Advanced Learning System bridges Gateway Tests and graduation for high school students

By Bob Robinson
Star Staff
brobinson@starhq.com

   Elizabethton City Schools, its 306 teachers, support staff and administrators, are in the business of preparing tomorrow's leaders for good paying jobs. It is a cycle which began more than 96 years ago when the school system was founded in 1905.
   Since its meager beginning in a one-room school building, heated by a coal stove, with candles for lights, the fledgling educational system has prospered into one of the best in Tennessee.
   Over time, the measure of educational achievement has changed. New technology has been deployed in the classroom, aided by increased funding for education. The advent of personal computers, the Internet, and other modern "teaching tools" have improved the learning process.
   Unlike yesteryear, when time and distance limited access to information, learning is boundless today. Local school officials hope to keep it that way.
   They are working to keep the leading edge of technology in the classroom, according to Dr. Judy Blevins, director of schools. "Everything we do is for the benefit of our students. They are our number one priority. We want them to be successful in life."
   Helping students help themselves takes innovative approaches. The latest example is found with the Advanced Learning System, which uses personal computers and software, installed in the Elizabethton High School (EHS) Library.
   The graduating class of 2005 will be the first class required to pass Gateway Tests in Algebra I, English II and Biology I exams in order to receive a regular high school diploma in Tennessee. The tests are required by the Tennessee Department of Education.
   Students must also pass "End-of-Course" Competency Tests in Math Foundations, Geometry, Algebra II, Physical Science, Chemistry, English I and American History to graduate.
   The Advanced Learning System is designed to help students pass Gateway Tests. A support group of teachers and counselors has also been put in place to give students individual attention in remediation research.
   Has instruction changed in the classroom as a result of Gateway Tests?
   "Yes," said Andrea Crawley, EHS English II instructor, who has incorporated "more hands-on learning activities, more directed reading assignments and more specific lessons directed toward Gateway objects."
   Assessment for English focuses on four strands: Viewing and Representing, Speaking and Listening, Writing, and Reading, Ms. Crawley said.
   Gateway objectives are more specific than Competency objectives. The question and time length of the Gateway Test is shorter and will definitely favor students who tire easily, she added.
   Kathy Rainwater, EHS Algebra II instructor, said Gateway Testing has changed her classroom strategies in the following ways:
   * Given performance indicators direct material to be taught in a more structured manner;
   * Students must work harder for retention;
   * Material must be covered more quickly in order to finish before the April test deadline;
   * Material that goes beyond or expands on topics is eliminated until all Gateway objects are met; and,
   * There is a teaching commitment to thinking skills, problem solving, reasoning and formatting similarity.
   Ralph Wheeler, EHS Biology I instructor, said he has changed the curriculum materials to emphasize the indicators for the test, which are very specific.
   "I have begun to emphasize the specific areas covered by the indicators. This results in other areas of study not getting covered. I am also trying to review items previously covered when new related material is introduced to students," Wheeler said.
   Students are also being encouraged to do more inquiry type study, he added.
   Anne Rogers, EHS counselor, believes counselors will continue to play an important role helping students.
   "Counselors assist students and parents in educational planning and course selection. This is especially important in helping students understand how to plan for graduation while meeting Gateway Test requirements," Ms. Rogers said.
   Ms. Rogers said she expects to see changes in covered sequences, particularly in science and math. "Students who do not pass the Gateway Testing requirement will need remediation," she said. In such instances, the Advanced Learning System will be utilized.
   Elizabethton City Schools obtained a grant from the Tennessee Department of Education to purchase the Advanced Learning System.
   "When it comes to providing a well-rounded educational program for our students, our teachers, staff and administration are always looking for ways to make a good educational system even better," Dr. Blevins said.
   "After all, learning is a lifelong process," she added.