INSIGHTS IN ACTION

 

How Student Learning Over Time Supports a Focus on Nurturing Lifelong Learning

by Saint Margaret's Episcopal School

 

 

The Question

As a mission-driven school, Saint Margaret's Episcopal seeks ways to analyze the effectiveness of the implementation of their mission. How can they demonstrate student learning over time that supports their focus on nurturing lifelong learning?

 

 

The Problem

In an effort to measure what matters, the school sought to identify empirical data pointing to a belief that educating young people for lives of learning is nurtured in part through demonstrated annual growth over time in different disciplines. ERB's CTP assessment is designed to measure growth over time, and by longitudinally analyzing scores by cohort over their testing trajectories, the school discovered reliable and revealing growth curves for groups of students. When analyzing CTP data through the lens of growth over time by grade level cohort, they identified that students were not demonstrating expected growth in Reading Comprehension during Grade 6. In addition, the growth trajectory in Grades 7 and 8 was strong but not as strong as it was in other disciplines. The school determined that Reading Comprehension was an area for further analysis and potentially a point of intervention.

 

 

The Method

After determining that the Reading Comprehension subtest revealed an outcome that was inconsistent with expectations, Saint Margaret's Episcopal School interrogated the data in a variety of ways to determine what was causing the cohort results. 

 

Because the school admits 30 new students in Grade 6 each year, they began by analyzing results based on the separation of veteran students and new students. They thought there might be a possibility that new Grade 6 students perform differently than students within the program previously, however, they determined that there was no consistent performance pattern in this analysis. 

 

They then analyzed the mastery of each content strand in the subtest to see if there was an area of relative weakness within one of the Reading Comprehension content strands (Explicit Information, Inference, and Analysis) that was impacting the total cohort assessments. Again, they did not find any evidence to support this hypothesis. 

 

Lastly, the school tracked students by their Grade 5 performance quartile to determine whether each group of students grew or lost ground at a similar rate, year by year. In this case, the hypothesis was that a small group of students may not be growing at the anticipated rate, and as a result, were impacting the growth rate for the entire grade level cohort. This hypothesis proved true over several cohorts of students. Through analysis, the school identified that students in the top and second quartiles were not growing at the expected rate. Conversely, students in the third and bottom quartiles were growing, but their growth was not readily conveyed when displayed in aggregate along with those at the highest performance levels from the year prior. Because they recognized that Reading Comprehension is not solely the responsibility of English teachers, but rather the focus of every teacher seeking to develop their students’ abilities to process and understand the meaning of written texts, they shared this data with all Middle School faculty to determine next steps.

 

 

The Plan and The Result

Saint Margaret's Episcopal School empowered every teacher to determine teaching strategies and methods that would work within their own classrooms and styles to solve this problem and execute their own plan. Allowing teachers to develop their own plans engendered a sense of school-wide ownership and personal investment among the faculty and created new and varied learning opportunities for students. Examples of interventions that teachers developed included adding challenging text to the curriculum for the highest-level learners, adding more reading to math assignments, creating science assignments with richer text, and developing high-level multiple-choice questions responding to sophisticated history texts. After the first year of this collective intervention, the school saw a considerable gain in learning in all three grades of interest. While experimental design would have led them to choose a single intervention and measure the outcomes, they felt it was better to empower each teacher to develop a strategy based on the data and the needs of their individual students.   


While the improvement was significant, the school sought even greater gains in subsequent years and made the choice to eliminate the Grade 6 Latin course in favor of a double block of English Language Arts. They also adopted a brand new curriculum in Grade 6, based on the success of their Lower School's curriculum, offering more literature choices that have led to students demonstrating higher levels of engagement with reading both inside and outside of school. Not only has reading engagement increased, but test scores have also increased across the board. Preliminary data suggest a very successful transition, as the school awaits confirmation from future CTP test scores. 

 

Without ERB's CTP, and the capacity to measure growth over time, the school would not have identified the growth pattern that drew their focus to Grade 6 Reading Comprehension and ultimately led to the positive changes in their curriculum. As an independent school, they are committed to their mission of nurturing lifelong learning and their ability to measure those elements that matter most to them.

 

 

About the School

 

St. Margaret’s Episcopal School in San Juan Capistrano, CA, is a diverse community dedicated to developing the whole child. The School nurture spiritual growth, an appreciation for life-long learning, the courage to lead and a responsibility to give to others. The School's graduates are independent thinkers of integrity and compassion who reveal their resilience and collaborative nature in the face of challenge and opportunity. Dr. Jeneen Graham is currently Principal of the Upper School at Saint Margaret's Episcopal School. You can reach out to her with questions about their study at Jeneen.Graham@SMES.org.