SALT LAKE CITY — A Salt Lake high school is getting the attention and praise of educators across the country for its innovative strategies to boost student success.
In a report scheduled for release Thursday by the Evergreen Education Group and the Clayton Christensen Institute, Innovations Early College High School is one of six schools across the country recognized for their successes in blended learning, a way of using technology and online content to personalize the learning process in the classroom.
Michael Horn, co-founder and executive director of education at the institute, said successful blended learning is often most visible in charter schools, but Thursday's report shows there are examples to look to in implementing such practices in district schools, he said.
"I think what you're seeing is a high school in Salt Lake City using blended learning to really boost the graduation rate and allow a lot of students that would not have succeeded in the old system find a pathway to success," Horn said. "It's neat to see a district really innovating in a novel way."
Innovations Early College High School's primary success lies in its graduation rate of 89 percent, which is 6 percent above the state average and 19 percent above that of the Salt Lake City School District, according to the Utah State Office of Education.
Most of the improvement is in the students' math scores, though English language arts scores have stayed flat or declined and are the focus of current improvement goals at the school, according to the report.
The school opened in 2012 to help address the district's attrition rate, especially among minorities and students from low-income families.
The school allows students to work at their own pace and personalize their schedules, taking a combination of up to eight courses at a time from either the school itself, the district's other high schools or career and technical center, or at Salt Lake Community College.
Students create their own schedule at the school, attending between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. They use online content in much of their coursework and in small group settings where teachers act as mentors. Students can choose to complete a course with a "pass" rating or continue until they have achieved a letter grade they are satisfied with, according to the report.
As of last fall, enrollment at Innovations Early College High School was just short of 300 students. Forty-five percent of them were from low-income families, and 40 percent were minorities, according to the Utah State Office of Education.
The school's principal, Kenneth Grover, said in the report giving students more agency in their schedule and learning experience helps them stay motivated in their work.
"We asked (students) what interests them, and they told us that they want more control, more flexibility, more access to teachers. So we created a school to give them these things," Grover said in a prepared statement. "We don't have bells because there's no need for them. Scheduling bells are a system to tell students where to be. Our students decide for themselves where they need to be."
Grover was not immediately available Wednesday to comment on the release of the report.
McKell Withers, superintendent of the Salt Lake City School District, said some schools in the district, such as East High School, have already started "copying" some of the blended learning components used at Innovations.
"The notion is if there are different ways to personalize the instruction and free up the schedule to meet unique needs of kids, but also provide higher level skills and college prep experiences, that is what we hope we'd be able to replicate in multiple settings," Withers said. "We want all schools to have components like Innovations has."
John Watson, CEO of Evergreen Education Group, said the study will hopefully showcase models for other district leaders and lawmakers throughout the U.S. to follow in implementing blended learning strategies.
"We felt like there's a gap in terms of public school districts who are using blended learning and able to show student success," Watson. "This project is intended to find some of those and create those examples for the field."
Horn said that as he talked with students at Innovations Early College High School, he noticed their excitement for their "classroom of one experience" with their teachers.
"They're really using blended learning not to recreate a digital classroom, but to really reach each individual need and give a much more customized learning experience, which I think is unlocking that success," he said.
For districts looking to adopt similar blended learning practices, Horn said it's especially important to have clear objectives and ways to measure data in evaluating the program's effectiveness.
"This gives more strength to the innovators within districts," he said. "But it also pushes the field to say, 'Just innovating isn't enough. What results are you actually getting for students?'"
For a look at the report, see www.christenseninstitute.org/proof-points.
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