21st Century College Prep Program
HTLA is a college-prep high school. Our aim is to prepare our students for college success rather than only college acceptance. The 21st century has changed the students’ relationship to information. With handheld devices or tablet computers, high school students are a few moments away from finding nearly any fact. The organization, curriculum and pedagogy of HTLA recognize this fact. HTLA emphasizes helping students learn the topic, organize the facts available to them, think critically, then present their findings. Pointedly, we strive to put students into situations where complex, critical thinking is required. This includes projects, group work, and presentations as well as more traditional exhibitions of mastery. While we recognize the importance of Depth of Knowledge Level I facts, it is the context and analysis of these facts that produces the level of work required by students to be ready for college success.
HTLA follows block schedule. Students take half their courses every day. The longer class period allow students the time to dig more deeply into a topic. It also lends itself to both group work and projects. Students have the opportunity to explore a topic. Teachers have the opportunity to creatively organize their approaches to the curriculum. Deeper dives come more easily to this structure. In these extended sessions, students are regularly required to move past surface understanding and critically analyze the material and move towards mastery.
21st century technology has also opened up the accessible options for exhibiting mastery. Of course the traditional essay is central to the HTLA program, but giving each student their own tablet expands the ways students can both access the curriculum and present their understanding. HTLA invests significant resources to provide both student devices as well as a robust school environment to take advantage of the devices. Students are able to make videos, podcasts and even use 3D printing to express their understanding of the curriculum.
Tied to our adoption of student and classroom technology is our belief in the effectiveness of Project Based Learning (PBL). Students who do learn more deeply than students who only hear about what others have done. PBL is supported by block scheduling which provides the time for deep dives into projects as well as time for collaboration between students. As they collaborate, students work towards a finished product using the ancient thesis-antithesis-synthesis model. But they take advantage of modern information technology as they explore, and ultimately communicate, their ideas. Teachers are trained in PBL and work together to create projects that are cross-curricular when possible. Twice each week, teachers meet in large or small groups to explore their upcoming or just completed projects.
A key piece of PBL is a public presentation of work. HTLA hosts an evening each semester where every student presents their work to the entire school community. In particular, this is the evening where parents get to see not only their child’s work, but that of the other students as well. These evenings serve to calibrate expectations and to communicate first-hand the development of their children. Additionally, HTLA believes, and our test scores confirm, PBL leads to improved test scores as well. The critical thinking required to complete projects teaches students to analyze source documents efficiently. Test scores from both the state standardized tests as well as a private norm-referenced standardized test are then triangulated against classroom results to inform evaluation of what a student needs to make academic progress.
Academic progress of all students is the purpose of choices HTLA makes with its academic program. All students work in groups, complete projects, complete two formal presentations each year, and present at our project showcase evenings. Perhaps most importantly, all students are required to meet HTLA’s graduation requirements which exceed the A-G requirements of the CSU/UC system. Therefore, all graduating students will have met the A-G requirements. It is this commitment to the belief that all students will succeed that informs HTLA’s programmatic choices.
At times, some students need additional support. In particular our ELL and special education students require supplemental interventions. High standards are not lowered. Instead, students are supported to help them achieve. Our ELL students take all their classes in English. In addition, students are placed in a targeted ELL academy to augment their general classwork. HTLA’s special education department is the largest department in the school. HTLA has two full-time resource teachers, eight paraprofessionals, as well as one Director of Special Education to meet the needs our qualifying students. Nearly 1/3 of our employees are focused on helping all students achieve success in our rigorous curriculum.
Over the last decade, HTLA has invested greatly in our understanding of and support for the social-emotional state of our students. Research into brain-based learning shows that students who are emotionally distressed have, at best, a difficult time of doing high-level critical thinking. Therefore, HTLA employs both a full-time psychologist and a full-time counselor to help students work through their emotional states. In addition, HTLA students are involved in working to modify the school environment. Students are trained to be Safe School Ambassadors and take part in the Caring School Initiative. All students take part in an advisory program which has as one of its core practices the use of circles to give students a space to voice their opinions on topics related to high school student life. While no system is perfect, HTLA’s approach to improving the social-emotional condition of its students was rewarded with a California Gold Ribbon in 2018.
