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                                       CHAPTER 4

                                   Comparative Analysis

Introduction

       This case-study represents an effort to demonstrate a substantive theory that is

significant, theory-observation compatible, generalizable, reproducible, and rigorous.

The information presented previously describes Swatara MS and the Central Dauphin

School District and defines the school’s quest to improve 8th-grade math achievement as

measured by the state assessment. A review of the research of others is included to

provide historical information relative to the responsibilities and the challenges public

schools face today. Also, the responses from in-depth interviews of local middle-level

school experts pertaining to school improvement are incorporated and serve as a basis for

comparison to Swatara MSs improvement plan efforts.

       This study is a realistic example of one middle school’s journey to improvement

and it illuminates the challenges NCLB elicits for public schools today, as well as the

struggles in maintaining safe schools. Although a daunting process for some schools, this

study demonstrates that it is possible for schools to improve student learning for all

students without significantly increasing costs. The information provided in this study

offers suggestions and a five-point model for transformational leadership teams to

consider when adapting improvement strategies for their schools’ reform efforts.

       The interview sessions bring to light emerging themes that coincide with the

process utilized by Swatara MS to improve student achievement as evidenced in this

study. School improvement plans require assessing the school’s current condition and
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particularly whether or not student behavior in the school is manageable. Improving

student achievement requires a well-organized school system that is flexible and open to

change. For example, it is necessary to align curriculums with the state standards and

assessment system targets. Successful schools make certain that instruction is consistent

and pervasive and a main objective is to increase the number of proficient students. To

improve student achievement regularly, as required by NCLB annual targets, it is

necessary for school systems to revisit and retry procedures.

       Prior to the district’s implementation of the 4Sight Benchmark Assessment

program in 2006-2007, a program designed to predict a student’s performance on the

state assessment and for which remedial programs are based on, Swatara MS

implemented an 8th-grade remedial math program designed to improve student

achievement as measured by the Pennsylvania state assessment system. Swatara MS

students were assigned to math remediation sessions based on their scores on benchmark

assessments created by teachers. The remedial math sessions involved two components.

First, 8th-grade students used a computer-based program, Following the Leaders,

designed to address basic math deficiencies. The second component involved small

group instruction with three main objectives: to reteach previously taught math concepts

from the core curriculum, to expose students to test-taking strategies, and to offer student

additional opportunities to practice example math problems from previous state

assessments.

       It is important to understand that prior to implementing the remedial math

program, the Swatara MS staff worked together to improve student behavior and create a
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healthy school climate. The first year of school improvement (2003-2004) and part of the

second year’s major focus was on improving student behavior and the school’s

organization. An emphasis of the school’s administration involved improving

relationships among the staff, the students, and the community. Although a core focus

remained on student behavior throughout the study, after notable improvement in both

student behavior and in the school’s organizational design was realized, a deliberate

effort to improve math scores was set in motion.



Description of Comparative Analysis

       In this study the comparative analysis is broken-down into time-periods and

includes detailed explanations of improvement efforts as compared to what the local

educational experts reported during interview sessions. The information acquired during

the interview sessions unveils the essential reasons why the other local middle schools

were committed to their practices during the noted periods and offer the opportunity for

comparison of viable methodologies. Additional information obtained during the

interviews describes the characteristics of the other schools (see appendix B for interview

questions) and provides informed perspectives as to what other local, middle-level

educators deem important when positioning schools suitably, as the NCLB timeline

unfolds and the target that every child be proficient grows nearer.

       Today’s school principals are faced with numerous, arduous responsibilities that

previous school administrators did not encounter and were not prepared to cope with

during their tenures. Current building administrators are expected to effectively function
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in an ever-changing environment where persistent pressure to improve student

achievement (as measured by standardized assessments) is compounded with the

expectation to maintain safe schools. In addition, administrators in public schools today

must contend with increased state and federal mandates and tighter budgets. The

information presented in this report is intended to demonstrate how following a well-

developed school improvement plan, such as the five-point model described in chapter 5,

can successfully lead a school’s reform efforts in an era where change is continuous and

critical.

        Swatara MSs transformation from a failing middle school to a school in which

student achievement is celebrated and respected is presented in detail in chapter 4. An

account of the labors of crafting and implementing a long-term systematic school

improvement plan in an ever-changing diverse environment is illustrated. Swatara MSs

restructuring information is presented and compared to what local experts said during

one-on-one interview sessions about improving schools. Included are descriptions that

reveal Swatara MSs reculturing progression which Fullan (1997) described as changing

the norms, values, incentives, skills, and relationships in the organization to foster a

different way of working together to improve teaching and learning. Additional

information highlighting realistic practices that the respondents deemed necessary for

school improvement are also illustrated. For example, each of the respondents explained

the importance of the school leader and the criticalness of creating a professional learning

environment that allows the school’s staff to feel valued and significant. The respondents

emphasized the value of maintaining high staff morale in schools. For example, during a
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turbulent period at the beginning of reform efforts in December, 2003, Swatara JHS staff

played 8th-grade students in the first annual faculty versus student basketball game

during a school assembly on the day before winter recess. The purpose of the event was

to regenerate school spirit and energy in order to move forward with reform efforts.

       Although the Swatara MS reform efforts were directed at achieving the targets

set-forth by the NCLB guidelines, improvement endeavors were designed to enhance

teaching and learning; all interview respondents regarded this as imperative. Initially,

during the 2003-2004 school year, staff development was intended to assist teachers to

improve their classroom management skills to facilitate the construction of an appropriate

school learning environment. The next undertaking involved targeting students who

would benefit most from remedial lessons (i.e. those students who scored in the middle to

upper part of the basic category on the benchmark test and who were likely able to attain

a proficient score on the PSSA with extra assistance). Additionally, it was important to

begin to have teachers rethink prioritizing instructional goals. After math scores

improved in 2005, the reform plan’s scope evolved to developing and implementing a

prioritized curriculum and a more methodical approach to instruction. As scores

continued to improve and teachers experienced more success in their classrooms, staff

morale improved and a professional learning community which the respondents deemed

essential for improvement to occur and to continue was set in motion.

       The results of this study indicate several key components of effective school

improvement plans. Successful plans must be based in theory, implemented

systematically, and be practical for the school. It is important to understand that schools
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do not fit into plans or programs. It is likely that schools begin their transformation on

different phases and with different urgency; therefore, it is critical to understand that a

school improvement plan must be developed for a particular school’s dynamics. It

should not be thought of or presented as a “program” to improve student achievement or

a “program” to improve student behaviors. Healthy school systems improve student

achievement, both academic and behavior, and not “programs”. Transformational teams

must consider relevant historical factors of the community and school, as well as present

conditions. For example, throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, Swatara JHS could be

described as a typical suburban junior high school; however, when the community began

changing in the 1990’s, the school was not in a position to meet the needs of the different

types of students enrolling. Considerable increases in students who qualified for free and

reduced lunch, coupled with substantial increases in minority students and students with

special needs, impacted the structure and the performance of the school.

       As the new millennium approached, a change in the school’s leadership (1999)

marked the end of a chapter for Swatara JHS. Over the next four years, the school

improvised when confronted with the many challenges for which it was not prepared to

face. Swatara JHS, like many other schools, had to re-organize to combat increasing

violence in schools, but unlike most other schools, the effects of the NCLB mandates

(2001) impacted Swatara JHS almost immediately. Student achievement was decreasing

while reports of inappropriate student behavior were increasing. Thus, the perception of

the school in the community and the school district was deplorable, and the pressure to

improve was excessive. For example, Swatara JHS 2003 state test results indicated that
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the subgroup for special education students for math was an alarming 130 points below

the state average. (The state describes the differences of more than fifty scaled score

points as significant and educationally meaningful.) Additionally, this study confirms

that although it is difficult to develop an effective school improvement plan given strict

monetary constraints, it is possible.



Interviews

         “The aim of qualitative research is to portray the reality of the area under

investigation, and to enhance understanding of the area under investigation, and to

enhance understanding of the situation and the meanings and values attributed to this by

individuals; it does not involve the quantification of facts” (Rose, 1994; Hewitt-Taylor,

2001, p. 1). Individual experiences and views associated with real-life situations are

valued and emphasized in qualitative research, because often they cannot be reduced to

numerical values using statistical analysis. In the qualitative research paradigm, a variety

of data analysis procedures are commonly used (Polit and Hungler, 1993; Hewitt-Taylor,

2001).

         Glaser and Strauss, as cited in Lincoln & Guba, 1985, p. 339, described the

constant comparison method as it relates to categorizing as following four distinct stages:

                1. Comparing incidents applicable to each category

                2. Integrating categories and their properties

                3. Delimiting the theory

                4. Writing the theory (p. 339).
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       Identification is a simultaneous comparison of all observed social incidents which

precedes ordering and relating classes of events. Dey, Schatz, Rosenberg, & Coleman

(2000) suggests the categories be meaningful both internally, in relation to the data

understood in context, and externally, in relation to the data understood through

comparison. Categorizing is a crucial element of the process, because it is an analysis of

the content of interviews and observations. Categorizing exposes the primary patterns,

themes, and categories in the data (Patton, 1990). The process of categorizing is one of

continuous refinement and requires flexibility to accommodate fresh observations and

new directions in the analysis.

