Archived Information

Tools for Schools - April 1998

School Change Model:

Basic Principles for School Reform in a Bilingual Context

What Is It?

The School Change Model is an approach to school-wide reform that aims at improving achievement and other student outcomes by creating a coherent and focused school-wide effort. Although it was developed in a predominantly Latino school with an existing bilingual education program, the model's principles are probably equally applicable in other situations. The model does not describe a specific instructional program. Rather, it identifies four key "change elements" that educators can use to help bring about positive changes in teaching and learning at a school:

Why Did It Get Started?

The School Change Model was the result of a collaborative project between a university researcher and an elementary school principal who wanted to improve student achievement at a predominantly Latino school, Freeman Elementary School, in Los Angeles. The project began in 1990-91. The School Change Model is currently being tested with a cluster of schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

How Does It Work?

The process begins with teachers and leadership setting shared, specific learning goals and expectations for students (in a chosen academic area). It continues with the development and analysis of key indicators of student achievement in relation to the goals. The indicators can include, for example, grade-level designation of reading texts that students are reading, performance- based assessments, or standardized achievement measures. The change process is sustained by teachers in groups routinely and jointly studying lessons and examining student work and indicators of achievement (teacher groups focus on learning and exploring better teaching methods to help accomplish school-wide goals and evaluating the effects of ongoing efforts). Supportive and pressuring leadership maintains focus and momentum.

A critical concept is the setting, which is defined as any instance in which two or more people come together in new relationships over a sustained period of time in order to achieve certain goals. School improvement takes place in specific and concrete settings where people meet to create a focused, coherent, and sustained effort to improve student learning. The four change elements in the model goals, indicators, assistance, and leadership create the dynamics for change within and across these settings. Relevant settings include the following.

Academic Expectations Committee -- representatives from faculty and leadership meet to set and share learning goals and expectations for students (1 to 2 years).
Academic Assessment Committee -- representatives learn about, develop, and implement and help others to implement indicators of student learning tied to the goals.
Staff Meetings -- school personnel can see the "big picture" of the school's change efforts, receive reports of progress and emergent issues, hear about and analyze strategic data regarding student performance on key indicators (at least yearly), and receive training and relevant information for improving teaching and learning.
Grade-Level Meetings -- teachers (1) discuss grade-specific issues related to implementation of goals and assessments; and (2) bring in samples of student work they have collected as part of ongoing assessment practices to analyze, score, and discuss.
Teacher Workgroups -- small groups of teachers organized around any topic related to the school's efforts to improve student outcomes, e.g., reading, writing, or math instruction, parent involvement, cooperative learning. The groups meet approximately weekly to study lessons, examine student work, interpret data on indicators of student learning, or evaluate the success of specific improvement efforts in their chosen area.
Consultant-Principal Meetings -- the principal meets with the consultant to plan strategies and meeting agendas, address issues, coordinate change efforts school-wide, and help maintain focus and coherence.

What Are The Costs?

Costs will vary by size of school and number and duration of meetings and workgroups, as well as costs of substitutes and aides to cover classrooms. Major cost items on a yearly basis (with very approximate figures assuming a faculty of 30 teachers) include: a consultant or outside "assister" to meet with the principal and key committees approximately once per week ($10,000 to $15,000); release time for teachers on committees ($4,000 to $5,000) and in workgroups ($6,000 to $7,500); photocopying for goals, expectations, assessments, reporting of results, etc. ($2,000 to $3,000). Materials to assist implementation, such as a video, project write-ups, and assessment materials are available at cost.

How Is The Model Implemented In A School?

Presently there is no implementation infrastructure. Research on the School Change Model is under way to see if it provides a viable, large-scale approach to school improvement. Interested educators are invited to contact the project directors for additional information and to discuss implementation.

What Is The Evidence That The Model Is Successful?

The School Change Model enables educators to create a focused and coherent school-wide effort aimed at improving student achievement in specific, targeted areas of the curriculum. Freeman students have surpassed the rest of the district in language arts achievement, and in some areas have matched or surpassed state and national norms. For example, in 1990, 31 percent of Freeman's first graders were on grade level on nationally normed standardized tests of Spanish reading; and in third grade, 61 percent of the cohort was reading at least at grade level. In contrast, 41 percent of first graders in the rest of the district were reading on grade level in Spanish in 1990; and in third grade, only 49 percent of these students were on grade level.

There has also been progress in English reading. In 1989 and 1990, Freeman students scored below the state and district on California State Department of Education English reading tests. By 1993, in contrast, 28 percent of Freeman fourth graders scored at the highest levels (4 and above on a 6-point measure), compared to 17 percent of students in the rest of the district and 30 percent state-wide. Freeman students also report reading more. In 1992, Freeman students in grades two through five reported that they had read voluntarily only 5.3 items (books, magazines, stories, etc.) during the previous year, while in the rest of the district, students reported reading 9.5 items. In 1995, Freeman students reported reading on their own an average of 13 items over the preceding year; students in the other district schools averaged slightly more than 7.

In teacher interviews and surveys (comparing Freeman to comparable elementary schools), Freeman faculty report significant changes at the school. Teachers say that they have worked together on school-wide goals that are being used to help improve student achievement; that they regularly receive assistance, support, and training; and that strong school-level leadership has been instrumental in promoting constructive changes.

Where Can I See It?

The only project sites are in the Los Angeles area. A videotape is available from the developer.

Whom Do I Contact?

Claude Goldenberg or Bill Saunders
Center for Research on Education, Diversity, and Excellence
The California State University, Long Beach
Department of Teacher Education
1250 Bellflower Boulevard
Long Beach, California 90840
Telephone: 562-985-4443 (Goldenberg) or 310-536-0156 (Saunders)
Fax: 562-985-1774 (Goldenberg)
E-mail: or

The Research Base

The aim of the School Change Model is to provide overall coherence to a school's efforts to improve achievement and other student outcomes. It provides a focus for unifying the different activities and initiatives at the school under a common purpose. The model is derived from the research on effective schools and educational change.

Recent research supports the idea that common and mutually understood goals are vital for successful change efforts. Motivation theory suggests that goal-setting matters because goals affect behavior; teachers who adopt shared and generally understood goals for student learning are likely to take concrete steps to accomplish these goals. Indicators of success are used in assessing student progress toward goals and themselves help produce improvement in student outcomes. Indicators complement goals by reinforcing the goals' importance and helping to gauge progress. Assistance is also key to successful change. Recent research highlights the importance of mutual assistance among staff developers, administrators, and fellow professionals.

The School Change Model places emphasis on presenting information, creating settings that encourage discussion and analysis, and providing opportunities to attempt and reflect upon new behaviors that will assist teachers in accomplishing student learning goals. Finally, leadership is the element most closely associated with efforts to make schools more effective. In the context of the three other change elements goals, indicators, and assistance leadership produces a tension between pressuring on the one hand and supporting on the other. The skillful principal will know when to exercise one or the other or both simultaneously. Together, the four change elements create a dynamic that can lead to positive changes and improved student outcomes.


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