1 month ago

i-Ready could help reinvigorate Alabama’s public education system

BOAZ — Boaz City Schools produced Alabama’s current lieutenant governor. And now, thanks to the system’s participation in a cutting-edge program, Boaz could be paving the way for not just the next generation of students in Marshall County, but young Alabamians statewide.

While the Yellowhammer State boasts the nation’s best state-run pre-k program, surging workforce development programs through AIDT and public-private partnerships and world-class universities, it is no secret that Alabama has been desperately needing a renaissance in K-12 public education for years.

That awakening might just be on the horizon. Last week, Yellowhammer News attended the annual community appreciation breakfast at Boaz High School. In attendance were Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth, state Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) and state Rep. Wes Kitchens (R-Arab), who all got a firsthand look at i-Ready – a program new to the state that might just be one of the missing pieces in Alabama’s public school puzzle.

i-Ready

A program of Curriculum Associates, i-Ready is a virtual assistant of sorts for teachers, providing a toolkit of resources and delivering differentiated instruction. The online, data-driven program functions in two main ways: diagnostic and instructional.

The first aspect of this is assessment based. Through an initial evaluation to see where a student is academically (identifying both their strengths and weaknesses), i-Ready plots a unique learning pathway just for them. This is where the instructional component comes in, as the program provides online lessons and teaching resources designed to fit that individual student’s pathway.

And, just as importantly as the two aspects themselves, the diagnostics and instruction are intertwined. The online program is keeping track of a student’s progress daily, so teachers can adjust in real time to what is working and not working in the classroom.

In a tour of Corley Elementary School, i-Ready can already be seen making a difference firsthand in second- and third-grade classrooms.

One of the biggest takeaways, after speaking with school system and Curriculum Associates leaders, is that i-Ready is custom designed to help teachers, not supplant them.

A Powerpoint presentation delivered by the school system emphasized, “We know and believe that the classroom teacher is at the center of [success]. The teacher is making instructional decisions based on his/her knowledge of the students.”

i-Ready and the constant individualized data it puts in teachers’ hands only increases their ability to help students succeed.

Still, in schools where some students are at or above grade level while others are varying degrees of playing catch up, teachers cannot possibly reach each individual in the best way for their unique situation just by teaching to the group and going over lessons in front of the class as a whole. This is where differentiated instruction and custom pathways are so important.

“We know realistically that kids are at all different places when they start each grade level,” a school administrator explained. “You have some kids that are accelerated learners that have learned a lot of their grade level skills and standards. And you have some that are grades behind. Well, we can’t sacrifice one for the other. And we understand the importance of choice, we understand the importance of flexibility, and that’s something, in a public school, that typically has not always occurred in the past. We have to learn how to meet the needs of individual students in a setting where you teach multiple students.”

Boaz’s implementation

In practice, at least in the classrooms observed, the teachers would split the class into three groups after introducing the lesson of the day to all of them. The groups would rotate between three stations. The group on the i-Ready station would go online and work their pathway. A second group would work a more traditional assignment or project related to the lesson. And the final group would work with the teacher to add another layer or reinforcement level to the lesson; tactile or visual activities are good examples of this.

Another of the points of emphasis of the program is building skills, as opposed to teaching to a standardized test. Curriculum Associates, through i-Ready and Ready (traditional printed math and reading instruction the company also specializes in), stresses high standards. Yet, the curriculum is flexible and uniquely designed not just for the individual students, but for the differing needs and wants of states and localities, too.

Take Boaz City Schools, for example. The school system has major demographic challenges that Curriculum Associates has helped with. From 2014 to 2018, Boaz City Schools’ percentage of Hispanic students went from 1.57 percent to 32.70 percent. Instead of working around challenges and leaving various subsets of special needs students behind, i-Ready carves out roads to success. In this case, this meant not only English as Second Language (ESL) students, but students who are proficient in English conversationally but still struggle with it academically.

