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Solid Professional Development Key to Student Achievement

Fayetteville, Arkansas, school officials decided the best way to improve student achievement was through professional development. They recruited specialists to work with teachers and gave teachers time to work together.

Fayetteville, Arkansas, school district leaders are convinced that professional development and having highly qualified teachers are key to meeting the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act's student achievement goals.

Fayetteville officials have kept themselves informed about the NCLB requirements for highly qualified teachers, and they prepared the staff for the changes. District officials held several meetings with teachers during the 2002-03 school year and addressed the definition of highly qualified teachers with the entire district faculty via access television before school opened in 2003-04.

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The district emphasizes the importance of involving teachers in academic improvement, especially through teachers analyzing student performance data. The district hired a literacy specialist and a math specialist to work directly with teachers and administrators in 2003-04. These individuals focused on helping teachers disaggregate student achievement data and to further align curriculum with state standards and frameworks, as determined by thorough assessments of individual school needs.

The district planned multiple opportunities during the 2003-04 school year for teachers in various content areas to use "vertical teaming" as they examined the alignment of curriculum within a school and across grade levels among feeder schools. Three elementary schools were placed into a vertical team, which tried to meet at least three times a year to share assessment information and effective teaching techniques. The district provided substitutes for these teacher teams, so they could work together on strategies to improve students' specific academic skills in the areas of greatest need. The teams also were charged with developing strategies to eliminate achievement gaps among subgroups of students.

Fayetteville school officials also planned to revamp their state-approved staff development model called Restructuring Days in 2003-04. For three to five days in the year, teachers come to school without the students to work together on curricular issues and develop effective instructional strategies expected to improve academic achievement. Instead of having the same restructuring days for all teachers, each of the district's 15 schools planned its own restructuring days. This approach allowed the central office curriculum staff to be part of the school teams and to provide teams with the technical assistance they need. The professional development program is supported through a combination of federal funds from NCLB Titles I, II, and III, and state and district sources. Peer assistance is encouraged at all schools, and various levels of support, including mentoring, are available for teachers.

SOURCE: Center on Education Policy

To read the full report, see A Look Inside 33 School Districts: Year 2 of the No Child Left Behind Act.