Singapore American School - Middle School Division

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

Tell us how you created a successful PLC

As a Middle School we have systems that focus on the academic, social and emotional well being of the students.  Each grade has three interdisciplinary teams of teachers that look out for approximately 100 students.  Using these smaller, “schools within a school” teachers ensure that students are well known and connected to the community through a robust advisory program.  For a number of years, teams of teachers have met regularly to discuss the needs of students holistically, often noting strengths and areas in need of improvement. While students are well served by a strong faculty within these systems and structures, five years ago we recognized a lack of consistent student experience among some of our academic programs. We needed to create a structure for teachers of the same discipline to meet and discuss curriculum, assessments, teaching methods and individual student progress.

During this improvement process it became clear that we needed to review how we used our student contact and teacher preparation time more effectively.  We restructured our schedule to build departmental common planning.  Having this logistical piece in place allowed for subject-specific teams to meet on a regular basis creating our first opportunity to work within Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).

While the new schedule made time available for teachers and coincided with curricular initiatives that required subject-specific teams to work more closely together it did not guarantee student learning focused collaboration.   PLC teams began to work together to consider our stated curriculum and clarify what we wanted students to know and be able to do, but individual teachers were still creating their own assessments. As we sought direction to ensure the effective use of this time to improve results we began to explore Professional Learning Communities as a possible structure to ensure collaboration among colleagues focused on student achievement.  Rick Dufour and Robert Eaker’s Professional Learning Communities at Work, Mike Schmoker’s Results and the All Things PLC website among other resources became our guides.

We learned that many of our faculty had different ideas of what Professional Learning Communities are based on past experience or misconceptions.  We made a decision to spend the full academic year 2011-12 creating a common understanding of PLCs.  Teacher leaders and administrators facilitated discussions on related professional texts at faculty meetings.  As a result, our grade level departments discussions began to change.  Instead of focusing on meaningless logistics, we discussed what we wanted students to know and be able to do and began to plan common assessments.  Through this professional development and collaboration we became aware of the need to identify and react to students who needed further support or challenge.

In August of 2012, with newly identified PLC leaders in place for each grade level department and for our elective and singleton teachers, we implemented a more formalized framework where PLCs would work through the four PLC questions when implementing curriculum.  Given that some of our departments were not consistently teaching the same standards, we spent a lot of time on the first year on Question One.  The PLC leaders met once a month to discuss challenges and seek growth and solutions.  Using a number of models suggested at a PLC Conference we began to get traction on Questions One and Two.  The teams began to teach the same standards and use common assessments.

We administered a survey to faculty at the beginning of the second year of our PLC implementation.  One common theme was that teachers found they were more efficient as a result of the collaboration.  A second theme was that they appreciated the job embedded learning that took place as they focused on the four questions in the PLC model.  We now invite PLC leaders or members to join the leadership team in the interviewing process to ensure we get faculty members who see collaboration as the key to successfully educating our students.

Now in our third year, we continue to mature with the use of data to inform instruction, but have come a long way.  We recently had Austin Buffum support us during a professional development opportunity where we learned more about Response to Intervention an area where we continue to grow.  We have created pyramids of intervention for questions three and four and are working to create common understanding and practice with these tools. The departments are working on identifying power standards that will support us as we seek to meet the needs of all levels of learners.

 

1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

Monitoring student learning on a timely basis

Given the focus on student results we designed a schedule that allows teachers time to meet regularly within the school day. Our PLC teams meet at least once a week with clearly stated norms and purpose.  Some teams have found it valuable to meet up to three times a week in order to discuss learning outcomes, assessments and methods. Our schedule is designed to ensure this time is during the academic day to avoid interruptions and ensure meetings serve as job embedded professional development and timely response to data.

To ensure the teams have the resources they need we have appointed teacher leaders and support positions to better serve them.  Each PLC has a dedicated teacher leader responsible for setting agendas and focusing the work on the four questions. These teachers also meet regularly to learn from one another.  We added an Academic Data Coordinator for the whole school that can assist PLC leaders in accessing external data, as well as give guidance on how to use technology to more efficiently identify students who need additional support or challenge. Our recently added Instructional Coach has been valuable in building methods among the teachers and ensuring they are developing the right tools to serve students in a timely fashion.

While we still are growing in our use of data, we have added a number of structures to assist the PLCs. Over the past five years we have implemented the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests for an external assessment of our programs and individual student growth. Using this data and our own common assessments we can identify students learning needs more efficiently. Because our students typically score high on the MAP we are utilizing a Virtual Comparison Group (VCG) to compare our individual student results with students of like age, gender, baseline score and socioeconomic status.  This allows us to ensure we are challenging and supporting all levels of learners. 

 

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

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

With our move to focus on the academic growth and success of all students including those who need additional support or extension, we have improved a number of existing structures and created new ones.  We have Learning Support Teachers at each grade level that support struggling students by developing strategies and offering additional subject specific support in Reading and Language Arts and Math.  This program in an inclusion model; students do not miss any core subjects, but are supported with an additional teacher in the regular classroom.  Students that need to develop additional strategies take a Learning Support class as one of their electives. Weekly Interdisciplinary Team “Kid Chats,” give teachers and the grade level counselor an opportunity to assess the student’s overall success and decide programmatic needs while PLC teams focus on the students specific success in the subject and seek new interventions.  

