Annual Report: 2005-2006 School Year
As Top Honors enters its fifth year of operations, we reflect on the accomplishments over the past year and lay out future plans for this evolving, non-profit organization.
We are very pleased to announce that the 2005-2006 school year was our best academic year yet. The mean improvement between the initial assessment and the final assessment was a spectacular 44%, compared to a still good 22% average improvement during the 2004-2005 school year. In addition, every single one of the seventeen students that took both the initial assessment and the final assessment had at least a 10% improvement. Our internal assessments focus on a number of mathematical areas. Below are some specific highlights of the academic performance of our students from the beginning of year assessment to the end of year assessment:
Overall: 44% average improvement
Top Individual Gain: 118% improvement (minimum of 10 correct)
Math Topic – Place Value: 69% improvement
Math Topic – Estimation: 162% improvement (third consecutive year of large improvement)
Math Topic: Word Problems: 31% improvement
While overall we are extremely pleased with these results, we are continually working on ways to improve the education we provide to our students.
In the spring of 2006, Top Honors was awarded a third grant from Columbia Community Service. We continue to use these funds to provide supplies for our program, reward our tutors and provide for a student incentive system. In addition, Top Honors received several unrestricted contributions from generous donors. We plan to use these funds to pilot the hiring of a part-time administrator to provide more week-to-week consistency in our program and increase our focus on parent involvement and discipline enforcement.
The most exciting news on the funding front is that we recently added Justin Cohen to our Board of Directors. Mr. Cohen’s primary focus is on raising funds so that we can expand our program and make educational enhancements. Mr. Cohen has already developed a list of high net worth individuals that have a potential interest in supporting programs like Top Honors and is in the process of leading an effort to produce marketing materials to present to those individuals.
While the 2004-2005 initiatives focused on solving operational issues that would indirectly improve the education of your child, during the 2005-2006 academic year Top Honors implemented several key initiatives aimed directly at improving our educational program.
The most important initiative was the implementation of a much more focused and restricted educational program. For the 2005-2006 school year, the Top Honors curriculum covered 15 specific topics including place value, money/decimal arithmetic, computational estimation, etc. The topics were determined based on what Top Honors considered to be the most valuable topics for students to know for high school and beyond. We had to make hard choices on what to teach and what not to teach. For example, we made a conscious decision to emphasize estimation and de-emphasize fractions as we felt estimation was more practical for high school and beyond.
Tutors were instructed to teach the curriculum based on a pre-determined order with little opportunity to jump around between topics. We felt one of the most significant issues during the 2004-2005 year was that tutors would teach either what the student wanted to learn (such as help with the student’s homework) or what they enjoyed teaching rather than continuing on a predefined curriculum. As such students may learn place value one week and geometry the next, resulting in less re-enforcement of what was learned in the previous week.
Our second significant initiative was the full implementation of our assessment program. At the beginning of the year, students were given an initial assessment. This initial assessment was used to inform Top Honors of the individual student’s academic needs. Each week students were given a short assessment on the particular topic that they worked on the previous week to determine whether they had mastered the material. If a student passed this assessment (e.g. answered 75% or more of the problems correctly), he/she was promoted to the next curriculum topic. If the student did not learn the material sufficiently enough to pass the weekly assessment, then the tutor continued to teach material on that topic. While some may consider this to be harsh, at Top Honors we do not believe in promoting students to the next level just because they attend class. We believe that part of our reason for existing is to ensure that students actually learn the curriculum areas. On average students needed 4-5 lessons on a topic before demonstrating that they were ready to continue to the next topic.
Top Honors also implemented an assessment tracking system to indicate which curriculum topics a student had mastered and which topic is to be taught that week. This was maintained each week by the tutor and reviewed periodically by Top Honors management.
We strongly believe that these two educational initiatives were the primary drivers of our outstanding educational results during the 2005-2006 school year. We will continue these initiatives during the 2006-2007 school year.
Top Honors implemented several other initiatives to improve our program. The first initiative was spearheaded by one of our tutors. A teacher by profession, this tutor felt that it was important to keep parents more informed on the progress of their children in our program. He developed mid-year evaluations for parents whose children met certain attendance criteria. Those parents were contacted by phone. In addition to updating parents on student progress, Top Honors elicited feedback from parents about how our program was serving their children’s needs.
While the concept of a mid-year evaluation and getting more real-time parent feedback is great, the execution of such a program is time intensive. If you received a midyear review call, please provide feedback on how valuable it was for you. Upon receiving feedback, we will analyze the benefits and negatives of this program and decide whether to continue with this initiative in the 2006-2007 school year.
