Magazine article Leadership

How Differentiated Instruction Helps Struggling Students: This School's Reorganization to Support Differentiated Instruction Has Resulted in a Remarkable Improvement in Student Performance Levels

Magazine article Leadership

How Differentiated Instruction Helps Struggling Students: This School's Reorganization to Support Differentiated Instruction Has Resulted in a Remarkable Improvement in Student Performance Levels

Article excerpt

Given dismal achievement results, Holland Elementary School in the Fresno Unified School District was determined to improve. Six years ago, in the statewide and similar schools listing, the school ranked 1 and 1. This is not where this experienced, dedicated staff wanted to be. Undaunted by a poverty rate of almost 90 percent, with 25 percent English learners, and armed with the core value that their students could and would learn the content standards, school staff set to work.

Under the instructional leadership of their newly assigned principal and through their schoolwide and grade-level professional learning teams, they decided to address their students' diverse learning needs through differentiated instruction. They were confident that this best practice would lead students to success.

They were right to choose differentiated instruction to meet the learning needs of struggling students. Current achievement results show the school's rankings have moved to 6 and 10. Holland's API scores have increased steadily. AYP targets have been met for all students and all numerically significant subgroups for the past three years in language arts and math.

There has been a significant decline in student discipline referrals, teacher morale is higher, and remarkable improvement has been made in students' reading, writing and math performance levels.

Holland's structural change

In April 2006 Holland received the California Distinguished Schools Award. In addition to the progress that has been made relative to state indicators, Holland is now eligible for the federal Title 1 Achievement Award.

What is Holland doing to accelerate learning? Essentially, positive outcomes were accomplished through examination and alignment of three major systems in the school to support differentiation and a consistent focus on improved student learning. Methodically, staff reviewed these three systems--the school's academic delivery structure, professional development and human/financial resource allocation.

For students to learn grade-level content standards and for the school to provide the necessary additional instruction, support and time, "out of the box" grouping solutions were needed. Hence, Holland clearly defined a K-6 continuum of interventions for its students based on what the data was telling them. In this process, they used:

1. School and disaggregated subgroup data;

2. The California Standards Test and California English Language Development Test results and proficiency level descriptions; and

3. Grouping descriptions identified in the reading/language arts framework (intensive, strategic, benchmark and advanced). This definition also clarified the appropriateness of whole-group and small-group instruction, with an emphasis on flexibility.

Thus, a new system of instructional delivery evolved.

Next, they decided that differentiated interventions through deployment would be provided within core instruction and within the school day by grade level, across grade levels and by curricular area. Deployment is the practice of students moving in small, flexible, short-term progress groups to a teacher who provides specific instruction to meet their learning needs. This has been implemented by grade-level teacher teams over time.

Now, observation reveals a combination of fluid and flexible groupings at all grades through requisite assessment and continuous progress monitoring. These assessments identify students who need added support and continually inform teacher practice.

Holland staff recognized that good first teaching is vital and direct instruction should be provided by expert teachers. Thus, they launched an "intervention-prevention team" of extra support teachers to work alongside regular classroom teachers to target instruction with precise strategies. Accordingly, this cohesive team teaches small groups of children in various instructional configurations depending on student need, curricular area and grade level. …

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