Springfield Middle School

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

All Means All: Springfield Middle School’s PLC Journey (Entire Narrative) 

History and Commitment 

Springfield Middle School is a suburban middle school located in Fort Mill, South Carolina which is just south of Charlotte, North Carolina.  The Fort Mill School District is the fastest growing school district per capita in South Carolina adding approximately 1,000 students per year.  This growth averages to one new school per year.  While Fort Mill was once a small mill town, it is now a diverse and densely populated bustling suburban area. 

Springfield Middle School is currently the most diverse middle school in the Fort Mill School District.  We were the third middle school opened in our district.  In 2011 the fourth middle school in Fort Mill, South Carolina opened which changed the demographics of Springfield Middle School significantly. A fifth middle school opened in 2017 which shifted our population once again. Our prior population was historically high performing which inadvertently led to a culture of stagnation. Our new demographics included more transient families experiencing poverty and families with limited English proficiency. Knowing that we needed to commit our work to helping all students succeed, we began reflecting on our practices to meet that goal.  We had work to do.  We began this process by seeking help from the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform’s Schools to Watch criteria. This criteria is based on four domains that are critical for middle grade reform: academic excellence, social equity, developmental responsiveness, and organizational structures. After conducting a self reflection survey, we realized just how much work we had to do.  At this point, we researched methods and strategies to help close the achievement gap and found the work of the DeFours. And so this begins our PLC journey.  During the summer of 2014, one administrator and three teachers attended the Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) at Work Institute in Atlanta, Georgia. 

During the 2013-2014 school year, the first change we made was to alter the master schedule to provide time for intervention and enrichment during the school day. The structure of this FLEX time has evolved over the years.  It started out with month-long sessions of intervention or enrichment. Now the time is used as a truly responsive system of intervention thanks to the help of Mike Mattos.  

At the beginning of our journey, some teacher teams were collaborating, but it was not a requirement or a part of the school culture. After this institute, professional learning was provided for all staff members on the importance of all means all and collective responsibility. The professional learning included the four critical questions and why they were significant to helping all students achieve high levels of learning.  Moving forward, job-alike grade level teams were formed and collaboration was required. Norms were established.  A form with the four critical questions was created by the teachers that attended the institute and was required to be used by all teacher teams. As with most schools implementing the PLC process, it was not smooth.  In hindsight, we missed an opportunity to create enough momentum through a guiding coalition and establishment of our mission and core values. The four educators that attended the PLC Institute were excited to start helping our students and embraced the philosophy of “learning by doing.”  It is evident now that we didn’t create the time to thoroughly provide an understanding or a sense of urgency of why we were making these changes.  The forms with the four critical questions were a source of confusion as most of the teachers did not understand how to answer questions three and four.  To many teachers, it felt like another initiative that would fail or a top down hoop to jump through. While we may have faced a roadblock, there is always a detour.  We did not give up.    

Over the course of the next several years, many critical changes took place to help refine the implementation of the PLC process. In 2015,  PLC leaders were established and part of the leadership (guiding coalition) team.  They were trained and encouraged to review norms and set agendas each week. In 2016 formal data meetings were facilitated by an administrator. Administration and the literacy specialist divided up the content areas and attended collaborative meetings.  Many job embedded coaching and professional learning opportunities occurred naturally during those discussions that allowed teachers to gain a better understanding of how to answer questions three and four.  In 2018, after sending more representatives to another PLC Summit and a Response to Intervention at Work, we realized that we needed to focus on essential standards.  Grade level teacher teams were given a full day of planning to create SMART goals and establish essential standards. They also begin creating common formative assessments (CFAs) as well as enrichment and intervention lessons that align to the CFAs.   Prior to this, teachers were trying to remediate and answer the four critical questions on all standards.  No wonder they were confused and exhausted! Many professional learning opportunities were provided throughout these years at faculty meetings, grade level meetings, and through job-embedded coaching during the collaborative meetings. We always circled back to our why: all means all

Now that we are many years into this process, the teams of SMS are truly high-performing teams that work interdependently based on common goals. They meet at least once per week during their planning to create common assessments and align lessons accordingly.  Formal data meetings are every other week.  They have worked through problems and learned how to lean on each other, benefitting from each other's strengths and weaknesses.  They understand why we are doing this work, and they see the benefits of their labor.  We truly believe that if you changed administration in this building, the work of professional learning communities would continue. 

