There are many factors that can adversely impact student success and lead to student dropout rates and inhibited social mobility, including low academic performance, learning gaps, socioemotional distress, and lack of encouragement. Our schools exist to help all students overcome these and other barriers to learning and growth. Through interventionist strategies such as “double blocking,” our schools have achieved exponential academic growth and narrowed critical skill gaps in core subjects, including reading and writing.
Leilani Abulon, Vice President of Curriculum and Programs at Green Dot, champions double blocking as a reliable tool used to increase student performance. At the beginning of a traditional school year, our students take a diagnostic test that is used to assess their current reading and math levels. “Many in the incoming grade levels, in 6th and 9th grade, require either reading intervention, math intervention, or both,” Abulon said.
Students who score below grade level simultaneously enroll in a foundational course and a grade level course in math and/or reading for the remainder of the school year. Enrolling students in both courses is common in middle school, and can put these students on track for grade level courses in high school. First year high school students also have an opportunity to take double-block courses without impacting A-G requirements.
For example, at Ánimo Ellen Ochoa Charter Middle School (AEO) incoming students often arrive several grade levels behind their peers across the state. Through foundational courses, and high quality instruction and support, AEO students have excelled. According to state test and academic growth models from CORE Districts, AEO students are growing at a CORE student growth percentile of 97, significantly outpacing student academic growth of their peers across the state. CORE District’s Student Growth Percentiles (SGP) measure student growth year over year by comparing student performance to those of their peers on previous state assessments. SGP scores above 50 represent growth that is faster than average.
Other school districts practice intervention-only classes. Contrary to double blocking, this approach doesn't allow students to engage with grade level courses or the general student population until their intervention classes are completed. “We double block at the same time, on purpose, because we do believe that students need to encounter rigor in the classroom.,” Abulon added. “There is no way to master grade level content if you've never been given the chance to master grade level content.”
In our foundational courses, students use READ 180 and i-Ready, blended learning intervention programs, to track their progress throughout the school year. In Tennessee, our schools also use MAP Growth to provide students with the scaffolds needed to access grade level material. Through consistent testing, academic support and exposure to foundational and challenging material, we have seen students gain the confidence and skills necessary for post-secondary success. “It's very common for us to see students or entire schools growing multiple years in one year's worth of instruction, which is really great for our students,” Abulon said.
Leona Matthews, Director of Literacy and ELD Programs at Green Dot Public Schools, has seen students go on to double and even triple their reading scores, demonstrating 1.5 years or more of growth within a single school year. “Students have an opportunity to experience a cohesive 6th through 12th grade curriculum narrative, while also receiving advanced instruction,” Matthews said.
Our Director of Math and Science Programs, Tessa Cedar, has also seen significant year-over-year growth among our students. “Double blocking is effective because more time means more practice, and more opportunities to get good at something,” Cedar said. “But most importantly, we are trying to make sure that the foundational courses that our students take are aligned to what they're doing in their core math class.”
Our foundational courses use a blended learning model, separating class time into two sections: individual learning (i-Ready and Read 180) and class-based instruction. In foundational math courses, teachers use i-Ready’s Ready Classroom Mathematics curriculum. Instructors use these guided lessons with students to preview the skills needed for their grade-level course. After the lesson, the instructor directs students to the i-Ready learning software to practice skills based on their individual needs.
In a READ 180 class, the instructor begins class by reviewing both foundational and grade-level content for the day. For the remainder of the period, students, separated into thirds, rotate between READ 180 computer stations, libraries, and one-on-one instruction. The small class sizes and blending learning model allows our teachers to share and review students’ data with them in real time, helping students reflect on their progress, recognize their growth and ultimately take ownership of their learning.
Double blocking is also one of many ways we close opportunity gaps for our students. Through this process, students learn the foundational skills needed to be successful in college, leadership, and life. “What we’re doing for a 6th grader is setting the student up for seven years down the road for college. We've got to know enough about what it's going to take for your students to get into college,” Abulon said. “Because the longer opportunities are withheld from our students, the more persistent those gaps become.”
During distance learning, double blocking has largely remained the same. Fortunately, both READ 180 and i-Ready are web-based programs that students now access during their academic preparation periods using their own, or school-provided devices and Wifi. With learning shifting from our school buildings to students’ homes, our schools and our curriculum team worked closely to create opportunities to engage families in their student learning. When the school year began, our educators connected with parents to explain the importance of diagnostic testing and creating conducive testing environments. In online learning, our Advisory teachers reach out to families on student progress several times a month. Abulon said that even amid COVID-19 “we own our obligation and our responsibility to close these learning gaps as quickly as possible, so that at the end of the road our students can say ‘I have choices because my school did right by me.’”
We employ these academic interventions to help fill critical gaps in knowledge and help students foster a growth mindset so that they can take on educational and life challenges with confidence. Under our academic model we seek to reduce the need for interventions, so that we put students back on track and expand access to advanced courses and opportunities. "We want to have more and more students who are approaching closer-to-grade-level skills, in terms of their math skills, so we can have students moving into programs like our Project Lead the Way engineering and coding courses," Cedar said.