Saturday, August 28, 2010

Doubling Student Performance (2)

On Thursday, I wrote about the concept of doubling student performance. The word comes from a book by Allen Odden of the University of Wisconsin, titled Doubling Student Performance and finding the resources to do it. I'm writing about Doubling, because, while we haven't used the word here in St. Cloud, "doubling" is exactly what we have undertaken to do. Now we have a whole bunch of students in our district who are, well, scoring off the charts. Our two high schools run about 600 Advance placement test-takers and about 800 Advanced placement tests taken each year, give or take. We rank in the top schools in the state in terms of students taking really hard courses and doing really well. So, we have a significant group of students who are performing at the very top of students in Minnesota and in the nation.

The concept of doubling, speaks to making a quantum leap in the performance of a sub-group of students who are not reaching proficiency. Odden's book reports the results of the University of Wisconsin's research into how school districts have taken these students--who are not performing at acceptable levels--and "doubled" their performance. He calls it doubling, because the idea is that if only 40% of a particular subgroup of students are performing at the proficient level, the district decides to double the number reaching proficiency, say, to 80%. Doubling is a benefit to the students themselves, of course, because it means that they are prepared to be productive citizens as adults. But doubling benefits other students as well, because it means more students are taking advanced courses, and the more students taking advanced courses, the broader and deeper the courses we can offer.

I'm going to stay on this topic, because its so important and so central to what we are seeking to achieve in our school district. Odden writes about how districts can marshal existing resources to make significant progress, and how it can reallocate resources where necessary. He argues that school districts cannot start by obsessing about the barriers to this doubling process. He says that the school districts that have made stellar progress by first using the resources that they have. He doesn't claim that all districts have all the resources they need, but he argues that we need to focus first on achieving exceptional results with the resources we have.

Today, I simply want to list the Ten Strategies, a few each day, that Odden says are common to the school districts that make exceptional progress. I'll discuss each of these in future posts in more detail. The first three are:
  • Understanding the performance problem and the challenge.√ In the past year or so, you may have heard teachers and administrators discussing 'data retreats', and that is one of the things that they do at data retreats. They "gain an understanding of the current performance data by analyzing state or local testing data."
Now before some of you minimize the importance of doing this, remember I'm reporting to you what the one of the leading national experts on making huge performance leaps has found over and over again in successful districts. This is not some theoretical exercise in education philosophy. This is the results of painstaking study of success. So stay with me for a while. I'm arguing that the best way do something hard, is to replicate the work of folks who have been successful. I put a checkmark next to the first one, because this work is well underway in our district.
  • Set ambitious goals. Odden says that the successful school districts "ignore demographics and set high expectations" without regard to perceived barriers. The goals strive for quantum improvements that apply to minority students, first generation students, poor students, and non-English speaking students. We don't focus, then, on the reasons why students might fail; we set goals that might, at first, seem almost insurmountable. I put a check next to this item as well, because in fact, in our last year's strategic plan adoption, the District did establish eye popping goals for its students, although frankly that decision was little noticed, and I think it is important that we better explain the magnitude of what we have undertaken.
  • Change the curriculum Program and Create a new instructional vision. Odden says that almost always the school makes major changes in the curriculum, especially in those parts of the curriculum that are not achieving success for all students. This is a big undertaking; it cannot be done overnight. It doesn't require that everything is tossed. You keep what is working. But it requires making significant changes, and as we shall see, making these changes requires adoption of some of the other ten strategies. I'm not going to put a final check next to this one, although in a variety of areas, the district has made some major changes already in teaching approaches. But in the next post, I'll take a look at how Districts radically change the approach to instruction, use testing more effectively, and find ways to use instructional time more efficiently.
That's it for today. Seven more to come.

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