Singapore American School - High School Division

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

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The Singapore American School (SAS) is a high-performing American international school which serves the children of American and international expats living in Singapore. SAS operates in an environment where, as an independent international school, it has almost complete autonomy, as it makes good on its mission to provide an exemplary American education with an international perspective.

Singapore American School is often touted as a world-class school with extraordinary academic results. SAS offers more Advanced Placement (AP) courses and exams than any other school outside of the United States. SAS offers 29 AP courses, and in 2013, our students completed 1,333 exams with 95% of all scores being a three or higher. 98% of our students attend four-year colleges after graduation. Though by many measures we felt we were achieving academic success, we knew we can do more to meet the needs of our students. Our vision statement—A world leader in education, cultivating exceptional thinkers, prepared for the future—calls for us to continuously improve, and therefore we must address the needs of students who struggle academically and whose learning needs are not being met. Quite simply, we needed to rethink the way we “do” school.

Implementing the PLC structure at SAS began with a two-year process to change our schedule so we could allow for late starts for students every Wednesday morning so teachers could meet together in their PLCs and work to answer the four guiding PLC questions: What do we want kids to know and be able to do? How do we know when they know it? What do we do when they don’t know the material, and what do we do when they already know it? (DuFour, DuFour, & Eaker, 2010). Securing this collaboration time did not come easily. When your school community views what you are doing as highly successful, there is not always a strong sense of urgency to change.

Initially, the SAS High School Division proposed a late start for students in which they would start their day one hour late so teachers could meet with their PLCs. The school community was concerned about the loss of teacher-student contact time and the bussing issues with high school students coming late to school. As a result, the proposed schedule change was vetoed for that year by the school board until more research could be gathered.

It was at this point that our administrative team and teacher leaders had to practice what we preach to kids: grit, perseverance, and problem solving. The next year our proposal to the school board and school community addressed the concerns from our first proposal. The new proposal readjusted when PLC time began: 7:30 a.m. as the start of teacher-contact time vs. 8:00 a.m. as the start of the student day which had been previously proposed. This saved us thirty minutes of contact time from the prior proposal. We then added a minute to each class by shortening student breaks. By adding a minute to each class period and adjusting breaks, students actually ended up with a net gain of teacher-contact time while still allowing time for our PLCs to meet.

We had seemingly addressed the contact-time issue, but we still had to deal with the bussing issue. We knew we could not afford an additional bus run for high school students, so they would have to be on campus during PLC time. The end result was the creation of supervision systems so kids could be on campus without being with teachers during PLC time. This did pose one problem for us: what do you do with all those kids on campus while teachers are in their PLC time? We pulled teacher leaders together again and created activities for students to do before school started. These options include peer-tutoring sessions hosted by our honor society students, career guest speakers, large-group college counseling sessions, intramural leagues, student jam sessions, open gym and weight room, library study, and a host of other activities. We also arranged for all of the assemblies that used to be held during class time to be conducted during the PLC time so even more class time was preserved. Supervision for the students during PLC time is carried out by high school administrators, central office administrators, counselors, aides, librarians, and athletic directors.

Our administrators and teacher leaders refused to let lack of scheduling creativity hinder our efforts to build the time to help students. As a result, our board unanimously approved the new proposal, and the new schedule was put into place and has been successful with only minor alterations to activity offerings. Getting the supervision we need to watch 1,200 students can be challenging, but we have been able to use creative supervision solutions and engaging activities to make it possible.

Though creating the time was a challenge for our school community, the impact of creating this time and providing a PLC focus to it allows our teachers to know what they are teaching, how they are assessing it, and when to intervene for students who need assistance or extensions. Creating the PLC structure built the foundation for helping our students learn.

We now have committed PLC time within the schedule for teachers who teach common courses to meet as a PLC. This dedicated PLC time has transformed our school culture and has had a significant impact on student learning.

