KU Center for Research on Learning

KU Center for Research on Learning

Teacher from the Virginia School District teaching a young student and showing him a SIM Comparison Table.

2011 SIM Impact Award

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Students at James River High School and Central Academy Middle School in Botetourt County, Virginia, are the clear winners in an intense, six-year (and counting) process to develop a comprehensive, unified program to improve literacy skills and academic achievement. The schools were selected to participate in a State Personnel Development Grant in which they adopted the Content Literacy Continuum, developed by the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning, as a framework for schoolwide literacy improvement.

Before 2005—the year the initial grant was awarded—30 percent of the students at Central Academy Middle School scored below proficient on the Virginia Standards of Learning state assessment for reading and writing. A closer look showed that 70 percent of students with disabilities scored below proficient, as did more than 55 percent of economically disadvantaged students.

The situation at James River High School was better—86 percent of the high school’s students passed the reading assessment—but the school did not have a systematic approach to improving literacy of secondary students.

“One of the chief reasons that Botetourt County Public Schools applied for the CLC grant was the recognition of a problem area related to adolescent literacy, which was apparently not being adequately addressed by the school division,” says Superintendent Anthony Brads. “Although not misguided in the least, the division literacy focus was mainly placed on early intervention. When applying for the grant, we were looking for a vehicle to assist us with developing a comprehensive Pre-K through 12 approach to literacy. CLC has become a significant part of that process.”

Through support received from the grant, the two schools adopted CLC as their framework for an extensive school improvement effort focused on improving literacy skills of all students. In the years that followed, teachers received professional development tailored to their roles and classroom needs as well as follow-up support in Strategic Instruction Model Learning Strategies and Content Enhancement Routines. The schools developed new classes to meet students’ literacy needs, and a speech-language pathologist joined the team to collaborate with all teachers at both schools and provide therapeutic intervention for students with the most severe language deficits. Literacy Leadership Teams formed to guide the schools’ efforts, and collaboration across content areas, grade levels, and schools became the norm. In addition to the CLC and SIM focus on literacy, the schools also introduced block scheduling and encouraged integrating effective use of technology into instruction, resulting in many significant changes to school structure and culture in a short time. That the schools were able to juggle the changes and at the same time see dramatic increases in test scores and student achievement is a credit to the dedication of teachers and administrators alike.

“Our experience tells us that the schools and districts achieving the largest literacy gains are those with strong administrative leadership,” says Don Deshler, director of the Center for Research on Learning. “Clearly, one of the keys to the success in Botetourt County has been the cadre of committed leaders at the division and school levels.”

All five levels of the Content Literacy Continuum are in place in the Botetourt County schools. The collaboration between schools, including regularly scheduled leadership meetings focused on shared literacy issues, creates a unified experience for all students from sixth-grade through graduation.

Though CLC is firmly established, the schools continually evaluate results at all five levels as leadership teams consider how to sustain improvements to instruction and student achievement. An annual planning document specifies the interventions to be used at each level (whether SIM strategies and routines or other programs, such as LANGUAGE!), classes in which teachers will be expected to implement interventions, evidence of implementation, resources to support instruction or indicators that more intense instruction is necessary, and speech-language pathologist support for each level.

The thoughtfulness of the planning and persistence in pursuing improvement have resulted in exciting advances in literacy levels at the two schools.

“In the short amount of time I have been here, the impact SIM has had on CAMS is astronomical,” says Timothy McClung, who is in his second year as principal of Central Academy Middle School. “We have students who have gained over two grade levels in reading in one year. Our state accountability scores were higher in 2010 than they have ever been.”

Figures 1 and 2 show Central Academy Middle School students’ pass rates for the state assessments in reading and writing. Pass rates in both reading (Figure 1) and writing (Figure 2) have improved for all students and for the subgroups of students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged students.

“As a school, the biggest success has been the improvement of our eighth-grade writing scores,” says Denise Sprinkle, science teacher and building leader for the CLC project at the middle school. “We feel the incorporation of the writing strategies into our curriculum has been critical to the student gains in writing.”

James River High School has realized similar improvements on state assessments for its students. Figure 3 shows improvements in pass rates for all students in the areas of reading, math, science, and history from the 2005-2006 school year to 2009-2010. Writing pass rates remained about the same. More students are passing their reading and writing state assessments with a rating of “advanced proficiency,” as seen in Figure 4.

“We now have a common goal—to improve literacy for all students—and we are reaching that goal. The Content Enhancement Routines and Learning Strategies have been the foundation for the schoolwide change,” says Dana McCaleb, special education teacher, building leader for the project, and SIM Professional Developer at James River High School.

Teachers and administrators are justifiably proud of the improvements they are seeing in their students’ literacy skills. They also note personal benefits in professional and collegial growth, including more open communication and more opportunities to collaborate not just within schools but across schools. At James River High School, principal Jamie Talbott credits CLC with improving communication across departments and creating positive collaboration among teachers, both of which he says have led to improved classroom instruction and student achievement. Sprinkle, at the middle school, believes communication is one of her biggest responsibilities. “As the building lead, communication with all levels of administration is crucial. Communication with fellow teachers and listening to their concerns is part of what I do,” she says.

