DPS School Launches Ground-Breaking Program

The traditional K-8 class scheduling model of students in one grade moving through all the same classes as their peers has been turned on its head at Palmer Park Preparatory Academy (P3A), a new K-8 school in the Detroit Public School District. P3A launched a ground-breaking pilot program in late December in which seventh- and eighth-grade students receive customized instruction based on comprehension level.

This month marks the start of the first full semester when students follow individualized class schedules based on data pulled from three years of reading, writing and mathematics MEAP assessments in Data Director, a digital assessment tool developed by global education leader Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and implemented in partnership with DPS.

The schedules place students into English Language Arts and Mathematics classes with peers who tested at similar learning levels in each subject, allowing teachers to develop tailored instructional programs. Students will follow this new, individualized schedule through the remainder of the 2010/2011 school year, though a student could be moved to a different level of English Language Arts or Mathematics if needed during the year based on their performance without having to change their other teachers. To date, this innovative approach of using technology to improve student outcomes has only been used at a select number of schools in New York City.

“Traditionally, K-8 schools have operated under the notion that students should receive ‘one-size-fits-all’ instruction based on grade – but the truth is that students learn at different paces and within different modalities, and we need to respect the learner as we create the learning environment,” said Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Chief Academic and Accountability Auditor of DPS. “By filling classrooms with students who share similar learning levels, teachers can offer customized instruction that engages students based on their individual needs – and that makes them more successful. We hope P3A will be a model to implement in other K-8 schools at DPS.”

Replication of the program is being considered as the district designs new schools and reviews its School Improvement Grant school plans, Byrd-Bennett said.

The pilot program at Palmer Park Prep Academy builds on the individualized program at the school, which for the first time is being run by a group of highly-qualified Detroit Public Schools teachers who are focused on excellent teaching under the guidance of an Executive Administrator. The new school has extended hours and a robust curriculum, including arts, sports, clubs, Math Games, Science Projects, Current Events and Music. Foreign languages are offered to the youngest students in the PreK-8 school, and character development is woven throughout the curriculum.

Because research has shown having an effective teacher improves student learning, the school places a heavy emphasis on excellent teaching and high standards in every classroom. The teaching staff meet routinely to assess and build programming based on the needs of children they see every day in their classrooms.

The program also provides students with an additional period of English Language Arts, a mandate DPS is trying to implement in each building as part of the district’s rigorous 5-year academic plan.

Additionally, the pilot program restructures the classes teachers are assigned to and the way teachers prepare lesson plans. P3A English Language Arts and Math teachers are no longer assigned solely to one grade level; rather, they now transition between seventh and eighth grade classes throughout the day. The program also allots 45 minutes per day for a common planning period in which all teachers meet to collaboratively develop lesson plans, share best practices and discuss adjustments that need to be made to provide the students with the best possible educational experience.

 “This customized schedule already has made a huge difference in our students’ lives – we’re already noticing the students are happier because they are in the right place,” said Ann Crowley, a lead teacher at Palmer Park Preparatory Academy.   “Teachers appreciate the additional planning period to collaborate around meeting the needs of our students.  In our school, we ‘own’ the children together. A common planning period gives the teachers time to share best practices, plan lessons together, and even mentor one another around each other’s areas of expertise.”

The pilot program is part of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s multi-year partnership with DPS to provide a unique integrated education solution that combines advanced technology, customized lesson plans and educator training and development that will improve student learning. DPS is implementing individualized student-centered schedules first at P3A and will evaluate its success for future rollout at other DPS schools.  The individualized scheduling program was developed by Cimple, a Houghton Mifflin Harcourt partner who used its Web-based platform with advanced tools to design different scheduling structures and models to produce the individualized student schedules.


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