January 13, 2009 |

School district proposes changes to Accelerated Learning Academy model

Shortening the school day by 16 minutes and the elimination of the last two days of school were among the District's proposed changes to its Accelerated Learning Academies (ALAs) model.

The proposal, presented at the Pittsburgh School Board's Education Committee Meeting, comes after discussions and surveys of parents, teachers and district personnel regarding the future direction of the ALA model.

“While we are pleased with the growth in student achievement we have seen in the ALAs, as with any new program, we monitor and adjust based on information that we gather,” said Superintendent Mark Roosevelt. “Today's proposal adjusts the ALA structure in a way that maintains its educational impact and utilizes time most efficiently.”

The recommendation to reduce the student's day by 16 minutes will not affect instruction going forward since this time had been used to initially establish the school's culture of ritual and routines. Students who attend ALAs will continue to receive 20 additional minutes of instructional time compared with non ALA schools. Students will attend school for 7 hours and 10 minutes.

In order to reduce the school day by 16 minutes, the district proposes to reduce the amount of time students spend in homeroom as well as the time students use for transition between periods. Teachers will maintain an eight hour workday, gaining time at the end of the day for professional preparation, with the goal of more closely monitoring and meeting students needs.

Introduced at the start of the 2006-07 school year, the district's eight ALAs, which now in their third year, have seen significant gains in student achievement. On the 2007-08 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) exams, students attending the District's Accelerated Learning Academies (ALAs) achieved percentage point increases in proficiency or above at a rate 2.5 times greater than the district overall in Reading and 1.4 times greater in Mathematics.

Additionally, students in ALAs posted a 3.1 percentage point increase in advanced Reading and a 5.4 percentage point increase in advanced Mathematics over last year. ALA students also posted percentage point reductions in below basic 3.0 times greater than the district overall in Reading and 1.8 times greater in Mathematics.

Currently the America's Choice model is in use at the district's eight ALAs. The America's Choice model creates learning environments that engage students, provide order and structure, and support differentiated instruction. The America's Choice model offers professional development and training, on-site coaching, professional development and materials.

Upon opening the ALAs for the 2006-07 school year, the district worked collaboratively with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers (PFT) to reach an agreement where teachers agreed to remain at an ALA for three years. In preparation for the end of the original three year agreements with both America's Choice staff and the PFT, the district chose to evaluate the ALA model in cooperation with parents, District personnel, America's Choice and the PFT.

Surveys and information gathering sessions with staff revealed the following:

• Of the 166 parents interviewed in a telephone survey by an independent research firm, 82 percent stated that the ALAs have had a positive impact on their child's progress, 83 percent felt that the rituals and routines were effective, 87 percent noticed increased communications to parents. In addition, 70 percent or more noticed a positive impact on their child's behavior, academic progress and reading and writing abilities.

• A majority of ALA principals feel the extended year and day are essential to student growth, however, teachers expressed concerns with the extended day and year, citing the of lack attendance at end of year as other schools have concluded.

Principals and teachers agree that the district should build capacity internally to assume the responsibility to implement and provide professional development in order to sustain and grow the America's Choice school reform model. The board will vote on the proposal to reduce the ALA extended school year by two days and the length of the school day by 16 minutes at its Legislative Meeting, January 21.

The public can also review the 2009-10 Planning for Year 4 for the Accelerated Learning Academies presentation by visiting the Pittsburgh Public Schools web site at www.pps.k12pa.us, visiting the Division of Communications, Room 201, or by requesting a copy by calling the Parent Hotline at 412-622-7920.

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