Extending collaboration between schools means the educators have regular opportunities to discuss student progress—including students’ transition from middle school to high school—and the effectiveness of instructional methods across all grade levels.

“The collaboration has allowed us to better meet the needs of our incoming students, providing services for them to meet their literacy levels and improve literacy across the board,” says McCaleb.

Central Academy Middle School and James River High School have met the thorny challenge of improving student literacy with an admirable tenaciousness and a determined focus on the needs of their students, realizing exceptional gains in student achievement in the process. They also have created a literacy-centric culture, owned by all teachers and administrators, that will continue to serve the best interests of the schools and their students well into the future.

“I have witnessed the growth of principals and teachers into such strong instructional leaders,” says Joni Poff, the division’s supervisor of secondary instruction and gifted education. “To sit back and watch a CLC team meeting take place in a school is fascinating. The level of the conversation, the knowledge of the members, and the focus of the team are incredible.”

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“They have taught all of us so much about what it takes for CLC to truly make an impact. Their commitment is inspiring, and their efforts will be reflected in the successes experienced by teachers and students well beyond their schools and into the future.”

– Ann Hoffman

“The transformation from a middle school student to a high school student was much easier with the help of these strategies and routines because you know what to expect from the teachers. You know that they are going to teach you much like you were taught in the years before.”

—Matthew Flint, senior, James River High School

Thank you to the faculty and staff of Central Academy Middle School, James River High School, Liberty Middle School, and Patrick Henry High School for their hard work and dedication to improving adolescent literacy. A special thanks to those listed below for their exceptional leadership.

Botetourt School Division
Anthony Brads, Superintendent
John Busher, Assistant Superintendent
Joni Poff, Supervisor of Instruction, SIM Professional Developer
Diana Dixon, Former Director of Instruction

Central Academy Middle School
Tim McClung, Principal
Andy Bell, Teacher Leader
Cathy Cronise, Teacher Leader
Tammy Ferris, Teacher Leader
Pam Kettelson, Teacher Leader
Suzanna Mejia, Teacher Leader
SIM Professional Developer Apprentice
Denise Sprinkle, Teacher Leader
Building Leader, SIM Professional Developer
Susan Trumbo, Teacher Leader
SIM Professional Developer
Sandra Witt, Teacher Leader

James River High School
Jami Talbott, Principal
Jennifer Alderson, Teacher Leader
Donna Cox, Teacher Leader
SIM Professional Developer Apprentice
Richard Furman, Teacher Leader
Philip King, Teacher Leader
Leah Lorton, Teacher Leader, SIM Professional Developer
Dana McCaleb, Teacher Leader, Building Leader
SIM Professional Developer
Teresa Simmons, Teacher Leader
SIM Professional Developer
Dreama McMillan, Former Assistant Principal

Hanover School Division
Jamelle Wilson, Superintendent
Patrick Henry High School
Jeffrey Crook, Principal
Paul Vecchione, Former Principal
Brian Maltby, Co-Building Lead
Ian Shenk, Co-Building Lead
Farley Allen, Teacher Leader
Chris Belcher, SIM Professional Developer
Karin Caskey, Teacher Leader
Kristina Godbey, Teacher Leader
Cathy Guillena, SIM Professional Developer
Tara Holladay, Teacher Leader
Terri Lent, SIM Professional Developer
Elizabeth Markwood, SIM Professional Developer
Chrisana Reveley, SIM Professional Developer
Hannah Sacra, SIM Professional Developer
Princess Sawyer, SIM Professional Developer
Alice Scheele, Teacher Leader
Stacy Stanford, Teacher Leader
Kevin Trent, Teacher Leader
Peggy Whitlock, Teacher Leader
Jean Wright, SIM Professional Developer
Frances Warnick, Former Building Lead
Liberty Middle School
Donald Latham, Principal
Kendall Hunt, Former Building Lead
SIM Professional Developer
Janie Brown, SIM Professional Developer
Deverick Strand, Teacher Leader, SIM Professional Developer
Rhonda Booth, Teacher Leader, SIM Professional Developer
Holly Drake, Teacher Leader, SIM Professional Developer
Lisa Atkins, Teacher Leader, SIM Professional Developer
Lalisha Fitchett, Teacher Leader,
SIM Professional Developer Apprentice
Kim McCallister, Speech and Language Pathologist
Julie Dauksys, Reading Specialist, Building Lead
University of Kansas Center
for Research on Learning
Donald Deshler, Director
Barbara Ehren, Former Project Coordinator
Diane Gillam, Project Manager
Joan Fletcher, Former Site Leader
Rosemary Tralli, Former Site Leader & Project Coordinator
Ann Hoffman, Site Leader
Jerilyn Neduchal, Site Leader

Virginia Department of Education Support
Tom Manthey, Project Director
Doug Cox, Assistant Superintendent of Special Education
and Students Services
Patricia Abrams, Director of Special Education
Office of Special Education and Instructional Services
Virginia Tech T/TAC Support
Helen Barrier, SIM Professional Developer
Ben Tickle, SIM Professional Developer

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