Paul Goldberg

Paul Goldberg is the assistant superintendent for district improvement in Schaumburg, Illinois, a nationally renowned PLC district. He was previously a junior high principal at a school that went from not making adequate yearly progress to becoming a Blue Ribbon School. He also led a diverse Title I elementary school to the highest growth scores in the area for three straight years and was the North Cook County nominee for principal of the year.

Let the Debate Begin

Robert J. Marzano in What Works in Schools: Translating Research Into Action (2000) wrote that a “guaranteed and viable curriculum” (p. 22) is the school-level factor that most impacts student achievement. While anything is refutable and debatable in education, few disagree with Dr. Marzano’s research.

We now have resources like John Hattie’s book Visible Learning to help us continue this debate and others. I’d like to propose a few questions we can potentially use for professional dialogue around the factors that most impact student achievement:

  • What is the team-level factor that most impacts student achievement?
  • What is the principal-level factor that most impacts student achievement?
  • What is the teacher-level factor that most impacts student achievement?

While the following are strictly my opinions, they are grounded in some of the best and most powerful research we have in education. Let the debate begin!

What is the team-level factor that most impacts student achievement?

I’d argue that the team-level factor that most impacts student achievement is the common formative assessment. Common formative assessments:

  • Make an immediate impact on student achievement
  • Support educators in analyzing and understanding standards
  • Enable educators to share and interpret results
  • Help teachers grow as learners
  • Provide regular and timely feedback for students and teachers
  • Enable educators to determine student strengths and areas for growth and intervene or enrich in a timely manner

What do you think is most impactful? Is it collaborative team time, the intervention/acceleration block, the documents teams produce, the planning teams create around their lessons? What have I missed?

What is the principal-level factor that most impacts student achievement?

I’d argue the principal-level factor that most impacts student achievement is the principal’s ability to develop positive relationships. Positive relationships:

  • Help teachers grow as learners
  • Are the basis for getting everything accomplished in a school
  • Allow stakeholders to feel supported and build trust
  • Create positive cultures
  • Influence attitudes that impact the school environment and student learning
  • Impact job satisfaction and commitment

What do you think is most impactful? Is it a principal’s vision, creating the structures to support a safe and orderly school, being an instruction leader? What have I missed?

What is the teacher-level factor that most impacts student achievement?

I’d argue the teacher-level factor that most impacts student achievement is the teacher/student relationship. Positive teacher/student relationships:

  • Help students feels safe
  • Impact the student’s attitude, disposition, and desire to come to school
  • Establish respect
  • Show the student that the teacher listens and cares
  • Influence student achievement
  • Increase engagement and minimize misbehavior

What do you think is most impactful? Is it a teacher’s ability to develop grit within their students or their planning, collaboration, professionalism, instruction, or management? What have I missed?

I could, of course, go on and on in support of these impactful areas within education. As I reflected, the internal debate I had led me to consider many other areas that positively impact our schools at the team, principal, and teacher levels. Now, it’s your turn. Let the debate begin!

References

Hattie, J. (2008). Visible learning: A synthesis of meta-analyses relating to achievement. London, New York: Routledge.

Marzano, R. J. (2003) What works in schools: Translating research into action. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Comments

Kaycee Martinez

This is a great post, and I agree with you on most aspects. However, I would like to respectfully disagree with Common Formative Assessments being the team-level factor that impacts student achievement. Having a CFA is a great tool to measure student achievement, but I think the most important piece that an effective PLC can have is in standardizing their teaching strategies. If every teacher is teaching the curriculum a different way, then the students are learning different things. What good would a standardized assessment be, if technically, not all the students have learned the same thing? The team should collectively select the best strategies and activities they can come up with to use to teach what the students will be assessed on. After all, the foundation of the PLC is a community of learners, and who better to learn from than your teammates?

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joyce arnold

Hello, Paul! I'm new to this blog, so I am just now reading your post. I was moved to comment because I had recently read an article from the Fall 2011 Stanford Social Innovation Review, which supports the idea of relationships being key factors in student achievement. The author claims that, while the recent approach to school reform is based on a value-added model which economists call "human capital" - build better teachers - their research suggests the most successful schools are ones that have strong "social capital", or patterns of interaction. Because the author Carol Leana focuses on "social capital", she provides a slight twist on the factors you identify in your post. Leana identifies the teacher/teacher relationship rather than the teacher/student relationship as being one of the most impactful. She also claims that the best investment for principals is building external social capital - meeting with parents, developing community relations, etc. - to facilitate teachers success. An interesting read! (link: http://ssir.org/articles/entry/the_missing_link_in_school_reform )

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