A Culture of Continuous Improvement 
Currently, the culture of SMS is highly collaborative with a focus on student learning. Collaborative teacher teams are the vehicle for continuous improvement that provide the platform for teachers to solve problems and focus their energy on students' outcomes.  Over the course of the last several years, teachers have shifted their language from a statement to a question.  For example, “I need to teach The Diary of Anne Frank,” to “Have our students learned how to cite evidence from The Diary of Anne Frank?” This shift was not easy for many teachers. It seems like a small shift, but the impact on student learning is significant.  In addition to providing a structure for teams to function in a highly professional manner, the PLC process has provided the tools for our school to implement a targeted and systematic approach to intervention and enrichment.  

Data is at the heart of the improvement process. The school creates long-range and yearly goals that align to areas of need.  For example, we identified populations that were not performing as well as their peers.  In order to improve achievement for all  students, we set a goal to focus on engagement strategies that increase learning. Administration sets professional learning goals for the year, and each teacher team sets SMART goals based on data to promote student achievement. Recently, the staff participated in an inquiry based guided professional learning opportunity in which teacher partners reflected on our school goals and provided feedback on areas in which we needed to “grow” and areas in which we “glow.”  It is common for teachers to identify roadblocks and seek out solutions on their own, and this is a direct reflection of the culture of collective responsibility that is evident in our school culture. 

 

Monitoring Student Learning

Every teacher participates in the selection of essential standards using the criteria of leverage, endurance, and readiness as outlined in the book, Learning by Doing. Singletons engage in this process with their district level counterparts.Each teacher team (ex. 8th grade science) is provided an entire professional learning day to examine data to create a SMART goal for the year based on current state testing data. Test data is analyzed from the previous year as well as current students.  Next, all teachers are involved in the selection of essential standards.  From here, they create common formative assessments and brainstorming remediation and enrichment lesson plans that align to the essential standards. This process is revisited and revised each year to help with refining the process and onboarding new faculty members.  Additionally, this professional learning opportunity allows the teachers time to create tools for their toolbox so they can respond to the four critical questions. 

Using our FLEX time in a systematic way is part of how we implement our guaranteed and viable curriculum. The essential standards answer the question, what do the students need to know, the common assessments (both formative and summative) answer the question, how do we know if they learned it, and our FLEX time provides the time for the answer of what do we do if they don’t learn it and how do we extend learning if they already know it. Teachers establish the criteria for determining who requires additional help.  For example, the criteria might be set at 70;  all students that score below a 70 will be required to attend remediation on that particular essential standard.  In addition to differentiated instruction or reteaching during the regular class period, our FLEX time creates space within our school day to provide extra help for students that may not have conquered the essential skill during the initial interval of instruction.  It also creates time and space for students to extend their learning through enrichment activities.  

All teacher teams (grade-level subject) are required to create common summative assessments for each unit with at least two common formative assessments within each unit.  Formal data meetings occur informally weekly and formally every other week. We use a data processing system called All in Learning that aggregates the data to monitor progress over time by tracking essential standards. Teacher teams analyze the common formative assessments weekly to determine how they should respond to individual student needs. For example, there are three 7th grade language arts teachers and each teacher has approximately 100 students for a total of 300.  They analyzed data on the essential standard of using context clues. They discovered that 25 of the 300  students needed additional instruction and practice.  One teacher volunteered to take the 25 to reteach and practice using context clues before the summative assessment.  The other 225 were able to participate in enrichment activities.  This is one example of collective responsibility and commitment to all means all.   

