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Noel Brinkerhoff/Eagle

In the brief time since it opened its doors, American Canyon High School has made great progress in teaching its students to think critically for themselves before entering the real world.

In fact, ACHS’ performance on a standardized test administered last year showed the New Technology Network secondary school was far above the national average in the strides that students made from the time they started high school to the time they graduated.

The test in question was the College and Work Readiness Assessment (CWRA), which was given to a select group of seniors from the Class of 2014.

CWRA is geared towards measuring critical-thinking and written communication skills, including analysis, problem solving, scientific and quantitative reasoning, and more.

It was first given at ACHS when the school welcomed its first freshman class in 2010-2011. One hundred randomly sampled ninth grade students took the test, which consists of two parts: a Performance Task that involves a written response to a real world situation, and a series of Selected-Response Questions that measure scientific and quantitative reasoning, critical reading and evaluation.

Four years later, the same students were tested again. Collectively, they produced an “effect size” of 1.46 that revealed how much they had improved since their first attempt in 2010-2011.

Considering the national average of the effect size for the other 235 schools that administered the test was only 0.76, ACHS’ mark of 1.46 represented a huge accomplishment and a very proud moment for Principal Mark Brewer.

“We outperformed everybody,” said Brewer, who added the scoring “sheds light on the things we’re doing with kids through project-based learning and 21st century skills and the four C’s: critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.”

“We’re trying to transform student learning, and that’s a great step for public schools,” said Brewer.

Like other schools in American Canyon, ACHS utilizes project-based learning (PBL) to get students to think critically about and solve real-world problems.

PBL is applied in all kinds of classrooms at the high school, such as Andrew Goff’s Economics class for seniors.

Goff has his students working in small groups to devise business plans specifically for the Napa Valley Ruins and Gardens, part of the Watson Ranch project that would transform the remnants of the old cement factory into a commercial center.

The seniors have had to analyze data from surveys conducted for the American Canyon Chamber of Commerce for Watson Ranch, as well as conduct their own survey among ACHS students. From there, they must select their own business idea and explain why it would be a smart investment.

“There is no right answer,” said Goff, who spends half his day teaching and the other half coaching other teachers on PBL. “But they are critically analyzing data and information to put forth their interpretation, and that’s what the CWRA really does.”

By using PBL the high school has put “more expectations on kids to create their own meaning and come up with their own understandings,” Goff added.

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