Grade Level Teams: Key to Equity & Excellence: The Academic Conference Model Works to Accelerate Achievement and Create an Educational Process at Each Grade Level That Is Responsive, Intentional and Targeted
Karns, Michelle, Leadership
The future of public education for economically disadvantaged children rests in the hands of the teachers and administrators who can accelerate achievement for any student group. This is a daunting and complex task, necessitated by years of systemic neglect of urban schools serving students impacted by poverty, language acquisition needs and too few educated adult role models.
Schools have been allowed to excuse low academic performance as a consequence of the students' home environments, family structures, first languages and life experiences. The schools of the immediate future will be held responsible for educating all children in spite of their current circumstances, prior knowledge or levels of performance.
The '90s thrust for accountability (measurement of the system's success) and standardized assessment (measurement of the student's ability to meet predetermined standards) shapes how urban schools serving children impacted by poverty currently operate. The data gleaned from accountability and assessment processes created an emphasis on academic achievement, content performance standards and strategic instruction aligned to grade level objectives.
Clearly, best gains in achievement are made when the taught curriculum is aligned with the tested curriculum and organized by the written content standards. However, the rate of achievement engendered by these changes in accountability and assessment has put schools on the slow track for reform.
Accelerating achievement for every child has become the mantra driving school reform in this millennium. To accept this challenge, schools must embrace equity--all students performing equally well, and excellence--all students at or above the norm. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 makes equity and excellence a legal obligation of America's public schools.
Faculties need to develop the capacity to individualize learning plans for every child. Structures and practices must be put in place to accommodate personally tailored learning plans and to provide frequent monitoring of student progress, resulting in timely interventions. These structures must replace those that led to the faulty thinking and practices that "one size fits all" can work in diverse learning communities. (The shifts that can accelerate achievement are in the box.)
ACCELERATE ACHIEVEMENT BY SHIFTING FROM ... TO ... 1. Schools are set up for 1. Grade level standards must middle class success be accessible to every child 2. Teacher is responsible for 2. Teacher belongs to grade classroom level team and serves all students at grade level 3. Whole class instruction is 3. Differentiated and flexible norm; teacher talks groupings are vital; students discover 4. Student learns 4. Teacher makes content comprehensible 5. Testing identifies gaps 5. Testing measures progress 6. Failure is acceptable 6. Responsive instruction ensures success and achievement 7. Content is curriculum- 7. Intentional instructional driven targeting is standards-driven 8. Data is summative 8. Frequent assessment documents progress
Developing a new model
Making these changes at Oak Ridge Elementary School in Sacramento led to the development of a process-oriented model to help schools monitor the academic progress of every child. Oak Ridge serves students who represented multiple cultures and languages and lived in chronic poverty. The school had not been successful in meeting academic targets in many years. The parent community was disenfranchised and had little to no effective advocacy for their children's educational needs. Five principals were unsuccessful in the last 10 years. No one could impact the spiraling downward turn.
At the beginning of the 1999 school year, a first-year principal, Aida Molina, was assigned to the failing school. Many thought this decision would perpetuate the cycle of despair and poor performance. She surprised everyone! Armed with Mike Schmoker's RESULTS research and a lifetime's worth of passion for children, Molina developed the critical pathway that led to the methods that have become a means to provide an individual learning plan for every child within any school. These methods became the Academic Conference, a process that can take every school into the future and meet the needs of every child.
The Academic Conference relies on the tenet of teacher power; teachers DO have the ability to impact and change student behavior and performance. This belief anchored all of the methods underpinning the Academic Conference. Site teachers had to believe that they had the resources and abilities to teach every child in spite of current levels of performance.
As a staff, excuses had to be reliuquished and replaced with the understanding that together, they could accept the challenge that every child could make significant academic progress in the course of one year. Faith in the children's ability, to learn and faith in the power of "team" becomes the mantra of the staff. "We can!" shaped all interactions.
The Academic Conference develops an individual lesson plan for each student so that their educational process becomes responsive, intentional and targeted at every grade level in their academic career.
Four discrete activities must be orchestrated as the foundation of the Academic Conference process: develop consensus; mange team relationships; frame grade level expectations in alignment with the standards; and define grade level teams as the unit of effort responsible to facilitate student learning and constant progress.
1. Develop consensus
The faculty must reach consensus that every student can make significant academic progress. While consensus is needed, varying levels of commitment should be expected. In the adoption of any idea, people make agreements according to their personal mindset and maps of what that agreement entails. Joyce and Showers (1995) report that responses to new ideas and programs can be forecasted as follows.
