The Department of Education (DE) is interested in expanding its collaboration with the non-profit entity Puerto Rico Education Foundation (PREF) and its Pilot Project Path to the META, which aims to be an effective response to change the trend of negative results in the META tests that Puerto Rico has suffered for the past years.
Path to the GOAL began in 2018 precisely in response to teacher concerns about poor academic performance. In addition to the improvement in results, it has also achieved a positive response among teachers, school directors, students and parents, and the current Secretary of Education supports the expansion of its application.
PREF established a collaboration agreement with the DE to support the system’s decentralization efforts, explained its executive director Enid Reyes. His initiatives sought to help the superintendents who happened to lead the new seven educational regions, but they lacked the experience of leading a school district.
“And from one of those meetings, the way to the META leaves, because they wanted to improve academic performance,” said Reyes, alluding to the working relationship with the educational region of Bayamón, where this pilot project was born and is being developed.
For its first phase, seven schools from the educational region of Bayamón were chosen, located in urban and rural areas, explained Euvelisse Jusino, who is in charge of directing and implementing the project.
“We started with primary education, 3rd grade Spanish, because it is the first level where there are META tests, and therefore evidence and data. They were not achieving reading comprehension and that is something that influences their learning at higher levels. And the 5th grade in mathematics was chosen, because we saw the phenomenon that, although we started with a good career in the first grades, from 4th to 6th grade it begins to decline and does not recover, ”said Jusino.
The superintendent of the educational region of Bayamón, Yanira Raíces, explained that they expressed to PREF their concern about the lag in these two subjects “at all levels.”
“PREF helped to carry out a projection analysis on those schools, how they had been and how that ‘gap’ could be narrowed with an intervention. And also, I’ll be honest, I looked at the leadership of my directors. It was a project that did not come from the central level, but was an initiative of the region.
So I considered that the leadership of the directors was important ”, explained Raíces.
He stressed that the commitment of all teachers and principals was essential to be able to readjust when face-to-face classes were canceled due to the pandemic.
“We had designed the program in person, and we didn’t know what to do, but we did have to continue. And it was incredible how the team, in less than a week and a half, had already prepared to adjust to that change, “he said. “It was an experience, more than rewarding, of a lot of personal evolution. It was easier to cancel everything, but no, it was decided to continue ”.
In total, some 700 students were impacted with the participation of 55 teachers. In Spanish there was an improvement of +17 points, and in mathematics of +5 points. “It was a daunting task. But from the first moment everyone was motivated and it was done immediately. And thanks to that experience we were able to enter the second driver, because we already had a guide to follow ”, he added.
For the second phase, another 20 schools were integrated to the seven that were already participating, covering seven municipalities in the region. On this occasion, a call was opened for interested schools to register. Now the scope is about 2,000 students and 120 teachers.
Perhaps one of the people who can best attest to the impact of the program is Natalia Echevarría, director of the Herminia Rivera Fernández school, in the La Morenita neighborhood, in the rural area of Bayamón.
“My school was the last of the seven in terms of the table, and that’s because there was no eighth. He had been in an improvement plan for 11 years, he did not pass the tests, the score was 3%. We had managed to raise it to 11%, and that is why they approach us ”, he recalled. “But initially I didn’t want it to be there, because it was the seventh, and it was going to be more difficult for me to reach the goals. It felt like one more burden. We didn’t want to look bad, but it was more stressful. “
However, the superintendent convinced her, and the school ended up being one of the participants. And the bet paid off, as they climbed to third position, and “you could see that rise despite the challenges.”
Although there were no META tests in 2020, the project conducted a similar test, recreating the conditions under which the tests are carried out, so that they could measure student progress.
“The participation of the students was achieved, who were connected with us. We were able to show that 40% or more improved ”, stated Raíces with pride.
Meanwhile, the project continues to take advantage of working together with teachers to identify the most successful strategies and offer the tools available to work in these times of pandemic that demand distance education. According to a survey they conducted at the end of the year, the participating teachers themselves gave a score of 9 out of a maximum of 10 to the question whether they would recommend this program to other teachers.
The Secretary of Education, Elba Aponte, joined in praising the program and cataloged it as “a great support to impact students in the need that exists in the academic part.”
“It is an experimental project, but it presents us with the data. Seeing results and seeing progress are important to me. It has the potential, it is a model of care, which provides assistance with different tools, be they technological, with consultants, giving support to teachers, students, and the community, ”said the secretary.