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Gilpin Elementary School’s Journey to Performance

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2013/ 2014 School Year Summary

By David S. MacKenzie, Ph.D., Superintendent

This is the first of three articles summarizing Gilpin Elementary School’s Journey to Performance. This article summarizes the 2013/ 2014 school year and the academic achievement accomplishment by teachers and students.

As the 2013/ 2014 school year began, a message was posted on social media encouraging parents to take their children out of Gilpin Elementary School due to low academic achievement. The post referenced the data and “D+” school rating published on the Great Schools website.

There were many characteristics in place that made Gilpin Elementary School a good school for students to attend and learn. Caring staff established relationships with students in classes with a low teacher to student ratio. Students liked coming to school and teachers enjoyed teaching students. As school and student achievement accountability expectations for educators and parents were increasing, low student achievement among some students in the elementary school created understandable concern in the school community.

The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) uses student academic achievement and growth measures to determine annual individual school accreditation ratings. Schools earn one of four accreditation ratings: Performance, Improvement, Priority Improvement, and Turnaround. The highest rating is Performance and the two lower ratings of Priority Improvement and Turnaround place the school on the accountability clock. Schools have five years to change the accreditation rating to Improvement or Performance, stopping the accountability timeline. If unsuccessful, the school faces sanctions by the State Board of Education that are enforced by CDE.

The elementary school accreditation ratings had steadily declined over the previous 10 years, resulting in a Priority Improvement rating in 2012 and 2013. The elementary school was entering year three on the five year accountability clock. It was an urgent need for the elementary school to improve student learning and earn an Improvement rating in 2014.

Analyzing student achievement data, the data trend indicated that on average, half or more of the elementary students in all grades, K-5, were not accomplishing what students needed to know and be able to do at the end of each grade level in reading/language arts and math. A plan of action emerged from this root cause analysis. Where Eagles Soar: Destination 2016, the three-year action plan, was developed and was founded in three initiatives. The first initiative required teachers to deliver an aligned curriculum to students that focused on what students were to know and be able to do at the end of each grade. Initiative Two required teachers to instruct using research-based strategies to engage students in the learning and incorporate technology as an instructional tool. The third initiative put a system of internal assessment into place to allow teachers to frequently progress-monitor student achievement for the purpose of student learning remediation or enrichment as needed.

In the 2013/ 2014 school year, the elementary principal focused on supporting teachers with a variety of research-based instructional strategies that teachers used during classroom instruction. Additionally, teachers increased accountability for students and the acquisition of basic skills. Concurrently, teachers monitored student achievement and individualized instruction based on the assessment data when teaching students to increase student learning.

During Professional Learning time, the principal provided courses and resources that supported teachers with the three action plan initiatives. During late start Wednesday time, the principal incorporated teacher engagement with student data and learning by following the Professional Learning Community protocols to improve student achievement.

The 2013/ 2014 school year marked the beginning of change in a school culture to one that was founded in student learning. High expectations for teacher instruction and student learning were being put in place. Teachers were asked to teach “bell to bell, increase student time on task, be urgent, take risks and try new instructional strategies, and if it didn’t work, fail fast, but fail forward by being in a constant state of instruction improvement.” By incorporating research-based instructional strategies, teachers were growing as instructors and improving the teaching they delivered to students. Student engagement as active learners in the classroom increased. Teachers required all students to accomplish more learning than ever before, and student ownership in their own learning increased.

Teacher engagement in first-order change became prevalent in the elementary school culture. Teachers and students worked diligently to improve teaching and learning. It was hard work and persistence and perseverance paid-off. In the spring of 2014, the elementary accreditation rating increased to Improvement.

Elementary teachers changed their instruction by incorporating research-based strategies when teaching and the number of students who accomplished what they needed to know and be able to do by the end of the school year in reading/language arts and math increased. Correspondingly, teachers and students stopped the accountability clock and the threat of State Board of Education sanctions by moving out of Priority Improvement and into Improvement in 2014.

Gilpin Elementary School’s Journey to Performance began in the 2013/ 2014 school year. The next article summarizes school improvement and teacher and student accomplishment during the 2014/ 2015 school year during the second year of implementation of the action plan, Where Eagles Soar: Destination 2016.

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