Strength in Numbers: Closing Achievement Gaps through Collaboration


. [Narrator] Strength in Numbers: Closing Achievement Gaps
through Collaboration is a co-production of Regional Educational
Laboratory Midwest and Detroit Public Television, with funding provided by
REL Midwest through funds provided by the
U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. ♪ (uptempo music) ♪ [Woman] We have students
that are coming from all parts of the school district
and throughout the city. And we also have students
that live right across the street
in the neighborhood. Demographically speaking, we
have a large range of students. The minority is the majority
which makes us very unique and we have a large
African American population of about 45%. [Narrator] This is Dr.
Nancy Lubeski, principal at Wexford
Montessori Academy, mere minutes from the downtown Michigan State Capitol
of Lansing. – We have a large Hispanic
population right around 20% and then we have a lot of
students that are mixed races. We also have a
significant number of English language learners, students that have come
from Iraq, Jordan, Vietnam and many
other countries. Good morning Wexford Montessori. [Narrator] Coming up
her sixth year at Wexford, Dr. Lubeski relishes
the challenges that being principal brings. – It’s the greatest adventure you might every think
of having. (chuckles) Everyday is just a little
bit different and it’s a wonderful
opportunity to work with many types of
students, adults, and really realizing how
different people learn, and exactly how I can
assist and develop each and every learner. Hey Randy, what are
you working on? [Narrator] Two years ago,
Nancy received sobering news that would put her to the test. In 2014, Wexford was
labeled the focus school, also known as a high
achievement gap school by the state of Michigan. – I was surprised with
the label. I called our district office
that conducts our data and looks at our data
and informs us of things. And I said, “Are you sure? “Has the state made an error? “Are you sure that we were
one of these schools?” “Yes, we looked at your
data many, many times.” [Narrator] Wexford was
one of the 10% of schools in the state with the largest achievement gap between its top and bottom 30%. It became clear to Nancy
that not all of her students were getting the help they
truly needed. – It was a compliment on
one hand that we are high enough achieving, that we had high enough
test scores, that we had this gap. But on the other hand it
wasn’t such a good thing because it really
demonstrated to us that our students in
the bottom 30% are students that
were struggling, were not making as much progress as they could be or should be. – They’ve been told you have
these struggling learners, you have a high achievement
gap in your school and you should be the
ones to fix it but they didn’t really
have concrete practices to implement to do that. – I said, okay, now what
do I need to do? (chuckles) [Narrator] According To
Distinguished Professor Lora Cohen-Vogel, achievement gaps like
Wexford’s aren’t uncommon. – Achievement gaps occur
between schools but they also occur
within schools. A quote, unquote, “high
performing school” could have a very large achievement gap. [Narrator] Wexford was
the only school labeled as a high achievement gap
school in its district, but it is one of many achievement
gap schools in the state. – We now have about 130
achievement gap schools left in the state. [Narrator] This is Karen Ruple with the Michigan Department
of Education. – At one time we had over 400. These achievement gap schools have got it right for
some students, so they’re not low performing but somehow their system
wasn’t reaching those students who were performing very poorly. We provide direct supports
to our low achieving schools and our districts with
low achieving schools. Given that the achievement gap designation was relatively new, we got the same pot of money to serve underperforming schools and the identification of
achievement gap schools added 400 schools to our already 200 to 300 bottom 5% schools. [Narrator] Which meant
limited direct resources for high achievement gap
schools like Wexford. That’s when the Michigan
Department of Education connected with REL Midwest to
help achievement gap schools by introducing a process
called continuous improvement. Continuous improvement, it’s been around for decades in the manufacturing
and health industries, but has only arrived
in education recently. – Continuously improvement really started on the factory floors
of Japan in the 1950s following World War II. A statistician by the
name of W. Edwards Deming brought his ideas for
continuous improvement in his work to help revitalize
the Japanese economy. One feature of continuous
improvement research is that it relies on authentic
collaborative relationships between educational researchers and practicing educators. [Narrator] One way that
