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Adopt a Continuous Improvement Model
The cautionary adage not to rest on your laurels resonates with many magnet school teachers and administrators. At these featured schools leadership and staff alike appear to anticipate change and focus, invariably, on making additional progress. "We're good, but we could be even better," is a stated mantra at Normal Park.
Continuous improvement is a process of making change and monitoring results with the aim of getting better. In these schools, staff are expected to use reflection and data-based decision-making for continuous improvement. Long before NCLB brought attention to subgroup performance, Raymond Academy established a system for disaggregating data to ensure that all students reached proficiency and advanced levels. Professional development and leadership team meetings focus on analyzing student scores to identify patterns or gaps. An assessment specialist and a testing coordinator organize and track data over time, so that useful information gets into the hands of teachers quickly enough to translate into effective intervention. A student below 75 percent on a report card automatically enters an extended-day tutorial program. Grade-level teams also can decide to switch a student's class placement or request additional support for a teacher struggling with teaching a particular standard. Today, Raymond's test scores indicate almost universal proficiency among all subgroups, including Hispanic, low income, ESL, and special education, and the numbers of students meeting advanced standards are rising (see table 2 on p. 35).
Every week, Normal Park teachers update bar graphs indicating the current reading level of each child in their class. These charts visually convey information on class patterns and individual progress towards grade-level benchmarks. Staff do not wait for an end-of-grade test score to tell them a child is struggling academically. They can take action the moment a student is not performing. A teacher plans individual reading lessons for each child based on the most current assessment, teasing out specific words or strategies that need attention. The principal scans all the class lists and reading lesson plans every Monday, taking notice of students and teachers who need extra support from a reading specialist or tutor. This consistent use of reading data is one way that Normal Park staff work toward the goal of having all students reading on grade level by the time they leave fifth grade.
At Combs, every school member—teacher and student alike—is expected to engage in continuous self-evaluation. Students are expected to monitor and document their progress on meeting academic and personal goals in data notebooks, charting, for example, the number of math facts they have mastered. Reflecting on what her data notebook teaches her about the process of learning, one student says, "I always have goals to reach."
Each year, staff formally evaluate the principal and provide the full administrative team with feedback on the school's leadership. Parents interviewed for this guide credit the staff for incorporating feedback in meaningful ways and not just going through the motions of gathering information. Family survey results are quickly analyzed and published for the community, along with grade-level team responses that communicate next steps. In the excerpted survey (see fig. 6 on p. 36), a four-point scale is used to rate the school's performance in several areas. A point average for each area is calculated by multiplying the number of parents with similar responses (e.g., those who "strongly agree") by the point value it holds (4) and then dividing by the total number of respondents. At the end of school events, parents complete a plus-delta chart to identify pluses (i.e., what they liked) and deltas (i.e., what they think should be changed); that information, parents report, often translates into modifications for subsequent family events. "Complacency is not an option," explains the principal in reference to the school's model of continuous improvement, which pushes the community to always reach for a higher bar.
Table 2. Reading, Math, and Writing Achievement Data for Raymond Academy, by Selected Subgroups, 2006-07 School Year
Percentage of Third- and Fourth-grade Students Scoring Proficient on TAKS Test*
* Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills
Source: Texas Education Agency School Report Card.