       Interviewing is a process that allows the researcher to elicit meaning as perceived

by the interviewee. The dialogue that occurs may result in unexpected findings which

may lead to the emergence of new themes to be tested and pursued. As themes emerge,

they are evaluated by asking the interviewee how it relates to his or her experience. The

researcher compares and contrasts the information that is collected through the generation

of verbal discourse (Miles & Huberman, 1984; Villani, Christine J., 1997).



Participants

       The three other middle school principals in the Central Dauphin School District

and the Director of Curriculum and Instruction were interviewed. Each interviewee has

earned a higher Pennsylvania Professional Certificate for Superintendent. The PDE

mandates that candidates have completed an approved Pennsylvania graduate-level

program of educational administration for the preparation of chief school administrators
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in a program not lasting less than two full academic years or have been prepared through

an out-of-state graduate-level program equivalent to those approved in Pennsylvania.

       Each interviewee has received the recommendation of the preparing institution for

certification as a chief school (district-level) administrator or, if prepared through an out-

of-state institution, holds a comparable certificate issued by another state for professional

service in the public schools of that state. Additionally, each interviewee has provided

evidence of six years of teaching or other professionally certificated service in the basic

schools for the Superintendent's Letter of Eligibility for which at least three of those six

years must have been in a supervisory or administrative capacity.

       According to the PDE each participant’s professional education provides evidence

that he or she demonstrates knowledge of and competence in providing educational

leadership in a school district or intermediate unit setting outside of the candidate's

original administrative certification and primary area of experience. (See Appendix A for

detailed information regarding PA Superintendent Certification)

       Combined, the four participants interviewed have more than 38 years of

experience as classroom teachers, ranging from elementary to high school math and

social studies. Also, they have nearly 60 years of combined building level administration

experience at elementary, middle, and high school levels. The contributions the

participants have made to this report are valuable, because they reflect their professional

views which have been established by their experiences. Also, it is critical to remember

that although the four middle schools are in the same school district, the schools have

different characteristics and maybe even different cultures. Strategies for reform that
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work in one school may not be appropriate in another school without making

adjustments.



Methods and Procedures

       In this study the individuals were interviewed during a time and place arranged

for their convenience. Extensive notes were taken during the sessions. The interviews

were also tape-recorded in order to ensure accuracy. After each interview the tape was

transcribed and analyzed. Participants were asked to describe the climate of their middle

school over the years of the study, emphasizing the cultural mix and beliefs as they would

relate to the implementation of change. Questioning was designed to ascertain each

individual’s position as a middle school principal in terms of school reform and the

pressures of accountability, as well as to determine if school administrators feel a sense

of loss in terms of their professional independence due to mandated reform. (See

Appendix B for Interview Questions.) Interview discussions were designed to investigate

the following research questions: (1) Will 8th-grade student achievement in math

increase as measured and predicted by the 2006-2007 4Sight Benchmark Assessments,

when 8th-grade students receive remedial math interventions? (2) How will the

interactions between middle school classroom teachers, building support staff, and

principal impact collaboration and professional dialogue about math instruction as

measured by 8th-grade student performance in math on both the 2006-2007 4Sight

Benchmark Assessments and the PSSA test? (3) How will the interactions between

middle school classroom teachers, building support staff, and principal focus on the
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systematic changes/interventions impact overall classroom instruction, as measured by

the number of days students spend in in-school suspension and/or out-of-school

suspension?



Data Collection and Analysis-Criteria for Interpreting Findings

       In order to accomplish the task of inquiry regarding improving 8th- grade math

student achievement, data was collected from multiple sources. Bogdan and Biklen

(1992) define data analysis as the researcher’s process of systematically searching and

arranging interview transcripts, filed notes, and other materials to increase one’s

understanding of those data and to present the discoveries to others (p. 157). Moreover,

one of the major goals of data analysis, according to McCracken (1988), is for the

researcher to determine categories of information while making assumptions that move

from the general to the more particular.

       Cohen and Mannion (1990) define “triangulation” as the use of two or more

methods of data collection which study some aspects of human behavior. Data collection

followed a path of in-depth open-ended interviews, as well as archival and student

records review. To begin, the interviews were tape recorded with consent of the

participants. The purpose of using a tape recorder was to increase the accuracy of the

reported data, and to allow the researcher to be more attentive to the person being

interview (Patton, 1990).

       Spradley (1979) suggest that researchers keep four types of filed notes when

collecting data. The researcher kept field notes that he took during the actual interview
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with the following contents: a condensed account of what was found, a personal journal,

a record of impressions as he conducted the research, and an analysis or interpretation

account of the information as he collected it. Seidman (1991) warns that researchers

should avoid deeply analyzing results from the interview data until all the interviews

have been completed. As a result, the researcher waited until all interviews were

completed before analyzing the interviews.

       In order to begin analyzing data, the researcher utilized what Lincoln and Guba

(1985) refer to as “open coding”. This process involves developing a dimensional unit

which initially reveals information that is relevant to the study and stimulates the

researcher to think beyond the specific piece of information. The second dimension in

the unit must be an element that can stand alone or be interpretable when there is “an

absence of any additional information other than a broad understanding of the context in

which the inquiry is carried out” (p. 345). Essentially, the open coding categories, coding

segments, grouping segments according to similarity of findings, and ultimately drawing

conclusions. Since school administrators were selected on the basis of their current

position and experience, the researcher analyzed the data to compare what, if any,

differences existed in what they feel is necessary for school improvement as compared to

what occurred at Swatara MS.



Comparative Analysis of the Enumeration of Improvement

       On July 1, 2003, this researcher and Central Dauphin School District principal

was transferred from South Side (Elementary School) to Swatara JHS. It was less than
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two months before school started and there was essentially no master schedule. Although

the urgent focus as principal was to build the master schedule and to open the school on

time, it was also important to analyze the school’s previous PSSA reports and to learn

about the other essential characteristics of the school. One of the steps taken was the

arrangement to have the former and trusted custodian from South Side transferred to

Swatara JHS. The principals interviewed regarded a welcoming environment to be an

important component for improving the perceptions of a school. During one interview

session a principal stressed the importance of establishing a positive first impression to

visitors when visiting a school. The respondent declared that there is a correlation

between a visitor’s first impression and the effects of an orderly and well-maintained

physical environment; also, the interviewee stated that an orderly and well-maintained

environment positively impacts how students feel about their school and contributes to

their success. This researcher deemed it also to be important that the school building and

grounds be cleaned-up in the summer of 2003 and then regularly maintained as they were

at South Side, a school noted for its cleanliness and welcoming environment.

       Another initial modification at Swatara JHS to improve professional learning was

the inclusion of a more efficient supply order and delivery system. While at South Side,

the custodian developed a system that relieved the staff from a previous cumbersome and

inefficient system, one similar to what Swatara JHS had in place. Prior to the new supply

order and delivery system at Swatara JHS, staff had free access to the storage supply

room where supplies were kept. Teachers reported that the supply room was often not

stocked appropriately and that materials required for classrooms were often unavailable.
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There were claims that some teachers were hording materials in their classrooms and

were leaving other teachers to search for materials needed for lessons. The new supply

system included an order sheet for teachers and staff that listed all of the available items

maintained in the district’s warehouse. After filling-out and submitting the supply

request form, available in the office, there is approximately a 24 hour turn-around time

until the supplies arrive in the teacher’s classroom. In addition to the staff having the

materials they needed for lessons, inventory and materials usage costs decreased

significantly. The responses of the administrators that had elementary experience placed

more value on the impact of having a refined supply system than those administrators that

did not have elementary experience.

       The interview sessions revealed several themes that these principals determined

important for developing effective middle schools, such as student discipline, school

processes, and satisfactory teaching. This researcher speculated that strategic changes

were necessary to improve the master schedule; however, a better understanding of the

school was needed before implementing major changes to the schedule. To become

familiar with the dynamics of the school community, it proved valuable to speak with

community members, including members of the local police force and to request that the

Swatara JHS staff members come into school during the summer (2003) to discuss their

views about Swatara JHS. While meeting with teachers, staff, and others, two

chief issues were repeated many times: The lack of student discipline was adversely

affecting instruction, and the excessive pressure from the previous administration placed

on the staff to improve PSSA scores all but deteriorated the current staff’s morale. The
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data generated from the interviews clearly indicates that student discipline must occur in

schools in improvement.

       The school district’s central administration reported that parents and members of

the community held major concerns about student discipline and the safety of the school.

