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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In six years, Liberty Middle School and Patrick Henry High School have crafted a new culture of literacy “connectedness” that forges strong bonds between professional development and instruction, between high school demands and middle school preparation, between student needs and student services.

The two schools in Hanover County, Virginia, 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.

“When we started, we just knew we had schoolwide literacy issues. Over the past six years, we’ve made strong gains,” says Donald Latham, principal of Liberty Middle School. “You have art teachers thinking about literacy, computer science teachers thinking about literacy. It’s all of the small contributions that equal a schoolwide effort.”

Jeffrey Crook, principal of Patrick Henry High School, sees evidence of the CLC culture change reflected throughout the school in new attitudes about literacy and new approaches to the daily business of teaching and learning. “All faculty, staff, and students are focused on literacy and the importance of understanding and synthesizing information in the classroom,” he says. “All faculty members realize that the use of integrated Content Enhancement Routines and strategies leads to improved overall student achievement.”

Both schools collect data from multiple sources—walk-throughs, formal observations, state assessment results—to guide instructional decisions. In addition, the desire to improve literacy across the board has brought teachers and in-house professional developers together in a way that allows for collaborative feedback and instructional growth.

Beyond the schools’ individual achievements, the Patrick Henry and Liberty Middle Literacy Leadership Teams work in partnership to develop and support a comprehensive secondary literacy plan. That collaboration, identified by school leaders as one of the most important outgrowths of the initiative, has intensified staff members’ feelings of responsibility for all students’ long-term success. High school staff prepare for the needs of their future students based on conversations with and data shared by the middle school, and middle school staff regularly check on the progress of students who have moved on.

“We ask the high school how they’re doing, what they’re doing, and what we can do to send them better prepared,” says Latham. This year, high school teachers proctored a writing exercise for middle school students, creating a win-win situation in which middle school faculty will use results to determine whether changes are needed to prepare students better for high school and high school faculty will become acquainted with the literacy levels and skills of incoming ninth-graders.

A small—but growing—team of in-house professional developers is integral to the success of the CLC initiative in Hanover County. The team endeavors to ensure clear, strong connections between workshops, instructional goals, data collection, and follow-up coaching in the Hanover County schools.

“It’s that constant follow through and it’s the consistency that makes it so good,” Latham says. “We go through the cycle of data collection and evaluation on a monthly basis with teacher leaders. Having that cadre of expertise added to the leadership team is just invaluable.”

The six years of intense work toward full adoption of CLC has not been without hiccups. “At first, the biggest challenge was getting ‘buy in,’” says Cathy Guillena, special education teacher and lead SIM Professional Developer at the high school. Guillena recalls the initial resistance of her collaborative teacher at Patrick Henry High School, who thought the CLC initiative might be “just the latest craze” destined to disappear in a few years like so many other changes she had seen in more than 20 years of teaching. “She ended up being one of our biggest cheerleaders,” Guillena says.

Administrators led the way toward acceptance by establishing the expectation for teachers to learn about and use Strategic Instruction Model interventions. Teachers identified as leaders among their peers became, like Guillena’s colleague, cheerleaders for the project. Now, use of strategies and routines in classrooms is the norm, and the schools have devised new approaches to reaching students who need extra literacy assistance. Patrick Henry cleared one big hurdle when, after several years of urging, the school board approved a new Learning Strategies course to be taught by the speech-language pathologist to address the most severe learning difficulties of students in content classes.

Since beginning the project, the schools have seen rising scores on the state’s Standards of Learning assessments. Figure 1 shows increases in eighth-grade reading pass rates from the 2004-2005 school year to 2008-2009. Not only do the scores show improvements for eighth-graders as a whole, but they also show significant gains when subgroups (African-American students, students with disabilities, and economically disadvantaged students) are considered separately. Eighth-grade writing pass rates also improved for all groups during the same period.

“We’ve seen our overall reading scores go up,” says Latham (Figure 2). “Our math scores have gone up. Science is the highest it’s ever been.”

The percentage of special education students at the middle school who spend most of their school day in general education classrooms has increased substantially since 2006, while the percentage of special education students who spend most of the day in other settings has decreased just as dramatically (Figure 3).

High school pass rates for reading and math have increased (see Figure 4). The percentage of students reading below grade level has decreased, and the percentage of students reading above grade level has increased. Strikingly, the percentage of students who graduate with advanced diplomas has risen from below 10 percent to nearing 20 percent (see Figure 5).

Behind the numbers and statistics are powerful student and teacher stories, stories such as teacher Stacy Stanford’s determination to help a student master the content in her Spanish class despite struggling with reading comprehension in English. Stanford designed a multi-intervention approach using the Framing Routine and Paraphrasing Strategy to attack readings for the Spanish class and the Vocabulary LINCing Routine to master new Spanish words. By the end of the year, the student demonstrated great leaps in her comprehension abilities in both Spanish and English.

“Just because she struggled in English didn’t mean she had to struggle in Spanish as well,” says Stanford, who is World Languages department chair and a CLC teacher leader at Patrick Henry High School.

A common twist in the stories emerging from these Hanover County schools is the teacher who needs to see proof in her own classroom before fully embracing CLC and SIM. Janie Brown, physical science teacher at Liberty Middle School, was just such a teacher. For Brown, evidence of success came early when she used the Unit Organizer Routine to introduce her first unit, Map Skills. Brown says she dreaded the Map Skills unit test because her students generally performed poorly—many Cs, with a number of Ds and Fs. The year she used Unit Organizer, though, the results impressed her.

“The majority of my grades were in the B range and a good amount in the A range,” she says, and students attributed their success to the Unit Organizer. “It felt like everything they needed to know was laid out for them with no hidden content.”

Brown is now a SIM Professional Developer and CLC project co-lead in her school. “You see steady gain every year, but more importantly, I see students who come to class with tools and strategies to learn,” she says. “These give them confidence and have allowed them to feel more confident in tackling new and difficult subject matter. True student achievement is creating effective life-long learners, and isn’t that what we are all about?”

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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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