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

Article excerpt

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.

Fast-track reform

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.)

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 
4. Student learns               4. Teacher makes content 
5. Testing identifies gaps      5. Testing measures progress 
6. Failure is acceptable        6. Responsive instruction 
                                ensures success and 
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. …