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Teacher Advancement Program.

Olmec Improvement 11-27-05

By Mae Dove
Posted from Lincoln, Arkansas

I would like to share my experiences as a participant in the Teacher Advancement Program. Please keep in mind that I am not an official spokesman for the Milken Family Foundation or the Teacher Advancement Program. I teach Spanish at Lincoln High School in Lincoln, Arkansas. I am a career teacher of 42 years experience. My involvement with the Milken Family Foundation program, also known as the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP), began three and one half years ago.

A Systematic, Research-Based Plan
Guides Academic Improvement.

Like most schools across the nation, my school was struggling to improve student learning and raise scores on high stakes exams such as the End of Course Literacy and End of Course Algebra and Geometry Exams. We also wanted our students to score better on the ACT.

We all felt that we were teaching our hardest, but our students' performances on tests indicated that the results did not match the efforts. We were concerned about meeting "Adequate Yearly Progress."

Then we heard about an elementary school and a middle school in Van Buren, Arkansas, that were meeting and exceeding state requirements for school improvement. Both schools were participating in the TAP program, so we sent a committee of teachers and administrators to observe these schools and to learn what were they doing differently.

We later sent another committee of teachers and administrators to visit these exceptional schools — and we liked what we saw. Following the guidelines of the TAP program, our neighbor school system was achieving academic success, while others in the region were falling farther and farther behind on state expectations.

Charting Unknown Courses
For the Classroom Teacher.

Impressed by this information and eager to see if we could make it happen at our school, we voted to organize Lincoln High School as a TAP school. We applied to the Milken Family Foundation, met with TAP leadership, and were accepted to become a part of the program. When we learned that we were the first high school in the nation to join the program, we felt that we were charting unknown courses.

The basic premise of the Teacher Advancement Program is that the classroom teacher is the single most important factor in student achievement. By coupling this foundational concept with the premise that teachers can follow a systematic, research-based plan for improving instruction, we were ready to begin our journey as a TAP school.

The first step was to divide our teachers into clusters, TAP's term for the traditional departments used to organize most secondary schools. We hold cluster meetings once a week, and once a month each cluster meets for a half-day session. At my school, clusters are formed in each academic discipline: math, science, social studies, language arts, fine arts, vocational education, and special education.

Because of scheduling problems, our physical education/health teachers are grouped into the Social Studies Cluster. We also have a specialty cluster made up of our librarian, counselor, dean of students, and media specialists.

The Need for Creative Scheduling.

It took some pretty creative scheduling to group teachers by departments into the planning periods. All teachers understood that once a week they would be giving up their planning period, and that once a month, they would have to turn over their lessons to a substitute so they could attend the half-day cluster sessions. The Walton Family Foundation joined with the Milken Family Foundation to fund the expenses we would face to hire substitutes.

We also hired a master teacher, who teaches two periods a day, and two mentor teachers, who teach four periods a day. Their other, non-classroom periods are devoted to the TAP program. The TAP money helped defray the cost of additional teachers needed to teach the classes that would previously have been part of the master teacher's and two mentor teachers' work load. I serve as a mentor teacher.

Five Steps for Effective Learning.

What exactly do we do? We follow a plan devised by the TAP leadership based on the concept, "Five Steps for Effective Learning." The basic idea is that teachers learn, too.

First, each teacher identifies a need.

Second, we learn researched strategies to address the identified need. An example of a researched strategy might be how to best use manipulatives to improve students' comprehension of math word problems.

Third, we develop and practice these strategies in our cluster.

Fourth, we apply the new learning in our classrooms.

Fifth, we evaluate its effectiveness.

Tests and Pretests Help Teachers
Identify Specific Academic Needs.

The first step, identify the need, can be based on an analysis of test results such as the End of Course Literacy Exam, or on a pretest within an individual classroom or department.

For example, after analyzing scores in the literacy exam, we have identified needs in the areas of reading comprehension. More specifically, our students need to improve their responses to questions concerning cause and effect relationships in content reading passages as measured by multiple-choice questions. Our science cluster chose this need because cause and effect relationships and reading in content passages seemed to be a logical skill needed by students in all science classes.

Other clusters focused on different identified areas. As part of the integrated TAP approach to excellence, our entire school is targeting skills in literacy and math; we are totally committed to teaching across the curriculum.

Precise and Detailed Analysis.

