By Madelynn Coldiron
Less than half of Kentucky’s priority schools have made adequate progress in the past three years, despite millions of federal dollars in School Improvement Grant money to bolster their efforts.
The University of Kentucky evaluated the SIG work in the first two groups – cohorts – of 22 schools given that classification. The evaluation looked at school instructional and leadership climates from the perspectives of Education Recovery Teams, school staff, principals and teachers. The evaluation also covered academic and nonacademic student performance.
The study report found common themes among the 22 priority schools, but also some unique challenges and differences among regions and sometimes within regions.
Positive turnaround themes
The evaluation report said all the priority schools have processes to collect data for making instructional decisions, though the use of the processes varied among teachers and leaders. The data is gathered through walkthroughs, formative assessments of students, professional learning communities where teachers discuss how to improve instruction, and tiered intervention systems to help struggling students.
In all those schools, the Education Recovery Teams provide professional development to meet individual needs. Both team members and principals reported that teachers were receptive to the training and open to change and new practices.
Both principals and Education Recovery Team staff said that students were more engaged and aware that their teachers had high expectations for them. Students also had a better understanding of their assessment scores, the classes they need to graduate or go on to postsecondary education, and the availability of remediation if they need help, the report said.
Among the problems the UK study found were varying levels of success in using professional learning communities and teacher capacity to use data in some schools in the Eastern Region, where some cohort 2 schools in particular are plagued by lack of rigor, low expectations and classroom management issues.
Recovery efforts in some cohort 1 schools in both Eastern and Western regions are threatened by high teacher turnover each year, the report noted.
Principals in the Western Region felt that while their teachers were receptive to the Education Recovery Teams, teacher morale “had dropped substantially over the course of the year because of the work load and the increased rate of change.”
In the Central Region, consisting mainly of schools in Jefferson County, discipline was cited as a problem as well as staff turnover and young, inexperienced teachers.
Principals in this region told UK they believe more time and money are needed to overcome the challenges of the skills gap students bring with them, a low-expectation community culture and inexperienced teachers.
The UK evaluators recommend that priority schools periodically reevaluate the data-collecting processes they use in devising their improvements, to “ensure that the data processes are only a means to achieving a goal and not the goal itself.”
Susan Allred, an associate commissioner with the state education department, pointed to another important recommendation: the need to provide more support more quickly for teachers and staff members, so the transformational process doesn’t become “a morale killer.”
With an eye toward continuing the turnaround efforts once the SIG funding ends, the report recommends schools identify what they can sustain and prioritize those efforts based on school need and capacity. This information also can be used to connect these sustainable programs with other initiatives and sources of support.