Teachers discuss student data at North Dover Elementary School. Photo credit: Lindsay Osika
When North Dover Elementary School in Dover, Delaware was awarded $50,000 as one of the State’s 17 “recognition” schools for its gains in student achievement in 2013, Principal Suzette Marine gave some of the credit to what she called the school’s “Go Green” culture. “Students know that any time their data is green it’s great because students have reached their benchmarks on proficiency levels and are on track for success,” Marine wrote on the school’s website.
“Go Green” refers to the way positive data is displayed on the computer dashboard the school uses to keep track of student progress. Teachers meet with their students several times each year “to look at data and talk about ‘this is where you perform’ and ‘where would you like to be next time’ and ‘what do you need to get to the next level,’” she said. Teachers also meet for 90 minutes once a week to analyze their own performance. “It’s phenomenal the way they lean on each other and they share,” Marine said of her teachers. “When they look at data, they can say, ‘this is my concern, this is what I’m seeing in the classroom’ and then talk together about how to address it.”
A Professional Learning Community at North Dover Elementary School. Photo credit: Lindsay Osika
That was what State, district and union leaders hoped would happen after winning a Federal Race to the Top grant in 2010. Teachers in many schools already were meeting to discuss their students’ work. The grant deepened the discussions by making it possible to hire coaches. Coaches help teachers in each of the State’s 237 schools become more adept at using student data to focus their instruction on the concepts and skills that their children needed the most help mastering.
As a result of the weekly meetings, which are called “professional learning communities (PLCs),” Marine is seeing much more differentiation of instruction in both reading and mathematics when she observes classrooms. “Teachers are going above and beyond to meet the needs of every student,” she said.
North Dover is one of two schools in the Capital School District that have been recognized by the State for the progress they are making. Pam Herrera, who oversees the professional learning communities for the district, said the entire district is focused on using data and improving instruction as a way of implementing the Common Core State Standards adopted by the State. Those standards, adopted by 45 States and the District of Columbia, emphasize the critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills needed for success in college and careers.
“Our focus is on our students and we communicate that throughout the district in terms of our expectations and cultures and the professional learning communities fit right into that,” Herrera said. “We’re looking at the student data and getting right at the heart of what’s happening with all of our students.”
Christopher Ruszkowski, who heads the Delaware Department of Education’s Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Unit, said he hears comments like that all over the state. “Every teacher, every principal, every superintendent cites the professional learning communities as a core reason they have seen gains over the past three years.”