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«Case Study 1 Small Charter High School, Mediocre Results R.I.G.H.T. for Success High School The R.I.G.H.T. for Success High School (Responsibility, ...»

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Case Study 1

Small Charter High School, Mediocre Results

R.I.G.H.T. for Success High School

The R.I.G.H.T. for Success High School (Responsibility, Integrity, Generosity,

Humility, Teamwork for Success) opened four years ago, and its first graduating class is set

to go off to college. Jonah Levinson, the founder and principal, has decided it is time for

him to move on. A former Teach for America teacher, economics major, and ninth grade

math teacher, he was the main designer of the school, including its academic assessment series. After a rigorous nationwide search, you have just been appointed the principal who will take Levinson’s place. You collect the following information about the school from the school’s website, the principal’s annual report to his school board, and an interview with the principal.

The R.I.G.H.T. for Success High School enrollment is currently limited to 200 students (50 in each grade), due to building capacity. Every Friday the students, staff, administrators, and parents of the school gather in the gymnasium to celebrate their accomplishments. Focused on building community traditions and a sense of pride, these weekly celebrations honor students for meeting academic goals or providing a positive influence in the community. School faculty and parents are often commended as well, for the guidance and support offered to the students and for their efforts to go beyond the classroom textbook to truly provide an education to the students.

In addition to stating an emphasis on high academic expectations (all students enroll in AP level classes and take the AP Exams; all ninth grade students take the PSAT; all eleventh grade students take both the SAT and ACT—exam fees and tutoring sessions are paid for by a generous and anonymous community activist), R.I.G.H.T. for Success High School places a unique emphasis on building positive character and attitudes in its students.

Two full-time “Advancement Coaches” work with the students and their families to prepare for college, in line with the school’s goal that 100% of students will graduate and enter either a two- or four-year college. As part of the preparation, the Advancement

Coaches keep track of student performance on several measures of academic readiness:

PSAT, ACT, and SAT, and individual student portfolios. These portfolios include the following at each grade level: a series of four practice PSAT/ACT/SAT tests; six subjectbased interim assessments created by the faculty and administered every six weeks; semester exams for every class; and an essay creation/oral defense for all seniors. The essay/oral defense must focus on how the students have used/plan to use their academic knowledge in their larger community. During Defense Week, parents, business leaders, local politicians, and civic/community leaders attend as a participative audience (an audience allowed to question/critique the statements of the presenter) for the students.

While Levinson proudly touts the success of getting the first graduating class into college, you note that over half of the students are only being accepted at the local community college that has no admissions criteria, and only 20% are enrolling in four-year colleges. Moreover, as you look at that year’s assessment data, only 45% of the students were proficient on the state test (well below the statewide average and only marginally higher than other neighborhood high schools), and few achieved a score of 1000/1500 on the SAT.

No one passed the AP exams.

You schedule a visit of the school in the last month of the school year in preparation for assuming leadership the following year. During that visit, you gain the following

additional information:

1. The original ninth grade students were years below grade level, especially in math and reading. On a pre-test the class average grade equivalent was 6.5 in Math and

7.0 in reading. While teachers still adhered to four practice PSAT/SAT/ACT exams each year, they had also begun using middle school level text books and workbooks to help students get up to speed.

2. In leading the teachers in designing their own interim assessments, Levinson had the national standards for Reading (National Reading Panel) and Math. Teachers designed Math assessments using the NCTM focal points, but they noted that there were large discrepancies in content and rigor between their interim assessments and both the state tests and SAT/ACT. Levinson was proposing an additional screening tool for each cadre for your first year as principal, and he suggested that you add a commercially created assessment that was aligned to the state test.

3. Levinson had worried that involving all teachers in academics, the Friday Celebrations, college preparation, and tutoring was stretching them too thinly. To address this issue, he removed all tutoring and SAT Prep responsibilities from the teachers and hired a set of college students to lead those sessions in the afternoon.

Teachers were excited about this change.

4. The data reports on each cohort of students were extensive: you had results reports for each test, performance descriptions, wrong answer analysis generated by a computer-based program, and lengthy data reports with standard-level analysis.

Teachers meticulously filed each of these reports in individual student file folders that were housed in the Main Office. When you asked the teachers how students were doing academically, they showed you all the reports in the file. When you asked them what they did with that information, they said it was useful to know where the students stood. A few teachers mentioned that it influenced their thinking about lesson planning. Most said that they were important for helping the Advancement Coaches identify proper post-secondary options for each student.

5. Due to the quantity and frequency of assessments, it took some time for the scanning program and computer equipment to generate reports. Most often it took a week or more to scan and return student’s classroom exams—some teachers never returned the semester exams.

Even with the strain on their teaching responsibilities, teachers at R.I.G.H.T. were committed to the school’s mission and felt good (if not thrilled) about their initial results.

The parents and community members were very supportive, and the summer professional development calendar for the following year included time for an academic retreat, curriculum planning, and assessment realignment.

