Magazine article Momentum

Cristo Rey Schools Collaborate to Benefit Students

Magazine article Momentum

Cristo Rey Schools Collaborate to Benefit Students

Article excerpt

All network schools agree to follow a standards-based, college-ready curriculum

Collaboration. ..it's an overused word in the educational lexicon. But when it occurs in an organized, focused, sustained manner to benefit students, it works.

The Catholic, college-preparatory high schools in the Cristo Rey Network have been collaborating with educators within each school and among the 25 schools across the nation to produce better student learning results. Cristo Rey schools began to harness the potential of the national network when, three summers ago, principals and teachers from seven schools gathered to begin the design of a rigorous, standards-based, college-ready curriculum. Our first task upon convening, to come to consensus on a measurable goal for college readiness, resulted in a clear aspiration that now serves as the foundation of our efforts: All students will graduate from high school and college. Collaboration has been the vehicle of our early successes at moving closer toward this goal of college readiness for every student.

Agreeing to develop a core collegeready curriculum, to include four years of math and science for every student, teacher teams used the work of David Conley (2003, 2007) and Robert Marzano (Marzano and Heystead, 2008) to guide their design. After field testing the rigorous curriculum for a year and examining results from an initial assessment of student learning, the team gathered again to refine the common curriculum, taking into account teacher feedback and the newly released Common Core State Standards. They continued the process of refining the curriculum and end-of-course assessments, with the three-year process of designing, fieldtesting and refining resulting in 22 common college-ready core curricula and assessments that serve to prepare students for the rigor and complexity of college learning. Teachers continue to collaborate on implementing the curriculum with fidelity through the sharing of annual pacing plans and units designed through Wiggins and McTighe's "Understanding by Design" (2005) process.

Using Assessment Tools

Three years ago, after studying several measures of college readiness, all Cristo Rey principals agreed to incorporate ACT's College and Career Readiness System, with every student taking the relevant assessment in each of the four years of high school. Principals and teachers are committed to utilizing this assessment battery as one measure of college readiness for their students. The results of student performance on these ACT assessments are reported in our network-wide Annual Data Report-an ongoing review and analysis of a variety of metrics -and inform our practice and decision making regarding curriculum and instruction.

Beyond the focus on what students will know and be able to do, Cristo Rey schools began to collaborate on teacher effectiveness. Initial work emphasized the strategies with the highest probability of increasing student achievement (Marzano, Pickering and Pollock, 2001; 2009; Saphier, HaleySpeca and Gower, 2008.) At the same time, teachers are developing their toolkits of evidence-based strategies for total participation, using a variety of strategies to mentally engage all learners throughout all lessons (Himmele and Himmele, 2011). Using a "trainthe-trainers" model- with principals and teacher leaders guiding a multi-year, school-based professional development plan- faculties have begun to share common instructional strategies and a professional vocabulary about effective practice.

Most recent collaborative efforts focus on literacy. When the teachers and principals designed the curriculum, they thoughtfully incorporated a cross-content literacy expectation, imbedding literacy benchmarks into every content discipline. Next, teachers and principals began working in small teams to support teachers in building their knowledge and skills to teach and assess those literacy benchmarks.

At the yearly Summer Institute, a four-week series of seven intensive work sessions conducted by the Cristo Rey Network and held at the Water Tower Campus of Loyola University Chicago, teachers and principals initiated in 2011 a focus on reading across the disciplines, extended in 2012 to include writing across the curriculum, as teacher teams worked with literacy expert Jim Burke. …

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