Onalaska Middle School

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

Since the dawn of our school district, the emphasis had been on teaching, not learning.  Seeing as how we were an affluent suburban district with little diversity, this approach served our community for decades.

Approximately 12 years ago, we recognized that our students were no longer reaching the heights of academic achievement that they were a few years earlier.  Our student population had more learning needs than before yet our approach was still, “I taught it. it’s their job to learn it!”

Attendance at a PLC Leadership Summit by a few administrators helped us catch a vision that would change that cultural mindset. At that moment, our Superintendent told our entire district that we would now be operating as a Professional Learning Community.  That meant that student learning would be the primary focus and that the staff in the district would be responsible for the learning of our students.

We started this journey by sending all of our administrators to the PLC Institutes, followed by  teams of teachers and teacher leaders. Every single person returned with a basic understanding of the four questions that drive a PLC: What do we want students to know?  How do we know when they know it? What do we do if they don’t learn it? What do we do if they already know it?

As a building we established our mission: To ensure learning for all.  This, too, was a huge mindset shift - ensuring that all means all. Every staff member was, and still is, required to understand what this mission means.

When we started, we had like-grade level and content teachers teaching very different topics, emphasizing what they liked or thought was important.  We quickly brought teacher teams together, gave them ample common collaborative time. In addition, teams were given release time or summer curriculum time to work on essential learning outcomes and targets as well as common assessments. Today, many of teachers work so closely with one another that they are comparing notes between class periods.

We created a 40 minute daily intervention/enrichment time that was named after our Hilltopper mascot, Topper Time.  In the beginning, teachers were given autonomy to determine what to do with this time. With that autonomy, they struggled to really identify on what to intervene.

Additionally, we examined our schedule and discovered that we did not have enough time in our classes to best meet the needs of our students who needed Tier II and Tier III interventions.  We moved to a block schedule that allows for ample amount of time for all levels of instruction.

We saw some modest growth with our students when measured by district benchmarking assessments and state standardized tests.  Then, this growth plateaued. While the percentage of our students who scored proficient and above exceeded the scores of students in neighboring districts and the those in our state, we were seeing significant gaps of students in subgroups and in overall achievement as well.

We had everything that we needed, but we struggled to figure out where to go next.

Seeing the need for additional adult learning, our District Office brought Tim Brown, Eric Twadell, and Luis Cruz in to work with our entire district over the course of one school year.  Due to time and turnover, this was the first time for a lot of our staff to hear from Solution Tree’s best about the PLC process.

The following year, our building had the unique opportunity to work with Joe Cuddemi from Solution Tree.  With his help, we have improved all of our practices and procedures by examining and assessing everything we do.  We have improved our ability to build consensus with our staff, and found better ways to study topics together and implement what is best for students.

Perhaps most importantly, we have better defined what collaborative teams should do by working on The Work of Collaborative Teams.  By identifying what is essential and guaranteeing all students will learn those standards, now, more than ever, we are on our way to ensuring that all students learn at a high level.


1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

Initially, we began monitoring student learning using district benchmarking assessments.  However, this triannual screening assessment proved to be extremely frustrating and didn’t result in improved student learning. It was too broad to help determine what students know and can do, and what specific instruction they might need to improve.

Our teams have now identified which standards are essential by examining for readiness, endurance, state assessments, and leverage. We are unwrapping the REAL (Readiness, Enduring, Assessed, Leveraged) standards to write learning targets, and determine how to to assess the targets. These are what we will use to monitor student learning and create interventions and enrichments.

Teachers monitor students’ achievement level on those targets and standards by meeting at a minimum of every other week to look at formative assessment data.

Our TAPS (Team Approach to Problem Solving) team, which consists of counselors, administrators, school psychologists, and social worker oversee the RtI system/philosophy in the building and ensure that all criteria is begin met at Tier I and Tier II prior to moving a student to a Tier III intervention.

Our grade level teacher groups have criteria and filters for discussing students at bi-monthly grade level Student Concerns meetings.  At these meetings teachers work together to put plans in place to ensure that students are meeting the required essential learnings, getting the social emotional support they need, intervening on any behaviors, and addressing any other concern that teachers are noticing.


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

By focusing on what is essential, we have moved towards a much more focused and specific academic and behavioral intervention system:

  • With the emphasis on what is essential, it has forced us to explore and improve upon our own teaching strategies and techniques making Tier I comprehensive.

  • We have made a significant push to ensure that all students have access to Tier II instruction within their block, taught by the classroom content teacher.

  • Our intervention time or Topper Time, allows for students to have access to additional Tier II or Tier III instruction based on the essential standards.  Every student has access to all three Tiers every day.

  • All Tier II instruction is taught by licensed content area teachers e.g. ELA, Math teachers

  • Tier III interventions are taught by a Reading Specialist

  • Weekly meetings with our Reading Interventionist, School Psychologist, and Principal ensure that students are on track and receiving all resources necessary.

  • Our TAPS (Team Approach to Problem Solving) team, creates “Academic Success” Plans for students who have demonstrated a great need.  

  • TAPS (Team Approach to Problem Solving) team systematically identifies which students need Tier III interventions by using the right information to best target each students’ needs.

  • For students who demonstrated proficiency, teachers created cross curricular research projects that allowed students to pursue a passion that was connected to both essential and supporting standards

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

    • District wide training on Professional Learning Communities with Tim Brown, Eric Twadell, and Luis Cruz

    • Year-long, school specific training with Joe Cuddemi, Solution Tree Associate

    • Self-assessment by collaborative teams using The Work of Collaborative Teams (Adapted from School Improvement for All)

    • Administrator created “Plans of Action” for each collaborative team based off of The Work of Collaborative Teams self and administrator assessments

    • Daily common collaborative time built into contractual day

    • Required SMART goals per unit of learning and year

    • After several years, the Guiding Coalition is focused on the correct work of monitoring systems within the building and supporting collaborative teams as they pursue the Plan/Do/Study/Act cycle and higher levels of achievement for all students.

Achievement Data Files

Additional Achievement Data

After the committee's review, we uncovered an inconsistency with our state achievement test data. When originally obtained from our state's portal, the data was filtered to select only Middle Schools, rather than selecting all students grades 6-8.  This has uncovered a slight difference in the state's data originally submitted.

There was a question from the committee regarding the achievement levels of our students on the English Forward Exam (Wisconsin's state exam) in 8th grade over the last couple of years.  While the perentage of 8th grade students who demonstrated proficiency did decrease by 10% from 2016-2017 to 2017-2018, the state scores also dropped.  Additionally, if one were to follow that cohort of students from 6th through 8th grade, one would see overall growth for that group of students. 

  • PBIS Tier II School

  • Exceeds Expectations/4 Star School - Wisconsin Department of Instruction School Report Card - 2010-2018

  • 2018-2019 Excellence in Partnership Award from University of Wisconsin: La Crosse