The Academic Leadership Year – The July Window – Part 1 of 4

There are lots of things for school leaders to do between the time students leave school to the time they return for the next year, and they are all important.

Some of these things relate to personal survival (e.g. vacation time, personal professional development, etc.). Many relate to management responsibilities of school leaders (e.g. building preparation, staff preparation, budgeting, etc.). Then, there are other responsibilities (that are sometimes pushed to the side because of the personal and management priorities) that relate to responsibilities of academic leadership. These academic leadership tasks are so important that when Ed Directions sends a coach into a school, their top priority is to get all academic leadership responsibilities moved to the front of the priority queue.

The Ed Directions approach to school improvement and school improvement planning emphasizes that academic and leadership planning should be the driver for developing personal and management plans. Our approach emphasizes that all planning and education should begin with defining what is expected of our students, and then determining their current status in relation to those expectations. All of our effort then involves planning to move all students from where they are to where they need to be, and then marketing the plan to stakeholders so that all members of the school community understand their specific role in improving students as learners and performers.

In many of the schools where Ed Directions has had coaches in place – school improvement plans have been based on a cursory analysis of test scores, and then a finalized by central office or school leadership regarding what changes in adult practice, materials, or strategies are needed in order to move students. In almost every case, these plans include activities for administrators and “research-based” training for teachers, and rarely was there a mention of what students needed to do differently to become proficient learners and performers.

We recommend than that early in July, academic leaders at the district and school level begin their summer planning by engaging in what our coaches call a “data dive.”

How this is done depends to a great extent on:

  • district and school “readiness” to spend time analyzing and linking data points
  • the accessibility of different types of data and on the flexibility of integrating elements from different “silos” in the district
  • school data management collections

In many cases, schools will have adequate data but the data is stored in discrete silos that are not easily linked to other data points. In other cases, schools have little data beyond district and state test scores. Our goal is to start the district or the school where they are, and help them locate or generate enough data to drive an intentional student improvement plan for the next school year.

In most cases the Ed Directions coach asks leadership teams to “rethink” their task. It is important that leadership teams recognize that their job is not to get teachers trained or order new materials. Their task is to move students as learners and performers.

The coaches, then, begin the summer planning activity with a review of the tested standards and the test that was developed to determine student proficiencies under those standards. This involves:

  1. unpacking the standards – determining the concepts, tasks, levels of rigor, and the “big questions” that are embedded in state standards. This establishes the minimum expectations of all students as they enter the year’s testing, and transition to the next school year or to the world of work. Failure to do this means that all planning and analysis will be accidental in terms of the standard.
  2. An analysis of the test – using the state test specifications and information packages to determine
  3. the number of questions/pages that will be included
  4. the types of questions that will be used, the weighting that will be attached to each type of question (multiple-choice, short answer, extended response, technology enhanced), and the complexity (number of thinking steps, level of thinking, reading level, etc.) of the questions
  5. the format/venue of the assessment (e.g. “clusters” of questions around reading, hybrid questions that involve critical reading and interpretation of data, distribution of heavily weighted questions, etc.)
  6. the “scoring” procedures that will be used to determine student and school proficiencies
  7. the length of the test/timeframe to determine required reading rates

in our process, Ed Directions coaches work through this process with leadership teams and then encourage those teams to use time at the end of the summer to facilitate similar activities for grade level and academic discipline groups. This is the first step in getting the adults to understand that schools cannot improve by focusing on scores as their driving data point. To improve schools and their scores we must improve the proficiencies of learners and performers, and this set of activities tells schools where their students are going and how the state will determine if they got there.

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