Marco Forster Middle School (2023)

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

Marco Forster Middle School’s (MFMS) journey as a Professional Learning Community developed through four stages.

In stage one, 2003 through 2016, our school did not have a clear vision of the PLC process. We were focused more on improving instructional practices than on student learning. At the time, we did create mission, vision, and values statements, identified priority standards, developed some common assessments, and tried to use state testing data to improve instructional practices. Our process, though, was not refined. Our mission and vision statements were long and overly detailed, and the criteria for choosing the priority standards was not rooted in the principles of endurance, readiness, leverage, or rigor, nor did they align with our state tests. Most of our attempts to foster shared learning opportunities were marked with resistance, especially when developing common assessments, and although our state data reflected a pattern of growth, we lacked sufficient academic growth for some sub groups. Consequently, our district in 2016 identified our school as a target to implement a Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS).

In the second stage, 2016 to 2018, we recast our mission, vision, and values statements, placing student success at the forefront of our work. We re-analyzed our priority standards, ensuring they were based this time on the principles of endurance, readiness, leverage, and high rigor. This stage was marked with opportunities for professional development in the PLC process. Some teachers attended PLC conferences and returned inspired to work in collaborative teams to create, implement, and act upon the data generated from common assessments. Unfortunately, most of our staff resisted the PLC process, and the school culture suffered. Even an attempt to establish a tutorial period embedded into the school day was voted down. Any momentum we had was disrupted further when our principal, a wholehearted supporter of the PLC process, moved to another school.

In the third stage, 2018-2019, the PLC process was not emphasized. Our lone achievement was establishing a tutorial period embedded into the school day. Unfortunately, it was used primarily to help students make up missing assignments rather than as an intervention to help struggling students master essential standards.

Our fourth stage began in the pandemic year of 2020-2021 when we re-dedicated ourselves to the PLC process under the leadership of a new principal. The new administration made a concerted effort to develop a positive and strong communicative relationship with its staff, a climate of transparency, and a shared understanding of the work of a PLC. Human resources (administrators, instructional coaches, and teachers) were identified who would spearhead the PLC process as a guiding coalition. Professional development centered on the big picture overview of a PLC, and this overview was developed during weekly collaborative time, release days, minimum days, common preparation time, and after school training through our Marco Teacher Academy (MTA). As a school, we recommitted to our mission and vision statements, which in a nutshell stated that we would collaborate to ensure the success of all students in learning essential academic and content standards. Our professional development laid out a clear understanding that the four questions of the PLC process would lead the direction of our work going forward.

In 2021-2022, we built a collective understanding of question 1 of the PLC process, “What do we want every student to know and be able to do?” Professional development focused on this question using the structures set in place the previous year. In addition, we created a shared learning opportunity where teacher teams of three would teach one class together (PLX). Also, early in the year, teachers received training on unwrapping standards, and by the end of the year, every grade-level content team had unwrapped their standards into conceptual and procedural learning targets, the results of which were compiled into a guaranteed and viable curriculum. This achievement was not only celebrated by the staff, but administrators, coaches, and teachers from other schools visited our school to learn how we had accomplished this goal.

In year three, 2022-2023, we focused on question 2 of the PLC process, “How do we know if students have learned?” Through professional development and the help of Tom Schimmer, we developed a collective understanding on how to develop rigorous common assessments that accurately and reliably measure the standard at the standard level. We found that once common summative assessments were in place, our teams could backward plan and scaffold the teaching and learning process with formative assessments that were better measures of how students were grasping the components of the standards. Consequently, our instructional practices improved to match the rigor of the summative assessments. We also strengthened our instructional practices by establishing and providing professional development around four instructional norms: 1) building positive teacher/student relationships, 2) the displaying and reviewing of daily objectives, 3) the use of structured peer to peer interaction, and of course 4) common assessments.

As a natural consequence of refocusing our efforts and improving our practice on questions one and two of the PLC process, we also began to respond more effectively to questions three and four, “What will we do when students haven’t learned, and what will we do if they have?” This became evident in the transformation of our PACE tutorial period. Prior to this, PACE was not effective nor was intervention targeted, but now students receive targeted and timely interventions and enrichments, and in the upcoming year, our professional development will focus ever more keenly on training teachers on practices that will ensure the collaborative analysis of and reflection on student data from common assessments. These data discussions will ensure all teams identify the effective and ineffective teaching strategies that led to the results and prepare them to intervene on behalf of struggling students more effectively. In addition, students demonstrating proficiency will also be provided more enrichment opportunities.