* The "passionate receivers" comprise 10 percent of a given group. They represent the people for whom the idea or program is a heartfelt and compelling commitment. Passionate receivers will become the backbone of the process, and will partner with the leader to ensure that the program is well implemented.
* The "active receivers" also represent approximately 10 percent of a given group. They, however, are motivated to commit because the project makes sense, it has merit and will withstand close scrutiny and observation. The active receivers require an empirical base and will require access to the research and expert sources.
* The "passive receivers," a 70 percent majority in any given group, will require leadership insistence to make the commitment, support to sustain the process, and regular re-focusing of effort. While this group is the largest, it is also the most malleable. Staff in this category want direction and meaningful work. They are less likely to create the path and more likely to follow. Charismatic leadership helps motivate this cohort of a given faculty.
* The "reluctant receivers" are not likely to engage in the program. They will vote and make agreements without intention to participate in the actual process. They often want to take credit for positive outcomes but seldom contribute.
2. Manage the relationships
Once consensus is established, relationships must be structured to ensure optimal functioning and commitment to goals. Educators need to develop the cognitive curiosity and capacity to build intellectual capital and the commitment to foster relationship capital. Together, intellectual and relationship capital become the resources from which teachers can draw; a reserve energy source. When relationships are poorly managed, burnout and frustration can over whelm the system's commitment to succeed. Burnout simply occurs when the demands or pressures in a system are greater than the resources currently available.
3. Frame grade level expectations
Grade level expectations must be in alignment with the state standards, and content-specific objectives must be outlined by the testing company providing the statewide assessment services. Make the standards into grade level checklists that the teacher can share and explain to the children. This process can be called "kidifying" the standards. The students must participate meaningfully in the acceptance of the standards as goals for the academic year. Agreements and goals are developed for the grade level, the classroom and individual students. The goals create energy for change.
After the students develop an understanding of what is expected, regular Student Academic Conferences are held every four to six weeks. The Student Academic Conferences are one-to-one meetings with students to review current academic status in light of grade level standards, target improvement and make agreements for performance. The typical SAC takes just three minutes to conduct, yet yields substantial long-term achievement benefits.
4. Define grade level teams and leaders
The grade level teachers must function as the team responsible for facilitating student learning and constant progress. The team concept requires teachers to shift the paradigm from the teacher being responsible for a classroom of students to a team of teachers responsible for all students in a grade level. The message becomes, "These are the students and grade level standards I am obligated to teach" and "together we can make it happen."
Each grade level team requires a team leader who is well organized and respected by other team members. To do this well, principals must empower the team leaders, build consensus prior to the staff meeting, and use staff meetings to find solutions rather than discuss problems.
Implementing the Academic Conference
Data analysis is the next task in implementing the Academic Conference. It requires each individual teacher to plot his or her current classroom students in bands, based on reading, language arts and math standardized scores for the prior grade level (see chart below). Each teacher maps the students and then a collective chart is made for the entire grade level team.
It is important that the individual teachers prepare this initial chart. This will help ensure that every teacher has full knowledge and understanding of each student's current level of performance as measured by standardized assessments.
After the assessment of the students in each baud, place each student in the appropriate ethnic subgroup (see chart at right). Do all students perform equally? Who are outliers? Check with grade level teachers and compare subgroups. Are there trends that must be addressed?
Now that the data has been completed by classroom, combine all grade levels and plot the students in the appropriate bands.
Look for trends, patterns and outliers. Use the following questions as a guide.
1. What does the data say about student achievement?
2. What does the data say about instruction?
* How close is your class to meeting the grade level/teacher goal?
* How many students are performing at mastery?
* How will you use the data to improve instruction?
* What specific strategies will you use to monitor instruction during the next six weeks?
3. What are some of the challenges the team faces?
4. What resources will you need?
5. How do your English learner students compare to English only students?
6. How do your sub-groups compare to English only students?
7. How do your sub-groups compare to each other?
Weekly grade level team meetings institutionalize feedback, planning and reflection. The grade level team discusses the effectiveness of the instructional delivery, targets students needing help or support, and plans for upcoming lessons. The team leader facilitates the process. Each teacher comes prepared to discuss a target student in each of the five bands. The grade level team leader asks each teacher to present the most current data regarding reading comprehension, fluency, vocabulary, writing, math computation and problem solving. The weekly meeting goal is to determine what it would take to help every student succeed.
