Two schools in Guilford County, North Carolina are proving that there's no single right answer to the question of how to improve academic outcomes for students. Over the last year, both Wiley Elementary School and Montlieu Academy can boast impressive gains in end-of-year test scores. They took dramatic steps to achieve these outcomes by drawing on resources outside the district for assistance, but the steps they took and the resources they used were very different.
Montlieu students and staff credit the impressive jump in results almost exclusively to the school embracing technology. Each of the school's nearly 500 students and every staff member have and use iPads, Apple's popular digital gadget, to teach and to learn. In addition to the 14% gain in the End-of-Grade test scores, which saw the school go from 59.3% proficiency rate last year to 72.1% this year, what has really changed is enthusiasm. If the experience of the students is a good guide, more of them are embracing the idea of school and learning since the tablet became part of their classroom experience.
"You wake up every day saying, âOh, my gosh, [school's] boring,'" said 10-year-old Olivia McMasters. "Then you realize when you get to school, âOh, my gosh, I have so much to do. Oh, thank you!'"
Olivia is grateful to the people who've made going to school exciting. She and her little sister, Ryann, showed up at school Wednesday — in the middle of the summer — just to talk about how much they loved being here during the school year.
Why did they enjoy it so much? The technology.
"It's pretty cool!" 9-year-old Ryann McMasters said, holding her iPad.
Wiley Elementary, on the other hand, took a more traditional approach when it thought about how to do battle with student underachievement. The school took advantage of the $2.4 million on student performance grants from the federal government and applied them towards expanding the school day and rewarding teacher achievement. The administrators took the "traditional" descriptor seriously: following the growing trend of districts around the country, Wiley completely separated the genders last year and taught boys and girls in different classrooms. Those steps led to impressive results; the school's EOG achievement results went up from 52% to 70%.
Gender separation is something more and more schools are trying, with the number of single-sex classrooms in public schools growing from only a few dozen 10 years ago to nearly 500 today. The experimentation with gender-separated schooling was boosted by a 2006 U.S. Department of Education decision to relax the restrictions on single-sex schools. Although the enthusiasm for the practice is growing, it's still unclear how much boys- and girls-only classrooms contribute to improved academic achievement.