I would like to say at this point that data analysis is now a way of life at my high school. In many schools, the end result is known on high-stakes tests; after all, the results are posted in the newspapers. At my school, however, we can pinpoint specific areas with great precision and detail. We can tell you how our students scored on the End of Course Algebra I exam, broken down by how many students correctly answered questions that called for solving equations and inequalities as measured by multiple choice questions and as measured by open response questions. We can tell you how our students did on multiple-choice questions on polynomial operations and how they did on open response (word problems).

In literacy, we can tell you how our students scored on questions calling for comprehension in a content area as measured by cause and effect multiple choice questions or by open response questions. This data is available to all schools in the state of Arkansas; at Lincoln High School, we use it to determine identified needs and a companion plan of action. We also study released items from the tests to get a better understanding of what our students are asked to do.

Using the state frameworks governing literacy and math, we compile data on a skill-by-skill basis to identify whether or not each student has mastered pertinent testing skills. Using that information, we plan individual remediation.

In Search of the Best Strategy.

Once armed with data that tells us where our students stand in the learning curve, we are ready to advance to step two of the Five Steps for Effective Learning. We research proven strategies for teaching a specific skill. We model and practice each strategy in cluster meetings, and then field-test the strategy in a classroom (with both pre and post tests) to decide if the potential strategy should be employed.

We have opportunities to observe teachers who are having good success with a particular strategy before we actually take the strategy to our classroom. After adopting the strategy, we are also observed to help us fine-tune the process.

We bring examples of student work to cluster meetings. If the work is an open response question, rather than a multiple-choice type of assignment, we often grade each paper and pass it around the table to help "norm" this type of grading, which can be a bit subjective. Post-tests provide us with data to evaluate the effectiveness of each teaching strategy.

Scan and Run, Warm-UP.

For example, after researching how to improve reading comprehension in the content area, we selected two reading strategies, "Scan and Run" and "Warm-UP."

Warm-UP calls for determining what the question is asking before we access a strategy, such as a graphic organizer. We read the text, master the answer, use examples from the text, and write in paragraph form to answer an open response question.

Reading teachers may be skilled in employing a reading strategy when they teach, but how many science, vocational, and social studies teachers also take the time to teach a reading comprehension skill while teaching content to their students? Warm-UP helps every teacher become a better reading teacher.

Like many schools, we have struggled with helping our students answer open response questions in math. We tried several strategies, and then made the decision to hire an outside consultant to teach our math teachers how to make math more hands-on and more relevant to our students. We are excited about this new learning for our teachers. Our hopes are high that the results will be positive on the End of Course math exams.

Test Results Prove TAP's Effectiveness.

Does it work? Consider the results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test, which was administered first in the spring of 2004 and then again in the spring of 2005. We are members of the High Schools That Work consortium. Over 1,000 member schools scattered over 36 states administered the NAEP test to their students.

The scale for each test subject is 0 to 500. The test results allow us to see how we measure against other schools of similar demographics, and allow us to see how we measure against the "best" or top 15 per cent of schools participating in this test. In 2005, a mean score goal in reading was set at 279; Lincoln's mean score was 298. The mean score goal for science was set at 299; Lincoln's mean score was 314. In reading, the mean score goal was 279; our score was 298.

How does this compare to the top 15 per cent of the schools tested? These schools are labeled "high scoring sites." For 2005, the mean score for such schools in math was 309; in reading, 290; and in science, 309. Notice that Lincoln exceeded the mean score set by the "high scoring sites" in all three areas.

In the End of Course Literacy Exam, we moved our students from 45 percent proficient to 56 percent proficient. Our literacy scores have advanced in each of our three years as a TAP school. More significantly, we have decreased the percentage of students scoring below basic to five percent.

Promoting Professional Growth
In Instruction, Classroom Management.

Test scores and test data are just one component of the TAP Program. Helping teachers improve their instructional skills and classroom management are other major areas of professional growth.

Our philosophy is that good teachers can grow professionally and improve their teaching skills, and that novice teachers will have a strong support system to help them mature as professional educators. Those who hold the position of master teacher or mentor teacher work to evaluate the other classroom teachers for the sole purpose of helping each teacher improve. For instance, if we see a teacher struggling with the skill of questioning, we help develop a plan for improving that skill. Such a plan might include team teaching, providing opportunities for one teacher to observe another, or practicing questioning skills during cluster meetings.

Our high school principal, mentor teachers, and master teacher have received extensive training on using the TAP rubric for teacher evaluation. We began our training by attending a two-week orientation session in which we learned about the TAP program. That training was followed up with on-site professional development, in which the state TAP director visited our school and watched us in action in our cluster meetings and our leadership meetings. We had to complete and turn in copies of all of our cluster meeting records.