Boaz City Schools, which has approximately 70 percent of its students on free or reduced lunch, began implementation of i-Ready strictly at the Tier III level (at-risk students) in the 2017-2018 school year. Now, they are in the first full year of a two or three-year scale-up of the program to the core level.

The results have already been off the charts.

Last school year, Boaz City Schools achieved 148 percent in math and 162 percent in reading of its targeted growth on average across all students. These remarkable results spanned from kindergarten to eighth grade, which is especially impressive considering it is harder for students to make up lost ground after their first few years of school.

Take the teachers’ perspectives into account.

While on classroom tours, Ainsworth pulled multiple veteran educators aside, who each raved about i-Ready. His conversations left him to conclude, “[T]he proof’s in the pudding.”

One third grade teacher, who had taught various elementary and middle school grades over 14 years, confidently said the program should be implemented statewide.

“As a teacher, it’s the best thing that I’ve seen,” she told Ainsworth.

How can other school districts benefit?

While Boaz City Schools was able to implement i-Ready through an at-risk student grant from the state, Ainsworth said he would like all public school districts to have the funds to use the program if they see fit — and not just for Tier III.

It might take some work in Montgomery to make this possible, but Boaz City Schools Superintendent Dr. Shannon Stanley is such a believer in the program and what it has already done for her district that she is willing to personally travel to the state capital to share the success story with legislators and executive branch leaders.

Currently, Curriculum Associates is working with 15 districts in Alabama between Ready and i-Ready, with some districts running small-scale trials and others enjoying more widespread implementation. Until the time that all districts have the funding option to utilize the program, applying for at-risk grants and being able to show positive results of trial runs seems to be an advisable move for districts across Alabama.

However, this is still not ideal.

“One of the things that I think is kind of a shame is that y’all have to use [i-Ready] through at-risk funds,” Ainsworth told Stanley and other school district leaders. “Because to me, there’s tremendous value and for not just at-risk students… what I’d like to see y’all do is be able to have the money to do this and then use the at-risk money for just at-risk kids.”

Speaking to Curriculum Associates representatives in attendance, Ainsworth reiterated the thing that impressed him most was what the teachers thought of i-Ready.

“Y’all have a product that the people that use it every day [love it]. To me, the value’s not in what I think, it’s the value that the actual teachers think. They love it,” he said.

“You can’t argue with people that are using it, and the fact that it’s actually changing lives. That’s important,” Ainsworth added.

Scofield, speaking to Yellowhammer News after the school tour, emphasized that he is “proud” of the schools in his district, including the Boaz City Schools system.

“They’re doing the right things to make sure our students are achieving and coming out workforce-ready. Boaz is on the frontline of that, and I’m very proud of this system and very impressed by this product,” Scofield remarked.

He continued, “I would like to see us really focus on trying to move [i-Ready] beyond the city limits of Boaz. I’d like to see this not only all over my district but statewide. Listening to these teachers – when you have 14-, 15-, 20-year teachers tell you that this is the best thing that they’ve seen, it’s had the biggest impact on their students – that’s what we need to listen to.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

46 mins ago

Failed state House candidate wants to challenge gas tax in court

Former candidate for state House and Republican Executive Committee anti-tax resolution sponsor, Tom Fredricks, is preparing a legal challenge on the Rebuild Alabama Act based on the perceived unconstitutional nature of the Port of Mobile dredging.

When the Rebuild Alabama gas tax increase was being debated, for all of five days, opponents were throwing everything they could at the gas tax.

All of this was for naught as the bill passed both chambers of the legislature and was signed by the governor. Your gas tax will go up over the next three years.

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The state Republican Party Executive Committee went as far as opposing the gas tax with a resolution at their winter meeting. The committee rightly argued very few politicians ran on raising taxes. In fact, many opposed tax increases or ran on keeping taxes low.

Foes of the tax, yours truly included, felt the use of the special session was a nefarious work-around the legislative process.

Lastly, a small group of insurgents pushed the ingenious argument that the portion of the law spending millions of dollars every year on dredging for the Port of Mobile was unconstitutional.