Using these tools, instructional targets emerge. The targets may be specific to a band of students, a content area or a classroom. To fully understand the data, teachers must comprehend the importance of background knowledge, differentiation and flexible groupings, vocabulary building and fluency as well as strategies that will hone comprehension. Each of these skill areas fosters accelerated achievement.
Often, the child's social and emotional circumstances need to be examined to find the root cause of the current learning problem. The most common home circumstances creating difficulty for children in school are:
1. Children living in chaos due to poverty, drug or alcohol use, homelessness or poor parenting seldom have the skills necessary to build good study habits. The greater the uncertainty in the home environment, the more likely children will have problems at school.
2. If the child has moved more than three times during his or her K-3 career, the likelihood of school problems are very high.
3. When children have poor instruction at a given grade level, performance typically decreases throughout the year, resulting in students leaving the grade level with less ability.
4. When children regularly witness violent and aggressive acts, they have problems managing the demands of school.
5. The longer a child feels as though life is out of his control, the more problematic school behavior tends to become.
Resiliency research underscores that many children will survive adversity if they have developed adequate and pro social coping strategies while connected to caring and nurturing adults. For many urban poor children, school is the only pro-social environment in their lives. School staff can mitigate and mediate the problematic conditions interrupting school performance. Children are best able to overcome the odds created by home conditions when they are connected to positive actions that foster responsibility and personal control. The Academic Conference helps teams brainstorm ways to help students confronted by difficult circumstances.
Facilitating the Academic Conference process
Having analyzed the data, facilitated grade level team meetings and considered instructional needs of students, the school site has laid the groundwork to facilitate its first Academic Conference. The Academic Conference is an in-depth grade level team meeting held every eight to 12 weeks where every student's progress is reviewed. A grade level action plan is developed to guide the grade level team.
The Academic Conference process includes the following tasks.
1. Every eight to 12 weeks, or after a regular assessment period, the entire grade level team and support staff meets with the principal to discuss student progress.
2. Each student is placed in the quintile "band" that best represents his or her current level of performance.
3. All teachers bring their most current assessment data for their classrooms and chart the information. The classroom teacher tells every student's "story" to the grade level team.
4. Teachers collectively examine the data and ask the question, "What does it tells us about the student's current level of performance and our effectiveness in delivery, of instruction?" Comprehension, fluency, vocabulary, writing, math computation and problem solving are evaluated in the context of individual performance.
5. From the discussion, grade level targets are established and an action plan for the next eight to 12 weeks is drafted.
A school committed to accelerated progress will invest in building the relationships to support student achievement. Repeatedly, the Academic Conference has helped low performing schools meet their API, close achievement gaps between subgroups and develop a culture of achievement in schools impacted by poverty and adversity. The Academic Conference can create the foundation to educate every child, leaving no one behind.
Overview of Student Performance GRADE: -- Teacher: -- TOTAL READING TOTAL LANGUAGE TOTAL MATH 80% and above Advanced 60%-79% Proficient 40%-59% Basic 20%-39% Below Basic 0-19% Far Below Basic Monitoring Subgroups GRADE: -- Teacher: -- African Asian Hispanic White Lower income American 80% and above 60%-79% 40%-59% 20%-39% 0-19% 1. Place student name in band. 2. Count and assign percentages in each subgroup. 3. Look for trends and patterns. 4. Determine a plan of action. GRADE LEVEL TEAM MEETINGS ACADEMIC CONFERENCES Facilitated by the grade level Facilitated by the principal team leader Focus on individual child Assess grade level progress progress Target 12-15 students Target entire grade level Look for gaps in weekly Evaluate the entire assessment instruction based on most period and check to assure that current assessment data the instructional objectives have been met in alignment with the standards Discuss children in terms of Focus on total child including their weekly performance all in-depth discussion of social and emotional issues that may be impeding progress Establish weekly goals Establish assessment period (eight to 12 weeks) goals Plan lessons for the next Determine standards-based instructional week instructional targets for the next six to nine weeks Determine strategies for the Identify resources and needs for next week the next six to nine weeks
Michelle Karns is an author and a school improvement consultant. Aida Molina is principal of Jefferson Elementary School in Bakersfield.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Grade Level Teams: Key to Equity & Excellence: The Academic Conference Model Works to Accelerate Achievement and Create an Educational Process at Each Grade Level That Is Responsive, Intentional and Targeted. Contributors: Karns, Michelle - Author. Magazine title: Leadership. Volume: 32. Issue: 2 Publication date: November-December 2002. Page number: 28+. © 2009 Association of California School Administrators. COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group.
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