Of the 443 district or charter schools in Chicago that had at least one student selected for selective enrollment high schools, only 16 equaled or surpassed the University of Chicago Charter School Carter G. Woodson Campus for number of students accepted. Of those 16, only 2 were not selective enrollment or magnet schools.
Jared Washington, director of the Carter G. Woodson Campus, though proud of his students, is not declaring victory. “These are great numbers, but we have so much more to do before I am satisfied.”
Washington will concede that the campus has been “very intentional and systematic,” citing three primary driving factors behind its success: ratcheting up the rigor, differentiated instruction, and the 6to16 program.
“At Carter G. Woodson, we are committed to pushing our kids to high levels in the classroom every day, and then stretching them even further than they thought they could go. A+ students are pushed beyond their grade level. Algebra I is offered to our eighth graders because we know they can do it,” said Washington.
Further pressing the importance of rigor, Washington said, “We teach kids how to think. For example, in a biology class that is discussing muscles in the human body, some learning might end at being lectured and taking notes. At our campus, our students are pushed to think critically, they are asked to explain to each other how the muscle systems work and discuss what it would mean to the system if one muscle no longer functioned. Their thinking is stretched.”
In addition to critical thinking exercises, learning is differentiated as much as possible. This means that advanced students are not stymied and more struggling students can get the targeted learning they need. For example, the campus has Remix Fridays every week. During these sessions, students are broken into groups based on their NWEA results or where their teachers assess them that week in 3 areas: literacy, math and science. As a result, students get the attention they need most in the learning and skill-building areas where they need it.
Differentiated instruction is continued through Odyssey’s Compass Learning, which refers to data based, individualized learning plans that students access online. Compass Learning imports each Carter G. Woodson students’ data from the NWEA into its system, and based on where each student is achieving, builds online learning exercised and tutorials targeted to them.
Another important piece is the Urban Education Institute's 6to16 high school and college readiness curriculum and online learning tool. “6to16 supports the rigor in our classrooms by bringing the awareness piece to our students,” said Washington.” Through 6to16, our students learn what it takes to compete with the top students in Chicago for a place in a selective enrollment. They know what that looks like and how the process works.”
“Our goal is to get every middle school student to understand what it takes to become a successful student in high school and college and to apply the behaviors needed to become that person,” said Veronica Herrero, director of 6to16. “Some of the essential components of the 6to16 middle school curriculum include interactive, online and classroom exercises that guide students in analyzing their strengths, assets, and interests, while setting short- and long-term goals. These exercises allow students to think critically about what high school will be the best fit and what they need to do to develop into excellent candidates for schools of choice. These consistent and focused conversations ensure that going to the best high school is not an afterthought, but something that the student has been planning all along.”
Even with 20 percent of the Carter G. Woodson eighth-grade class placing into selective enrollments, director Jared Washington is not comfortable taking any credit. Instead, he looks to the future and greater improvement.
“I am pleased for the kids. But, more than anything, I am eager to get our ISAT scores and see if they align with what is happening with our selective enrollment numbers. This will help support that what we are doing every day is working. And from that, we must continue to push our thinking about more ways to prepare our students for success.“