Seneca High School

  1. PLC Story
  2. PLC Practices
  3. Achievement Data
  4. Awards
  5. Resources

Challenge

What moved you to initiate change or engage in major school improvement processes?

Seneca boasted top Advance Placement exam pass rates and famous alumni (including Diane Sawyer and Wes Unseld) for years. Because of its traditionally successful reputation, the community reacted in surprise when Seneca was designated a "Persistently Low-Achieving school" by the Kentucky Department of Education in December 2010. A lack of clearly defined systems and appropriate adult response to changes in enrollment and increasingly diverse student needs led to a decline in achievement. In February 2011 new principal, Michelle Dillard, was brought in to “turn the school around.” 38% of the teaching and administrative staff were replaced by the start of the 2011-2012 school year. Dillard’s charge was to transform school culture and significantly reverse negative achievement trends within three years.

Implementation

Seneca’s Turnaround Team (the principal, two assistant principals, and three teachers) completed professional development (PD) provided by the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) in the summer of 2011. These teacher leaders were active contributors to the planning process, and they took ownership in the progress of the school. This process modeled the goal of transforming the school culture into one of collaboration for the sake of student achievement.

With assistance of the KDE-appointed staff, the team crafted an improvement plan to address deficiencies and include research-based reform strategies organized under three "Big Rocks" or priorities in improving student achievement: Increasing Academic Performance, Transforming School Culture, and Making Data Informed Decisions. For each of these, goals, strategies, and monitoring systems were developed. The federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) was written to fund plan strategies.

The principal discussed the plan in depth at a summer leadership retreat and then presented it at Seneca's first summer faculty retreat. Teachers provided feedback and they received introductory trainings on strategies.

The PLC model is the structure used to tackle the three “Big Rocks.” Educational consultants from Solution Tree are brought in to provide relevant, on-going, and embedded PD and to inform continuous improvement efforts.

Results:

When the KDE conducted its leadership assessment of priority schools in Jefferson County in 2013, Seneca received the only “Powerful Practice” commendation. The report stated: “Educators at Seneca High School are to be commended for their efforts to create instructionally based professional learning communities in support of teaching and learning throughout the school.” (Indicator 3.5, Standard 3-3) The development and implementation of PLC work at Seneca has not only received external acknowledgements, it has more importantly impacted student achievement.

For example, in 2012-2013, Seneca met its annual College and Career Readiness (CCR) goal! Over 43.8% of the graduating class of 2013 met all benchmarks in Reading, English, and Math. (The target set by the state was 43.3%.)

  • Increased the number of college ready students by 28.8% since the start of school
  • Increased the number of college ready African American students by 21.77% since the start of school
  • Increased the number of English as a Second Language (ESL) college ready students by 19.2% since the start of school

Additionally, the graduation rate is increasing. The average freshman graduation rate improved from 59.7% (2012) to 84.2% (2013)!

On the 2011-2012 state assessment, Seneca ranked 8th out of 21 district high schools in PLAN to ACT growth. Seneca scholars outperformed both the district and state average in this category.

Our first experience with Solution Tree was at a PLC at Work Institute. I took the Leadership Team to hear from the experts! We were then able to come back to school and introduce the concept to our staff. Over the last three years, we deepened our professional development and PLC implementation through on site trainings with knowledgeable and dynamic consultants. These consultants, along with personalized customer service and plentiful resources, were crucial to the focused turnaround work we have done at Seneca High School. We’ve learned how to focus our conversations on the four critical questions of a PLC; how to develop effective RTI programs; and how to transform the school culture from toxic to healthy. Our staff is hard working, dedicated and committed to student achievement. We have continuously improved our systems and our abilities to meet the needs of all scholars. Seneca High School is on the rise!

1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

Seneca High School believes in continuous improvement. Monitoring the progress of our students and providing timely feedback is key in our PLC work. Each of our PLCs utilizes common formative assessments to monitor the progress of students toward common learning targets. The data from these assessments guides our instruction and our interventions at the PLC level.

We use a red, yellow, green system to identify students that are not meeting standards (red), those that are approaching proficiency (yellow), and those that have reached proficiency (green). The students that are identified as “red” will be regrouped, referred to our after school intervention, or placed into our college connection intervention period. The students take ownership of this process and are eager to recover any “red” areas they may have. Many of the PLCs utilize data walls in their classrooms to display common formative data for students to see their progress towards the standards. The key to raising the achievement of our students has been to use this data to design our instruction. Our monitoring systems have allowed us to prevent students from slipping through the cracks. Our school is data driven and monitoring student progress and reacting with intention has been key in our recent success.

Student achievement is also monitored using summative assessments, which are often common between the PLC and district created proficiency tests for the core subjects. The proficiency assessments are designed to assess mastery on key standards each nine weeks. The results are scanned into our district data system and every teacher can access the results immediately. The results of summative assessments are used often to regroup students based on need. The regrouping sessions have proved to be an intricate component in the success of our students.

