Annual Report: 2009-2010 School Year

Last year, I focused on Top Honors’ substantial growth in students, with our program doubling over the last 3 years. This year, I would like to begin by recognizing our most precious resource, the one that allows us to keep up with the enormous demand, our TUTORS. In the 2009-2010 school year, 97% of students felt that their tutor was helpful in encouraging them and answering their questions. 73% of students felt VERY comfortable learning math from their tutor. The 2009-2010 school year also set records in many tutor categories. Tutor attendance was 70%, twelve percentage points higher than the prior year and higher than any year in our history. The number of tutors attending 15 or more sessions hit 27, more than double the previous year. Even the number of tutors attending social events increased dramatically. Below is a graph that shows the growth in tutors attending Saturday sessions each week.

Who are our tutors? Tutors are volunteers that take time out of their week to give back to NYC by helping our students. Tutors are bankers, lawyers, students, engineers, architects, consultants, social lenders, accountants, marketing professionals, doctors, musicians, and sales professionals. Volunteers from all backgrounds come together each week to teach students the fundamentals of mathematics. In addition to tutors, Top Honors has had a number of volunteers helping in a variety of areas to improve the program and make things run smoothly. During the year, we had volunteers writing and running new games to give students a larger variety of fun activities to start sessions. We had volunteers helping with administrative tasks such as organizing paperwork and refilling curriculum materials. Over the winter holiday break we had volunteers from around the country writing additional worksheets to enhance our curriculum, making things easier for our tutors and provide a better educational product for our students. For all of this support, we at Top Honors are thankful.

Top Honors continues to focus on expansion and has been working hard to take the organization to the next level. The 2009-2010 year marked Top Honors’ first expansion of its math program beyond its Saturday sessions. In January 2010, Top Honors added a supplemental session on Tuesdays to help the students that needed the most help. Top Honors has begun to make several internal changes to prepare the organization for much larger growth. We have added two new members to our Board of Directors, focused on defining individual roles and spreading responsibilities to allow for controlled growth. We have increased efforts on expanding our curriculum while making strong efforts to document games for future use. Most importantly, we began discussions with potential partners about adding the Top Honors program to other locations. We hope to finalize our first expansion deal within the next twelve months.

The 2009-2010 year was our 5th straight year with 40%+ overall academic gains. Over 80% of our students felt that the math that they learned at Top Honors was helpful in school, with 57% reporting that they are doing MUCH better in school as a result of joining the program. Obviously, strong academic gains are the most important goal of Top Honors. That said, increasing self-confidence, seeing the benefits of math in student’s lives and having students enjoy math are other goals of the program. Top Honors continues to be a place where more and more students WANT to come. In our end of year survey, parents agreed 4.8 out of 5.0 with the following statement: “My child enjoyed coming to the tutoring sessions.”

Consistent with past practice, this Annual Report highlights our performance during the 2009-2010 school year, reports on last year’s initiatives, and describes some upcoming projects designed to improve our program for every student while creating a positive environment for our most precious resource, our volunteers.

We look forward to another exciting year at Top Honors!

Glenn Turtel
Chairman of the Board

Student Performance

In 2002, the highly controversial No Child Left Behind educational reform bill was signed into law. At the center of the controversy were required assessments that measure the relative performance of students and schools. This law brought about profound changes in how students are educated and arguably led to a significant breakthrough: the widespread use of formative assessments, basically pre- tests that give teachers information on what each student knows and what they need help with. In their 1998 research review, Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam examined the research literature on more than 250 studies worldwide trying to determine the value of formative assessments. They reported unprecedented positive effects on student achievement. Furthermore, Black and Wiliam reported that “improved formative assessment helps low achievers more than other students and so reduces the range of achievement while raising achievement overall.” I bring this up because Top Honors has always considered regular assessments to be a core pillar of its educational design. At the beginning of each year, each student takes a formative assessment that guides what they will learn throughout the year. In addition, this year Top Honors added something that we call a Topic Preview, which is a formative assessment given to students before they begin each curriculum topic. This Topic Preview guides the tutor in determining which specific skills and math concepts to teach the student. Once the student is taught those skills they take a 5-10 minute assessment to measure their progress on that curriculum topic. This assessment allows Top Honors to determine whether the student has mastered the material and is ready to move on to the next curriculum topic. Like the research suggests, we have found that the use of assessments has had a significant positive impact on the education of our students.

