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Proposed Action Plan

Introduction and Data

School improvement is a constant, unending interaction between the shareholders of a school. In order to ensure positive improvement, according to Mike Schmoker, there must be a meaningful interaction between three primary concepts: meaningful teamwork; clear, measurable goals; and the regular collection and analysis of performance data (Schmoker, 1999). These concepts are each integral to properly monitoring and encouraging school improvement, which is necessary to produce desirable student outcomes. In order to ensure that these concepts are properly accounted for, a School Improvement Plan (SIP) is established. This helps establish a critical relationship between the arms of the school and defines the schoolwide approach to these relationships. 

The SIP is the first step for prioritization in improving the quality of education provided by the school. The improvement plan is structured in line with the school mission statement, using policies directed towards improving student outcomes, and use measurable data to ensure that the SIP is effective. It should include professional developments and a multifaceted, interdepartmental approach that involves all school stakeholders. In Xaverian, the lack of a centralized vision for the school gives no clear directive to the improvement plans. While there is an emphasis on modeling and practicing reading skills in the classroom, these programs are not centrally coordinated, and each student receives a very different literacy experience. This is due to the insufficient literacy infrastructure, which does conduct teacher professional developments to promote literacy initiatives in the classroom, but lacks a student-facing component that has a clear, shared vision and objective. A school needs a strong mission statement to coordinate all of the individuals involved in school improvement and give a more general framework for decision-making. In order to ensure positive improvement, according to Mike Schmoker, there must be a meaningful interaction between three primary concepts: meaningful teamwork; clear, measurable goals; and the regular collection and analysis of performance data (Schmoker, 1999). This school meets those requirements in individual areas, but without a shared vision, it will be difficult to promote shareholders interaction and improve the school in a meaningful, coordinated manner. 

While there are limited interdisciplinary summative assessments, there are other useful sources of data to indicate needs in this school. Standardized tests are a useful metric of comparative literacy, and on average, students at Xaverian score in the 63rd percentile on the verbal component of the SAT. This is well above the national average, and indicates that literacy is being appropriately emphasized in the school. This, however, only tells part of the story: while it is indicative that the students are relatively strong in their reading comprehension and literacy skills, it does not indicate whether the students are actually improving relative to the national average. To this end, I had to investigate their PSAT 9 scores and analyze student improvement between freshman and senior year. These scores still indicated positive results, although not as overwhelmingly positive as the initial numbers may appear: students entered Xaverian with a verbal score in the 61st percentile, according to their PSAT 9 results. This indicates that students are at minimum keeping pace with national improvement in literacy during their time at Xaverian, although we may not be maximizing their literacy gains. This is reflective of the overall approach to student literacy. While there is no central student-facing literacy team, and stakeholders have minimum involvement in Xaverian’s literacy initiative on the whole, there are resources available for students that are failing to meet minimum literacy standards. The school has a systematic process for determining when students need intervention or enrichment, and how those services are provided. These services are coordinated by the Dean of Students, and ensure that no student is allowed to fall behind on their literacy and academic goals. This portends an overall strength of literacy at Xaverian in line with the data presented above. While the school may not be maximizing student literacy, there are steps taken to ensure that no students are left behind. This trickle-up approach to literacy is effective in maintaining progress, but fails to maximize student potential.

Xaverian’s mission statement, as stated on the school website, is to be a Catholic, college preparatory school for students in grades 6-12, Xaverian is a thriving learning community that challenges its young women and men to fortify their faith in God, feed their intellectual curiosities, forfeit selfishness for Christian service, foster self-growth, and forge lasting relationships, ultimately shaping confident and courageous leaders. Our improvement opportunity is aligned with these goals. Our vision is to address literacy via both instructional programs and infrastructure, and use evidence-based strategies to create an environment conducive to interdisciplinary student literacy growth. Literacy is a strong indicator of college success, and as a graduate preparatory school, our students are expected to attend four year institutions. For this reason, we have selected providing evidence of the Investigate, Cite, Explain (ICE) method in 80% of classrooms. The ICE method produced a 95% student literacy rate when implemented correctly. Teachers are encouraged to utilize this method to produce stronger literacy results. 

