4 months 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

9 hours ago

University of North Alabama adopting new tuition plan

The University of North Alabama is switching to a tuition plan that officials say will result in increased costs for some students but not others.

Officials at the school in Florence say they are reducing the total number of student fees from seven to one, and fees will be included in the overall tuition cost.

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A statement says students taking 15 hours will see a maximum increase in expenses of 4.1%.

But some could pay less, and costs will not change for others.

School officials say a lag in state funding is a continuing problem.

North Alabama’s vice president for business, Evan Thornton, says the school has deferred maintenance and capital needs totaling more than $160 million.

The school has an undergraduate enrollment of about 6,200 students.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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10 hours ago

Nathan Lindsay joining governor’s office from BCA

Another high profile staffer from the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) is joining Governor Kay Ivey’s senior level team.

The governor on Monday announced that Nathan Lindsay will join her office as director of appointments effective July 1.

This position is charged with spearheading the meticulous work that goes into Ivey meeting her duty to appoint qualified, representative and appropriate people to positions on the state’s various boards and commissions.

A press release from the governor’s office outlined that Lindsay assumes the role with an extensive background in state government and the private sector, which uniquely qualifies him to advise the governor in this capacity.

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Most recently, through his work in political and governmental affairs at the BCA, Lindsay interacted with members of the business community throughout the Yellowhammer State, which significantly adds to his ability to identify and select candidates for various appointed posts.

Additionally, Lindsay’s early career included time in then-Governor Bob Riley’s office where he served as aide to the governor from 2006 to 2011. Lindsay also worked in the governor’s communications office as deputy press secretary and advised Riley on education policy.

“Nathan brings to our team a wealth of knowledge that I know will serve the state well,” Ivey said in a statement. “In addition to his expertise and insight, Nathan is a man of character. The men and women of my staff must have a strong work ethic, a depth of knowledge and a heart for public service. Nathan certainly embodies all of these characteristics.”

Lindsay earned his bachelor’s degree from Faulkner University. During his time at Faulkner, he served as SGA president and later, in 2018, he was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award for the College of Arts and Sciences.

“As governor, I have the important responsibility of appointing qualified individuals to serve on the more than 450 boards and commissions in our state. These men and women must not only be highly-qualified, but they should also be a true reflection of our great state,” Ivey added. “I am confident we will continue to find the best people to serve our state, just as I am certain Nathan will serve my Administration exceptionally well in this position. His experience speaks for itself, and he shares my goal of moving Alabama into a better future.”

This comes weeks after Leah Garner departed BCA to become Ivey’s communications director.

Mark Colson also left BCA to become head of the Alabama Trucking Association recently.

Update 5:55 p.m.:

BCA President and CEO Katie Boyd Britt released a statement commending Ivey on the hire of Lindsay.

“Nathan’s background and expertise in political affairs combined with his political acumen uniquely qualify him to serve the governor and the state in this capacity,” Britt said. “I have no doubt Nathan will do an outstanding job, and I commend Governor Kay Ivey on this excellent addition to her staff.”

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

10 hours ago

Alabama listed as one of the top 20 most patriotic states in America

A WalletHub report released Monday revealed Alabama to be on of the top 20 most patriotic states in America.

Ranked 19 overall on the list, with a score of 47.43, Alabama ranked first for the “Civics Education Requirement.”

The report “compared the 50 states across 13 key indicators of patriotism” and “ranges from share of enlisted military population to share of adults who voted in the 2016 presidential election to AmeriCorps volunteers per capita.”

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With one as “Most Patriotic” and 25 as “Average,” Alabama received the following rankings:

  • 5th – Average Number of Military Enlistees per 1,000 Civilian Adults
  • 30th – Active-Duty Military Personnel per 100,000 Civilian Adults
  • 17th – Veterans per 1,000 Civilian Adults
  • 1st – Civics Education Requirement
  • 12th – Share of Civilian Adult Population in Military Reserves
  • 10th – Share of Adults Who Voted in 2016 Primary Elections

Alabama also ranked eight overall for ‘Military Engagement.’

