Houston County High School
- Number of Students: 1,935
- Percent Eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch: 27%
- Percent of Limited English Proficient: 3.7%
- Percent of Special Education: 12.3%
- White: 49.9%
- Black: 28%
- Hispanic: 9.5%
- Asian: 7.1%
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: 0%
- American Indian or Alaska Native: 0.2%
- Multiracial: 5.3%
- Other: 0%
In the summer of 2016, Houston County High School sent its first representatives to the Solution Tree conference in Atlanta, Georgia. For several years, Houston County High had been gradually embracing the idea of common assessment and using data to make decisions, but it never really caught on with a good portion of our faculty because it seemed like a lot of extra work with no real benefit or purpose. When we attended Solution Tree’s conference, it led to a total mind shift about what our job really is. We were all very excited because we finally had the reasons and research to unite our school in purpose and practice of common assessment as well as the resulting benefits of their implementation.
Educators across America use the barriers and excuses, “We don’t have time for that,” and “How are we going to pay for that?” when we do not know how to help all kids learn at high levels. Realizing that Professional Learning Communities were a vehicle and not a destination allowed us to understand how our school could do the things that were best for students with the staff, resources, and time we already had. In actuality, this process is a lot of work; however, through functioning Content Area Teams (CAT), no one teacher has to do it by themselves. Thanks to the real-life examples and testimonies of Luis Cruz and Anthony Muhammad, we now knew we could collaborate through each CAT and reach all kids. It was the beginning of HCHS’s belief that “All Means All.” Over the course of the next year and a half, we ensured that every teacher was in a CAT through alignment of the master schedule to provide common planning periods throughout all academic contents. The process was introduced to the faculty and steps were taken in creating norms for faculty meetings, leadership meetings, and individual CAT meetings.
Collaboration with other schools in our district and our district office led to the creation of a set of priority standards for every Content Area Team. In the Fall of 2017, a different group of school representatives attended a conference in Tampa and returned with ideas for implementation of remediation, intervention, and enrichment during the school day, which was enlightening for that group. Each CAT was functional and ready to take the step of implementation of this type of program, but they lacked guidance on determining how to best reach all students who needed assistance.
In order to facilitate the culture of continuous growth and improvement in our school, we built the PLC process by determining our current level of success and our areas of necessary improvement. A crucial element in initially defining this current level of functionality and areas of improvement was the review of the article “One Step at a Time” by Parry Graham and Bill Ferriter. This work delineated the seven levels of operational efficiency as a PLC. Our staff was required to read and study the article, identify the elements that were currently in place in their Content Area Team, and establish their current numerical stage. This provided our teachers with measureable objectives on which they could determine areas of focus for their instruction and requirements for intervention and remediation for their students. Once each of our groups understood the areas in which they were insufficiently performing, their individual CAT could begin to develop a plan for growth. The plan consisted of a requirement of meeting frequency for each content team, a consistent emphasis on the four key components of instructional planning and delivery, and a focus on the “backwards by design” model for creating assessments and using them to influence mode, method, and depth of instruction.
This process ensures that teachers and staff are continually focused on instructional improvements, using data to determine effectiveness of instructional delivery, depth to which the instruction is provided, and effectiveness of assessment questions. Content Area Teams are required to compile individual teacher data to be analyzed by the team and then compare data from the same assessments in previous years. Additionally, alignment of instructional standards and assessment questions with statewide milestone assessments allows the data to be reviewed in a way that positively effects the school rating as determined by the state department of education. The implementation of frequent required data analysis for both formative and summative assessments in every content team has made the largest impact on our school’s continuous improvement through the PLC process. According to our school’s performance measures over recent years, student growth and achievement have increased and we have significantly closed the gap for underperforming subpopulations. Informing our teachers and staff of our students’ success in these measured areas influences them to continue to grow in the PLC process and strive for greater gains in student achievement.
1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.
As part of the PLC process, each Content Area Team (CAT) at Houston County High school uses the four guiding questions as the basis of all PLC-related work:
- What do we expect students to learn?
- How will we know when they’ve learned it?
- What do we do when the students have met the learning target?
- What do we do if they do not meet the learning target?
During the discussion of the first question, each CAT, along with district employees, worked to establish priority standards for each content taught in our school. The determination of these priority standards establishes a guaranteed and viable curriculum for students. Regardless of the teacher to whom they are assigned, all students will be exposed to the same prioritized standards that guide the classroom instruction.
For each CAT to function as successfully as possible, common planning periods have been established for each member of the Content Area Team. Common planning periods allow each CAT to meet the school-level requirement of collaborating at least once each week; however, many Content Area Teams meet multiple days during each week. During this common planning time, each CAT works to design common formative and summative assessments and then create the instructional plan needed to achieve each learning target. This “Backwards by Design” strategy is used by each CAT and contrasts the traditional model of lesson planning. After instruction and assessment occurs in the classroom, the CAT reconvenes in order to analyze the data from said assessments by student, by standard. Common assessments are vital to the successful functioning of the CAT, as their results address the second question above. These common assessments also allow the team to have tangible information about the strengths and weaknesses of both teachers and students. Teachers then become the students during the collaboration process, learning strategies from their peers for improved instruction and further guaranteeing consistency in our curriculum implementation.
