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High-Performing School, The

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Get three books in one! First, learn what research has identified as the 10 indicators of high-performing schools. Then, use rubrics to track how closely your school reflects those practices and learn what you can do to improve. Finally, use tools and strategies to create buy-in and involve all stakeholders, as well as monitor and report progress along the way.

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Introduction

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INTRODUCTION

Knowing What to Do

The power to question is the basis of all human progress.

—Indira Gandhi

We frequently read and hear that we are making no headway in solving education’s greatest dilemmas; that the reason student achievement is not where our society wants and needs it to be is because teachers and administrators refuse to accept new ideas, programs, practices, and strategies. We would propose an alternative explanation. We believe that the reason we in education continue to grapple with the same problems is not because we have done nothing, but rather because—as we are often not exactly sure what we should do—we have tried everything.

Consider the succession of trends just since the late 1990s. We have embraced building leaders as managers and administrators. We have embraced school administrators as instructional leaders. We have embraced homogeneous grouping. We have embraced heterogeneous grouping. We have embraced schools-within-schools, in which every student is known personally and well. We have embraced distance learning. We have embraced teacher-designed curriculum, eschewing textbooks. We have embraced direct instruction, in which teachers precisely follow scripted lessons. We have embraced schools that are open and welcoming to the public. We have embraced schools in which doors are locked at the morning bell and police patrol the hallways. We have embraced efforts to increase graduation rates by keeping more kids in school. We have embraced zero-tolerance policies that force kids out of school.

 

Chapter 1: Effectiveness Indicator 1 Written Curriculum

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CHAPTER

1

Effectiveness Indicator 1

Written Curriculum

There are two ways of being creative. One can sing and dance. Or one can create an environment in which singers and dancers flourish.

—Warren G. Bennis

The written curriculum is the foundation of the school’s instructional program. In effective schools, the written curriculum is aligned to standards, assessments, and instructional materials. From this principle, we derive Effectiveness Indicator 1. An on-site school review examines the written curriculum to gauge its alignment with state content standards; its horizontal and vertical alignment; its alignment with instructional materials; the supports available for it, such as assessments and interventions; and the degree to which it is implemented in classrooms every day.

Five characteristics define Effectiveness Indicator 1: Written Curriculum:

1A.

The written curriculum is aligned to state standards or the standards of national disciplinary organizations.

1B.

The written curriculum is vertically and horizontally aligned.

 

Chapter 2: Effectiveness Indicator 2 Instructional Program

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CHAPTER

2

Effectiveness Indicator 2

Instructional Program

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.

— Mahatma Gandhi

The instructional program is the school’s core mission. In effective schools, instructional practices challenge and support all students. From this principle, we derive Effectiveness Indicator 2. An on-site school review looks at the instructional program as a whole, focusing on its rigor (access, challenge, and support for all students), its flexibility (individualized tools, strategies, and assessments for all students), and the supports it provides for teachers (curriculum cohesion, professional collaboration, and instructional leadership). Teachers are key to the implementation of the instructional program. Their deep content knowledge, mastery of a broad range of instructional strategies, and commitment to student achievement are essential to the delivery system.

Ten characteristics define Effectiveness Indicator 2: Instructional Program:

2A.

 

Chapter 3: Effectiveness Indicator 3 Student Assessment

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CHAPTER

3

Effectiveness Indicator 3

Student Assessment

It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.

—Tom Brokaw

Effective schools use assessment to improve student learning. From this principle, we derive

Effectiveness Indicator 3. Student assessment can be used to determine individual students’ levels of specific knowledge and skills; to improve classroom instruction; to adapt instruction or prescribe interventions for individuals or groups of students; to evaluate and improve larger instructional programs; and to measure and compare schools, districts, and states for broad public accountability. An on-site school review examines the range and quality of a school’s assessment system.

Six characteristics define Effectiveness Indicator 3: Student Assessment:

3A. Local assessments are aligned to the cognitive demand of the standards and to the written curriculum.

3B.

Teachers employ a variety of formative and summative assessment strategies.

