Annual Report: 2008-2009 School Year
I want to begin by thanking our largest contributor, Columbia Community Service, for their continued support of our organization. At a time when over 50% of charitable organizations are reporting a year over year decline in donations and 57% of organizations are reducing services, I am thrilled that Top Honors board meetings are increasingly being dominated by discussions on how we can expand the number of students that we serve while continuing to provide a high quality tutoring program for all of those involved. As shown below, Top Honors has grown substantially over the last five years:
In last year’s annual report, we highlighted our requirement that growth needs to be accompanied by RESULTS. The 2008-2009 year marked our 4th straight year with 40%+ overall academic gains. In fact, overall academic gains exceeded 50%. Top Honors is also proud of its focus on instilling confidence in students. More than 90% of students surveyed at the end of the year felt more confident in their math skills than they did before joining Top Honors, with 59% much more confident.
One of the reasons that Top Honors is able to continue to expand in these hard economic times is that all of our tutors are volunteers. We are extremely thankful that these professionals and students are enthusiastically taking time out of their week to make our program such a success. On average, 21 volunteers tutored each week, allowing us to keep student/tutor ratios to less than 2:1. This is almost double the number of tutors we had per week just two years ago.
Consistent with past practice, this Annual Report will highlight our performance during the 2008-2009 school year, report on last year’s initiatives, and describe some upcoming projects designed to improve our program for your child while creating a positive environment for our most precious resource, our volunteers.
In order for our program to be successful, students must enjoy coming. Why else would students wake up early and come week after week on Saturdays? In fact, we feel so strongly about this, that “Edutainment” has been a core pillar of our program since Top Honors was founded. On the end of year evaluations, students have told us loud and clear that they enjoyed coming. In fact, in each of the last two years, 8 in 10 students wrote that they were happy that they joined Top Honors, a marked improvement from the 3 in 10 students that said the same thing in the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 school years. Parents have also written in their feedback how much their children enjoyed coming each week. Evaluations are nice, but we believe that actions speak louder than words and students express their happiness by showing up each week, coming back the following year and recommending the program to friends and relatives. This year, student attendance reached record levels at 77%. This represents an increase of 9 percentage points from the 2007-2008 school year and an increase of 13 percentage points from the 2006-2007 school year. To put it another way, the increase in attendance percentage resulted in approximately 330 additional hours of learning. In addition, 12 students who attended the Top Honors program during 2007-2008 school year came back to attend the program in the 2008-2009 school year.
We are very pleased to announce the academic results of our 2008-2009 school year. The average improvement between our initial and final assessment was 54%, the fourth year in a row with over 40% average improvement. When excluding the highest and lowest scores, our average improvement was a record 53%, 8 percentage points above any year in our history.
Below are some specific highlights of the performance of our students and program (assessment data compares our beginning of year assessment to our end of year assessment):
Math Topic: Arithmetic: 76% improvement
Math Topic: Fractions & Percentages: 630% improvement
Math Topic: Word Problems: 59% improvement (93% of questions answered correctly)
# of Students attending 20 or more sessions: 16 vs. 1 in the 2006-2007 school year
# of Tutors attending 15 or more sessions: 11 vs 0 in the 2006-2007 school year
Student Questionnaire: Was the math you learned in tutoring helpful in class at school? 95% said either Yes, I’m doing better in school now or It helped a little; How did you find the math lessons? 88% said Just Right.
Tutor Questionnaire: Top Honors was responsive to my needs and questions: Average rating was 4.8 out of 5.0; I enjoyed tutoring: Average rating was 4.7 out of 5.0.
Parent Questionnaire: My overall opinion of Top Honors is very good: Average rating was 4.8 out of 5.0; Parents continued to express their thoughts about our program. Some of these comments are included in the Parent Testimonials section of this annual report.
Top Honors is always striving to improve our program in line with 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
Two of our three initiatives last year were centered around increasing both the number of volunteers and their role within our organization. As a volunteer based organization, it is imperative that our tutors are excited about being part of our program and helping us provide a high quality education to our students. Tutors come from a wide range of fields as well as from local high schools and colleges. While their backgrounds and the reasons they join Top Honors vary considerably, at the end of the day, they need to feel that they are doing good and helping others in order to stay. Based on the numbers alone, Top Honors has made considerable strides in this area over the last two years. Between the 2006-2007 and 2008-2009 school years, the number of tutors per week has increased 95%. During the same period, the number of volunteers coming 10 or more sessions increased 188% and even more impressively, the number of tutors coming 15 or more sessions increased from 0 in the 2006-2007 school year to 11 in the 2008-2009 school year. Here are some of the things tutors said about Top Honors in our end of year reviews (names removed to protect the individuals):
“Group has grown so much. Top Honors has done a great job preparing for growth and accommodating it. Value has not decreased.”
