Big Sandy Elementary (2022)

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

In 2013, Big Sandy Elementary opened its doors as a brand new school in the Tuscaloosa County School System.  TCSS has a strong vision that "students learn grow, and achieve."  Their mission is to "Educate and empower students to be college/career ready graduates-making positive contributions to our society." The district's beliefs are to "have high expectations and that education is a shared responsibility.   Equity, fairness, accountability, and fiscal responsibility are foundations of decision making.  Safe, well-eqipped, and student-centered schools support student success.  Diversity is valued."

When Big Sandy Elementary was formed, the faculty and staff collectively designed a mission statement that aligned with TCSS's vision, mission, and beliefs.  The mission of Big Sandy Elementary is:  "Through rigorous and engaging instruction, in a safe and positive environment that fosters excellence, Big Sandy Elementary will prepare students to be college and career ready.  We will promote student leadership and responsibility as we educate today's children to become tomorrow's leaders." The vision for BSE is for all students to learn, grow, and achieve.  BSE has also created a touchstone for students to live by.  The touchstone is "Students will SOAR."  This touchstone stands for "BSE students will be Safe, Obedient, Acccountable, and Respectful."  The mission, vision, and touchstone are shared and revisited regularly through our continuous improvement plan, announcements, and school website with all stakeholders that include faculty and staff, students, parents, and the community.

From this mission statement and vision, BSE created these Collective Commitments.

In an effort to increase overall achievement, Big Sandy Elementary will:

  • focus on increasing the explicit, rigorous, and engaging instruction of all content standards.
  • focus on ensuring the students' understanding of the learning targets.
  • instill within our faculty through Professional Learning Communities, a more  determined mindset geared towards an intense effort to identify barriers preventing student success.
SMART goals were also established by the district.  The SMART goals for the district are to increase 2% in reading and math per year on the Alabama state report card.  From the district's SMART goals, BSE's SMART goals are to improve 5% in overall achievement each year in the areas of reading and math.  Comparing the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 ACAP scores, 1 of 4 grade levels have met the 5% growth in reading. 2 of 4 grade levels met the 5% growth in math.  The overall growth in math for BSE was 6%.
In the fall of 2014, the Tuscaloosa County School System located in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, began a partnership with Solution Tree.  It was during the fall of 2014 that Maria Nielson was the presenter for our system’s quarterly Principals' Administrative Academy.  Maria spoke of working together to build an atmosphere of collective capacity. The principal realized that this process was robust, and could not wait to share it with her faculty.  The very next Monday, Mrs. Rhodes shared the PLC process during a faculty meeting.  Mrs. Rhodes discussed the PLC process, and how working together, they could build a collaborative culture that leads to all students achieving, not just “some” students.  The faculty at Big Sandy was equally intrigued, and at that very meeting committed to begin working on the initial steps for implementing the PLC process.  

Over the next three years, Mrs. Rhodes attended the system’s quarterly Administrative Academy for the principals and worked with the Director of Curriculum & Instruction, Dr. Pam Liebenberg.  The faculty and staff of Big Sandy Elementary continued to work on the PLC process, and each year built upon the success of student achievement.   Mrs. Rhodes took advantage of every time  Maria Nielsen presented during  system-wide sessions and would send as many of her team as allowed by the school district.   Mrs. Rhodes and her team eagerly shared new learning with the entire school and worked diligently within each grade level to continue fine-tuning Big Sandy Elementary's PLC process.    Subsequently, the school system continued to bring Maria Nielsen to all schools in the district.   The district's Curriculum & Instruction Director brought Maria to BSE for meetings with the leadership team as well as the grade level teams. 

Each time  Maria visited the team meetings, she reviewed student data and confirmed the teams were on the right path to student success.  It was at the spring team meetings when Maria encouraged Big Sandy Elementary to apply to become a Model PLC school.  The faculty has not only learned about the PLC process but has demonstrated  commitment to it.  Each year, BSE has strengthened the PLC process and has continued to have success which further emphasizes the commitment to the PLC process.

At the cornerstone of BSE's continuous improvement is the embedded professional development which stems from having Maria Nielson visit the school.  During this time, grade level representatives from each grade share in the collaborative PLC process.  Maria intensely listens and offers suggestions for Big Sandy Elementary.  After Maria’s visits, comprehensive faculty meetings are held in which Maria’s suggestions, strategies, and tips are shared with all of the faculty.  The leadership team works to ensure that every faculty member has a clear understanding and knows the next steps for school-wide improvement.  