3C. Diagnostic assessments are used to identify student skill levels and to determine appropriate interventions or remediations.

 

Chapter 4: Effectiveness Indicator 4 School Leadership

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4

Effectiveness Indicator 4

School Leadership

Time is neutral and does not change things. With courage and initiative, leaders change things.

—Jesse Jackson

School leadership exerts a powerful influence on student learning. For a school to be effective, its leaders must maintain an unwavering focus on learning. From this principle, we derive Effectiveness Indicator

4. An on-site school review examines the role of school administrators in developing, implementing, and maintaining improvement efforts that are focused on student learning.

Recognizing student learning as the foremost priority of the school and its teachers, effective school administrators ensure that a culture of high expectations nurtures student and teacher efficacy. These administrators maximize their influence by increasing leadership capacity schoolwide and widely distributing leadership responsibilities. Effective leaders model the characteristics they expect of staff members and students, including optimism, fairness, respect, collaboration, and an openness to constructive feedback.

 

Chapter 5: Effectiveness Indicator 5 Strategic Planning

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CHAPTER

5

Effectiveness Indicator 5

Strategic Planning

I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.

—Wayne Gretzky

Effective schools use strategic planning to coordinate improvement initiatives and ensure that they are directed toward a common goal. From this principle, we derive Effectiveness Indicator 5. Certain organizational elements must be in place for the planning process to provide the maximum benefit to the school. An on-site school review examines how the plan is created, what its focus is, who is part of the process, how the plan is implemented, and how it is evaluated.

Eight characteristics define Effectiveness Indicator 5: Strategic Planning:

5A. There is a process in place, and support for, schoolwide strategic planning.

5B.

The strategic plan is focused on student learning and refining teaching practices.

5C. As a part of strategic planning, student demographic and achievement data are reviewed and analyzed.

5D. A research-driven approach is used to identify problems and solutions.

 

Chapter 6: Effectiveness Indicator 6 Professional Development

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CHAPTER

6

Effectiveness Indicator 6

Professional Development

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.

—William Butler Yeats

The professional development program is centered on ensuring that all children learn to high levels.

In effective schools, professional development deepens and refines teachers’ knowledge and skills in content and pedagogy. From this principle, we derive Effectiveness Indicator 6. An on-site school review examines the professional development program to find if it is based on student outcome data and is collaborative, sustained, intensive, and closely tied to the classroom. The review also looks at whether the program addresses teacher needs, including those of teachers new to the profession.

Eight characteristics define Effectiveness Indicator 6: Professional Development:

6A. The professional development program is focused on improving student learning by deepening the knowledge and skills of educators in their subject matter and in pedagogy.

6B.

 

Chapter 7: Effectiveness Indicator 7 Student Connectedness, Engagement, and Readiness

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CHAPTER

7

Effectiveness Indicator 7

Student Connectedness, Engagement, and Readiness

And those handmade presents that children often bring home from school: They have so much value! To the child the gift is really self, and they want so much for their selves to be acceptable, to be loved.

—Fred Rogers

Effective schools keep students engaged in school both by cultivating caring relationships and by making learning interesting and challenging. From this principle, we derive Effectiveness Indicator 7. Feeling a connection to their school, their peers, and the adults within their school provides an important safety net for students. Students who feel connected are much more likely to stay in school despite obstacles they may face along the way. Extracurricular activities play an important role in these feelings of connection.

When student performance begins to falter, there are mechanisms in place to quickly reach out to them with targeted assistance. Students move seamlessly from one school to another in the district because there is a high level of communication and coordination between schools. An on-site school review looks at the extent of all of these efforts to keep students in school until they graduate.

 

Chapter 8: Effectiveness Indicator 8 School Environment

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CHAPTER

8

Effectiveness Indicator 8

School Environment

Students often remember how adults behave more than what they say.

—Learning First Alliance

Effective schools provide students and staff members with a safe and inviting environment that is conducive to working and learning. From this principle, we derive Effectiveness Indicator 8. An on-site school review looks for the combination of warmth and academic challenge that is the key to a positive school environment. Such an environment is strongly associated with student success. There is respect between all stakeholders. Faculty and staff members skillfully meet the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse students. Behavior management systems focus first on instruction and intervention, resulting in an environment that is orderly but not unduly regimented.