It is clear that our commitment to learning as a staff has created a collaborative culture whereby teacher and student learning at high levels is now our collective focus, and the results of this learning are now apparent.


1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

At Marco Forster Middle School (MFMS), we monitor student learning through common assessments created by grade level content alike teams. Common Formative Assessments (CFAs) are administered first on the learning targets for each essential standard and subsequently on the entire standard as a whole. Student performance results are analyzed and discussed in an on-going and timely manner. Teams follow a structured data discussion protocol that guides them to determine the learning trends and patterns the data suggests, followed by a determination of which factors and teaching practices led to successes and which did not. The best instructional practices are then used in future tier 1 instruction and tier 2 intervention. The discussion culminates in an identification of the learning level for every student and a plan of intervention for struggling students (by name and by need). The designed intervention then occurs during our thirty minute, daily tutorial period, PACE (Practicing Academic Concepts and Enrichment).

It should be noted that every grade level content team agrees to administer the same version of a CFA in the same manner and agrees to the extent that pre-teaching of the material takes place. This ensures that student learning is measured with valid and reliable data and that each team can determine which teaching practices best support student learning across all classes.

The CFA process is also the driving force for making informed decisions about the next instructional steps. If less than 80% of our students meet a standard when assessed, teachers reteach (in the tier 1 setting) the concept or skill with a different instructional strategy agreed upon by the grade level team. If 80% of our students demonstrate proficiency, then those who are not proficient are retaught in our PACE intervention period, and tier one instruction in the regular class setting moves on to the next priority standard. “Student learning,” based on CFA data discussions, therefore is the foundation of our educational process rather than a mere focusing on “a coverage of material.”

Student learning outcomes on state tests have also been analyzed and discussed at school-wide staff meetings to determine which instructional practices are working best throughout the school. During one such meeting, it was suggested that student learning could be enhanced if we established vertical and horizontal articulation meetings where priority standards and instructional practices could be aligned throughout each department and across all subject areas. We have seen the benefits of doing so. For example, in one social studies vertical articulation meeting, the grade level teams aligned and scaffolded their summary and argumentative writing standards so that student learning could progress seamlessly from sixth through eighth grade. Another positive outcome resulted from our most recent horizontal articulation meeting where the eighth grade English team conveyed the distinction between the three main writing purposes 1) narrative, 2) informational, and 3) argumentative and the writing structure of a (CER) Claim Evidence Reasoning, which is not a type of writing but only one writing structure among many. Now each subject area reinforces these concepts across the curriculum.

Analysis of student learning and social-emotional needs, in conjunction with the support of our Student Support Team (which consists of teachers, administrators, and counselors), also allows us to provide appropriate intervention for students whose social-emotional needs may be impacting their ability to learn at a high level.


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

Our system of intervention is designed to provide students with a variety of academic support in three tiers. The foundation of this system is Tier 1 instruction (Great First Instruction) - which is designed to meet the needs of all students, including students with I.E.Ps., English learners, and students identified as Gifted. Tier 1 instruction is driven by objectives based directly from essential standards and written in the “Marzano Frame” - “Students will understand ___ and be able to ___” which ensures that both conceptual and procedural components of the standards are addressed. Instruction is also driven by research based instructional practices (i.e. like the incorporation of peer to peer structured interaction into each daily lesson). CFAs are then given to assess student learning, and if some students struggle, they are given the opportunity to learn the objectives through our Tier 2 tutorial intervention period (PACE). Teacher teams assign students to PACE (Practicing Academic Concepts and Enrichment) while conducting a data discussion on the results of their CFAs, completed after every CFA has been administered.