We are very pleased to announce the academic results of our 2009-2010 school year. The average improvement between our initial and final assessment was 46%, the fifth year in a row with over 40% average improvement. Students who attended our new supplemental program did even better, with a median improvement of 100%. While the sample size of this group is very small and the average initial scores are significantly lower than our average student, the early results are very promising.

Below are some specific highlights of the 2009-2010 performance of our students and program:

Math Topic: Estimation: 96% improvement

Math Topic: Place Value: 67% improvement

# of Students attending 20 or more sessions: 20 vs. 10 in the 2007-2008 school year

# of Tutors attending 15 or more sessions: 27 vs. 7 in the 2007-2008 school year

Tutor Questionnaire: My overall opinion of Top Honors is very good: Rating: 4.8 out of 5.0; The program addressed students’ weaknesses in math:Rating: 4.6 out of 5.0

Student Questionnaire: Do you feel more confident in your math skills than you did when you joined Top Honors?92% said Yes, much more confident or A little bit more confident

Parent Questionnaire: I would recommend Top Honors to my friends & family: Rating: 4.8 out of 5.0; My child liked his/her tutors: Rating: 4.7 out of 5.0

Constituents continued to express their thoughts about our program. Some of these comments are included in the Testimonials section of this annual report.

Top Honors strongly believes in continuous improvement. We understand that no program is perfect and trying new strategies can lead to important academic gains for students. By focusing on continuous improvement, we are able to further our mission: To provide all students with fundamental math and critical thinking abilities for success as students and productive members of society.Before discussing some new initiatives, I would like to reflect on our initiatives from last year.

2009-2010 Initiatives

Our first initiative from last year was to continue to focus on solidifying our core educational product by developing new games and writing additional lessons. One of the four pillars of Top Honor’s educational program is “edutainment,” that learning should be fun for students. Last year Top Honors established a games committee led by an experienced tutor with a passion for game development. This committee started by creating a framework for games, defining different categories such as individual versus team and strategy versus practice based games. This helps in the establishment of a long range game schedule that is varied for students and more balanced educationally. In addition, the new framework included documentation requirements to clearly describe how each game is played and administered. This makes games easier to run by people not familiar with the games, thus allowing the games part of our program to be replicable. The games committee began documenting previously played successful games and developing new games. The games committee play-tested some of the new games to work out issues and judge the effectiveness. Based on this progress and continued efforts, we expect to have a full year of games ready before the start of the 2011-2012 school year.

Top Honors also made progress on the curriculum front. As the first step in completing our curriculum, we went thru a lengthy process to define exactly what we want to teach in each topic and each lesson within the topics. All fourteen topics have now been mapped out. In addition, we added several lessons during the year. We continue to work towards completing the remaining lessons in the curriculum.

As our second initiative last year, Top Honors announced the addition of a supplemental session on Tuesday nights. This session is the first expansion of our math program outside of Saturdays and a response to requests from parents for additional support. In January, 2010, Top Honors launched this supplemental session pilot and made it available to the neediest students that were attending our Saturday sessions. Because it was a supplemental session, we decided to run it a little differently than our normal Saturday session. Instead of having an assessment, a game and a lesson, the supplemental session focuses primarily on practice of the topic that the student is working on through the use of custom designed worksheets. Approximately 50 worksheets were created before the beginning of the supplemental pilot program through the use of volunteers from around the country. Each worksheet was created to cover a very specific part of a math topic, thereby aligning directly with the Saturday lessons. The initial results of the supplemental program have been promising. Tuesday participants had a significantly higher average improvement than those attending only the Saturday session. However, given the limited number of participants in the pilot program and the narrow student focus, it is too early to draw conclusions regarding the long term effectiveness of the supplemental program.

Our final initiative for the 2009-2010 school year involved ensuring that students are being taught by knowledgeable tutors. As part of this initiative, Top Honors began giving assessments to potential new tutors along with evaluating their professionalism. The volunteer assessment is a scaled down version of the assessment that we give students. The assessment serves two purposes. Most importantly, it allows us to verify whether a potential tutor is proficient enough in the material that we are teaching to tutor students. Secondly, it gives potential tutors an idea of the material that they will be teaching. I am happy to say that the vast majority of potential volunteers passed our assessment, with many getting a perfect score. However, it did allow us to identify some potential volunteers that would not be good tutors. Because of its value, we plan to continue to assess potential tutors going forward.

