Early College program at Irondale off to positive start
The Mounds View School Board during its Nov. 13 meeting was presented with an update on the Early College program at Irondale High School.
Irondale High School is the first school in the state to offer a comprehensive early college high school program that allows students the opportunity to earn a two-year associate degree. The program targets students who are in the middle of their class (30th to 70th percentile).
Through an agreement with Anoka-Ramsey Community College, Irondale launched the program in fall 2012 for ninth- and 10th-graders, with full implementation for all grades by 2014-15.
Progress continues for a form of the Early College program to be expanded to Mounds View High School next fall.
Biology teacher Meghan Tripp has been working with a mentor teacher from Anoka Ramsey Community College to develop curriculum and syllabuses. Irondale has been granted access to online curriculum materials that normally the school wouldn’t be able to benefit from.
Tripp said biology teachers have been working with English teachers to blend college-level rigor with classroom supports that center on studying skills. During the last unit, English teachers presented more difficult science-based reading on ecology such as journal articles.
About 10 new biology labs have been added to the handbook, Tripp said, and most of the labs have been modified to meet some of the same requirements that Anoka Ramsey Community College asks their students to meet.
Irondale has implemented case studies into classrooms where students look at real science data and analyze it like scientists would, she said.
Recently, the mentor teacher visited Irondale to observe the two teachers who are teaching the college biology class. Tripp said the mentor teacher was impressed and offered positive feedback.
There is the potential for a site visit during which Irondale students would visit Anoka Ramsey.
Irondale Principal Scott Gengler said in addition to biology, American Sign Language 2 is another course that has resulted in the partnership with Anoka Ramsey.
Gengler said Irondale has seen a significant increase in enrollment in college credit earning courses.
A new two-year seminar is offered to about 145 ninth-graders – 35 percent of the ninth grade class – that focuses on the habits of mind. A foundational math class takes place every other day, which helps students develop skills that will be helpful in their progression toward college algebra.
A foundational English course is offered to 90 sophomores, which is about 20 percent of the 10th grade class, which is taught at the same time as a habits of mind seminar.
A total of 195 students are enrolled in college biology, another new course at Irondale.
AP biology has 72 students, and AP U.S. history has increased from 84 students last year to 153 students enrolled this year.
About 22 percent of the ninth grade (92 students) class is enrolled in an AP course or a college credit earning course, which is up slightly from about 20 percent last year.
About 62 percent of the 10th grade class is enrolled in a college credit earning course, which is up from just over 30 percent last year.
Almost 61 percent of juniors and about 69 percent of seniors are enrolled in at least one college credit-earning course.
Overall, 53 percent of students at Irondale are enrolled in a class that has the potential for earning college credit, which is up from about 45 percent last year.
Gengler said that a very subjective teacher evaluation was conducted. The two teachers teaching ninth grade foundational math and the two teachers teaching the seminar course were asked if the right students were identified for the coursework. Overall, the teachers felt that 85 percent of students were identified correctly.
“Maybe some students enrolled were not ready for the foundational work yet,” Gengler said. “I think it’s OK that we’re erring on the side of pushing kids up and forward.”
Rob Reetz, instructional strategies facilitator at Irondale, said the program is helping students in ninth and 10th grades build self-efficacy by helping them understand how to better self- monitor, self-evaluate and self-analyze where they’re currently at in their learning.
Reetz shared one success story about a ninth grade student who said the program has had a significant impact on how he studies at home. He is now engaged in conversations with his parents, who didn’t go to college, and he admitted that when he was in middle school, his parents didn’t anticipate he would go to college.
Reetz said the student is setting specific goals in the foundational course that center around work completion and success on assessments in algebra.
“This is difficult work,” he told the board. “We are asking our teachers to do things differently, to reach students in a way that they’ve never maybe reached them before.”
He said teachers are being asked to do things differently with their grading practices.
“We don’t want punitive grading measures anymore. We want learning to be the emphasis of everything that takes place. A grade that we give a student has to be reflective of what they know or can do.
“We want grading to look alike across different content areas. We want it to be equitable,” Reetz said.
School Board member Amy Jones asked about parent feedback and the unexpected challenges the school has encountered.
Gengler said the feedback has been favorable across the board, adding that there has been the misunderstanding that all classes are equivalent to college credit.
“I have yet to come across a parent or a student who hasn’t felt really positive about the direction we’re going and the programs that we’re offering,” he said.
The greatest challenge is that the work is different, which requires a different type of commitment to instruction, Gengler said.
“We have a population of teachers who are excited about doing this work, but it is extremely difficult, and we want to be able to provide the support that they’re going to need to be successful in that experience.”
Reetz said the greatest challenge for teachers is time; they know they need to move on in curriculum because there are many standards they have to reach. However, there are students who are not ready to move on, so a number of teachers are staying after school and being very intentional about getting students the help that they need.
“It’s difficult if the extent to which we know students need to achieve is not happening and teachers are kind of up against the wall,” he said.
There are hurdles left, Reetz told the board, and the school is looking at furthering collaborative work among teachers.
“It’s an ongoing process, and it’s going to continue to be that way for as long as we continue to expect greater things of the students that we teach,” he said.