In order to choose the literacy initiative from the five instructional improvement targets, we had to prioritize and balance differing needs of individual programs and students. When considering the core issues in our school, many stemmed from issues of literacy. Interdisciplinary connections, student engagement, and summative assessment results all have a common connection to literacy, and can be lifted by improving this common factor. Literacy is a chronic issue - when observing events at our school, it seems that collaborative, interdisciplinary literacy is an underlying structure that could improve student engagement and comprehension. This is a balance of both overall school needs and individual student needs, and systems thinking helped us find an initiative that can help both the individual student and the culture of the school as a whole. 

Objectives

Evidence of Investigate, Cite, Explain (ICE) in 80% of classrooms observed

Create a comprehensive, coordinated literacy program monitored by a literacy committee composed of teachers, administrators, interested parents, and community members

Initiate a collaborative. interdisciplinary literacy program that improves student engagement and comprehension as measured by standardized tests. 

Action Plan

The first strategy examined improving literacy skills through learning reading by writing: The iWTR method. A study by Genlott and Gronlund tried a flipped method of literacy improvement, by having students write to improve their literacy rather than simply practicing reading alone. This method also examined the collaborative nature of literacy, and whether that could lead to improved literacy outcomes. In this study, reading was greatly improved, but writing skills were improved even more (Genlott & Gronlund, 2013). The literacy initiative at Xaverian encompasses both of these skills. Additionally, the research presented here indicated that the method was effective for both high and low scorers, and that social interaction was critical in improving general literacy skills. In our school, one method that has been used in our literacy initiative is the ICE framework. ICE is a framework for student expression that is encouraged in every class in the building. Students are encouraged to justify a claim by investigating the background of that claim, cite relevant sources that provided the given information, and explain in their own terms what the claim is and the ramifications of that claim. This instruction is integrated in the classroom and taught across content areas, which promotes interdisciplinary literacy (Pearson et. al., 2010). This provides students with many opportunities each day to practice their writing skills, and differentiates between the many learning styles of the diverse learners in our school. It also serves as a form of formal assessment for teachers: students that are having difficulty with their ICE activities often have difficulty in the class at large. To this end, ICE serves as a formative assessment for teachers and a literacy for students. This multipurpose tool is a strength of the curriculum at Xaverian, and is the overarching component of a schooled instructional program in literacy. This study indicates that this program should be maintained or expanded, as it can positively impact overall literacy. 

In order to implement this strategy, a series of professional development sessions, led by Vincent Raimondo, will be held to initiate faculty buy-in. This will culminate in a series of pop-up professional development sessions designed by teachers currently embracing the ICE strategy. The literacy professional development incorporates many theoretical frameworks, including learner-centered principles, data-based needs, assessment strategy, and collaboration. The alignment of these goals with the activities presented should create a series of assessments that bond new and veteran teachers to create a collaborate, prosocial assessment system that is aligned with the mission of the school, while furthering their individual, differentiated edification. 

In terms of resources, there are no physical needs that are not already in place at the school. The school has a 1-1 student to device ratio, so implementing focused collaborative writing tasks should be straightforward. No additional staff will be needed to implement this system. Instead, we will need a commitment from the teaching staff and administration to support and establish the proposed dynamic. This will take the form of targeted professional development, which will be conducted at the school. The cost of this program would be minimal in terms of resources. The school currently has the capacity for professional development sessions on the instructional method, and no additional staff would be necessary to implement the strategy, although teacher buy-in would be essential to prevent an increase in cost or staff needed. The minimal cost and ability to complete the task with readily available resources is another advantage of the intervention proposed. This program can begin immediately, and would likely last throughout the next school year to ensure a lasting culture shift. 

