Emerging Evidence for Teachers’ Professional Learning and Student Achievement
We cannot make causal claims that teacher-led learning and co-teaching models, compared to more traditional professional development in PUSD, represent a stronger model for improving student achievement. However, multiple points of evidence do support the promise of teacher leadership for the district as it seeks to improve learning for all students. Drawing on a variety of data, a summary of key findings is revealed next.
Administrators are beginning to see that their investments in teacher specialists and the co-teaching model are making a difference. Both central office administrators and principals who work directly with teacher leaders are quite optimistic about what they have personally seen and experienced with more grassroots professional learning. A district administrator said:
What we’re finding is that by these teacher leaders modeling in the classroom and then coming back and debriefing, we’re finding that our PLC time is beginning to be used differently in some schools. It is more about what went right, what didn’t, and we believe this is beginning to making huge gains for us.
Administrators were quick to point out considerable student achievement improvements in the co-teaching classrooms. For example, in 2017–2018 in Richards and Santana’s co-teaching classroom at Armstrong Elementary, 64 percent of their students scored a 3 or 4 in Mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA), although the entire class they taught entered as 1s or 2s on the CA Dashboard from the previous year. And Figures 1 and 2 highlight the type of progress that they and co-teachers in two other schools have been able to show compared to their grade level peers across the district who teach in more isolated classrooms.
Further analysis of Mathematics growth in the co-teaching model (N=25) disaggregated by race and ethnicity reveals comparatively positive results as well. African American, Latinx, Cambodian, Native American, and Filipino students were two times more likely to score a 3 or 4 on the CA Dashboard based on the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CASSP) than their peers across the district.
Our school site visits revealed more. In each of our observations in the co-teaching classrooms, we saw teachers’ extensive knowledge of and care for students. We observed teachers using a wide array of work samples and portfolios, and they shared with us their own student data showing growth on both cognitive and noncognitive measures. Interviews revealed the growth and effectiveness of teachers helping each other take on new instructional methods. A fourth-grade educator colleague of theirs told us:
We have seen what the co-teachers have done in the sixth grade—for example with DBQs (or Document Based Questions—a method for students to describe evidence in writing)…. Since they’ve been doing it, their test scores have gone up, especially when it comes to writing and informational texts. So we wanted it for our students. No one (i.e., no administrator) asked us to work on this with them. It was something that we wanted to do mainly because they were getting results, and they showed us how.
As students are expected to master the more complex curriculum, they are also supported in assessing their own learning and explicitly helping each other as peers. And the positive effects were uniformly seen and experienced by parents and family members of the students in these classrooms. A grandparent who has a student in Richards and Santana’s classroom, and who has seen two generations of teachers at the school, told us:
The environment and the teacher element have changed completely here. You would never think of nothing like this in our day. You are not studying the same thing at the same time. The child is pretty much independent, studying as they need and motivated by their questions, working together…. It is not a forced type learning atmosphere.
Teacher-led PBIS training is yielding positive results in terms of school climate and student academic achievement. In classrooms we saw teachers as caring adults promoting both academic development and trusting, stable relationships. At one school, teachers talked about how much they enjoyed teaching at the school—and their positive, stable relationships transferred to how the students view the school. PBIS has established the framework for teaching in ways to buffer the potentially negative effects of serious adversity that many of the school’s students face and that manifest in student behavior.
In addition, the PBIS coaches that were most effective were the ones teachers viewed as their peers, not supervisors. As one teacher noted, “[PBIS coaches] really helped us learn from each other; we visited classrooms; we watched each other teach.”
When first implemented in the district, PBIS was seen as a system for managing student behavior. Now it is increasingly spreading into academics, culture, instructional practices, relationships with families and the community, teacher leadership, and, in some cases, the operation of schools themselves. As one principal noted:
PBIS has really changed [how we viewed] teacher collaboration. We all know we’ve been protective of our practice, both instructional and behavioral, and now it is more like saying, “Hey I’m having issues here; the data is showing up here; let’s have that conversation of how we can support each other.”
Another PBIS coach noted:
The more that we understand as adults what their needs are we provide them with those tools that they need. We’ve noticed that it’s helped them stay in class. They’re not having outbursts because they know that they can take a break. They can just ask. They’re happy; it changes the whole culture. Then they’re allowing other students to learn as well, and we’re seeing that too in their scores.
Integrating PBIS practices and procedures focused on equity, mind-sets, and pedagogical practices appears to be paying off for academic achievement. For example, in 2017–2018, of the 20 schools that substantially increased student achievement in ELA, 17 were PBIS sites. And of the 15 schools that improved their Mathematics performance, 12 were PBIS sites as well. (See Figure 4.)
Cristine Goens, principal at Simons Middle School, shared a brief story that illustrates some early indicators of change at her site based on the district’s teacher-led PBIS model:
The fact that we were at 1,136 referrals in a year (2012–2013) and now we are at 223 now (2016–2017). That’s a lot less of instructional time missed. We’re also seeing our honor roll at over 56 percent of our students, which is bigger than ever. There is clear evidence of academic growth since we’ve become a PBIS school. Another one of our successes is our school climate report card. We finished 99th percentile for similar schools and 99th percentile for the state. I would say that’s kids’ perspective about the success that’s happening at the site. And I think when you look at those data points and you see how kids are viewing the school, and you hear them say things like “best middle school!” you really — you see it.
Four years after pilot schools began PBIS implementation, the number of Office Discipline Referrals across PBIS schools has decreased by 48 percent and suspensions have decreased by 61 percent. Office Discipline Referrals decreased from 1,278 in 2014–2015 to 607 in 2017–2018. If we translate this number into its instructional impact, equating every referral to 45 minutes of missed class time, in 2014–2015, students missed 460,000 minutes of learning time (1,278 days). In 2017–2018, referrals were reduced to 5,369, equalling 240,000 minutes (671 instructional days), resulting in an overall increase of 607 days of instructional engagement time. (See Figure 5.)