Creating Systems of Intervention and Extension 

Our FLEX time titled H3 or Horsepower Half Hour takes place first thing in the morning and is systematic and targeted.  It is a 30 minute block that is used for a variety of purposes.  On Monday, all students participate in lessons and activities that center around social and emotional learning or executive functioning skills.  The guidance department provides activities based on need, and teachers provide direct instruction on goal setting and organizational skills. Tuesday-Thursday, students participate in either remediation or enrichment.  On Friday, all students participate in clubs.   After teacher teams analyze common assessments and determine which students need remediation, students are placed in groups accordingly and required to attend that particular session.  All other students choose an enrichment class to attend for the week, and it is run much like a conference. We also have an afterschool program in which we provide transportation.  At this time, additional TIER 2 instruction is provided for any student.  Students receive Tier 3 reading and math instruction from high quality professionals such as teachers with intensive course work in reading or math instruction.  Tier 2 instruction is provided by classroom teachers and based on essential standards.  

Building Teacher Capacity to work as members of high-performing collaborative teams 

Understanding that most college graduates never had any coursework in how to function in a professional environment led to the belief that establishing norms is a critical component of creating a high functioning Professional Learning Community.  All groups establish norms including full faculty, grade levels, departments, and job-alike teacher teams.  Agendas are created at least 24 hours before the meeting. Norms are a part of the agenda and expected to be reviewed weekly. A breakdown of the agenda required for all meetings  is below:

  1. Review Team Norms 

  2. Data

  3. Learning and Teaching

  4. Action Items/Scheduling

  5. Create Next Agena  

4 CRITICAL QUESTIONS:

1)     What knowledge and skills should every student acquire as a result of this unit of instruction?

2)    How will we know when each student has acquired the essential knowledge and skills?

3)    How will we respond when some students do not learn?

4)    How will we extend and enrich the learning for students who are already proficient?

Over time, these components of this agenda have become second nature to most teachers.  It established a high quality, professional atmosphere where the focus is constantly on student learning.  It helps avoid the pitfall of getting off topic or focusing on logistics.  When teacher teams struggle to implement any parts of this agenda, administrators and/or coaches are available to step in and guide the process.  As our faculty has grown and changed over time, it has been necessary for some teacher teams to be coached through this process for an entire year until a new PLC leader emerges ready to take the lead.  Setting clear expectations through norms and agendas as well as providing learning opportunities through coaching have helped build teacher capacity to work as members of high-performing teams. 

As a direct result of our commitment to the work of Professional Learning Communities, we were designated as a Schools to Watch by the National Form to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform in 2016 and redesignated in 2019.  In 2019, 97.1 percent of our students received progress points toward our school report card progress rating which resulted in the highest progress rating of any middle school in the state of South Carolina.  

Response to Data:

There are many factors that have impacted our data over the course of the last several years. The State Department of Education changed the reporting of the state test, SCReady, to report like NWEA’s MAP assessment with a vertical scale common to all tested grades. The performance levels did not change, but the number of students scoring in each level shifted.  According to the State Department of South Carolina’s Education Oversight Committee, a student that scores in the “Meets” or “Exceeds” category is on a trajectory to be successful in a 4-year college program.  A student can score in the 50th percentile but not “Meet Expectations.” Additionally, in 2018 the state test shifted to an online platform. The same year the fifth middle school opened in Fort Mill School District that changed SMS’s population significantly. The percentage of economically disadvantaged students and students with limited English proficiency increased. One of our greatest challenges as a school is reaching our students that are only with us for a limited amount of time. We serve several families that live in temporary housing.  The students come to us with gaps in their education.  We see tremendous growth, but it is often not enough to catch up to their peers.  While the change in population only increases our motivation to refine our collaborative practices, the shift in vertical scale scores makes it difficult to track progress.  Even though we experienced a dip in some pockets of our scores in 2017-2018, we experienced substantial growth in 2019. What’s more, we had the highest growth score in the entire state of South Carolina in 2019.  

