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The Education Innovator #43
Volume III
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The Education Innovator
 December 2, 2005 • Number 43
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Feature
The Science Academy of South Texas, Mercedes, Texas
What's New
Innovations in the News

Science Academy of South Texas Magnet School Committed to Meeting Science Challenges of Tomorrow
Inside the ballroom, a red, white, and blue banner hangs above the stage, welcoming the 600 teachers and administrators who have gathered in Arlington, Virginia for the No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon Schools Award Ceremony. As U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings mentions the Science Academy of South Texas in her remarks, Principal Edward Argueta beams with pride, along with Cleo Martinez, an English teacher at the school.

Back home, in the hallways and during assemblies, Mr. Argueta, who leads the 2005 Blue Ribbon School in Mercedes, Texas, reminds students that the Science Academy is a place for "committed students who accept the challenges of tomorrow." Located in the Rio Grande Valley, the Science Academy is a public magnet high school serving 623 students, 66 percent of whom are Hispanic, 25 percent White, 8 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, and 1 percent African American. Of the ninth through twelfth graders, 41 percent qualify for the federal free or reduced price lunch program. These students choose to attend the school from 28 school districts within Willacy, Cameron, and Hidalgo counties.

Chosen as a Blue Ribbon School because it has shown dramatic improvement over the last three years while serving at least 40 percent economically disadvantaged students, the Science Academy challenges students to tackle science and mathematics, along with core academic subjects in preparation for rigorous college work. Every year, students are required to take one class in math and one in science. All classes in math and science incorporate a hands-on approach to instruction. Students learn linear equations and quantitative patterns, write mathematical proofs, and participate in a national high school pre-engineering/technology program called Project Lead the Way (PLTW).

PLTW requires students to use the skills they learn in their math and science classes to solve "real world" problems. Each year, students are asked to take at least one course out of the six courses that make up the PLTW curriculum. These courses include: Introduction to Engineering and Design, Digital Electronics, Principles of Engineering, Computer Integrated Manufacturing, Architectural Graphics, and Engineering Design and Development. These classes build upon state standards expressed in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). The PLTW curriculum is linked to national technology and science standards and is updated on a yearly basis so that students are exposed to the latest computer software and equipment.

In addition to the focus on science and math, literacy is promoted in academic subjects across the school, including the science, technology, and math departments where students read and summarize technical manuals and decipher multi-step word problems. Even during the summer, students do in-depth reading of classic and contemporary literary works that provoke discussion and assignments when the students are back in school. Last summer, students read books such as The Hobbit, The House on Mango Street, and Ender's Game. By the time they graduate, many Science Academy students read and write at the level of a college senior.

The school's rigorous curriculum also allows students to enroll in pre-Advanced Placement (AP) and traditional AP courses, as well as dual/concurrent enrollment courses, in which students earn college credits while attending high school. The AP offerings include such topics as English, U.S. history, calculus, biology, computer science, Spanish, and art. Dual/concurrent enrollment courses are taught at the college level by Science Academy teachers, most of whom have master's degrees, during regular school hours. Many students who participate in these courses graduate from the Science Academy with over 20 hours of college credit, which may be transferred to any state university in Texas.

In addition, Science Academy students are introduced to college-level work at local universities and to programs at local businesses and government agencies. For example, the school partners with Rice University to offer at least 30 students the opportunity to learn about current trends and innovations in medicine and technology. At a two-week symposium in early June, students in this program visit the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the headquarters for Texas Instruments, and local refineries. Another partnership with Baylor College of Medicine exposes Science Academy students to that campus so they can learn about medical careers from current Baylor students and professors.

Partnerships also reach across national borders. Since the school is located in rural Texas and is removed from many cultural attractions, it offers exchange programs in Mexico and Germany. Last year, the Science Academy established a partnership with Instituto Jefferson in Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico, where students spend two weeks and then host Mexican students in their homes for another two weeks. Another exchange program is held at the Philanthropium in Dessau, Germany, a school started in 1774 by Johann Bernhard Basedow to make learning of practical subjects, such as arithmetic, geography, science, and drawing, attractive and engaging.

