To MOVE your NUMBERS, you first need to KNOW your NUMBERS

This past summer I had opportunities to talk to a number of school district leaders.  One of the inquiries I made was “what are your Individualized Education Program (IEP) demographics?” While some were able to cite the percent of students served through special education programs and services in their districts or buildings, fewer were able to retrieve more descriptive data and trends that should be part of every data dialogue when addressing the achievement gaps. This is important because your NUMBERS tell a story.

sparty-02  In a previous article, we introduced Michigan’s ELL identification process, which is the first step in providing language minority students with the instructional and linguistic supports necessary to access meaningful opportunities to learn. In this issue, we will take a close look at some of the policies and research that guide the identification and classification process of ELLs.

Joseph Murphy warns us that the first law of school improvement is to recognize that “structure does not predict performance.” He urges teachers, principals and superintendents to understand that interventions alone won’t work. To close the achievement gap, we must first address what’s going on below the surface before any interventions are added on top.

Joseph Murphy, or “Murph” as his students at Vanderbilt University call him, is a school improvement expert who works to foster the environment where student learning is well-oiled. Having worked as an administrator at school, district and state levels, he serves as the Frank W. Mayborn Chair and an Associate Dean at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of Education in Tennessee.

In this video, Murphy addresses questions that novice to seasoned educators would have: from what an achievement gap is to how to help teachers look at students as more than their test scores. He tells us high-achieving schools can still have achievement gaps and challenges us to broaden our measure of success.

“We want a broader measure of what we count as success. I’m not talking fuzziness here. I’m talking about deeper measures of what it means to be a well-educated student.”

Although academic success is the heart, he encourages us to not talk only of academic success but to talk about academic success along with social learning. Murphy shared with us that “School has a large responsibility to help students engage in society, work with people, to be able to communicate, to be able to see a problem and frame a problem. There’s a significant amount of learning in school that we don’t measure, and that’s important.”

Murphy said educators must provide strong expectations for academic excellence and pastoral care for all, and especially for students who are on the “wrong side of the achievement gap.” To do this they must build a supportive culture first.

“Is it acceptable for the United States as a country to have educational disadvantage? To say those kids are on the wrong side of the gap and that’s just the way it is? That’s the moral imperative,” Murphy said.

Murphy shared his wisdom with Michigan educators at the 2013 Summer Institute for MI Excel Focus districts and schools. His two-strand model of culture and academic press really captured his school improvement secret best.

murph dna

For Murphy, culture is an intermediate outcome that tells us more about the school than students’ test scores do.

He explains one component of culture is to have a community of pastoral care for students and that there are four norms of pastoral care necessary for student engagement. These four norms—care, support, safety and membership—reflected by students’ efficacy and sense of belonging—directly correlate to their academic and social learning.

“You want to see evidence for care, support, safety and membership in place” Murphy said.

When these four norms are in place, Murphy told us, providing pastoral care for students who are on the “wrong side of the achievement gap” becomes easier.

Every teacher can tell us who the tourists and actively engaged learners are in their classroom. And this is a measurable data. Murphy encourages educators to be honest with themselves and together come up with a way to measure the engagement levels of students and the ways in which the school staff contribute to them. Murphy shared an anecdote of his friend, an elementary principal, who shared a simple activity to measure both levels of engagement using apple trees.

newsfeed murphy tree

The elementary principal gathered teachers to the school’s indoor gym one day. On all walls, there were drawings of apple trees with hundreds of apples on them. The number of apples matched the number of students in the school, and each apple bore a student’s name.

The principal asked teachers to go around the room and put a sticker on an apple of a student whom they knew well. He gave them 20 minutes. After the time was up, it was clear to all that about 10% of apples didn’t receive any sticker.

This activity was an engaging, measurable avenue for them to better understand their school’s culture. It led the principal and his staff to engage more with all students, even those who weren’t in their classroom.

Students’ success is more than academic press. Murphy tells us that it is really difficult to be successful unless you are building culture at the same time you are challenging students academically. Student engagement and success are evident when schools have a culture where students are “…known, cared for, supported, respected, feel they have ownership and membership, and an opportunity to participate, be recognized, and exercise leadership.”

What are some simple activities your school can do to gage the level of pastoral care in your community?

sparty-02  As each school year commences across Michigan, many schools begin the process of getting to know newly enrolled students. This process includes identifying students who need English language development services. Identifying English language learners (ELLs) is really an issue of educational access and equity; students who fail to be identified as ELLs who do in fact need English language development services won't have the same opportunities to access instructional content as their peers. On the other hand, students who are mistakenly identified as ELLs may be denied access to academic content that is appropriately challenging.

Efforts to better identify students are certainly a priority for many schools due to the ever-increasing numbers of students migrating and immigrating. According to findings reported, between 2002 and 2008 the ELL population grew by 18 percent, to 4.4 million students (Boyle, et al., 2010). Data shows below was collected from the Consolidated State Performance Report (CSPR) and compiled by the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition & Language Instruction Educational Programs (NCELA). This identifies the significant difference in percentages of those enrolled compared to the general student population.

growing numbers ell

With such large increases in very short periods of time, many schools lack the capacity to adequately support ELL students and their teachers.

In a 2009 report published by the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA, 2009), investigators analyzed repercussions of this rapid growth in ELL student populations for schools. The authors of the report conclude that many states and school districts are underprepared to deal with the many complex issues ELL students face linguistically and culturally as they enter U.S. schools. Additionally, educators often have limited experience screening students for ELL services appropriately. This inexperience can lead to large numbers of ELL students not being identified and unable to receive the instructional supports necessary to succeed. Because of these trends, the authors recommended increasing the number of states involved in setting standard criteria within a state for entering and exiting students from ELL services. During the 2012/2013 school year, Michigan implemented an Entrance and Exit Protocol to help districts identify and reclassify their ELL students. The protocol document provides districts with a great amount of flexibility in determining what tools to use, in addition to the identified state required assessment (historically ELPA Initial Screening tool).

Go to top