This is our rallying cry in the school districts we serve. It’s where we want to go and how we want to get there. But it is more than a bumper sticker. Each word is intentional.
First, why Learning Gains?
Learning gains have a very specific measurable meaning in some states, but our use here is more universal. We are bringing focus to rates of learning rather than an absolute metric of proficiency or grade-level mastery.
One unintended consequence of many state accountability systems is that educators become hyper-focused on the state assessment score needed for students to “count”, to be “proficient”, or to be “on grade level.” As a result, students who enter a classroom 2-3 years behind grade level may be treated (and feel) like a lost cause, while those who are already testing above grade level are treated as “all set” and not sufficiently challenged to keep blossoming.
Teachers who are not yet equipped to differentiate Tier 1 instruction so that all kids are well served may be inclined to teach to the middle, at the level of the average student, which will inevitably disengage those students on the edges.
By focusing our goals and success criteria on student growth, two things happen–
- Teachers are released from the responsibility of what came before. Starting now, their job is to grow students as much as possible—a year’s material in a year’s time for those students who are already at or above grade level, and an accelerated pace for students who are behind.
- With time and persistence, grade-level proficiency follows growth.
Okay, so why 80%?
A foundational premise of the Response to Instruction (RtI) model is that Tier 1 instruction (defined in Wayne RESA guidance as “the core academic and behavior instruction with supports designed and differentiated for all students in all settings”) is resulting in 80% of students reaching appropriate academic benchmarks (e.g., demonstrating a year’s learning in a year’s time).
When the outcome of Tier 1 instruction is well below 80%, schools “should intensify their focus on improving Tier 1 instruction for two reasons: 1) buildings do not have the resources to intervene with a large percentage of students and 2) you cannot “intervene” your way out of core instruction that is not effective.” (For more on this, see article by Terri Metcalf at RTI Action Network)
So, we encourage our clients to routinely ask the question: “Is my Tier 1 instruction resulting in 80% of my students growing quickly enough?”
If the answer is “Not yet,” we help them identify which groups of students are currently least well served and reflect on what could be done differently within the core to accelerate their rates of learning.
When teacher teams are well-informed about their student growth outcomes and provided time, space, and support to routinely solve their own problems, they are far more likely to buy in to the resulting plan.
This is what we mean by “Teacher Led.”
It is a mindset that creates an environment in which teachers are empowered and encouraged to lead their own improvement.
And when they begin to see that what they are doing in the classroom is associated with increased rates of student growth, they start to believe that they are the difference makers. It is not blind faith or even the power of positive thinking. It is belief based in and reinforced by experience. This phenomenon is called collective teacher efficacy, which happens to be one of the highest-impact factors influencing student achievement.
If we are going to reach 80% Learning Gains, it has to be Teacher Led.