Nine characteristics define Effectiveness Indicator 8: School Environment:

8A. School administrators foster a positive school environment in which students and staff members feel valued, students are challenged to grow academically, and staff members are challenged to grow professionally.

 

Chapter 9: Effectiveness Indicator 9 Family and Community Involvement

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CHAPTER

9

Effectiveness Indicator 9

Family and Community Involvement

The voice of parents is the voice of gods, for to their children they are heaven’s lieutenants.

—Shakespeare

In effective schools, there are programs in place to engage families and the community in supporting student learning. From this principle, we derive Effectiveness Indicator 9. An on-site school review assesses the commitment of the school, its families, and its community to developing partnerships for the benefit of the students. It examines both the school’s outreach efforts and the families’ and community’s involvement in, and ownership of, the school.

Five characteristics define Effectiveness Indicator 9: Family and Community Involvement:

9A. Families and the community feel positive about, and welcome at, the school.

9B.

The school maintains high levels of communication with families and the community.

9C. The school seeks and values family and community involvement.

9D. The school engages families and the community to support student learning.

 

Chapter 10: Effectiveness Indicator 10 District Support

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CHAPTER

10

Effectiveness Indicator 10

District Support

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

— Nelson Mandela

The board and district determine the context within which schools function and the culture within which they operate. Effective districts are committed above all else to setting and supporting goals for high levels of student learning, and the board and superintendent work together to emphasize this priority.

From this principle, we derive Effectiveness Indicator 10. An on-site school review evaluates the district’s leadership in aligning curriculum, instruction, and assessment between and within grade levels, districtwide.

It also examines the district’s performance in committing resources to its goals and in using data to evaluate progress toward those goals.

Six characteristics define Effectiveness Indicator 10: District Support:

10A. The roles and responsibilities of the board, the district, and the schools are clear and communicated to stakeholders.

 

Chapter 11: Leading the Way

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CHAPTER

11

Leading the Way

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

—Lewis Carroll

Once a principal has become intrigued with the idea of an external school review, the next step is to discuss the concept with other members of the school leadership team and with the school staff as a whole.

Not every school is ready to invite outside eyes into the building to take a close look at how the staff goes about the business of transferring knowledge. Involving others in the decision-making process begins the modeling of collaborative strategies that research has identified as effective in school improvement.

Assessing Readiness

Three sets of questions can help principals evaluate their schools’ readiness to benefit from a review.

First, principals should ask themselves the following questions:

• What about a school review do I find intriguing?

• What advantages would it offer me in leading for improvement?

• How receptive am I to coaching?

 

Chapter 12: Preparing for the On-Site Visit

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CHAPTER

12

Preparing for the On-Site Visit

Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.

—Sitting Bull

Now that the school leadership team has met with the review team leader, the stage is set to prepare for the on-site visit. At this point in the process, the team leader, site coordinator, and school staff members take primary responsibility for the work.

Arranging for the Review Team’s Visit

It is usually the principal or another school or district administrator who makes initial contact with prospective team members to begin forming the on-site review team. Each person contacted will receive a questionnaire (Tool 9: Team Member Information Form, see go.solution-tree.com/schoolimprovement) asking for information about his or her availability and areas of expertise.

As the review team members commit, the team leader sends a follow-up letter welcoming them to the team and informing them of logistical arrangements (Tool 10: Team Member Welcome Letter, see the companion website).

 

Chapter 13: Examining Data and Other Documents

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CHAPTER

13

Examining Data and Other Documents

Too often we forget that genius, too, depends upon the data within its reach, that even Archimedes could not have devised Edison’s inventions.

—Ernest Dimnet

An important component of the school review process is looking at and evaluating the school’s data reports and other written documentation—the policies, procedures, agreements, and communications that underpin the school’s activities and beliefs. The documents also provide a sort of mirror that shows us how well those beliefs are reflected and formalized in writing.

