Visit to Walnut Elementary School

Principal Aileen Wall has given presentations to the District Advisory Council (DAC) and the School Board about how she and her teachers have narrowed the achievement gap at Walnut Elementary School. They use a data-driven approach using test scores and trimester evaluations to identify students who need help on specific concepts. Mrs. Wall gave me a tour of Walnut on a recent Friday.

My first question to Mrs. Wall was how teachers responded to using an in-depth look at their students’ data to drive instruction. Something can be a great idea in principle, but if teachers aren’t eager for whatever reason to implement it, it won’t succeed.

Mrs. Wall described to me how teachers work with her in grade-level teams once a trimester to group (and regroup) students by skill level and decide which skills and concepts to focus on during small group instruction called target time. They research and identify proven curriculum to use during target time. Mrs. Wall is able to hire additional credentialed teachers for target time through Title I funds that are available because of the number of students who qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch. For students who are a little behind in their skills, target time gives them a chance to catch up. For kids who are bit ahead, it allows for enrichment and diving deeper into the grade-level concepts.

Mrs. Wall said that this new approach has really helped teachers develop a sense of teamwork and trust since they are all sharing common tools and can see that their approach is working. In addition to the trimester working sessions, they have time on Wednesdays to meet and touch base.

Mrs. Wall said that teachers were willing to try the new intervention model, and teacher-leaders helped design the implementation process.  Any preliminary fears were calmed once everyone saw the great results. She is able to have a staff person enter all the data from the trimester reports into a database they can all share. This relieves the teachers of having to do this and makes teachers more enthusiastic about using a data driven approach.

In addition to being able to hire more credentialed teachers, Mrs. Wall was able to use Title I funds to purchase a software program called Achieve3000. Like many educational software programs, it is able to gear its language and lessons to a child’s reading level. Unlike other programs, however, all the students in a class have the same lesson.  For instance, a lesson might be about ocean life. Teachers can teach the subject matter and talk to the students about the concepts while the material is tailored to each student. I was so excited to see that all students can participate in the same lesson at an individualized reading level.

I don’t mean to steal Mrs. Wall’s thunder. She can speak much more in depth about how, at Walnut Elementary, they are pulling together all these different educational practices to make significant improvements in students’ education. It is very exciting to see how she and her team are using a data-driven approach to provide each student with the instruction that they need when they need it!