Furthermore, district administrators conveyed that parents were very concerned about the

gloomy PSSA scores and poor student achievement. To provide a safe and orderly

environment, the other local middle school principals emphasized the responsibilities of

classroom teachers during interview sessions. The administrators emphasized the

importance of maintaining structured classroom management systems and of maintaining

high academic expectations for all students. Two reoccurring themes that emerged from

interviews was that effective delivery of instruction can be more meaningful to students

than just a rigid classroom management plan and that daily effective instruction

positively impacts student achievement as measured by curriculum standards and state

assessments.

       Prior to Swatara MS (2004-2005) Swatara JHS housed only 7th and 8th grade

students. The junior high school was organized following a modified middle school

concept. For example, grade levels were divided into teams, core teachers (English,

math, social studies, science, and reading/foreign language) were provided daily team

meeting periods and the master schedule maintained a daily academic tutorial period.

The change from Swatara JHS to Swatara MS occurred when the school district was

reorganized and K-6 elementary schools became K-5 and the junior high schools became

6th-8th grade middle schools. No philosophical change occurred.
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        It was clear that the impetus for change at Swatara MS for the upcoming school

year, 2003-2004, had to be to improve student discipline. Pulling from previous

experiences in improving student discipline, this researcher prepared a long-range

change-plan that emphasized positive behavior management. (See Appendix C for

student discipline incidents involving the Swatara Township Police Department from

2001- 2006) All respondents agreed that a school’s administration must have an

appropriate relationship with the local law enforcement officials.



2003-2004: Year 1-Announcing Change Goals

       During the first official faculty meeting in August, 2003, this researcher informed

the faculty that the main focus for the school year would be to improve student discipline;

positive results were promised. In addition, the staff was forewarned about the

difficulties that lie ahead; they were clearly told that change was going to be difficult and

taxing. During that meeting this researcher also promised that the PSSA topic would not

be a focus for that school year and that it would hardly ever be discussed, in exchange for

the staff’s support for changes made to the School Wide Effective Behavior System

(SWEBS). (See Appendix D for detailed information regarding Swatara MSs SWEBS.)

       Although there had been a school wide behavior program in place, the rules were

not consistently enforced. In addition to Burns (1985) explaining that a key ingredient in

effectively implementing a school wide discipline plan is that of consistency and his

insisting that strong administrative support is required of an effective behavior program,

those interviewed also stressed the necessity of an effective school-wide discipline
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system which requires consistent application and administrator support. Based on this

researcher’s past educational experience, it was important that Swatara MSs new

behavioral plan not only includes negative consequences or a “demerit” system, but also

include positive components, such as “good-choice points”, reward days, and celebration

assemblies that recognized students among their peers for good behavior and for

academic performance. Garnes and Menlove (2003) describe research as providing

evidence that negative consequence, school wide discipline systems are not effective.

During the behavior plan discussion during that first faculty meeting, this researcher

shared with the staff the importance of evaluating a behavior program regularly for its

effectiveness and to determine how it is being utilized.

        Understanding the importance of promoting a positive organizational climate, this

researcher arranged a schedule to work with the staff to establish a simple set of beliefs

and expectations for behavior. The new structure for working collaboratively with the

staff, as well as this researcher’s promise of creating a more supportive organizational

structure, proved important to the staff. An additional effort was made to set a new tone

in the school: this researcher made it clear that it was imperative that all children be

treated with respect; that it is critical that the adults in the building handle situations with

students appropriately and professionally and never cause low-level situations to escalate

into higher-level situations.

        After laying the ground-work with the staff to improve the learning environment

and beginning the plan to regain control over student behavior, this researcher explained

the details of a successful student program that was implemented and had great success at
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South Side. While explaining the particulars of the Citizens of the Month program to the

Swatara JHS staff, this researcher worked hard to demonstrate the commitment to the

new staff and to building a professional learning community where collaboration is

embraced. By emphasizing the new direction of improving student behavior as a “work-

in-progress” and by encouraging feedback by arranging a timeline for forums to elicit

staff feedback, a structure was established that would transform the school environment

to one that best meets the needs of all students. “Better control and improved student

self-discipline will come when there is teacher warmth and acceptance of the pupils”

(Howard, 1968, p.28; See Appendix E for details involving Swatara MSs Citizen of the

Month recognition program.)

       Additionally, this researcher explained to the staff that an incentive for support for

these changes would be its own professional satisfaction; the teachers would be able to

return to teaching and thus have a positive impact on student achievement. Also

conveyed to teachers was that there would be a personal benefit as well; they would be

able to enjoy their job and workplace more than before. A common theme during the

interviews involved the administrators stressing the value of gaining parental and

community support through the school improvement process. The respondents explained

that high-spirited teachers assist the process. Rubin (2004) explains that reaching out to

the school community is a labor intensive endeavor and takes a long time. He suggests

that it is worth it, because safe schools do more than earn their money’s worth. A safe

school returns a sense of connection, competence, autonomy, and altruism to all those it
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touches. A result, a safe community is where people want to live and work and where

small and large businesses like to locate.



2003-2004: Year 1

       During the 2003-2004 school year, the main focus was to improve student

behavior and to create an appropriate environment for learning. The school wide

discipline system and procedures were given priority, especially the inclusion of positive

and proactive techniques. It was important for this researcher to follow-through with the

restructuring plans and the promises made to the staff during the first faculty meeting.

School reform is complex and requires the development and implementation of a

systematic plan that is created in a way which allows for change and improvements and

thus, it is the principal’s role to navigate the evolving plan and to avoid enforcing it, only

as originally designed.

       Brewster and Klump (2005) point out that the principal plays a critical role in

school reform. Leithwood, Louis, Anderson, and Wahlstrom’s (2004) report

demonstrates that “Leadership is second only to classroom instruction among all school-

related factors that contribute to what students learn at school.” The report also shows

that principals’ effects on student performance tend to be largest where and when they are

needed the most. Indeed, there are virtually no documented instances of troubled schools

being turned around without intervention by a powerful leader (p. 3). The information

retrieved during interview results support that school’s leader plays an important role in

what initiatives are important in a school. One of the respondents stressed that teachers
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are quick to realize what district initiatives are deemed important and which are not

supported by the building administration.



2003-2004: Year 1-Unexpected Hurdles

       In January, 2004, the Central Dauphin School District Board of Directors adopted

a new redistricting scheme that added a fourth middle school. Prior to this new direction,

the district operated three junior high school buildings that housed only 7th and 8th-grade

students. The new configuration involved four middle schools that included 6th, 7th, and

8th-grade students. Although it was basically a name change rather than a philosophical

change for the junior high school to middle schools, there was extensive change in the

district resulting in many of the district’s students having to change schools. An outcome

for Swatara JHS was that Rutherford Elementary School students were required to attend

Central Dauphin East Middle School instead of Swatara MS. The change caused a

decline in the enrollment for Swatara MS 7th and 8th-grade students. The other two

former junior high schools, Linglestown and Central Dauphin East, were similarly

impacted.

       Since it was necessary to assemble a staff for the new fourth middle school,

Central Dauphin Middle School, the superintendent offered teachers the opportunity to

voluntarily request a transfer to a different building in the district. The redistricting

caused concern, because it triggered serious inequities in the newly formed four middle

schools and the two existing high schools. East High School and its two feeder middle

schools, East Middle School and Swatara MSs, minority population in 2006 which were
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near 50 Percent, while Central Dauphin High School and its two feeder middle schools,

Linglestown and Central Dauphin Middle Schools, were near ten percent. The students

receiving free-and-reduced-lunch were similarly disproportionate: approximately 40

percent (East) versus less than ten percent. Additionally, the number of special education

students was also quite different; there were close to 30 percent of the student population

identified on the East side of the district as opposed to less than ten percent of the

students on the other side of the district.

        Throughout the Spring of 2004, the district’s junior high school principals spent a

considerable amount of time as strategic members in the district’s middle level

reorganization planning meetings. Although transforming 7th and 8th-grade junior high

schools into 6th, 7th, and 8th-grade middle schools was a daunting task, this researcher

embraced the responsibility because the redistricting plan provided a unique opportunity

to have a positive impact on many of the district’s students that this researcher normally

would not have had as a building principal. Furthermore, the new redistricting plan

provided the district’s middle school principals the opportunity to implement more

extensive reform in their buildings, because the teachers and community were ready for

change. For example, prior to the superintendent’s deadline for requesting a transfer in

Spring (2004), this researcher announced to the Swatara JHS staff that there was going to

be extensive changes. The changes were explained as having an impact on nearly every

aspect of the school and would include new team and classroom assignments for many

teachers. As the Turning Points 2000 report recommends, it is important to organize
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relationships for learning in an effort to create a climate of intellectual development and a

caring community of shared educational purpose.

       In addition, this researcher shared that the new master schedule would be

significantly redesigned because of many contributing factors including: housing 6th-

grade students, a plan to include all special education students except for those assigned

to the full-time emotional support classroom, and the fact that there were going to be less

7th and 8th-grade students and teachers. An advantage of the district’s restructuring was

that it sped-up the reculturing process. Agreeable staff had more opportunity to feel part

of the changes and thus more staff “buy-in” was generated. Moreover, it was intended to

have staff members, who had been resistant to the changes that had already occurred

during the first year of improvement, (2003-2004) to consider transferring or retiring.

