This aerial picture of the students and staff at Heber School was taken when the school reached an 802 on the Academic Performance Index (API).
Heber School has achieved a milestone that some thought was impossible to achieve. Heber School’s 2013 API is 839. For over one hundred years, Heber School was the only school in the Heber Elementary School District (HESD). HESD is located in the township of Heber, a small rural community in Imperial County. The demographic characteristics of the school district are as follows:
- 99% of students are Latinos;
- 58% of students are English learners;
- 94% of students qualify for free or reduced meals; and
- 22% of students are migrant.
Imperial County has the highest unemployment rate in both California and the nation. Since Heber is about six miles from the United States/Mexico border, it sees a significant influx of newcomers enrolling into its school district.
During the 2006-2007 school year, Heber School was selected to participate in the now defunct High Priority Schools Grant Program (HPSGP) established by Assembly Bill 961 to assist low-performing schools in California. Schools with a valid 2005 Base Academic Performance Index (API) in the state decile ranks 1 and 2 were invited to apply. Heber School had a ranking of 2, and its 2005 Base API was 646, with only 25% of Heber School students scoring proficient or above in English-Language Arts and only 22% scoring proficient or above in mathematics.
Partnership with DataWORKS
Toward the end of the 2005-2006 school year, knowing that big changes were needed, Superintendent Jaime Silva began exploring school reform initiatives which target improved student achievement. As luck would have it, Silva attended a DataWORKS Educational Research seminar, and learned about Explicit Direct Instruction (EDI). He knew, without a doubt, that this pedagogical approach would benefit all students in his school district.
After officially contracting with DataWORKS as an External Evaluator of the school district, a District/School Liaison Team was formed. This team developed a school action plan, which was used as a blueprint by Heber School staff to identify goals and objectives that would lead to improved student performance.
Acknowledging that good teaching in the classroom is the best first intervention for students, Heber School staff embarked on a collaborative journey of learning about, and reflecting upon proven instructional methods and practices that best met the needs of the district’s population.
Teachers and administrative staff participated in the Explicit Direct Instruction (EDI) professional development modules, which became the framework for sustained, systemic change in the school district’s delivery of instruction.
Explicit Direct Instruction in the Classrooms
Explicit Direct Instruction is now the expected delivery model of instruction in the Heber Elementary School District. HESD staff learned in their training that EDI incorporates research-based pedagogy and positively affects student achievement.
After five years of EDI implementation, and in conjunction with other reform efforts, HESD staff have realized the benefits of EDI. Teachers’ use of EDI strategies have helped their students perform better on state and federal assessments each subsequent year of implementation.
The district leadership recognized that while sustained professional development was essential in facilitating new learning, coaching and support was also vital. With the support of DataWORKS consultants, teachers, site and district administrators, and literacy coaches collaborated in the development of well- designed lessons, lesson study, coaching, and feedback. Once these lessons were completed, the “Coaching Team” (comprised of 2-3 teachers, an administrator and a DataWORKS consultant) visited classrooms to observe the previously planned lesson. A specific observation sheet was used to provide feedback to teachers being observed.
The model of designing a well-crafted lesson, peer observation, coaching, and feedback was powerful. By following this simple model, teachers learn from one another and their teaching skills improve significantly. Teachers who were observed by the “Coaching Team” received supportive positive feedback as well as “next steps” to ensure their teaching would become completely aligned to the EDI model, and that the steps throughout the teacher’s delivery become internalized.
Student engagement was a major component of the EDI model at HESD and it worked! At HESD, it was a recognized fact that checking for understanding (CFU) is vital to ensure not only that ALL students are engaged in learning at all times, but also that teachers are instantly aware of their students’ level of success at each step in the lesson.
HESD believes strongly that the best first intervention in the classroom is good teaching and acts on this belief. Heber School strives to provide well-crafted and well-taught lessons in every classroom, every day. In the previous five years, the District has implemented many programs that support student learning; all have contributed to the academic success of students. However, the implementation of EDI is the one approach that Silva said has truly made the largest impact on the way teachers teach and students learn. Supporting data is compelling, depicting the growth in the district API score each year since the implementation of EDI.
As illustrated in the graph above, HESD has gained 161 API points during the past seven years.
Furthermore, in 2013, 57.8% of Heber School students scored proficient or advanced in English-Language Arts (a 27.7% increase from 2006) and 73.4% scored proficient or advanced in Mathematics (a 40.3% increase from 2006).
As a result of these student gains, currently, Heber School is no longer in program improvement.
Improved test scores are not serendipitous, nor do they occur in isolation. They are the result of hard work, hours of meaningful professional development, a commitment by all stakeholders to changing the culture of the school district, an acceptance of EDI as a district-wide instructional delivery system, the continued monitoring and support by administrators, along with the support from coaches.
Heber School teachers, classified and support staff, administrators, school board members, and students are commended for their dedication and commitment to the implementation of EDI. Demographically, Heber Elementary School District faces tough challenges in overcoming the obstacles that impede student success. Continuing to provide high quality instruction for generations to come is Heber Elementary School District’s commitment to its community.