International Community School Addis Ababa
- Number of Students: 234
- Percent Eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch: 0%
- Percent of Limited English Proficient: 4%
- Percent of Special Education: 0%
The essential work of implementing PLC’s and the RtI process at ICS has led teachers to take collective responsibility for student learning by collaborating in highly effective teams where they engage in focused conversations about student learning within professional learning communities on a regular basis within the school day. Getting to this point required a huge amount of heavy lifting.
At the outset, several challenges loomed, not least of which was a lack of standard grading and reporting practices. Some teachers were using spreadsheets to record student progress while others maintained meticulously designed but cryptic records in well worn spiral-bound notebooks. Some teachers relied on memory, or even on scraps of paper stuffed into desk drawers. Many were averaging grades based on percentages from one-size-fits-all tests. Some teachers were experimenting with rubrics and no teachers co-created common assessments. Further, virtually all departments were struggling to articulate and align curriculum to standards. Apart from IBDP Learning Outcomes, there were no agreed upon standards in the school’s curriculum. Under these conditions, it was virtually impossible for student learning to improve in any sustainable manner.
In order to move forward, we created teams and shared norms that would allow teachers to develop understandings, common language and essential agreements around standards and assessment. We researched and developed our curriculum based on the IBDP standards in grades 11 and 12 and on various U. S. state and/or national standards in grades 9 and 10 (NGSS, Common Core, ACTFL, C3, NCCAS, etc). This allowed us to identify learning targets in every course at every level.
Another essential early move was to introduce a common high school 1-7 grading scale for academic achievement and a separate grading scale to assess and report on effort. We established separate Honors criteria for both academic acheivement and effort and modified our student awards to reflect this distinction. Constructing these key pillars to support our guaranteed and viable curriculum was foundational to our mission. With that in place, we moved to a common gradebook, shared online with students and parents, which allowed us to share data with one another on our PLCs, as well as with students and parents.
All of the above required tremendous heavy lifting on the part of the entire community. In order to realize our vision, we supported teachers with a vast number of professional learning opportunities: We sent teams of teachers to PLC and RtI Institutes at Shanghai American School and Singapore American School. In turn, we hosted two Solution Tree PLC Institutes here at ICS. We also sent several teachers and leaders to workshops in Adaptive Schools and brought in consultants to work with us on Strengths Based Leadership. We curated a selection of speakers, workshops, and professional learning experiences that focused on deepening our understanding and sharpened our skills in understanding standards, assesment, interventions, establishing a truly collaborative school culture of learning. We continue to provide generous support of these and other programs so that we can improve our performance, reflect, learn, and grow.
Our best and most effective targeted learning takes place within the context of our weekly meetings. Each Wednesday, we close school early to provide two hours of professional collaborative time. One hour is strictly reserved for our PLC teams to meet to follow the PLC process. During these times we strictly adhere to protocols to ensure that each meeting is devoted to the right work. We use a google form to track the agendas and topics, and each team keeps notes and communicates with the High School Principal and Duputy Principal, indicating which PLC question the group is focusing on and where and how they may need help. This document is live and open to all teachers and educational assistants in the school so that we can see how we are keeping on track.
1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.
We are a standards-based school in that we define our curriculum outcomes according to state standards and the IBDP learning outcomes. These outcomes are revised for grade 11 and 12 at regular intervals within the IBDP curriculum review schedule. For grade 9 and 10, we align our standards verticalluy with our mIddle School, so that we can create and implement a guaranteed, viable curriculum from Grade 6 through Grade 12. In addition to our weekly Wednesday PLC meetings, we meet in 6-12 vertical teams to work on curriculum, select power standards, develop common assessments, a standards-aligned 6-12 scope and sequence. We also have created working agreements on assessment practices based on our schoolwide assessment policy, which was developed and is reviewed. We collaboratively develop proficiency standards in each subject area for each course and grade level, and we have articulated standards and progressions for our schoolwide Approaches to Learning, which articulates the skills, dispositions and learning habits that lead to academic success.
Reporting on learning is continuous and transparent. All results are shared with students, teachers and administrators online and parents can access them through our parent portal. We require teachers to update the online gradebooks approximately every four weeks with grades for academic achievement as well as for effort. Students at risk receive an email from their teachers within four weeks of the beginning of each semester with an invitation to meet with them. Access to shared data on student learning is vital to our success and to the RtI process described below.