Strategy 2: A Social Approach to Literacy

The next strategy concerns the impact of a whole-literacy curriculum, a social constructivist approach to literacy instruction. In our school, interdisciplinary literacy is considered extremely important, and this study was important in order to assess whether to continue this emphasis. In this study, a clear relationship was demonstrated between sharing writing with classmates and improvement in writing achievement. This indicates that there is a social aspect to literacy, and peer tutoring or sharing may improve student performance. Similarly, there was an improvement when whole-literacy curriculum was utilized. This indicates that literacy initiatives should be interdisciplinary and collaborative (Au & Carroll, 1997). While Xaverian currently does that, there may be merits to further centralizing this initiative in order to ensure that all departments and teachers use the same language and give assignments in line with this initiative. 

In order to improve literacy results, this program would employ Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies, or PALS. According to a study by Michael Parkinson, PALS significantly improves the examination marks in both the student and of the tutor (Parkinson, 2009). This supports the strategy that our team is proposing, as the goal is to improve the acuity of both the tutored students and of the tutors themselves. Ultimately, the goal is to make their academic studies part of their external social life, and promote students working together to deepen their understanding. PALS accomplish this goal by promoting development of academic skills in a social context. 

This ties to the second action that the program would promote, which is to promote internal motivation in the students involved. By making literacy a component of the student’s social interactions, the student should have an increased motivation in developing their skills. Students in PALS programs tend to enjoy the program, and see an increase in their own motivation regarding the target subject (Calhoon & Fuchs, 2003). Ultimately, if students start to care more about literacy outside of the classroom, it will improve their understanding and performance in every classroom. 

The guidance department would coordinate the PALS program, and it would have a minimal cost in terms of resources. Maria Pacheco, our head of guidance, would spearhead the initiative, which would need access to scheduling data and student incentives such as community service hours or a partnership with the National Honor Society. The resources, advantageously, would be minimal. 

Strategy 3: Implementing a Centralized Literacy Team

The final strategy explores this issue further. Xaverian does not have a comprehensive, coordinated literacy program monitored by a literacy committee composed of teachers, administrators, interested parents, and community members. There is no central institution that governs strong literacy practice in the school. Instead, it falls to the professional development coordinators and individual teachers to ensure strong literacy practices. This lack of a central organizing body dilutes the shared vision of the school stakeholders (Irvin, et. al., 2007). There is no school librarian, no after-school literacy program, and no community involvement in this program. This is limiting, as students who are interested in a topic area can only rely on themselves and their teachers to further their edification. Without a central organizing body, there are few summative common assessments for these students and programs. Without a student-facing literacy team, it is difficult for students to expand their horizons beyond what teachers are emphasizing. While the teacher vision is shared and clear due to the extensive professional developments on literacy, the onus is entirely on these teachers and students to strengthen student literacy. The results of this study indicate that a centralized program improve instruction and student learning, even when there is teacher turnover (Matsumura et. al., 2010). This indicates that we should establish a centralized literacy team to promote student learning. 

This will be the most resource-intensive of all of the strategies discussed. This dedicated arm will require the buy-in of the entire community, and a shared duty with the Principal’s office in order to permit access to student data and shared interdisciplinary data.  The goal should be to train and introduce this team by this fall. This will require the dean of faculty, Daniel Sharib, to coordinate and nominate team members to publicize this committee. The committee would be headed by the head of the English department, Steve Giugliano. 

Professional Development

Professional development can begin immediately, and should be team-focused. Teachers who currently implement these strategies will lead collaborative sessions on creative lesson planning and summative assessment-building for use by our centralized literacy team. In terms of resources, there are no physical needs that are not already in place at the school. The school has a 1-1 student to device ratio, so implementing focused collaborative writing tasks should be straightforward. No additional staff will be needed to implement this system. Instead, we will need a commitment from the teaching staff and administration to support and establish the proposed dynamic. This will take the form of targeted professional development, which will be conducted at the school. The cost of this program would be minimal in terms of resources. The school currently has the capacity for professional development sessions on the instructional method, and no additional staff would be necessary to implement the strategy, although teacher buy-in would be essential to prevent an increase in cost or staff needed. The minimal cost and ability to complete the task with readily available resources is another advantage of the intervention proposed. This program can begin immediately, and would likely last throughout the next school year to ensure a lasting culture shift. 

