With the slew of standardized test and assessment numbers released in the past few weeks, the spotlight has now swung from the students to the teachers to analyze the data and use it to take steps forward this school year.
David Craft, principal at Greenvale Park Elementary, believes that the hour set aside every Wednesday morning for Professional Learning Community (PLC) time is providing the opportunity to do just that.
“In the past, we talked about data, but PLCs have given us a frame for that conversation,” said Craft. “Before PLCs, teachers talked about kids, but they never had that dedicated time. Teachers are now having more meaningful conversations about student learning.”
As part of the program, which is now in its fourth year of full implementation, teachers meet every Wednesday morning to look over assessment data and discuss teaching strategies while students stay home and get an extra hour of sleep.
While the format looks slightly different at the elementary schools than it does at the middle and high schools, the goal is to give teachers the opportunity to make adjustments during the school year, instead of waiting until a new year starts to change course.
“The teachers ask four questions,” said Craft. “What do we want students to learn? How are we going to know if they learned it? What will we do when they haven’t learned it? And what will we do when they have learned it?”
These sessions are meant to be data-driven, but involve two different types of statistics — one dealing with overall test scores from MCA, MAPS or MMR assessments and the other looking at how kids are progressing in the classroom from week to week.
“We are richer in the use of student data on a regular basis,” said Joel Leer, the principal at Northfield High School. “[The teachers] talk about how students performed both collectively and individually.”
Each Wednesday, teachers within the same departments at the high school get together to compare how their students performed on tests given that week and share what concepts they may be struggling to grasp or activities that have proved to be especially effective.
Teachers also devise more large-scale goals to be completed throughout the year. Last year, the history department set a school goal of having 90 percent of students pass all of their classes. By the end of the year, 93 percent of students went without failing a single class.
“The focus has turned to passing rates and credit acquisition,” said Leer.
Progress is also a big focus for PLCs at the elementary schools, especially in light of recent test results.
“We looked at the MCA data, and in grades three, four and five we didn’t make adequate progress in math for the free and reduced lunch group,” said Craft, referring to a subgroup that makes of 43 percent of students at Greenvale Park. “So the teachers set a goal based on the data. This year we are going to create a 10 percent reduction in the number of students that are not proficient. We believe that’s a tangible goal.”
While administrators hope that discussions that take place during PLC time will be of benefit to students, teachers appreciate the time, as well.
“I think it’s been very valuable to meet with my peers and colleagues and discuss what’s working and what’s not,” said John Mahal, a special education teacher at the high school.
When he mentions this opportunity for professional development to teachers from other districts, they are often envious of the time Northfield has set aside for teachers.
“It’s constantly evolving,” said Leer. “It’s really about holding ourselves accountable.”
Reach reporter Erin O’Neill at 645-1115, or follow her on Twitter.com @reporterONeill.
Reach reporter Erin O'Neill at 645-1115, or follow her on Twitter.com @reporterONeill.