Thursday, July 15, 2010

Board Listens to AVID Presentation on Programs for students in the middle

Back in May, I posted about a program called AVID, which is demonstrating outstanding results in improving the success of students "in the middle" academically. "AVID is at work in nearly 4,500 schools in 45 states as well as the District of Columbia and 16 countries/territories. Large urban schools, tiny rural schools, resource-rich suburban schools, struggling schools - they all find that AVID meets the needs of their students in the middle." A number of Minnesota Districts have begun AVID programs.including Roseville, Hopkins, and Lakeville, for example.

Yesterday, the Board of Education's "Equity and Excellence Committee" listened to a presentation from a metro area AVID coordinator who has been instrumental in introducing AVID to her own school district. We wanted to evaluate whether adopting AVID in our school district might benefit our students, and we wanted also to understand the essential elements of AVID's success, so that we might use those ideas in our own programs, even if we decide that we aren't ready for AVID itself. I want to emphasize again the fact that AVID is focused on students in the middle. We have advanced placement programs that are focused on students who are already committed to the college path. We have programs to address the needs of students who are not capable of college work, no matter what we do. But this is a program designed to unlock the potential of students who live in the middle. As the program explains:

The program explains:

These are students who are capable of completing rigorous curriculum but are falling short of their potential. Typically, they will be the first in their families to attend college, and many are from low-income or minority families. AVID pulls these students out of their un-challenging courses and puts them on the college track: acceleration instead of remediation.

AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination. It is designed to target students who are currently performing in the C to B+ range, as I have said, and seeks to unlock their unrealized potential. It is not a program designed specifically for minority students, although it has achieved stellar results for those students. Its focus is not white students, black students, Latino students, or English Language Learners. It is an equal opportunity program that works for students who are willing to sign on to a rigorous program that requires hard work, persistence, and, "individual determination."

So what are the essential elements of what AVID delivers?
  1. AVID student selection must focus on students in the middle, with academic potential, who would benefit from AVID support to improve their academic record and begin college preparation. This is the group of students for whom AVID has demonstrated exceptional results. It has significantly increased the number of students in this category who take challenging courses; the number who aspire to attend four year and two year college programs; and the acceptance rate of these students.
  2. AVID program participants, both students and staff, must choose to participate in the AVID program. This element is critical, because students cannot be successful when they don't work hard. AVID is just one of the many education programs that recognize that "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink" The key to success is getting these students to recognize that they can dramatically improve their future, but that advancement doesn't come for free: it requires individual determination. The requirement that staff participation is voluntary derives from the fact that some teachers are effective in this program, and some are not, and that the key to success is really wanting to make it work. There are teachers who do an exceptional job with other students, but just aren't cut out for the AVID idea. They are good teachers, but they should stick to teaching what they are good at.
  3. The school must be committed to full implementation of the AVID Program, with students enrolled in the AVID year-long elective class(es) available within the regular academic school day.
  4. AVID students must be enrolled in a rigorous course of study that will enable them to meet requirements for university enrollment. One tells these students that they shouldn't be taking easy courses to keep their grades up. They should be taking harder courses and challenging themselves. Many of these students discover that they can succeed at courses they never dreamed they could even pass. But it takes determination.
  5. A strong, relevant writing and reading curriculum provide a basis for instruction in the AVID classroom. The students learn to express themselves in writing.
  6. Inquiry is used as a basis for instruction in the AVID classroom to promote critical thinking. Now here is a surprise for some of you. Students who are struggling in the traditional program, many of them, actually do better when they are exposed to classes which encourage them to think, to find out, to answer deep questions. Instead of spending endless hours preparing to pass a test, the AVID students are exposed to the excitement that comes from applying knowledge to problem solving and critical thinking. I think that one of the reasons is that the middle of our school population includes a number of students who have given up on learning, because they don't see the connection between learning and the excitement of inquiry. Individual determination is partly fueled by the joy of discovery and the excitement of creativity. To those of you who are skeptical, who are died in the wool back to basics folks, I would just say, the proof is in the pudding. AVID works.
  7. Collaboration is used as a basis for instruction in the AVID classroom.
  8. A sufficient number of tutors must be available in AVID elective class(es) to facilitate student access to rigorous curriculum. Tutors should be students from colleges and universities and they must be trained to implement the methodologies used in AVID. AVID uses college mentors heavily, and where possible, it tries to use students who have overcome similar obstacles. Ideally, you would like to use your own graduates attending local colleges. The tutors are role models.
  9. AVID program implementation and student progress is monitored by data, and results must be analyzed to ensure success. This immediate use of student testing results characterizes almost all successful programs, and it is one of the features that we have introduced in our school district already. The idea is that we don't wait until the end of the semester to find out who isn't making adequate progress. Testing results are used immediately to identify who is not mastering the material, and results trigger intervention so that the material is mastered. Students who fail to master material today, can't reasonably be expected to master tomorrow's even more difficult material.
  10. The school or district has identified resources for program costs
  11. An active interdisciplinary AVID site team collaborates on issues of student access to and success in rigorous college preparatory courses. This is another element that is already underway in our School District--encouraging students to take harder courses, to stop coasting and to challenge themselves.
What happens next? This goal--of reaching the full potential of students in the middle is important for many reasons. It unlocks the potential of many more students, students who might otherwise be missing out on college opportunities. It reaches a group of students who have a much more productive future, if they can get on the track of rigor, persistence and individual determination. And so, we're going to stay on this issue. Should we adopt the AVID program lock stock and barrel, or should we use the AVID principles to improve our existing programs? That will be the focus of further discussion in the near future.

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