       There were several significant effects of the new redistricting plan. Housing the

6th-grade students in the middle schools instead of their attending elementary schools

was the most significant effect in terms of the number of students and teachers that would

be impacted throughout the district. Another major effect the plan had on students was

that high school assignments for many students changed. The result of changing the

attendance lines for the two high schools was colossal, because of the tradition of each

school, because of the considerable difference in the two high school’s, an because of

their different cultural environment and reputations.

       The district’s new restructuring plan called for four middle schools instead of

maintaining three junior high schools. Previously, Swatara JHS students attended Central

Dauphin East High School; Linglestown Junior High School students attended Central
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Dauphin High School, and Central Dauphin East Junior High School students were split

between each of the two high schools. Under the new plan, Swatara MS students and

Central Dauphin East Middle School students would attend Central Dauphin East High

School, while Linglestown Middle School students and the new Central Dauphin Middle

School would attend Central Dauphin High School.


2004-2005: Year 2-Commencing Long Term School Improvement

       A positive school climate can enhance staff performance, promote higher morale,

and improve student achievement (Freiberg, 1998). Heck and Goddard et al. (2000)

linked school climate and student achievement. After restructuring, Swatara MS was

very different than Swatara JHS. Many former Swatara JHS staff members chose to

transfer, to retire, or to leave the district. The new 6th-grade impacted the former junior

high school environment as well. In addition, a new assistant principal was hired a week

before school started.

       When developing a comprehensive education reform model that focuses on

improving student learning, the Turning Points 2000 report recommends staffing middle

schools with teachers who are experts at teaching young adolescents. An important

component of the Swatara MS reculturing plan included employing a new librarian who

formerly held the librarian position at South Side. Previously, the Swatara JHS library

environment was not inviting to students or staff. The new librarian’s charge was to

create an environment or “Knowledge Space,” where students would be motivated to go

to read and to complete research. To accomplish this, the library environment had to

undergo major changes to become a relaxed and comfortable environment for both
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students and staff. A main goal was to transform the library environment into one that

values and promotes student library use and faculty/librarian interaction (Wilson &

Lyders, 2001). One responsibility of the librarian was to create an environment that was

enticing to teachers and staff members. Another critical component of the plan involving

the new librarian consisted of his assisting the staff in becoming familiar with the

growing number of technological tools available to them, such as internet programming

(e.g. Access PA Power Libraries) and new equipment (e.g. smart board technology) in an

effort to improve teaching and learning. During an interview session, a local principal

regarded the implementation of technology into the classroom as a major component for

school improvement because of today’s emphasis on technological advancement in the

work place.

        To assist the new librarian in leading the technology movement at Swatara MS, he

was provided an additional stipend for the extra duties and responsibilities assigned to

him as the school’s audio-visual (A/V) coordinator. In addition to managing all of the

school’s A/V equipment, he was responsible to transport and to set-up equipment in

classrooms as requested. An advantage of having him fulfill the A/V coordinator

responsibilities is the high-level of support he is able to provide to classroom teachers.

He previously was a junior high school math classroom teacher for thirteen years prior to

his three year stint as the South Side librarian. In addition to his teaching and librarian

experience, he has completed extensive graduate-level course work in library science and

technology-based studies and he was considering completing course for his principal

certification.
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       It was expressed during an interview session by a principal that technology is not

the wave of the future; it is happening now, and if an individual is not on pace, he or she

is going to be left behind. Encouraging staff to incorporate 21st Century technology into

their lessons is important for preparing youth for the future. The new librarian also played

an important role in the plan to encourage team-teaching at Swatara MS. A goal was to

move him into classrooms to assist teachers using new technologies. The purpose was

two-fold: to encourage teachers to utilize new technologies in their classrooms and to

begin to have them become more comfortable with the idea of having other teachers in

“their” classrooms. The long-term change-plan included the incorporation of team-

teaching which would be a critical component for including special education students

into regular classrooms.

       Another key staffing decision included a change for the Emotional Support (ES)

classroom. The new ES teacher held several special education teaching positions at

various levels, including teaching a 5th and 6th-grade part-time learning support at South

Side, where special education students were pulled-out of regular math and language arts

classes. The teacher’s charge at Swatara MS was to execute an improved ES curriculum

and the new level-system.

       The new level-system program was spear-headed by Swatara MSs psychologist.

The plan requires special education students assigned to the ES classroom to earn points

before moving to the next level. As a student progresses through each of the five levels,

additional privileges are earned. When a student reaches level 5, the student is allowed to

audit regular education classes. After successfully completing the probationary auditing
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period, the student earns his or her way out of the program and back into regular

education classes. (See Appendix F for additional detailed information regarding the ES

program)

         Two more former South Side teachers assumed command of 6th-grade

classrooms. As Sousa and Spear (2007) disclose, middle level schools should work to

provide students with a vigorous curriculum that will move them through their own brain

development from predominantly concrete thinkers to primarily abstract thinkers. To

accomplish this transition in student thinking, specifically trained educators who are not

only experts in their specific disciplines, but are also artisans in the area of teaching early

adolescent children, are helpful. The new path for Swatara MS involved what Sousa and

Spear (2007) refer to as finding the balance between providing academic vigor and

meeting the developmental needs of young adolescent students.

       For example, in another middle school in the district, the principal explained that

his or her staff is comfortable with its team planning time; however, the principal has a

concern that the lack of scheduled meeting times for teachers to meet within their specific

subject areas retards accelerated improvement. A recommendation the interviewee

explained to address the concern and to improve collaboration among subject area

teachers is to extend the time before students arrive in the morning. The purpose of the

suggestion is to utilize the time for meetings by subject areas and/or by teams.

       Other than maintaining highly effective classrooms, it was expected that the

former South Side teachers support the new and improved school wide behavior plan, as

well as provide leadership to their new colleagues. A key ingredient in effectively
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implementing a school wide discipline plan is that of consistency (Burns, 1985). Burns

insists that strong administrative support is required for an effective behavior program to

be successful. Cotton (2004) found several key factors common to effective school wide

discipline programs including the following: commitment, high expectations, clear rules,

a supportive environment, a visible and supportive principal, delegation of authority to

teachers, and close ties to the community. Having worked with the new librarian and ES

teacher and the two new 6th-grade teachers previously, this researcher knew the

contributions they would make to Swatara MS. The value of team-work should never be

underestimated.

       Year two, 2004-2005, of the reformation plan included a considerable number of

other changes at Swatara MS, the most pivotal being the focus on continuing the

development of creating a professional learning community. Swatara MSs focus had to

extend from improving student discipline to advancing student achievement. After

arranging for the incoming 6th-grade students to be housed in one wing of the school

building in a “school within-a-school” concept, a main consideration for the 6th-grade

students was to help them feel comfortable in their new middle school environment.

Prior to attending Swatara MS, many of the 6th-grade students attended very small

community elementary schools with the majority of their experience coming from self-

contained classroom environments. As elementary students they did not have to contend

with the additional anxiety of changing classrooms often, having many different teachers,

or battling the combination lock on their newly assigned locker. As elementary students,

there was more of an opportunity for young students to develop relationships with their
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teachers by virtue of being with them in a self-contained classroom for long periods of

time during the school day, thus reducing their anxiety.

       Bernard (1991) and Henderson & Milstein (1996) state that promoting the

development of students’ academic resilience necessitates caring and supportive teachers.

It was important that the new 6th-grade middle school teachers embrace the value of

academic vigor and use a mantra of learning, relevance, and relationship to guide

developmentally appropriate practices in their classrooms (Sousa & Spear, 2007). The

6th-grade wing at Swatara MS was arranged to have nine 6th-grade classrooms in one

section of the building, and included its own stairwell. Classrooms were grouped

together to form teams. Jackson & Davis (2000) support smaller school arrangements or

teaming in middle schools, because it increases the attention given to individual students.

       Each of the middle schools in the Central Dauphin School District scheduled a

double period of Language Arts. Discussions during the interviews provided evidence

that the administrators supported the scheduling of a double period of language arts;

however, it also indicated that the respondents believe that the middle school schedule

could be more effective if there were district policy changes involving the creative arts

programming (i.e. art, family consumer science, music, tech-ed, and computer

keyboarding), 6th and 7th-grade physical education and health classes, and 8th-grade

physical education, and responding to reading classes. Additionally, the interview data

indicates differences in opinions among the respondents in terms of the current middle

level foreign language programming, however, all agreed that the scheduling of band,

chorus, and orchestra during remedial periods poses scheduling conflicts.
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       Instead of 41 minute class periods, 6th-grade core classes at Swatara MS

including language arts (English, reading, and writing), EveryDay Math, FOSS Science,

and social studies together with a spelling component were scheduled for 60 minutes.

