Submitted by Greg VanHorn, Urban Regional Specialist
Toledo Public Schools is making great strides in merging, aligning, and in some cases eliminating the academic initiatives they provide for student achievement. A district leadership team (DLT), comprised of representative teachers and administrators, has been working together to fine tune the academic programs that are an integral part of the student educational experience. The team has collectively reviewed all the district programs used to help students grow and prioritized their usefulness to the system. By listing, examining and reporting on their assessment programs, the DLT team was able to see how each program started, how it is effecting student achievement, and if each program is accomplishing the goals for which everyone is putting time, energy and resources into.
In going through the process, a much more targeted group of student assessments is emerging. Some of the assessments are grade-level specific such as Dibels (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) for primary grades and Plato’s Accucess geared toward secondary students that can help identify and prescribe reading levels, identify gaps and personalize learning. Other assessment programs are building-specific; they were sought and provided through grants that provide computer software to help identify a particular student’s strengths and weaknesses. Examples of this are Scholastic’s Read 180, a blended learning model which has been implemented in School Improvement designated buildings and the Northwest Education Association’s Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests, which assist teachers (in Toledo’s case Grades 3 through 5) in identifying individual strategies and processes for student comprehension in reading and mathematics. Still other assessment tools are mandatory tools that both the district and state rely on to make sure specific levels of achievement are being met. The Kindergarten Readiness Assessment, Ohio Diagnostic Test at Grades 1 and 2, Ohio Achievement Tests for Grades 3 through 8, and the Ohio Graduation Test at Grade 10 are examples of these mandates. The assessment tests are all given to identify where students are in their learning. The tests help to prescribe strategies and resources that drive further instruction for individuals and groups to higher levels of achievement.
One of the greatest benefits of the DLT discussion and research has been in the identification of assessment programs that are obtaining the most return in achievement for the amount of time and resources devoted to them. After studying the data on a district level, the DLT has identified several assessment tools that are very effective in identifying student strengths and weaknesses, student achievement, and the ease of which teachers and students can access results.
At present, Toledo Public Schools is proposing to place a greater level of emphasis on several useful tools. SuccessMaker is delivered online. It uses adaptive software to match the instructional needs of each student and the difficulty level adjusts automatically to the student’s answers. The program is used at multiple levels throughout the district in reading and math and both science and social studies are incorporated in the reading. Another key program is STAR software. It is utilized across the district to measure student achievement in reading and math. It is fast, easy to administer and accurate. In addition it provides interactive reports so teachers have the ability to bridge assessment and instruction in order to drive their practice. Edu-Soft is an assessment tool that is given three times per year in in the core course areas of math, reading, science, and social studies. Its strength is in the identification of specific questions that can provide item analysis to grade-level teams of teachers.
The DLT, combined with the initiatives of their Race to the Top Transformation Team, has elected to become a pilot district for Ohio’s new Instructional Information System (IIS). The team has used various data tracking systems in the past decade, but feels that the IIS will allow them to consolidate a number of data systems into one package. The new IIS will consolidate district student information and allow teachers and administrators to manage information that will impact student achievement in real time. Hopefully, this will provide a foundation in linking lesson planning, professional development and help determine the effectiveness of curriculum delivery. The IIS will provide an opportunity to link all of the assessment data that is collected and use it to drive instruction.
Through their DLT and RttT collaboration, the Toledo Public Schools will have the new Ohio Learning Standards completely aligned and rolled out to their building and teacher teams by June. Toledo has established a one-year pilot agreement for their Student Growth Measures and worked on a district level to establish time for their Teacher Based Teams (TBTs) to meet on a weekly basis. This will give grade-level teams of teachers time to study data and recommend real time adjustments to student learning and achievement. Many of Toledo’s TBT’s are already in full swing. Su Breymaier, an Intervention Assistance Team member and newly appointed RttT coordinator for Toledo Public, has remarked how impressed she has been with the work of TBTs at Robinson Elementary within the Toledo district. The kindergarten through second grade teams have included their intervention specialists, art instructor and speech therapist in their teams as they study results of formative and summative data and use it to re-teach, drive lesson planning and set the pace of the primary curriculum. At Toledo Scott High School, Principal Treva Jefferies has been impressed with how the ninth and tenth grade teams have used data with fidelity to identify student weaknesses and then institute intervention time for students based on identified needs at grade and subject levels.
In the past year, I have had the pleasure of observing the “Big Picture” of education taking place in Toledo Public Schools. It has been a genesis of reflection and evaluation in initiatives, system-wide teaching and learning, and district culture. Team members from all facets of the system have been working together to question and redefine their goals, align their practices and develop a communication network to have district goals headed in the same direction. The process has been hard work but also a meaningful experience for colleagues to struggle through. The experience is one of those life events that make a group of people stronger and more committed to the task at hand. In this case that task is increasing student achievement, reducing achievement gaps and preparing Toledo students for college and career readiness.
The Toledo DLT and RttT teams have been working to that end, establishing a foundation and communication network that will allow them to streamline their initiatives and assure that the internal efforts of a large urban district are aligned and working to increase student achievement.