collaborative approach can appear is in the form of a NIC, a Networked Improvement Community. – A NIC is one way in which a continuous improvement
process can be operationalized. But the idea is really
that you are trying to continually
improve a problem of practice and that you’re working on
that together. [Narrator] This is
Sean Williams. One of his goals at the Ingham
Intermediate School District is to help schools placed
on the state’s high achievement gap list
get off of it. When he heard that REL Midwest
was looking for schools to participate in the NIC, he reached out to Nancy. – I think that’s a great idea. When they asked me what schools might be an option in Ingham, Wexford was at the top
of my list. – He had emailed and said,
“Hi, Nancy. “You know, there’s this
wonderful opportunity. “Are you interested in learning,
joining a support network “and collaborating with
other schools “that have high achievement gaps “and have similar situations
to yours?” And myself I absolutely
love to learn. I love to go to school and this looked like a wonderful
learning opportunity for me as well as an opportunity
to get connected with other schools across
the state that were having very
similar experiences that we at Wexford were having. It was like yes, finally,
I’m getting some help and I’m getting some direction. [Narrator] Participating in
the NIC would be Nancy’s opportunity
to work shoulder to shoulder with
other schools that had received the same
sobering news about their high
achievement gaps. Their work would put the continuous improvement
process to work. One essential part of the
continuous improvement research process is the
Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle. Monica Bhatt was one of the facilitators in the NIC Nancy participated
in, the Michigan Focus NIC. – It’s really looking
at planning for a particular aim statement as a group and coming
to consensus, which a lot of times can take
longer than you might think. Doing whatever the
intervention is that has been planned
for and measuring it. Studying what the data
is really telling you, and then acting according
to that. [Narrator] In the
NIC, Nancy finally found the kind of collaboration
and support she’d been searching for. Principals, district administrators, personnel from intermediate
school districts and Michigan Department of
Education were all in one room focused on the same problem. – When I felt like I
was connected to a larger community
within the NIC, it was very beneficial to me knowing that other people
were out there that were in a very
similar situation. That I wasn’t alone here at
Wexford trying to make changes, others were doing the same work. [Narrator] But for the NIC
to work to its full potential the group had to find out which
achievement gap to focus on. But which one? Reading, science, math? The target wasn’t clear
just yet. – We wanted to look at data use in the way that could be
most effective for student learning. And most of the schools in the
Michigan Focus NIC felt like their math achievement
was an area in which struggling students
could really use more support and more learning and more help, and where teachers could
also use more support and guidance in
how to address those struggling learners. – And we realized when we
were in the room listening to each other that almost all of us had
issues with mathematics, which is not a surprise as we
know in the state of Michigan, students tend to perform
lower in mathematics than they do in other
subject areas particularly language arts. ♪ (uptempo music) ♪ [Narrator] They had narrowed
their focus down to math. But even that was still
too general. How would they even go
about approaching it? After more digging, their
target emerged. – We had a math coach
in the room who worked at the
district level, and said that from
his perspective, one of the key levers of
improving math achievement was to make sure that
students were able to improve their math fluency. [Narrator] Math fluency, part of it has to do with
your math facts. More specifically
recalling your math facts, two plus two, 10 times two
and so on without hesitation. This is referred to
as automaticity. Math fluency is an
important part of success in higher mathematics. – And we realized
collectively as well that unless our students are more
fluent with their facts, with their computation and with other mathematical abilities, they were going to be
having a very difficult time moving towards the application
phase of story problems, real life scenarios, whatever
it might be if they couldn’t get
past those fast recalls and the fluency issues, they were going to be struggling even more with the rest of
the mathematics instruction. [Narrator] Eventually, the
NIC whittled their questions into an intervention. 15 more minutes of daily math fluency practice in
their schools. Now, Nancy would have to
implement this at Wexford. But how would she get
her staff onboard? Fortunately, she had
