Raising the Bar: Raising Expectations: 7 Strategies

By Niki P. Fryou

When I became assistant principal of Hattie Watts Elementary School in Patterson, Louisiana, in 2006, gaps of up to 20 percent existed between the performance of our white students and our black and economically disadvantaged students. One reason for this disparity in achievement was a persistent lack of belief in our students. When someone would say that our students should be performing at higher levels, some community members, faculty members, and even parents would respond, “We’re not an affluent community, like so-and-so. Our kids face real challenges at home and at school. They can’t be expected to achieve at the same level as those kids.”

To dispel this negative stereotyping, our leadership team and faculty told our school community that it didn’t matter if our students came from an impoverished or an affluent community. If you show children you believe in them, they can and will achieve.

Strategies to Close the Gap
When I became principal in 2007, I immediately set out to raise expectations and close the achievement gap with these strategies.

1. Establish a mission. We set the foundation for success by establishing a school mission statement: All Teachers Teach! All Students Learn! All Parents Support! Academically We Succeed! We talk about the mission every day. We also set schoolwide expectations for students:

W - Work to ability (always do your best in every situation)

A - Always cooperate (share, take turns, be fair)

T - Take responsibility for actions (be prepared, follow rules and procedures)

T - Tolerate others (accept people and their differences)

S - Show respect (be kind to others, listen to others, use kind words and manners)

2. Put the right people in the right place. Getting the right educators in the right positions has also made a big difference in the performance of our students. When teachers love what they teach, it’s contagious. Thus, we departmentalized our third and fourth grades. We now have “partnerships of three,” wherein one teacher teaches three math classes, one teaches three English-language arts (ELA) classes, and one teaches three science and social studies classes. This approach motivates our teachers, and that enthusiasm spreads to students.

3. Monitor student progress. To monitor each student’s performance and growth, we regularly administer district assessments in the four core content areas. We also use a Webbased assessment platform to develop and administer tests schoolwide. In addition, teachers use their own classroom assessments and tools for ongoing progress monitoring.

Our goals with these tools are to ensure that all students are meeting grade-level expectations and getting everything they need to succeed. If a student struggles, we provide targeted interventions. We then use the assessment tools to monitor how students respond, and adjust our instruction and interventions accordingly.

4. Collaborate. We have job-embedded time each week for teachers to meet as a grade level or by department. Teachers discuss student performance, share ideas, and plan their instruction in each content area. If we can’t accomplish everything we need to do during the school day, we set aside time to meet after school.

This collaboration helps us better address students’ needs, while allowing teachers to share best practices and get the support they need.

5. Build cognitive skills. During my first year at Hattie Watts Elementary, we were one of seven schools in our district to pilot Fast ForWord, a reading intervention software program. Because the program is based on the science of how the brain learns, we thought it might help our students accelerate their learning and aid our subgroups in moving to the next level.

In addition to addressing reading skills, this program concurrently develops foundational cognitive skills such as memory, attention, processing, and sequencing. These skills are central to all learning.

Second graders work on the program 40 minutes a day and third graders spend 30 minutes a day on it. We also select struggling fourth graders and high-performing first graders to participate in the program. After school, the software is used in a tutoring program to help struggling learners prepare for state tests.

The individualized instruction gives all students the opportunity to excel at their own pace. If an intervention flag is raised, the lab proctor or classroom teacher provides one-on-one remediation to help the student overcome the obstacle.

6. Meet individual needs. Reading, of course, is only one part of our curriculum. We strive to deliver balanced curriculum offerings that develop the whole child, and our staff works to continually improve all facets of our instructional program.

To better differentiate instruction to meet students’ needs, we use an array of technology tools and other resources in our grade-level instruction and in our Response to Intervention (RTI) program. For example, all fourth graders use an online math fact mastery program called ALEKS for multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction. Thanks to an unwavering focus on meeting each student’s individual needs, we’re able to catch students before they fall through the cracks. Struggling learners may receive multiple interventions throughout the day, depending on their needs. As a result, we have greatly reduced the number of special education referrals over the last several years.

7. Maximize every minute. Each day, we make the most of every minute we have with our students. We used to lose five to 10 minutes of instructional time every morning as students unpacked and settled into class. Now, we ring the bells five minutes early. When school starts, students are ready to learn.

As part of our RTI program, we built time into our school schedule for Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions. We also created after-school tutoring programs to provide additional assistance to struggling learners.

Measuring Results
As a result of these efforts and many others, we’ve made significant progress in closing the achievement gap and improving the performance of our students.

In 2011, on the third-grade Integrated Louisiana Educational Assessment Program, 82 percent of all students were proficient in ELA and 83 percent in mathematics, compared to 62 percent and 57 percent, respectively, in 2006. The achievement gap between white students and black and economically disadvantaged students narrowed from a high of 13 percent in ELA and 20 percent in mathematics in 2006 to 4 percent in ELA and 12 percent in mathematics in 2011.

Our efforts at Hattie Watts Elementary have attracted attention. In 2011, the school was selected as a U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon School for being a highperforming school with at least a 40 percent disadvantaged population. In 2011 and 2012, the Louisiana Department of Education designated Hattie Watts Elementary as a High- Performing, High-Poverty School. To receive this designation, schools must meet rigorous academic criteria, despite high populations of economically disadvantaged students.

We look forward to continuing to do all we can to attain educational equity for all students.

Niki P. Fryou is principal of Hattie Watts Elementary School in Patterson, Louisiana.


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