The team leader and site coordinator share the responsibility of assembling the data. Generally, the team leader collects the information that is available from public sources, such as the websites of the state department of education, the school, and the district. He or she then puts together a list of other documents and materials for the site coordinator to collect. The checklist on page 222 is a good start at specifying what the team will need. The first column is a list of documents that the team leader can review prior to the visit. On the first day of the visit, the team leader will provide a packet containing these materials to each team member as part of the team briefing. The second column is a list of reference documents and materials that should be available in the team workroom.

 

Chapter 14: The Process: How to Conduct a Research-Based On-Site School Review

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CHAPTER

14

The Process:

How to Conduct a Research-Based

On-Site School Review

The best way to observe a fish is to become a fish.

—Jacques Cousteau

The review team’s on-site visit runs between 2 and 5 days, with time built in at the end for writing the final report. Should additional training for team members be necessary, it should be conducted near the beginning of the site visit so that the concepts are fresh in the members’ minds as they begin the review. Table 14.1 shows what a general schedule for the on-site portion of a school review might look like.

Table 14.1: On-Site Schedule

Day 1

In-Between Days

Last Day

Team planning meeting:

2 hours

Interviews and observations

One or more team members may return to the school, if necessary, to ask specific questions of staff members to obtain more data

Kick-off meeting with all staff: 30 minutes

Document review

Document review

Interviews

Report writing

Report writing

Possible family/community meeting: 1 hour

(evening), plus dinner and setup

Team meeting: 2–4 hours

 

Chapter 15: Communicating Results

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CHAPTER

15

Communicating Results

For time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life.

And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.

—John F. Kennedy

Communicating the results of a school review begins with the team’s delivery of the oral exit report, discussed in the previous chapter. Then, when the team has completed the Data² process, the team members and leader collaborate to write a comprehensive final report. This final report will include the scored rubrics, the data packet, commentary, and recommendations. It will become the basis of the next steps in the process: the final report workshop, strategic planning, and implementation.

Final Report

The purpose of an on-site school review is, first, to objectively determine the current status of a school in relation to what research tells us is in place in the most effective schools and, second, to use the data gathered to identify what actions the school should take to bring about the greatest increases in student achievement and learning. In order for schools to use the data to guide their next steps, the final report must be accurate, concise, and provide powerful recommendations. Tool 49: Sample Final Report (see the companion website and appendix, page 316) provides a model.

 

Chapter 16: Now What? Strategic Planning and Professional Development

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CHAPTER

16

Now What?

Strategic Planning and

Professional Development

I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.

—Rosa Parks

The concept of strategic planning comes to education from the effective practices of business. The theory behind strategic planning is twofold:

• Organizations must select from competing goals by staying focused on their core mission.

• Actions undertaken to achieve the selected goals must be those that will be the most powerful and have the greatest impact.

Strategic thinking is deciding on the most important actions to affect the organization. These decisions have to do with what an organization is and why it exists; the actions have to do with what it does. While this chapter focuses on how to move forward with strategic planning after completing a school review, readers might want to review the summary of research on strategic planning in chapter 5. As detailed in the discussion there, the key characteristics of strategic planning in effective schools are:

 

Conclusion: Sustaining and Nurturing a Student-Focused School

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CONCLUSION

Sustaining and Nurturing a

Student-Focused School

An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.

—Jack Welch

As we move further into the information age, the demand for higher levels of knowledge and skills from our students, our teachers, our school administrators, and our workforce becomes greater. We feel its pressures daily in ways that are both positive and negative. We enjoy new technologies that improve our lives. New understandings in medicine ease suffering across the world. At the same time, we see a worrying shift away from our connections with one another and an eroding of trust in traditional public institutions such as public education. As John Kotter of the Harvard Business School, an authority on business and leadership, notes:

We are in the midst of great social change. The transition from the industrial age to the information age is a huge shift. In all of human history, there have only been two other socioeconomic revolutions of this magnitude: the move from hunting and gathering to agriculture and from agriculture to industry. (Blagg & Young, 2001, p. 1)

 

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