What Texas port teaches DowagiacPublished 10:11am Wednesday, January 27, 2010
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
Dowagiac Middle School Principal Mike Frazier and Union High School Principal Paul Hartsig Monday night updated the Board of Education on the Brazosport, Texas, student achievement project.
“We are working now in groups with every high school” in Cass County, Frazier said during their presentation at Patrick Hamilton Elementary School.
Both schools are involved in a three-year commitment to study, plan and implement the PDCA instructional cycle and its eight-step process incorporating other best practices.
This model is taught and mentored by Patricia Davenport through the Education Initiative of the American Productivity and Quality Center.
This model is based on the premise of Edward Deming, considered the father of quality control, in his “14 Points,” and in his famous four-part improvement cycle, Plan-Do-Check-Act.
This business model was used to bring about necessary and dramatic climate, attitude and achievement gains in Davenport’s Texas school district.
Both buildings sent teams to the initial week training in August, along with other schools from Cassopolis, Edwardsburg, Marcellus, Niles and Lewis Cass Intermediate School District.
From this training, teams returned to their buildings with tasks to accomplish with each staff.
They return to training two more times this year, report out on their accomplishments, learn some more and return to the buildings with more tasks to tackle.
“I want to take you back to a school board meeting in 1991 in Brazosport, Texas,” Frazier said. “It’s a Gulf Coast town divided by a river. Two hundred came to the meeting that night and asked the board and superintendent why scores in the northern part of the district – north of the river – were so good, but scores south of the river in the less-well-to-do area are absolutely pathetic and among the worst in the state in the same school district?”
Frazier said the Brazosport education community turned to its largest employer, Dow Chemical, and asked, “What do you do to control quality?”
“Deming is like a national icon in Japan,” Frazier said, “because his job after World War II was to fix industries where ‘made in Japan’ was synonymous with shoddy workmanship. They came up with this paradigm that was the basis of Deming’s work in Total Quality Management. Plan-Do-Check-Act, then start over. That’s a pretty simple paradigm and most every school and business in the country has some kind of evaluative cycle like this. We have it ourselves in our 25-year curriculum plan. It’s a cyclical plan of going through very similar steps and constantly re-evaluating what you’re doing. Plan-Do-Check-Act. It never ends.”
However, “A lot of what industry does doesn’t translate well into schools and vice versa,” Frazier said. “A lot of what schools do doesn’t necessarily translate nicely back into industry.”
Brazosport “had to come up with steps that fit their school district to help these kids achieve,” he said.
“This eight-step model is what Paul and I and our teams are working so hard on right now. The first step of the model is data disaggregation. The second part is timeline development. When are you going to do what you’re going to do? Third, with an instructional focus. Fourth, assessing what you do as you go. Five and six are a very important part. Kids who are not working up to standard get remediation or tutorial help. Kids who are at or above standard get enrichment help. The eighth part is continually monitoring what you’re doing,” Frazier said.
Brazosport south of the river “had some of the worst test scores in Texas,” Frazier related. “After this process was completed – five or six years down the road, it didn’t happen overnight – they were famous as a 90/90 – a school that had 90 percent passing south of the river where 90 percent were below the poverty level and very at-risk.
“Brazosport is a quite a bit bigger system. We’re not talking about four elementary schools, a middle school and a high school. They probably had three or four middle schools, two high schools and several elementaries just in that southern half.”
Hartsig picked up the narrative at the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year.
“The high school worked on Michigan Merit Exam data we got in June and July. We looked at all of our strengths and all of our weaknesses in our four core areas. We identified those strengths and weaknesses and paid particular attention to our weaknesses because next we figured out what strategies we could implement to help those weak areas.”
DUHS “took 15 of our teachers and six administrators and did what we call ‘test talk,’ ” Hartsig said. “We took our NWA scores and met for five or 10 minutes with each freshman. We said, ‘This is your strength. This is your weakness” and discussed ways to improve.
“It built a personal connection between teachers and students,” Hartsig said. “Now we’re working with curriculum focus areas, such as math. We’re trying to find things we can do. If one of our English weaknesses was interpreting paragraphs, we try to find activities every class can do at the same time in a given day. We’re trying to find instructional focus areas – step three – that we can work on together as a staff.
“In the third trimester we’re going to focus on mini-assessments to figure out how well our students are doing with certain concepts. We’re hoping that through this three-year process we signed up for through (the LCISD), by that time we will have this plan in place. Instead of one through eight, we’ll constantly be doing Plan-Do-Check-Act.”
Frazier added, “We had very good buy-in from our staff. One of the first things I ask Pat Davenport every time we go out to the ISD is, ‘Are we where we need to be?’ I think we’ve always done a very good job of data disaggregation in this district. Central office has given us a lot of support.”
Frazier indicated that he, Assistant Principal John Pasternak and counselors likewise conducted six- or seven-minute test talks with their sixth, seventh and eighth graders.
“We tried to impress on them how important the MEAP test was. It’s not something you rush through” and “Christmas tree.”
Frazier defined that as marking answers in a pattern to make a picture “because you’re so bored with the test you’ve got nothing better to do.”
“Right now teachers are writing five-question mini-assessments to see whether students have mastered the material. When we get this assessment material collected, we should have a very good idea who needs enrichment. We go back on Feb. 22″ to Cassopolis.
Michigan, through its Department of Education, holds each school district accountable for student achievement levels.
Accountability comes in the form of attendance rates, graduation rates, drop-out rates and Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), which encompasses achievement growth requirements and participation rates for state assessments.
The state requires that all students are proficient (passing or exceeding passing) on state assessments by 2014.
Each year the state publishes grades for each district and each school within the district in multiple categories.
Thus, accountability is present and, if growth is not sufficient, the state imposes consequences.
Dowagiac Union Schools has, over the years, consistently made student achievement progress in designated categories.
“As we continue to inch toward 2014, it becomes more difficult to make the percentage gains that the state says we must,” Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Patti Brallier wrote in a Looking Inside Dowagiac Schools column for the Daily News last November. “It is like running a race where the last mile is straight uphill and the runner slows down but keeps using all of his/her energies to get to the top, but it is not easy or a sure thing.”
The plan to insure that Dowagiac as a school district gets to the top of the hill is what DMS and DUHS undertook with a new mission approach:
The Board of Education, employees, community, parents, and students believe all individuals can learn regardless of family background, socio-economic status, race, or gender.
We believe that our school’s purpose is to educate all individuals to their maximum potential while fostering positive behavior and attitudes.
We accept the responsibility to provide educational opportunities so students may lead productive, meaningful lives.
“While accountability and exam scores have motivated staffs in the past, they are embracing a new accountability from within,” Brallier wrote.