When 6th-grade students travel daily outside of their wing to creative arts classes (art,

music, technology-education or tech-ed, family consumer science, and keyboarding) or to

physical education or health classrooms for one period per day, 6th-grade teachers meet

as grade levels or as teams. Pointek and Dwyer (1998) suggest that teachers working

together and collaborating around instructional issues encourages success in schools.

Interview data indicate that the respondents all have a degree of concern for what is being

accomplished during team meeting time. Also, when 6th-grade students traveled during

second period each day to physical education or health class or creative arts classes, 6th-

grade teachers have individual planning periods.

       During the first quarter of the 2004-2005 school year, the 7th and 8th-grade

teachers settled into their new environments. In an effort to enhance the team concept

environment, many teachers were assigned new classrooms in new hallways and on a

different floor in the building. The 7th-grade classrooms were located upstairs while the

8th-grade classrooms were downstairs-closest to the cafeteria and library.

       Although the major focus remained on student discipline, discussions about

instructional and curricular changes were initiated. The newly structured eighth period

FLEX was an improvement over the previous ninth period activity period, because

student support was more formal and consistent. More effort was made to provide each

student with services that were determined to be needed as evidenced by performance of
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each student in the classroom (Picucci, Brownson, Kahlert, & Sobel, 2002). Band,

chorus, and orchestra students continued to attend their scheduled rehearsals during

FLEX two times each during the six day cycle, as long as their academic progress

indicated that they did not need to attend the math or reading remediation rotations.

Although infrequent, math teachers at times required students to miss rehearsals and to

attend their small group FLEX (remediation) session if a student’s academic progress

warranted it or to make up important work. Students in 7th and 8th-grades were provided

passes to go to the computer rooms, to the library, and to the cafeteria for silent study hall

during FLEX. Students not attending a rehearsal or a special remedial or enrichment

session worked with a teacher in a small group on specific skills and/or assignments.

       An additional significant change for the 2004-2005 school year was the daily

team meeting format. Impacting the progress of the school was the requirement for each

four-member 7th and 8th-grade team (two teams per grade level) and the three three-

person 6th-grade teams to meet together, as a grade level. The grade level meeting

configuration caused teachers to begin to collaborate and consistency among teachers

began. Improvements to teaching and learning were prevalent. The principal was

responsible for preparing the meeting agendas and chaired the grade level meetings.

When grade level meetings were not scheduled, the teams met as individual teams and

were required to submit their meeting minutes for review (Haycock, 1998).

       Another movement towards establishing consistency in the building involved the

faculty’s adoption of the SQ3R Reading and Study Skill System. The idea behind the

adoption involved increasing consistency but it was also intended to provide students the
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opportunity to become familiar with one reading or studying process, utilized in every

classroom. The adoption provided reading specialists and special education teachers the

opportunity to preview material (i.e. social studies and science) in the similar manner that

it would be taught in regular classrooms. (See Appendix G for the details of SQ3R

reading and study skill system.)



2004-2005: Year 2-PDE Forces Swatara Middle School to offer “School Choice”

        Just when things began looking up for Swatara MS, the state released the previous

school year’s (2004) assessment scores. Severe consequences for Swatara MS and

Central Dauphin School District were applied by the PDE, as the results confirmed

Swatara MSs continued downward slide for the second year in a row. Parents of Swatara

MS students were required to be offered the opportunity to transfer their child to one of

the three other middle schools in the district, because Swatara MS was receiving Title 1

(Federal) funding. Needless to say, focus on the identified missed targets became a main

concern for the staff. Math, attendance, and subgroups: special education, Black, and

economically-disadvantaged students were areas identified by the state as not meeting

their targets.

        In October, 2004, district administrators met regarding the new status of Swatara

MS. An improvement plan was created and a letter was written informing Swatara MS

parents about the opportunity to have their child transfer to another middle school in the

district. (See Appendix H for summaries of [Harrisburg’s] The Patriot-News Company

articles describing Swatara MSs School Choice Opportunity.) At the time of the school-
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choice mandate, this researcher requested the superintendent to ask the district’s school

board for permission to allow the Swatara MS math teachers to deviate from the

approved district curriculum, because it was not prioritized or aligned to the state’s math

assessments. Also, it was decided by district administrators that Swatara MS would

subscribe to the FTL remedial math and reading program that was already being used in

three of the four elementary schools that fed into Swatara MS. (See Appendix I for

detailed information regarding the FTL remediation program.)

       Driving the need for a remediation program at Swatara MS were low math test

scores and the fact that the school was not meeting state targets. Many students were not

demonstrating retention of mathematical information. Opinions among the staff for the

poor math performance decline included the following:

           1. High rates of math teacher and administrator turnover in preceding years

           2. Poor attendance of both students and staff

           3. High rate of student suspensions prevented many students from attending
              classes regularly

           4. Negative student behaviors during lessons significantly impacted learning.

           5. School district curriculum not coordinated with state assessment.

           6. Teachers reported not covering state assessment topics prior to the
              assessment and additionally not covering as much as one-third of the
              district curriculum.

Other opinions regarding the underperformance of Swatara MS included the school

fulfilling its reputation as being the worst middle school in the district in terms of

behavior and the middle school having the lowest test scores. In Proverbs 23:7 says that

“As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he” (NIV). Concerns raised during interviews
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involved how the data from the state assessments are reported. All of the local

administrators agreed that testing results are not only difficult to interpret but especially

complicated for comparison among schools and populations. Also, respondents agreed

that PSSA scores do not necessarily represent a school’s commitment to improvement.

       After the math department’s evaluation of Swatara MS assessment data, math

vocabulary usage was an identified area in which students could improve. Students were

not retaining mathematical terms taught in class. For example, math teachers reported

during department work sessions that students would say, “I will times two numbers

together to get the answer.” In mathematical terms, the student should say, “I will

multiply the two numbers to get the product.” The math teachers believed that a key

reason students were not using proper math terminology was because elementary teachers

were not using it during EveryDay Math lessons. (EveryDay Math was a relatively new

elementary math curriculum adopted by the district a few years earlier.)

       Another contributing factor to poor student math performance was a lack of

communication occurring between teachers at Swatara MS. After across-the-curriculum

discussions were initiated, math teachers realized that students were being taught to solve

problems differently depending on which class they attended. For example, the science

teachers were teaching students to place common units opposite each other in a

proportion, while math teachers were telling the students to place them directly across

from each other. This lack of consistent instruction resulted in some students multiplying

the two fractions in science class, but when the same students were in math class, they

were directed to cross multiply the two fractions. Upon further examination of the
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student assessment data, math teachers recognized that students were getting information

mixed-up. Some students might set up a problem as they learned in science class and

then would cross multiply to find the answer as learned in math class. Mixing up the

process resulted in an incorrect answer.

       Swatara MS 8th-grade students taking the math PSSA assessment in 2003-2004

school year indicated that 34 percent of them were below the basic level; 23 percent

scored in the basic level; 27 percent scored proficient; and only 15 percent achieved

advanced ratings. It was reported that in previous years 8th-grade students were retained

and approximately five percent or 15 students were required to attend summer school for

math. A factor for many of the students in summer school was that they were absent

from school often during the regular school year. Suspension was a factor for poor

student attendance. Regarding the remaining 95 percent of 8th-grade students, nearly 30

percent of their cumulative math grade was a D or in the 60-70 percent range. Student

grades and assessment scores tended not to improve as Swatara MS students transitioned

to Central Dauphin East High School. In fact, scores went down and contributed to the

high school’s placement on the state’s School Improvement list.

       An idea for improvement at the middle school level in the district discussed

during interview sessions involved a recommendation to track student test results

throughout their tenure in the district. It was suggested that the data maintained could be

analyzed to determine if areas of strengths and weaknesses vary for students. Ideas for

improvement involved using the student data to enhance teacher accountability and for

providing improved planning and more focused instruction.
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2004-2005: Year 2-Short Term Math Remediation Goals (January-March, 2005)

       Although the decision for Swatara MS to proceed with the FTL remedial program

was made in a meeting in October, 2004, arranging the necessary program training for

staff, and ordering more than 75 new computers and the necessary furniture, delayed the

starting of the program until the end of the second quarter, January, 2005. In each of the

6th, 7th, and 8th-grade math classrooms, nine computers were set-up to be utilized to

support the FTL program. Also, additional computers were set-up in English and special

education classrooms, and one of the computer labs had the FTL program loaded on the

computers to accommodate large groups.

       Adding to the complexity of Swatara MSs current annual yearly progress crisis

situation, was the fact that the district was in its first year of adopting the middle school

concept. Although 6th-grade classrooms were now housed in the district’s middle

schools, a coordinated K-12 math curriculum had not been established. There was a

traditional 7-12 Math curriculum that was not aligned to the state standards and there was

a relatively new adoption of the contemporary EveryDay Math K-6 program. At that

time there was little hope for compromise for bringing together a K-12 coordinated math

curriculum.

       An important point raised by a Central Dauphin School District Administrator

during an interview session was that a K-12 aligned curriculum is vital to reduce

redundancy and ensure all standards are taught prior to the grade level state assessments.

