Build. Empower. Inspire. 

Kentucky Public School District Implements MasteryPrep Resources to Build College Readiness, Life Skills for Special Education Students

“Build. Empower. Inspire.” – such is the vision of the special education department at Fayette County Public Schools in Lexington, Kentucky.

The more tools in the tool belt the better prepared students are when they cross that graduation platform, said Sandy Owens, FCPS secondary resource specialist for high school academics. The stakes are higher and challenges more prominent though for FCPS, where special education teachers deliver life skills to students with learning and behavior disorders (LBD).

“We are held to the same benchmarks and level of proficiency in the special education department as we are for other students, and we want to maximize those opportunities for our LBD students to attend post-secondary education and have as many tools in their tool belts when they cross that graduation platform, so they are fully prepared for their adult lives,” said Owens, who works with special education teachers across the district’s high schools on furthering professional development; developing curricula support to increase student achievement and success; and providing evidence-based instruction to ensure student growth and successful transition.

When Owens approached FCPS district teachers two years ago about a resource to further build skill remediation and increase college readiness, she introduced them to MasteryPrep, which develops ACT and SAT prep curricula designed from the ground up to help schools boost their students’ scores, and instead of teaching to the test, develops content mastery on college-readiness skills. “Our teachers overwhelmingly liked the format, presentation, quality and strategies set forth by the MasteryPrep materials. The scripted lessons help the teachers facilitate the lessons back to the students; adjust the sequence of lessons specific to the classroom curricula; mediate any skill gaps the students have; and zero in on skill deficit remediation,” Owens said.

Throughout the school year, FCPS special education classes implement MasteryPrep’s ACT Mastery into three elective classes offered as early as freshman year – Learning Strategies, Literacy Strategies and Math Strategies.   The district also provides MasteryPrep’s ACT Boot Camp before the spring tests for students with IEPs. Each summer, FCPS special education teachers meet through their PLC (professional learning community) to plan out annual lessons that incorporate both classroom lessons and MasteryPrep ACT subjects. FCPS teachers share best practices and work collaboratively to improve teaching skills and therefore students’ academic performance.

‘Holy Grail’ Reading Strategy

In Justin Smith’s literacy strategies sophomore class at Henry Clay High School, he teaches a lesson on “Students Who Were Central Figures in the Civil Rights Era.” At the conclusion of that lesson, Smith alludes to that lesson text and implements ACT Mastery English lessons on parts of speech, adjectives and adverbs, verb tense, subject-verb agreement, confusing word pairs, pronoun-antecedent agreement, and prepositions. Smith then also implements an ACT Mastery Reading lesson on “Locate, Skimming, Scanning, and Finding Details.”

“The reading strategy is like my holy grail; the students love it and we have seen a lot of success with that particular strategy,” said Smith. “We paraphrase songs, fables, fairy tales, reading texts, and in life, you are always going to read for information, so these strategies are preparing them for uses in everyday life, and there’s no replacement for that aspect.”

Smith said FCPS special education teachers have access to MasteryPrep’s ACT Elements “Bell Ringers” (daily, ACT-aligned classroom warm-up exercises), and they have turned that program into mini-practice ACT tests on reading passages. Students use skimming, scanning, and finding details strategies to achieve a 65-percent benchmark accuracy goal, which would equate to a 20 or above score on the ACT Reading, a standard benchmark level in Kentucky, Smith said. “We have definitely seen an upward trend of more students achieving benchmark goals, and when they reach those goals, it builds confidence in them,” Smith said.

Flexibility to Teach to Class-Specific

Owens has a favorite saying – “Good instruction is good instruction.” “It doesn’t matter if you’re teaching an Honors class, a regular class, or a class in our case in which we have students with learning and behavior disorders. At the end of the day, good instruction is good instruction, and it is our job to deliver a product that teachers will use and kids will buy into, so a maximized learning atmosphere takes place,” Owens said.

Classroom visits are an enjoyable task for Owens. “When I see strategies from MasteryPrep that transfer over to real-life skills like completing a job application, building a resumé, or using the reading strategies to more effectively read their classbook texts – applying strategies they learn to real-life situations – that’s beyond any ACT score improvement,” Owens said.

In addition to the classroom instruction, the FCPS special education department provides its students with speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, employment training, health and psychological services, and assistance for students with hearing and vision impairments, as determined on each student’s IEP.

Smith values the flexibility of the MasteryPrep program that helps FCPS teach skills to class-specific instruction. For example, in ACT Mastery English, the first lesson covers commas because they are the most heavily tested punctuation mark on the ACT. But for FCPS special education students, they need a better understanding of sentence structure and grammar before they can understand comma use. Smith does not have to stick to the MasteryPrep sequence; he and other teachers can restructure the lessons, individualize and tailor for students to make the strategies fit the most appropriate logical order.

Smith helps lead FCPS’ PLC training. One example of a professional training lesson was examining the structure of the ACT Mastery English lessons; examining different ways to structure and deliver that content and making informed decisions about using ACT Mastery English in the Literacy Strategies classroom.

“The flexibility allows our teachers to structure the lessons from the ground-up and teach to class-specific instruction,” Smith said. “We then take those basic blocks and build them on top of each other, so our kids have a more logical overall understanding of all the lessons involved.”

“Fayette County’s use of embedding ACT Mastery lesson content aligned to their core classroom instruction and PLC initiatives is an effective model for best use case of MasteryPrep resources and services,” said chief academic officer Oliver Pope, who has 15 years of test prep and college readiness industry experience in product and curriculum development, training, teaching, and tutoring.

“We always hope and encourage teachers to sequence the lessons to an order that is perfectly structured for them and specific for their class,” Pope said. “We are always developing our material to make the overall experience and classroom flow more effective, but that personal engagement that our partner administrators and teachers can add for their students is important to the success of the college-readiness experience.”

About MasteryPrep: Founded in 2012, MasteryPrep provides mastery-based college readiness services and resources, such as for the ACT and SAT, to more than 2,000 schools and districts nationwide. In addition, MasteryPrep has helped more than 1 million low-income students prepare for the ACT and SAT at no cost to the student. Nationally, MasteryPrep is the preferred ACT and SAT prep provider of the Council for Opportunity in Education, expanding college opportunities for low-income, first-generation students, and students with disabilities in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., the Pacific Islands, and Puerto Rico. MasteryPrep is ranked among the Inc. 5000 “Fastest Growing Companies”; featured by “Entrepreneur 360”; and selected among the “Growth Leaders” by Louisiana Economic Development for two years in a row.

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