Examining ways that school systems can rethink preparation for high-stakes testing, so that it does not highjack the rest, can help establish a post-pandemic new normal. Based on our research-informed work in schools and classrooms, no matter how well-intended, the current system of rewards and sanctions tied to test scores has negatively impacted opportunities for meaningful, high-quality learning experiences that prepare learners for college, career, and community engagement. This has disproportionately impacted students of color, those impacted by poverty, and multi-language learners.
Many school districts have moved to virtual or hybrid models of instruction and we recognize that using the typical Learning Walk routine, which asks district and school leaders to visit classrooms and provide targeted feedback, doesn’t quite fit in a virtual space. However, we also recognize the need to continue to support district leaders in helping teachers provide high-quality instruction to every student.
The Networks for School Improvement (NSI) work taking place among Dallas ISD (DISD), the Institute for Learning, the University of Pittsburgh School of Education Center for Urban Education, and the Learning Research and Development Center, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has largely focused efforts on improving instructional rigor, providing better supports for English language learners, and improving cultural relevance.
Networks that engage educators in continuous improvement have the potential to harness the power of collaborative work to accelerate learning and solve complex problems. District leaders have the opportunity to build improvement networks within their organizations, but they vary in some distinct ways from networks typically seen in K-12 education.
When teachers are working to acquire new instructional practices, particularly ambitious reforms, teachers tend to gravitate toward approaches that are congruent with their prior practices, or they focus on discrete activities, materials, or classroom organization (Spillane, 2009).
A growing number of schools focus on some form of communities of practice as a key to improving their performance. Schools typically refer to communities of practice as professional learning communities (PLCs). These work in a variety of ways and have different goals, but only some achieve their intended results.
The Institute for Learning (IFL) and Schenectady City School District have worked collaboratively for several years, and this year, we continued our ongoing partnership with a focus on using improvement science methodology to “get better at getting better.” District-wide, there is a focus on using improvement science to work on persistent problems of practice.
There is no shortage of professional development (PD) available to teachers, but PD alone is rarely enough to result in a change of practice.
When a district successfully shifts their trajectory of students’ performance, many people ask how they did it. New Brunswick Public Schools’ use of strategic decision-making, grounded in improvement science principles, and greater collaboration across role groups resulted in impressive gains in mathematics scores across the district.
We’ve recently begun helping districts use improvement science to work on problems of practice. To develop a more rounded view of the problems, teachers have been working in their schools to gather the stories of diverse students and other teachers about their experiences with teaching and learning.
Searching for the Root Cause: An interview with Bridget Goree, NSI Coordinator for North Dallas High School
Campus Network for School Improvement (NSI) coordinators learn to discover and understand the root causes of a problem of practice and find that understanding the problem takes time and requires a cultural shift. In this interview, Bridget Goree, an instructional coach at North Dallas High School, shares her own experience learning to approach this work. She discusses three considerations—what to stop doing, what is important to do, and what they are learning to build.
Paterson Public School’s Guiding Coalition, a working group in academic services composed of content area senior staff, began its journey with improvement science in the fall of 2016. As we examined the various issues that we faced in curriculum and instruction, one flash point was the extraordinarily low state achievement test scores in science on the Grade 8 and high school biology assessments.
Humans are problem solvers by nature, and educators are no exception. Whether we are working to improve student comprehension, or striving to improve low math scores, once a problem has surfaced, we often rush to find solutions – to our detriment. Trying to fix a problem before we know its true cause is a problem in and of itself.