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QTL News & Stories


What a Difference a Year Makes: Principal Names QTL Among Factors in High Test Scores
June 2006

One year after staff participated in QTL™, an Arkansas school records tremendous improvement in end-of-grade tests.

graphicTAYLOR, AR - A rural Arkansas elementary school has great reason to celebrate. They've defied the odds and scored impressive increases in student test scores. They increased the percentage of students who are 'proficient' or 'advanced' in math dramatically, and improved reading scores as well.

The good news comes less than a year after principal Karen Kay McMahen and her staff mapped out a plan for improving their teaching and boosting student achievement.

The first step was sending 15 teachers - almost the entire teaching staff - through the QTL program in June 2005.

McMahen, a former high school science teacher, says she signed up her staff because she wanted them to become more comfortable with technology, and she knew that was one component of the program.

"I was the type of teacher who did a lot with technology. We used smartboards, digital cameras, PowerPoint." she says. "So I had seen the success you could get from kids, and I was hoping teachers would become more comfortable with technology as well as learning research-based strategies.

"Did I get that? By far, yes I did. Our schools and students have reaped the benefit of it tenfold. Teachers are taking advantage of the things that were presented at QTL."

They're able to do that partly because McMahen arranged to obtain more software and equipment. Then teachers researched strategies for using those new tools to maximize student learning.

Research-based teaching and data-driven decision making played a huge role. McMahen says a major factor of this year's success was following a suggestion from QTL instructor Tamara McCulloch, to choose one area of weakness and focus on improvement in that area.

The Taylor Elementary staff examined student data and figured out that their students at every grade level had trouble with math. They decided to place a special emphasis on data analysis and probability - starting with kindergartners and going all the way through sixth grade.

"We knew that was an area of weakness for all our students," McMahen says. "We could see from data that it started in kindergarten, so we could see that either it wasn't getting covered or teachers didn't feel comfortable with it or students didn't grasp it because they weren't exposed to it enough."

So this year, they got a lot of exposure. The entire school undertook a recycling project with cell phones and ink cartridges. That project was incorporated into math and language arts at every grade level, and even into subjects such as science and social studies.

First, students distributed a letter to all parents, asking for old ink cartridges and cell phones. Kindergartners sorted and classified the items that were collected. First graders tallied them. Second graders graphed them.

In the older grades, teachers taught probability with questions like "What's our chance of getting a Lexmark versus an HP?" They taught medians and modes. Students weighed the donated materials to see how much would be kept out of the landfill, then projected how much the school would make off the project and what could be done with the money. Language arts students wrote poems and stories.

The collaborative project was a springboard for all of it, and picking ONE area of weakness was the key.

"That's what we did, and we saw success," says McMahen. "The increase for math was 37%. Literacy came up 8% overall."

The scores rose so much that the school not only surpassed what it needed to meet "AYP" (Adequate Yearly Progress), but McMahen says students are already at the levels where they were expected to be in 2009. "That's how far we came."

McCulloch says the Taylor teachers were at first hesitant to give up a week of precious summer vacation to go through professional development. But they quickly saw the benefits and showed real dedication.

"Their engagement in the program made it very successful," she says. "They took full advantage of the chance to apply the new strategies when they returned to school in the fall. I think you can see that attitude reflected in the higher test scores they recorded this year."

McMahen credits several factors for the higher scores. Teachers pay close attention to data to see how students are doing. They've devoted extra time and effort into building relationships with students - getting to know them and meeting individuals' needs.

taylor elementaryTaylor Elementary teachers Dedra Lyons, LaTrina Briggs and Chris Lucy collaborate on a QTL activity. Participating in the program go through the sessions in teams of three to five, and work together on collaborative projects that stretch across grade levels and subject areas.

"That was all from QTL," she says. "My teachers still say that's the best workshop we've ever done. We got to do some good research, we got to do some things as a group."

The collaboration with other teachers filled a special need in the school.

"We never get together as a group, K-6, and do a workshop. It's all pieces of a puzzle with people going to different trainings, and we never have time to bring the pieces together. But with QTL we were able to be together all day. It really makes a difference."

McCulloch says that teachers' can-do attitudes and administrative support made the biggest difference.

"If the participants don't follow through, it doesn't matter how good our program is," she says." They would not have had the success they've seen if they had not committed to working collaboratively in designing lessons that address the area of need as identified in the ACSIP (Arkansas Consolidated School Improvement Planning) Plan."

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