Area Findings Recommendations

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1 I. Executive Summary At the request of Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson, Education Planners, LLC (Ed Planners) conducted an evaluation of the curricula-based programs and professional development currently used in DeKalb County Schools. The Ed Planners team surveyed local schools and interviewed school-based and central office leadership. A major theme that emerged from this fact-finding process was a lack of coordination between schools and the central office, specifically the Curriculum and Instruction Division, in the selection and monitoring of programs aimed at improving student achievement. The chart below is a brief snapshot and summary of key findings and recommendations. More details and additional findings and recommendations are expanded within the body of the report. Area Findings Recommendations Supplemental Programs Survey results showed more than 300 separate programs being used in schools. Schools are not always aware of programs available from the district and central office is not always aware of programs being used in schools. Principals cannot tell with accuracy how many students are served by a program or cost/student. Principals do not have the skills and tools to determine if programs are aligned to district goals or effective in improving student achievement. Programs used in areas such as Title I, ELL and Special Education appear to be independent of other programs in schools, both in funding and implementation. Establish an approved list of research-based programs, inclusive of cost. Continue proven programs and include additional supplemental programs that have been proven effective for below-level readers. Provide clear direction for implementation of any program on approved list, including professional learning, technology integration, assessment and funding requirements. Develop phase-out plan for programs not on approved list. Require on-going program evaluation that utilizes multiple data types with clear alignment to student achievement. Set guidelines and expectations that require the Curriculum and Instruction staff to become an integral part of program implementation decisions. January 2012 Copyright 2012, Education Planners, All Rights Reserved Page 1

2 Area Findings Recommendations After- School Programs Curriculum After-school programs are developed locally by each school with little input from Curriculum staff. As with supplemental programs, tools are not available to assess how after school programs align with district goals or improve student achievement. Curriculum is not integrated across core areas. Curriculum coordinators follow state examples when writing curriculum with no differentiation or additional rigor specific to DeKalb. Lesson plans prepared by curriculum staff provide curriculum mapping integrated with scope and sequence but they lack adequate detail, depth and rigor. There was little evidence shown of vertical alignment within curriculum. There did not appear to be a well-defined, comprehensive, system-wide intervention program for struggling students. Limited information was presented regarding RTI. Establish an approved list of research-based programs, inclusive of cost, to be used in afterschool programs. Require on-going after -school program evaluation that utilizes multiple data types with clear alignment to student achievement. Set guidelines and expectations that require the Curriculum and Instruction staff to become an integral part of program implementation decisions. Develop truly-integrated curriculum activities across core curricular areas. The integrated curriculum should make the learning real and allow students to access knowledge from all core content areas. Additionally, as part of the integrated curriculum, problem-solving and realworld application to the learning process is needed. Require cross-content collaboration when writing curriculum, including representation from special education, gifted and English-language learners. Augment state curriculum with additional detail and specificity. Review curriculum to assess vertical alignment across all grade levels. Provide model lesson plans that include more detail, depth and rigor and include formal and informal assessments, guided and self-paced instruction and multiple differentiation strategies. Ensure that the plans tie together prior knowledge and stimulate students interest. Include adequate time in pacing guides for spiraling and variations in pacing to meet needs of gifted, special needs, and ELL learners. Create a district-wide intervention program for struggling students. An expansion of multi-tiered approaches that efficiently differentiate instruction for all students is warranted.. January 2012 Copyright 2012, Education Planners, All Rights Reserved Page 2

3 Area Findings Recommendations Professional Learning There does not appear to be clear expectations and direction provided to professional learning. Budget and time constraints have limited the opportunities for professional learning. Professional learning opportunities are not tiered to meet the different learning needs of staff. Professional learning needs are not taken into consideration when implementing new curriculum. Review and update current professional learning plan to include a year-long timeline with clear guidelines of those needing to attend. Focus training priorities on student achievement. Create job-embedded learning opportunities. Review and evaluate current professional learning delivery method. Provide differentiated professional learning. Use district staff meeting time to provide focused professional learning. Provide training to central office and school-based staff on components of an effective model lesson plan. Provide extensive engaging and productive professional development on revised curriculum so that teachers can navigate the information and plan for effective instruction. *Note: This summary chart does not include all recommendations, but provides key areas of concern. These findings and recommendations were developed following a qualitative and quantitative review of surveys, print and electronic materials, and interview responses. In this report the Ed Planners team captures information pertaining to programs used during and after the school day, curriculum developed and implemented at the district level, as well as professional learning opportunities. Curriculum review was concentrated on the core content areas. Findings and recommendations are provided in the areas of supplemental programs, program evaluation and curriculum support. The recommendations provided highlight the need for DeKalb County Schools to develop a process for the selection of school programs and after school tutorials, as well as a mechanism to monitor and evaluate their effectiveness. This will enable the Curriculum and Instruction January 2012 Copyright 2012, Education Planners, All Rights Reserved Page 3

