Our Focus On Student Achievement ‘Begins With The End In Mind’

Our focus on student achievement 'Begins With The End In Mind'
Posted on 02/12/2023

As we look forward to this evening's Super Bowl, and reminisce about the high-energy visit by Eagles’ #18 Britain Covey to our two Leader In Me elementary schools, one of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People we practice is “Begin With The End in Mind.” Our continuous improvement and strategic focus approach on the ‘End in Mind’ has created awesome opportunities and achieved tremendous academic results for our students, that begin as early as with our Pre-Kindergarten and Head Start programs. 

It wasn’t always that way.  Nine years ago, the Quakertown Community School Board directed this Administration to raise the rigor of our academic program. The previous year’s graduation Class of 2013 expressed in a student survey that they felt they were not prepared for college. No matter the graduating class sizes or year, roughly 50 percent of each class attend a four-year college institution.  Back then, only 18 percent of our graduates who went to a college or university graduated in four years. Those numbers have doubled since. We achieved that by adding more rigorous opportunities at every building level, all with the end in mind.

For those not going to college, we encouraged students to attend Upper Bucks County Technical School to develop an interest and skills for immediate career opportunities.  Those numbers continue to climb, too.  As I shared in previous blogs, two years in a row now, greater than 50 percent of our rising 9th-grade students want to participate in a technical skills program. That is why next year Quakertown Community High School will begin to offer skills-based certifying technical courses.  Our teachers are excited to share their expertise in these specialty fields, eg. Culinary, Emergency Services, and Graphic Design.  An added plus to offering these new courses is that classroom space will become more available over the next few years because of the first significantly smaller grade level class - due to declining enrollment, arrives in 9th grade next year.  

To raise the rigor, opportunity, and success for ALL of our students the Theory of Action for Quakertown is a continuous improvement model by inter-connecting courses, programs, curriculum, and systems to ensure that student achievement happens.  To align and connect it all, I refer to the wisdom of Peter Drucker, a famous business management guru, in his famous saying that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  It speaks to Quakertown’s investment in its energy and resources into district culture through the 3 A’s - Academics, Arts, and Athletics. With an exceptional teaching faculty district-wide and experienced athletic coaches, our programs are dynamic and record setting.  The inputs to sustain continuous improvements across all functional areas of the district are data - qualitative and quantitative.  

Late last fall, one of those qualitative data inputs came in the form of a parent’s email to the School Board and me about a concern of the large class size in a 5th-Grade Math Plus class.  The comment was generated after two teachers’ email home about student behaviors they were experiencing in the classroom (will address in my next blog). Reducing class size in elementary school classrooms has been a School Board priority. In fact, Quakertown has approximately the same amount of elementary grade level teachers today as we did nine years ago with 500 fewer elementary students.  In classrooms with gifted and high ability learners, class sizes are routinely higher.  And, it does not have a negative impact on student performance - quite to the contrary. We know from research that the effect on raising student achievement by lowering class size is limited. (Hattie, see chart).  

After discussing the parent email with the principal and 5th-grade teachers about student achievement and behaviors in their classrooms, I did a deeper dive with the Office of Teaching & Learning team about student performance and class sizes across all of our Math Plus and Reading Plus classrooms. We also looked at how students performed in later years after participating in Math and RELA Plus classes. We started these programs years ago to accelerate and enrich student learning experiences so by the time they reached high school they were academically ready to excel in Advanced Placement courses.  As a point of reference, the elementary Math and Reading Plus programs got into high gear when our current 9th graders were in 3rd grade.  

The OTL team did a dive into the data from LinkIt formative assessments, along with PSSA, Keystone results, to course participation rates in Plus (elementary) and Honors (middle school) classes. We also looked at 9th-grade enrollment math and AP classes.  After eight years of accelerated and enriched opportunities in Quakertown, there are eighteen percent (73) of our current 9th graders participating in from one to three Advanced Placement courses, with twenty-four taking Honors Pre-Calculus.  This is our math enrollment for 6th through 9th grade.  

At the next School Board meeting on February 23rd, during the Superintendent's Report, teachers-on-special-assignment from OTL - Stacy DiCicco and Brett Farley - will be providing a presentation called “Math Plus, Math 6 Compacted, ELA Plus and Honors 6 ELA.”  This will provide the results of our deep dive into the data, what we learned, and next steps.

Thank you for reading. Fly Eagles Fly!

Bill Harner


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