Morton West High School

  1. PLC Story
  2. PLC Practices
  3. Achievement Data
  4. Awards
  5. Resources

In 2008 Morton West High School was filled with dedicated, knowledgeable and hard-working professionals who were all engaging in “random acts of school improvement.”  In 2010, several key district and building leaders attended the PLC Summit in Phoenix, AZ. where we engaged in much self-reflection and analysis of our current reality.  The district and building leadership then agreed the Professional Learning Community model was the best model to achieve systemic and effective school improvement. Today, in 2016, through years of professional development of administration, faculty and staff, I am proud to say that our school has successfully become a model PLC.

Although volumes have been written about what a model PLC is, I believe that Morton West embodies the definition and critical components of a PLC found on the All Things PLC website.  According to this source, a PLC is “an ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively, in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve.  Professional learning communities operate under the assumption that the key to improved learning for students is continuous job-embedded learning for educators” ( 

In order to accomplish this our district reorganized our meeting time and structure from one of departmental “sit and get” agendas to course level instructional teams that used their time to meet the above vision.  The work began with the articulation and consensus by our faculty that we would collaboratively work to answer the critical questions of a PLC.  Through vertical and horizontal articulation we articulated a viable curriculum that stated clearly what we expect our students to learn.  Through valid and reliable common formative, interim and summative assessments, teams of teachers analyzed their students’ mastery levels and examined their collective pedagogy to improve their effectiveness in the classroom and increase student achievement.  

In reference to Richard Dufour’s description of schools who abandon students if a student doesn’t “pass the test,” we are no longer the school of Pontius Pilate.  Learning is now focused on the mastery of the learning standards by all students through the adoption of a standards based grading system that uses an equal interval rating system (no “0”).  There is an expectation that when students do not learn, teachers will re-teach and students will be re-assessed until they are able to demonstrate mastery of the learning standards.  We have created a systemic intervention system for groups of students who are not meeting the learning standards.  These students are referred to our Reading and Math support teachers at the second level of our multi-tiered system of supports.  Tutoring after school with teachers, peer teaching and online credit recovery systems also support keeping students on track. On the other hand, students who easily demonstrate mastery of the intended learning outcome are continuously challenged to demonstrate exemplary work at a high level of rigor in each course through the guidance of our teachers.  In the end, our Model PLC continues to improve through the training of our current staff and the addition of new faculty who are increasingly more adept at collaborating around the use of data for improved teaching and learning.     

1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

Morton West and District 201 have undergone a series of significant district-wide initiatives to improve the ability to monitor student learning and provide timely, accurate feedback to students on their progress. The district has implemented standards based grading and reporting.  This has been a significant change from a point acquisition model to an equal interval scale indicating proficiency levels of learning. Through the implementation of standards based grading, teacher teams have re-examined curricula to identify the essential concepts of their discipline. Teams utilized assessment mapping to determine the key content and skills to be assessed and the appropriate method of assessment. Also, teams have refined their common course syllabi to reflect the changes.  In addition to completing common assessments, the syllabus communicates to students the critical assignments that students must engage with to demonstrate essential learning.  These collaborative commitments to improvement help communicate to students what they are responsible for knowing and how they will demonstrate the learning.

Through the use of the UbD process we clearly articulated “what we want students to know.”  Through the creation of valid and reliable common formative, interim and summative assessments and moving to a standard’s based grading system, we can more accurately measure and know whether a student has mastered a learning standard or not.  In order to aid in articulating “why” common assessments and standard’ based grading were advantageous to all stakeholders the district sought and presented research and resources to the faculty.  The entire faculty read Ken O’Connor’s A Repair Kit for Grading.  Administration and faculty attended a Solution Tree Assessment Summit in 2011 and discussed the opportunities and challenges of moving forward in our school.  One attendee’s observations from this Summit on April 11, 2011 is included here and speaks to the need for exposure to the research and the experts in the field.



Reeve’s and Gusky’s work on current grading practices that don’t accurately assess student learning or promote attainment of skill or knowledge

Offering professional development that builds teacher capacity to move away from these detrimental grading practices. 

Burke’s rubrics and checklists and Heflebower’s “proficiency scales” will give teacher’s appropriate assessments that encourage re-teaching and mastery, rather traditional methods of assessment

The biggest challenge here will be to find the time and the “experts” to facilitate increasing teacher ability in this area. 

Erkin’s work on using data from common assessments to more accurately identify students strengths and weaknesses

This is one of the major goals of our current PLC work.  We need the technology and programs to be at capacity, the curriculum to be written and a system of monitoring teacher activity toward achieving this goal.

 The district continued to provide these professional development opportunities to PLT members and also brought facilitators in to provide instruments and protocols.  A common assessment analysis protocol is included as well (see attached).  

