The overall goals of QEIA schools fell into three core categories:
➊ Improving student learning;
➋ Fostering teacher growth; and
➌ Enhancing structures to support instruction.
IMPROVING STUDENT LEARNING
By far, the most common goal cited by stakeholders in QEIA schools was to improve student learning: “I would say our main priority is trying to figure out ways for the students to be able to grasp every concept that we’re teaching.”
Most often noted was the goal of improving test scores – either school wide or for specific subgroups and/or content areas (i.e., grade-levels, English language arts [ELA] vs. math, English Learners, etc.). Many schools were focused on closing achievement gaps: “The vision is to close the achievement gap. I mean we’re trying to really help maintain the kids who are proficient or above, keep them there. But we’re also really trying to address some of the remediation problems we have.”
Stakeholders were admittedly concerned with meeting API targets – one of their key requirements under QEIA – as well as meeting federal ESEA requirements that were not part of QEIA (i.e., Annual Yearly Progress targets [AYP]). Principals and teachers discussed “increasing the percent proficient” and “getting out of PI status.”
As noted on page 11, QEIA schools served a high proportion of English Learners. Not surprisingly, schools sought to improve their redesignation rates; consequently, they focused on enhancing instruction for English Language Learners, in particular.
Beyond test scores, several schools were also focused on improving the longer-term academic success of students. They were committed to increasing college awareness and readiness, even in elementary school: “Our goal is to make sure that everyone, by the time they leave fifth grade, is prepared and ready for college, college-bound.”
Teachers and principals acknowledged that in order for students to be successful throughout their K-12 academic careers and in college, students needed smoother transitions from grade to grade; elementary to middle school; middle school to high school; and high school to postsecondary education. To that end, many schools chose to craft goals and align initiatives that strengthened program coherence school wide, across grades, and between teachers.
Finally, many schools sought to “develop the whole child” and build lifelong learners with strong character and good citizenship:
I think our vision is to have our students be high performing in terms of not just CST and benchmark data but to have them be communicating at high levels, to have them be writing at high levels, to have a school that’s safe for kids. We want to make sure that kids come here and they are protected. They feel comfortable and they are ready to learn, and become more caring and concerned citizens.
FOSTERING TEACHER GROWTH
With the goal of building teacher capacity, school stakeholders often reported a focus on strengthening teacher collaboration and enhancing professional development. One principal described his school’s focus on strengthening the collaboration of teachers and said, “I mean obviously it’s the refined process of teacher collaboration. I think that everything falls within that, because teachers, unless they’re working interdependently, unless they’re consistent with their implementation of our curriculum, it’s not going to move us forward.”
Schools also commonly had professional development plans that were designed to provide more relevant, cohesive professional development focused on newly adopted interventions and curriculum rather than individual interests. For example, at one elementary school, stakeholders were committed to ensuring that every teacher at the school was trained in the same instructional strategies for teaching writing. Furthermore, nearly all the professional development for the school was focused on writing strategies to promote coherence and ensure that all teachers had the requisite capacity needed:
The second main goal that I see here is making sure that all the teachers are trained in the same area…for example, Thinking Maps, writing. We’re big on the Thinking Maps and the Write from the Beginning and the Path to Proficiency. Those are the three big trainings that we used our monies for. To make sure that we had staff trained to be trainer of trainers for the new staff coming in and building a lot of capacity within our staff so that everybody knows what’s going on and that there’s alignment as the children progress through the grade levels.
ENHANCING STRUCTURES TO SUPPORT INSTRUCTION
In order to improve teaching and learning, school stakeholders often cited the goal of becoming more data-driven to improve student learning. In many schools, new structures to promote data use – collaboration teams, intensive data sessions at the beginning of the school year, etc. – were organized and implemented. For example, a teacher at one QEIA middle school explained, “We have a lot of collaboration time now and that’s part of our goal, looking at data to increase student achievement…We have data teams on Wednesdays…to look at test scores and see strategies and things we can do to improve.”
Stakeholders often noted that they were committed to implementing more consistent instruction by developing common assessments and common lessons. Team meetings were used to design these common tools and promote collective accountability for using them in classrooms.
Finally, a few schools targeted the adoption of new curriculum or instructional frameworks to guide the work of the teachers. To that end, they focused their initiatives on choosing new frameworks and models, training teachers in the new approaches, and on implementation.