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BAMS Model Programs and Practices

Professional Learning Communities

 

Description

 

Four years ago, professionals at Bernice Ayer Middle School (BAMS) began the journey of becoming a highly effective professional learning community (PLC). BAMS initiated the PLC process by working collaboratively to develop a mission statement. One of the byproducts of creating a clear mission statement was staff members taking full responsibility for all students learning at high levels. After analyzing our site’s current reality, we soon realized that our school didn’t possess the tools or systems to effectively meet the learning needs of all students. This analysis thrust us into three full years of intensive and targeted professional development where we created the tools necessary to conduct business as a PLC. Simultaneously, our district had identified our site as a target school to implement MTSS due to the lack of growth we were experiencing with specific student subgroups. With the financial support of Capistrano Unified School District, we were able to send numerous teachers and administrators to receive training on the PLC process. Moreover, we received additional funding for eight release days, over the course of two years, which afforded us the opportunity to train each teacher on our site in the processes associated with becoming a PLC. The professional development implemented on these release days were created and delivered by our administrative team and instructional coach.

 

Our first step in accumulating the skill-sets associated with becoming a PLC was to identify what students need to learn in every content area and grade level. We called this process prioritizing standards. Teacher teams came to agreement on the standards that were absolutely essential for all students to master prior to moving onto the next grade level. After teacher teams collectively isolated standards based on their endurance, leverage, readiness, and whether or not they were high stakes, they began the tedious work of unwrapping those standards and creating learning targets.

 

Once our teams aligned on learning targets, collectively, we addressed the question, “How do we know when students have learned?”. This led us to explore the concept of common formative assessments. Through our engagement in professional inquiry, we learned how to effectively organize and analyze data from these assessments to maximize their usefulness. A data discussion protocol was created to assist in the analysis of student achievement data so that discussions were focused on guiding instruction by highlighting best teaching practices. Additionally, the data discussion protocol has served as a means to identify students who needed extra time and support on their journey towards mastering the prioritized standards.   

 

With this newfound clarity on assessment items, best teaching practices, and students needing extra time and support, our site moved to answer the question, “What do we do for the students not learning?”. After a full year of professional development, training, and site visits, we created a school-wide systematic response to students not learning called School Wide Educational Learning Lab (SWELL). In our district, SWELL is unique only to BAMS. In the development phases of SWELL, we understood that we had to create a system capable of reaching all students regardless of grade level or content. We also realized that this type of response could not be by invitation only, as some students would choose not to receive help. Through an intricate weekly schedule, teachers at BAMS offer intervention classes for every content area and grade level on a daily basis. In addition, we also offer enrichment classes for the students who have demonstrated high levels of learning and desire to further develop their current skill-sets. Students demonstrating the need for extra time and support are mandated to attend intervention classes during SWELL time and can test out of these classes after receiving instruction. Once students are exited from intervention, students are free to attend enrichment classes. The fluidity of this program is a major strength and is only possible by building intervention time into the school day.

 

Another practice that has contributed to our success is our progressive discipline model called the Step System. Prior to four years ago, we had additional staff on campus that ran an in-house suspension room. Many students were sent to this room during the day for disciplinary infractions. After losing this position to budget cuts, researching the impact of lost instructional time on student learning, and recognizing that suspension rates were our district’s area of greatest need based on the LCAP, our site built consensus on the Step System. The Step System is a series of four interventions that are assigned to students for minor infractions after the classroom teacher has exhausted their management strategies. Each step in the process is unique but all steps involve bringing parents in as team members to support their student in making appropriate decisions conducive to high levels of learning.  Parent involvement intensifies as inappropriate behavior persists starting with a simple email and progressing to a third Step meeting. The third Step is a meeting that is held with the student, parents, teacher, and administrator, to create an action-plan to support the student in making appropriate decisions prior to suspension being considered. This has proved to be an extremely powerful tool in improving behavior because parents are made aware of all issues early and are brought in as team members to identify solutions.

 

Implementation and Monitoring

 

Learning by Doing, is the title of the book written by Rick DuFour that helps guide willing schools through the PLC process and the title is certainly apropos. Our site has been in a constant state of learning by doing. We have come to realize that the PLC process is cyclical and constantly ongoing. Our priority standards have been adjusted every year as new members join our teams and as we become more proficient in understanding exactly what students need to know to be successful at the next level. Our common formative assessments continue to evolve as their connection to intervention becomes more and more obvious. We have learned that these assessments are most productive when they are focused on one or two skill-sets. We have also learned to rely on one another to identify best teaching practices. When a team member’s students produce a high level of learning, as measured by the common formative assessment, it is now an obligation to determine what strategy yielded the best result so that it can be replicated in every class. Not only has our site benefited from this crucial work, but our training material has scaled the walls of our school and influenced many of the schools in our district. Using the training that was developed at our site, there are eleven other middle schools now at different stages in becoming a functioning PLC. Teams from other schools visit our site on a regular basis to study our models.

