Behind the 40+ Point API Gains at Wells, Frederiksen and Dublin Elementary
As you likely know by this point, last Thursday the California Department of Education released the Academic Performance Index (API) results for all school districts in the state. The API reports on academic performance and growth of schools on a variety of measures. The overall Dublin District API rose to 901 (a 17 point increase over 2011 and 69 point increase since 2007).
This article focuses on the dramatic improvements made by three of our schools – Wells Middle, Frederiksen Elementary and Dublin Elementary School. In some school districts, it is fairly common to attain an annual 1-2% increase in API. These three schools, however, achieved +5% growth rates – a remarkable achievement. Dublin Elementary rose 50 points to 928, Frederiksen Elementary grew 48 points to 894 and Wells Middle School improved by 44 points to 870.
OneDublin.org recently had the opportunity to visit with the leadership of all three schools noted – Principals Lauren McGovern (Dublin Elementary School), Holly Scroggins (Frederiksen Elementary School) and Dr. Kevin Grier (Wells Middle School). Our mission was to explore how these dramatic increases were achieved.
OneDublin.org: What specific strategies were employed at your site to help accomplish these gains?
Lauren McGovern: “Our score is the result of staff, family and student collaboration. Last year, our team provided reading and math intervention, direct instruction in academic vocabulary, increased universal access (targeted/skill-based teaching) time, ACCLAIM (multiple method) math strategies, data displays on classroom doors, student goal-setting conferences, and frequent communication with families. We are so grateful to our Parent Faculty Club, School Site Council, and volunteers for their time, dedication and financial support.”
Holly Scroggins: “We narrowed our approached and focused on five instructional concepts. They were Direct Explicit Instruction – clearly teaching/practicing a concept, Differentiation – leveling the learning experience, Total Participation – which included student engagement techniques (not the same students raising their hands), Standards Based Daily Spiral Reviews – utilizing board language and board math and Strategic Schooling – included seating charts, setting student goals and test taking strategies.”
Kevin Grier: “At Wells, we used a combination of different strategies. The primary strategy was to target specific students who were in the basic range on the CST in either Math or English who could be moved across the band to the proficient band or beyond. It helped to make the task of moving students more manageable when we identified specific students. We were then able to focus on them during the daily lessons and when we offered additional time and resources to students. In addition, the staff worked together in their collaboration meetings to identify essential standards – the standards that they felt were key for all students to know at each grade level. Then, the staff worked to design lessons and assessments that checked a student’s mastery of these concepts.”
OneDublin.org: How did you convey to the students the importance of increasing academic achievement in the short-term?
McGovern: “We had a school-wide campaign, “We are the Champions!” The students set learning goals, the teachers monitored their progress on classroom data doors, and the male teachers held a “rock assembly” to “pump” the students up for testing. Also, the whole school wore “I am a Champion” bracelets during the month of testing.”
Scroggins: “Our upper grades showed the students that when they were setting goals how trying for two, three, four or more problems correctly could make a big difference in their scores. We also turned last year into a goal setting culture, not only with our teachers and students, but also with our parents.”
Grier: “I feel very strongly that students at the junior high level need to be involved in their learning and, consequently, their assessment of that learning. The Wells counselors had frank conversations with students about where they were in their learning and what they could work on. The counselors used CST data from last year to help with this discussion. I was also very transparent with the students, the staff and the parents about where Wells was with regard to scores and where we needed to be and what I felt needed to happen.”
OneDublin.org: In the last year, there has been much discussion within the District to implement a Professional Learning Community (PLC) in the interest of fostering collaboration and, ultimately, academic success. What elements of PLC were associated with your school’s success?
McGovern: “Our staff set goals, shared ideas/materials, followed through on responsibilities, we were committed to the success of all students… basically, they were relentless.”
Scroggins: “Frederiksen found a way for teachers to meet weekly to talk about their units of study, assessments, focus students, and RTI needs. This made a big difference because our responses to student learning could be very immediate.”
Grier: “We used the entire PLC process to earn our results. It involved asking three key questions: What do we want the students to learn? How will we know if they learned it? What will we do for those who don’t get it and for those that do? Additionally, the staff used every Collaboration Day in which to work as a team and to truly move these students closer to their maximum potential.”
OneDublin.org: With these recent positive results, what best practices will your administration and staff continue to employ in support of continued academic achievement?
McGovern: “We will continue to provide reading and math intervention, direct instruction in academic vocabulary, increased universal access (targeted/skill-based teaching) time, ACCLAIM (multiple method) math strategies, data displays on classroom doors, student goal-setting conferences, and frequent communication with families.”
Scroggins: “We will continue to work on the Five Instructional Focus. We are planning to just get deeper into them and to broaden our understanding and learning as a staff. They are all about ensuring student learning.”
Grier: “We will continue to use the practice of identifying key students that can be “targeted” for extra support to move them over into the proficient band. We’ll continue to sponsor a “working lunch” for students who forget to do their homework. This year, we installed an Academic Prep Time class in the last period of the day so that students can get started on their work and/or to receive support from a teacher.”
Ms. Scroggins shared an anecdote that was part of a presentation by Andrew Fisher of Total School Solutions. Andrew, a retired principal, led a workshop for all site leaders in DUSD in the last year. On the subject of deeper subject learning vs. “teaching to the test”, he offered this anecdote about his own son. The young man returned home glumly after failing his DMV exam – specifically when it came to parallel parking. Andrew couldn’t understand this as his son has flawlessly executed this exercise countless times. The difference: While he was used to parking between two parked cars, the driving test required him to park between two orange cones. The young driver was out of his element. The lesson: The goal is for students to deepen their understanding of subjects and to generalize their learning so that they can succeed in any environment.
To complete our discussion on this topic, OneDublin.org reached out to Superintendent Dr. Stephen Hanke for his thoughts on this promising API data release.
OneDublin.org: The District scores for 2012 have exceeded 900 for an aggregate API for the first time. What does this mean to you and for the District staff?
Dr. Stephen Hanke: “The results are in and the ongoing trend in the District is up. We have ten consecutive years of growth and have raised the API 120 points since 2002 and 69 points in the past six years. Ultimately, this means that more students are learning at levels never achieved before. District-wide, 80% of our students are proficient or advanced in Language Arts, 79% in Math. The essential point here is that our journey as a Professional Learning Community is working. The three elements of a PLC are paramount:
- Our purpose is student learning – we truly believe it
- We are building a collaborative culture – teams outperform individuals every day
- We use data to inform instruction – we also believe that we can always get better.”
“Education is not the filling of the pail, but, the lighting of the fire.”
– William Butler Yeats
Fittingly, Yeats might say that in the Dublin Unified School District, the fire has been lit.