Case Study 2 Medium-sized District K-8 School, Failing School Johnson K-8 Community School You have been selected to lead the Johnson K-8 Community School, effective July 1,

2008. Fifty percent of the students at Johnson K-8 were identified as special needs and 95% participate in the Free/Reduced Lunch Program. Seventy percent are English Language Learners (the majority are from Spanish-speaking nations, but there are several small groups of students from Nigeria, Chad, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe, as well as 10 students from the Czech Republic).

Due to repeated poor performance on the annual state test, Johnson K-8 is identified as “Year 4/Corrective Action.” Reading scores are regularly the lowest in the district: the recent (2008) eighth grade assessment recorded 4% of students at the state proficiency target and earned the school a spot as the lowest eighth grade performance in the state. The enrolled students will take the 2009 state test, and according to district contracts, student performance is calculated in the administrative evaluation and bonus structure.

Originally opened in 1974 as an elementary school serving kindergarten through sixth grade, the school merged in 1996 with a neighboring middle school due to declining

enrollment. The school now serves 446 students, organized into three divisions:

1. The Primary Division a. 30 kindergarten students i. 1 Teacher plus a half-day teacher assistant ii. Children are enrolled in a full day program b. 70 students enrolled in both first and second grade i. Each grade has three classes ii. Each grade level has one full-time assistant

2. The Intermediate Division a. Third, fourth, and fifth grades with 60 students in each grade level b. Two classes of 30 students in each grade level c. In each grade, one teacher is responsible for math/science and the other teacher is responsible for literacy/social studies

3. The Upper Division a. Sixth through eighth grades; each grade has 32 students.

b. Students rotate between content-specific teachers (LA, math, science, social studies

4. Instructional Support a. Director of staff development b. Half-time reading specialist c. Half-time special education aide for intermediate and upper divisions d. Half-time computer education teacher Walter Lockhart, a 36-year school district veteran and current director of staff development, has acted as interim principal since November, when Marcia Myles resigned after two years as principal. Her resignation was requested by the school board after months of repeated parental and community demonstrations against the lack of supervision that resulted in playground fights, disorderly classrooms, middle school students frequently leaving the building to walk to the neighborhood park (a half mile away), and three separate incidents in which a student was injured crossing the street at dismissal with no adult supervision.

While safety and supervision have ignited the public discontent, Lockhart first developed and implemented new supervision/duty schedules for the staff. He then attempted to refocus the staff on teaching and learning. As director of staff development, he believed in empowering already knowledgeable teachers to reach and transform students’ lives. Abiding to union regulations, Lockhart designed a schedule that provided for a series of professional development sessions every Tuesday during school and every Thursday for an hour after school. Lockhart shared important administrative and facility updates via email, written memos placed on teacher desks each Monday morning, and announcements during lunch periods in the cafeteria. His first focus area was conflict resolution (in the hopes that the guidance counselor would start a mediation or conflict resolution program).

The second focus for staff development was a concerted effort to increase the staff’s awareness of the districtwide interim assessment program. The series of professional

development that he launched (and district office staff led) was as follows:

Faculty pep rallies about the importance of assessment at the beginning of the year and right before state tests Analysis of last year’s state test results at the beginning of the year: faculty noted areas of weakness (the degree of specificity of the state reports allowed them to identify needs such as problem solving, critical reading, etc.) Development of professional learning communities: workshops showing the effectiveness of professional learning communities; Tuesdays then became time for teachers to meet in grade-level teams and discuss their progress with the students (these meetings were led independently by designated teachers who each designed their own agendas for the meetings) Development of standards-based classroom assessments based on the state standards Analysis of the state-mandated interim assessment data Even though the district had used interim assessments for the previous five years, it was clear that few if any of the staff at Johnson K-8 had ever logged into the program.

Seven veteran teachers met with Lockhart every day after school for two weeks in December, and they admitted to not using the system, since all the data showed was that the kids scored low. “We see that every spring on the state test,” said one teacher. “We don’t need to see low scores four more times during the year—it’s just depressing.” The teachers went on to complain that the various reports were confusing, difficult to read, and that many of the younger teachers simply did not have enough experience to deal with such lowperforming students. When you met with Lockhart, he told you how he always responded to these critiques by emphasizing that the assessments were aligned to the state’s academic standards, that small groups of teachers from all grades and subjects were invited to review the assessments before publication (his teachers weren’t invited because of the school’s performance), and that the content adequately reflected the topics and difficulty that the students would encounter on the annual test.

Case Study 3 Medium-sized District K-5 School, Average Results Kincaid Elementary School You have just accepted the position of principal at Kincaid Elementary School, a school with 350 students (approximate 60 per grade level). The following information is provided by the regional superintendent to familiarize you with school essentials.

In the lobby of Kincaid Elementary School, a 1964 traditional brick building, the bulletin boards are reserved for charts and graphs of students’ academic success. According to the recently posted chart, nearly 64% of Kincaid’s third to fifth grade students performed in the “Basic” category on last year’s state reading assessment (up from 61% the previous year). In mathematics, the school has experienced a plateau, with third through fifth grade students scoring 47% “Basic” each of the last three years.

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