Schools Take Eight Steps to Boost Scores

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Roanoke Times (VA)

November 2, 2009

Highland High School in Monterey, VA, is starkly different from public high schools in Roanoke. The mountainous community is agrarian, and almost all of Highland?s students are white. But the two school divisions have some things in common: At least half the students receive free or reduced-price lunches, and both use the same instructional method to boost student achievement on standardized tests.

Highland High Principal Kelly Wilmore learned the method when he worked as Roanoke?s social-studies coordinator. When he left the city in 2008 to take the helm of Highland County?s only high school, he brought with him the ?8-Step Instructional Cycle,? the brainchild of Patricia Davenport and Gerald Anderson, co-authors of the book Closing the Achievement Gap: No Excuses.

Wilmore said it helped his school achieve high pass rates on state Standards of Learning tests and the highest on-time graduation in the state?96.6%. The process is derived from W. Edwards Deming?s quality-control business model of plan, do, check and act. The Roanoke School Board spent about $275,000 four years ago on the training and follow-up monitoring.

?Once you?ve learned the power of it, it?s hard not to want to take it when you go,? said Vella Wright, Roanoke?s assistant superintendent for teaching and learning. She said it is the catalyst for the increased number of accredited schools in the city.

?I saw it work really well in Roanoke,? Wilmore said. ?It works better for us [at Highland] because we have a small population, and we can stay on top of every kid.?

There are 155 students in grades eight through 12 at Wilmore?s school. The county?s on-time graduation cohort, with 29 students, was the smallest in the state last year. All but one student graduated, and Wilmore said the boy dropped out of school.

On a dry erase board in his office, Wilmore keeps a list of the students?that?s the first step of the eight?who did not pass Standards of Learning benchmark tests last year. Those students are targeted to receive remediation, which is step five of the process.

This school year, the benchmarks to make Adequate Yearly Progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act are 83% and 85%, respectively, for math and reading. That means 83% and 85% of the students taking SOL tests in those subjects must pass for the school to make AYP. By 2014, every student nationwide will be expected to pass the benchmarks.

Wilmore posted a formula on the board: the number of students who need to pass divided by number of students taking the tests. For reading, 95 of the 112 test takers need to pass to achieve a pass rate of 85%. ?It?s no different than being a coach,? Wilmore said. ?I look at where we are weak and ask how we get strong.?

He trained teachers at Highland High to put the method to work. First, the teachers teach the SOL objective, and then a short assessment is given. ?If 80% pass, you move on,? Wilmore said. ?If only 40% pass, you go back and teach it again.?

There is a much larger whiteboard in Wright?s Roanoke office. Last year?s data for six schools that school officials watched soon will be erased and replaced with data from the school year?s first assessment, which will be given this month. Two more simulation benchmark tests will be given in January and March before the real thing in late spring.

Wright will continue to monitor the data throughout the year. ?To me, the effectiveness is clear from the number of schools being accredited,? she said, adding that the eight-step method ?has become part of our core.?

Teacher use of the process is a component of annual performance evaluations. Latasha Suggs, a teacher at Roanoke?s Monterey Elementary School and co-president of the Roanoke Education Association, said teachers are expected to follow the eight-step model. There is extra emphasis on it at Monterey Elementary this year because the school has not made AYP for the past two years.

?There?s no doubt if you do it like it is supposed to be done, it works,? said Suggs, whose third-grade class recently took a math quiz on addition with regrouping. She and another third-grade teacher evaluated the scores and divided the students into two groups, one to receive enrichment and the other to undergo remediation.

?After a retest, the ones who had trouble the first time, their grades improved,? Suggs said. ?The second time around, they showed an understanding.? She said the method is an effective tool that can be used constantly to monitor the needs of students and plan accordingly, and both are things teachers should be doing anyway.

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