At Houston County High, processes have been implemented for all content areas to develop their individual assessment data summary sheets for students to use in analyzing their own knowledge. The students use their data analysis summaries, which are aligned by priority standards and learning targets, to determine their areas of strengths and weaknesses on common formative and summative assessments. Examples of formative and summative assessments that are used in order to ascertain the strengths and weaknesses of our students are exit tickets, visible thinking core routines, second chance mini-quizzes as well as formative and summative quizzes and tests. These summaries help the students make a plan of action for their own learning and success. Between both the teachers and the students, plans are implemented for EACH student to ensure that student reaches success in each standard (“by student, by standard”). In a timely manner (normally 3 to 4 days), the students are afforded two days embedded in the school day each week, called BEAR Time, to choose or be invited to participate in different intervention, remediation and enrichment sessions. Each collaborative team provides tutoring times before and after school during the week for students to improve in identified areas of weakness.
2. Creating systems of intervention to provide students with additional time and support for learning.
Remediation and Enrichment opportunities are provided in a time of extended learning known in our building as Beneficial Enrichment And Remediation Time (B.E.A.R. Time). This initiative allows teachers to have additional time during the school day specifically for remediation, intervention and enrichment. Initially, the B.E.A.R. Time program met once per week. In March 2018, Mike Mattos presented on PLC topics for our district professional learning and our school leaders had the opportunity to sit with him and discuss our school’s processes and successes. Mr. Mattos emphasized the importance of our remediation time being provided more often than once per week. Therefore, we created an alternative schedule that explicitly devotes 40 minutes to remediation, intervention and enrichment instruction and activities every Tuesday and Thursday. During their common planning as Content Area Teams (CAT), our teachers use the four PLC guiding questions discussed earlier as the basis for their planning of instruction/activities to be provided during the additional time. The teachers focus on what instruction to provide when the students have met the learning target (enrichment) and what instruction to provide when students have not met the learning target (intervention and remediation).
After both informal and formal assessments, teachers analyze the data in conjunction with the student assessment data analysis summaries to determine the sessions they need to offer during B.E.A.R Time to address student needs. Teachers divide the sessions based on the needs of student as determined by the data as well as the teacher’s strengths. When looking at data, the Content Area Teams select the teacher with the best assessment results in a given priority standard to lead the session for remediation or invention on that standard. Students are then informed of the sessions being offered for the upcoming week by the posting of a B.E.A.R. Time schedule to the school website and posters in the school hallways. They are able to attend any session available on the schedule unless they have been assigned by their teacher to attend a specific session based on their needs. The school assigns the four core contents, as well as foreign language, a content priority day to ensure students do not have an overlap of session to which they have been assigned and can meet all of their remediation needs.
3. Building teacher capacity to work as members of high performing collaborative teams that focus efforts on improved learning for all students.
High performing collaborative teams require strong teacher leaders to ensure their continued effectiveness in the PLC process. The HCHS administrative team had the opportunity to attend sessions of professional learning led by Dr. Jasmine Kullar that further emphasized that strong teacher leadership is the key to success. Information presented by Dr. Kullar led to continued growth of our teacher leaders through the implementation of book study (Crucial Conversations, by Kerry Patterson, et al.) and application of leadership traits in each Content Area Team (CAT). Monthly meetings with our teacher-leadership team provided them with the necessary tools for professional accountability and continued growth.
Once empowered with the necessary tools and effective leadership, our teachers in our collaborative teams began to work competently and see positive results. Teacher teams could then evaluate assessment data efficiently and effectively using templates and suggested methods provided by other high-performing teams. This work ensures that students receive timely feedback on their learning in addition to their own data analysis work. Students are invested in their learning, as they track their mastery of the “I can” statements that drive our instruction. Oftentimes, our teachers determine 2-3 learning targets requiring remediation or enrichment per week. In their content-level teams, teachers decide who will host each session of remediation or enrichment about those learning targets.
Sometimes, teachers use provided data to determine students nearing the next achievement level on the state milestone assessment. One teacher may host the students that we want to move from beginning learner (Level I) to developing learner (Level II); another may host the students that we want to move from developing to proficient learner (Level III); and another would host the students that we want to move from proficient to distinguished learner (Level IV). These intervention and remediation groups help targeted students who are identified by the data to be within a given margin of increasing their level of proficiency in the course. In both the specific learning target groups and the milestone assessment targeted groups, the students may be assigned to a content teacher that is not on their regular daily schedule but who is assigned to meet their determined needs. These grouping strategies and B.E.A.R. Time processes demonstrate Houston County High School’s “all means all” mentality.
Houston County High School was presented a Single Statewide Accountability System (SSAS) award by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA) for 2019. This award is presented in collaboration with the Georgia Department of Education. Houston County High won the Platinum Award in the Greatest Gains Award category. This is the school’s third consecutive SSAS award. The Platinum Award is the highest award given from the Governor's Office of Student Achievement.
As a 2019 Platinum Greatest Gains Award recipient, Houston County High is one of only 6 high schools and one of 27 K-12 schools in Georgia to receive this honor. To be considered for any award in the Greatest Gains category, a school’s three-year average must be in the 93rd percentile or above. To attain Platinum recognition in the Greatest Gains category, a school must earn a three-year average College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) Score that ranks in the 99th percentile. The 2019 awards are based on CCRPI data from the 2016-2017, 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 school years.
This award recognizing increase in student achievement directly correlates with our full implementation of the PLC process and the professional development we attained through Solution Tree. Our teachers believe that “All Means All" and are passionate about their work; we believe all students can learn and be successful. Our goal is to make sure that everyone is successful; this is only accomplished by working together and having the same vision throughout the Professional Learning Community process.