Many of the secondary math teachers at Swatara MS did not have an adequate

understanding of the EveryDay Math program and, therefore, they did not believe it was
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working. Many teachers and parents seemed to be “hung-up” on course names and that

the newly designed courses did not cover traditional topics in the familiar sequence.

There was little concern for the format of the state assessment and the consequences for

not achieving the specified state targets. Some teachers claimed that the students were

coming to the middle schools less prepared for math courses than in previous years, prior

to the district’s K-6 adoption of EveryDay Math. Since there was not a district-wide

approach to improve the coordination of the K-12 math program, the secondary math

teachers had a limited understanding of the K-6 EveryDay Math program. At the

secondary level, many teachers continued with a “business-as-usual” approach towards

teaching math. The difference in math instruction between the two levels proved

confusing to students and was coupled with the fact that the district’s K-12 math program

was not aligned to the state standards; these facts stalled advancing math achievement in

the Central Dauphin School District as determined by the PSSA. (See Appendix J for

information regarding the district’s EveryDay Math adoption sequence.)

       Beyond the lack of a sensible transition between elementary and secondary math

programs and the lack of coordination to the state standards, the district’s 7th and 8th-

grade students were forced to follow either a traditional algebra or general math track.

The grouping of middle school students in the early years of secondary school prevented

most Swatara MS students in the general math and special education tracks from having

the opportunity to take higher level math and science courses before graduating high

school. Further investigation of the effect of tracking Swatara MS students is

demonstrated by the PSSA results of minority and special education students described in
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the previous chapter. A disproportionate number of Swatara MSs minority students were

scheduled into the general math track. Also, the special education students were being

instructed in separate (special education) classrooms at considerably lower instructional

levels than their actual grade level.

       After staff development training, the Swatara MS 8th-grade math teachers created

a baseline test from the new FTL resources. The test was designed to specify student

needs. After testing, students were grouped for remediation purposes. Initially, the

remediation focused on the areas easiest to fix. For example, probability, factorial, and

square roots were among those areas identified. That year, remediation efforts were

targeted at 60 students identified as scoring in the low proficient and mid-to-higher basic

areas on the baseline test. Students were remediated during FLEX period in a rotating

two-month initiative. They were recycled and re-taught the identified areas, and they

were provided opportunities to practice with increased teacher support. The small-group

remedial sessions were team taught by two 8th-grade math teachers. The objective was

to maintain students scoring in the low proficient range and to move students scoring in

the mid to upper basic range to the proficient level. It was important to increase the

number of proficient Swatara MS students quickly in order to earn the “Making

Improvement” designation from the state. The respondents concurred that small group

remedial sessions are necessary to improve test results. However, there was not a

consensus on how to achieve the scheduling of sessions.

       Coordinating the small group remedial sessions required changes. During an

interview, a middle school principal described that an ideal schedule in the CDSD would
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involved changing music sessions (i.e. band, chorus, and orchestra) normally scheduled

during FLEX (remediation) period. It was explained that having all students in a

particular grade level available for remediation and/or acceleration instruction would

benefit school improvement, because it would enhance small group instruction sessions.

Additionally, removing the need to schedule music activities during the regular school

day would permit core classes to be lengthened from approximately 42 minutes to 55

minute class periods.

       SMS teacher schedules were modified, PSSA related lessons were posted on the

school’s website to encourage parent involvement and student practice. Math teachers

redesigned their lessons aligning them to the state math anchors. Lesson planning

included incorporating a pretest and posttest concept for each PSSA anchor; however, the

practice was abandoned after a short time because math teachers reported that the testing

reduced instruction time and also because the students in remediation benefited from

being taught all of the (pretest) material. Teachers also provided students with formula

and vocabulary worksheets taken from the PDE website, and lessons with a special

emphasis on test taking strategies were incorporated into remediation lessons. Interview

data collected indicates that parental involvement has a profound effect on student

performance and it also indicates that school officials are at a loss for how to achieve

parental involvement and especially for those students who require it most.
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2004-2005: Year 2-Long-Term Goals

       In addition to short-term math goals, there were also long-term math goals

established during the 2004-2005 school year for Swatara MS. The long-term math goals

involved getting away from using the textbooks as a primary resource and utilizing them

as a secondary source, because they were not in line with the state standards. For

example, if the math teachers would utilize the book as the primary source for their

instruction and follow a historical schedule for covering or presenting topics, 8th-grade

students would not be exposed to some material until after they had taken the state test.

       In order to use the text as a secondary source, the Swatara MS math department

created three new math courses and course guides that were based-on and aligned to the

Pennsylvania State Math Anchors. The teacher guides included lesson plans that

coordinated the pacing of the math courses with the PSSA test requirements. The plans

for the three new courses included developing a 7th grade (“Pre-Algebra”) course, an 8th-

grade (“Algebra”) course, and an 11th-grade (“Geometry”) course. Course sequencing

for the 7th and 11th-grade courses were designed for an entire school year, while the 8th-

grade course sequencing was designed to be completed prior to the state assessment,

normally taken in March or April in Pennsylvania. Another Central Dauphin School

District middle school principal suggested that an important course of action for

improving student achievement involves concentrating on instructional strategies. These

strategies include focusing on planning that is well organized and designed and involves

active learning concepts, such as those incorporated into the Learning Focus Strategies

(LFS) Program.
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       The Swatara MS long-term math goals involved increasing the percentage of 7th-

grade students taking 8th-grade math (Algebra 1) each year, as well as increasing the

percentage of 8th-grade students taking geometry. The long-term plan included

eliminating pull-out special education math classes and combining them with regular

education. The plan included having those classes team-taught by both a math teacher

and a highly-qualified special education teacher. Plans for the new math classes

emphasized the pacing of the courses in terms of correlating them with the PSSA test,

and grouping-for-a-purpose (i.e. grouping similar level students together in the short-run

for the purpose of increasing all students’ math achievement in the long-run). Because

the long-term plan goals involved grouping-for-a-purpose, both regular and special

education students at similar levels were scheduled for the same course with provisions

including the following: The classes were team-taught, had smaller class sizes (under 15

students), and were provided additional math remediation time.

       Although emotional debates continued among the faculty regarding whether or

not EveryDay Math or a more traditional 6th-grade math course aligned to the state

standards should be promoted at Swatara MS, the school continued improvement efforts.

A staff development program activity, hosted by The Pennsylvania Training and

Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN), occurred during the school year. “Adopt an

Anchor” activity was introduced during several Swatara MS Math Department meetings

and then the idea was brought to grade level meetings. After having been discussed in

small faculty group meetings, it was the focus of a school-based in-service training day

and several follow-up small group sessions. Adopt an Anchor involved each Swatara MS
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department (i.e. math, science, language arts, social studies, creative arts, etc.) choosing

reading and math anchors for which they agreed to develop lesson plans that included the

math and reading PSSA anchors. After choosing anchors, each department met with the

reading and math departments and together determined a timeline for when the anchors

should be covered in their curriculums. Furthermore, the math and reading departments

worked with each department to insure the anchors were taught in a consistent manner

throughout Swatara MS. An example of Adopt an Anchor included the science

department taking over the responsibility for teaching metric conversions, temperature,

and other related topics and the math and science departments working together for the

coordinated instruction of the material.

       Further long-term initiatives for improving student achievement at Swatara MS

included creating a student summer packet. A main purpose for the summer packets was

to increase retention over the summer break. Summer packets were designed to provide

students a preview of the new material and a review of previous material. A perceived

benefit of the summer packet included providing parents an opportunity to be more

involved with their middle school child’s education. It was also hoped that the school’s

willingness to work to improve student achievement would be welcomed by parents and

would in-turn receive increased parental support. This was important to the Swatara MS

staff, because they wanted to change the perception of the school as well as to improve

student achievement.
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2005-2006: Year 3-Focus on Instruction

       An orchestrated effort to improve student achievement was evident during the

third year of the reformation plan. Elevated school spirit was evident among both

students and staff. As noted in chapter 3, in Figures 42-46 and in Tables 12-16, student

behaviors were at considerably more manageable levels school-wide and the upgrades to

the master schedule seemed to favorably impact the school’s organization. For example,

homeroom period was shortened to a couple of minutes, allowing just enough time for

teachers to take attendance. FLEX for 7th and 8th-grade students was changed to second

period and its procedures were fine tuned. The primary focus for FLEX became

supporting all students’ academic achievement. Also, lunch period was extended to a

regular period’s length and its procedures were also tightened-up. Students were required

to report to their homerooms prior to being escorted by teachers to the cafeteria. At the

end of lunch, team teachers returned to the cafeteria near the end of the period to pick-up

their students and to escort them back to their lockers. “Specials” (i.e. one period per day

of creative arts classes including the following: art, general music, tech-ed, keyboarding,

family and consumer science and another period of physical education or Responding to

Reading) for 8th-grade students were moved to the last two periods of the day to combat

less attentive student behavior in classes after lunch and also to serve as a rite of passage

at Swatara MS. (Note: In 2006, only 8th-grade student math and reading scores on the

PSSA contributed to the school’s annual yearly progress status.)

