Benton Middle School
- Number of Students: 923
- Percent Eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch: 33%
- Percent of Limited English Proficient: 1%
- Percent of Special Education: 9%
- White: 79.13%
- Black: 12.46%
- Hispanic: 4.46%
- Asian: 0.91%
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: 0.1%
- American Indian or Alaska Native: 0.81%
- Multiracial: 2.13%
- Other: 0%
The transformation from a traditional school environment to a Professional Learning Community (PLC) did not happen overnight, nor did it happen by completing a set of hierarchical tasks. Our PLC has continued to develop as a result of ongoing, purposeful learning. In our early stages, we concentrated on developing high functioning interdisciplinary teams. This decision was influenced by our desire to align with the middle school concept that viewed us as a transition period between elementary and high school. More recently, we have focused our concentration on building high performing grade level content teams because we are convinced that they have the greatest impact on student learning. Our leadership team has been instrumental in this growth process. We identified the highest performing schools in the state with similar demographics and enlisted our leadership team to make site visits and learn the secrets of their success. We also visited two model PLC schools in a neighboring state to observe ways to implement content teams and multi-tiered RTI. Our leadership team also engaged in two book studies, Learning by Doing and Pyramid Response to Intervention, attended multiple PLC trainings through Solution Tree, and completed a PLC self-assessment and reflection. We were able to take this new knowledge and create an action plan to refine our PLC process.
Crucial to our development as a PLC was scheduling daily common planning periods for grade level content teams. Our content teams focus on student learning by using the “Four critical questions of learning” to drive their collaborative work. Teams identify essential standards for each unit, create frequent common assessments aligned with these standards to monitor student learning, and use the assessment data to identify individual students who need additional support and the teachers best equipped to provide that support.
Another priority was creating a fluid system of interventions to ensure that all students get the additional support they need to learn the essential standards at a level that is at or above proficiency. We implemented a multi-tiered, fluid pyramid of interventions that guarantees that all students will be provided with additional time and support for learning when they struggle, and has consequently created a culture where “failure is not an option.” Support for all learners is provided at Tier 1, support for our intentional non-learners and failed learners is provided at Tier 2 on an as needed basis, and our Tier 3 interventions provide intensive support to students with significant needs.
The development of a strategic mission plan also played a major role in creating a successful PLC. We revisited our mission and vision and created six SMART goals to provide a clear focus for our efforts and ensure that our time and resources are being used to achieve these goals. Goal-setting has become an integral part of our PLC process. We are setting school-wide SMART goals, content teams are setting their own SMART goals, and our students are even creating their own personal learning goals (PLGs), creating a sense of mutual accountability. We feel that it is equally important to celebrate the successes of our PLC when we reach these goals in order to provide motivation and cultivate a success mindset.
We have had many successes to celebrate over the last four years as we have embarked on this PLC journey. We have reduced our failure rate by 39%, improved our School Performance Score by 11.6 points since 2013, and earned the status of top performing middle school in our district. We credit this success to our transformation to a high performing Professional Learning Community.
1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.
Monitoring student learning and progress is one of the most vital components of the PLC process. Our teachers monitor student learning through various means, including frequent common assessments, summative assessments, LEAP 360 interim assessments, and Personal Learning Goals (PLGs).
Prior to teachers monitoring student learning, teams must have a solid understanding of what exactly should be monitored. The first essential question for PLCs provides clarity to guide the work of each team:
What do we want our students to learn?
Each content team uses guiding questions which address endurance, leverage, and readiness to identify essential standards for each unit. These essential standards represent the guaranteed and viable curriculum that teachers believe all students must learn.
Once each team has reached a consensus with the essential standards, we must monitor student learning of these standards to ensure that all students are at or above proficiency. The second essential question for PLCs will continue to guide the work of each team:
How will we know if they have learned it?
Common Formative Assessments:
Content teams collaborate during their daily common planning time to create common formative assessments that are aligned with the essential standards. These assessments are administered daily so teachers can get immediate feedback to guide instruction and provide Tier 1 support to the students who have not yet demonstrated proficiency of the targeted standards. Benton Middle School’s “Bring Your Own Technology” policy and commitment to increasing classroom access to technology, provide teachers with an opportunity to use online apps to administer the assessments and gain easy access to meaningful data. Teachers are introduced to these tools through professional development provided during content team meetings.
