Sunset Elementary School
- Number of Students: 536
- Percent Eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch: 100%
- Percent of Limited English Proficient: 18%
- Percent of Special Education: 9.7%
- White: 47%
- Black: 26%
- Hispanic: 22%
- Asian: 1%
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: 0%
- American Indian or Alaska Native: 0%
- Multiracial: 4%
- Other: 0%
Shared understanding and commitment to the PLC at Work process were built through an intentional approach in our school. Initial conversations began around the idea of moving our students from skill-based intervention to standards-based intervention where remediation is prescribed by student, by standard. Our leadership team discussed this approach to teaching and learning and decided to begin the process of becoming a true PLC school. After explaining the idea of having a guaranteed and viable curriculum where remediation occurs by student, by standard, where students who do not master the standards are provided with remediation, where students who master the standards are provided acceleration, and where remediation/acceleration groups change based on student needs, the decision was unanimous to begin implementing the “PLC at Work” process. Our leadership team used the “Learning by Doing” text to guide our work toward becoming a PLC school.
The groundwork for unanimous buy-in began two years earlier as our school worked on establishing our identity by developing our mission, vision, and collective commitments. With input from stakeholders a school mission was created. Next, a vision of what we want to be in the future was developed. Finally, a set of 10 collective commitments were identified by stakeholders. These collective commitments were written as action statements that all agree to follow and hold each other accountable.
Building shared understanding for and a commitment to our mission, vision, and collective commitments are critical. We purposefully discuss our mission, vision, and collective commitments through a variety of means. When new staff members join our school, our principal meets with them individually to discuss our mission, vision, and collective commitments. In staff meetings our mission, vision, and collective commitments are discussed and examples of what they look like in action are articulated by staff members. Finally, our school periodically reviews our mission, vision, and collective commitments to ensure viability. Having a firmly established mission, vision, and collective commitments helped prepare Sunset for the next step in becoming a true PLC.
Once our leadership team was on board, we initiated professional learning for all staff members to learn the PLC at Work process. This professional learning helped build shared understanding of the purpose of the process, the role of collaborative teams, and how to begin working through the four guiding questions of a PLC. Through this professional learning our staff members developed a commitment to the process. They began to see the PLC at Work process was not a program to purchase, use, and put on the shelf. They could see it was a sustainable process that was logical in their minds.
The next phase of our approach to building understanding and commitment to the PLC at Work process involved establishing a guaranteed and viable curriculum. Our entire faculty and staff agreed there was not enough instructional time to teach everything, but there was enough time to teach the most important things. Our faculty/staff worked in vertical teams in ELA and Math to identify essential standards, group those standards into units of study, and create common formative assessments for each unit. To help make this phase manageable and sustainable, we worked with 3rd through 5th grade, before moving to Kindergarten through 2nd grade. Our administrators and academic coaches took a hands-on approach to working with teachers who serve as the content area experts. Through this collaboration our teachers, administrators, coaches, and support staff gained a deeper understanding of the standards, a clearer understanding of how the standards fit together vertically, and a stronger understanding of where we need to focus in order to continue to increase student achievement.
Next, we began building our capacity to use our common formative assessments to answer guiding questions three and four. Our administrative team worked with teachers to show them how to navigate our testing platform, Illuminate, in order to identify student learning by student, by standard. We established a process for placing students in remediation and acceleration groups and trained all faculty/staff members in how to support students during our dedicated remediation/acceleration time. Having an “all hands on deck” approach allowed us to utilize small group instruction and showed our students that all the adults in the school care about their academic progress.
1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.
We realize there is not enough time to teach every standard to mastery. Therefore, the only way to have a guaranteed and viable curriculum is to decide which standards are “need to know” and which standards are “nice to know.” Our administration led a vertical planning meeting where teachers in the same content areas met to review all standards in order to develop a list of essential standards and non-essential standards. The first step in having a guaranteed and viable curriculum is establishing a set of essential standards to be taught to. We view the essential standards as those that all students must master in order to be successful in the next grade. We only provide remediation/acceleration for the essential standards.