4 Division to provide curriculum support that maximizes student achievement. The recommendations also point to a need to provide additional rigor and depth to the curriculum, to include additional differentiation strategies within model lesson plans and to address individualized professional learning needs of staff. II. Overview The Ed Planners team completed an assessment in January 2012 of the curriculumbased/supplemental programs used in DeKalb County Schools. The assessment included a review of school and district programs, including those that were purchased by local schools, developed at the local school level or district adopted. The assessment also ascertained the guidance given to local schools by the Curriculum and Instruction Division, as well as general observations regarding professional learning. It should be noted that the scope of the project did not include a full review of professional learning, but rather a cursory first-glance. The analysis is based on a qualitative and quantitative review of available materials, interviews with school and central office personnel and review of survey responses. III. Methodology The following methodology was used for this assessment: Created survey instrument for schools to complete; Developed interview questions for school and central office site visits; Conducted site visits; Conducted phone interviews with principals; Conducted interviews with central office personnel; Organized and analyzed survey results; Organized and analyzed relevant departmental information, including materials submitted by content coordinators. January 2012 Copyright 2012, Education Planners, All Rights Reserved Page 4

5 Surveys were distributed to all schools for completion. The Ed Planners team reviewed input from over 100 schools, including detailed site visits with principals and phone interviews. At the central office level, interviews were held with individuals representing the areas of mathematics, science, English/language arts, social studies, Title I, instructional technology, assessment, professional learning, research and evaluation, as well as the directors of elementary, middle and high schools. IV. Findings Findings reported relied primarily on information from self-reported surveys and interviews with principals and curriculum staff. On January 4, 2012, schools received a program evaluation spreadsheet to complete. Categories covered programs used, time delivered, students served, funding, evaluation and effectiveness. January 2012 Copyright 2012, Education Planners, All Rights Reserved Page 5

6 A. Survey Findings a) Multiple programs/vendors are being utilized throughout the school system. More than 300 separate programs were listed. There were some programs that were common across the district, but many were specific to one school or a small group of schools. A number of programs crossed school levels. January 2012 Copyright 2012, Education Planners, All Rights Reserved Page 6

7 Most Frequently Cited Programs Noted in Surveys Elementary Middle High After-school Tutorials After-school Tutorials Marzano s HighYield Strategies Discovery Education America s Choice Read 180 Compass Learning FAST Math Thinking Maps Imagine Learning Read About Tutorials Brain Pop Study Island USA Prep Renaissance Learning Accelerated Reading and Accelerated Math Renaissance Learning Math Facts in a Flash Renaissance Learning STAR Reading, Math, Early Literacy Symphony Math *Note- it was clear that schools had different interpretation of the definition of program For example some schools listed textbooks as programs. January 2012 Copyright 2012, Education Planners, All Rights Reserved Page 7

8 b) The vast majority of programs reported were supplemental programs. c) The majority of programs are implemented during the school day. January 2012 Copyright 2012, Education Planners, All Rights Reserved Page 8

9 d) The majority of programs align to the subject areas of reading, language arts and math. e) 51% of programs cited by schools have been implemented one year or less. f) 63% of programs reported were evaluated during the past year. g) Staff training for 77% of programs was delivered via train the trainer model. B. Interview Findings During interviews with school principals, follow-up questions were asked extending information solicited in the school surveys. Additionally, Curriculum and Instruction staff was interviewed to ascertain information regarding district-level programs and localschool support. Findings are listed in the areas of supplemental programs, program evaluation and curriculum support. Supplemental Programs a) Supplemental program selection and implementation is a site-based decision and responsibility, with minimal input solicited from the central office regarding program selection. With the exception of Title I, principals have the discretion to purchase materials without any central office review. The district staff did not indicate that they have a comprehensive knowledge of what is in place in local schools and/or its effectiveness. b) In most cases, elementary and middle after school programs are locally developed, focus specifically on instructional remediation and are 1:1 tutorials targeted to lower-achieving and/or bubble students as identified by the CRCT. Many schools are starting second-semester tutorials in preparation for CRCT testing using Title I funding. These programs are offered from one to four times per week as funding allows. January 2012 Copyright 2012, Education Planners, All Rights Reserved Page 9

