Assisting a faith-based school in monitoring student progress
The Neighborhood Academy is a non-sectarian, faith-based college-prep high school for students in grades 8 through 12. The school’s mission is to serve low-income students who have not been achieving the full measure of their gifts in their current school settings. The school’s goal is for each student, upon graduation, to matriculate at a four-year college. The Academy is an intimate environment (at its peak it will house 100 students) featuring small classes, a 5:1 student teacher ratio and an extended school day that includes academic and spiritual training as well as meals, study halls, sports, arts and community service/involvement.
In its second year of operation, the Academy engaged Cornerstone to develop a student database and produce an annual report monitoring student progress. The performance indicators we followed included students’ grades, standardized test scores, attendance/tardiness, disciplinary action and community service hours. Additionally, we guided the Neighborhood Academy in deciding how to assess ‘less tangible’ student outcomes and in developing a long-term evaluation and accountability plan.
Following student progress in Pittsburgh’s summer school program
As in most large school districts, the Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) offers each summer the opportunity for students to receive remedial course work in basic subject areas such as communication, math, science and social studies. For the summers of 2003 and 2004, Cornerstone was engaged to monitor the academic, behavioral and attendance outcomes of all middle school students attending summer school. These students fell into three distinct groups—1) the ‘over-achievers’ who were moderately successful in school despite below grade level performance on standardized tests, 2) the ‘under-achievers’ who had done well on standardized tests but were receiving failing grades in basic subjects, and 3) a small group of students who had failed 8th grade and had to ‘pass’ summer school in order to advance to high school. In addition to assessing the academic progress of these students, Cornerstone also developed questionnaires for determining both student and teacher perceptions of the summer school experience. These data were used to make improvements in summer school programming and location.
Determining the impact of a school-wide reform effort
In the early part of 2000, a comprehensive, school-wide reform effort was begun at the John Minadeo Elementary School in the Pittsburgh Public School district. The project was designed to enhance students’ academic lives using a writing-based social studies program to transform teacher-centered classrooms into student-centered learning environments. Based on Howard Gardner’s research on multiple forms of intelligence, the project aimed to enrich student instruction and promote students’ involvement in their own learning process. At the same time, the reform effort focused on professional development by instructing teachers in the use of innovative questioning techniques in their classrooms.
Cornerstone designed and implemented a three-year, longitudinal evaluation study in which both program and student outcomes were monitored by collecting quantitative and qualitative information from three perspectives—students, teachers and Minadeo’s administrative leaders. These data met the funder’s requirement for annual feedback as well as positioned the school principal to seek additional monies for similar enrichment projects.
Evaluating after-school science programs at Carnegie Science Center
A collaborative effort of the Carnegie Science Center (CSC) and the Hill House, Mission Discovery is an after-school and summer program offering hands-on science, math and technology exploration activities to middle school youth from under-served communities in the Pittsburgh area. Mission Discovery provides instruction in Physical Science, Life Science and Earth/Space Science—three areas of weakness identified in middle-school level science education.
Opportunities exist at CSC for the students participating in Mission Discovery to continue with a science-based program through their high school years. Select students matriculate into Science In Your Neighborhood that exposes at-risk high school students to college preparation and career exploration activities, while at the same time training and paying them to instruct young children in science activities.
Cornerstone designed and implemented three-year, comprehensive evaluation studies for both the middle and high school programs. These studies collected information on program process and student outcomes from multiple perspectives—participating students, their parents, their in-school teachers and the program leaders. These data were used to make program improvements, keep the program ‘on track’ and demonstrate student growth. This information was also incorporated into proposals seeking funding to support the expansion of these efforts.