To reflect on one specific visit, Big Sandy Elementary took Maria’s suggestions of unpacking standards for both reading and mathematics.  During Big Sandy’s next in-school professional development day, every grade level unpacked each standard for reading and mathematics.  During this time, each grade level sorted boulders, rocks, and butterflies to create priority standards.   After making a list of priority standards, each grade level mapped out how long it would take to teach each priority standard during the course of the nine weeks.  Next, teachers used the district calendar to map out 15-day challenges for every grade level.   By mapping out time schedules and backward planning, each grade level had a clear understanding of how they were going to get all of the priority standards taught before the state summative assessment.  Backward planning has helped each teacher in the school to have a clear and concise plan for making sure that not just some, but ALL  students have an opportunity for at or above grade level achievement.

During Big Sandy Elementary grade level meetings, each team looks at common formative assessments (CFAs) that are current and fresh.  At Big Sandy, teachers know the importance of using “fresh data” through the process of giving CFAs, grading, and providing timely feedback for students.  “Fresh data” is used to create plans for intervention or extension activities during team meetings.  By creating quick intervention plans, students are not “stuck” in one particular intervention group for weeks on end.  Students flow in and flow out of intervention groups as needed.  When students have attained a score of at least 80% consistently on formative and summative assessments, they are considered proficient and have attained mastery of the standards.  Students can be moved out of the intervention group (Tier II and/or Tier III) as standards are consistently mastered.

We have recently started assessing students three times a year by using the iReady diagnostic assessment to determine if standards are being met and what standards need to be taught in reading and math.  This diagnostic assessment meets the requirements of the Alabama Literacy Act which was created for the state of Alabama to ensure all 3rd graders would be proficient in reading.  Through collaborative discussions of this data, teachers are also able to determine which students need extra intervention in the areas of reading and math.

On a regular basis, the grade levels discuss  reading and mathematics standards with the grade levels above and below them. This helps to “grow” all teachers who may have not yet had the opportunity to work with students other than their own grade level.  By sharing with colleagues, the level of teacher discourse continues to grow, and as a result helps to foster the environment of continuous improvement.




1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

Any student at Big Sandy Elementary will have a guaranteed and viable curriculum regardless of the teacher or classroom.  To have a guaranteed and viable curriculum, BSE dug into the district’s list of priority standards, which came from a team of teachers and instructional coaches who analyzed the state of Alabama's standards and created our district priority standards.  At Big Sandy Elementary the priority standards were unpacked to ensure that every teacher understood what the standards required each student to know.  Next, teachers mapped out the instructional standards for each grade level, creating instructional curriculum maps for reading and mathematics in every grade level. During the school year, each teacher keeps detailed notes on well-used instructional maps.  At the end of the year, the teachers work together to discuss standards that he/she may need a little more time on, or that need to be moved to a different area of the instructional maps.  

Additionally, 15 Day Challenges have been used to map out the timeline for each particular content course. Teachers have used backward planning to ensure that every student in any specific grade level will be taught the same content at the same time, regardless of the teacher.  During weekly team meetings, teachers work together in planning units of study, developing assessments before the onset of the unit, and taking tests together before they are given to the students. Teachers meet weekly to create common formative assessments and discuss data after the CFAs are given.  Next steps are planned for those who need additional help or for those who need enrichment activities.

As the administrator, Mrs. Rhodes holds the key to Big Sandy’s success by being visible in classrooms and routinely examining the effectiveness of Tier I instruction in the school through observations and walk-throughs. Feedback from observations and walkthroughs is provided through individual conversations explaining in detail the evidence of student engagement and teacher practices observed at the time of the observation or walkthrough.  Any teacher who may need help is provided additional support through the Instructional Coach. The Instructional Coach provides model teaching, side by side teaching, resources, and other support through coaching cycles.  

Instructional Rounds which are comprised of teams of teachers, Instructional Coaches, the Director of Curriculum & Instruction, and administrators visit classrooms, observe, and participate in collaborative conversations while creating infinity maps of observed teaching practices.  Within a week of Instructional Rounds, the faculty is briefed on what was observed.  This includes evidence gathered, patterns observed, contrasts observed, and questions for next instructional steps. The Instructional Rounds help support a guaranteed and viable curriculum throughout Big Sandy Elementary.