Another initiative involved a shift in tutor recruiting. Historically we solely targeted working professionals to serve as tutors. However, many high school honor society programs have requirements for community service. By pairing our program with such high school programs we hoped to get a more stable tutor base, providing more consistent tutor-student pairings and lower student-tutor ratios for our students. Also, we felt that some of our students would relate better to high school tutors than adult professionals. Of course, we will continue to recruit professionals, many of which have made our program what it is today. During the 2005-2006 we increased the number of high school tutors and also recruited a high school student to assist with administrative needs. As hoped for, two of the high school student tutors had perfect attendance. In order to accommodate the student growth projections for 2006-2007, we will accelerate our recruitment of high school tutors.
One final initiative, and probably the most important for our long-term future, was to begin the transformation of Top Honors from a startup organization to a long-term, sustainable organization. We at Top Honors realize that this is a multi-year process that every sustainable organization needs to go through. Many organizations begin with a strong focus and a lot of effort, only to fall victim to burnout and something called the founders’ syndrome where once the founders leave, the organization is unable to survive. Recognizing this as a potential problem, Top Honors has begun to put in place things for our long-term survival.
First, we set official goals to track our success or failure for the year. These goals included academic improvement, attendance and operational accomplishments and stakeholder satisfaction. Top Honors met some of these goals such as average student academic improvement, average number of progress assessments passed by students, student longevity (an attendance metric) and assessment development. However, we also missed some goals such as scores on specific topics on the final assessment, overall tutor attendance, and completing an operations manual. By identifying goals and measuring the program against them we are better able to identify and solve specific programmatic weaknesses.
Second, we implemented an accounting system during the 2005-2006 school year and, for the first time, have financial information to best determine how to allocate financial resources. This is also needed for writing grant proposals and accomplishing overall fundraising goals.
Third, for the first time Top Honors recruited new Board members to continue to move our program forward. These Board members were recruited to fill what we considered to be specific gaps in our skill set.
Lisa Friscia was recruited to take our educational program to the next level. Ms. Friscia has been a teacher in the NYC public school system, where she has taught since July 2002. She currently co-chairs her school’s leadership team and organized and continues to manage a specialized high school prep program at her school. She will help introduce new teaching methods to our tutors, write lessons, and manage discipline in the classroom.
Justin Cohen will greatly enhance our fundraising capabilities. Justin currently works full time with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. In addition Mr. Cohen serves as a Director and Chair of Agents for the Yale Alumni Fund Board where he raised over $70,000 from the Yale class of 2004.
Despite the success of our program during the 2005-2006 school year, we at Top Honors believe in continuous improvement and will not stop until we have successfully achieved our mission. Most of the 2006-2007 initiatives will build off of our success from the 2005-2006 school year.
Our primary educational initiative is the development of improved educational materials for our tutors. While Top Honors currently has lessons and worksheets written for a number of topics, there are significant gaps in the curriculum, especially for the more advanced topics. As such, over the summer we began the process of inventorying the lessons and materials that we have, developing a standard format for our lesson plans and worksheets, and developing an overarching framework for the curriculum. As this planning process becomes finalized we will begin the long process of developing the specific curriculum materials so that we can enable our tutors to provide the best possible academic lessons to your child.
Our second educational initiative, a joint educational and operational initiative, is to enhance professional development of our tutors. Historically Top Honors has provided its tutors with a beginning of the year tutor training that went over our history, our educational program, how we work operationally and some tutoring techniques. For the 2006-2007 school year we will add skills development workshops for our tutors. We expect that an increased emphasis on ongoing professional development will augment tutors’ teaching skills and improve tutor attendance and retention.
Our final educational initiative is the hiring of a part-time administrator that will attend the program each Saturday, pair students up with tutors, keep track of student progress and student discipline, and follow-up on code of conduct violations by students. By having the same administrator attend each session, there will be more consistent tutor/student pairings, better matching of personalities, plus more immediate follow-up of disciplinary warnings and general feedback to parents.
Our primary non-educational initiative is the continuation of the transformation of Top Honors from a startup organization to a long-term, sustainable organization. For the 2006-2007 school year, we will focus on a) fundraising to ensure that Top Honors is financially sustainable, b) creating operational documentation to detail what is necessary to run our math tutoring program effectively, and c) long-term planning for expansion.
We expect that these initiatives, along with the improvements generated from last year’s initiatives will help Top Honors continue to move ahead in accomplishing our new and improved mission: To provide all students with fundamental math and critical thinking abilities for success as students and productive members of society.
We at Top Honors are thankful for the tremendous support and feedback that we have received from our funding sources, parents, and volunteers. We look forward to your participation in our program!
Chairman of the Board