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The classrooms at Germantown’s DePaul Catholic School don’t look like they used to.
Gone are the days when students would sit in rows facing a teacher standing in front of a blackboard.
At 12:15 p.m., on a recent Friday second graders split their time between small group instruction with their teacher and completing lessons on a computer.
No computer screen looks the same.
One female student works on an exercise requiring her to fill in missing words in a sentence, while the male student sitting next to her is filling in the letters of words. Meanwhile, the teacher is sitting on the floor reading out loud with a cluster of a half-dozen students.
At the beginning of this year, kindergarten through second grade students at DePaul began a project called the Phaedrus Initiative that combines the traditional classroom experience with computers. The idea is to improve student learning through small group and individualized instruction. DePaul is the first school to use it in this region.
“Let’s say it’s a class of 30. The student is 1 of 15 more often than they are 1 of 30,” said Betsy Rafferty, local manager of the Phaedrus Initiative. “They are often 1 of 8 or 1 of 7 if they break into small groups.”
DePaul received $500,000 from the Philadelphia School Partnership to implement Phaedrus. It will be rolled out in fifth-through-eighth grade classrooms over the next three years.
AxisPhilly wrote about the experiment in late August. We decided to check back to see the new system in action. At this point, the success can be seen in the data Phaedrus provides. The initiative has made it easy to get instantaneous data on a student’s progress. And it’s specific. It can tell you not only that a student is struggling with reading but also that the student is struggling with a particular reading sub-skill, such as phonetics.
“The data is very formative at this point in the year meaning it informs what you’re doing but you can’t necessarily stand on it until about November,” said Rafferty. “So right now it’s indicating growth but I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting a number on it.”
The students took a standardized test in September, and they will take another in December, at which point more hard data on their growth will be available.
“It’s amazing to see the growth just from the beginning of September to now,” said Emily Labbe, a second-grade teaching assistant at DePaul. “And that’s growth academically but also they’re so independent on the computers now.”
In the spring, the students will take a final standardized test for the year to help measure the overall impact of the Phaedrus. In the meantime, the students perform mini assessments in each subject on the computer about once a month. Rafferty keeps a scatter plot on each student showing where they were academically before the start of Phaedrus, their performance on these mini assessments, and how they relate academically to the middle 50 percent of the nation.
Rafferty moves her finger along the scatter plot, explaining: “So this student started out a little above 50 percent, and what we want to see is constant movement up. It’s a scatter plot so you’ll see ups and downs but generally we want them to stay above the 50 percent line. We’re seeing growth. I would not call it hard data to be published, but in general we’re seeing positive results.”
Many of the students who attend DePaul come behind grade level so the goal is to not only have them catch up but to move them ahead of the national average. In terms of big goals, Jeff Kerscher, director of the Phaedrus Initiative, “We want to have growth that’s on par with some of the high performing charter networks and beat national averages in reading and math.”
But of course only time will tell if the results match the hype.
“The story of DePaul will really be written once the kids that Betsy is working with now graduate from eighth grade,” said Kerscher.
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