At Big Sandy Elementary, a wide variety of strategies is utilized to monitor student learning on a daily and timely basis.  In the classrooms, during lessons, our teachers use strategic teaching practices for “quick checks” for student learning in the classroom. For example, teachers may ask students if they understand by showing simple hands-on symbols such as “thumbs up” if you understand, “thumbs down” if you do not understand  or “thumbs sideways” if you need a little more help. Exit slips, turn and talk, think-pair-share, using small dry-erase boards where students can flip up the board and show the teacher what they have learned are just a few techniques that help Big Sandy teachers to quickly assess student learning.  Most importantly, these quick checks happen organically through the lessons so that it is timely and relevant without ever “singling out” a student or making a student feel inadequate due to not immediately understanding a concept.  

Weekly common formative assessments are also given.  Data is analyzed so that it is quick and “fresh” so that adjustments can be made to reach students who need help while offering enrichment to those who have mastered standards.  Benchmark summative assessments are given at the beginning of the school year and in January for reading and mathematics for students in third through fifth grade.  The iReady Diagnostic Assessment is given three times a year to assess student progress in reading and math foundations. The results of this assessment are used to make the necessary instructional changes so that all students will be reading on grade level.  Students also work on their individualized iReady pathway for 45 minutes in reading and math on a weekly basis.  Teachers collaboratively discuss the results of the weekly lessons and determine if students are meeting standards in a timely manner.  Teachers are also able to assign lessons in the students' pathways to reinforce standards not met.

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

At the beginning of the school year, grade level teams, the instructional coach, principal, and counselor meet to disseminate data from the state's end of the year summative assessment. Plans are made to provide intensive instruction for students who did not score proficient in the areas of reading and mathematics. Student achievement and growth data are used to guide in making informed decisions as to what particular skills and learning targets the students may not have previously mastered. 

For students who have not made adequate progress after receiving Tier I instruction, a protected daily intervention time is provided.  This Tier II instruction is explicit, systematic, and intensive.  Students move in and out of this group as needed. A Tier III instructor provides additional daily intensive instruction to students who have not made adequate progress after receiving Tier I and Tier II instruction.

Each grade level at Big Sandy Elementary meets weekly to evaluate data from student work samples along with data that is applicable ranging from summative, benchmark, i-Ready, and weekly common formative assessments. Throughout the school year, data meetings, problem solving team meetings, and weekly grade level meetings are held to analyze data and determine which students need additional time and support for learning. Data collected from common formative assessments is used to make intervention plans for students who did not master a particular concept as well as for those who need enrichment. Intervention plans are made weekly. Once the intervention plans are made, teachers work with a small intervention group to provide support to students who did not master the standard.  When students have attained a score of at least 80% consistently, they are considered proficient and attained mastery of the standard.  Students can be moved out of the intervention group as standards are consistently mastered.

BSE teachers also provide differentiated instruction with one teacher working with students who did not master a concept. Another teacher may work with students who had minor misconceptions about a concept, while another teacher on the grade level may work with the group who mastered the standard and needs enrichment. The enrichment group works with the standard, but on a deeper level. 

Mathematics Differentiation:

In order to explicitly meet the needs of every student at Big Sandy Elementary, the concept of mathematics differentiation is applied. Students work in homogeneous groups on specific skills according to the needs of the students. Instruction is provided on grade level, but broken down into steps which reach the students where they are. This helps ensure students become proficient in the area of mathematics.

As part of differentiated mathematics instruction, centers are also used to reinforce concepts taught to the whole class.  Mathematics centers provide students the opportunity to practice skills and review concepts.  Additionally, IXL Mathematics Online computer software is utilized in order to reinforce student’s mathematics skills, provide enrichment, and enhance small group lessons.

Literacy Differentiation:

In the areas of differentiation of literacy instruction, Big Sandy Elementary works closely with the state and central office to ensure that all teachers are current on the latest reading instruction methodology. This literacy differentiation is intensive, explicit, and consistent for those students who have not yet mastered grade-level reading standards.  In addition to daily specific intervention that is custom-tailored to address the students' instructional needs in reading and language arts, kindergarten through third grade use intervention time as a means of providing small group reading instruction for those students who are not yet reading on grade level. These students work in small groups for thirty minutes daily  in the area of reading foundations.  