As a school, we analyze data for areas that need improvement as well as areas of progress. We do this by tracking scores both horizontally and vertically.  It is evident that the teacher teams that are farthest along on the PLC journey have shown the most student growth. The eighth grade ELA teacher team is a high functioning PLC that consistently focuses on student outcomes. This particular team shows growth both vertically and horizontally. We look for growth areas across the years with the same teacher teams. For example, 6th grade ELA, math and science experienced growth from 2018-2019. Another way we monitor data is to track specific groups of children across multiple years.  In 2018, 49.8 percent of the students in 6th grade ELA scored “Meets” or “Exceeds,” and in 2019 the same group of students grew to 62 percent  “Meets” or “Exceeds” in 7th grade. Likewise, by tracking the same students we can see that in 7th grade Math, 65.6 of the students scored “Meets” or “Exceeds” in 2018, and in 2019 the same students grew to 70.1 percent.  It is also noteworthy to look at our subpopulations.  In 2018, only 37.9 percent of our 7th grade ELL math students were at the meets or exceeds benchmark; however, in 2019 in 8th grade the same students  jumped to 71.1 percent which was higher than the general population.  It is also important to point out that the average state score was 32.5 percent. Likewise, we also consistently look at our data to pinpoint areas of improvement.  According to our data, we need to focus our efforts in 7th grade math. While the 7th grade math teachers are participating in the collaborative work of PLCs, we feel that the remediations are not targeted enough to see expected growth. Likewise, the standards shift to become more abstract in 7th grade, so we must find new strategies to help our students handle this shift. There is exceptional growth in 6th and 8th grade math, so we know our students can do it. In the future, this teacher team will receive targeted coaching from an administrator. We have recently shifted our practices to better support our special education population, and we expect to see growth as a result.  Prior to 2019, we only targeted students that are not already receiving additional support for Tier 3 intervention.  We have now dropped labels and are making a change to our master schedule to offer all three levels of support during the instructional day for any student who qualifies.  

Response to COVID-19

As all schools faced the most unprecedented situation in American history, Springfield Middle School continued to provide high quality learning for all students during the midst of a pandemic. On March 14, 2020, all schools were closed and students moved to a hybrid of online learning and paper packets depending on the access to technology.  For the remainder of the 2020 school year, it was a district directive that no formal assessments take place.  Students were assessed on a pass/fail basis for the 4th quarter. Teachers worked tirelessly to reach students through Zoom, phone calls, and even home visits.  All students were invited to join Zoom reading groups with a teacher during the summer to keep learning loss at bay.  When school resumed in the fall, students returned to a hybrid A/B schedule for the first semester of 2020-2021 school year. All families in need were provided a device and a hotspot for their child.  Five additional school days were approved for teachers to assess learning and identify learning gaps.  STAR testing was administered for this purpose.  SMS partnered with several local organizations to provide an in-person experience for students on their every other day virtual learning day.  The organizations were staffed with volunteers and retired teachers to help students continue to be successful on their home learning days.  This program was open to all students at Springfield Middle School.  Intervention continued on the in person days as it was more important than ever to provide extra help for students during the school day. STAR data has helped identify students that are significantly behind and a summer program will be required for those students.  Moving forward, we will continue to use CFAs and STAR data to monitor progress and provide remediation/intervention to help all of our students achieve at high levels. 

Next Steps 

At SMS, we understand that the commitment to the PLC process is a journey and not a destination.  Until every single student in our building is performing on grade level or above, we have work to do.  In order to provide high quality instruction for all students, we need to refine our multi-tiered system of intervention (MTSS).  We have hired many new staff members in the last several years, so we feel it is important to circle back to the beginning and rebuild a collective commitment to why this work is important. Additionally, we have taken a closer look at our incoming 6th graders and realize that we have some hard work ahead of us.  After analyzing STAR data for our rising 6th grade students, over 50 percent of our incoming students fall in the “Does Not Meet” or “Approaches” category. 
 

In order to create a targeted and systematic multi-tiered system of support we must commit to creating a schedule that will allow more students to receive all three levels of support during the contractual day. 

  • Tier I Goal: Recommit to a focus on student learning. Collaborative teacher teams will use data from one CFA per unit  to determine the best instructional strategies for their students. 

  • Tier 2 Goal:  Create one common assessment that explicitly aligns to each essential standard. 

  • Tier 3 Goal: The guiding coalition will determine each student's greatest area of need and prioritize placement in Tier 3 intervention with a focus on essential skills.  

Action Steps: 

  • Refocus our collective commitment by rebuilding our guiding coalition

  • Assessing our place in the PLC journey 

  • Brainstorm creative solutions to our master schedule to provide more options for all three levels of support during the contractual day. 

