How to Raise Student Achievement

Published: 02nd October 2009
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The focus in schools today is to raise achievement among our students. While that is an admirable goal, I suggest that schools evaluate what they are already doing well. Then, get rid of those less important strategies and focus on those that are really working.

There is a magic moment we feel as teachers when we are able to help a student overcome a challenge and be successful, both in their behavior and their studies. Stop feeling that you have to reach everyone and do everything yourself and trust that you are capable to reach your students.

Provide Interventions

One solution our school has come up with is to create problem solving teams by grade to brainstorm solutions that will work for a specific group of children. The entire team must buy into the measuring process you agree on. For example, graphing has been very successful. The next steps are to conduct a pre-test, organize the students by results, break up the team members (dont forget administrators and special ed teachers), one for each group of students, and work with the group of students to improve where the pre-testing indicated necessary, using intervention when needed. The follow up tests will show significant improvements. The children will test proficient on the graphs, and many will even surpass that goal. The school district will be very pleased when its time to take mandatory state testing.

Dont forget to plan for the needs of accelerated students who must also get what they need to raise their achievement and to eliminate boredom of our brightest students.

Response to Intervention

One way to raise achievement results in more challenging students is to use the broadened system of accommodations which I have established, which was designed to work in combination with what is now known as Response to Intervention (RTI). It began with a meeting among the students parents, administrators and teachers to discuss the specific concerns with the students and to cooperate in creating a workable plan which included accommodations that would support the advancement of the students accomplishments.

Its important to keep in mind that making accommodations for a student should not be interpreted as an attempt to change the curriculum. It is common among teachers, even those in special education to misunderstand this point, which is a key reason why teachers often lower their standards for students who are struggling. Rather than lower expectation, accommodations are designed to assist students in successfully navigating the curriculum as set by the administration. Curriculum modifications should be reserved only for those students with severe disabilities who have cognitive reasons for being unable to complete the curriculum as planned.

An example of an appropriate accommodation follows: There was a boy, well call him Richard, who had a very difficult time focusing on his work. He had been diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) and was very bright. He drove the teacher crazy! Still, during our meeting we came up with accommodations to help him be successful.

It is a critical component to the accommodation process to let the student in on the plan and get his agreement to participate, as well as to establish a penalty process if the student does not participate as agreed. Make sure the student understands that the goal is to help him succeed in school. Most students are aware of the problems and are happy that their parents and teachers care enough to work with them toward a solution.

In the plan, Richard was to be allowed to get up and walk at the back of the room when he could no longer sit quietly and do his work, and as long as he was not disruptive to others. Richard was to use a small hour glass provided by the parents. When the sand ran out, it was then that he could get up and walk around for a minute and the back of the room. During instruction, he was given a tactile ball to squeeze and play with while he listened to the teacher.

There were additional accommodations for Richards parents at home as well. Each evening, Richard and his parents would prepare a list of things to remember in the morning, including homework and backpack. Forgetting these items had been another challenge for Richard in the past.

After a month, we had a follow up meeting (very important) to see if the accommodations were working. Indeed, the teacher had noticed great progress, and he was no longer a distraction to the class.

Use Student Data

It is critical to use data derived from both formative and summative testing to improve success in the classroom. This information should be used by administration to group students with similar needs so that teachers can work with these students together. It would not be possible to work with each student individually, so grouping students with similar concerns is more efficient.

Schools should allow teachers to work together to compare student achievement, such as writing samples, to establish inter-rater reliability for grading childrens work and to arrive at a definition of proficient writing. This method can be used for other curriculum subjects as well in order to establish a school that understands each level of proficiency.

Student Engagement

In order for students to learn, they must be interested in the content and approach. Teaching students to think at higher levels is essential. Understanding the revised Blooms Taxonomy and aligning it with each standard and objective is another activity that raises teacher understanding of the standards and how to teach them. At McREL it was called Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum. There is so much that you can do with teachers and students to raise student achievement. See McRELs Classroom Instruction That Works for great ideas and strategies for creating meaningful activities that will raise student achievement.

Donna Newberg Long, aka Principal Donna has been an educator for over 20 years. As the principal of 2 start up schools, Donna provides consultation for start ups and schools in need of advice. Visit www.AskPrincipalDonna.com for more information or call 303.280.5220 to discuss your schools needs.

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