Category Archives: standardized tests

The Second Step: Developing a Solution

If you want to secure grant money for your school, the first step is to understand in detail the problems your school faces. Once you have clearly identified those hurdles to student achievement or school-wide success, the second step is to develop a plan/solution that has the greatest likelihood of achieving your goals.

When I first became a middle school principal, our test scores indicated that we had a reading problem. Overall, our students read about 1.5 grade levels below the national average. We already had a Title I reading program, but we weren’t getting very good results. We did our research and found that:

1) Although we had a serious school-wide reading problem, only our very poorest readers attended reading classes.

2) Although we knew that reading was a skill, we did not provide enough time during the school day for our students to practice that skill.

3) Monitoring large amounts of independent reading is difficult without enough computers and specialized software.

With that knowledge, we were able to put together a comprehensive plan in which:
• all students, regardless of their reading levels, would attend a reading class.

• each student would spend one hour each day in reading practice on appropriate-level materials.

• we would use the STAR reading test to determine the beginning reading levels of students and to measure growth.

• we would use Accelerated Reader software to monitor students’ daily reading.

In addition, we would initiate “structural” changes in order to meet the needs of our new program:
• In order to make time in the school day for students to receive an hour of reading practice, we had to change from a 7-period to an 8-period schedule.

• All of our teachers became reading monitors in order to monitor 30 minutes of reading practice time. The regular reading teachers monitored the other 30 minutes and taught mini-lessons on skills.

• We had to purchase STAR and Accelerated Reader.

• We had to purchase thousands of library books to match the reading levels, interests, and reading volume of our students.

• We had to purchase dozens of computers to monitor the program.

We developed a special budget in order to put our plan into place. While our solution was relatively expensive, we did not consider costs when we developed the plan. We only considered the results we would likely achieve. To get the money we needed to fund our plan, we tapped into the regular budget, Title I, and special education funds. But that wasn’t enough. We wrote grants and we entered into a partnership with the software company to do detailed research as we measured our students’ reading growth.

When your school faces a hurdle to student achievement, the key is to build a plan that directly addresses the problem and has the greatest likelihood of success. When you are developing your plan, don’t worry about costs. That will come later. If you can, find schools with similar demographics that have faced similar problems and made major improvements. Duplicate the best parts of their plans if it’s feasible for you to do so — without consideration to money.

When your plan is complete — and you’re sure it is comprehensive and has an excellent chance of success — then comes the time to start worrying about the budget and finding the money to fund your program. Which brings us to the topic we will cover in my next post: finding grant money to fund your program.

Proving You Have a Problem

Applying for grant money is a competitive task. You don’t put on pads and knock heads like your students do in their football games, but winning grant money is no less competitive. To make sure grant readers know that you have a problem and that you understand that problem, you need good solid information to back up your claims.

The information you need to detail your problem can come from a number of sources including: standardized testing, state testing, free/reduced lunch counts, dropout rates, disciplinary records, attendance reports, ACT/SAT scores, grade records, teen pregnancy rates, surveys, and a host of other sources that should be readily available to you. Grant writers use statistical information from standardized tests and free/reduced lunch counts more than any others when applying for grants.

Nationally- and state-normed standardized tests are so useful because the information is usually disaggregated into grade level, classroom, male/female, advantaged/disadvantaged, minority/non-minority, and several other categories. This allows you to see exactly who is doing well and who is falling behind. This information also tells you how far some of those groups are falling behind. In other words, disaggregated data from standardized tests supply you with a treasure trove of information that is perfect to use when you are trying to detail the problems your school is having on a grant application.

Just as widely used on grant applications are the numbers for the economically disadvantaged in a school, usually derived from free/reduced lunch counts. Parents have to submit financial information to schools in order for students to qualify for free or reduced meals. It is no surprise to most educators when these same economically disadvantaged students (not as individuals, but as a group) are the very ones who show up with the lowest standardized test scores. Many people want to argue the difference in scores results from minority/non-minority or rural/urban/suburban status, but most of the time, the big difference in these scores comes down to the level of income in the home.

Many grants are won or lost because of the poverty level of your students. Don’t overlook the fact, however, that even if you just have 10% of your students that are economically disadvantaged, if that 10% is struggling, you may be able to apply for grant money to help them.

Even though low test scores and low-income are the main statistics you want to use on a grant application, you can also supply some rather unusual and convincing data from other sources. We wanted to put a piano lab in a middle school where I was principal. We surveyed local churches in our small town as to the difficulty they had in securing pianists for their services. We found they had a very difficult time. That was good information for us to use on our grant application for a piano lab.

It’s very important to give good information about the problems you have when you’re filling out a grant application. Most of the time that information will come in the form of statistics. Be sure you supply the best most detailed data that you can. Grant writing is competitive. Giving grant readers a clear picture of the problem you’re having will often help you beat that competition.