Common Summative Assessments:
Content teams work collaboratively to create common summative assessments that are administered at the end of each unit. Teams use Dufour’s Data Analysis Protocol in their team meetings to analyze the data from these assessments in a meaningful way. Teachers identify students who continue to struggle, create a plan to remediate these students through Tier 2 interventions, create a plan to extend learning for students who are at or above proficiency, compare data to determine strategies that are correlated with areas of strengths, and reflect on potential causes for areas of weakness.
Leap 360 Interim Assessments:
Interim assessments provided by the state are administered at three critical points in the school year to monitor progress of learning. The teams will use the data from these assessments to create a 6-week action plan to provide targeted support through reteaching, interventions, and extensions.
Personal Learning Goals:
Just as important for teachers to monitor student learning is for the students to monitor their own learning. The leadership team provided professional development for our faculty in the area of student goal setting and individual conferencing. The “Goal Digger” session highlighted the importance of students setting and tracking their personal learning goals (PLGs) in order to develop a sense of ownership and accountability. Since then, the teams have implemented goal-setting in the classroom at many levels. This facilitates an advisor/advisee relationship in which teachers have students review their testing data and set challenging, yet attainable PLGs for their state assessment in the Spring. Teams also developed graphic organizers for the students to track their growth based on results from summative assessments, LEAP 360 interim assessments, and STAR. The ELA content teams have even allowed students to provide input on setting their own Accelerated Reader (AR) goals based on STAR data. The objective of the program is to promote students to take ownership of their own personal goals and become more intrinsically motivated learners.
2. Creating systems of intervention to provide students with additional time and support for learning.
Students are not only intellectual, but also social and emotional beings thus revealing the complex interplay of factors that influence a student’s learning. Unfortunately, numerous barriers can prevent students from learning during core instruction. However, all students have the ability to learn when provided with additional support and interventions. Benton Middle School’s Response to Intervention is a multi-tiered system of support for students who failed to learn the essential grade-level standards during their core instruction.
Tier 1: Core Program
Teachers administer frequent, often daily, common formative assessments aligned with the essential standards and use the data to identify students who are not yet proficient with the targeted standards. If the data reveals a class-wide weakness, the teacher responds by re-teaching the standards through a different mode of instruction. If the data reveals specific students who have failed to demonstrate proficiency, the teachers provide immediate support through classroom-embedded interventions. Although the structure of these interventions varies across the teams, it typically occurs during the first 15 minutes of class the following day. Teachers pull the identified students into a small group to remediate the targeted standards. During this time, the other students work on completing tasks from their weekly “Extension Menu”. The Extension Menu is designed to provide a variety of tasks that students can choose from that extend their learning of the standards.
Tier 2: Supplemental Program
Teachers administer common summative assessments at key points in the curriculum (end of chapter, end of unit, etc.) to determine whether all students learned the targeted standards. Students who have not yet demonstrated proficiency receive additional support through Tier 2 interventions. The system of support provided depends on whether the student failed to learn because they “can’t do” or because they “won’t do”.
Intentional Non-Learner (Won’t Do):
These students either failed to learn the standards because they choose not to engage in the learning process, or are failing the course because they lack the study skills or the supports at home that typically lead to success. These students often fail to complete their classwork assignments, study for tests, return homework, etc. To compensate for a lack of support at home, we are taking the necessary measures to provide additional time within the instructional day to address these needs through our Study Hall program.
Who is targeted?
- Currently has a D or an F in the class due to failure to complete assignments, study for tests, etc.
- On the potential failure list due to insufficient quality points in the course.
How are students assigned?
- Teachers assign students using a simple Google Form.
- A Study Hall assignment slip is provided to the student by the teacher.
- Study Hall teacher(s) access the responses through the Google spreadsheet to verify attendance and monitor assignment completion.
What do students work on during this time?
- Incomplete or missing assignments, homework assignments, study for upcoming tests, etc.
