O’NEALS — What’s the best way to show the progress of an effective education? That’s a loaded question. Some people believe it’s through test scores, while others are convinced that proof of learning is in the action or activity that results from the students’ work.
Chawanakee School District’s Minarets High and Minarets Charter are finding a way to answer the question of quantification by providing an excellent, project-based education and raising assessment scores in the process.
In terms of test scores, the relatively new California Assessment for Student Progress and Performance results have been released for the 2015-16 school year, and Minarets has a lot to be proud of. The computer based assessment, which replaced STAR testing, is administered to all California public school juniors for the subjects of Math and English.
This is only the second year of the assessment, which is based on the expectations for learning — aka standards — for high school age students.
“Minarets High School had 86 percent of students meet or exceed standards in Math and English,” says school principal Daniel Ching. “Minarets Charter had 76 percent of students meet or exceed standard in English, and 37 meet or exceed the standards in Math.”
Minarets as a whole scored the highest in Madera County, according to Chawanakee District, and landed well above the state average.
“The Minarets staff prides itself on providing students with real, relevant learning in a project based environment,” Ching explains. “This learning model is a departure from textbook and lecture-based learning, instead focusing on learning content through 21st century skills.”
Test scores are not a driving factor in the day to day instruction, Ching is quick to remind. However, he says, the high level of academic performance indicated on the state assessments are an affirmation that the project based learning and relationships based program at Minarets can also lead to high levels of student achievement.
So besides great test scores, what’s new at Minarets this year? MacBook Airs, for one thing.
“This year all students will be working on MacBook Airs,” notes Ching. “This is a huge step for the school, as the cutting-edge technology provides them with the opportunity to work with professional programs in movie production, presentation creation, graphic design, research, engineering and writing.”
“We have been providing opportunities through online college classes and AP courses for students to earn college credit. Now, this year, students can take classes in Welding/Metal Fabrication, Floral Design, and Health that will count as both high school and college credit through the State Center Community College District (SCCCD).”
Students who attend Minarets can earn between 15 to 18 units of college credit, and administration plans to grow this program in the coming years.
Facilities on campus are growing, as well. For athletics, an additional softball field is in the early stages of development. The Ag Farm is expanding thanks to a Career Technical Education Incentive Grant. An outdoor Native American-themed patio is in the final stages of construction due to a grant from the Picayune Rancheria of Chuckchansi Indians.
High school students are not the only ones benefiting from changes and improvements throughout the Chawanakee District. Minarets has started a collaborative with Spring Valley Elementary in which 8th graders are able to accelerate their learning and expand experiences by taking high school level courses.
“Eighth graders are in Math 1, Art, and Music classes this year,” Ching says. “All eighth graders attending Spring Valley have the chance to begin their high school experience a little earlier now.”
Now in its ninth year, Minarets students have been accepted into every University of California and California State University, as well as other top universities across the country, including West Point United States Military Academy, Oklahoma State, and Tulane.
“We also have students who are working in the publishing and film industries, as well as in the agricultural field, and serving our country in the military — and the best is that we are just getting started.”
While the Minarets community is understandably proud of the notable improvement in assessment scores, Principal Ching emphasizes that the school culture continues to push the limits of project based learning.
“One of the focuses this year is providing students the opportunity to give back to the community while gaining essential skills that they will need in college and career. Our Motto is ‘Go Big, Go Pro, and Go Now.’ We want our students to dream big and go for it!”