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Superstars in Education
Milford Middle School

Learning more by keeping score

by Leah Lawrence

To anyone that works in education it is no secret that a significant amount of classroom time each year is spent reviewing information that students have already learned, and in most cases, already forgotten. The administrators and teachers at Milford Middle School knew that their school was no exception and they decided to do something about it.

Upon reading Dr. Lee Jenkins book Permission to Forget they learned that according to Jenkins the No. 1 cause of frustration within the education system is that it is designed to give students “permission to forget” content. Students have been taught to learn content only until they are tested on it and then to move on to the new content, forgetting the old.

One example is learning spelling words in elementary school. Let’s say students are assigned to learn 20 words on Monday and on Friday they are tested on those words. The next week brings a new set of words and a new test without any mention of previously taught words. “Typically, what has happened in the past is that students take the test and move on. You never return back to the ones you have already been tested on,” said Dr. Nicole Durkin, Principal of Milford Middle School. “There by, by the end of the year you have given your kids permission to forget all those words, ‘You remembered it until you took the test, now you have taken the test, we can move on,’” she said.

Survey says

To stop this cycle, Milford Middle School has designed and implemented a student data analysis program to monitor and track how much knowledge students have throughout the year. The first step in this process is the identification by teachers of what the essential knowledge is in their subject area for the year. “What is it that we want students to know when they leave our course?” Durkin said.

Teachers will track whether or not students are learning this essential knowledge by giving them ungraded content ‘surveys’ each week.

Teachers select about 150 essential knowledge questions that will be used on surveys throughout the school year. Each test will have a random selection of both ‘preview’ and ‘review’ questions. Preview questions are on topics that haven’t yet been taught; review questions cover subjects that have been taught.

For obvious reasons, students will answer more questions incorrectly at the beginning of the year, when less has been covered and most questions are ‘preview.’ By the end of the year, however, when most or all of the questions are review questions, the class should be getting a majority of the questions correct. So far, the weekly surveys have been implemented in courses in math, science, language arts, social studies and health.

“The reason we are doing it is so that students can take ownership in their own learning and monitor their learning, as well as allowing the teacher to monitor how the kids are doing,” Durkin said. “It is really a win-win situation.”

Keeping score

Each classroom has a Class Run Chart displayed prominently that records the total number of correct answers for the class as a whole. Students are given individual results as well, that they chart on their own histogram charts kept in a notebook or binder. These charts provide students with a visual aid to help them see their progress throughout the year.

One student said, “I like taking EK quizzes because I can tell if I learned things from last time. If I did get something correct, I feel really great.” This approach gets the student more involved in taking responsibility and ownership of their learning. In addition, teachers no longer have to wait for monthly or quarterly unit tests to see if the class is learning and understand a topic. They are able to adjust their lessons on a weekly basis based on the results of these surveys.

So far, the program has been a success. Over the last five years Milford Middle School’s Delaware State Testing scores have increased steadily in writing, reading and math. The last three years, since the survey program began, have yielded even more increases in students’ scores. “I feel that using the survey has helped that tremendously,” Durkin said. “Have I done research on that and found a direct correlation? No, but it is my gut instinct. I feel the program is probably the one thing that has contributed the most to the success of our kids and increased our students’ learning.”