Seneca High School’s objective of monitoring student progress began with an article by Gene Thompson-Grove in The National School Reform Faculty (2000). This article suggested several approaches in examining student work to inform instruction and assessment practices. In aligning with our mission and vision that we [Seneca High School] “prepare scholars for college and career goals as measured by state academic standards” and “providing an environment and system of support to ensure all scholars are successful”, PLCs came to the decision that the group would plan a classroom activity jointly, teach it independently, then bring the student work back to the group for discussion. This lesson and student work would align with standards and specified learning targets. In examining the student work, the PLC would draw conclusions on whether or not the students met the standard and/or learning target. It would also showcase differing instructional practices and would dig deeper into the needs of the students. In this process, the PLCs are looking for evidence of student thinking, identifying the needs of the students, and determining implications for classroom practice.

The PLC progression began with the four essential questions, “What do we want students to learn? How will we know they have learned it? What do we do if they don’t learn it? What do we do when they do learn it?” (R. DuFour) These four questions were analyzed at the start of a particular unit, prior to student exposure. In this analysis, PLC members began to identify learning targets and standards, determined the type of assessment to distribute and bring back for study, and discussed what each member hopes to see in this sample of student work. After the initial analysis and teaching of the lesson, PLC members brought back samples of high, medium, and low student work. Upon examining the student work as a team, PLC members began looking for evidence of student thinking, while trying to stay away from evaluative observations. Members began to identify patterns and trends within the entire student work pool, while posting them on chart paper.

Seneca PLCs identifying trends in student work.

Once the trends were identified, PLC members unpacked student thinking for each of the trends. From the evidence gathered, members tried to infer what each student was thinking and why, what each student does or does not understand, what each student was most interested in, and how each student interpreted the assignment. These inferences were posted on chart paper for group observation and determination of the kinds of needs student may have for the trends established.

Finally, PLC members decided on what the implications of this student work were for teaching and assessment. Members came to a consensus on what steps they could take next to attend to the unpacked trends, what teaching strategies might be most effective, and what other assignments or assessments could provide that information. This next piece was brought back to the following learning opportunity to determine whether or not the strategies were effective. (Edmondson et al ) PLC members and their students felt that this protocol was most effective in informing instruction. Seneca High School saw tremendous gains due this analysis. Seneca has move from the 12th percentile to the 42nd percentile in recent KPREP and End of Course state assessments.

As we are a school who believes in continuous improvement, our analysis of student work has evolved into a three cycle protocol (Dillard et al). Cycle 1 aligns standards, targets, assessments, and instructional responses. PLC members estimate what percent of students will get each question correct on common formatives and what misconceptions will lead to struggles. Also, PLC members will determine how students will be identified prior to the common assessment for extra support, how will students be engaged in the assessment process, and how students will track their progression on each standard and/or learning target (Erkens).

Cycle 2 is formative assessment data analysis. In analyzing the data, PLC members discuss the following questions:

  1. What does the data tell us? What predictions were accurate? What surprises were evident in student performance?
  2. What differences exist in class to class comparison? Teacher to teacher comparison?
  3. What is cause for celebration?
  4. What is the need for improvement? (Instructional or assessment changes)
  5. What are our next steps? (Include both in-class and out-of-class intervention options)
  6. How will students use their self-reflection to improve content knowledge on the focus topics/themes/learning targets?

As a team, each member offers suggestions for re-teaching the learning target and decide if the formative assessment should be used again or requires revision. Finally, PLC members predict the results of the summative assessment based on the current formative analysis.

Finally, Cycle 3 examines summative assessment data. PLC members record and examine the percentage of students scoring proficient/distinguished on all three standards while discussing the same six data questions above (Wellman). PLC members and their students feel that this new protocol has moved us forward in improving instruction practice. We, Seneca High School, expect to continue to see gains on our upcoming KPREP and End of Course state assessments due to our commitment to monitoring student progress through PLCs.

2. Creating systems of intervention to provide students with additional time and support for learning.

Seneca’s PLCs have been successful in implementing a variety of intervention strategies. Initially, the focus was on improving Tier I instruction through scholar friendly learning targets, by providing clear feedback to scholars documenting their progress in meeting the learning targets, and having a coordinated system of common assessments. As we moved forward with a more focused system of Tier I instruction, our efforts broadened to after school and in-school intervention strategies. However, since quality Tier I instruction is the foundation of any effective intervention system, this remains the primary focus of our PLCs.

One important strategy to improve Tier I instruction has been the implementation of data days as embedded professional development opportunities for PLCs. These events allow a PLC to come together and collaborate during the school day where they share instructional strategies and plan the upcoming unit. These full days set the stage for future weekly PLC learning opportunities, as much of the focused data analysis and common assessment planning is much easier to facilitate during full-day PLC sessions. This year, we have implemented a coordinated, structured data analysis and planning tool known as Seneca’s 3-Cycle Protocol. These 3-cycle documents guide the unit planning, common assessment data analysis, and Tier II and III intervention planning that take place during data days. The 3-cycle protocol has been a valuable tool in focusing the PLCs planning and data analysis on scholar achievement during the data day sessions.

