74 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 75 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 76 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 77 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 78 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 79 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 80 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). 81 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 82 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 83 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 84 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 85 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 86 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. 87 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 88 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. 89 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 90 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 91 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 92 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 93 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 94 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 95 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 96 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 97 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. 98 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 99 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 100 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 101 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. 102 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 103 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 104 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- 105 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 106 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 107 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. 108 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 109 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 110 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 111 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. 112 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. 113 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 114 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. 115 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 116 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 117 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. 118 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 119 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. 120 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. 121 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 122 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 123 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 124 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 125 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 126 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 127 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 128 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. 129 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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