 More reliable and valid assessment of our guaranteed and viable curriculum could not improve student achievement without the faculty’s ability and willingness to use this data to improve instruction.  After the assessments were approved (this is ongoing) by our district directors of instruction and the ability to use item analysis protocols to assess our instructional practice were in place, teachers began to collaborate more around instruction.  They asked, simply, what is working, what is not and why?  Now that we know what are students know and what they don’t, what do we do know?  The answer was and is, to reteach and reassess.  Along with a standard’s based grading system (see attached power point) our district implemented a “Re-do and Re-take” (see attached).  This was coupled with certain “required” assessments and/or student assignments which students must complete in order to pass the course.  No longer were we “inviting” students to learn, we now mandate not only the “completion” of required coursework, but that they demonstrate “mastery” of the coursework.  Teachers schedule time before, during and after school to reteach concepts before students re-submit coursework or retake an exam.  Many teacher utilize our new “Reassessment Center” whereby teachers send the assessments to our lab and students go during their Supervisory period or after school to complete the assessment. 

 This process, moving to a standard’s based grading system and the expectation that teachers re-teach and student re-engage in the learning process was articulated to parents and stakeholders through numerous parent presentation and communications (See attached Power Point). Today, students who have not demonstrated mastery of a learning standard, whether the work was not completed or did not demonstrate a level of mastery as defined by our learning standards, receive an “I” for incomplete in their gradebook until it is rectified through the relearning and reassessment process.




2. Creating systems of intervention to provide students with additional time and support for learning.

Morton West and District 201 have focused on the PLC question “What do you do when the students haven't learned the skill or concept?”  As a result, a multi-tiered system of learning supports is being implemented.  Morton is identifying three levels of support, especially during the freshman and sophomore years to ensure students are well on the road to graduation and post-secondary opportunity. The design of the action agenda supports teams to focus their work on the formative assessment data that they are collecting about students so that they can identify strategies that are effectively preparing students to demonstrate their mastery learning.  The team of teachers collaborate to strengthen the instruction and classroom intervention so that students have the best opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned at this first level.

The district continues to examine innovative opportunities for more classroom and small group supports. Curriculum teams have identified what students must know and be able to do in each unit and have scheduled time in their pacing to allow for intervention.  The district is piloting a model where the whole school engages in a systematic approach to enrichment and reengagement.  This model identifies students based on areas of needed reengagement and prioritizes those needs with specific teachers who will provide targeted support to those students.  Students who have met their expectations are also identified and are provided with enrichment opportunities to extend their learning. 


When students do not master a particular learning standard by the end of a scheduled unit of study, teachers work with groups and/or individuals to assure students reengage in the learning process and are reassessed until mastery is demonstrated.  Time is built into each teacher’s schedule for this purpose. The last class of the day ends at 2:40.  From 2:40 to 3:30, on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, students meet with their teachers for re-teaching and enrichment activities.  Once the teacher and the student agree that they are prepared, students then retake assessments or resubmit work to demonstrate mastery of the learning standard.  The existence of PLC’s has allowed this process to become more effective.  For instance, PLC’s in all levels of courses have collaborated to offer targeted assistance during this time for specific skills and concepts.  One or two teachers from a particular PLC may reteach a particular science lab, math concept or writing skill for a particular course in their room for all students taking a course.  In this way I can send my student down the hall to your room to work on her thesis statement for a document based question.  In the same way, you can send your students to my room to hone their skills in citing evidence and support for a DBQ.  This makes reengaging students more efficient and in my opinion, more effective because teachers can collaborate and agree on which skill they would like to target.  This type of collaboration is evident at our school and encouraged for all PLC’s.    

When the classroom level supports need to be supplemented with intensive learning supports, the school has implemented literacy and math labs. Students are referred to these labs for support in requisite skills over the course of a few weeks or an entire semester during their supervisory time.  In this model, students receive targeted support from the certified lab teachers in their areas of need so that they can build their skills.  Students can receive support for work in classes other than Engls or math during this time as well.




3. Building teacher capacity to work as members of high performing collaborative teams that focus efforts on improved learning for all students.

Morton West and Morton District 201 have woven the focus of professional learning communities into the fabric of who we are as a district.   For this reason, the district has committed to on-going investment in a multi-year professional development series to build capacity for leading and supporting highly effective teams.  Included in the professional development plan, Solution Tree experts have worked with administrators, lead teachers, team leaders and all staff to grow a deeper understanding of the components and functioning of highly effective teams.

After establishing PLT’s for each course, the building and district leadership teams planned professional development during the year and during summer in order to establish a guaranteed and viable curriculum.  Using the Understanding by Design model developed by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (Reference the UbD Overview Sept 17 2009) PLT’s were tasked with articulating the curriculum.  By looking at course sequences that started with the College Board’s advanced placement courses as our “keystone” courses, teams worked “backward” to see what students would need to know and do to be successful in AP Calculus, AP English Literature and AP Psychology in there senior year for instance.  What needed to be revised in our pre-AP courses to facilitate this?  This was a multi-year process that continues today as college and career benchmarks change and as the College Board revises their coursework and assessments.

