The focus in schools today is to raise achievement among our students. While that is an admirable goal, I suggest that schools evaluate what they are already doing well. Then, get rid of those less important strategies and focus on those that are really working.
Raise Student Achievement
There is a magic moment we feel as teachers when we are able to help a student overcome a challenge and be successful, both in their behavior and their studies. Stop feeling that you have to reach everyone and do everything yourself and trust that you are capable to reach your students.
Our school has been very successful at using grade level teams to engage in problem solving brainstorming for solutions that will work with large blocks of children. The team must agree on a benchmark measuring tool to use in the process. One successful measure has been graphing. Then, the group will pre-test the children, and group them according to the test results, break the team up to work with the various groups individually, and intervene as necessary. The post test results will be significantly better than the pre test results. Typically, the students all rank proficient on the graphing and many much higher than that. State testing will no longer be a concern after this process.
Dont forget to plan for the needs of accelerated students who must also get what they need to raise their achievement and to eliminate boredom of our brightest students.
Response to Intervention
I have established an enhanced system of accommodations to work in tandem with what we now know as Response to Intervention (RTI) in order to raise achievement levels in some of the more challenging students. It begins with a meeting between the students, teachers, and school administrators to compare notes on the students weaknesses and strengths and to coordinate a plan among everyone to support the student, which plan includes accommodations to make the initiative most successful.
Accommodations are not modifications to the curriculum. Many teachers, even those in Special Education, are not clear about this point, and it is one of the reasons so many lower their expectations of struggling students.
Accommodations help children access the curriculum without lowering the standards. Modifications are for children with severe disabilities who simply cannot do the work for cognitive reasons.
An example of an appropriate accommodation follows: There was a boy, well call him Richard, who had a very difficult time focusing on his work. He had been diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) and was very bright. He drove the teacher crazy! Still, during our meeting we came up with accommodations to help him be successful.
It is essential to explain the plan to the child and get his agreement to participate, with clear consequences if he does not follow the plan. Explain that this plan is to help him be more successful in school. Most children will appreciate the care you show on their behalf.
The plan allowed that when Richard had trouble sitting still he could walk around the classroom quietly so long as he did not disturb the other students. His parents gave Richard a small hourglass to measure the length of these sessions. When the sand ran out, that was his cue that he could walk around the room quietly. He was also given a rubber ball to press during classroom instruction to help focus his energies.
There were additional accommodations for Richards parents at home as well. Each evening, Richard and his parents would prepare a list of things to remember in the morning, including homework and backpack. Forgetting these items had been another challenge for Richard in the past.
After a month, we had a follow up meeting (very important) to see if the accommodations were working. Indeed, the teacher had noticed great progress, and he was no longer a distraction to the class.
Use Student Data
Analyzing student data provided by formative and summative assessments is essential for raising student achievement. Administrators should provide teachers with reports that can help teacher group students with similar needs. There is simply not enough time in the day to meet everyones needs individually.
Teachers should be given time to meet together to analyze student writing, for instance, to develop inter-rater reliability for scoring student work and to determine what proficient writing looks like. This is done with other subjects as well to create a school that has the same understanding of each level of proficiency.
Students learn best when they are engaged and interested in the subject matter and presentation style. We must teach our students to think at high levels. Another activity that can raise teacher awareness of the required standards and methods for communicating them to students is requiring them to understand the revised Blooms Taxonomy and coordinating it with each of the schools standards and objectives. At McREL, this was called Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum.
The possibilities are endless for when teachers and students cooperate to raise success levels of the students. I encourage you to look at McRELs Classroom Instruction That Works for fantastic tips and strategies for developing significant activities that will raise student achievement.