 

Accountability has been foundational to this process at our site. Team members create norms in order for their collaborative time to be effective. Teachers have been provided common prep time as well as weekly late start time and minimum days to perform the business of professional learning communities. Every step in the process has artifacts or evidence of completion. We learned early on that if we skip steps in the process, our end product is not as useful in helping students. Every product created by the team is housed in a Google team drive that is accessible to all. Lists of priority standards, unwrapping documents, assessment planning guides, assessments and answer keys, student data listed by teacher, and evidence of data discussions, is monitored on a regular basis. The progress monitoring of this process happens by teacher teams and administration, as improving student achievement is a task that is charged to all. Without this process and data, we would not be able to identify students needing extra time and support or what teaching strategies were most effective.

 

While SWELL was being developed, several parent informational nights were held in order to educate and receive feedback from our stakeholders. We found that our parent population overwhelmingly favored a system that provided extra time and support to students who are struggling. In order for SWELL to run effectively, parents and students had to be trained. Several student assemblies and parent informational nights are held annually to educate parents on the process and the purpose of SWELL. Parents serve as an additional accountability structure for this model because the SWELL schedule is sent to them on a weekly basis. They use this schedule to have conversations with their children about what SWELL enrichment classes their students should attend and parents will often reach out to teachers upon the first sign of struggle to request SWELL intervention classes.

Likewise, our Step System is tracked and monitored through Aeries. All teachers have access to a separate discipline tab in Aeries where they can document each Step entry for students enrolled in their classes, and they are able to view entries posted by other teachers. Having this data logged into Aeries, allows our PBIS team and administration to easily pull accessible data that helps us identify trends and target behaviors on a weekly and monthly basis. Our assistant principal also monitors the assignment of Steps to ensure that parents have been contacted prior to the student progressing onto the next Step.

 

Results and Outcomes

 

The result of this work has dramatically impacted the culture of our school. It has not only led to a higher level of understanding of our own content areas, but also forced us to focus deeper on how students learn best. Through analyzing comparable data, our teams are now able to pinpoint specific areas of student deficiency. This allows us to harness the collective knowledge of our faculty and take ownership of every student’s learning regardless of students being in different classes or grade levels. Currently, every content area, at all three grade levels, has developed common formative assessments. Every teacher is involved in regular data discussions where student achievement data is being analyzed to identify best teaching practices, and students needing additional time and support. Not only have we seen increased achievement in our site-based common formative assessments but also in district-wide benchmarks. A recent analysis of district benchmark data for social studies has our students leading the district in student achievement.

 

Our work with learning targets, assessments, and intervention, has also impacted the student achievement of our students with IEPs, English Language Learners, and Socioeconomically Disadvantaged students. Students with IEPs have significantly increased achievement based on their CAASPP results. Students with IEPs have grown 13% in both ELA and Math over two years. Socioeconomically Disadvantaged students have grown 2% in Math. English Learners have shown growth in areas of Math and ELA. A deeper analysis of CAASPP results demonstrated that over the past two years our English Learners, though not yet meeting proficiency, have displayed significant growth by drastically decreasing the overall average distance from Level 3. Based on results posted on the California School Dashboard, overall growth in both ELA and Math has an overall status of High.

 

Additionally, we have seen a drastic reduction in student suspensions since implementing the Step System. We have experienced a 40% reduction in overall suspensions. Likewise, 72% of students who earned their first Step needed no further discipline, 75% of students who earned a second Step needed no further discipline, and 76% of students who earned a third Step did not move onto being suspended. In total, less than 1% of our student population progressed through the entire Step System necessitating suspension. This is clear evidence that through effective parent communication, intervention at the earliest sign of disruption, and collaboration between all stakeholders, student behavior has clearly improved as a result of this program.

 

Furthermore, based on the results of the California Healthy Kids Survey, two years ago Bernice Ayer Middle School had the lowest overall School Climate Index in the Capistrano Unified School District. This year, Bernice Ayer Middle School had the highest overall middle school (SCI) School Climate Index score and the second highest when compared to all schools in the Capistrano Unified School District. Moreover, despite current upward trends in harassment and bullying, students have reported a rapid decrease in both harassment and bullying. Two years ago, our School Climate Index fell in the 45th percentile in the state of California. Today, we are ranked in the 97th percentile. The student perception of safety on campus has never been higher and leads our district.