heard of a math program just before she entered the NIC, one that would dovetail nicely with the intervention
the NIC had come up with, Rocket Math. – The reason that we so quickly fell on Rocket Math at
least for Wexford is some of the
neighborhood schools we supported the previous year, we saw significant jumps in student’s math
computation skills. And so we knew that it
was the right strategy in school environment
in those neighborhoods. And so, that really helped
having some preliminary data on the success with
that program in Lansing. One of the beauties about a math fluency product like Rocket Math is students are tracking
their own progress. Students are engaged in
paired activities where they’re supporting
each other and essentially that’s
what the program did. [Narrator] But things wouldn’t
exactly be smooth sailing. Ideally a new curriculum
would roll out from the beginning of
a school year. But Nancy would have to
get her teachers onboard with this new program smack dab in the middle
of the school year, disrupting their already
established classroom routines. For fourth through sixth
grade teacher, Kristan Small, the new intervention wasn’t
exactly a welcome addition to an already packed school day. ♪ (slow tempo music) ♪ – I was very hesitant because
we see things all the time being offered to schools
from all over. I would like you all to
be very patient because I have a lot of
shout outs to do today. We got Dominique, Johnny,
Julia, Audrey, I have to take a breath,
there’s so many here. Interventions, different things people set up outside of
us that we’re told to do, they come and go. They go because they’re
not effective but now I’ve wasted a lot of
time to set up the systems. It’s not that I am not
wanting change, in fact, it’s exactly
that I do want real change but I don’t wanna be
wasting my time with stuff that doesn’t work. – And their question to me
was, one more thing, really? 15 more minutes everyday. Well, how do you think
I’m gonna do that. Then I said, “You know,
let’s talk about it. “Let’s split into grade
level groups “and let’s think about
how we might be able “to accomplish that “and what that might look like
in your specific classroom, “or your grade level and see how “we can figure out how
to do this.” [Narrator] Nancy placed
her trust in her staff. Rather than dictating
when to execute the intervention during the day, she let them decide
on their own. – We’re not being told
do it because I said so or do it until I tell you
don’t have to anymore. It was, let’s do this and see if this is gonna work
for the kids. [Narrator] But what did
those 15 additional minutes of math practice look
like for Wexford students? – Blast off! ♪ (slow tempo music) ♪ – We get partners and
we get these folders. – The other people on your
team test you and you take the paper and
you answer the questions. [Camila] We do two rounds, so one for our partner
and one for us. [Caleb] My partner she just,
she is so fast. She’s like (makes
speedy noises). I’m like, “Whoa, whoa,
whoa, where are you?” – And we have to try to
figure out those math facts and if our partner says
one plus three is five, then you have to say
one plus three is four, one plus three is four,
one plus three is four. – We also do a one-minute
timed test that is really hard. – Have to do it as fast as you
can without having to count. – We have our goals and if
you make it to your goal or pass your goal, you get to go up to
the next level. [Narrator] Soon the
program was up and running but there was another crucial
part of the process to come. Actually collecting the data. Otherwise, how would she know the extra 15 minutes of
practice were effective? Luckily, her time in the NIC
had equipped her for that, too. – This is a beautiful
part of this process, too. The NIC didn’t just hand
us another form. Just go fill it out and
bring it back to us. We spent time actually
developing this tool that we used in the walkthroughs, so specifically for our situation. In other schools we used the
same general walkthrough tool especially in the beginning to really measure what was happening. [Narrator] On a weekly basis, Nancy would visit every
single classroom to see exactly what the
extra 15 minutes of math fluency practice
looked like for students and teachers. – I would look at each
individual and fluency times, looking at those additional
15 minutes, and really looking at what
was happening within those 15 minutes. Were students engaged? Could they articulate
the learning objective? Were they spending
increased time on tasks? I would write down things
that I saw that they were doing
extremely well. I would write down some
questions that I might have. Food for thought and then I was always
available for teachers so that we could discuss freely what was happening with
those additional 15 minutes, and they were able to talk
to each other as well. [Narrator] In addition to
giving her teacher’s feedback. – Yeah.