       An idea presented by another middle school principal to enhance school

effectiveness involved creating a master schedule that allowed for all core subject
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teachers to meet daily at the same time. This time could be used effectively by teams for

team related issues; and, also subject area teachers could utilize the time to coordinate

course pacing and to align activities when appropriate. The interview responses indicate

that although a school’s schedule is critical, different schools have different needs and a

“one size fits all” approach to scheduling is a mistake.

       Swatara MS teacher discussions during grade level and team meetings were more

often focused on improving instruction and maximizing instructional time. An emphasis

was placed on lesson development. School wide lesson plan mandates required teachers

to create measurable objectives that aligned to the appropriate PSSA standard in their

discipline and to a math or reading standard, if applicable, as determined during the

Adopt an Anchor Activity. Every lesson began with a “Do Now Activity” or “Bell

Ringer” Activity and lessons included differentiated learning activities. After checking

for understanding during lessons, teachers were trained to conduct remedial and/or

enrichment activities. In general, the expectation for lesson design involved developing

lessons that required only minor adjustments for student’s with IEP’s to be included.

(See Appendix L for a 2005-2006 example of a typical teacher lesson plan.) Improving

PSSA assessment results in other district middle schools involved lesson plan

development focused on open-ended written responses instead of traditional multiple

choice, matching, and true or false questions.

       Regular education teachers were expected to modify and adapt assessments for

special education students. Special Education teachers were required to provide regular

education teachers summaries of student IEP’s during the first week of school and to
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provide assistance as necessary.   In their role as Case Managers, Special Education

teachers created behavior modification plans for students and assisted them with

additional organizational assistance as necessary, and they served as the primary contact

person for the school. Special Education aides also played an important role with special

education students, as they were responsible for assisting students in social studies and in

science classrooms. Also, they supported students during testing and helped to keep

them organized. Additionally, Special Education teachers were expected to have high

expectations for all of their students and to prepare lessons by aligning the lessons with

grade level state anchors and standards. A directive from the principal required special

education teachers to assign the true grades that students’ earned and not assign inflated

grades to them. It was deemed important to know student levels to determine appropriate

course placement and IEP goals. Discussions for eliminating part-time special education

reading classrooms occurred.

       The Math Department programs were running smoothly during the second year of

changes. Nearly a third of 6th-grade students took pre-algebra and similar percentages of

7th and 8th-grade students were enrolled in above grade level math courses. Although

slower-paced, special education math courses were similar to the standards-based regular

education courses and included an emphasis on setting up problems and using calculators

to solve them. Math FLEX remediation procedures were similar to the previous years;

however, adjustments to the program were discussed regularly during daily morning math

department meetings.
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       Improvements to the math program in 2005-2006 included reducing class sizes.

To accomplish this, 7th and 8th-grade math teachers received an extra stipend for each

semester to teach sixth math classes per day in addition to teaching a FLEX remediation

period daily. Another former South Side teacher joined the Swatara MS Math

Department staff in a half time capacity. The previous fifth-grade teacher’s primary

focus at Swatara MS was to assist new 6th-grade students transferring into Swatara MS.

After he met with students and determined their math level, he recommended placement

in either EveryDay Math or the higher track, Pre-Algebra. If necessary, he designed an

individual remediation program for students with the main goal of transitioning into a

regular math class as soon as appropriate. The new part-time math teacher also

conducted small remediation skill groups that sometimes included those 6th-grade

students struggling with a particular EveryDay Math concept. A third component of this

responsibility involved conducting small group tutorial sessions for 7th and 8th-grade

students struggling with pre-algebra, algebra, and geometry concepts during FLEX.

       Modifications to the 6th-grade schedule included an attempt to implement flexible

grouping into the EveryDay Math classes. Since all three 6th-grade teams had math

classes scheduled during the same three periods, an opportunity to incorporate flexible

grouping for 6th-grade, EveryDay Math students existed (after chapter 1). After pre-

testing students for chapter 2, students were crossed-teamed and assigned to a low,

middle, or high-level EveryDay Math group during each of the three daily 6th-grade math

periods. Theoretically, students had the opportunity to move to any of the three leveled

groups (low, middle, high) after each chapter depending on their pretest results and how
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their results correlated with the other 6th-grade students. Although each of the three 6th-

grade math teachers rotated teaching each level, they found it difficult to maintain pacing

between the groups, especially in regard to the low group. After examining the data after

three months of the flexible grouping program, it was evident that the groups did not

change very much. Most students remained at the same level after each chapter’s pretest.

In January, the program’s procedures were adjusted. Students were no longer arranged

into skill groups and crossed-teamed. Instead, students were randomly scheduled into

one of the three math classes on their team.



2005-2006: Year 3-FLEX Math Remediation Program

       During the third year of the change process the new FLEX math remediation

structure was implemented. It involved assessing all 8th-grade students using the math

FTL, teacher-created baseline test. After analysis of the baseline results, 8th-grade

students scoring in the middle of the basic range through the lower proficient range (45 -

65%) again were scheduled for FLEX remediation sessions. This time, students

scheduled for sessions were ranked in numerical order from highest to lowest score and

then were divided into four groups of fifteen. All groups followed an identical

remediation cycle and met every school day for two weeks. After the first two weeks,

another group began their two week remediation cycle; this continued until all groups had

cycled through and completed two rotations. In an effort to encourage students to strive

to do their best during remediation sessions, homework was not assigned and participants

were rewarded with donuts and a free period on the last day of their second rotation.
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       FLEX remediation lessons included whole group activities. The 8th-grade math

teachers demonstrated solving problems and then providing students the opportunity to

work independently or in small groups to practice the solution to similar problems. Many

of the practice problems were taken from previous PSSA test questions. Again, the

classes were team taught and contained 15 students in them, providing excellent

opportunities for students to receive the necessary attention they required to improve their

math skills. Also, time was included for students to utilize the FTL program which was

loaded on the computers in the math classrooms to practice basic math skills.

       During the first week of each rotation, students were given study guides to assist

them with their activities. The first packet focused on test-taking strategies and coached

students to answer all multiple choices questions, to eliminate incorrect answers, and to

estimate answers when appropriate. The second packet focused on PSSA math

vocabulary, and the third packet included examples of PSSA test questions. (Go to

www.pde.state.pa.us for Pennsylvania Standards.) In addition to generic test-taking

strategies, strategies specific to solving PSSA math problems were reviewed. Targeted

remediation lesson topics during the first cycle involved solving proportions, examining

the Pythagorean Theorem, changing fractions to decimals and to percents, working out

probability, and studying angle relationships. On the next to last day of the first cycle, a

review of the lessons, including vocabulary, was conducted. On the last day of that

cycle, students completed a post remediation assessment. Results were analyzed and

were compared to the students’ baseline results; the overall FLEX remediation program’s

effectiveness was reviewed.
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       The second cycle or rotation began with a series of lessons focused on standards

that have typically given previous students problems. Topics from the previous cycle 1

rotation were reviewed on the first day of cycle two, and then additional topics were

introduced each day. Topics covered included the following: percent proportions,

measures of central tendency, box and whisker plots, stem and leaf plots, triangles,

quadrilaterals, probability, combinations, and factorials. On the final day of the second

cycle, participants were rewarded for their work with donuts and drinks, and they were

provided with free time to play computer games.

       In conjunction with the improvements made to the math program, the Science

Department enhanced their course offerings as well. An increasing number of 7th and

8th-grade students participating in above grade level math courses, coupled with the fact

that many of the students had participated in the district’s FOSS Science program for

many years, provided students with the opportunity to participate in a faster-paced

science course or “Advanced Science”. In part, the success of the science program at

Swatara MS was attributed to the fact that the 6th–grade students were scheduled to have

their core classes (Math, Science, Language Arts, Social Studies), including FOSS

Science, for one hour per day. Additionally, Swatara MSs 7th-grade science program

added a FOSS Science Environmental Unit its curriculum as well.



2005-2006: Year 3-Short Term Success

       The Pennsylvania Department of Education released the 2005 assessment results

in September, 2005, indicating that Swatara MS was “Making Progress”. All state
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targets, or the confidence interval for each of them, were achieved in every category. The

success energized Swatara MS and the community. Along with the academic success,

student behavior was continuing to improve. The evidence included a decreasing number

of teacher disciplinary referrals and a decreasing number of suspensions; these were

significantly lower than in previous years. Discipline was no longer the primary focus at

Swatara MS; rather instruction was the focal point. An example of the transition from a

school focused on discipline to a school more concerned about academic achievement

was the fact that detention procedures that had been in affect for years were changed.

Previously, students had to write rules and other punishment assignments for the duration

of the detention session. The detention guidelines changed to writing the punishment

assignments for the first half hour only, and then students were allowed to complete

homework or other academic assignments. Also, many of the teachers who had been at

Swatara MS prior to the first school year of the reformation process in 2003-2004

reported that they were enjoying teaching again; the Central Dauphin School District was

thrilled with the school’s new successes.