Over the course of the last three years, we have become increasingly convinced—and our learning evidence supports this—that PLCs, if implemented correctly, have the ability to dramatically impact student and teacher learning even in high-performing international schools.

1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

Professional learning communities meet weekly on Wednesday morning for one hour and weekly on Friday morning for half an hour. They focus on clearly defining learning targets, assessing learning targets, and interventions for students who are struggling and those who are excelling. PLCs extract data from formative and summative assessments to identify students who are struggling on specific standards and also which instructional techniques are producing the best results for student learning. PLCs must intervene for students who are not meeting expectations, with interventions typically being individualized to the specific needs of the students. 

If classroom interventions and shared PLC interventions do not result in students meeting the learning targets, additional help is available through the counseling department and a student services team meeting that meets twice weekly. The team includes school psychologists, learning support teachers, counselors, and an administrator. The administrator presence is essential to this effort, as it allows for immediate approval of resources when and if additional interventions are deemed necessary. Typically, when a student is found to be needing assistance above PLC interventions, the intervention is in place within one week of identification of the need. 

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

Singapore American School focuses heavily on early intervention to ensure students get the help they need when they need it. This philosophy begins with transition meetings for all eighth-grade students coming up from the middle school. High school administration, counselors, and learning support teachers meet with representatives from each middle school house (teachers, administrators, psychologists, and counselors) to review each student's needs. Students in need of immediate transition assistance, based on test data and teacher feedback, will be scheduled into those interventions immediately upon entering high school. Once in high school, new students and ninth graders participate in a math and reading assessment to ensure proper placement into classes and also for assistance. Each counselor reads the cumulative files for all of their students to ensure nothing has fallen through the cracks. This practice provides for "surprises" about kids each year and helps us understand level of need and the student's educational journey.

The first level of support for students, once placed in classes, are our PLCs. Subject-specific PLCs teach to clearly defined learning targets and assess student progress based on formative assessments for each target. Students who do not meet grade-level expectations on learning targets receive intervention from the subject-area PLC. PLCs have autonomy for how interventions take place, but intervention must take place.

If students fail to respond to interventions or the PLC collectively feels that the intensity of need requires further assistance, they can refer the students to the student services team. The student services team may then place students into structured interventions such as a learning support class. Learning support focuses on creating a caring community that works on executive functioning skills in the context of the courses the students are taking. This way, students connect to the intervention while working on the causes to their academic issues, not just the symptoms. Each student conducts an executive functioning assessment and then sets goals related to skills they are weak in. Their skills progress is monitored throughout the intervention.

If students are found to be in need in the area of reading or writing specifically, they are placed in a reading/language arts (RLA) lab. Students are placed based on reading assessments done at the time of entrance, and focus sits squarely on building reading and writing skills in a caring, compassionate environment. This is done in the context of their classes (i.e., the classwork is used during the intervention). Student progress is monitored regularly to ascertain if the interventions are being successful.

In addition to the learning support class and RLA lab, SAS has a supervised study hall to structure the time of students who have "will" issues and not necessarily "skill" issues. This intervention, like all of our support classes, is available almost every hour of the day so students can be placed quickly with little disruption to the rest of their classes. This intervention can be assigned by any of our classroom teachers or PLCs and is supported by stipends paid to teachers in their planning hour.

The final intervention is simply saying, "Whatever it takes." If a student does not respond to our traditional interventions, our student services team simply problem-solves through the situation. We never modify the standards, so we make time and intensity of intervention the variable and pull in all possible parent and school resources to help students hit the grade-level expectation.

Our comprehensive approach to intervention, coupled with clear standards-based grading, has produced a dramatic decrease in the amount of students failing courses and ending up on our at-risk list, a list kept to monitor students who are struggling. At the midpoint of the 2013–2014 school year, we had only one student failing a class and very few others with grades in the D range.

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

Singapore American School has dedicated one hour per week for professional learning communities to meet as course-specific teams.