– Set up for success for that type of arrangement. [Narrator] Nancy would
take her observations back to the NIC meetings, where they would come up
with more ways to make data collection
more precise. – We learned that oftentimes, teacher’s definitions
of what math fluency was or what students did in those
15 minutes was variable. And so, we were able
to move from just a checklist of yes or
no at the classroom level from students were able to
practice their skills or not, to what are students actually
doing in those 15 minutes. And I think it led to some
really rich conversations about what it means to practice
your math fluency skills and what it means to
do that well, and what it means for a
teacher to support struggling students
in a way that’s most helpful and efficient. [Narrator] Nancy’s
staff saw these constantly developing walkthroughs
as opportunities to learn how to carry out the
intervention better. – Everybody’s ready? [Students] Yes. – You may begin, do your best. [Jennifer] It was helpful, yeah. If I needed to tweak
something, I would tweak it. Maybe all the students
weren’t engaged so I’d look at the partnering and was the partnering working, were they too close of friends and they just played
around a lot? Was one partner at a
higher level and one at a really low level? Did one partner not have
enough patience? I would look at the partnering and see how I can get them
better engaged. [Narrator] The instant
feedback also made the teachers at Wexford feel they were being
truly supported. – It is a joy to get feedback
on our work. 10-year olds give you feedback but it’s not quite the same. So Nancy coming through
and leaving, letting us know in advance,
here’s the learning so to speak. Here’s our goals. And then leaving behind a
little piece of evidence. Now here’s where I
think you’re at and often she would include
a note, that meant a lot. [Narrator] And as the
intervention continued, Nancy eventually gained a
30,000 foot view of what was going on at her
school as well as others. – I think in the past
in education we’ve collected a lot of data that isn’t necessarily
useful for teachers. So for example, when you
have a standardized test and get that achievement
score in the fall after your students are
already gone, it’s useful information but not for the teacher
in that actual moment. And so, the Michigan focus NIC, they were collecting data that the teachers could use
in real time and reviewing it on a weekly
basis at staff meetings. And then the principals
were reviewing it together at the monthly NIC meetings. And I think that that kind of immediate feedback on
what’s happening allows there to be change
in practice in a way that is a
little easier. [Narrator] But at the end
of the intervention period, would Nancy’s students
show improvement? Did the 15 more minutes
actually help close their math achievement gap? Or would it just get wider? ♪ (slow tempo music) ♪ – In the beginning, the
gap actually gets bigger because what happens is
schools instill really good instructional practices or they employ new interventions
that are really targeted at the needs of their students. But the students that already
have a lot of capacity, that are already doing well
in school, they benefit at a faster
rate than everyone else. [Narrator] Overall,
Nancy saw more enthusiasm from her staff and her students. – Students were very
excited about mathematics. I could hear them clapping
for each other in the classrooms when
they reach their goals. They were cheering
each other on. I saw a renewed excitement for
mathematics across the school not just by the teachers
but by the students and by the families. – I see them helping each other
and encouraging each other. Once the children understand
why are we doing this, they become more
accepting of it. [Narrator] But what about
the numbers, the concrete data? Would it support the
visual evidence Nancy and her staff witnessed
during those three months? – We did notice up to
an 18% increase in some scores by some
of our students. We increased fluency
for all of our students not just our students that
were struggling or not achieving as
well as other students. [Narrator] For Wexford, the first round of the intervention
was just the beginning. – If you’re looking at results from a standardized intervention you do have to give it time. But I do wonder if after three
months of implementation, you can do a dipstick and
say, are we seeing anything? Are we seeing improvements
in any of these classrooms? And to then figure out if
some and not others, why, and do that inquiry into that and then, you know,
recommit to reimplement for anther three months. I think you could see results. Maybe not huge results in
three months but within three months
you should be able to see if there’s any kind of
positive trend however small. ♪ (slow tempo music) ♪ [Narrator] The NIC meetings may be over, but throughout Wexford’s new school year, the plans are to continue
with the additional 15 minutes of daily
math practice, and also to build upon their
experiences from last year. – Imagine what power
there’s gonna be now that teachers