The next intervention strategy was to enhance our after-school system of extra help by using the PLC collaborative structure to plan instructional sessions based on fresh data. As the data analysis and focus on student work intensified in PLCs, it became obvious that some students required additional help. With the support of school leadership, PLCs began using the existing Extended School Services program as an additional hour of focused instruction for scholars who were intentionally targeted based on relevant common assessment data. This revamped system of after-school help was re-named, HIP, for the Hawks Intervention Program. HIP sessions were planned during PLC learning opportunities to focus on particular learning targets or standards that scholars struggled with initially. By attending a HIP session, Seneca’s scholars would get an extra hour of instruction and a chance to recover the standard in question.

Seneca’s after-school program has been enhanced this year by the district’s commitment to provide resources to schools conducting after-school help programs, with the addition of full meals for participating scholars and a bus ride home. These resources have enabled PLC groups to offer additional sessions focused on such scholar needs such as ACT prep, and to expand the goal of the program beyond standard recovery into new territory such as enrichment and end of course assessment preparation. PLC groups now have many more resources available to offer a wide range of scholar needs. There are now two sessions offered each day, each consisting of a one-hour block of instruction coordinated by PLCs.

The final intervention strategy that has been a major success is Seneca’s system of coordinated intervention for scholars during the school day. With many scholars working or helping with child care after school, Seneca leadership and champions felt compelled to provide a system of extra support to accommodate these scholars as well. Therefore, Seneca’s system of College Connection days were initiated. The College Connection period was implemented weekly to accomplish much of what HIP did after-school, but during the school day. This meant that each week the bell schedule was adjusted to create a new period which was essentially scheduled by PLCs. Scholars were initially placed with champions based on assessment data such as Explore, PLAN, and ACT, but champions had the ability to alter their classes based on data analyzed in their PLC groups. A 4-week cycle of roster adjustments was enacted by Seneca’s Intervention Committee to enable PLCs to plan, organize, and request new rosters of scholars based on their most current common assessment data. The College Connection period also enabled scholars who were meeting and exceeding standards in core classes to be assigned to enrichment groups which were based on their area of interest. Therefore, a band scholar exceeding standards in core courses could participate in an enrichment group with their band instructor to prepare for an upcoming concert or performance. This opportunity for extra time in areas of interest worked well for many scholars who were attracted to Seneca for its pre-law, ROTC, fine arts, agricultural sciences, and teacher academy programs.

3. Building teacher capacity to work as members of high performing collaborative teams that focus efforts on improved learning for all students.

All teachers, known as champions at Seneca, participate on a PLC team at least once weekly during a common planning period. A common planning form is used to capture the agenda, actions, and next steps of each PLC time. Seneca champions work in these PLC teams to identify priority standards, develop daily learning targets along with common formative and summative assessments, as well as design and evaluate intervention and enrichment opportunities for scholars. Champions also review student work samples so that instructional strategies can be planned, modified, and evaluated for effectiveness based on trends identified in the student work.

A school wide “Red, Yellow, Green” system is used to symbolize Seneca’s high expectations of scholars and the development of a growth mindset. If a scholar is “Red” or “Yellow” on a particular skill or standard, the PLC team will develop suitable instructional opportunities for that scholar based on identified needs. Re-dos and re-takes are provided to scholars after appropriate instructional interventions are provided. If a scholar is “green,” enrichment opportunities are planned by the PLC in order to move the scholar forward.

Leadership team members actively support PLC work by belonging to at least one PLC team, attending PLC learning opportunities with their team, and monitoring PLC minutes and products. Learning Walks conducted by the leadership team have focused on ensuring that proper standards, targets, and effective formative assessments are implemented in all classrooms.

Every PLC team presents to the Instructional Leadership Team annually on effective PLC strategies for increasing student achievement. Teams have shared strategies such as: PLC Data Days, re-grouping of scholars based on instructional needs, lunch-and-learns, after school interventions/enrichment programs, implementation of technology in instruction, standards-based grading, and more. Champions also present effective strategies to their colleagues during monthly Redhawk Rounds (a school-based mini-conference).

When the KDE conducted its leadership assessment of priority schools in Jefferson County in 2013, Seneca received the only “Powerful Practice” commendation. The report stated: “Educators at Seneca High School are to be commended for their efforts to create instructionally based professional learning communities in support of teaching and learning throughout the school.” (Indicator 3.5, Standard 3-3) The development and implementation of PLC work at Seneca has not only received external acknowledgements, it has more importantly impacted student achievement.

For example, in 2012-2013, Seneca met its annual College and Career Readiness (CCR) goal! Over 43.8% of the graduating class of 2013 met all benchmarks in Reading, English, and Math. (The target set by the state was 43.3%.)

  • Increased the number of college ready students by 28.8% since the start of school
  • Increased the number of college ready African American students by 21.77% since the start of school
  • Increased the number of English as a Second Language (ESL) college ready students by 19.2% since the start of school

Additionally, the graduation rate is increasing. The average freshman graduation rate improved from 59.7% (2012) to 84.2% (2013)!

On the 2011-2012 state assessment, Seneca ranked 8th out of 21 district high schools in PLAN to ACT growth. Seneca scholars outperformed both the district and state average in this category. 

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