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Staff-Inspired Changes Lead to Turnaround

Like many schools that serve poor and/or Native American populations, Lapwai Elementary School in Idaho could not seem to break out of the low-achievement rut. But a group of fired-up teachers pushed for changes that turned the school around. Included: A look at a teacher observation program.

Courtesy of The Achievement Alliance

Flying home from a 1999 conference in a puddle-jumper, a group of teachers from Lapwai Elementary School in Lapwai, Idaho, held hands and pledged to each other that they would do whatever it took to make sure their students wouldn't be left behind by the future.

More than 80 percent of Lapwai's students are Native American, but it is not a tribal school -- it is a regular public school on tribal land. And for years it mirrored the low achievement levels of many schools that serve poor children and Native American children.

That dramatic moment on the plane was followed by years of difficult slogging -- adopting a coherent curriculum, reorganizing the school day, learning to use individual student data to drive instruction, and learning to work together as teachers and with the larger community, and all the time learning about the research that should underlie instruction. But all that work paid off when roughly 80 percent of the school's 280 students met state standards in 2004.

That doesn't mean the staff is satisfied. They worry about the approximately 20 percent of students who don't meet state standards. They study their scores, work with them individually, and fret about what else they need to do to make sure that that students read and do math well. Staff members are concerned that scores seem to have leveled off and occasionally even dropped a little in the last year or so. But every once in a while, said former teacher Teri Wagner, "I slap my hand on the table and say, 'We're worried about 20 percent!' We used to worry about 80 percent."


The Achievement Alliance

To read the full story, see It's Being Done: Lapwai Elementary School

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