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 Student Growth Happens in Groups

4/16/2019 12:00 PM

​Grade-level teams at Kishwaukee and Beyer elementary schools were among bright spots in student growth on the most recent Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test. The successes are even more impressive because the two schools are in transition: Kishwaukee will close at the end of this school year and be replaced by the new Constance Lane Elementary School; Beyer will become an Early Childhood center in school year 2019-20.

While the teams attribute their success to different factors, there are similarities. Both schools emphasize looking at the whole child as opposed to looking at data only or behaviors in isolation. Both schools use grouping to differentiate instruction — Beyer uses grouping across multiple grade levels and Kishwaukee uses grouping within a grade level.

Five teachers across grade levels 3-5 at Beyer work as a team; the team includes a special education resource teacher and a cross-categorical special education teacher. The teachers started brainstorming in August about ways to keep their students together, given small class sizes. They organized students, regardless of grade level, using a MAP scale of achievement and growth called RIT bands. They committed to being flexible for the good of the whole. 

"Sometimes teachers have egos and don't want to let go. We wanted to let our guards down a little bit," said Rissa Spangler. Lesa Butler compared it to creating a family for the students. Teachers had to fight the tendency to solve their own problems. They had to ask themselves: "Who can do the work?" Mrs. Butler said. 

The teachers credit Principal Jenny Keffer, who has an early childhood background, with influencing their whole-child approach. "If you take care of kids, their scores will come. If you need an alarm clock to get to school, we'll get you an alarm clock to get to school," Mrs. Spangler said.

The two strands of fourth grade at Kishwaukee used student grouping, too, but within a grade level. Their math and reading growth on MAP were both in the 99th percentile nationally.

Lead teacher Beth Haddad said she and the other fourth grade teacher, Ana Jensky, went to Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, last year and came back committed to improving their teaching through data and including students in the learning process.

The teachers determined the proper instructional level for students and then used small groups for either remediation or enrichment. They used short cycle goals and partnered with students to figure out which strategies were effective. They also had the benefit of an aspiring teacher to help students in the small groups. 

Principal Aimee Kasper gives the teachers credit for being very strategic about improvement after last year's MAP scores left them disappointed.

Knowing so many students live difficult lives, Mrs. Haddad and Mrs. Jensky focused on what they could control in the classroom. When they had a disagreement about instruction, they got over the hump and moved on. "We're here for the kids," she said.

Lesa Butler is a fifth grade teacher at Beyer Elementary School, where teachers have used grouping across multiple grade levels to achieve growth.
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