Kindergarten students work to develop phonological awareness and phonics while learning to read and develop an understanding of text structure. Levelized literacy lessons are in place for first and second grades. Third, fourth, and fifth grade teachers differentiate literacy instruction by working in small groups focused on fluency, vocabulary, and morphology.  Book studies are also utilized for fourth and fifth grade students.   For those students who may be diagnosed with the learning challenge of dyslexia, we implement  one-on-one and small group intervention which includes phonemic awareness, phonics, spelling, vocabulary, comprehension and fluency.     

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

To improve efforts on student learning, the faculty and staff of Big Sandy Elementary work to make sure that everyone is included in the collaborative process.  Team meetings occur every 6th day for each grade level in the data room.  These meetings are a collaborative time when each classroom teacher discusses each student's instructional progress.  Charts illustrate changes in every student's instructional progress on data boards so the entire faculty can follow student performance and student progress.  After every benchmark assessment, a student's progress is indicated by color-coded dots to show above average, average, and below grade level in both reading and mathematics. Each grade level keeps a binder that is used to collect and monitor the work of the team and the students they serve.  The charts help to create a sense of collective efficacy in that each grade level sees every child in that grade level as "all" of their collective responsibility.  

The PLC process is something that every teacher in the building has a role in supporting.  For classroom teachers to meet in their team meetings, the counselor, librarian, and physical education teacher collaborate to provide a monthly schedule which allows them to work with groups of students to provide enrichment lessons.  Students participate in character education and leadership lessons with the counselor.   In the library, students receive classes on digital citizenship and digital literacy. The physical education teacher works to include character education and team building activities during this time.  

Student interns participate in team meetings. By welcoming student interns to this time, they are provided the experience of what it means to be a part of a PLC.  Veteran teachers also have the opportunity to hear the thoughts and comments of the interns as the interns may provide viewpoints from a new fresh lens.   The principal and instructional coach attend team meetings regularly to discuss how they can help improve and support student learning. Data meetings are held monthly to discuss current data from DIBELS and Scantron assessments for reading and mathematics.  

Throughout team meetings, the 3 big ideas of a PLC are implemented.  BSE's teams understand that learning is the fundamental purpose, demonstrate a collaborative culture, and focus on the results.  Norms are established for the team and data meetings.  These norms include maintaining a positive tone, listening and keeping an open mind, actively participating, and using technology to support collaboration and learning.

Additionally, the Problem-Solving Team (PST) correlates with the PLC process.  Students who are not on grade level for academics, behavior, or may have attendance issues,  are brought before the PST. During PST meetings, CFAs and summative assessments are used in the PLC process to gain information about the students' growth or lack of progress.  Information gathered from CFAs helps to provide specific interventions which may help the student to increase their skills to grade level and be dismissed from the PST process.  

Before state testing, the counselor and instructional coach conduct individualized data conversations with all third through fifth grade students. Students understand where they are and where they need to be so they will understand the importance of testing.  It is during this time that students set individual goals for growth in reading and math. 











Achievement Data Files

Additional Achievement Data

Data for Big Sandy Elementary:

2021/22:  For the 2021/22 school year, the i-Ready diagnostic test was used again to asses reading and math achievement for all students.  The diagnostic tests were given three times during the year.  Throughout the school year, students were progress monitored using the i-Ready pathway to determine if students were mastering the essential standards that had been taught. (See PLC data 21-22 attachment above).  The Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program (ACAP) was also given as a summative assessment at the end of the year.  (See ACAP data 2021-22 attachment and ACAP comparison attachment above.  The green areas on the comparison document show areas of growth). For reading and math, BSE was above the district and state ACAP scores. To meet the Alabama Literacy Act requirements, 3rd grade students are required to obtain a cut score of 452 in the area of reading.  Of 76 3rd grade students tested, only 9 students scored below the cut score.  (88.16% met the cut score.) 6 of those 9 students attended our summer learning program and were readministered the reading portion of the ACAP.  Of those 6, 5 met the cut score in the area of reading.   Big Sandy Elementary was the 2nd highest in the school district for 3rd grade students meeting the cut score.  These scores seem to reflect that our PLC process is making a difference at our school.  We do recognize that there are still areas of deficits in the areas of reading and math.

