“Easy is a Waste of Time” — How a California Middle School Embraced Change with Summit Learning

What’s the highest compliment a teacher can receive? For 25-year teacher Beth Duncan, it’s her students saying her class is hard. Last year, Duncan’s first using Summit Learning, was the hardest. Was the struggle worth it? “Absolutely,” she says. “Easy is a waste of time.

“When the kids say ‘this is hard,’ I love hearing that,” Duncan says. “That means they have to work for it. When they have to work for it, they are learning.”

Duncan teaches humanities and video journalism at Rancho Minerva Middle School. The Vista, California public school enrolls 835 students, 95 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced price lunch and 73 percent of whom are English language learners.

In the 2016-17 school year, Rancho Minerva implemented Summit Learning with its 6th graders (250 students) and half of its 7th graders.

“Sit-and-get instruction wasn’t working for our students,” says Ben Gaines, former principal of Rancho Minerva, now working as a Summit Learning mentor helping other schools implement the program.

Scores Up, Discipline Down

Midway through Rancho Minerva’s first year with Summit, i-Ready passing rates were up and discipline rates were down. Students were on track to beat math performance goals as well. Gaines says preliminary Smarter Balanced scores show a 200 percent growth for 6th graders. (i-Ready is an adaptive math and reading assessment used by 4 million students nationwide; Smarter Balanced is a skills-based Common Core test used by 18 states).

Summit Learning students in a math class at Rancho Minerva Middle School.
Rancho Minerva 6th graders capture their math notes.

For Rancho Minerva math teacher Jessica Borah, these positive results all tie back to her students’ increased engagement and ownership with Summit Learning. Because the Summit Learning Platform allows the students to “see where they need to be,” Borah says, they’re more motivated to master content and skills.

“When they succeed, they’re really aware it’s something they did,” Borah says. “It’s not just a teacher giving them a grade.”

By embracing what Duncan calls the “productive struggle,” her kids are more engaged and more empowered. 

“It’s not easy but it’s worth it,” Duncan says. “The things you work hardest for in your life are the things you are most proud of.”

Behind the Scenes

Duncan and her journalism students captured Rancho Minerva’s personalized learning journey on film. In the above video, Duncan and her students interview students and teachers about the way Summit Learning transformed their school experiences.

After seeing gains in student achievement and engagement, Rancho Minerva is expanding the program to include all 6th and 7th graders (500 students) and half of the 8th grade class this fall. Madison Middle School, another school in the greater Vista Unified School District of which Rancho Minerva is a part, will join the program next school year as well.

This fall, we will welcome more than 200 new schools into the Summit Learning Community. The students and teachers from schools across the country are embarking on a transformational journey, one that Rancho Minerva Middle School experienced last year. This post is part of a series about current Summit Learning schools. This series will showcase Summit Learning in action and bring to life the mindshift happening in schools across our country thanks to the Summit Learning Program.

About the author

Katie McNeil
Katie is a storyteller at Summit Public Schools, shining a spotlight on inspirational stories from the Summit Learning community. She started her career in journalism, covering K-12 education in the Bronx. Katie won a feature writing award from the Education Writers Association for her higher ed coverage in Utah. Before arriving at Summit, she earned a master's degree in educational technology from Teachers College, Columbia University and a New York State teaching certification.