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Chapter two – Mississippi schools sample essay

The following literature focuses on how schools in the Mississippi School district and nationwide are implementing school improvement plans and closing the achievement gap. In School Improvement and Closing the Achievement Gap Report 2003-2004 the accountability of Mississippi Schools past and present is discussed (2004) and Craig Jerald, author of Dispelling the Myth discusses how nationwide high poverty, high minority schools have high achieving students (2001). Both reports will be discussed here. The researcher wanted to know how many high-poverty and high minority schools nationwide have high student performance.

The study used the Education Trust Database to identify certain criteria. Over 4500 schools were analyzed. Each meeting the criteria set and performing well above the expectation (2001). Both papers discuss the achievement gap, more importantly they reported the areas of greatest improvement. The Achievement Gap Report (2004) focused on the Mississippi school districts. It gave an accountability report on those school districts that have been struggling, as well as providing a strategic outline to close the gap. Specific schools were used as models of for improving test scores.

Dispelling the Myth (Jerald, 2001) focused on school districts nation wide. Although no reasons for poor school performance were given, the author did state that none of the schools were magnet schools. This report showed that most schools with high poverty, high minority students live in urban areas (2001). However, the more recently published Achievement Gap Report (2004) reported that some of the poorest schools are in rural areas. Dispelling the Myth (2001) looked at specific criteria for the study, whereas, the Achievement Gap Report (2004) did not.

Both studies failed to look at specific schools and detail specific strategies used in improving the achievement gap. The Mississippi Achievement Gap Report (2004) plan made suggestions on how schools can improve, but a greater detail is needed to truly understand what each school did to improve scores. Model schools or a model program can be established based on greater research. Socioeconomic Influence Literature regarding reading programs was of most interest for this study. Several scientific journals addressed factors of low socioeconomic status and under achievement.

The achievement gap found amongst low-income students was addressed in Education: The State We’re In (Donahue & Griggs, 2003). Substantial information was given on the obstacles facing high-poverty youth today. Reading proficiency among elementary school students of low-income families are at a disadvantage (2003). When studying low-income fourth graders, the author found that in 2003, across the nation, only fifteen percent are proficient in reading. The authors also demonstrated that the majority of low-income students read about three grades behind non-poor students (2003).

Proficiency differences among races were briefly discussed; Similar disparities exist between white students and students of color; 39% of white 4th graders can read at the proficient level compared to only 12 % of African-American students and 14% of Latinos. Overall, about three in ten fourth graders can read proficiently, and this in itself is cause for concern. (2003) Parental Involvement, Instructional Expenditures, Family Socioeconomic Attributes, and Student Achievement (Okpala, et al, 2001).

Parental involvement is a commonly discussed approach to establishing higher student achievement. A study done in North Carolina was based on three factors; (a) Instructional supplies expenditures will affect academic achievement positively; (b) the SES of students in a given school, measured by the percentage of students that participate in free/reduced-price lunch programs, will affect student achievement negatively; and (c) parental involvement that is measured by parental volunteer hours per 100 students will influence student achievement positively.

These factors were beneficial in understanding the SES influence on successful reading programs. These factors and the results of this particular study will be investigated further throughout this study. Implementing Change A very brief but informative piece, Evidence from Project Star About Class Size and Student Achievement (Folgers & Breda, 1989) addressed three specific questions to ask oneself when considering changing programs. The three questions were; 1) How effective will the change be? 2) How much will it cost and 3) what are the problems of implementation?

(1989) All three of these questions were found to be valuable when assessing existing programs, as well as when considering the necessary factors when looking to improve upon them. The Gallup Poll (1989 Survey) was reported to have an overwhelming approval from parents when asked about reducing class size. The problem with this strategy is that “reducing class size substantially is very costly” (1989). A widely researched program investigated during this study was the Accelerated Reader Program. One report (Melton, et. al. , 2004) demonstrated the uses and results of the AR program.

By definition the Accelerated Readers program is “…a learning information system designed to heighten student interest in literature and to help teacher manage literature-based reading (McKnight, 1992). This study was particularly significant because it was conducted in two Jackson, Mississippi elementary schools. There has been extensive coverage of the AR program. A 2004 study compared the reading achievement growth of fifth graders following a year of participation in the AR program with other fifth graders who did not participate.

The results demonstrated that students in the AR program actually scored significantly lower than non-participants. Although many studies show little to no benefits from the AR program, the program has provided a few guidelines; such guidelines include, 1) Engage students in large amount of reading practice with authentic material 2) students should read at their own individual reading level, and 3) student incentives such as ribbons or extra recess improves the odds of a students success.

By using computer technology, teachers can use the AR program to assess students reading level and invite and motivate students to read material they find interesting (Vollands, et al. , 1999). Students are given a choice of books suited to their particular reading level. Random multiple choice tests are given to test students’ comprehension of the material. In a National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (Dept. of Education) evaluation, AR programs and other computerized reading programs were reviewed (Chenowith, 2001).

The lack of research on evaluated programs ability to produce long-term gains in reading achievement caused the National Institute to determine the AR programs did not meet standards (2001). Common complaints of the AR program include, 1) when the program ended, participating students went back to reading less than before participating 2) the AR program limited the choice of books available to a student because certain books that were not accompanied by an AR test were not valid (Chenowith, 2001) and 3) AR encourages children to read for the wrong reasons, for example to win a prize (Carter, 1996).

However, as Chenowith (2001) noted, many parents responded to the latter, that it did not matter why students read, as long as they were in fact reading. Topping and Paul (1999) found that with the proper educator training on the AR program, the odds of successful student achievement with the program will improve. Students already in at risk in reading before the AR program will gain positive results when AR is implemented (Vollands, Topping and Evans, 1999).

“Many elementary schools have adopted programs which encourage authentic reading time and aid in the development of reading skills for life (Melton, et al. , 2004). However, little research has been conducted on individual, less costly programs (2004). When studying the effects of the AR program on African American students and white students in Mississippi, black students scored lower (2004).

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