Our Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI) Reading Specialist, continually meets with grade levels to determine areas of deficits.  The Reading Specialist works with teachers through coaching cycles to focus on how to increase student achievement.  Our district has recently adopted a new reading series to help students increase achievement.  Teachers are being trained through professional development opportunites in the science of reading to increase student achievement.  All K-3 teachers are required by the state of Alabama to complete LETRS training for the science of reading.  As of now, all K-3 teachers have either completed training or are enrolled in that training.  In 2020, our district adopted a new math curriculum.  Teachers are also increasing the rigor of math instruction to increase achievement in the area of math.  We will strive to continue to revisit our SMART goals and continue to improve achievement in those areas.

Overall growth was achieved in the areas of reading and math on i-Ready.

Reading:  The percentage of students who benchmarked increased from 27% to                   61%. The percentage of students who scored strategic decreased from                 56% to 30%. The percentage of students who scored intensive                               decreased from 18% to 9%. 

Math:     The percentage of students who benchmarked increased from 10% to                    50%. The percentage of students who scored strategic decreased                          from 64% to 42%.  The percentage of students who scored intensive                      decreased from 26% to 8%. 


2020/21:  For the 2020/21 school year, a new diagnostic test (i-Ready) was used to assess reading and math achievement for all students.  The diagnostic tests were given three times during the year.  Throughout the school year, students were progress monitored using the i-Ready pathway to determine if students were mastering the essential standards that had been taught.  (See PLC data 20-21 attachment above).  The Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program (ACAP) was also given as a summative assessment at the end of the year. (See ACAP 20-21 data attachement above.) BSE was above the district and state ACAP scores for this year.

 Overall growth was achieved in the areas of reading and math on i-Ready.

Reading:  The percentage of students who benchmarked increased from 30% to                   62%. The percentage of students who scored strategic decreased from                 49% to 28%. The percentage of students who scored intensive                               decreased from 21% to 9%. 

Math:      The percentage of students who benchmarked increased from 15% to                  52%. The percentage of students who scored strategic decreased                          from 59% to 40%.  The percentage of students who scored intensive                      decreased from 26% to 8%. 

2019/20:  Due to the Covid pandemic, the data was incomplete for comparision purposes. 

2016/17, 2017/18, 2018/19:

  • Kindergarten students have maintained a 93% average in their DIBELS Core Composite Score.  
  • Kindergarten students have scored an average of 94% on all summative math assessments. 
  • First grade students have scored an average of 88% on all summative assessments in the area of reading. 
  • First grade students have scored an average of 93% on all summative assessments in the area of math.
  • Second grade students have scored an average of 87% on all summative assessments in the area of reading.
  • Second grade students have scored an average of 92% on all summative assessments in the area of math.  

Big Sandy Elementary student performance data for grades 3rd, 4th, and 5th: Data was collected using ACT Aspire (2015/16 and 2016/17) and Scantron Performance Series (2017/18 and 2018/19).  All assessments were administered in a valid, reliable, and unbiased process.  Assessments were administered with complete fidelity to administrative procedures.  Assessments were administered during designated testing windows and time frames.  Students were given the opportunity to participate in the assessment process in a quiet, distraction free environment.  Students with a 504 or IEP were tested according to accommodations and modifications in their individual plans.  Testing administrators followed all required policies and procedures for the testing process.

  • All percentages represent students who were proficient or above proficiency level
  • 2015-2016 & 2016-2017 scores from ACT Aspire
  • 2017-2018 Scantron Performance Series (Alabama Benchmark Scores)
  • 2018-2019 Scantron Performance Series (National Benchmark Scores)



Grants Received:

2021-2022 Tuscaloosa Education Foundation Award of Excellence Grant to purchase children's literature for the enhancement of character education

Pre-K Grants from the Office of School Readiness: $120,000, $85,000, $85,000 = $290,000

PARA for playground 2013--$10,000 Tombigbee Resource Conservation and Development Council, for Pre-K playground--$10,000

NEA for STEMSCOPES Science kits, 2016--$5,000

Awards Received:  

Battle of the Books - First Place District Winner 2019

Battle of the Books - First Place District Winner 2020

Parent Teacher Leadership Academy - Community Engagement Award, Big Sandy Book Club, 2018