Student Success in Any Path, College or Career, Involves Letting Students Take Responsibility
When teachers are given top-notch learning materials, methods, and professional support, then student success should follow. And, who better for educators to learn from than AP instructors, who have been preparing students to succeed on the College Board’s Advanced Placement exams for much of their careers. After all, AP courses are the gold standard for a highly rigorous curriculum that readies students for the challenges they will face in college or a career.
SpringBoard is a curriculum developed by the not-for-profit College Board with the help of veteran AP teachers to help not only college-bound students, but all students, to excel, even those planning to attend vocational schools or to directly start their careers. SpringBoard includes a variety of tasks students can choose from that will help them master key skills –like reading, writing, critical thinking, and advanced computational skills. These are skills every student needs regardless of their path to college or to a vocational career.
These instructional components in SpringBoard begin with the end in mind. Based on the Understanding by Design model, SpringBoard instruction is built around performance tasks that have been back-mapped from AP and college and career readiness standards. Teachers and students see clear learning targets at the beginning of set of activities. The College Board says that when students understand why the skills they’re developing matter, they take ownership.
The College Board reports that their approach is proving effective in many schools—resulting in higher test scores and greater numbers of students taking higher-level courses.
High schools using the program for at least three years have had significantly more students taking AP courses, particularly among underrepresented students. For example, SpringBoard users have seen a 109-percent gain in the number of African-American students taking AP courses and a 52-percent gain in the number of Hispanic students taking AP courses, the College Board says.
Using SpringBoard also improves students’ actual API scores. At Tetzlaff Middle School, a magnet school in Los Angeles County’s ABC Unified School District, students have gained more than 60 points, on average, on California’s Academic Performance Index (API) measurement since SpringBoard was introduced. The school’s average API score jumped from 796 before using the program to 858 two years later—well above the state’s API goal of 800.
In Charles County, Maryland, where 52 percent of students are African-American, district leaders credit SpringBoard with helping to close achievement gaps among African-American students and their white peers. What’s more, SpringBoard’s AP connection is helping more students score a 3 or higher on the AP Literature and Composition Exam.
Much of the success in both Tetzlaff and Charles County can be traced to the fact that students are writing more often. SpringBoard incorporates writing into every unit, and as a result, students in schools that are using the product are writing more frequently across the curriculum. With SpringBoard’s emphasis on close reading, there is also a strong connection between gathering evidence within a text, and using that evidence in writing.
To facilitate this focus on writing, SpringBoard has embedded Turnitin’s Revision Assistant into its digital platform. Revision Assistant provides students with automated feedback on their writing. Teachers can embed a performance task into a lesson, such as having students write a letter to the editor about a topic they are currently studying—and Revision Assistant generates immediate, rubric-aligned feedback whenever students call for a “signal check.” The ability to get immediate feedback actually encourages students to make multiple revisions; in fact, Turnitin’s pilot study found that students revised their assignments an average of ten times for middle schoolers and six times for high schoolers.
Teachers appreciate this heavy focus on writing. “This is the first program that I’ve taught in which writing is valued and incorporated continuously throughout each activity,” one Charles County teacher says. “What’s fascinating is how the kids can’t wait to share their writing and insights about the stories we’ve read.”
A Tetzlaff teacher says: “The emphasis on frequent writing in a variety of modes … prepares my students for the rigors of AP.”
Ultimately, many factors affect how well educators prepare students for college and a career. Setting high expectations for students as early as middle school, and then providing a rigorous, student-centered curriculum, is at the top of the list for school leaders.
“Preparing all students for success in college and careers is a major challenge in a district this size,” says Judy Estep, assistant superintendent for instruction in Charles County. “SpringBoard is a perfect fit, (because) it builds in all the elements to support both teachers and students. The program has caused teachers to reconsider how they are delivering instruction as they improve their craft—and as students become more engaged and responsible for their own learning.”
Assuming responsibility for their own success: That’s one lesson every student can benefit from, as it will carry them through every facet of their lives—regardless of what path they take.