Elk Ridge Elementary School (2023)

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

At Elk Ridge Elementary, every Monday morning begins with the gift of time for teachers and paraeducators to collaborate within Professional Learning Communities teams. Students arrive one hour late, giving teachers and paraeducators time to focus on improving their professional practice. Tachers, paraeducators, and administrators understand the importance of this gift, and nothing trumps collaboration.  

It’s a journey that began at Elk Ridge in 2007, and between 2007 and 2019, there have been two principals on this campus working to implement the concepts and practices of a learning community with varied success. In 2019, Nina Markey became the principal and asked her staff, “ What would this PLC work look like at Elk Ridge if we meant it?” Nina’s leadership and an already established district vision led to a systematic approach to increase student learning based on implementing the concepts and practices of a Professional Learning Community. You can observe teams collaborate weekly with evidence of student learning (data and student work) within the last five days at the center of the collaborative conversation.

The Professional Learning Communities work at Elk Ridge is grounded in this question. How can we ensure high levels of learning for every child?  To do this, our teachers concentrate on the four critical questions of a PLC and the work layered under the four critical questions:

  1. What do we expect students to learn?                           

  1. How will we know if they learn it?

  1. How do we respond when students experience difficulty in learning?

  1. How do we respond when students do learn?

 Improving learning begins with a guaranteed and viable curriculum to ensure every teacher and student at every grade level learns the essential standards. Teacher teams will spend the majority of their time teaching the essential standards. They assess these standards will and commit to providing additional support and extensions linked to these standards. Teacher teams use standards to set specific, measurable, and rigorous SMART goals for each unit. The primary work of ensuring a guaranteed and viable curriculum is grounded in the unit planning process.  For each unit of instruction, teacher teams identify standards that teams will teach and specific skills essential for students to learn. The first team conversation centers around what proficiency on that standard would look like in student work. This conversation will clarify the standard's purpose and what students must do to meet the standard. The team then unwraps the standard into student-friendly learning targets. Teams also discuss instructional strategies and resources they will use during core instruction.

Based on the unit plans, teachers use common formative assessments to determine student mastery.  Formative assessments include end-of-unit and short formative assessments embedded in each unit to monitor student achievement.  These assessments give teachers the data needed to provide feedback to their students and make instructional decisions based on their student's needs, including additional time, support, and extensions. Teams use a Team Analysis of Common Assessments (TACA) form to analyze and record data. This form and the data provide the teachers and team with information regarding which instructional strategies and resources positively impact learning. It also identifies students for intervention or extension on this form. TACAs are used throughout the unit and from year to year to ground the team in standards, successful instructional strategies, misconceptions, and intervention ideas. This tool/protocol drives the continuous improvement cycle at Elk Ridge.

Teachers use student data to drive intervention and extension groups to meet the student's individual needs.  At every level, Kindergarten-5th grade, intervention time in ELA and math is provided and built into the master schedule.  Teachers determine interventions needed to support student mastery of a skill. Paraeducators are involved in the grade level team planning and assist with instruction to give small group support to students not meeting the standard on a specific skill. Teachers also plan extensions for students already meeting standards. These extensions are directly tied to level 4 on our proficiency scales.

In the 2020-21 school year,  due to the pandemic, Elk Ridge had to pivot multiple times to different models of instruction and learning. We began the school year in distance learning with all students working from home.  In October, some students returned to the building for 2 hours sessions in the afternoon for additional in-person time and support from their teacher.  In December, we transitioned to an AM/PM model, with half the students attending in the AM and half of the students coming in the PM for in-person instruction.  Finally, in March, we transitioned back to full-time in-person education for the vast majority of students while also maintaining some students in distance learning. However, while our instructional models might look a little different, the power of the collaborative team remained.  Every Monday, our teachers brought student work/evidence of learning to their collaborative team meeting, and our teams stayed focused on the four critical questions of the PLC. 

Our consistent focus on student learning and the four critical questions has led to increased student achievement and provided teachers and paraeducators with job-embedded professional development to improve their professional practice.

1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

Grade-level teams begin by identifying the essential standards that need to be taught and agree to a common pacing guide to help ensure a guaranteed and viable curriculum across all grade-level classes.

High-quality, solid Tier 1 instruction is the most critical component of student learning. Tier 1 instruction begins with grade-level teams building units of instruction across content areas based on power standards.  

Each unit starts with an essential standard, proficiency scale, learning targets, and a pre-assessment to determine mastery of prerequisite skills. Each unit plan also contains several common formative assessments to determine student mastery.  This includes a formative end-of-unit assessment and small formative assessments to monitor student learning.  These assessments give teachers the data needed to give feedback to their students and make instructional decisions and additional time, support, and extensions. Teams respond promptly to the data in various ways, including re-teaching, small group intervention in the classroom, grade-level team intervention time, partner work, or individual time and support.  This data also gives the teachers and the team information regarding which instructional strategies and resources positively impact learning. 