Monitoring and Evaluating the Plan

Success will be based on the effectiveness of these shared summative assessments, relative to the student results before the program was implemented. The program will be both a data collection method and itself a rich source of data on literacy. In order to ensure that literacy decisions in this school are made with comprehensive data in mind, a schoolwide literacy program must be established. This will provide a central hub of organized data. While Xaverian has done a great job at expanding literacy beyond just the english classroom, there are further steps to take to maximize literacy in the entire student body. 

Standardized tests are a useful metric of comparative literacy, and on average, students at Xaverian score in the 63rd percentile on the verbal component of the SAT. This is well above the national average, and indicates that literacy is being appropriately emphasized in the school. This, however, only tells part of the story: while it is indicative that the students are relatively strong in their reading comprehension and literacy skills, it does not indicate whether the students are actually improving relative to the national average. To this end, I had to investigate their PSAT 9 scores and analyze student improvement between freshman and senior year. These scores still indicated positive results, although not as overwhelmingly positive as the initial numbers may appear: students entered Xaverian with a verbal score in the 61st percentile, according to their PSAT 9 results. This indicates that students are at minimum keeping pace with national improvement in literacy during their time at Xaverian, although we may not be maximizing their literacy gains. This provides another method to monitor program success: comparing the current increase in literacy results to future results once the program is implemented. 

Conclusion

An action plan is an effective way to coordinate and implement an SIP. School improvement is a constant, unending interaction between the shareholders of a school. The SIP is designed to address and approach whatever weak areas a school suffers from. It is the first step for prioritization in improving the quality of education provided by the school. The improvement plan is structured in line with the school mission statement, using policies directed towards improving student outcomes, and use measurable data to ensure that the SIP is effective. It should include professional developments and a multifaceted, interdepartmental approach that involves all school stakeholders. Throughout this process, I have learned the advantage of collaborative teamwork with fellow staff. Working as a team helped us come up with a unified vision for the literacy initiative, and align this vision with the goals of our school and stakeholders. Combining many unique perspectives and experiences into a shared, cohesive vision is a difficult and rewarding task, that will improve our ability to meet content and performance tasks, as students are better served by a team that is familiar with their needs and provides room for collaborative input than they are by any top-down initiative. Collaborative leadership gives stakeholders a substantive role in decision making, and makes them  personally involved in the outcomes, which have a positive effect on the student body that they serve. 














References

Au, K. H., & Carroll, J. H. (1997). Improving literacy achievement through a constructivist approach: The KEEP demonstration classroom project. The elementary school journal, 97(3), 203-221. doi:10.1086/461862

Calhoon, M. B., & Fuchs, L. S. (2003). The effects of peer-assisted learning strategies and curriculum-based measurement on the mathematics performance of secondary students with disabilities. Remedial and special education, 24(4), 235-245. doi: 10.1177/07419325030240040601

Genlott, A. A., & Grönlund, Å. (2013). Improving literacy skills through learning reading by writing: The iWTR method presented and tested. Computers & education, 67, 98-104. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2013.03.007

Irvin, J. L., Meltzer, J., & Dukes, M. S. (2007). Chapter 5. Develop and implement a schoolwide literacy action plan. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/107034/ chapters/Develop-and-Implement-a-Schoolwide-Literacy-Action-Plan.aspx

Matsumura, L., Garnier, H., Correnti, R., Junker, B., & Diprima Bickel, D. (2010). Investigating the effectiveness of a comprehensive literacy coaching program in schools with high teacher mobility. The elementary school journal, 111(1), 35-62. doi:10.1086/653469 Parkinson, M. (2009). The effect of peer assisted learning support (PALS) on performance in mathematics and chemistry. Innovations in education and teaching international, 46(4), 381-392. doi:10.1080/14703290903301784

Pearson, P. D., Moje, E., & Greenleaf, C. (2010). Literacy and science: Each in the service of the other. Science, 328(5977), 459-463. doi:10.1126/science.1182595

Schmoker, M. J. (1999). Results: The key to continuous school improvement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.