And now, the opponents of this gas tax are moving on to the next level of the battle: the courts

Fredricks appeared Monday on “The Dale Jackson Show” on WVNN in Huntsville to lay out his legal strategy.

“It appears that it’s in direct violation of Amendment 354 … the constitution says that that money shall be used on the construction and maintenance of roads and bridges,” he outlined.

Fredricks has even launched a GoFundMe page to fund this endeavor after one lawyer told him he would need $25,000 to pursue this challenge.

But, former Senator Paul Sanford (R-Huntsville), an anti-tax advocate, believes this is a non-starter after initially thinking there would be an issue in battling the tax increase.

Sanford posted his findings on Facebook.

Fredricks himself believes this is a long-shot, but stated that he believes the people of this state need to continue having a voice on this issue.

Listen:

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN

Byrne: Supporting state and local government

Last week, I was honored to host some of our local mayors, city council members and city officials from Southwest Alabama in Washington to hear about what they do every day for our communities.

I am a firm believer that the best people to run our towns and our communities are not the bureaucrats in Washington or the federal government. The best people to do that are the people who live, work, and play in the same place as the neighbors they represent. That is why I come home to Southwest Alabama every weekend, to be in touch with the people I serve in Washington.

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Everyone wants a great quality of life. Part of that comes down to having good roads and bridges, having high-quality schools, knowing that the fire department, police, EMS and other first responders will be there when we call, and countless other things that happen on a local level.

The federal government is not the best place to regulate those things. Heavy-handed government mandates and rules that impose “we know best” policies on our local communities don’t work. What works in Robertsdale, Brewton or Chatom might not work in Nashville, Boston or Anchorage.

One of the things that has always worked best is to have a strong partnership between our local, state and federal officials. My mission has always been to assist our local leaders on projects when they need our help, but it is not my place to tell our local mayors how to do their job or what will be best for their community. I want to be a part of their team.

This teamwork approach has worked incredibly well when it comes to bringing new jobs to our area. When a prospective business is looking at locating in a new place, they want to know that officials at every level of government are willing to work with them to support their business and their employees.

A good example of this is saving our rural hospitals. In most places, these hospitals are the bedrock of a community. No major business will locate in a town that doesn’t have a hospital. So, that’s why I have been working with our local and state officials to do everything in my power to save our rural hospitals from closing. But, this requires a total team approach from all levels of government.

Another prime example of giving more power back to the local level is Alabama’s Red Snapper recreational fishing season.

In years past, the federal government has put stringent regulations on Gulf Coast fishing that has ended up hurting local fishermen. Those of us in Alabama best understand Alabama issues, and after years of continuous advocating, this year we received great news that the 2019 Red Snapper season for recreational fishermen will take place on three-day weekends (Friday-Sunday) from June 1st through July 28th, including July 4th.

As I have said repeatedly, this issue is about more than just fishing. A full Red Snapper season helps boost our coastal economies due to everything from fuel sales to hotel and condo rentals. We must continue pushing for greater state control over our fisheries.

Fixing our Red Snapper season wasn’t done by just one person. From the city councils to the state Department of Conservation to the halls of Congress, it took a total team effort to make a positive impact for our residents.

As long as I have the honor of representing Alabama, I promise to always be a part of the team to make life better for people in our communities. I am dedicated to doing what is best for Alabama through policies that give back to, not take from, our communities.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Leaders deliver results for a stronger Alabama

Thank you to the Alabama House of Representatives and the Alabama Senate for your bi-partisan support of the Rebuild Alabama Plan. Because of your leadership, this historical effort will result in safer roads, thousands of new jobs, and a stronger Alabama.  Finally, it’s time to #RebuildAL.

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6 hours ago

Shelby County seeking more workers

The county with Alabama’s lowest unemployment rate is in need of more workers.

WBRC-TV reports that employers in Shelby County just south of Birmingham are having trouble filling some jobs.

