Literacy is critical to a student’s academic success, and disparities in literacy during the early grades are linked to persistent achievement gaps later on in a student’s academic career. If children fall behind by third grade, they generally stay behind throughout school(1). National research shows that students who are not proficient by the end of third grade are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma than proficient readers(2). This milestone corresponds to a transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn,” meaning the reading curriculum becomes more complex in both vocabulary and meaning, and students are expected to use text to analyze, inquire, and develop connections. Without the key building blocks of literacy in place, students fall behind and cannot develop these key habits of mind.
Mastery of mathematics is also an important milestone for persistence, academic achievement, and intellectual development. Nationally, many studies point to the successful completion of eighth grade math (typically Algebra 1) as an indicator of college and career readiness. Students who succeed at middle grade math stay in the mathematics pipeline longer and attend college at higher rates than students who do not(3). However, when the Action Team dug into the local data around mathematics proficiency in Albany, they discovered a noticeable drop in scores between third and fourth grade on the district assessment. Before we tackle eighth grade math, we must focus on the fourth grade gap.
In thinking through the factors that affect students’ literacy and math proficiency, the Action Team initially scoped its work to out-of-school-time, meaning the hours that students spend outside of the classroom. Most elementary school students are enrolled in some form of after-school program, adding an additional three to four hours of adult-supervised structured learning time to their day. Elementary school students can add up to 3,060 hours of learning time through after-school opportunities (4). Without these extra hours to boost their academic and social skills, we simply won’t get close to closing the achievement gaps we face.
The provider landscape in out-of-school-time (OST) is fractured due to the nature of funding and the various delivery models. It is a community that does not have a formal structure to come together, aside from various historical efforts to do so. In June of 2014, the partnership held an out-of-school-time forum to engage in conversation around the issues that impact the quality of out-of-school-time and what resources and improvements could be made available to OST providers to focus on quality. While a broad range of topics was discussed, one critical issue that most programs agreed needed improvement was behavior management of the children in OST programs. Typically, programs are staffed by non-certified teachers, due to the relatively low pay, few hours, and structure of the job. This in turn leads to enthusiastic staffers who may not have the pedagogical training relating to behavior management. Providers agreed that before any transformation to the content or delivery of educational material, staff must be able to manage a classroom of students.
Having identified behavior management as an area in need of improvement, the Action Team launched a series of professional development workshops for out-of-school-time providers focused on Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS). PBIS is a research-based approach that directly teaches students clearly defined behavioral expectations. The District has implemented PBIS in each of its elementary schools, and by training the OST providers in PBIS, students will have more consistency in how they are expected to behave and what supports and interventions are administered when behavioral issues arise. This continuity between in-school and out-of-school time is key to increasing the learning time available to students.
The District’s PBIS director and a school-aged training professional worked jointly on a curriculum that introduced the PBIS framework to OST providers and provided appropriate adaptations for OST environments. Each of the monthly two-hour professional development sessions was offered free of charge to all OST providers working in the city. Additionally, observation and coaching sessions are being provided in between each professional development session to a small sample group of four OST sites.