2010-2011 Initiatives

For a while now, Top Honors’ board of directors has been talking about and working towards moving to the next level: replicating our program to other locations. Over the past few months we have received several inquiries and have begun discussions with potential partners about expanding our program. These inquiries are resulting from our consistent educational success and the strong word of mouth that this success has generated as potential partners are looking to enhance their core educational offerings. This year’s initiatives reflect this desire to move towards replication.

Our first initiative for the 2010-2011 year is to redesign our board of directors to allow us to spend less time on operations and more time on strategic development. Historically, Top Honors’ board has spent the majority of its time designing the systems and curriculum and running the day today operations. As we have matured, our program coordinators and volunteers have been able to step up to assume more and more of the day to day responsibilities. The board redesign has several components to it. The first piece is to set board requirements that all board members need to meet. Second, we need to define the roles and responsibilities of each board position to allow for a defined chain of command for each segment of the program. Finally, we need to identify needs and work to recruit additional board members to meet such needs. By doing this restructuring we feel that we will be better prepared to generate and respond to new opportunities as well as respond quicker to specific needs.

Our second initiative is to develop a detailed plan for replication. We believe that replicating just for the sake of adding students is not in the long term interests of Top Honors. When we replicate, we want to do so in a manner consistent with our program’s history; well thought out and controlled. To replicate our program we realize that all of our systems need to be well documented, game administration needs to be straightforward and the curriculum needs to include lessons in all topics. In addition, standards for potential partners need to be developed, program requirements need to be set and legal agreements need to be written. During the 2010-2011 year we plan to develop a thorough plan to accomplish all of our replication needs and then begin working on fulfilling the open items in the plan.

Our final initiative is to build upon the foundation of worksheets created for the supplemental session by developing worksheets for the remaining nine topics. These worksheets will serve two purposes for our program. First, they will give Saturday tutors additional materials to teach students, especially in the later topics where there are fewer lessons. Second, they will give us the capability to expand our supplemental program to all students. Like the curriculum lessons project, the first step in this process is to create detailed descriptions of what will be covered in each worksheet consistent with Top Honors’ lesson progression. Once this is done, approximately 100 new worksheets will be created.

We believe that these initiatives will help Top Honors continue on its path towards replication, allowing us to provide all students with fundamental math and critical thinking abilities for success as students and productive members of society.

Testimonials

(Names changed to protect the individuals)

Parent: I saw that she had a better understanding of mathematical concepts not just used in school but in day-to-day life activity.

Parent: My child loved the program. He always had great things to say about his tutors. He felt it helped him a lot at school.

Parent: Sarah sincerely liked coming to Top Honors, and verbalized that she feels more confident in her math skills.

Parent: The feedback was very positive. I enjoyed attending and my child felt very loved by staff and connected.

Parent: She was enthusiastic about going every time I woke up on Saturday mornings. That’s pretty good.

Student: Ever since I joined Top Honors my math grades have improved a lot! On my last report card I got a 90 in Math! Along with that I got a 91.57 average!

Student: Top Honors has made a difference in my math education. I am getting better grades on tests and quizzes. I am participating more in class discussions.

Student: Top Honors helped me understand why the answer is this and not that. Student: They explain the math in a way that the students understand.

Student: If this tutoring system went through high school, I would’ve been real happy. I’ll miss this place very, very much.

Student: We can tell others how Top Honors changed our math scores, from F–C to C+–A+.

Student: If you come to Top Honors you will be successful in your math.

Tutor: The tutors AND students bring me back each week. Tutors are smart & dedicated and students are inspiring 1) I think Chris improved very much in his math skills & comprehension; 2) Chris used something we discussed at school and was proud of himself; 3) He once told me “you taught me a lot”. This makes the tutor experience great and caused me to return.

Tutor: When I worked with the same kid(s) each week, I wanted to come back the next week to help & see their progress. I became friends with the other tutors too which made me want to come back.

Tutor: Seeing my student progress each week and every “ah-ha!” moment made it worth it. Tutor: They often listened to my suggestions related to students I was tutoring.

Tutor (about our administrators): Both very empathetic with the students and made them feel like part of a family.