“Teaching kids some fundamentals of math and creating a system in which learning was fun and rewarding.”
“The staff were organized and nice and advised me when I needed help with a student or just had a question about tutoring methods.”
“The staff works extremely hard at being accessible and answering all questions, and the student tutors are all very helpful.”
“Encouraging students to get interested in math and the many ways it can be used in their lives. Being prepared for students/tutors and having everything organized.”
As part of our initiatives from last year, tutors greatly expanded their role within our organization. In addition to two tutors joining our Board of Directors, during this past year tutors were writing and running weekly games, developing new worksheets, writing lessons, talking to parents and completing administrative tasks. These new responsibilities led to more creative games and problems, an increased number of tutors recruiting their friends to join, and, most importantly a better education for the students in our program.
Continuing our successful initiative from last year of getting tutors more involved, this summer we formed several curriculum committees made up of some of our best and most dedicated tutors. One of these committees is focusing on providing more depth to our curriculum, particularly in the later units. This will help our tutors provide stronger instruction to students, especially those students in our program for their second year. The second committee is focused on developing and testing new games. As mentioned above, one of the four pillars of Top Honor’s educational program is “Edutainment”. Basically this means that we want to make learning fun for students. As part of its application, we start each session with an educational math game. Traditionally, this is what students like most about our program. That said, we needed to bolster our games by providing clear directions to keep games running smoothly and to keep everyone actively involved. The games committee is focused on making adjustments to previously played games and developing new games that would meet the high expectations of Top Honors. As part of the game development process, the games committee will play test the games to work out issues and judge the effectiveness. By doing this, we expect the overall quality of games to improve over time. We believe that this improvement in game quality will have a ripple effect on both student and tutor happiness and thus attendance and indirectly, educational gains.
I am very excited to announce our second initiative. Beginning in January, 2010, Top Honors is planning to offer a second, 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. Like the Saturday sessions, the Tuesday session will focus on teaching students the fundamentals of mathematics. The Tuesday sessions will only be available to students attending the Saturday sessions. We believe that this extra session will allow students to master the core skills needed for high school and beyond, allowing them to gain confidence in their abilities and better understand the usefulness of the math fundamentals in life.
Our final initiative involves ensuring that students are being taught by knowledgeable tutors. When Top Honors first started, we primarily recruited volunteers from friends and alumni groups of top schools. This controlled recruitment strategy ensured that we were getting the best and brightest volunteers to help our students. As the program has expanded, Top Honors has diversified its recruitment methods to include volunteer websites and local high schools. For the upcoming year, Top Honors will begin to give assessments to new volunteers. In addition to giving Top Honors hard data on whether or not potential tutors know the material they will be teaching, these assessments will ensure that tutors’ expectations match the reality of the program. We expect this to allow us to continue to provide high quality instruction for students while growing the program.
We believe that these initiatives will help Top Honors continue on its path to having a completely replicable program that can be used at other locations in New York City and elsewhere.
(Names changed to protect the individuals)
In our end of year reviews of Top Honors by parents, we allow parents to describe any changes (good or bad) in attitude, performance, etc. that they observed in their children since joining our math tutoring program. We would like to share a few of those comments here:
“Top Honors rocks in its balance of fun games and individual attention.”
“Before Top Honors my son didn’t like math at all. Now (it) is the one he likes the most.”
“The tutors are very dedicated and care about the individual student’s needs in each math area. John was ecstatic when he scored so high on (his) final assessment.”
“The program was very helpful to both of them. Their grades in math class have improved a lot, so this program was a positive one.”
“I am very satisfied with Top Honors and my grandson was always eager to come.”
“Is all positive. My son is doing so good in math.”
“She has improved in her math and is more connected to it. She realizes the importance of math regarding her earlier studies. She enjoyed the tutors very much; they were kind, helpful and very patient.”
“I feel that my son coming to math tutoring was very positive.”
“My son enjoys it very much and likes the way he was tutored.”
“The program helps her to stay on top of relevant math work. She trys to improve everyday and cares about her grade. All math studies are relevant to improving her grade. I found the tutors to be very knowledgeable and patient.”
“She felt connected with her tutors and she felt they explained it very well to her where she fully understood and connected.”
“I (have) seen a change in Alexis and Rachel. They both don’t have to come and ask me to help them. And the confidence that Rachel has is that she could do her work by herself.”
We look forward to another exciting year at Top Honors!
Chairman of the Board