When we first began discussing essential standards, many teachers struggled with the idea that all standards were not essential. So, we split the staff into content area groups across multiple grade levels to analyze each standard. The administration reviewed the four criteria for prioritizing standards: Does the standard have endurance? Does the standard have leverage? Does the standard prepare students for the next level? Will the standard prepare students for success on high-stakes external exams? For each standard, the team worked together to rate each standard against all four criteria. We used a rating of high, medium, or low for each criteria. Once the standards were rated it was clear that some standards were worthy of being labeled as essential while others were not.
Next, the standards were organized into units of instruction. Then common formative assessments were created for each unit. On the assessments, all standards get assessed but the essential standards have 4-5 questions for each standard while the non-essential have only 1 question for each standard. The results of the assessments are used to determine which students need remediation on the essential standards and which students are given acceleration. We established 80% as our threshold for mastery, so students achieving below 80% on an essential standard receive remediation.
As we worked through this process we found a few key elements that helped achieve success in developing and implementing a guaranteed and viable curriculum. One key element was that our teachers saw a need for this process. Our end of year assessment data showed that our students’ achievement was improving from year to year but their growth (as measured by student growth percentiles) was not at the levels we desired. That led us to believe that we were missing out on growth for many of our students. Another key was having vertical teams working together which led to rich discussions and deeper understanding about how the standards fit together. We also found that having teachers decide on the essential standards and write the common formative assessments was critical. When teachers drive the process, rather than someone from the district level, there is more ownership for the standards, for the learning, and for the results on the common formative assessment.
2. Creating systems of intervention to provide students with additional time and support for learning.
Our school has created and implemented a systematic process that helps to identify students for intervention or extension. After each unit assessment, the data is sorted (by student, by standard) and areas of instructional strength are accelerated while areas of instructional weakness are retaught. The students scoring below 80% mastery are placed in remediation intervention groups that meet each morning for the duration of the next unit. These students get intense lessons on the targeted standard, with hopes that it will lead to better understanding and even mastery of the standard. The students who score higher than 80% are placed in an accelerated intervention group, where learning is extended beyond the scope of the target standard.
We have designated a specific time every morning for these groups to meet. We believe elementary students are most focused first thing in the morning. Therefore, we begin our instructional day with our intervention block. This time is guarded and protected, with as few distractions as possible. We do not allow transitions, bathroom visits, nurse visits, or even morning announcements during this time. We utilize small group instruction during this time by limiting the group size to six. Tier 1 instruction in class moves on to the next unit, while we provide remediation/acceleration on the previous unit during our morning intervention block. These groups are updated by student, by standard at the conclusion of each unit of instruction.
In addition to our intervention block, we have support staff serving as interventionists that provide additional small group instruction for struggling students throughout the day. Our interventionists use normative data to identify students who need additional support. These interventionists pull students into small groups for focused instruction on specific weaknesses. Most of our interventionists push into the classroom to provide needed support. Our gifted interventionist pulls students for small group acceleration, but also pushes into the classrooms to work more closely with content area teachers.
By implementing the intervention block and using it with fidelity, we are giving students additional time and support needed to strengthen their learning. This time is nonnegotiable, and we encourage every student to be present for it daily. We have seen many student gains since the implementation of our intervention block, as well as the use of our interventionists. This is how we target guiding questions three and four.
We see evidence of the effectiveness of the PLC at Work process across every area of our school. Our RTI process shows many examples of students responding well to timely and relevant interventions, no longer needing tier 2 and tier 3 support. To this end, we see trend data showing high percentages of students testing and qualifying for tier 4 support. When the vast majority of students are responding well to our RTI process, this allows us to correctly identify students with a true learning disability and separate them from students who just needed a little more support or who started school academically behind their peers.
3. Building teacher capacity to work as members of high performing collaborative teams that focus efforts on improved learning for all students.