10 c) Programs offered through English Language Learners, Title I, Special Education and other similar areas are funded and implemented independent of other core curriculum areas. d) Interviews with principals indicate that local schools receive little direction from the central office on what programs to utilize in their buildings. As a result, principals often rely on suggestions from their peers, information from vendors, etc. to make decisions. e) With regards to the number of students served by the program, there was a significant discrepancy between data from the surveys versus information collected in the interviews. Therefore, there is no conclusive data in this area. a) Both schools and central office staff rely on the pre- and postdiagnostics provided by vendors to assess whether a program is effective. If an independent program evaluation is conducted, it is typically informal, primarily utilizing qualitative data. b) Curriculum and Instruction staff use internal surveys to evaluate some district-wide initiatives; however, no system evaluation is performed of local school programs. An example reported to the team would be the qualitative surveys administered regarding Marzano s High Yield Strategies. c) Schools correlate program effectiveness with CRCT scores; however, there is little, if any, evidence showing a direct link between these programs and student achievement. January 2012 Copyright 2012, Education Planners, All Rights Reserved Page 10

11 Curriculum Support a) School and curriculum staff perceive that state curriculum and instructional resources are available, including scope and sequence, pacing charts and sample lesson plans. However, a review of provided material did not show evidence of integrated curriculum activities across core content areas. Interviews with curriculum coordinators confirmed that there is little cross-curriculum planning. The team did see examples of curriculum mapping with identified scope and sequence. For example, samples of curriculum maps reviewed for ELA followed textbook pages in six-week intervals. The pacing guides were recorded by semesters, weeks and months. The pacing system was written as a general guide for schools. This was also evident in other core areas. b) There was evidence showing that clear directions had been provided to the coordinators to ensure that the curriculum was aligned with the State s Common Core Curriculum. There was no evidence that the coordinators are stretching beyond the state standards in order to implement additional depth and rigor. It should be noted that the curriculum is still being written and Ed Planners did not review the final product. c) There is a lack of understanding of the attributes of a model lesson plan versus the attributes of a sample plan. Sample lesson plans do exist but these do not contain the specificity, differentiation, rigor, and integration that are evident in a true model plan. d) Content coordinators use resources from the Georgia Department of Education to provide sample lesson plans. e) The conversion to K-12 Common Core State Standards is impacting the level of on-site support content coordinators are providing to schools. January 2012 Copyright 2012, Education Planners, All Rights Reserved Page 11

12 f) School and curriculum staff is unsure of the direction of locallydeveloped benchmark assessments and alignment with future resources. g) Professional learning supports some district curricular initiatives; for example, Thinking Maps. Schools determine their own professional learning needs and the department provides limited funding for implementation. h) There is limited evidence of professional learning programs promoting job-embedded learning. i) Professional learning offerings appeared to be either required for all, without any assessment of need, or voluntary. There is no indication that mandated professional learning is differentiated to address teacher experience, expertise or prior training. j) Professional learning for the K-12 Reading/ELA plan for RTI was broad in scope. k) Coaches in Title I schools provide support and professional development to teachers. l) School staff reported using the district s student management system (IDMS) for information and data. m) School leadership noted the support given by MRESA for professional learning. n) The resources developed by the curriculum department show little evidence of interdisciplinary integration. o) Reduced funding has led to reduced time for professional learning. The department utilizes online learning and train-the-trainer models to reach as many employees as possible. p) Response to Intervention (RTI) is a multi-tiered approach to early identification and support of students with learning and behavior needs. While ELA coordinators showed a tiered approach, it was not January 2012 Copyright 2012, Education Planners, All Rights Reserved Page 12

13 immediately apparent in the interviews with the other core content areas. q) The Curriculum Center provides a wealth of information, but some do not take full advantage of all that is located in the portal. As a result, schools may purchase a program from an outside vendor when a similar program already is available from the district. V. Recommendations a) Provide more support to schools regarding programs and resource materials. Specifically, the Curriculum and Instruction Division should provide: Direction to local schools by setting expectations and guidelines. An avenue in which to receive feedback from schools. Assistance to local schools in building a common understanding and commitment. b) Above all else, a well-written and implemented curriculum is essential for the success of students in DeKalb County. The K-12 Common Core State Standards must be enhanced to include more detail, depth and rigor, over and above what is provided by the state. c) Clearly define the term program so that everyone speaks from a common language. d) Develop a list of approved optional supplemental resources that supports the achievement of the school improvement goals. This list should include programs under Special Education, Title I and English Language Learners. All programs on the approved list should clearly indicate the target audience served and should be: Updated continuously, including ongoing cost analysis as it relates to student achievement and per pupil expenditure; Research-based; Inclusive of total cost of implementation, including professional learning; Evaluated consistently with formative and summative student achievement data; and January 2012 Copyright 2012, Education Planners, All Rights Reserved Page 13

