School Improvement in Action – Lessons in Sustainability

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Each of the six schools, received $25,000 to carry out a two-year research-guided intervention, to improve literacy or numeracy levels of students. Programs were developed in consultation with all school partners, and involved 50% or more of the students and staff in each school. Activities to improve student outcomes resulted in professional development, new teaching materials and resources, planning and collaboration time, articulated assessment and diagnostic processes, and innovative forms of data analysis and management.

In order to document the efforts and outcomes of the schools, SAEE contracted Dr. Cynthia Lewis to visit each school, assist in the development of a research-based intervention, monitor progress and write the final report. There were 3,800 students and 100 educators involved overall.

Lewis’ report School Improvement in Action: Lessons in Sustainability weaves together the findings from each of the six case studies, identifies successes and challenges, indicates strategies, and provides recommendations. Following the release of the report in November of 2006, principals and teacher leaders from each of the six schools gathered to share the results of their two-year projects in a SAEE sponsored knowledge exchange forum at the Delta School District resource centre.


The focus on understanding learning, together with the integral role of assessment, was clearly at the centre of efforts to improve student achievement in these schools. Assessment FOR learning became part of the school culture. A balance of school-based and standardized tools, including quantitative and qualitative data, disaggregated and tracked by cohort and groups of concern, provided the most powerful information for educators, students, parents and the larger community.

A key component of action research is the understanding that schools build capacity for improved student achievement when continuous learning becomes part of the school culture. In these case studies, meaningful collaboration was enabled through focused dialogue about diagnostic data, and about detailed samples of student work. The research shows that implementing instructional adaptations at the classroom level needs to be grounded in teachers’ own judgments and reflections about the quality of their students’ work. Teachers need to be supported as they “try on” new approaches and reflect on their effectiveness.

The report stresses that school success relied upon school leaders who provided structural and philosophical support, parents who were informed and involved with the process, and community services that were integrated and coordinated at the school level.


Harwin Elementary, Prince George

At Harwin, the staff conducted research into how to improve and elicit more writing from students in the younger years. More finely-tuned descriptors were developed by the staff in order to reflect emergent growth for their students. Portfolios were implemented, and writing samples were collected and evaluated collaboratively three times per year. Teachers used daily writing and a variety of direct teaching strategies. A school-wide guided reading program was implemented in the second year involving students from across classrooms who were grouped for level-specific reading instruction.

Parkside Centennial, Langley

Parkside was interested in a process of building student and parent understanding for actively using key reading strategies through the use of assessment rubrics for self evaluation. The interventions were multi-faceted. Collaborative time was dedicated to deepening understanding of assessment, establishing assessment tools, and implementing a set of four reading strategies (Predict, Clarify, Question, and Summarize). Additional interventions were adapted and implemented for the students most at risk.

Twelfth Avenue Elementary, Burnaby

The action research process initiated by the staff at Twelfth Avenue was in the area of reading achievement. Smaller, more flexible ability groupings for reading were formed across grade levels involving the learning support staff in order to form the smallest groups possible for the most at-risk students. Numerous levelled books were purchased and organized in bins. A peer tutoring program was established as well. Intermediate students read with Primary children and tracked their progress. Staff collaboration time focused on student groupings, instructional materials, assessment and evaluation tools, collective problem solving for processes and plans, and efficient and effective data gathering and analysis.

Armstrong Elementary, Armstrong

The action research proposal developed by Armstrong Elementary was oriented to building home-school literacy partnerships in the implementation of a balanced literacy program for all students. The strategies included the Write Traits writing program, the use of school-wide writes as assessment tools based on the British Columbia Performance Standards for Writing, and the implementation of the Four Blocks model. This included structured time in every classroom for guided reading, self-selected reading, writing and working with words (vocabulary, spelling and phonics).

Jarvis Elementary, Delta

The purpose of the action research grant at Jarvis was to support the K-4 staff to work together to unpack their own thinking about when and how mathematical “sense-making” is developed and implement instructional strategies to make this process explicit with students and parents. Detailed assessment data provided the baseline for the diagnosis of students’ strengths and gaps regarding number concepts in order to inform instruction and teachers’ collaborative dialogue. Several teachers piloted the integration of children’s literature and mathematical thinking. In Year Two, instructional strategies and interventions were refined in order to focus on students not yet meeting expectations and on promoting parents’ understanding. Data was used to assess learning each term, with the common understanding that “meeting expectations” on the report card means 100% attainment of core learning outcomes. The staff also developed a process-based model for parent workshops with special invitation to the parents of at-risk students.

New Westminster Secondary School

The first year of the grant’s budget was used primarily to release the original research team and the English Department to establish the reading assessment protocols. In addition, a teacher research team was formed voluntarily amongst the staff to engage in reflection about how to teach thoughtful reading and how to assess it. “Learning Rounds” were used as a structure for teachers to collaborate and observe instruction using new strategies and debriefing sessions. In Year Two, staff refined the assessment tool to increase authenticity, requiring students to reflect on their reading and thinking at the end of the assessment process. Teachers also added a qualitative element to data collection about their classes, in order to better adjust to individual classes, and share commonalities across the grade level and department. Time was dedicated to disaggregating the data, discussing overall trends, and specifics regarding groups such as grade cohorts, gender, ESL, Aboriginal, high achieving and at-risk students. In-service and “coaching” by the Learning Facilitator continued to refine aspects of critical thinking skills and task analysis. During Year Two, professional learning opportunities and small group work was extended to the ESL Department, the Social Studies Department, teachers of at-risk students and Special Education assistants.

School Improvement in Action: Lessons in Sustainability concludes with five recommendations for schools and districts at large. Lewis calls for more focused attention to the relationship between assessment tools, instructional interventions and student progress over time. She says that schools need to provide systemic structures for tracking the progress of individual students from grade to grade, level to level, and school to school. Also, she asserts that it is important to examine strategies for the involvement of parents and the community and to create innovative solutions for the problems of time and expectations around staff teamwork. Lewis also recommends that the principal’s role in ensuring instructional quality be more explicit.

To view or order this report please visit

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