  • Recommit to our purpose: all means all 

  • Ensure all teacher teams are results oriented 

  • Focus on essential skills

  • Provide extensive coaching in 7th grade math 

1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

Monitoring Student Learning

Every teacher participates in the selection of essential standards using the criteria of leverage, endurance, and readiness as outlined in the book, Learning by Doing. Singletons engage in this process with their district level counterparts.Each teacher team (ex. 8th grade science) is provided an entire professional learning day to examine data to create a SMART goal for the year based on current state testing data. Test data is analyzed from the previous year as well as current students.  Next, all teachers are involved in the selection of essential standards.  From here, they create common formative assessments and brainstorming remediation and enrichment lesson plans that align to the essential standards. This process is revisited and revised each year to help with refining the process and onboarding new faculty members.  Additionally, this professional learning opportunity allows the teachers time to create tools for their toolbox so they can respond to the four critical questions. 

 

Using our FLEX time in a systematic way is part of how we implement our guaranteed and viable curriculum. The essential standards answer the question, what do the students need to know, the common assessments (both formative and summative) answer the question, how do we know if they learned it, and our FLEX time provides the time for the answer of what do we do if they don’t learn it and how do we extend learning if they already know it. Teachers establish the criteria for determining who requires additional help.  For example, the criteria might be set at 70;  all students that score below a 70 will be required to attend remediation on that particular essential standard.  In addition to differentiated instruction or reteaching during the regular class period, our FLEX time creates space within our school day to provide extra help for students that may not have conquered the essential skill during the initial interval of instruction.  It also creates time and space for students to extend their learning through enrichment activities.  
 

All teacher teams (grade-level subject) are required to create common summative assessments for each unit with at least two common formative assessments within each unit.  Formal data meetings occur informally weekly and formally every other week. We use a data processing system called All in Learning that aggregates the data to monitor progress over time by tracking essential standards. Teacher teams analyze the common formative assessments weekly to determine how they should respond to individual student needs. For example, there are three 7th grade language arts teachers and each teacher has approximately 100 students for a total of 300.  They analyzed data on the essential standard of using context clues. They discovered that 25 of the 300  students needed additional instruction and practice.  One teacher volunteered to take the 25 to reteach and practice using context clues before the summative assessment.  The other 225 were able to participate in enrichment activities.  This is one example of collective responsibility and commitment to all means all.   

 

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

Creating Systems of Intervention and Extension 

Our FLEX time titled H3 or Horsepower Half Hour takes place first thing in the morning and is systematic and targeted.  It is a 30 minute block that is used for a variety of purposes.  On Monday, all students participate in lessons and activities that center around social and emotional learning or executive functioning skills.  The guidance department provides activities based on need, and teachers provide direct instruction on goal setting and organizational skills. Tuesday-Thursday, students participate in either remediation or enrichment.  On Friday, all students participate in clubs.   After teacher teams analyze common assessments and determine which students need remediation, students are placed in groups accordingly and required to attend that particular session.  All other students choose an enrichment class to attend for the week, and it is run much like a conference. We also have an afterschool program in which we provide transportation.  At this time, additional TIER 2 instruction is provided for any student.  Students receive Tier 3 reading and math instruction from high quality professionals such as teachers with intensive course work in reading or math instruction.  Tier 2 instruction is provided by classroom teachers and based on essential standards.  

 

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

Building Teacher Capacity to work as members of high-performing collaborative teams 

Understanding that most college graduates never had any coursework in how to function in a professional environment led to the belief that establishing norms is a critical component of creating a high functioning Professional Learning Community.  All groups establish norms including full faculty, grade levels, departments, and job-alike teacher teams.  Agendas are created at least 24 hours before the meeting. Norms are a part of the agenda and expected to be reviewed weekly. A breakdown of the agenda required for all meetings  is below:

  1. Review Team Norms 

  2. Data

  3. Learning and Teaching

  4. Action Items/Scheduling

  5. Create Next Agena  

4 CRITICAL QUESTIONS:

1)     What knowledge and skills should every student acquire as a result of this unit of instruction?

2)    How will we know when each student has acquired the essential knowledge and skills?

3)    How will we respond when some students do not learn?

4)    How will we extend and enrich the learning for students who are already proficient?