HTLA’s LCAP goals are centered exactly on the topics covered elsewhere in this summary and mirror our commitment to our program. Our goals are: (1) Use data to inform decisions regarding instructional practices and implement intervention programs and practices for all students to improve student achievement and increase student access to rigor. (2) Provide all students with a rigorous and relevant college-preparatory curriculum using Project-based Learning (3) Engage parents, families and community members as partners to provide all students with a safe, welcoming and inclusive, and positive learning environment.
HTLA is committed to keeping students in school and progressing towards graduation. No students have been expelled in a decade and our suspension rate is comparable to other schools. PBL and group projects help bring students to school and reduce absenteeism. When other students are relying on every group member’s input, HTLA student tend to honor their part in the project and come to school. Our school budget is based on an attendance rate of 95%. The last two years we have exceed 97% attendance. In 2018-19, if trends continue, we will approach 98%. Having students in class is a necessary step in helping them to progress. HTLA is committed to continued success in this area.
Implementation and Monitoring
Parents at HTLA are regularly invited to see their children’s work. In addition to our school-wide project presentation nights, parents are often invited to see the results of individual projects. When parent attendance is not feasible, our students often create summary videos of their work which can then be shared with the HTLA community. Two of the best examples of this are our robotics team and our physics rocket launch project.
Transparency is a core belief at HTLA. Parents can see both the student assignments and their child’s on-going grades. Every child has a school email address used to communicate school-related items with them. Weekly phone calls are made summarizing the upcoming week of school events. Every child who is absent is contacted by phone and email. HTLA has an engaged Parent Association which give feedback on school policies, procedures and goals. These are formalized in our School Site Council.
Every year, parents complete a wide-ranging survey of HTLA, its teachers, and their impression of how their child’s year went. This survey is reviewed by the both the Parent Association and the school administration to find better ways to strengthen the connection between the school and families. When this data is also shared with the faculty to make sure they recognize the impression they are leaving with parents and what they can do to improve student outcomes with parents.
Teachers meet in groups twice every week to review upcoming events, air their opinion to administration, or to pursue professional development activities. In 2018-19, the central focus of professional development has been literacy across the curriculum. Faculty has engaged in multiple training sessions in how to best implement the use of Newsela, an application designed to privately present readings at the reading level of the individual students. Administration and other non-instructional staff regularly attend conferences and other training sessions to augment or advance their skills. Front office staff has attended training in how to use Microsoft Excel. Counselors have attended conferences on student social-emotional learning. Administration has attended training on topics ranging from use of technology to school safety.
Results and Outcomes
While the staff at HTLA is relatively small in number, it meets regularly to assess the effectiveness of the school’s program. Once each week, a panel made up of school counselors, special education teachers and school administration meet to review the current grades of all students in the school. Necessary interventions are then determined, carried out then monitored to see their effectiveness.
As above, HTLA tries to look at student outcomes with using multiple tools. Our review of current grades is a regular analysis. Further student results on both state CAASPP examinations, ICAs for grades 9 and 10 and full SBACs for 11th graders, as well as twice yearly NWEA testing give a full view of student progress and improvement. Finally, students complete yearly surveys relating to both school community and academic issues allow for a complete analysis of HTLA’s program and how its delivery is impacting students.
Over the past five years, our results have been generally improving. Our SBAC scores have improved to having over 90% of 11th grade students at or above grade-level in ELA. Our 11th grade math results have lagged behind ELA. However, following an analysis of our math scores, we re-configured our math department offerings to better serve the needs of our students. This change has resulted in nearly 2/3 of our 11th graders being at or above grade level in math. Because we require all students to take a fourth year of mathematics, HTLA has improved the college readiness of its students to over 75% as rated on the NWEA examination. These results hold true in both ELA and math across all subgroups. All available data shows that HTLA is meeting its college-prep mission. Room for improvement exists and we will continue to adjust our program to continually improve our results. Our commitment to reflection, analysis and willingness to change have paid dividends in our math program. We anticipate continued improvement in the years to come.