Failed Learners (Can’t Do):
These students failed to learn the standards because they either lack prerequisite skills, need additional time, or they didn’t respond to the method of delivery. These students are identified through the common summative assessment data and are provided with interventions through our FLEX period. These interventions are provided by teachers other than the students’ daily classroom teacher, so an additional professional educator can diagnose potential problems, employ different teaching strategies, and build new relationships.
What is Flex Period?
A daily 30-minute period where students will rotate through extensions and enrichments unless they have been assigned to interventions.
- Extensions (4 days): Students are stretched beyond essential grade-level curriculum or to a higher level of proficiency in the four core content areas.
- Enrichment(1 day): Allows the students to experience a variety of fun elective subjects; enrichments will rotate every 4 ½ week grading period. Students are not pulled for interventions during this time.
- Interventions (Fluid): Targeted students are pulled from their extensions to receive interventions.
Who is targeted?
- Students who have yet to demonstrate proficiency of the essential standards after initial instruction and classroom-embedded interventions.
What do students work on during this time?
- Content teams collaborate to develop remedial lessons to target standards specific to the students’ needs.
- Common assessment data is used to determine which teachers will remediate which standards.
How are students assigned?
- Teachers assign students using a simple Google Spreadsheet that utilizes a dropdown menu to select remediation options.
- Student tickets are merged from the spreadsheet information.
- Each teacher receives a set of tickets for their homeroom class on Friday and distributes the tickets Monday morning.
How often can teachers restructure intervention groups?
Teachers will use their summative assessment data to drive these decisions, but can be as often as necessary.
Week 3: Unit 1 Assessment
Weeks 4-5: Students who did not demonstrate proficiency of essential standards receive targeted interventions during FLEX period.
Week 6: Unit 2 Assessment
Weeks 7-8: Student intervention groups will be restructured based on the data from the Unit 2 Assessment.
Tier 3: Intensive Support
A number of potential barriers could prevent students from making adequate progress towards learning the standards despite Tier 1 and 2 interventions. We provide students with several systems of intensive support based on specific student needs.
Significant weaknesses in foundational skills
Chronic or Excessive absenteeism
Severe behavior and/or motivational concerns
We recognize the importance of effectively utilizing data as we implement a multi-tiered system of support for struggling students. Our commitment to operating as a PLC, as well as the schedule structure in place, provides an ideal RTI framework to ensure all students learn the standards.
3. Building teacher capacity to work as members of high performing collaborative teams that focus efforts on improved learning for all students.
Previously, our school schedule allowed common planning time only for interdisciplinary teams. One of our major shifts was prioritizing common planning time for our grade level content teams to meet in order to truly function as a PLC; however, with our belief in the middle school concept we still felt interdisciplinary team planning time was important. Our interdisciplinary teams are able to meet once a week during the 30-minute Flex period. The primary focus of the interdisciplinary teams is on the social and emotional needs of the students. Teachers often set up parent conferences during this time, in which the entire team will meet with the parents to discuss concerns. A counselor is also present at these conferences to provide suggestions and guidance to parents as they seek solutions to the issues being addressed. Teachers also use the interdisciplinary team time to streamline classroom procedures. For example, each interdisciplinary team may have the same process for requesting makeup work or the same expectations with regards to classroom rules. Although the focus of the interdisciplinary teams is narrower in scope, they continue to have a positive impact on our PLC.
It was important to develop strong leaders within the school in order to function as a high-performing PLC. We built a leadership team which consists of the administrators, instructional coach, counselor, and one representative from each grade level content team. This team has been instrumental in creating and maintaining high-performing teams. The team engaged in site visits, book studies, and PLC trainings through Solution Tree. We used the acquired knowledge and the self-assessment tool to create an action plan which is an ongoing effort to ensure our PLC is working towards operating at the sustaining level of implementation. Having a member from each content team represented on the leadership team has created a seamless system for executing these plans. Leadership teams have ownership of the plans because they played an active role in formulating them, and therefore are perfectly placed to redeliver to their respective content teams.