2006-2007: Year 4-Renovations:

       The Central Dauphin School District Board of Directors voted to renovate the

district’s four middle schools over a projected period of a year and a half beginning in

June, 2006. Instead of working in the building most of the summer (2006), the Swatara

MS office personnel were relocated to Central Dauphin East High School, while Swatara

MS was stripped of asbestos and while renovations began. Due to the extensive
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renovation plan, another decision was made to temporarily move the 6th-grade students

out of Swatara MS and back to the four elementary feeder schools during the 2006-2007

school year. Major changes to the master schedule again were necessary, but this time

not to enhance teaching and learning, but to allow for creative arts teachers to be released

to go to other schools in the afternoons.

       In cooperation with other district schools, it was necessary to have Swatara MS

7th-grade students complete their creative arts classes and FLEX period prior to 7th

period in order to allow creative arts teachers to travel to other buildings. FLEX was

moved to third period and 8th-grade “specials” were moved from the last two periods of

the day to fifth and sixth periods. Many of the 8th-grade teachers described their last two

core class periods of the day as being less productive and more difficult to manage than

their classes before seventh period lunch.

       Interview sessions revealed that local administrators emphasized the importance

of utilizing highly qualified teachers effectively when trying to improve schools and that

improvement is more likely when instructional time is maximized. In an effort to

improve the effectiveness of instruction at Swatara MS, teachers were provided time to

plan effective lessons and to analyze data. Although there were obstructions to

advancing the master schedule academically, there was a plan to keep Swatara MS on

track, and it included a re-emphasis on collaborative decision making that involved the

entire staff. New key staff additions included the following: a band director, a computer

keyboarding teacher, an 8th-grade science teacher, a family and consumer science
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teacher, a gifted teacher, and a long-term substitute teacher in 8th-grade English.

Another key addition to the staff was an office secretary.

       The new band director, formally the South Side band director, was chosen to

revitalize the spirit of the Swatara MS band program, as he did previously at South Side.

In addition to his teaching responsibilities, he was asked to co-supervise the Student

Council Program. Another new staff member was selected to upgrade the creative arts

computer course offerings. He also was involved with the after-school reading program;

he co-supervised the school newspaper; and he was an assistant boy’s basketball coach.

The 2006-2007 Swatara MS Boys’ Basketball season proved to be one of the most

winning seasons in the school’s history. They posted a 24-0 undefeated season.

       A recent graduate from Penn State University took over an 8th-grade science

position. His hands-on teaching approach was appreciated and fit in nicely with the

changes occurring in Swatara MSs Science Department. The previous science teacher

spent much of his class time lecturing and only spent one year at Swatara MS after

having a lengthy career as a physicist outside of the field of Education. A new male

family and consumer science teacher was chosen to add a new dimension to the creative

arts program. He also assisted with the after-school reading program and he was proud of

his role as an assistant in the school’s spring theater production.

       The new gifted teacher’s appointment was a key decision in Swatara MSs reading

reform efforts. Her assignment was to implement major changes to the way the former

gifted teacher operated the reading portion of the Gifted program at Swatara MS.

Previously, the program was run mainly as an 11th-grade SAT college-prep course that
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provided Swatara MS gifted students little advantage when taking the 8th-grade PSSA

test. Besides the fact that the program served only a small percentage of Swatara MS

students, the program had a high student mortality rate, because many students requested

to be withdrawn from the program. Students described the work load as being too heavy

and uninteresting. The school’s administration and parents were concerned with the fact

that the required work did not relate to their other middle school courses. As one district

administrator stated during an interview session, acceleration is one technique used to

meet advanced student’s needs and should be considered when the depth of the

curriculum has been maximized.

       The new gifted teacher’s reading background proved useful when implementing

the improved gifted program. For example, the new 8th-grade Gifted Reading course

focus changed from a SAT test-prep course to a high-level 8th-grade reading course,

Advanced Responding to Reading. Since all 8th-grade students were enrolled in

Responding to Reading every other cycle day (On the other cycle days students attended

Physical Education class.), Advanced Responding to Reading was able to include all 8th–

grade students scoring at the top ten percent of the class on the 4Sight Reading

benchmark baseline test taken early in September, 2006, and not just to students labeled

as Gifted.

       The 4Sight assessments are one-hour tests that are said to have been developed to

have exactly the same format, coverage, look, and feel as a state’s math and reading

assessments. They are said to produce overall scores that predict a students’ scores on

state assessments. The Member Center is a website used to record 4Sight assessments
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and generate 4Sight reports detailing scores by sub-skills and designed around the state’s

standards. The scores explain where to focus professional development for staff and

instructional efforts to ensure student success.

       There were many benefits realized from not having to schedule a small-group

Gifted Reading class beginning with improved utilization of the gifted teacher and her

talents, because she was now scheduled to teach a full-size reading class. More 8th-grade

students that were high readers were exposed to a challenging reading course. The new

design of the course was more stimulating for students, because it was aimed at

encouraging students to publish in the school newspaper for credit. Moreover, it was

thought that the new course would boost scores of those students already scoring in the

advanced range in PSSA Reading. An additional benefit was that the new Gifted

Reading course’s design allowed for a reduction in class size as compared to the other

Responding to Reading classes. Reducing Responding to Reading class sizes was

important, because those classes have been the most difficult classes to control.

       Along with staff changes, additional curricular improvements were implemented.

All 7th-grade students were required to take at least a pre-algebra course that was aligned

to the Pennsylvania 7th-grade standards. About one-third of the 7th-grade students were

enrolled in algebra, a math course aligned to the 8th-grade Pennsylvania standards, and

8th-grade students were enrolled in algebra or a geometry class. One 8th-grade student

was assigned to a pre-algebra course and three small algebra classes were created to

address those 8th-grade students scoring at the below basic level on the 4Sight

Benchmark test. The three small “Algebra Concepts” classes were limited to 15 students
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each section and were team taught by both a highly-qualified special education math

teacher and a regular education math teacher. Although the Algebra Concepts course was

aligned to the Pennsylvania 8th-grade standards, it was tailored to address the most

important areas in the math curriculum. An emphasis was placed on moving the low-

achieving 8th-grade math students into the proficient range on the PSSA. Although

special education math classes (part-time learning support classes) were eliminated at the

beginning of the 2006-2007 school year, 7th and 8th-grade Learning Support English

classes were not included into regular education classes until the end of January, 2007.

Regardless if a Swatara MS student had an IEP or not, his or her benchmark score

influenced his or her course placement and schedule.



2006-2007: Year 4- FLEX Math Remediation Program

       During the fourth year of the change process, the FLEX math remediation

structure was fine-tuned but remained similar to the previous year’s structure. Again, all

8th-grade students were assessed at the beginning of the school year; however, this time,

the 4Sight Benchmark Test was used instead of the FTL test, because the school district

purchased the 4Sight program for the entire district. After analysis of the baseline test

results, all 8th-grade students, including those students scoring in the proficient and

advanced ranges, were scheduled for additional math time. Students scoring above the

proficient mark were scheduled into a math classroom during FLEX early in the school to

take the “My Skills Tutor” (FTL computer math program) pretest. After the tests were
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analyzed, the students were assigned additional activities in the FTL computer

remediation program during math FLEX until they scored 80% or higher.

       The students scoring below the proficient mark on the 4Sight Baseline Test were

scheduled for a more intense math remediation rotation. As in previous years, students

scoring in the mid-basic to proficient were targeted. The plan for them was to help them

score in the proficient range on the PSSA test. For the students scoring in the below-

basic through low-basic range, the plan was to teach them test-taking strategies, calculate

functions, and to set-up and explain open-ended questions.



Summary

       After analyzing the Swatara MS 8th-grade math data as presented in Chapter 3

and conducting the comparative analysis in this chapter, it is evident that students who

received planned remedial math interventions after taking a valid and reliable benchmark

exam, such as the 4-Sight Benchmark Assessment, improved their math scores on state

exams. It is also clear that collaboration and improved professional dialogue about math

instruction among classroom teachers, support staff, and principals impacted student

performance and improved student achievement. In addition, this study also illustrates

how the improved interactions between middle school classroom teachers, building

support staff, and the principal impact overall classroom instruction as measured by the

number of days students spend in in-school suspension and/or out-of-school suspension.

What is not clear is if student achievement would have improved had only the remedial

math interventions been implemented.
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       Swatara MS 8th-grade math student achievement improved over the course of this

study (See Appendix L.). In part, the success can be attributed to the utilization of

benchmark assessments and to the targeting of remediation efforts after analyzing the

benchmark results. Also, success must also be attributed to improved interactions among

the staff ; to the positive impact these improved interactions had on instruction; and the

impact the improved instruction had on the diverse students of Swatara MS and their

intrinsic motivation to successful. Additionally, the on-going focus regarding the school-

wide discipline program clearly impacted school improvement efforts.

				
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