Boyle’s special ed model could have huge impact

Published 4:40 pm Wednesday, February 27, 2019


The Advocate-Messenger

Boyle County School District has accomplished something Kentucky as a whole has not been able to: It has developed a reliable strategy for improving student performance in reading and math.

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Boyle teachers and administrators got kudos and compliments from the Kentucky Board of Education this month for the district’s “SHARED Learning” model, which dramatically increases how engaged special education students are in their learning. But while Boyle educators no doubt appreciated the accolades, the potential impact is much greater than just a pat on the back.

Over five years, the percentage of Boyle students considered “novices” for their grade level in reading and math has plummeted by two-thirds for elementary math, by 60 percent for elementary reading, by around 10 percent for middle-school reading and by more than 80 percent for middle school math. The percentages of students rated “proficient” or “distinguished” in those same categories has increased across the board. And Assistant Superintendent David Young told the state board those four areas aren’t the end of the story — whether you look at different subgroups of students or different testing methods such as ACT, “it all shows the same trend, which is a major reduction of novice and major increase of students who scored proficient,” Young said.

That’s exactly what Kentucky’s education leaders have been trying and failing to accomplish for years. Student performance in reading and math has been essentially flat statewide; nothing else being done to help those low-performing students is actually making a real dent.

Boyle’s teaching method places special education students in small groups where teachers can give them focused instruction in small chunks, then quickly check to see if the students picked up on the lesson.

Perhaps most excitingly, school officials told the state board there really isn’t any extra cost to implementing Boyle’s methods, it just requires reorganizing classrooms and instructional assistants. It also requires 100-percent buy-in from school staff.

Here in Boyle County, this is great news for the future. Elementary-school students are growing up into middle-school students who are prepared to learn; middle-school students are growing up into high-school students who excel academically; and high-school graduates are going on to have hugely successful lives and careers.

If Boyle’s model can successfully be replicated elsewhere, however, it becomes an exponentially bigger deal.

Boyle’s student performance represents a sea change, but only for Boyle’s 2,700 students, who are less than half of one percent of all public school students in Kentucky. If you extrapolate Boyle’s success to all of Kentucky’s more than 650,000 students, it’s hard to even imagine what could happen. But we hope it happens.