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Did AFL contribute to improvement? I think so...

My position at SHS provides me with opportunities to study data. While this might sound boring to many, it actually can be fairly enlightening and interesting - especially if you have a geeky side like I do... This past spring as I studied data from the 2008-09 school year I noticed something. SHS had had an incredible year. As usual our numbers at the top were tremendous. IB tests results, dual enrollment numbers, etc - these were great as always and yet another testament to the awesome ability of our faculty to provide students with rigor and then help students meet the challenge of that rigor. But as I looked at the data I noticed something else. Our numbers that relate to our traditionally weaker less-motivated students were amazing. In fact, as I compared certain figures I came to the conclusion that we had just finished the best academic year in a decade. 2008-09 had the lowest retention rate, the highest graduation rate, the fewest class sections with 20% Fs, the fewest class sections with GPAs below 2.0, the highest GPA for Algebra 1 Part 1, and the highest GPAs in all Freshman Team class sections in the past 10 years. What made this difference? I would guess that there are 2 main factors. One factor - which cannot be underestimated - is the we are doing a good job of getting the right people in the right places. We have very gifted educators working with our traditionally weaker students. However, this reason alone is not enough to account for the across-the-board improvement seen in one year. It might account for a specific new teacher or a specific new teaching situation such as our improving Algebra 1 Part 1 GPA, but it wouldn't account for the overall drastic improvement we saw in things like retention rates, GPAs over 2.0, and graduation rate. These areas are not impacted greatly by one teacher but instead reflect an overall school effort. I would attribute this overall improvement to the 2nd factor - our school's focus on AFL and grading practices. As teachers at SHS began to experiment with how they were assessing students, how they were using assessment data to guide instruction, and how they were or weren't grading assessments, we saw a massive improvement in student achievement. I would also guess that we saw an improvement in our grading practices that led to grades being more accurate reflections of what our students actually know and have learned. I'm looking forward to seeing what 2009-10 has in store as we continue to improve and continue to look at how AFL practices can guide our instruction.
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