkable possibilities. It can be used in the After the Bell programs or students can use it on their own. I'm optimistic because, from what I've been hearing, the training has been very positive. One teacher, whom I deeply respect, told me this has some great potential, that it will revolutionize teaching and is an amazing resource," Druce said.

Though NCLB imparts tough standards, many teachers believe the goals are not entirely unattainable, and Druce remains positive.

"This is one good thing that has come out of NCLB because this was the type of program that was actually helping people. It shows that it's not all bad, and we've got to use what is working and use more of it," Druce said.

Druce cannot say this is a program teachers will use for only the next couple of years or for the next 10 years, but she said she likes it and is confident about it because teachers can create their own tests aligned with the new state grade level expectation standards.

"Our data as a district is awesome, I can say to most schools who have just started using these tools, that they are at a level three of a level four continuum. It's very exciting, and I'm happy about where this is going," she said,

But she also warned teachers about the program's lifespan due to the fact it is funded by a grant from No Child Left Behind. Her advice was simple: Continue to use it, or risk losing it.

Dave Larson, ninth-grade English teacher and 12th-grade advance placement teacher, uses the FTL program for general education goals. He noted the program's versatility as each site makes its own decisions on how to implement the technology.

"It is flexible, they can utilize it however they see fit," he said.

The technology used in elementary, middle and high schools and general subjects act as a supplement to what already is being taught. Teachers agree the advantage is that it's Web-based and can be used anywhere.

"It helps students score in the acceptable Alaska state standards with regard to math, language arts, and reading," Larson said.

Sixth-grade KMS teacher Cheryl Schey said it helps to have an Internet program so parents can be involved in their child's education.

"Lots of times parents say, 'What can I do?' and since this is Web-based, it allows them to be involved, since it's not limited to only school access," Schey said.

She added it is important to remember this is just a tool to reinforce education, not blanket it.

To learn more, anyone interested may go to the following Web sites: www.followingthleaders.org and www.education leaders.org.



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