School improvement is challenging. There are so many initiatives that administrators and teachers consider in hopes of improving student learning. And while some of these approaches may be effective many are the flavor of the month and may stir the pot without real change. To consider an effective approach to improve student learning, Demonstrated Success has embraced the principles of “Occam’s razor” – considering the simple solution to a problem. Guided by this theory, we have distilled teaching practices into three generally observed ‘simple’ truths:
1. Teachers know how to teach.
2. Teachers will teach what they think they should teach.
3. Students will learn what they are taught.
We use these basic premises to define an approach for improved student learning. The following is a summary of two schools in Portsmouth, NH and two schools in Hampton, NH where four key improvement steps led to significant student gains. These schools used PerformancePLUS, a data reporting system to monitor student progress and identify gaps in student learning. This work included repeated cycles of using a consistent protocol for teachers to review the data, identify goals, alter instruction and collect additional data. The success of this work depended on frequent administrative reviews and feedback.
The four steps that led to the success were based upon the simple truths above:
1. Teachers must securely understand what needs to be taught:
Teachers cannot succeed in helping students master desired outcomes until they have a solid understanding of the standards, including the level of rigor, skills and knowledge at their grade levels. In each of the NH schools mentioned above, teachers were often surprised to discover from the data that the gaps in student learning were due to a mismatch between what they taught and what their standards dictated. Statements like, “Wow, I did not realize we needed to teach that.” or “Those questions are more rigorous than what I have my students do.” were frequent revelations among the groups we worked with.
2. Teachers need to look at aggregate data trends as well as individual student progress to understand what students are learning (and not learning).
To understand the mismatch between what teachers believe needs to be taught versus what the standards require, it is important to look at grade level data trends over several years to discover patterns. Frequently, we find that in the same grade level students are missing the same concept year after year. While it is important to look at and attend to the needs of every individual student, it is also important to look at the group over time to find patterns.
3. There needs to be a consistent and well-defined process that teacher teams use collaboratively and with fidelity.
This work is not a one-time task. Teacher teams must use a consistent approach and come together regularly as part of their defined teaching roles. This includes establishing personal and group accountability through explicit goal setting for student achievement. In these successful schools, collaborative teaching teams used common teacher-
developed curriculum and standards-aligned assessments (in addition to state and national assessments) to continuously reflect on student learning of priority targets. One or two targets became the focus in discreet cycles of pre- and post-testing so that progress is clear and measurable.
4. The processes must be teacher-driven and strongly supported and overseen by the principal/administrator.
To ensure that teams meet consistently, dissect their data rigorously, set
measurable goals and make notable changes in response to data, their
administrators must be champions of this work. The processes must include ongoing review by administrators of data-team observations, team-developed assessments, team goals, action steps, and outcomes. Team reports and meeting notes must be reviewed by administration and feedback and guidance should be abundant. Accountability is critical.
And, the results are real.
In the examples below, these schools used PerformancePLUS to monitor student progress and identify gaps in student learning. They engaged in the rigorous data process described above with outstanding results.
In 2006 New Franklin Elementary ranked 276 out of 378 schools in New Hampshire as measured by the math state assessment. Its student body was comprised of 30% children from low income households. Now, due to their rigorous focus on using data, New Franklin School is among the top performers in the state.
New Franklin Elementary: In 2006, the principal launched a program to improve math results.
Dondero Elementary: A similar program was launched in 2015 to reverse falling test scores.
Marston School: A similar program was launched in 2016 to reverse falling test scores.
Hampton Academy: A similar program was launched in 2016 to reverse falling test scores.