May 24, 2012

Unveiling the Future of Education at Kramer Middle School 

Ward 8 school transitioning to new online learning model for SY 2012-2013

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In an effort to build upon recent academic successes and accelerate student achievement, Kramer Middle School will transition to a blended school model for the 2012-2013 school year in which half of instruction will be delivered through online courses and half will be face-to-face instruction.

The online approach is designed to improve college readiness through 21st Century Skills; intensify a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) instruction; and keep students engaged through technology and a robust curriculum.

“By embracing technology through blended online learning, Kramer Middle School has taken an aggressive, innovative approach to improving student achievement and increasing teacher effectiveness,” said DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson. “We are excited to see this approach in action and look forward to seeing proficiency improve at Kramer Middle School.”

For the 2012-2013 school year, Kramer Middle School will use online courses aligned to the Common Core State Standards that provide lessons in math and science; advanced math and science; English language arts, social studies and electives; and support at home.  

The online courses offer rich, multimedia content based on the most recent and proven research on instructional design. Real-world scenarios give students examples they can understand and instruction that is interactive and multimodal.  

The school also will employ a learning management system, or software application, for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting of training programs, and the delivery of differentiated online curriculum and events to the classroom.

The system provides dashboards for students and teachers that keep them up-to-date on academic progress. Students can see what they need to do to improve and move ahead. And teachers can provide more timely feedback and support areas in which students are struggling.

“This is not just technology for technology’s sake,” said Kramer Middle School Principal Kwame Simmons. “We have been very intentional about what research says drives learning. We chose strategies to improve learning not just by one or two grade levels but by multiple grade levels.”

Kramer Middle School is using money from a School Improvement Grant and Race to the Top funds to purchase the systems. Principal Simmons said the investment in technology and engaging online instruction aligns with the school system’s bold goals identified in DCPS’ new five-year strategic plan, titled “A Capital Commitment.”

By 2017, at least 70 percent of students will be proficient in reading and math and DCPS will double the number of advanced students. Also, the 40 lowest-performing schools will increase proficiency by 40 percent.

Kramer Middle School has made steady improvements in student achievement since 2010, when Simmons took over as principal and the school underwent reconstitution, a federally mandated process in which teachers reapply for their positions and the principal has the discretion to choose teachers who are best suited to dramatically improve student performance.

Since 2010, proficiency at Kramer Middle School has increased from 17 percent in reading and 18 percent in math to 19 percent in reading and 29 percent in math in 2011. And Principal Simmons projects proficiency to increase to 10 to 15 percentage points this year. The school’s goal is to reach 64 percent proficient in reading and 70 percent in math by 2014. Currently, about 70 percent of Kramer Middle School students are a year or more behind their grade level.

Principal Simmons said new online courses target several different kinds of learning and engage many more students, making it possible to increase proficiency by 13-15 percent a year.

Through online instruction, students who are below grade level can access online lessons that will support basic skills and bring them up to grade level quickly by bolstering cognitive skills, such as analyzing and utilizing information; addressing complex problems; and creating patterns and mental modes. Once they master the basic concepts, they can move to a higher level, while the teacher works with other students on more advanced coursework. 

The learning management system will keep students on track and provide quick feedback. It also gives teachers real-time data that they can use to provide supports and recommend advanced work.

Kramer Middle School already uses online instruction provided through Johns Hopkins University that has helped students improve a grade level in two-and-a-half months, Principal Simmons said.

Youn Chung, who teaches eighth-grade math at Kramer Middle School, said the John Hopkins online courses assist with the basics of learning, “which frees me up to talk about softer, more tangible stuff or things that [students are] struggling with.”

“That way we can be more effective,” Chung said.

On Thursday, Principal Simmons unveiled the new technology for students at all of Kramer Middle School’s feeder schools during the day and held an open house for current and prospective students and their families as well as members of the community.

“This is an exciting time,” said Principal Simmons. “Parents want a quality education for their children. When they walk in the building and see what’s taking place, I think they’ll be proud.”

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