What does it take to turn around a chronically under-performing school? If you ask educators at Moseley Elementary School, it takes determined school leaders and teachers with the ability to give students a purpose each day–and a strategy called academic teaming.
William D. Moseley Elementary School has a history of struggle. Its student population is fairly transient, and 100 percent of students are on free and reduced lunch. Twenty-five percent receive special education services and many students have deficiencies in key skill areas. Combined, those factors led to a large student population working through trauma that impacts their ability to learn.
Related content: 3 key levers for school improvement
The school, in a rural area of Florida, had a consistently low performance record, falling somewhere between a D and an F for years. In 2016 it was the fifth lowest-performing in the state, prompting Putnam County Schools to hire Learning Sciences International (LSI) to help improve the school’s performance.
In August 2017, Sarajean McDaniel became Moseley’s principal. The school’s administrative team hired 30 new instructional staff, including 20 teachers, as well as interventionists and others. The school also welcomed a number of new students from other schools.
“Coming in, we knew we had a lot to take on,” McDaniel says, noting the need to motivate students and address discipline issues.
The school implemented LSI’s Schools for Rigor model, which includes:
- Professional development and coaching for teachers and school leaders
- An assessment of school systems
- Academic teaming implementation
- Constant tracking of student evidence
The academic teaming strategy, which has teachers move to a student-centered instructional process where students collaborate, peer coach, and peer teach as they complete tasks, was new for the school, and brought with it encouraging developments.
McDaniel says students were more engaged with their learning and appeared at ease while they took ownership of their own learning. The change also helped teachers recognize that stepping back a bit can lead to students actually wanting to learn.
“When students are taking ownership of their learning, that truly is 100 percent engagement,” she says. “Sometimes people think a quiet classroom is managed, but it’s not, because students aren’t engaged. It’s 100 percent on-task when it’s noisy, and that’s an art. Teachers have to keep working at that. We’re working to release that learning to the students, because it’s been natural for teachers to be in front of the room.”
Academic teaming helped this school turn around student achievement
At the end of that year, Moseley improved its grade from an F to a D. Although the school didn’t reach a C level at first, school and district administrators appeared before the school board to demonstrate the school’s gains in student proficiency and learning. The district’s turnaround process requires an External Operator when a school has earned grades below a C for three years in a row. LSI was named the External Operator at Moseley, overseeing academic programs, professional development, assessment, and more.
“Despite not making a C grade that first year, we had to realize that we were still seeing gains,” McDaniel says. “I told our teachers to think of all the days when we made a difference in the life of a child, academically or emotionally. It’s the teachers who are truly invested and willing to do all of the things that come to them.”
That encouraging mindset helped. Teachers were more comfortable with academic teaming as Moseley entered its second year of partnering with LSI, and it showed: ELA proficiency increased by 20 percent and math proficiency increased by 13 percent. The school’s bottom quartile, in particular, saw large ELA gains. Teacher turnover has also decreased dramatically.
“When you walk into a classroom, you have 20 kids in that room, and 25 percent of our population here is students with special needs,” McDaniel says. “You don’t know which child at that table is a child with an IEP. Everyone is a part of the groups. These kids are on task, working together, and it helps them think outside the box. They come up with things that, if we limited them, they may not even think of. It truly has empowered our students.”