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How I Handled...

Raising Achievement of Students Who Score in the Bottom 25 Percent

I had to come up with a plan that would help raise our school's "report card" grade. Doing that would require a great deal of focus on raising the achievement of students who scored in the bottom 25 percent on our state's annual tests. But where to begin?

The Problem

I'll be honest: At one time, we were not doing a very good job of tracking the achievement and test scores of the bottom 25 percent of our students. We couldn't have told you if they were progressing or not. I had to come up with a plan to make sure that our entire staff focused on raising the achievement of those students.

The Solution

In order to track the progress of our most underachieving students, I developed a form for each teacher to use in tracking students who scored in the bottom quarter on our state tests. Teachers kept a form for each of the students in their class. They recorded on that form all the testing data we had. That data included the subtest scores from our state tests -- which revealed the areas in which those students needed the most help.

I purchased a special notebook for each teacher to use to hold the forms of their underachievers. I wanted that notebook to stand out on the teacher's shelf because we would be looking at the data in it frequently throughout the school year.

As the year progressed, we recorded all major pieces of data -- including reading-series unit tests, Success Maker (a computer-based program we use to strengthen skills) results, end-of-unit math test scores, and all the other assessments that we use school-wide.

Then, throughout the year, I scheduled meetings with individual teachers at regular intervals. Together, the teacher and I looked closely at how each of the identified students was progressing. The form helped guide that conversation. I also scheduled visits to classrooms to observe teachers as they taught lessons that were informed by the data we used to track student achievement.

In addition to the regular meetings, I created bar graphs to illustrate how each teacher's students were progressing. We analyzed those graphs at faculty meetings. Doing that actually developed some friendly competition between teachers; teachers began asking their peers who were having the most success about the methods they were using. As teachers shared ideas, students progressed more quickly.

The Reflection

What a difference all this has made! All this data tracking, data analysis, and targeted instruction, has spawned many benefits -- not only higher student achievement. That has happened, I feel, because every teacher was in the same boat; they all had a handful of students they needed to monitor closely and on whom they had to keep detailed records.

I also sense that meeting about those students at regular intervals has made our staff feel more secure. Those meetings have helped keep everyone focused on the things that are most important; and the forms and meetings keep those kids at the forefront of teachers' minds. Teachers are well prepared to state how those kids are doing and the steps they are doing to help them.

Then there is the residual benefit of the camaraderie that has developed as so many on the staff have shared ideas that have helped all the others.

Just yesterday I talked to the principal of a school on the other side of our state. She is principal of a "D" school and she had heard of the success we have had in raising achievement. She hopes to initiate a meeting system like the one we use to monitor her school's low-scoring students. She asked if I could plan a meeting next month so she could observe how I run it. Just as my teachers are happy to share ideas that work with one another, I am happy to do the same with her.

See our How I Handled Archive to read about problems that other principals have solved.

About the How I Handled... Team of Principal Problem Solvers
The How I Handled series is intended to be practical resource for all principals and principals-to-be. Members of Education World's How I Handled team share how they solved actual problems relating to school leadership, parent involvement, professional development, and a host of other "principal" responsibilities. How I Handled team members are anonymous; in that way, they can share freely the range of issues/problems they are called on to solve each day.