Stateline: Virginia's Excellent Adventure

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  • Stateline: Virginia's Excellent AdventureAuthor(s): Kathy ChristieSource: The Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 85, No. 8 (Apr., 2004), pp. 565-567Published by: Phi Delta Kappa InternationalStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20441646 .Accessed: 24/06/2014 21:22

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  • S TAT E L I N E

    VIRGJNIXS EXCELLENT ADVENTURE KATHY CH RI STI E

    HE VIRGINIA General Assembly is concerned that

    "there remains a significant gap between the best- and

    poorest-performing schools." Even as it acknowl edged that most elementary and secondary schools are

    meeting academic achievement goals, the Assembly proceeded to request that information be collect ed on best practices used in high-performing

    schools and school divisions (districts) in the state. The result

    ing report, Review ofFactors and Practices Associated with School

    Performance in Virginia, presents important findings. The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission - es

    tablished by the legislature as a free-standing agency to make inde

    pendent and objective performance reviews of state programs and

    agencies - conducted the study that the legislators requested. The study had two major research components: a quantitative

    analysis of the measurable factors associated with Standards of

    Learning (SOL) test results in schools and divisions and a quali

    tative review of schools and divisions.

    Project leader Hal Greer noted that researchers analyzed SOL test scores and the variables associated with them and visited 61

    public schools in 35 school divisions, including high-scoring schools, low-scoring schools, "challenged schools" that were ex ceeding predicted test scores, and "challenged schools" with a large

    increase in test scores. Researchers held structured interviews with 11 superintendents and 61 principals. In addition, they conduct ed interviews with the state superintendent and with department of education officials, surveyed core-subject teachers in 56 of the 61

    schools, and conducted literature and other document reviews. Six major findings resulted from the review:

    * Over the course of several years of SOL implementation, SOL test scores and pass rates have increased substantially.

    * However, a large percentage of the difference in the SOL test performance of schools and school divisions is still explained by the demographic characteristics of students and their com munities. Further analysis revealed that the relationships between these factors and test scores could be partially explained by dif ferences in teacher qualifications and experience, family support

    KATHYCHRISTIEis vi ce president for Knowledge Management and the ECS Clearinghouse, Education Commission of the States, Den ver.

    and structure, school and division characteristics, and local fis cal conditions.

    * Some of the schools challenged by these demographic fac tors have used best practices that have helped them to achieve suc cess on the SOL tests, and these practices are identified in the re port.

    * Support provided at the division level has a direct bearing on the success of individual schools, and successful divisions general ly provide more support to their schools. Effective division prac tices are identified in this report.

    * In the divisions and schools visited for this review, super intendents, principals, and teachers generally indicate a belief that the SOLs have been helpful in improving the performance of their schools and students.

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    APRIL 2004 565

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  • STATE LINE

    * However, the Commonwealth and its public schools still face a number of challenges for the future, including ad dressing the needs of pupils served by schools where performance is not con sidered acceptable, responding to issues such as high dropout and retention rates,

    and meeting the expectations of the fed eral No Child Left Behind Act.

    SPECIFIC FINDINGS

    A number of the study's findings con cerned relationships between poverty, race, adult educational attainmnent, and test scores.

    For example, teacher salaries are lower in di

    visions serving communities with a low pro

    portion of college-educated adults. Teacher salaries in these areas are, on average, 13%

    lower than those in communities where a large proportion of adults are college edu

    cated. Per-pupil expenditures for instruction are also lower in communities with low adult

    educational attainment. Overall, the study identified nine prac

    tices used in schools with good SOL test re

    sults. These were: strong principal leader ship; an environment conducive to learn

    ing; an effective teaching staff; data-driven assessment of student weaknesses and teach er effectiveness; curriculum alignment, pac ing, and resources; differentiation in teach ing (altering content according to student needs and learning styles); academic reme

    diation; teamwork, collaboration, and ver

    tical integration; and the structure and in

    tensity of the school day.

    However, the project recognized that lack of parental support, lack of student motiva

    tion, lack of academic preparation, the tran

    siency of students, and the presence of vio

    lence in the community create enormous chal

    lenges that principals and teachers must over

    come. Schools with a student population fac

    ing these challenges are referred to through

    out the study as challenged schools.

    Project staff members examined schools that have achieved success on SOL tests de

    spite the challenges of serving students who

    come from low-income homes and who have

    parents with limited education. While' the

    backgrounds of these students, who receive little parental support or exposure to learn

    ing outside of schools, can create enormous

    challenges for the schools, the study notes

    that some schools appear able to overcome

    them. They do so by effectively implement

    ing the nine practices associated with suc

    cessful schools. What's more, not only did the success

    ful challenged schools use all nine effective practices, but researchers found that these

    schools also made use of supplemental prac

    tices or used the effective practices to a great

    er degree than other schools in order to over

    come the obstacles they faced. The study

    found that the importance of implementing these practices is much greater for the chal

    lenged schools, and the consequence of fail ing to effectively implement them is likely to be poor student performance on the SOL

    tests.

    KEY DIFFERENCES IN APPLYING SPECIFIC PRACTICES

    Strong and stable leadership. Success

    ful challenged schools have leaders who rec

    ognize and address gaps between student

    needs and actual levels of support provided.

    They continually assess how they can com

    pensate for a lack of parental support. For

    example, they might buy alarm clocks for

    children who cannot rely on their parents to

    wake them, or they might offer an after

    school or Saturday program.