We have created pyramids of intervention for support and extension and are working to create one for behavior.  Use of the pyramids to drive discussion regarding specific methods used to meet the needs of students is progressing. The key purpose now is to ensure we have worked through Tier One and Two methods before seeking the more substantial intervention of our Learning Support Program in Tier Three. 

As we have become more focused on the four questions we have started piloting and implementing other strategies to ensure students have time and support to achieve their learning targets.  To meet the needs of higher level learners more PLCs are planning for extension as a part of unit development.  For students who are struggling each PLC is identifying “need to know” and “nice to know” standards that will clarify what we expect. Our move to standards based grading has separated learning behaviors from academic reporting allowing students and teachers to identify areas of success and growth. In addition, each grade level has specific blocked time they can flex to address student learning.

As our PLCs have started sharing data, two departments have led the way and are sharing students based on learning needs and teacher instructional strategies.  As one example our Spanish department of three teachers uses their common assessments to identify specific learning targets for each student then groups them for teachers to challenge or support them. This serves as a model as we learn and grow in the division.

 

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

Explain how you built high-performing, collaborative teams to focus efforts on improved student learning

Our Middle School had a culture of collaboration based on our interdisciplinary teams and a few departmental grade levels that already had a high level consistency for what they wanted students to know and be able to do. These pockets of collaboration served us well as we embarked to refocus on student academic achievement across the division.

During the 2011-12 academic year we used every Faculty Meeting to create common understanding and clear group expectations.  PLCs learned about common assessments and how to react to the data.  While we had not formally implemented the process, teachers began to create common assessments and process their expectations of student learning.  We also identified teacher leaders that had the respect of their colleagues and invited them to take on the PLC leadership role.  

During our implementation year the MS admin team created a PLC handbook as a guide. (see under resources) PLC leaders created norms with the teams and began to focus on the four questions.  During this year MS Admin team members were assigned to specific grade level departments and joined PLC meetings.  In addition, we had monthly PLC leader meetings to learn from and support one another.  

The Admin team invited PLC leaders to join them in the interview process for new teachers.  This helped set clear expectations for the type of collaboration we needed on our teams and offered rich input from the teacher leaders who would be working directly with new hires.  It further developed the trust between the teachers and admin and has led to stronger hires.  Finally, the new teachers are joining with a strong support system ensuring their orientation gives them the curriculum guidance, assessments and data they need to successful support our students. As a result of a clear guiding structure focused on student results and building a culture of inclusiveness collaboration has become the Middle School’s modus operandi.

All PLCs now write, revise and collaborate on common assessments.  In addition to the data that guides us from common assessment we compare ourselves against the US National average from NWEA MAP.  We also compare against international schools from the East Asia Regional Council of Overseas Schools (EARCOS).  We also use viritual comparison groups from all students who take the MAP test.  Our students can be compared against 50 students with like backgrounds as a comparison. 

NWEA MAP tests allow us to:

  • gain individual student growth data twice over the academic calendar year
  • identify areas for growth and challenge for individual students
  • check our overall program from year to year

Average Spring NWEA Measuring Academic Progress (MAP) Scores

2014-15

 
Mathematics Reading Language
 
SAS EARCOS NWEA  SAS EARCOS NWEA   SAS EARCOS NWEA
 
3 204 201 190  201 197 188  202 199 189
 
4 217 214 202  212 206 198  211 208 199
 
5 229 225 211  219 213 206  219 214 206
 
6 231 231 218  224 219 211  222 220 211
 
7 241 238 223  229 224 214  228 224 214
 
8 248 246 226  233 228 217  231 227 216
 
9 254 251 230  235 230 220 - - -

 

2013-14

Grade

Reading

Language Usage

Math

 

  SAS 

  EARCOS 

  NWEA 

  SAS 

  EARCOS 

  NWEA 

  SAS 

  EARCOS 

  NWEA 

6

230

218

216

229

220

216

240

232

226

7

232

223

220

230

224

218

245

241

213

8

235

226

222

232

226

221

251

247

235

                   

 

 

2012-13

Grade

Reading

Language Usage

Math

 

  SAS 

  EARCOS 

  NWEA 

  SAS 

  EARCOS 

  NWEA 

  SAS 

  EARCOS 

  NWEA 

6

228

217

216

228

217

228

240

230

226

7

232

219

219

230

220

230

246

236

230

8

236

225

221

233

225

233

251

243

234

 

 

2011-12

Grade

Reading

Language Usage

Math

 

  SAS 

  EARCOS 

  NWEA 

  SAS 

  EARCOS 

  NWEA 

  SAS 

  EARCOS 

  NWEA 

6

229

217

216

227

216

216

242

229

226

7

232

221

220

230

220

219

249

235

231

8

236

226

222

234

225

221

255

240

235

 

Apple Distinguished School

National History Day: In 2013-2015 SAS is represented by student teams and individuals who successfully earned a spot in the national competitions in Washington DC.

Math Counts: In 2013 and 2015 SAS is represented by a student who participated as a member of the US State Department Team at the MathCounts National Competiton

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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