Science Academy teachers benefit from the school's partnerships as well. A professional development partnership has been established with Certiport, a private company that provides Internet and computing training, assessment, and certification, to increase staff knowledge about computers and the Internet. All teachers strive to gain Internet and Computing Core Certification (IC3). Additionally, for the last two years, the South Texas Independent School District (STISD) has collaborated with the Charles Dana Center for professional development activities related to math and science. Using this professional development and training, district staff and teachers can analyze student achievement data and make instructional and curricular decisions that improve student performance.

Teachers are in frequent contact with parents about student achievement data. For example, the Science Academy subscribes to K12Planet, an Internet-based communication system that connects teachers to parents and students. Using a password, parents can view electronic grade books for each of their child's eight classes. This website also includes upcoming assignments and teachers' email addresses. Progress reports are sent home to parents every three weeks, along with grade-level newsletters and report cards that are mailed every nine weeks.

Based on their report cards and test scores, students who need additional support in English or math are assigned to labs where they strengthen basic skills. Students who fail one or more portions of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) are tutored by Science Academy teachers and are provided with a targeted study guide. According to recent scores on the TAKS, these intervention strategies are paying off. In 2003-2004, 100 percent of ninth grade students met the reading/language arts standard and 92 percent met the math standard. Ninety-five percent of tenth grade students met the reading/language arts standard, and 94 percent met the math standard, while 100 percent of eleventh grade students met standards in both reading/language arts and math.

In addition to being cited by the U.S. Department of Education as a No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon School, the Science Academy of South Texas has been recognized as an exemplary school based on students' performance on the TAKS. The school received the Governor's High Performance Award and the Texas Education Agency's Gold Performance Award. In 2003, Newsweek Magazine ranked the Science Academy as the eighth best high school in the country.

Principal Argueta says the school's success comes from having high expectations of both students and staff. "When I heard Secretary Spellings mention the Science Academy in her remarks, I felt so humbly honored. This award is a tribute to the hard work of the Academy's staff and students, who all carry the torch of high academic achievement."

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What's New
From the U.S. Department of Education

At the fourth annual "Celebrate Our Rising Stars Summit," hosted by the Office of English Language Acquisition, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings talked about the results of a National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) trial assessment

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released a report that analyzes fourth grade students' proficiency at reading aloud. This information was part of a special study included in the 2002 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading assessment. Results suggest that the three components of oral reading ability (accuracy, rate, and fluency) are related to each other and to reading comprehension. "Fluent" readers in this study were likely to read higher percentages of words accurately, to read the passage at a faster rate, and to have scored higher, on average, on the NAEP reading assessment than "non-fluent" readers. (Nov. 29)

Arts Education

The President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH) is currently inviting nominations for the 2006 Coming Up Taller Awards. PCAH collaborates with the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to sponsor the award, which honors exemplary arts and humanities after-school and out-of-school programs. The deadline for nominations is January 30, 2006. (Nov. 29)

Charter Schools

NCB Development Corporation has released a new guide, The Answer Key: How to Plan, Develop and Finance Your Charter School Facility. The guide provides charter schools with step-by-step advice about planning, evaluating, and implementing facilities projects. The Bill and Melinda Gates and Annie E. Casey Foundations helped fund the guide, which is organized by each stage of the development process: concept, development, facility design and pre-construction, financing, construction, and planning and scheduling. (Nov. 15)

Raising Student Achievement

The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL), and the Stanford Institute for Higher Education Research have issued a report, The Governance Divide: A Report on a Four-State Study on Improving College Readiness and Success. The report identifies and examines four policy levers that states may use to reform K-16 education. These levers include: finance, assessments and curricula, accountability, and data systems. Additionally, the report analyzes the importance of other factors, such as leadership and state history and culture, in beginning and implementing reforms. (Nov. 29)

Reading

The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has sent a new literacy guide to all middle and high school principals across the country, free of charge. Creating a Culture of Literacy: A Guide for Middle and High School Principals is designed to help school leaders use research on best practices to create intervention plans that help to improve students' literacy levels and long-range academic success. (Oct. 17)

Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), Walt Disney Pictures, Walden Media, and HarperCollins Children's Books collaborated to sponsor RIF's World of Narnia Art Contest. The contest invited children ages five through 15 to create original artistic renderings inspired by The Chronicles of Narnia, the classic seven-book series by C.S. Lewis. Eleven-year-old Noah DelaGardell from Muncie (IN) and nine-year-old Jarynn Lowe from St. Cloud (FL) have been named grand prize winners, each winning a private screening of the new feature film The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. (Nov. 21)

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Innovations in the News

American History
Local walking tours, architecture study, and primary source analysis are part of the history curriculum for districts in Illinois participating in an OII-administered Teaching American History grant. The American History Teachers' Collaborative trains teachers on how to use local history to teach national historical events. The goals of the program include increasing teachers' knowledge of American history, introducing them to local artifacts and primary sources that they can integrate into lessons, and communicating best practices to improve student achievement. Teachers will learn from historians and use resources from places such as the Illinois State Archives at Springfield, the Champaign County Historical Museum at the Cattle Bank, and the Early American Museum at Mahomet. [More-The News-Gazette] (Oct. 11)

Private Schools
The November 2005 edition of CAPE Outlook, published by the Council for American Private Education, features the OII-sponsored conference for private school leaders held at the U.S. Department of Education on September 28. The issue also includes articles on supplemental educational services and hurricane aid proposals, among other topics. [More-CAPE Outlook] (Nov. 15)

Raising Student Achievement
According to the annual Condition of Education report, issued by the Iowa Department of Education, Iowa high schools are heeding Governor Tom Vilsack's (D-IA) call for more rigorous graduation requirements. The report showed dozens of school districts moving to require students to take more math and science courses before receiving a diploma. Governor Vilsack has urged schools to toughen standards in an effort to prepare students to compete in an expanding world market. By 2010, 256 Iowa districts will require high school students to complete three or more units of math before graduation, which is more than double the 104 Iowa districts that required three or more units in the 2004-2005 academic year. The report also shows that 238 districts are on track to require three or more units of science by 2010, compared with 65 districts during 2004-2005. [More-Quad City Times] (Nov. 21)

Teacher Quality
Professionals seeking a career change now have alternative pathways to becoming teachers in Florida. The School District of Hillsborough County, for example, has created an alternative teacher certification program for nontraditional teachers (see Innovator, June 27, 2005), which includes completing six courses and passing three state-required tests. Another program through the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (see Innovator, July 14, 2003), enables college graduates who pass two tests and successfully complete a classroom observation to gain teacher certification in less than six months. [MoreThe Tampa Tribune] (Nov. 7)

Technology
The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) at the U.S. Department of Education has awarded a five-year, $6 million grant to professors at the University at Buffalo, Graduate School of Education (NY). These professors will implement a research-based pre-kindergarten mathematics curriculum to find out if it can be adapted for areas across the country and how it could impact student achievement. The program, "technology-enhanced, research-based instruction, assessment, and professional development," or TRIAD, has been shown to improve achievement in mathematics for young children, especially for those children at risk for education failure. [More-University at Buffalo Reporter] (Nov. 3)

Maryland Public Television (MPT) has been awarded a $15 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to develop digital learning activities and other online tools to improve students' reading comprehension and vocabulary skills and assist teachers in math instruction. This grant broadens a former MPT project, Thinkport.org, an educational website that has won multiple awards for design and production. [More-The Baltimore Business Journal] (Nov. 16)

Students across the nation were able to virtually accompany seven student ambassadors who visited China as part of a Minnesota state delegation of nearly 200 business, government, and academic leaders. Two Minnesota state agencies created a website that enabled visitors to track the progress of the student ambassadors and participate in four interactive video conferences where China's science, technology, trade, government, and culture were discussed with experts from that country. The website also includes lesson plans for teachers that were created by the Minnesota Department of Education. [More-eSchool News] (Nov. 15)

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Last Modified: 08/12/2009