Seasoned educators have a sixth sense about what works in the classroom.
At Carl Harvey Elementary School, in Santa Ana, California, the faculty of experienced teachers combine intuition with analysis of ongoing test results to determine students’ needs.
The approach works. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education named Carl Harvey Elementary a Blue Ribbon School.
Special education teacher Karla Ledon credits the school’s Data-Driven Instruction program for the school’s success. “We’re using weekly tests with some students, to see if what we’re using is effective,” said Ledon. “And I think that has created an immense knowledge for us as to what to use – because not every student is a cookie-cutter learner.”
All curricula start with assessments. At the beginning of the school year, kindergarten and first-grade teachers review the second-grade scores to identify areas of focus for future second-graders, according to Margarita Gest, kindergarten teacher. “There’s never a blame game,” explained Gest. “We ask, ‘Okay, what’s the next goal?'” Principal Teresa Stetler agreed. “We don’t have any lone wolves here. Everybody works together as a team. And we found out we can accomplish a lot more if we listen to one another, support one another,” she said.
Ultimately, Carl Harvey’s success depends on everyone – teachers, support staff, principal and parents – taking responsibility. Stetler, who started at the school as assistant principal, recalls earlier excuses for why students were not learning to their potential. “We tended to make a lot of window statements: ‘Oh, it’s because they’re second-language learners,’ ‘Oh, it’s because of their socio-economic backgrounds,’ ‘Oh, it’s because we don’t have the fancy computers.’ Now we’re making mirror statements. ‘What can I do to be able to have that child be successful? How can I change my instruction? How do I know I’m meeting the educational needs of that student?’ That was the big, major change – taking responsibility.”
Joe Barison is director of communications and outreach for the Department of Education’s Region IX office, based in San Francisco. He is a former teacher in the Continuation High School Program of the Los Angeles Unified School District.