Beat The Odds

By Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez
January 26, 2011

Audio Clip

Beat The Odds

There are 10 students in Erin Sandoval’s English Language Learners class.

The students are working on pronunciation, vocabulary and critical thinking.  After their work is complete and graded, the students review their data folder to monitor their progress. This is Sandoval’s teaching method at Goldwater High School in north Phoenix.  Erin Sandoval says,  “We really use the idea of on going assessment.  Knowing where they’re going, where they’re at where they need to be and them reflecting on that progress and knowing how they can get better.”

27 year old Sandoval is using one of the primary principals of Beat the Odds—on going assessment.  She says since the beat the odds concepts became part of the school model, she’s improved her teaching and has seen her students take responsibility for their learning.

Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez
Student Mais Abassi.

Beat the Odds – or BTO- is a program out of the Center for the Future of Arizona.  BTO focuses on helping schools in low income areas.

Marjorie Kaplan is the BTO Institute Director. She says, “The concepts are broad enough and they’re important enough that superintendents and principals want to incorporate them into their operation. What we try and do is incorporate what ever their district’s strategic plan is and then look at the them in view of the kinds of concepts that we think they should be including.”

BTO was a 2006 K-12 research study.  The project originally looked at the reading and math scores of low-income schools with large Latino populations.  Their study found 12 elementary and middle schools with common successful themes.  Those themes became the six adopted principles of the Beat the Odds Institute program, 'Clear Bottom Line,' 'Ongoing Assessment,' a 'Strong and Steady Principal,' 'Collaborative Solutions,' 'Sticking with the Program,' and 'Built to Suit.' Mike Andersen is the principal Goldwater H.S.  He says, “As an entire school we’re not the highest achieving.  We’re still working on a lot of areas. But really the school has benefited with a structure.”

Andersen says the program works.  BTO is a three year program.  It works with principals of school that have high minority population. They attend six group training sessions annually and develop an action plan for their school. The goal is to increase student test scores in reading and math. It also strives to create a team of teachers that works together.  Dr. Andersen says, “If you were to ask someone to give a graphic representation of the leadership structure here. Hopefully—I would not be at the top. Where would you be then?  I would be part of the leadership team.”

Dr. Andersen says the mentoring part of the program is what makes BTO so unique.  Nationally and locally recognized principals are mentors to the participants.  Those local principals then work with their school teachers to help students grow.

Meanwhile Erin Sandoval continues to work with her students.  “If you finished-- you’re flow mapping.  You’re doing the five parts of the clause diagram….” Sandoval says, "Teaching under this model is a lesson in how to be a better teacher." And, for Mais Abassi an immigrant student from Jordan, the program makes a difference.  “There’s a lot of things that we learned last semester at this time that I never knew before,” says Mais Abassi.  Sandoval adds, “It (the program) just gives us the refocus that we need to know that the important part of what we do is what we do with students.”

In the last three years Beat the Odds has grown to 84 schools across Arizona.