2. Creating systems of intervention to provide students with additional time and support for learning.
Each Monday, counselors or teachers identify and refer students who are in need of academic support or extended challenges (whether based on PLC question 3 or 4) to the High School Principal (for grades 11 and 12) and to the Deputy Principal (for grades 9 and 10). On Tuesday, we decide which students to prioritize and we select them as our “students of wonder”; they will be the focus of our Friday morning Supporting Student Success (SSS) meetings. Well in advance of the meetings, each Tuesday, we inform the students’ teachers, invite them to the meetings, and ask them to complete our SSS form. The form includes information on academic achievement, effort, and attendance and information. Teachers add in vital information on students current successes and challenges, effective strategies, and suggestions. During the meetings, in order to make the best use of our time and to focus on the right work, we follow a rigorously structured protocol. Based on the evidence in the form and on teacher feedback, we brainstorm interventions and assign tasks to ensure that we take collective responsibility for student learning. Each meeting culminates in action plans detailing interventions for each student and follow up as part of our RtI process. The Principal and Deputy Principal follow up on the interventions, which may include Tier One strategies, parent meetings, counselling, etc. The meetings take place on Friday mornings between 7:45 and 8:40 am. We can meet on four students per week within this time period. Three years ago I changed the schedule to allow for a late start for students - each Friday they come to school one hour later. They often come to campus to play on the courts, hang out and have breakfast, study in the library. Student Council and NHS choose to meet at that time as well. These are all student-led activities and involve no teachers so that we can have conflict-free time during the school day for our SSS meetings. Some students elect to sleep in a little bit. For our sleep-starved teens, I see that as a boon. We also serve pastries and coffee in the HS Office on Friday mornings for our hardworking people. This initiative has yielded positive benefits for both students and staff in terms of morale and a positive school culture. It is a great way to start a Friday; now, the practice has become routinized to the point that it would be nearly impossible to do away with it.
There are four periods per day in the high school. Each day after school (except for our early closing on Wednesdays), we offer a Period Five for extension and academic support. We have a referral process and we track student attendance. We use Period 5 to ensure that students finish uncompleted assignments, to give them retakes, to extend time to complete assessments, and to do work that they have not managed to submit on time. Period 5 is not punishment, it is one means to reinforce our ethos of “High Challenge - High Support”; that is, at ICS not doing the work is not an option. Attendance, when referred, is mandatory, and the Principal and Deputy Principal follow up on this. Period 5 has proven to be effective and it does not impose additional time on teachers. Our Educational Assistants supervise Period Five and provide academic as well as time management support.
In some cases, where students are in need of more significant support, we exempt them from an elective class so that they can take an Academic Support class. We have seen that this is most successful when we build skills or, as is often the case, fill gaps in English and Mathematics. We have also adapted course load requirements to give students a study period to provide them options to take online classes, in some cases university and AP courses in Grade 10, even though we are an IB school. Our personalized learning course, “Project X”, allows students to enroll in formal courses or to pursue informal learning for credit. Sometimes students have used this period to find time management and adult support when taking online courses that extend their learning beyond courses offered in our school.
3. Building teacher capacity to work as members of high performing collaborative teams that focus efforts on improved learning for all students.
Each week during our early closing our teams meet in their PLC. We have promised teachers that we will not interfere with these meetings; a schedule is shared on our calendars for this purpose. The meetings are led by teacher facilitators and teachers are trained to use this time to focus on the four PLC questions. The High School Principal and Deputy Principal monitor the agendas on a very brief shared google form which they complete at the end of each meeting. We require all tems to set SMART goals measured on academic performance, which are also shared and reviewed. We ask teams to review data and reflect, recalibrate goals, and adjust strategies as necessary at the end of each grading period. Our IBDP Coordinartor, Learning Coach, Principal and Deputy Principal check in regularly with PLC teams and provide support and facilitation at meetings where necessary. Members of our Student Support Team attend meetings to share expertise and perspective on Tier 1 strategies, too.We have provided significant on and off-site professional development opportunities to build our capacity to function as high performing teams. We just completed the "Trust on the Team " survey (from "Taking Action, A Handbook for RtI at Work", Solution Tree) to check on our levels of trust and performance within teams. The results show that our PLC teams have a high level of trust, feel supported, and feel a sense of efficacy in their work.
Achievement Data Files
Additional Achievement Data
As a result of our PLC practices, our IBDP exam results have climbed above the world average, the number of IBDP failing grades has diminished from 4% to 0%, and the percentage of our students receiving IBDP grades of proficient or above has shifted from 71% to 85%. Our IBDP pass rate for the class of 2019 is 100%, including a 100% pass rate for the Extended Essay. These figures include students who receive Tier 2 learning support within the context of our RtI process. We characterize our school culture as one of "High Challenge-High Support", and these results reflect our committment to believing that all students can learn at high levels.
Our grade distribution curve has consistently move to the right, with more students scoring 6's and 7's. From grades 9-12, almost no students are receiving failing grades or grades of Incomplete. We have seen large gains among our students who receive learning support.
This year, of our 49 members of the class of 2020, we can claim that student have been accepted and in some cases received full-ride scholarhsips to all eight Ivy League schools. Of course, this is only one metric, but it does highlight the work that the PLC process has done to support learning at ICS Addis.