Higher Achievement for All

Rationale/Basis of the Practice

North School's Growth Academic Performance Index (API) of 980 in 2013 is extremely high. However, every year a small percentage of students do not meet state standards and/or district benchmarks. North School does not accept the premise that high achievement for most is good enough--it must be high achievement for all. Furthermore, while raising the academic performance of any student not meeting state standards and/or district benchmarks is critical, it is also essential that all students improve and maximize their academic achievement.

To meet this need, North adopted a reiterative process: gather school-wide, grade-level, classroom, and student-specificdata (demographic, assessment, anecdotal); analyze data; make school-wide, grade-level, classroom, and student-specific decisions; implement those decisions; collect new data to examine results; and then cycle back again to make new decisions. The California Standards Tests (CSTs) results prior to 2007 indicated that while students generally received high scores, a percentage continued to score within the Basic/Below Basic/Far Below Basic performance bands each year, indicating they had not met state standards.

Creating an embedded culture of high achievement for all through assessment, review, and modification as needed has been years in the making. Dating back as early as 1996, the principal and teachers at North School participated in the Bay Area School Reform Collaborative (BASRC) where they learned to examine data as both a reflection of student achievement and a window into teacher practice. This leadership team found or created a series of screening tools to measure skill acquisition in literacy, trained all teachers to deliver research-based literacy instruction, and measured the results. In June of 2007, the Leadership Team attended DataWise, a Harvard Graduate School of Education conference, and learned new ways to present, use, and discuss data to effect increased achievement. A school-wide commitment was made to an explicit set of practices to meet the needs of every student, not only those who were struggling academically, socially, or emotionally, but also those meeting or exceeding state standards and/or local benchmarks.

Despite reviewing district data and creating detailed lists of students with specific deficits, some students were still not meeting state or district standards. The goal was to raise achievement for all students. Teachers and specialists developed a series of interventions, implemented them, monitored student performance, and modified strategies accordingly. North staff’s strategy and intervention development is ongoing. The results continue to be impressive!

Description of the Practice

Assessment, data gathering and analysis begins at the start of the school year and continues throughout the year.Before the first staff development day, the principal and data advisor meet to review the previous year’s test data in reading, writing, mathematics, and science. They develop a series of colorful, visually compelling graphs to illustrate school-wide and grade-wide areas of relative strength and weakness over time. Additionally, Kindergarten and 1st grade teachers analyze the results of their late summer screening of incoming students. These analyses open a dialogue among the staff to establish a direction for school-wide improvement. Using the data at each grade level, teachers, principal, specialists and counselor identify grade-level goals. Later, at the classroom level, the data is analyzed to develop a list of students not proficient in language arts and/or mathematics, to identify students who may be proficient overall but not proficient in one or more of the sub-strands, and to determine the high-achieving students who will need further academic challenges.

The next step in the practice is universal (school-wide) screening with four formal assessment periods (August-September, November, March, and May). Screenings for Kindergarten and 1st grade students include the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) system, in which important pre-reading and reading skills are assessed to determine who might be at risk for reading failure. Additionally, teacher-created district assessments are administered to establish baseline data for discrete reading skills. For students in grades 2-5, the screening includes fluency testing using passages from the DIBELS system, reading comprehension tests using the Comprehensive Assessment of Reading Strategies (CARS®), and in grades 2-3, decoding tests. Students also take a standards-based math test each trimester. Additionally, math fact fluency is measured at least three times a year.

Within the first month of school, the principal begins a series of three yearly Response to Instruction and Intervention (RtI2) meetings with each classroom teacher to analyze existing data and the academic, social, and behavioral progress of each student in the class. For students determined to be at risk of not meeting year-end benchmarks, the teacher develops a written plan to provide for each child’s needs. If students have already met year-end benchmarks, the teacher designs classroom learning experiences for extension, enrichment, and challenge. The process of looking at every child in detail provides each teacher with a clear overview of his or her class and an individual profile of each student. RtI2 meetings are then held at the Trimester 1 and 2 data collection points. Teachers provide written evidence to the principal of interventions used and student achievement/or lack thereof. If the teacher needs further input or support, a group or individual SOS (staff only session) is scheduled so that the teacher, principal, resource specialist and/or counselor and other specialists can discuss additional strategies. Again, upon review, the teacher/principal may decide to schedule a CST (Child Study Team) meeting in order to inform the parent of the child’s needs and to develop a further series of home-school interventions. CST meetings may be held to address gifted, EL, or social/behavioral needs.

Also within the first month of school, parents complete a questionnaire reflecting upon their child’s learning and achievement. Students complete a questionnaire and/or conference with teachers regarding their personal goals. Teachers meet with parents and students (if grade-level appropriate), to co-develop aPersonalized Education Plan (PEP) for each student. The PEP report highlights the student’s strengths and areas needing improvement, reports formative screening results, sets academic and/or behavioral goals specific to each student’s needs, and establishes responsibilities for the student, teacher, and the parents. Academic goals are standards-based, and all goals (academic, behavioral, and social) are measurable. Driven by data, PEP goals are revised and rewritten as students achieve goals or attain specific benchmarks.

