Continuous Improvement: The Essential Mandate

The final article in this series about our upcoming AdvancED visit deals with the very heart of learning—continuous improvement. AdvancED defines using results for continuous improvement as “the district and school implement a comprehensive assessment system that generates a range of data about student learning and district and school effectiveness and uses the results to guide continuous improvement.” Fortunately as a TAP district, Laurens 56 has annual school performance goals tied to literacy and numeracy. Unfortunately, assessments have changed over each of the last three years. Fortunately, trend analysis reveals significant increases in student graduation over the past five years and an overall decrease in the dropout rate (over that same time period). Unfortunately, the birth-to-four learning deficit is increasing among families with children in poverty. AdvancED has five indicators by which proficiency will be measured during their visit: 1. The district/school establishes and maintains a clearly defined and comprehensive student assessment system; 2. Professional and support staff continuously collect, analyze, and apply learning from a range of data sources, including comparison and trend data about student learning, instruction, program evaluation, and organizational conditions; 3. Professional and support staff are trained in the evaluation, interpretation, and use of data; 4. The district/school engages in a continuous process to determine verifiable improvement in student learning, including readiness for and success at the next level; 5. Leadership monitors and communicates comprehensive information about student learning, conditions that support student learning, and the achievement of school improvement goals to stakeholders. Laurens County School District 56 has been a TAP district for four years during which time annual goals are set, measured, and assessed by various achievement measures, including SC-PASS, ACT-Aspire, End-of-Course exams, the ACT and SAT, WorkKeys, and, this year, SC-Ready. Focus is far more concerned with student growth than absolute achievement. Our schools have earned notable commendations from the State Department of Education for their achievement in both the absolute and growth indices from both the state and federal accountability systems. Our district has a longstanding history with AdvancED (formerly known as SACS) and all schools have been accredited for some time. Further evidence lies in the annual program evaluations conducted as part of the TAP Program Review. The high school maintains affiliation with the SREB (Southern Regional Education Board) and the High Schools That Work initiative as well as numerous other subject-specific studies and professional development opportunities. Our early childhood center and elementary schools have undertaken a new series of assessments, DRA 2 and the Fountas and Pinnell Reading Inventory, to track student progress in reading and literacy. Teachers are working toward additional certification across all grade levels as part of the Read to Succeed Program. This new requirements mandate all teachers have an understanding and proficiency in reading and literacy regardless of grade level or subject taught. Continuous improvement is the hallmark of an effective and vibrant district. Accepting the status quo is in reality going backwards. Manufacturing and industry require constant attention to improvements, to tweaks in the systems, and to feedback loops and efficiency studies. We have made significant progress in many areas, primarily with the development and implementation of a systems approach. Attention to small details (like student attendance and early literacy) bear much fruit as students matriculate through the system. Although we may not be where we want to be, we certainly are insistent in making the continued gains to equip our students to compete with others for available scholarships, college admissions, and gainful employment. We work to excel in Laurens County School District 56. Why? It’s simple! Our communities, our county, state, and nation deserve a responsible, well-informed citizenry and workforce. We must do our part in making sure our children achieve to the best of their abilities. May it be so! (Dr. David O’Shields is superintendent of Laurens School District 56.)

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