In the fall of 2014, educators from more than 300 Blue Ribbon schools from around the nation met in the District of Columbia to talk about the hard work that led to their gains and national awards. We sat down to ask some of these educators about what other schools could learn from them.
Imogene Giesinger Elementary School is a preK–4 grade, Title I school located in a fast growing suburb outside of Houston. The school’s increasingly diverse 617 students come from both households that are economically disadvantaged and affluent; they live in homes, apartments and rural areas; two-thirds of the students are white, 19 percent are Hispanic and 9 percent are African American. To meet all of their students’ needs, Giesinger’s teachers compile data on every student from common formative assessments and meet together in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) to devise and evaluate strategies. Administrators meet with all third- and fourth-grade students to review the students’ results, celebrate progress and set goals.
The school has accomplished the rare feat of eliminating the achievement gap among different groups of students. For example, 96 percent of all fourth grade students were proficient or advanced in mathematics; 97 percent of the students eligible for free or reduced price lunches were proficient or advanced and 89 percent of the Hispanic students were proficient or advanced. In English language arts, 88 percent of all students, 88 percent of students eligible for free and reduced price lunches, and 89 percent of Hispanic students were proficient or advanced.
Q. What is the secret to closing the achievement gap?
Rebecca Page, principal*: We give common, formative assessments in each grade and use district benchmark tests to identify students who are not where they need to be and then fill in the gaps. The teachers know who didn’t get it, and then they go back and organize their students into small groups for guided reading or guided mathematics. Those groups are fluid in the classroom and across grade levels. Teachers are constantly going over the data looking for how they can intervene with students and identify the help they need. They come up with an instructional plan, and I and the assistant principal support the plan and make it happen.
Connie Payne, Title I teacher: We have a philosophy of getting together by grade level and sharing among our teachers. There is always someone at every grade level who kind of lifts you up when you’re down and gives you new ideas of how to approach a student or a learning objective; then you’re back on track.
Page: We have high expectations for all of our students. All means all. I or the assistant principal get together with each third and fourth grader to review their results, celebrate progress and set new goals. And they graph their progress.
Payne: If you have high expectations for your students then you have to be current in your teaching because our kids are always changing. Ms. Page is supportive of us being current in our teaching practices.
Q. What support is provided for teachers?
Payne: The district provides excellent professional development and has instructional coaches who provide teachers with a lot of support as they go from training to implementation of best practices. Our teachers realize that improvement is a refinement process. You’re not going to try something once or twice and see an impact on students. Change is difficult. It takes time, and Ms. Page has always been great with that.
Page: Our scores on our common formative assessments and district benchmarks are very public. All the teachers in a grade level say these scores are all of ours. They get together and talk about areas of strengths and weaknesses. It is sharing and open communication about what we need to do to address our students’ needs. It’s what are we going to do together for our kids. Our teachers are very committed.
You can learn more about Imogene Giesinger Elementary School’s success here.
*Rebecca Page retired as principal after school year 2014–2015.