Although instructional PLT’s had been established and work toward revising curriculum was underway, our PLT Kick off in 2010 provided all teachers with a clear vision and mission for our work.  PLT’s were given the “PLT Handbook” that held many of the documents and protocols provided to district leadership through Solution Tree professional development that we had attended over the past few years (See Attached PLT Handbook).  This document clearly articulated how and when the work of the PLT would occur throughout this and future years.  Among the critical questions, resources and research in the handbook, action agendas and a timeline of the PLT’s work was included.  We have implemented a system-wide PLC action agenda to better facilitate the PLC cycle.  Professional development focuses on supporting teams to fully understand how the SMART goal and the four critical questions are integrated into the PLC cycle. This first year used mainly institute time for PLT’s to meet and work.  As a result of knowing that the work of PLT’s must be continuous and ongoing, PLT’s now meet twice a month during Tuesday late starts from 7:55 to 8:55 am and after school for an hour twice a month in addition to their work on institute days. 

Additional Achievement Data

Through our hard work and dedication to support our students’ achievement, our successes culminated this past year through the honor bestowed upon Morton West and our sister schools by the College Board to be named Advanced Placement District of the Year.  We were recognized for our growth in the number of students taking AP courses while also seeing a rise in our average test scores as compared to less successful state and national trends.  This and other indicators of success can be seen in the addition of Dual Credit courses, increased graduation rate and trends found in our ACT achievement are evidence that the work of our Professional Learning Community is working for our students.

 Advanced Placement (AP)

Morton West High School has experienced an 81% increase in the number of students earning scores of 3 or higher on Advanced Placement tests from 2010 to 2016.  The district has also experienced a 157% increase in the number of students participating in the AP program district wide over this same time period.  This is counterintuitive and pioneering in addressing increased learning and success; as intuition would hypothesize that scores would decline as a result of increased participation.  Over the past 3 years:

Advanced Placement

Total Enrollment

No. AP Exams

No. Earning 3 or higher

% Scores 3 or higher

No. AP Scholars












































  •  Morton West High School has outpaced Illinois in the increase in students earning a 3 or higher by 29%
  • Morton West High School has outpaced Illinois in the percent of students earning a 3 or higher by 10%

  • Morton West High School has outpaced Illinois in the number of students earing AP Scholar recognition by 27%

 Dual Credit Courses

 Morton District 201 and Morton College have partnered to provide both dual credit and dual enrollment options for District 201 students.  This agreement allows our student to simultaneously earn college and high school credit for courses making their transition to the collegiate campus more seamless and increases the probability of graduating with a post-secondary degree greater.  At Morton West 9 dual credit courses are taught in the secondary setting and articulation ensures the same content and high level expectations for learning are guaranteed for both the high school and college student.

 Graduation Rate

Morton West High School has outpaced Illinois State 4-year graduation rate by 10% over the last four years and has increased 13% overall during this period.

Graduation Rate

4 Year Rate (%)


Morton West














                                    +13%            +3%          

ACT Performance

In an analysis of factors influencing the variance in ACT composite score performance three factors consistently demonstrate the highest level of explanatory power for suburban school ACT performance:

  •  the percentage of students who receive free or reduced lunches,
  • the percentage of students who are members of academically at-risk racioethnic groups (Black, Hispanic, and Native American), and

  • the percentage of adults in the district with at least a bachelor's degree (please note that such data are district-level and are not available at the school level).

    These factors explain the same amount of variance regardless of whether they are combined in a multiple regression analysis or used to create a single variable.  Either approach explains 93.0% of the variance in suburban high school ACT Class of 2012 composite score levels.

    Using these at-risk and education level data, a regression analysis model can be produced that identifies expected ACT performance based upon a schools at-risk level.  By subtracting the schools actual ACT score from the score explained by the model, we can determine the number of points the school's actual ACT performance is above or below expected ACT performance.  That computation can be used as another measure of school performance.

    The table and graph below indicate the position of Morton West High School relative to 149 public high schools with open enrollment in the Chicago metropolitan area which was 49% of the state of Illinois’ total public high school enrollment


District 201 School

2012 ACT Composite

2012 Expected ACT Composite



Morton West



+ 1.4


Morton East



+ 0.8


Morton West High School had an ACT Composite score demonstrating that, given student demographic preponderance of Hispanic and low-income students, students are learning and performing at a level above that anticipated given its student composition. 




College Board 2016 "AP District of the Year" for middle sized districts

Ranked 26th on the Washington Post's Most Challenging High Schools list

Debate Team, Junior Statesmen of America, won the 2014 "Chapter of the Year" for their activity in this year

Illinois PBIS Network, Silver Level recipient for schoolwide implementation of PBIS, 2013-14

2016 Let’s Move! Active Schools National Recognition Award