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The county of more than 210,000 people has the lowest jobless rate in the state at 3.2 percent, and “help wanted” signs are a frequent site outside some businesses.

The Shelby County Chamber of Commerce says employers are constantly looking for qualified welders, forklift operators and information technology assistants.

The head of the chamber, Kirk Mancer, says the organization is working with schools and training partners on specific programs to help develop future workers.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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7 hours ago

7 Things: Gas tax calculation hurts big counties, Speaker McCutcheon says there is no deal on Medicaid expansion, New Zealand attack already politicized and more …

7. The president of the United States spent the weekend ripping the corpse of former Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)

— President Donald Trump brought up McCain’s role in turning over the Steele Dossier, tweeting, “Spreading the fake and totally discredited Dossier ‘is, unfortunately, a very dark stain against John McCain.” The dossier was part of the controversial decision to open probes into the Trump campaign with questionable reasoning that continues to dog Trump to this day. McCain is still dead and Trump will not stop bringing his name up with little to gain from doing so.

6. Black woman who took over after racist Alabama newspaper publisher called for the KKK to “ride again” quits, citing interference

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— Elecia R. Dexter took over for Sutton Goodloe after the latter became an international punchline for an editorial calling for the citizens to pretend to be in the KKK to thwart tax increases. Sutton gave up his control of The Democrat-Reporter but never truly stepped away. Dexter said she resigned to keep her “integrity and well-being.” Sutton claims the paper made $350,000 last year because of Alabama’s law requiring legal notices be advertised in local papers.

5. As Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall continues to fight the battle over census counts, the Supreme Court will take on the issue on another front

— Last week, Marshall warned that “our electoral vote will go to the state of California” if illegal immigrants are allowed to be counted for apportionment of federal monies, representation and electoral votes in the 2020 census. Marshall and Congressman Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) are suing the federal government over the matter. At the same time, the U.S. Supreme Court will determine if Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross adding a citizenship question in the 2020 census is constitutional because a federal judge ruled he could not add the question. Several states and Washington D.C. oppose adding the question because they feel they will not get an accurate count of illegals and that will hurt their total population numbers.

4. New Zealand is preparing to overhaul their gun laws in response to last week’s terror attack by a white supremacist that wanted to use a gun to change American laws

— Even though New Zealand’s gun ownership rate is one of the highest in the world and their homicide rates are below average, the response to the horrific attack on two mosques is going to change those laws. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says her cabinet will be “looking to move as quickly as we can” as they prepare to meet today to start making changes. Reports from the nation find that citizens are purchasing firearms, ammunition and magazines as the changes are expected to be wide-ranging.

3. The American media and their Democrats spent the weekend proclaiming “white supremacy” is the world’s largest terrorism problem as Palestinians handed out candy after a terror attack in Israel

— The main storyline in the American media following last week’s terror attack in New Zealand are the attempts to connect Donald Trump to the massacre and lambaste him for not rebuking white supremacy stringently enough for their liking. Although Trump has denounced white supremacy in the past, he has taken heat for accurately calling the movement “a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.” There are serious problems with white nationalists committing acts of terror, but no one is defending them or acting as if they have a point. The main terror threat on the planet is still radical Islam.

2. Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) says that there has been no deal cut on Medicaid expansion

— There have been questions about how serious calls to expand Medicaid in Alabama actually are with House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) saying there was a deal to hear the issue, Governor Kay Ivey not slamming the door on it, and McCutcheon said he doesn’t see it coming to fruition. When asked if he thought there would be a Medicaid expansion he said, “I don’t think so,” adding, “If you want to call it Medicaid expansion, that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about health care.”

1. Bigger counties will lose gas tax revenue in the first two years of the latest gas tax increase

— When the gas tax starts being distributed in 2020, the larger counties will end up losing out on some of the monies they should receive because the population numbers used will come from the 2010 census. This means counties that lost population will get more money than they are entitled to.  Conversely, counties that increased in size since 2010 will have to wait until the 2020 census is completed to see the numbers re-calibrated.