Part 2 of this four-part series will examine how comprehensive high school advisory programs impact academics and personalization. I will also discuss how Vermont’s new educational legislation Act 77 relates to high school advisory.
Is there research that supports high school advisory?
Although there is a wide range of research about middle level advisory programs, the research on high school advisory is limited. As with any program that is both affective and cognitive, it is always challenging to quantify the impact the program. Fortunately, a handful of recent studies have focused on the impact of advisory programs on academics and the personalization of education in high school. In a 2010 study of over 10,000 high school students, it was determined that students that perceived their advisory program contributed to a higher level of personalization had higher overall weighted grade point averages (McClure, Yonezawa, & Jones, 2010). In a separate 5-year study of over 500 ninth and tenth graders, there was a correlation between the personalization of advisory and lower dropout rate (Mac Iver, 2011). Finally, a 2014 qualitative study of high school advisories in Vermont revealed that most students in the study felt advisory positively impacted their academics in the form of grade checks and advice about course selection (Brodie, 2014).
So what are effective practices for advisory to impact student academic success?
Most often cited is having an academic point person who is not only aware of their advisees’ schedules and grades, but also acts as a bridge for communication between the school and family, as well as a contact person for all school personnel. As an academic advisor, the advisor oversees their advisees’ progress on the personal learning portfolios and encourages academic decisions based on long-term planning and goals. Additionally the advisor is a key resource to help students be academically successful and develop improvement plans and proficiency recovery plans for students who need assistance in achieving the school graduation expectations. A critical role for the advisor is to work with students and their parents in the process of developing personalized learning plans for all students.
What is a Personalized Learning Plan?
In June of 2013 the Vermont legislature signed into law Act 77, the Flexible Pathways legislation. The goal of this law is to help students achieve academic success, be prepared for post-secondary opportunities, and engage actively in civic life. Part of the aim of Act 77 is to increase graduation rates and promote engagement through flexible pathways such as virtual learning, learning through internships and work experience and dual enrollment opportunities (students taking up to two free college courses while still in high school). Additionally, the law requires that all 7th through 12th grade students will create personalized learning plans to promote a highly personalized learning experience.
The personalized learning plan (PLP) format has not yet been formalized, but expected components of the plans include a personal learning statement where students identify their strengths and challenges as a learner, describe their learning style and investigate their interests in learning. The PLP will also require students to devise a learning plan, set goals, and track their progress as they progress through middle and high school.
How do Personalized Learning Plans relate to high school advisory?
Although the structure and format for PLPs have not yet been determined, at a League of Innovative Schools conference in March of 2014, the connection between high school advisory and PLPs became clear. Virtually every school that had proficiency based learning and/or personalized learning plans, supported these innovations with a comprehensive high school advisory program. This is consistent with what we discovered on the Parents for Change school visit to Pittsfield, NH in November. There we learned about an advisory system that supported all students by having an advisor that knew their students well, was a point person for their advisees, met with parents during student-led parent conferences and played a key role in assisting their advisees in developing their personalized learning plans. Students in Pittsfield articulated with ease the critical role their advisor played in developing and updating their plans and the impact advisory had on heir academics. Several students referred to their advisors’ keeping a watchful eye on their academics as a much-needed “gentle kick in the butt”.
In a recent study about high school advisory in Vermont, all administrators and ¾ of the advisors interviewed believed that high school advisory would play a major role in the implementation of PLPs. As one advisor stated, “I’m not talking about advisory as just supporting academic pursuits. I’m talking about advisory should be the pole, the central place where a student plans everything out from there. Like what do you think about your educational plan, dual enrollment and site-based learning multiple pathways. Obviously when you think about student learning in a broader way with electronic portfolios, I think that would be the place (Brodie, 2014, p. 124) “. As PLPs become the norm for Vermont middle and high school students, I think advisory will evolve as a critical structural support in this process.
In the next part of this series, I will discuss roadblocks to effective advisory programs.