Archive for the ‘Successful, Safe, & Healthy Schools’ Category

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Russell Gersten, Ph.D., and Mary Jo Taylor, Ph.D.
Center on Instruction

In the Center on Instruction (COI) webinar on Data-Based Decision Making, I discussed some of the major concepts behind universal screening and progress monitoring and discussed some common misconceptions. The PowerPoint presentations and resources for this event are available on the COI website.

Rather than repeat this material here, I want to raise issues that may be particularly relevant for schools with State Improvement Grants (SIG) and states that are thinking about SIG implementation.

SIG schools are likely to have high numbers of students with screening scores well below benchmark levels. In most cases, following a typical response to intervention approach—where students are assigned to an additional reading and/or mathematics instructional small-group meeting of a half hour or so daily to augment their core classroom instruction—is likely to be costly and most likely will result in a fragmented and chaotic schoolwide instructional situation.

Instructional systems in SIG schools (i.e., curriculum, teaching structures, assessment systems, professional development) need to be carefully examined. Often, it is necessary to use whole-class interventions. At the same time, addressing the needs of students who are exceeding the benchmarks is appropriate and necessary.

For this reason, we would recommend the following adaptations to the conventional wisdom on screening and progress monitoring in reading and mathematics. (I am curious about your thoughts about which options are feasible and make sense to you and which options appear to be either infeasible or simply do not fit your current situation. Please post any responses on this new blog.)

I. Benchmarking
What Not to Do

When students scores below the benchmark, do not think of the problem as one that is unique to each student or that there is something wrong with the child (e.g., poor socioeconomic status, learning disability, poor home life, etc.).

What to Do
Use the screening data, data from the previous year’s state assessment (for appropriate grades, typically 4–9), and data from any district benchmark assessments to create a profile of weakness areas schoolwide. Use a problem-solving approach to address opportunities to improve the current systems in your school.

II. Interventions
What Not to Do
If too many students fall in the at risk category, do not provide small group interventions to all these students.

What to Do
Consider a “double dose” approach, one that focuses on a whole-class intervention. For example, one approach used in middle and high school was to provide students with an additional 30–45 minutes of mathematics focused on foundational proficiencies necessary for success in grade-level coursework. Simultaneously, provide independent or cooperative activities for students exceeding the benchmarks.

III. “On Track” Students
What Not to Do
When students are consistently scoring above the benchmark, do not discontinue their participation in screening and benchmarking.

What to Do
Continue to use screening data to identify students who are “on track” for reaching grade-level proficiency or whose scores exceed the cut score. This process is critical because these students are entitled to a rigorous curriculum and should not be deprived of challenging material.

At the current point in time, we are only beginning to explore how to approach schoolwide change. There are other innovative approaches, and at COI we would love to hear about them.


Debby Houston Miller, Ph.D.
Center on Instruction

Aligning instruction is an ongoing process designed to ensure high-quality instruction that specifically teaches content of the standards and curriculum such that students are able to demonstrate knowledge of the standards on state and local assessments. The process requires action at the state, district, school, and classroom levels. Typically, establishing state standards and adjusting the assessment system to reflect the standards are state-led activities. The “chain” of alignment links the content of state standards to the district curriculum. The curriculum provides information about what is to be taught. Based on the content of the curriculum, teachers deliver effective instruction that leads to student learning.

The Center on Instruction recently sponsored A Systems-Based Approach to Implementing Instructional Change, a webinar to discuss aligning instruction, response to intervention, and implementing and choosing technology wisely to support implementation of State Improvement Grants. The content focused on actions that can be taken by district and schools to improve the instructional programs.

Districts and schools can take action to align instruction to support improved student outcomes. A district can:

The school is the crucial level for an aligned curriculum because instruction occurs here. Some key actions for the school are:

  • Engage in activities to ensure that teachers know the content of the standards and curriculum for their subjects.
  • Establish a process to analyze how the actual instruction in classrooms aligns with the curriculum. (Tools such as a principal walk-though are helpful; see Principal’s Reading Walk-Through: Kindergarten–Grade 3—Professional Development Module [K–3] and Adolescent Literacy Walk-through for Principals: A Guide for Instructional Leaders—Grades 4–12 [4–12] for examples.)
  • Provide resources to support implementation of the aligned curriculum (e.g., time for joint planning, access to expertise for clarification and support, professional development that includes ongoing support).
  • Analyze methods used in classroom instruction to ensure that the strongest research-based methods are used. Provide professional development with on-going support and monitoring of any new methods instituted. (See Practice Guides for various topics and Doing What Works for summaries of research and examples of school-level implementation.)
  • Create a process and culture to use data to provide feedback on instructional progress for students, classrooms, and the entire school.
  • Monitor the curriculum–instructional alignment process. The principal should facilitate development of a schoolwide culture that takes responsibility for improving instruction so that students can meet learning standards.