September 21, 2012

Program aims to keep students on track

The issue: Caston Elementary School has added a new program for fifth- and sixth-grade students who had been performing below expectations.

Our view: The program has the potential of becoming a model for other schoolcorporations.

Caston Elementary School has introduced an experimental classroom it hopes will help struggling students stay focused on learning while they’re working on a computer.

The Learning Opportunity Center is designed for fifth- and sixth-grade students who were not succeeding at the level teachers thought they could.

It’s aimed at kids whose minds sometimes wander in a standard classroom, youngsters who might have their attention diverted by something outside the window or out in the hall.

This special classroom is set up to keep students focused. It’s equipped with 15 MacBook Air  laptops — two for a teacher and an aide and 13 for students — and its curriculum is drawn entirely from an interactive digital learning system called OdysseyWare.

The school’s federal Title I funding more than tripled this year to $299,000. Nearly a third of that went toward buying equipment and paying teacher salaries for the Learning Opportunity Center.

In selecting students for the new classroom, the staff tried to identify children at risk of falling through the cracks based on behavior, test scores and attendance.

The curriculum is customized for the individual students.

Students take an initial assessment so the software can give them instruction and assignments tailored to their skill level. It divides up the year’s work into units with daily assignments and activities.

Each day’s work takes about half an hour per subject, and at the end of the day, teacher Bryce McDonald has a “flex period” where he can work with students who need more time on an assignment while others work on enrichment activities or reading.

The early reviews have been positive. Both parents and students say they have high hopes for improved performance.

In some ways, the approach is similar to the one taken by Logansport High School in its beginning algebra classes. Students can’t take a quiz until the teacher gives them the go-ahead, and they can’t move ahead to the next section until they have mastered the previous one.

The approach also gives students the one-on-one attention they need when they’re struggling with a particular lesson. It also allows them to learn at their own pace.

It’s great that the school corporation has been able to develop such a class. Assuming the new classroom produces the expected results, this is an approach other school corporations might want to copy.