The report, which compared red states to blue states in terms of patriotism, found that red states were more patriotic. Red states received an average rank of 23.67, while blue states received an average rank of 28.25.

Kyle Morris also contributes daily to Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @RealKyleMorris.

11 hours ago

Brooks: ‘Really dumb’ for Democrats to elect candidates mainly on ‘skin pigmentation or their chromosomes’

In an interview on WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show”on Friday, Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) lamented that many Democrats have become more interested in racial and gender identity politics than the welfare of America.

Coming off of her much maligned comments comparing American immigration facilities to “concentration camps,” host Dale Jackson asked the north Alabama congressman if he believes that Democrats in Congress will allow Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) to continue to serve as their “de facto face and leader.”

“Yes,” Brooks answered succinctly, promoting a follow-up request for his reasoning.

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“Well, she is where she is,” Brooks explained. “She’s got a lot of political power. She’s got a lot of support — surprisingly.”

“There are large, large numbers of American citizens who have bit off on this socialist stuff, who have bit off on this victimization stuff, who have bit off on thinking that the most important criteria in determining whether to elect someone is their skin pigmentation or their chromosomes — which is really dumb, OK,” he continued. “We oughta be electing people based on their character and based on their public policy positions.”

“But, notwithstanding that, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become the face of the Democratic Party in many different respects, and she does have great influence as evidenced by the presidential candidates on the socialist Democrats’ side who are trying to cultivate her support,” Brooks added. “They want her endorsement.”

Listen, starting at the 8:25 mark:

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

12 hours ago

Democrats hope it’s 2017 all over again, Republicans just want the nightmare to end

In 2017, Roy Moore won a Republican primary run-off against an extremely flawed Luther Strange. Strange wasn’t just a regular candidate — he had the cloud of his appointment, and he was dogged by former Gov. Robert Bentley’s investigation, impeachment and resignation.

Alabama Republicans, outside of U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), were reluctant to criticize Roy Moore because they knew doing so would hand the Senate seat to now-Senator Doug Jones (D-AL).

But this is different.

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State Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) told the Montgomery Advertiser that he blamed the GOP establishment in 2017, but still thinks Moore can’t win in 2020.

He stated, “I do not believe, with the numbers I look at, that Roy Moore at the end of the day can get the nomination.”

State Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) dismissed Moore when asked about the candidates, saying, “If you look at the candidates, you got Roy Moore. I don’t think we need to say more there.”

Later, he all but endorsed U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope) by saying Byrne “would do the best job.”

Secretary of State John Merrill, a potential future Moore opponent, believes Moore has an uphill battle against Jones.

“I think it would be extraordinarily difficult for Judge Moore to be successful in a general election campaign against Senator Jones,” Merrill outlined.

He added, “I also think it would be difficult for Judge Moore to secure the Republican nomination.”

Congressman Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville), who endorsed Moore in 2017, has already endorsed State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) and is on record saying former U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions would be a favorite.

“I do believe that Jeff Sessions would clearly be number one in the poll rankings, based on his having been such a great senator on three principle issues: free enterprise versus socialism; deficit and debt; and border security,” he explained.

Say what you will, but you do not usually see these kinds of pronouncements from Republicans in the middle of a primary.

Democrats hope 2017 is going to be repeated in 2020, but there are many different factors that will matter.

Roy Moore is already fatally flawed as 300,000+ Republicans voters abandoned him in 2017 and stayed home. Many of those voters will vote in the primary in 2020, but will not vote for him.

U.S. Representative Mike Rogers (R-Saks) expressed a similar sentiment on CSPAN last week.

“I personally don’t think Roy Moore is going to be our nominee, but whoever our nominee is will prevail in November because you’ll have the full complement of Republican voters turning out turning out to vote,” he said.

This is not 2017.

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