Teachers continue to enhance their unit plans by reflecting upon the earlier unit. Reflections include instructional strategies that help teach a specific concept, interventions to aid in a particular skill, and formative assessments that lead to an understanding of student mastery. Moving forward, teachers have high-quality unit plans with proven success to support teachers when teaching that unit next year. This is especially effective when new teachers join a team, as a unit plan and a collaborative team is in place.

When the pandemic hit, we had to monitor student learning differently.  Teams collaborated to determine what student work would look like while at home. Teams narrowed and pruned the essential standards for their grade level that must be learned for students to be prepared for their next level of learning.  Teachers used a variety of modes to identify proficiency in student work, including flipgrid, seesaw, small formative checks on zoom, and most importantly, they sat down with kids one on one and asked them to show how they solved a problem or found an answer on zoom.  Then, teachers could give immediate feedback to support student learning.  While our instructional model during the pandemic looked different, the expectation for students learning grade level standards remained the same.  

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

The multi-tiered system of support/Intervention at Elk Ridge begins with the grade level team in the planning process for Tier 1 instruction. Teachers and teams are intentionally planning weekly for every student in their classrooms. The UDL (Universal Design for Learning) process is alive at Elk Ridge. Teacher teams plan ahead for students with challenges engaging with grade-level essential standards. Intervention is directly connected to Tier 1 instruction when a small group of students receives additional time and support from the classroom teacher on a specific skill.  The time and intensity in these intervention groups are highly fluid, as students may move through this quickly if they show growth. These groups are constantly changing based on formative assessments and progress monitoring.  

In addition, an intervention block is a part of our master schedule in all grade levels in ELA and math to provide every student with additional intervention or extension based on assessment data.  Teachers and administration meet in Response to Intervention teams every four-six weeks to review the weekly and bi-weekly data and make instructional decisions based on that data.  Using student data, teachers and paraeducators provide interventions.  The students with Tier 3 needs receive intervention in the smallest groups with our most qualified teachers.  Students at or above the benchmark receive support to extend their learning needs.  Again, these extensions are directly connected to level 4 on the proficiency scales. Intervention and extension time is never canceled and is taught with fidelity to maximize learning opportunities.

Students who fall far below the benchmark also receive a triple dip during the day.  These students are identified based on their data. This small group or individual intervention provides a re-teaching or pre-teaching of skills to help the student succeed in Tier 1 instruction.  This additional support is another way to support students and close the skill gaps. The collaborative team determines the time and intensity of support.

The pandemic, specifically distance learning, also provided challenges related to additional time, support, and extensions. However, our goal remained the same.  Teams still provided additional time and support for students based on formative assessment data.  Our intervention blocks stayed the same; they just moved to small group zoom meetings with teachers and paraeducators.  These small groups focused on the Tier 2 skills students needed to access and be successful with grade-level standards during Tier 1 instruction.  Teachers used collaboration time to plan the student interventions and then developed short formative assessments to track their growth in the intervention. Ultimately, the team worked to meet the SMART goal.


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

Building high-performing, collaborative teams is a critical component of the PLC process. This process begins with a late start Monday, where every grade level team (teachers and paraeducators) has time to work collaboratively.  This time is sacred!  No other meetings are scheduled during this time.  The work of a PLC takes precedence.

Grade-level teams also have 22 hours of collaboration time built into their contract to work as a team.  Teachers use the time to continue their work as a collaborative team, typically focusing on unit planning connected to the essential standards, creating common formative assessments, and planning interventions/extensions to increase student learning.  In addition, all teams have common planning to ensure additional time to focus on the work of the team.  Teams meet every 6-8 weeks with TOSAs (Teachers in ELA and Math on Special Assignments) to improve their instructional practice. Examples of work during these PD sessions include unit planning, planning instructional rounds, developing formative assessments, and adjusting intervention plans. 

Another area to build capacity is by working with team leaders.  Each grade level has a team leader to guide the work of the PLC.  The team leaders make up the school leadership team. The team leader assists the team in establishing norms, and accountability protocols to maximize the effectiveness of the team.  Team leaders also meet monthly with the principal to focus on the school improvement process. In August team leaders receive training. During this training, they review school and grade-level data to set SMART goals. The “School Leadership Team” meets throughout the year to review unit-by-unit data as it relates to meeting our SMART goals.

Elk Ridge grade-level team leaders meet quarterly with grade-level team leaders from across the district. This team reviews district grade-level data and discuss instructional strategies linked to student achievement across the district.