Where are they located and
what do they have in common?
by Tiffany Anderson
The lessons from the 90/90/90 schools are consistently clear. There is no secret ingredient, it is a plan to follow the steps outlined that work, a focus on the goals, and a commitment to improved performance.
While many schools struggle with minority achievement, it is a fact that schools nation wide have consistently demonstrated high achievement and score at the top of their state. The ingredients to excellence used are a mixture of good teaching, an aligned curriculum, and high expectations. High performance is no secret; however we consistently act as if high minority achievement is impossible. Given the foundation starts in elementary school, and elementary schools make up the majority of the schools systems, I have focused on elementary schools within this text. While all 90/90/90 schools share the four characteristics, the secondary implementation looks very different due to the requirements of courses, points, scheduling and college preparation. If middle and high schools are closely aligned to build on to the offerings in elementary a solid foundation can be built for students. In an effort to bring greater attention to the schools who have dispelled the myth of low minority achievement being common place, I have outlined the research on what is common in these elementary schools and listed the schools from which educators can learn.
When high performance occurs in minority schools, skeptics may dismiss the performance results as an anomaly or a result of a new administrator who has higher standards. While the administrator is part of the solution, a system of improvement is also equally improvement for sustained consistent high achievement. While small systems which have improvement may be less notable, large systems which demonstrate improvement in many schools are examples of a system being used to improve performance. For the purpose of the information highlighted, two school districts that have been highlighted nationally are used to highlight the commonalities high performing high minority schools share.
In research conducted by Douglas Reeves, he outlines the five characteristics that 90/90/90 schools share. According to Reeves, despite the fact that 90% of the students are free or reduced lunch eligible, 90% of the students are an ethnic minority, and 90% are achieving in the top 10% of the district and state standards, these schools have common characteristics.
Reeves outlined the five characteristics 90/90/90 schools share as follows:
Houston a district with 210,000 students and 300 schools has demonstrated that student achievement consistently can rise across a district that is spread over 300 square miles. Only 10% of the student population is white while 32% are African American and 55% Hispanic. More than 75% of the students qualify for free reduced lunch. The Texas Assessment of Academic skills rated 66 of the schools as exemplary in performance.
Houston began involving the community in having a focus on achievement, understanding where the district currently performed, and identifying goals in improving. Disaggregated data was shared with the school and community, scores were posted in schools, and committees were organized around the issues of achievement. The school improvement plan was posted on the district website and placed in accessible locations for all schools.
Resources and priorities were changed to support school achievement. Houston formed a decentralization committee that reassessed the budget and identified funds in the general operating budget to move to schools to support achievement goals. The emphasis was on equitably funding schools using a student weighted formula allowing for schools to be funded based on students needs. The decentralization committee is comprised of central office staff, principals, and community members. The model supported allocating staffing resources based on student needs. Through shared decision making, non Title I funded programs were examined and decentralized according to what programs had few gains. This process allowed the district to reallocate $5,000,0000 to schools.
Houston implemented a project called CLEAR (Clarifying Learning to Enhance Achievement Results). The project clarified what is to be taught and assessed, and it aligned the curriculum to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. Project Clear is a tool for teachers to enable them to closely follow the districts curriculum, and have access to various assessment tools supporting what is to be taught and tested in the district. Teachers are given laptops with project Clear materials on it to enable teachers to use the resources and have web-based curriculum resources accessible at all times. The Learning and Leadership Academy collaborated with the district to provide curriculum training through Project Clear.
District area superintendents began closely monitoring the schools by area. Schools were formally assessed by the district supervisor every three months while ongoing assessments were done within each school. Administrator discussions around data and assessments being used by schools were held, making each administrator accountable for understanding data and assessments being used. Ongoing district assessments requiring frequent writing was implemented and an external scoring system was used allowing districts to use the data throughout the year to improve instruction.
The Boston Public Schools have demonstrated consistent improvement through careful planning with a clear focus on student achievement. Only 15% of the Boston Public School students are white, 47% are black and 30% are hispanic. 74% of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Bostons 139 schools have over 60,000 students in attendance.
A focus on rewriting the curriculum was one of the first steps in Bostons reform model. Boston developed a citywide plan in which national standards framed the standards of the district. A uniform set of district standards that aligned with state standards represented the best possible outcomes nationally, and held the district to a higher expectation of performance. Identified benchmarks allowed for continued assessment and monitoring of performance at all schools. While the state standards identified what students should demonstrate at the end of benchmark grades, the Boston Public School System identified in great detail what students should demonstrate at each grade level with an emphasis on core reading and writing performance objectives that were to be accomplished at each grade level.
Assessments were continuous through the Boston Public School teacher created assessments, and dialogue across the district enabled teachers to identify scoring guides that supported their assessments. Graduation portfolios were an additional requirement that required schools to collect specific student products that further demonstrated mastery of objectives.
The two schools briefly described are examples of the basic elements at work that create environments for high student achievement. Large school systems have demonstrated that high achievement for minority students can happen and more importantly they demand that it occurs. Even when over 60% of the students are scoring at high levels, the districts call for further school higher improvements each year. Each district implemented a clear vision aimed at high achievement, designed a curriculum that focused on writing and reading, and used assessments that were ongoing and required external scoring of student work.
Achievement gaps can be eliminated successfully by learning from the success of other districts, and there are many successes in which we can learn. Reeves states in his research that 90/90/90 schools do not have specific programs that they all implement, there is not one reading program or reform model; however the characteristics described from high performing high minority schools are a base from which we can all grow.
The following are schools performing at the top 10% of the state with over 75% minority students. The list can be obtained from the Dispelling the Myth Educational Trust website, www.edtrust.org.
Published in In Motion Magazine December 5, 2004.
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