understand how to teach it. Students have learned
the routines. They’re gonna start in
the beginning of the year and go for nine months. We expect to see a lot
of progress. – We can sit with our
colleagues and talk about, well, this worked in
my classroom, this didn’t work in
my classroom. What did you do in your
classroom that worked? What can I do differently? [Karen] The research
very clearly shows that teachers collaborating
on what they’re teaching, how they’re teaching it,
how they’re assessing it can be more successful
with student achievement and fidelity of implementation, than teachers who are
doing things on their own. – It took Thomas Edison
over a thousand times to perfect the light bulb, and I’m most certain it
will not take us a thousand times to
perfect this. – Because the Networked
Improvement Community is such a different way
of approaching both research and practice
and collaboration, it was really interesting
for me as a researcher to be a part of the process because we developed
this together. And as a result, I remember
Nancy coming in and saying, “My teachers are so excited. “They’ve been looking to
improve their practice.” And so, I think that
Wexford’s participation in the Networked Improvement Community gave them something that they could do and something they could
do together, that they were really
excited about. – She brought us an idea, she supported us as we got
it started. We knew that it was an idea that a much larger cohort of
educators was talking about and she let us put that
into practice, and the results are good. [Narrator] For those who
have participated in a NIC in other parts of the country, getting the word our about this collaborative approach is
the goal. – Over the last year,
I’ve participated in a NIC around boosting the teaching
of continuous improvement in schools of education, working together with other
faculty from around the country. We designed and tested new curriculum. So one day, all the leaders
who are preparing to work in school and district offices
will know the approach. – The idea of this wasn’t
to be a one and done. We weren’t gonna do this
in last spring and then never hear about
it again, we want to continue it. People have to experience
this type of model and I think it also
increased the comfortability with the different entities
to work together in that way. [Lora] We’re making
some strides in general but they’re not nearly
big enough in light of the fact that
enrollment is changing so much and so fast. The time is now to try
something new and continuous improvement
offers that new path forward. [Narrator] A path to
closing achievement gaps that Nancy is confident
will become clearer the more she invests in
the process. – I feel that we are not going
to close the achievement gap within five weeks, 10 weeks. It’s not going to work that way. It’s a process of learning, a process of continually
improving their practices so we can continue to
do the best better. And not as a band-aid, quick
do this and we’re done, looking at continuing the
process of learning, of growing, of better supporting
our students over time. And then really looking at
okay, is this still working? [Narrator] For Nancy, although
the numbers are important, it’s what she’s learned
and been able to share that has been most valuable. – I think that the work
that we have done with NIC is an excellent model of
how we as adult learners need to continually
push ourselves to learn. We should take this right
back down into our classrooms and work with our
teachers and our students to really make these
changes happen. We have to keep learning
from others, from research, et cetera. And it was nice because
when I participated in NIC, I became an adult learner again. I was learning new things and not only was I learning, I would go back teaching
my staff those new things. My staff would learn new things, they would go back and teach
their students the new things. So it’s this domino effect
of continual learning which is very, very
invigorating, refreshing, and much needed in education. [Narrator] Thinking back to
Wexford’s initial designation as a high achievement
gap school, Nancy is proud of her
school’s progress and now has another tool
to help her students. But she knows her work is
far from over. – I’m very pleased that
we now have a model that we have the freedom to
examine different factors and try different instructional
strategies that may or may not work. The end goal for me is not only
closing our achievement gap but ensuring that each and
every student reaches their full potential. That we are giving them
the necessary tools, the necessary support and the environment in
which they can excel. (clapping) ♪ (light piano music) ♪ [Narrator] Strength in Numbers: Closing Achievement Gaps
through collaboration is a co-production of Regional Educational
Laboratory Midwest and Detroit Public Television, with funding provided by
REL Midwest through funds provided by the
U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. (slow piano music)

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