14 Aligned to national, state and district standards. e) Create a phase-out plan to address programs currently used in local schools that may not be inclusive of the above requirements. f) Ensure that principals and other school leaders utilize multiple types of data to drive and monitor school-wide instructional decisions, including supplemental tutorial and after-school programs. Reduce reliance on vendor-supplied assessments and encourage more independent review. g) Provide training to local school personnel that will allow them to objectively and effectively evaluate the materials, software and strategies used, specifically as they relate to student achievement. h) Require that all district-wide programs be monitored and evaluated through a consistent system-wide process to guarantee implementation with fidelity throughout all schools. i) Establish a centralized plan to set clear expectations and monitor the direction and effectiveness of professional development. j) Expand current resources relating to Response to Intervention (RTI) to include additional instructional strategies, tiered by intervention level. Components must be implemented with fidelity and in a rigorous manner. This area is essential to student success and should be included within the curriculum. A curriculum inventory is needed to assess what schools have and what schools need to implement RTI; specifically, what types of materials, programs and curriculum are being used to support the intervention. A guide book with high-quality, research-based classroom instruction aligned to the standards should be noted, along with instructional strategies or materials that have led to success with students. An on-going student assessment is essential. The RTI model should increase intensities of instructional offering, including research-based interventions matched to student needs. The multitiered approach should clearly differentiate instruction for students and collaboration between general and special education, as well as Title I and ELL is critical. January 2012 Copyright 2012, Education Planners, All Rights Reserved Page 14

15 k) In the transition to K-12 Common Core State Standards, there needs to be an emphasis on curriculum integration. The Curriculum and Instruction division should collaborate to provide interdisciplinary instructional resources for teachers and students. By integrating the curriculum, DeKalb County Schools will be better able to make learning real for students. They will be able to simultaneously access knowledge from all core content areas and add problem-solving and real-world application to their learning process. The district will benefit by ensuring that information is not repeated and resources are shared across core content areas. l) Establish a clear definition of Model Lesson Plan. Begin all lesson design with a clear understanding of the desired learning outcomes. Model lessons should be engaging for students and should: Use a variety of research-based instructional strategies (e.g. higher-order questioning) that align with Bloom s Taxonomy; Differentiate instruction, adjust content, product, process and/or learning environment to support students according to their individual instructional needs; Promote divergent thinking and creativity through guided and/or independent study; Integrate across subject areas; and Include balanced assessments, including performance-based, portfolio and traditional assessments. m) Develop an assessment system (Benchmarks) aligned to K-12 Common Core State Standards that provides data relating to continuous improvement. n) Ensure pacing guides provide the specific detail needed to direct classroom instruction. Include differentiated instruction for all learners as part of the curriculum units and lessons. o) Review all pacing and monitoring guides for currency and applicability. In interviews, the Ed Planners team saw some guides that were dated These may still be useful, but a review should be performed. January 2012 Copyright 2012, Education Planners, All Rights Reserved Page 15

16 p) Teach school-based trainers strategies that will promote and model job-embedded learning, utilizing nationally-recognized protocols (e.g., peer review, professional learning communities, coaches, shared inquiry and examining student work.) q) Improve communication between schools and district to guarantee that programs support school improvement goals. r) Continue to provide focused professional learning during district meetings with school administrative staff. s) Coordinate Professional Learning Department offerings in order to prioritize training opportunities that supports schools strategic plans and district initiatives. t) Focus professional learning on increasing student achievement. Differentiate training opportunities based on teacher needs and experience, track and evaluate all professional learning programs for effectiveness and quality; developed standards that must be followed by central office personnel when delivering professional learning on new the new curriculum. u) Align professional learning with curriculum by ensuring that teacher support, coaching and professional development plans are in place for RTI over a three-year period. VI. General Observations a) Due to the time-frame given for completion of this project, the Ed Planners team was unable to a conduct a thorough, comprehensive and detailed analysis of all programs and curricular areas. Additional review is encouraged, especially in regards to Professional Learning. b) Although not part of project scope, it was evident that DeKalb employees across the board have been challenged with changes in the system. Additionally, they expressed anxiety over impending change. There was also dissatisfaction over suspension of programs that had been put in place by the previous administration. This anxiety was prevalent, but not uncommon during a transition of this type. January 2012 Copyright 2012, Education Planners, All Rights Reserved Page 16

17 c) For the short term, there appears to be unease at both the school and central levels regarding the transition to K-12 Common Core State Standards. For example, schools would like for content coordinators to be more visible in the schools. Content coordinators say they would like to be in schools, but are prevented by the intensity of the work involved with the move to the K-12 Common Core State Standards. This should correct itself over time. d) Additionally, a disconnect was noted within the curriculum division with overlapping of programs, functions and positions potentially leading to financial waste and less than effective instructional programs. VII. Conclusion To facilitate system-wide excellence the district should adopt a streamlined process for the selection of all programs to be used at schools. This process should be lead by the Curriculum and Instruction department. Currently schools are able to select supplemental programs and after-school tutorials without coordination with the Curriculum and Instruction department. This practice creates an inability for the Curriculum and Instruction department to ensure programs and professional development are aligned with the district and state standards, to evaluate programs to determine effectiveness and to provide the support necessary to improve student achievement. January 2012 Copyright 2012, Education Planners, All Rights Reserved Page 17

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