Each team has been trained through Solution Tree and school administrators in the PLC protocols and expectations. Each team has an identified PLC leader who has been trained to lead PLCs.

Each team focused their time on the four essential questions of the PLC. The PLC creates team norms, establishes clear learning targets for their students, develops common formative and summative assessments, looks at student learning data, and develops interventions for students who have not mastered the essential learning and acceleration opportunities for students who have already mastered the learning targets.

Once this baseline work was conducted, it was time to monitor and support our PLCs in their continued growth and development. Realizing that after initial implementation, PLCs would no longer need cookie-cutter one-size-fits-all assistance, we created a detailed survey for each PLC, built on the principles outlined in Learning by Doing (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Many, 2010) and Simplifying Response to Intervention (Buffum, Mattos, & Weber, 2012). This in-depth survey identified specific areas of growth for PLCs such as "Do we believe that all students learn at high levels?" or "We hold our PLC members accountable for violations of agreed-upon norms." By getting specific with our survey, we are able to give assistance exactly where it is needed.

Finally, to track our PLC growth toward a sustained PLC culture versus "just another initiative," we surveyed our PLCs at the beginning of the year and the end of the year using a survey adapted from Learning by Doing. The survey focused on progress in the areas of collaborative culture, focus on learning, and results orientation. By doing this, we were able to monitor our journey toward PLCs being a sustained part of what we do at SAS, not simply the flavor of the month.

SINGAPORE AMERICAN SCHOOL DATA DASHBOARD

AP

5

4

3

2

1

Total # Exams Given

% 3 or higher

% 4 or higher

May 2011

568

436

247

78

21

1350

93%

74%

May 2012

610

433

226

64

11

1344

94%

78%

May 2013

639

407

214

66

6

1332

95%

79%

May 2014

671

437

243

54 

1414

96%

78%

May 2015

659

515

312

88

15

1590

93.5%

73.8%

 

*Core Academics

As

A%

Bs

B%

Cs

C%

Ds

D%

Fs

F%

Total

S1 201112

3876

51%

2790

37%

785

10%

127

2%

12

0%

7590

S1 201213

3866

49%

2932

37%

878

11%

170

2%

10

0%

7856

S1 201314

3790

48%

3333

42%

766

10%

72

1%

1

0%

7962

S1 2014-15

3776

49%

3099

40%

749

10%

87

1%

0

0%

7711

*Core Courses: English, Math, Social Studies, Science, World Language.

*At Risk

Supervised Study*

Probation*

Total

S1 201112

55

10

65

S1 201213

58

6

64

S1 201314

6

0

6

S1 2014-15

18

2

20

 

*At Risk: Students with one F and one D at the semester marking period.

*Supervised Study: Any student earning a core GPA of less then 2.0. Students earning one F or D, two Ds or three D+s are placed in a Supervised Study (supported study hall).

*Academic Probation: 2 or more Fs or core academic GPA of 1.5 or lower.

 

# of Grads

Avg. GPA

Avg. PSAT

Avg. SAT 1600

Avg. SAT 2400

Avg. PLAN

Avg. ACT

2011

269

3.52

169

1283

1918

21

27

2012

280

3.49

172

1286

1919

21

27

2013

276

3.52

170

1280

1912

20

27

2014

276

3.56

173

1276

1905

21

28

2015

301

3.59

171

1278

1915

21

28

 

 

  1. College Board AP Recognition: Top 1% of all AP schools worldwide (2013 exam) in the number and percentage of students earning a 3 or higher on at least 1 AP exam.
  2. College Board AP Recognition: The highest AP biology scores in the world. 55% of our students received a 5, as compared to 5% of the students worldwide receiving this score in 2013.
  3. PISA Results 2013: SAS average scores on the computer-based assessments in mathematics and reading posted higher than the top-ranked country of Singapore in both catagories.
  • Mathematics: SAS=588, Singapore (#1)=566, USA (#15)=498
  • Reading: SAS=633, Singapore (#1)=567, USA (#12)=511

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