The use of data to inform instruction has evolved over time. Screening instruments have changed, moving from almost entirely teacher-created assessments towards evidence-based assessments such as DIBELS. Benchmark scores have increased as student performance has improved. Data is now displayed in different ways at different times, as North seeks to find the most effective means to provide not just information that audits student achievement, but information that leads to instructional change. Teachers have become far more proficient over time with determining the need for instructional changes/interventions and will often employ them simply as a best practice rather than as a result of a group discussion. However, the staff is in constant “research-mode”, attempting to identify new interventions or create effective strategies. The cyclical process of analyzing data, making decisions based upon the data, and reviewing the results in order to make new decisions, has become embedded within the school culture. District practices, such as published district goals and standards-based report cards, and state requirements, such as Single Plan goal development, are aligned with North’s practice.

Close examination of student data is the first step towards development of either class-wide or student specific interventions. Students requiring remediation in reading use Lexia Core5, an online program with individualized set of interventions, which can be accessed both at school and home. Students with fluency needs may be given an in-school and home fluency practice program. Reading comprehension problems are analyzed using twelve specific reading strands (e.g., main idea and details, sequence) and supplementary work is provided in the needed area or areas. North’s reading teacher provides additional support for students who are struggling significantly, and are not in Special Education. For students with math needs, examination of the data often reveals the specific math strand in which the student is struggling and/or whether or not math facts or calculation skills are concerns, and interventions are designed accordingly. North uses several online programs (i.e., IXL, xtramath.com, EM games) to differentiate instruction for remediation.

Students who require more support to fully attend to learning are supported with incentive plans that provide visual and other reinforcements for exhibiting desired behaviors. Teachers often use flexible grouping to remediate a weakness or offer additional challenge. Intervention strategies might also include modified assignments, or multi-modal instructions, pairing visual with verbal information. Students receiving RtItier 3 support receive intensive, often one-on-one, instruction from a specialist and frequent meetings are held to discuss and monitor each student’s progress.

All students requiring enrichment and/or acceleration in language arts have access to a reading incentive software program, Accelerated Reader, which monitors students reading comprehension and vocabulary knowledge as the books increase in difficulty. Students looking for a challenge in math are given access to online programs (i.e., IXL, Khan Academy, etc.) that provide students in-school and home enrichment options. Two other venues onsite includea lunch club called STAR Math, which gives students additional opportunities for critical thinking and logic skills practice. Some students have the opportunity to be challenged by Destination Imagination, an enrichment project offered by North’s Innovation Lab teacher. The philosophy at North School is that each student is provided with whatever he or she needs to maximize her or her success. It is all about equity!

Results of the Practice

This system of assessment, review, constant monitoring, and modification as needed is the heart of North’s determination to ensure higher achievement for all. Collaboration is critical to this process. Grade level teams meet often to examine curriculum and discuss strategies and interventions to meet specific skill and student needs. Occurring biweekly during the school day, these meetings are made possible by block scheduling physical education, music, and library classes. In addition, site meetings and district grade-level meetings on early dismissal Thursdays and staff development days afford teachers opportunities to analyze data, focus on student performance, and strategize best practices.

All student data is available using a district-wide Student Profile system that provides teachers and specialists with instant access to current student performance information and academic history and allows them to create individual, group, and class profiles. The principal, teachers, and specialists can use the district data base to track each student’s progress towards attaining his or her PEP goals, and meeting district benchmarks, and state standards. North School’s Student Profile folders include specially designed RtIspreadsheets with the additional data that North collects and a yearly history of interventions specific to the student.

The results of this reiterative process have been extremely positive. Years ago, there had been perhaps an unspoken feeling among the staff that there would “always” be students who would not be able to meet state standards or that once a student attained Proficient on the CST, that performance band was good enough. Based upon the improvement that has been seen, these perceptions no longer exist! CST results in English Language Arts in 2007 showed 65% of North students scored in the Advanced performance band, 25% in the Proficient band, and 10% scored in the Basic band. Last spring, 75% of North students scored in the Advanced performance band, 20% in Proficient, and 5% scored in the Basic band or lower.

Another way of measuring all-school progress is to examine the mean scale scores in both ELA and mathematics. As seen below, there has been an increase in the mean scale scores (with some inherent variability) in both areas in all grades over the past 6 years. North’s math scores have historically been extremely strong. We are particularly pleased with the all-school ELA improvement.


Additional outcomes of the school focus on data and analysis are found in science achievement.

North School continues to strive for the goal of raising achievement for all students. As new student needs arise, systems can always be improved, benchmarks increased, and more effective strategies employed. School resources are increasingly being directed to “incorporate technology as a key component of teaching, learning and assessment, and support high levels of literacy and bi-literacy to prepare students for the globalized society they are entering.” (A Blueprint for Great Schools, 2011). North’s next steps include the switch to the Common Core curriculum and a new testing system. This has already led, for

example, to a re-examination of teaching strategies and to the adoption of a home-school keyboarding practice program, to better enable students to demonstrate deeper understanding of the curriculum and to more easily participate in the testing process.