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WestEd Offers One-Stop Education Consulting


A regional educational laboratory for the West Coast, WestEd works with school systems to assess a school's instruction methods and student performance and then help with implementing an action plan. Included: Descriptions of ways WestEd assists schools.

Fred Tempes directs the comprehensive school assistance program for WestEd, a nonprofit educational research, development, and service agency based in San Francisco, California. Before joining WestEd in 1999, Tempes worked for the California Department of Education. Although WestEd serves the states of Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah as one of the nation's Regional Educational Laboratories, the agency's work extends throughout the United States and abroad.

Education World: What sort of services does WestEd provide to a school?

Fred Tempes: We provide a wide variety of services to schools, especially those low-performing schools seeking guidance in improving academic outcomes for their students. Our staff frequently serves as a set of objective "external eyes" that evaluate what a school currently is doing and not doing and helps the school identify high leverage areas for improvement. We help schools examine their instructional programs, identify their problem areas, and examine and assess research-based solutions to address those problems. We facilitate the design of comprehensive action plans that guide schools through change and reform and monitor the progress and implementation of the plans. We also provide coaching support and guidance to school leaders.

EW: What are some typical issues for which schools seek assistance?

Tempes: With a national focus on improved student learning and performance and mounting cries for accountability, schools and districts come to WestEd seeking support in the creation of effective internal assessment initiatives that monitor student improvement programs and provide data for making program modifications. Although all districts clearly recognize the pivotal need for such programs, many lack the internal expertise to develop them and turn to WestEd for guidance. Schools seek WestEd's help bolstering -- or in some cases establishing -- their literacy programs. These requests focused on early (K-3) literacy issues in the past, but we have seen an increase in requests for assistance from secondary schools as greater pressure for achievement and accountability are felt. As an example of our work, our Strategic Literacy Initiative strives to engage middle school and high school teachers in the reading apprenticeship model in order to raise secondary students' enthusiasm for reading as well as their test scores. WestEd works with schools to provide curriculum that supports standards, teacher professional development, and assessment and evaluation of math and science programs and materials.

Schools and school districts, particularly in the western United States, also come to WestEd for assistance with the design and evaluation of instructional programs for English language learners. These requests have increased dramatically with the recent passage of ballot initiatives in California and Arizona that severely restrict the ability of schools to provide bilingual instructional programs to students.

EW: How do WestEd staff members work with a school and the outside community?

Tempes: WestEd recognizes that a school's success relies on the support, input, and actions of its members and the external community. As such, we work closely with established school leadership teams, which often include members from the wider community, to inform and guide their efforts in improving student achievement. Where such teams do not exist, we work with the principal and teacher leaders to establish effective teams that include concerned members from the outside community. When working with schools to develop action plans for academic improvement, we commonly hold community dialogues in which we lead parents and others from the community through a structured review of student achievement data and explore with them possible solutions to areas of low achievement.

EW: How does WestEd measure progress when working with a school or district?

Tempes: WestEd measures progress two ways. First, we look to see whether the structural and instructional changes envisioned in the action plans we help schools develop are actually occurring. For example, if a school's action plan calls for the adoption and administration of phonemic awareness assessments in kindergarten three times a year, we visit the school periodically to see whether the assessments are in place and the results are being used by teachers. If changes are taking place according to plan, we consider that progress.

Of course, the crucial measure of progress for both WestEd and the schools we work with is student progress. When we work closely with a school over a period of years, we are quite comfortable being held jointly accountable with the school for improved student learning. Most of the schools we work with participate in their state's accountability programs, so those measures are usually the primary means of measuring student progress.

EW: What can WestEd offer to schools that other consultants cannot?

Tempes: WestEd service providers frequently draw on the research carried out by WestEd's Strategic Literacy Initiative when helping schools address the needs of struggling readers at the secondary level. WestEd has a staff with diverse and interrelated expertise in such specialties as assessment; early childhood and youth development; diversity and equity; evaluation; math, science, and reading instruction; special education; technology in education; teacher professional development; school improvement; and leadership development. Additionally, our staff is frequently aware of programs and grant opportunities that match a school's specific needs. For example, when one of our staff members reported that a school he was working with needed to expand instructional time, a WestEd colleague in another program pointed him toward the competitive federal 21st Century grant [program] for after school programs.

This e-interview with Fred Tempes is part of the Education World weekly Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.