Our high-performing collaborative teams focus their efforts on improved student learning by using a shared approach. Grade levels share responsibilities and ideas that are focused on the improvement of student learning. We work hard to ensure our students do not have only one team of teachers supporting them, rather our entire school family working to support their needs. Collaboration takes place in formal and informal settings on a daily and weekly basis.
Grade level teams meet weekly for their collaborative team meetings. During these meetings, the team follows an agenda based strictly on the four guiding questions. Leaving this meeting, teachers know what they want students to learn for the next week, how to determine if students learn it, what to do for the students that do not learn it, and what to do if the students do learn it. Teachers also analyze data across the content areas during their PLC meetings. This data helps identify specific needs of students, and guides teachers in student placement for support or acceleration. Teachers plan closely with each other to support student learning needs in other classrooms. For example, if data reviewed in collaborative team meetings reveal a weakness of a class in the area of deconstructing a writing prompt, the Math can have students deconstruct math word problems using the same instructional vocabulary as the writing teacher. This gives the students the opportunity to continue to build needed skills and provides teachers a way to support each other instructionally.
By having a true collaborative team, teachers are better able to support teaching and learning for the whole child. This commitment helps move educators away from “my students” toward “our students.” The collaborative team meetings impact the instructional plan for the following week. Based on the data presented in the meeting, teachers may swap classes for the purpose of allowing a different staff member to reteach a particular standard. Teachers also exchange students in order to better support individual needs. For example, if two students in a class are performing much higher than their peers for a particular unit of instruction, it may be more beneficial for those students to move to another class for instruction where they can be challenged in their zone of proximal development.
Our high performing, collaborative teams also meet throughout the year to focus on their unit plans. These plans were developed by deconstructing essential standards into smaller pieces. The deconstruction process provides teachers with academic vocabulary, question stems, characteristics of proficiency, and learning target statements. Teachers analyze these documents in each unit before and after teaching to determine if any changes need to be made. The units are flexible and focused on improving student learning, so if the team realizes something needs to be changed to best support student learning, they have the ability to change it. This process requires team collaboration for improved student learning.
Achievement Data Files
Additional Achievement Data
Sunset is a Title 1 School with a diverse student population. Since implementing the PLC at Work process at Sunset, we have seen tremendous increases in acheivement data for all groups of students. We continue to see a steady increase in student achievement on our common assessments. We see a high correlation (.7) between our performance on our common assessments and performance on standardized tests. Therefore, if students do well on our common assessments, they are more likely to do well on benchmark assessments and end of grade assessments. Our student lexile levels have greatly improved since we started our work to become a PLC school. We began significantly behind the state in terms of percent of students able to comprehend grade level text. We have not only closed the gap with the state, we have suprassed it.
We have seen tremendous academic growth over the last few years, despite COVID. If you look at our student acheivement data on the Georgia Milestones from the 2020-2021 school year, you will see increases in all content areas assessed. Our percent proficient and above increased in ELA by 4.5%, Math by 6.8%, and Science by 19.2%. These academic gains are despite students losing 25% of the school 2019-2020 year, student and staff quarantines in the 2020-2021 school year, and having six new teachers in the Georgia Milestone tested grades. Over the same time frame, the state scores dropped considerably in all three content areas as a result of learning loss due to COVID-19.
If you take a look at the artifacts provided, you will see evidence improvement in all areas of the school since beginning the PLC at Work journey. In addition to improvement in Georiga Milestone data, we see academic improvement in CFA scores, reading fluency, reading comprehension, math fact fluency, and even behavior data.
We attribute our improvements and success to our implementation of the PLC at Work process.
Recognized in Atlanta Journal Constitution for academic gains in a rural Title 1 district - https://www.ajc.com/news/local-education/rural-schools-work-georgia-reading-problem/CrIDZ7tAp35hn0LTLPDllJ/
Bright Ideas Awards - 4th grade coding grant, flexible seating grant, SEL resources grant
Colquitt Regional Medical Center Grant - provided microscopes for student use
High increase in student achievement compared to school district, RESA district, and state