The TAP Instructional Rubric.

At the close of the school year, we were visited by a team of national level TAP directors, who conducted a program review. Before school started in the fall, we again attended training sessions. We watched videos of teachers presenting lessons and had to score those lessons according to the TAP instructional rubric. Our scores had to be within specified boundaries of all other scorers on that same lesson. The rubric itself consists of three major divisions; first, Instruction, with 12 subdivisions; second, Designing and Planning Instruction, with 2 subdivisions; and third, The Learning Environment, with 4 subdivisions.

Let me share with you details about one subdivision on the Instruction part of the rubric. It is called Presenting Instructional Content. Exemplary is scored a five; proficient earns a three; and Needs Improvement scores one. To earn a five on this part of the rubric, the teacher must:

1) Use visuals that establish the purpose of the lesson, preview the organization of the lesson, and include internal summaries of the lesson.

2) Use examples, illustrations, analogies, and labels for new concepts and ideas.

3) Use modeling to demonstrate his or her performance expectations.

4) Use concise communication.

5) Use logical sequencing and segmenting.

6) Include all essential information.

7) Include no irrelevant, confusing, or non-essential information.

There are over 60 subsections on the rubric. Our teachers are observed six times during the school year, for a full class period, and are given a follow-up conference each time with either the principal, master teacher, or mentor teacher, whose job it is to reinforce the strengths of each teacher and to help all teachers grow by developing a plan for improvement on one section of the rubric at a time.

A Support System, Hard Work,
And Courage Can Change Attitudes.

Now I ask, did all of this growth and improvement come about without any problems? No. Of course not.

It required a change in attitude toward teacher evaluations by everyone involved.

It required a support system where teachers now feel comfortable to have anywhere from one to five other teachers walk into their room, announced or unannounced.

It takes a lot of hard work to do the research, the pre and post tests, to plan for team teaching, observations, and cluster meetings. It takes a lot of courage to invite a master or mentor into one's class, and say, "Come into my 4th period, I want you to watch while I try out the strategy we practiced in cluster. I want your feedback."

It takes a lot of courage to take samples of your students' work to a cluster session for other teachers to help you evaluate.

Getting Better and Better.

TAP required a major change in attitude for many of our teachers, who rightfully considered themselves as the experts in their content areas, before they could accept the benefits of the program: that someone outside their content area might be able to effectively evaluate them and propose changes in their pedagogy.

Do we have one hundred percent buy-in on the program? Probably not, but our end-of-course scores tell us that what we are doing at Lincoln High School is effective. Truth is, we have transformed our school into an academic winner. This past spring we were invited to attend a conference in Washington, D.C., to represent high schools of the 21st Century. We also were invited to Little Rock as one of the top ten schools in Arkansas to again focus on high schools for the 21st Century. We know we are getting better and better. The data proves it.

The End

Mae Dove

E D I T O R ' S   N O T E :   Guest writer Mae Dove teaches at Lincoln High School in northwest Arkansas. She writes:

I graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1963 and began a teaching career that is going into its forty-second year. I had majored in Social Science with a minor in Spanish, so my teaching career involves teaching high school students: World History, American History, American Government, Geography, and Spanish. I received my Masters in Education in 1973 and continued taking classes to strengthen my Spanish skills.

I started my teaching career at a small school in Pleasanton, Kansas, south of Kansas City. I married and had my first child, a son. When my husband finished his term in the military, we returned to Arkansas. As marriage, children and family decisions often required changes in my job choices, I taught for nine years at Springdale High School, one year at Winthrop High School, and ten years at Pea Ridge High School. During that time, our second child, a daughter was born.

For the last twenty years, I have been at Lincoln High School. As the demand for Spanish as a second language continued to grow, I found myself teaching fewer and fewer social studies classes. For the past twelve years, I have been a full time foreign language teacher.

So, I have taught in one of the largest school systems in the state of Arkansas, and in one of the smallest. The common thread that links all of these schools was the students; kids are kids and all have the same basic needs. Recently I decided it was time for me to go back to school to work toward a doctorate in education. Thus far, the classes that I have taken have been challenging and rewarding. I truly believe that teachers must continue to be learners and I am looking forward to continuing my formal education.

Thanks, Mae! Your contribution to our continuing exploration of education is greatly appreciated. We eagerly await the next contribution from the Planet Gnosis cyber community.

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