 

Over time, these components of this agenda have become second nature to most teachers.  It established a high quality, professional atmosphere where the focus is constantly on student learning.  It helps avoid the pitfall of getting off topic or focusing on logistics.  When teacher teams struggle to implement any parts of this agenda, administrators and/or coaches are available to step in and guide the process.  As our faculty has grown and changed over time, it has been necessary for some teacher teams to be coached through this process for an entire year until a new PLC leader emerges ready to take the lead.  Setting clear expectations through norms and agendas as well as providing learning opportunities through coaching have helped build teacher capacity to work as members of high-performing teams. 

 

 

 

Achievement Data Files

Additional Achievement Data

Response to Data:

There are many factors that have impacted our data over the course of the last several years. The State Department of Education changed the reporting of the state test, SCReady, to report like NWEA’s MAP assessment with a vertical scale common to all tested grades. The performance levels did not change, but the number of students scoring in each level shifted.  According to the State Department of South Carolina’s Education Oversight Committee, a student that scores in the “Meets” or “Exceeds” category is on a trajectory to be successful in a 4-year college program.  A student can score in the 50th percentile but not “Meet Expectations.” Additionally, in 2018 the state test shifted to an online platform. The same year the fifth middle school opened in Fort Mill School District that changed SMS’s population significantly. The percentage of economically disadvantaged students and students with limited English proficiency increased. One of our greatest challenges as a school is reaching our students that are only with us for a limited amount of time. We serve several families that live in temporary housing.  The students come to us with gaps in their education.  We see tremendous growth, but it is often not enough to catch up to their peers.  While the change in population only increases our motivation to refine our collaborative practices, the shift in vertical scale scores makes it difficult to track progress.  Even though we experienced a dip in some pockets of our scores in 2017-2018, we experienced substantial growth in 2019. What’s more, we had the highest growth score in the entire state of South Carolina in 2019.  

 

As a school, we analyze data for areas that need improvement as well as areas of progress. We do this by tracking scores both horizontally and vertically.  It is evident that the teacher teams that are farthest along on the PLC journey have shown the most student growth. The eighth grade ELA teacher team is a high functioning PLC that consistently focuses on student outcomes. This particular team shows growth both vertically and horizontally. We look for growth areas across the years with the same teacher teams. For example, 6th grade ELA, math and science experienced growth from 2018-2019. Another way we monitor data is to track specific groups of children across multiple years.  In 2018, 49.8 percent of the students in 6th grade ELA scored “Meets” or “Exceeds,” and in 2019 the same group of students grew to 62 percent  “Meets” or “Exceeds” in 7th grade. Likewise, by tracking the same students we can see that in 7th grade Math, 65.6 of the students scored “Meets” or “Exceeds” in 2018, and in 2019 the same students grew to 70.1 percent.  It is also noteworthy to look at our subpopulations.  In 2018, only 37.9 percent of our 7th grade ELL math students were at the meets or exceeds benchmark; however, in 2019 in 8th grade the same students  jumped to 71.1 percent which was higher than the general population.  It is also important to point out that the average state score was 32.5 percent. Likewise, we also consistently look at our data to pinpoint areas of improvement.  According to our data, we need to focus our efforts in 7th grade math. While the 7th grade math teachers are participating in the collaborative work of PLCs, we feel that the remediations are not targeted enough to see expected growth. Likewise, the standards shift to become more abstract in 7th grade, so we must find new strategies to help our students handle this shift. There is exceptional growth in 6th and 8th grade math, so we know our students can do it. In the future, this teacher team will receive targeted coaching from an administrator. We have recently shifted our practices to better support our special education population, and we expect to see growth as a result.  Prior to 2019, we only targeted students that are not already receiving additional support for Tier 3 intervention.  We have now dropped labels and are making a change to our master schedule to offer all three levels of support during the instructional day for any student who qualifies.  

 

As a direct result of our commitment to the work of Professional Learning Communities, we were designated as a Schools to Watch by the National Form to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform in 2016 and redesignated in 2019.  In 2019, 97.1 percent of our students received progress points toward our school report card progress rating which resulted in the highest progress rating of any middle school in the state of South Carolina.  

 

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