The leadership team has also been responsible for providing professional development to the staff throughout the year. For example, we revisit the “3 Big Ideas of a PLC” at the beginning of each year. Examples of other professional development include fixed vs. growth mindset, the four critical questions of learning, technology tools to administer common formative assessments, pyramid of interventions, and motivating the unmotivated. We have to continually seek ways to challenge the status quo and continue to grow to meet the learning needs of all of our students.
The development of a new school schedule was imperative in order for the content teams to have adequate time within the contractual day to collaborate. The structure of the school schedule allows 71 minutes of daily common planning time for content teams to meet. Members of the administrative team are scheduled to meet with each team on a weekly basis, both for accountability purposes and so they can actively participate in the collaborative work of the teams.
It was equally important to establish clarity regarding the PLC process to prevent this time from being used simply as a meeting with no clear purpose. This is where professional development provided by the leadership team has played a major role. The four critical questions of learning continue to drive the work of each team. The teams establish norms and revisit these collective commitments at the beginning of each meeting. This is important to ensure that their time working together is positive and productive. During this time, teachers work collaboratively to accomplish the tasks on the team’s agenda. The agenda items vary by week, but include setting goals, identifying essential standards, planning rigorous lessons, creating common formative assessments aligned with the essential standards, analyzing data using the data analysis protocol tool, planning remediation and extension lessons, or other tasks that are focused on learning.
Evidence of Success
Our School Performance Score (SPS) is calculated annually using state assessment data. We have consistently increased our SPS, even during periods that the state and district experienced declines. In 2013 we were 6.1 points above the district performance score and 14.2 points above the state performance score. By 2016, we were and 22.6 points above the district performance score and 31.3 points above the state performance score.
Louisiana’s accountability system has experienced numerous changes over the past few years complicating the ability to easily interpret trend data related to proficiency in the various content areas. We administered the LEAP and iLEAP in 2013 and 2014, PARCC in 2015, LEAP with a PARCC format in 2016, and LEAP 2025 most recently in 2017. The state’s definition of proficiency has also been redefined. Although there have been many changes in the accountability system, making it difficult to track growth trends, we have continued to surpass the district and state proficiency levels by a significant margin.
In 2013, when we embarked on our PLC Journey, we set our sights on the top performing, non-selective enrollment schools in our district, our region, and our state. Not only have we made significant gains in closing the School Performance Score gap with these schools, we were the only one that made gains for these past three consecutive years. We have also earned the rank of top performing middle school in our district and have moved much closer to our vision of being the top performing non-selective enrollment school in the state of Louisiana.
We have also demonstrated success with our subgroups. Our state added a new Subgroup SPS component to the 2016 Principal’s Profile. Our economically disadvantaged and minority students subgroups have performed exceptionally well and have exceeded the district’s scores by a significant margin. Our economically disadvantaged and minority students have almost reached an A status (100) according to Louisiana’s School Report Card system.
We credit our success to the results of our ongoing PLC journey. When other factors that could inadvertently impact student achievement were considered, they were unfavorable to growth. For example, our percentage of economically disadvantaged students has increased from 23% in 2013 to 33% in 2016, a 10% increase over the past three years. Although these changes can present additional challenges to student achievement growth, we have made significant, continuous improvement in student achievement and expect this trend to continue as we continue to implement and refine our PLC process.
See charts at end of application.
Highest School Performance Score for Bossier Parish Middle Schools; “A” rated by LDOE
Flexible Block Schedule (5 period day); Humanities/STEM programs w/ targeted RTI
100% pass rate on Algebra 1 EOC; highest for Bossier Parish
High School Credit offerings: Algebra 1, JTC, Spanish, Fine Arts Survey, Speech
2015 BP MS Student of the Year; 2014/ 2017 BP MS Teacher of the Year
State/National Champions: Robotics, STUCO, Sci. Olympiad, Archery, XC, DI, Math Counts
Female Athletic District Champions and/or Runners-Up: Basketball, Softball, Track/Field
Male Athletic District Champions and/or Runners-Up: Football, Basketball, Track/Field
Concert Band scored Superior Ratings (straight 1’s) at the LA State Concert Festival
Regional, state, and nationally recognized clubs: FCA, 4-H, TNT, JS2S, Purple Jackets