    Environment conducive to learning. These successful challenged schools consis tently show that they have faith in students

    who are not motivated and suffer from low

    self-esteem. They set high expectations for

    all students and do not accept demograph

    ics as an excuse for low expectations. They

    address a wider range and higher incidence

    of behavioral problems. For example, they

    might have to develop class schedules that

    limit the amount of time students spend in

    the hallways. Or some might develop pro

    grams with male role models in order to teach

    male students about respect and acceptable

    modes of behavior. Challenged schools look

    for every opportunity to reinforce success

    with recognition and rewards. The principals

    truly believe that their students can achieve,

    and they go to great lengths to convey that

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  • belief to the students. Effective teaching staff and data-driven

    practices. Successful challenged schools pro vide useful staff development to ensure that their frequently inexperienced teachers are able to teach effectively. It also appears to be

    more important in these schools to use read

    ing and math specialists to supplement the

    instruction and remediation provided by reg ular classroom teachers. In addition, success ful challenged schools rely more heavily on

    data analysis to identify students who need

    help and to design remediation to address

    specific weaknesses. Academic remediation. These schools

    provide more extensive and intensive reme

    diation. Successful challenged schools have principals and teachers who are committed to doing whatever it takes to provide the nec

    essary remediation. Structure and intensity of the school

    day. Successful challenged schools maximize the amount of time available for instruction.

    They focus on setting schedules and allocat ing time to address potential weaknesses or

    to provide for remediation. The report presents a number of exam

    ples of creative practices used by the success

    ful challenged schools. For instance, teach

    ers might hand-deliver trophies to the homes

    of those students who pass the SOL tests.

    Male students might be matched with male

    role models who teach them life skills and

    provide them with learning opportunities after school. Teachers of grades in which SOL

    testing does not take place might be reas

    signed to teach for at least one year in the

    grades in which the testing does take place

    so that they can better understand the pres

    sures felt by their colleagues. Principals might

    videotape teachers during daily observations and use the videos of skillful teaching for staff

    development (those of ineffective teaching would be used to provide constructive feed back to that teacher).

    IMPACT OF THE DISTRICT

    The report also covers the practices used

    at the division (district) level. In successful

    challenged divisions, for example, superin tendents emphasize the importance of class room instruction. They set a tone and spirit of achievement. High-scoring and success

    ful challenged divisions are able to support

    or dismiss ineffective teachers. They use pro fessional development to encourage learning at all levels. They use data analysis to improve

    performance and to ensure accountability. They provide more support to schools from instructional specialists. Successful divisions encourage collaboration between schools in order to improve instruction; sometimes the

    collaboration will be between those work ing at the same grade level and sometimes it

    will be organized vertically between schools that serve the same group of students in se

    quence. Successful challenged divisions use divisionwide grade-level meetings to share best practices and lesson plans.

    In contrast to the successful divisions, the low-scoring divisions that the researchers visited often reacted slowly to the require ments of the SOLs. Principals in some of

    these divisions stated that the division did

    not take the SOLs seriously and thought they

    would just go away in time. Low-scoring di

    visions appeared to be affected by a lack of

    effective leadership on the part of their su

    perintendents. In addition, they provided limited support for curriculum alignment.

    They appeared to lack the resolve to dismiss

    ineffective teachers, and they often did not

    seem to provide sufficient professional de velopment or support for data analysis. Low

    scoring divisions provided fewer instruction al specialists and exhibited less collaboration

    among schools. In general, these divisions

    appeared to take fewer steps to encourage

    sharing ideas or resources.

    UNIVERSAL IMPLICATIONS

    The complete report offers far greater de

    tail on each of the highlights I've presented

    here. Rarely are we privy to such an insight

    ful look at practices that one can readily

    adopt on Monday in any school. They hinge

    on little other than the willingness to learn

    and move forward. While the particulars

    are Virginian, the meat and potatoes of the

    study remain applicable to Anytown, USA.

    Thus the study has both local and universal

    applicability. The use of an in-depth, legisla

    tively directed study is an approach not of ten seen in the states, but it is one worth rep licating. The full report is available at http:// jlarc.state.va.us/Reports/Rpt3O5.pdf. K

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    APRIL 2004 567

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    Article Contentsp. 565p. 566p. 567

    Issue Table of ContentsThe Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 85, No. 8 (Apr., 2004), pp. 561-640Front MatterThe Editor's PageThe Human Element [p. 562-562]

    Washington CommentaryHigh Schools and Reform [pp. 563-564]

    Stateline: Virginia's Excellent Adventure [pp. 565-567]Test Today, Privatize Tomorrow: Using Accountability to 'Reform' Public Schools to Death [pp. 568-577]A Special Section on AccountabilityResponding Effectively to Test-Based Accountability [pp. 578-583]A Balanced School Accountability Model: An Alternative to High-Stakes Testing [pp. 584-590]High Standards + High Stakes = High Achievement in Massachusetts [pp. 591-597]Accountability with a Kicker: Observations on the Florida a+ Accountability Plan [pp. 598-605]Accountability, Diagnostics, and Information Technology [pp. 606-610]Point of ViewTurning Accountability on Its Head: Supporting Inspired Teaching in Today's Classrooms [pp. 610-612]

    How Should We See Special Education?Enabling or Disabling? Observations on Changes in Special Education [pp. 613-620]

    Teacher Educators and Public SchoolsA Place for Teacher Educators in the Schools [pp. 621-624]

    Teaching in a Time of ScarcityIn the Dark [pp. 626-627]

    TechnologyComputer Applications for Young Users: BumperCar and KidPix [pp. 628-629]

    Web WatchCopyright and Plagiarism [p. 630-630]

    ResearchThe Trouble with Research, Part 2 [pp. 635-636]

    CourtsideWith Liberty and Liability for All? [pp. 637-639]

    Thoughts on TeachingOut Loud and in Public [pp. 639-640]

    BacktalkCorrection to "Tipping Point: From Feckless Reform to Substantive Instructional Improvement"Back Matter