Our PACE tutorial is a thirty-minute period built into our daily schedule. It provides students with the opportunity 1) for exposure to concepts prior to when they are taught in class, 2) for re-learning concepts in which they struggled, and 3) for reassessing concepts once they are ready to demonstrate learning. Teachers assign students to PACE based on CFA results by stamping student planners on the date a student must attend. Since the PACE schedule is divided into five priority days, each content area is guaranteed the opportunity to work with struggling students at least once a week. Even students can request to be assigned intervention whenever they need additional support. The intervention class itself is taught by the teacher or teachers who received the highest level of proficiency on CFA results, while the other teacher offers an enrichment activity for students who have demonstrated proficiency. In this way, teachers carry a shared responsibility for all students (not just those in their own classes). Because this system requires vulnerable collaboration amongst teachers, a high level of trust and appreciation have resulted.

In response to the question, “What do we do when students have learned?” we have created PACE enrichment classes for students who are not stamped for intervention. Subjects that pique a student’s interest can be explored as an enrichment opportunity. Currently, students enjoy the following enrichment classes: playing in a Mariachi Band, participating in a mock trial, developing computer coding skills, becoming earth ambassadors, learning how to play chess, learning how to write in Japanese, and exploring literary themes presented in Twilight Zone episodes among others.

As for Tier 3 intervention, the needs of our struggling students (who are far below grade level proficiency) are provided either a math intervention class, a reading strategies class, or an English language development class as a part of their daily schedule. These classes are scheduled at the same time as electives so that students who demonstrate proficiency on priority standards can move out of the support class and into an elective class without a disruption to their overall schedule. These classes focus on building foundational math skills, literacy skills, and study skills. Our school counselors also provide social and emotional well being support as a PACE intervention class.

As educators and administrators at MFMS, we believe that a student’s academic, social, and emotional success is our responsibility, and we have designed PACE and our intervention classes to ensure that success.


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

At MFMS, we build teacher capacity as members of high performing collaborative teams through a cycle of continuous learning, where research based practices are implemented, their effectiveness in improving student learning is assessed, and the strategies that work are incorporated into daily teaching practice. This is done systematically in our grade level content teams who will often teach a standard in different ways (based on research based practices) and then compare the data results from the common assessment to determine which instructional practices were most effective in creating the highest degree of student learning. The teachers then make a commitment to implement the most effective strategy in future instruction and intervention. This cycle of learning has proven especially effective in integrating strategies and technology from our new teachers into the daily teaching practice of our veteran teachers and vice versa.

Of course the driving force behind our collaborative efforts is our commitment to respond effectively to the four PLC questions. It has only been in the last three years, however, that our clarity of vision on the process fully crystalized once we chose to revisit and refine our response to each question of the PLC process in depth each year based on continual research and practice. In so doing, we aligned ourselves more faithfully to the research based practices of the PLC process as described by PLC authors, consultants, and speakers like Dr. Anthony Muhammad, Mike Mattos, Dr. Luis Cruz, Dr. Douglas Reeves, Cassandra Erkens, Tom Schimmer, Ken Williams, Dr. Sharroky Hollie, Dr. Regina Owens, and Dr. Eric Twadell among others. Our team has engaged in numerous shared learning experiences through which we refined our understanding of what is and is not a PLC, and we rolled up our proverbial sleeves and began the hard work of systematically and collaboratively improving our response to each of the PLC questions, one by one.

We have also built teacher capacity through our Marco Teacher Academy (MTA), which provides workshops that support our teachers not only on the four PLC questions but also on our four instructional norms:  1) building positive teacher/student relationships, 2) the displaying and reviewing of daily objectives, 3) the use of structured peer to peer interaction, and 4) the creation of common assessments. Administrators, instructional coaches, and the ELD and SPED advisors, among others, presented after school workshops in these and related areas and topics to build teacher capacity and to work in collaborative groups.

All of these shared learning opportunities have also led to the formation of collaborative teams of motivated teachers willing to form both an “Assessments Taskforce” and a “Grading Taskforce” to assist the work of the “Guiding Coalition” and the PLC process as a whole.

Without question, we have benefited tremendously from building teacher capacity through considerable research, the PLC process, and our MTA workshops, enhancing our practices that ensure student growth and achievement. As it is our moral imperative to strive for and ultimately reach the lofty goal of “all students” meeting with success, we can now celebrate the considerable progress we have made in this regard, inspired to work towards and meet this goal in the near and foreseeable future.


California Pivotal Practice Award 2022 

California Golden Bell Award - Dual Language Program 2023 

Orange County California Teacher of the Year 2020, 2021