High School Reform Initiative
Year Three Summary Report
The purpose of this report is to provide summative feedback to personnel at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) regarding high school reform in Washington State. This is considered an end-of-initiative report on OSPI’s High School Reform Initiative (HSRI). As mentioned in the previous evaluation reports, a considerable amount of variability exists among schools in each initiative. This variability is due to a multitude of factors including differences in selection criteria among the initiatives, in school demographics, in starting points in the improvement process, and in level of support provided by each initiative. These differences make comparing the results between each initiative difficult. Generally, the High School Improvement Initiative (HSII) and High Schools That Work (HSTW) are school improvement initiatives, whereas the Successful Practices Network (SPN) is a resource that is available to schools to assist in school improvement efforts. It is important to consider the differences among these initiatives when interpreting results from this report.
What are the distinctive elements of the three high school initiatives within the OSPI High School Reform Initiative?
As part of the High School Reform Initiative, HSII schools received state support in the form of a data and research-based school improvement process. This process includes creating a School Improvement Team and participating in an educational audit highlighting the strengths and weaknesses. Each school develops a School Improvement Plan with the help of a School Improvement Facilitator, and many school staffs monitor progress by completing a data carousel each year. Throughout this process the state provides schools with consultation, training, instructional coaching, and fiscal support for the development and implementation of their School Improvement Plan.
HSTW emphasizes research-based practices to improve instruction and achievement. An underlying HSTW belief is the necessity for schools to be part of a network of schools and leaders who are committed to improving achievement by reflecting on ways to change school and classroom practices. HSTW provides states and schools with support in the implementation of their program through consultation, evaluation of progress, management of on-site Technical Assistance Visits, on-going professional development, a network for sharing strategies and resources, and dissemination of HSTW best practices.
Fundamental to SPN is the idea that the nation has schools, school leaders, and teachers who have best practices to share with others. While SPN provides schools with resources to aid in school improvement, schools also share their best practices with other SPN schools through an online repository and through direct communication. Staff and students complete surveys each year and receive results back on different areas including school culture and relationships. Each school also receives assistance in the form of a liaison, professional development, and a website.
What is the impact of the OSPI High School Reform Initiative on high school practices that support school improvement and student achievement?
In Year 3 of the initiative, staffs continued the implementation stage of each initiative, and most staffs continued to learn about the impact of the initiative on their schools. Evaluators asked staff members at each school to reflect upon what has changed within their schools from the beginning of the initiative to this year. Most were able to highlight a few aspects of each initiative that have the potential to impact school practices and student achievement, but few were certain that concrete achievement results would be displayed in such a short period of time. As in previous years, there continued to be a great amount of variability in staff members’ perceptions of the impact of the initiatives. While some believed that there is already visible impact, others reported seeing little or no impact. In general, areas believed to be influencing achievement for HSII schools included improving instruction, aligning curriculum, and improving collaboration. Areas impacting student achievement at HSTW schools inluded raising expectations for students and providing more relevant instruction. Many interviewees at SPN schools believed that positive impact in school culture and student performance would be related to changes being made because of the My Voice Student Survey© results.
What is the impact of each program on the culture of the schools?
Staff members at each school shared successes and barriers to improving school culture. While some staffs were easily able to identify shifts in school culture, others had difficultly pinpointing any distinct changes due to initiative efforts. Areas of cultural change mentioned by some interviewees at HSII schools were increasing staff collaboration and academic rigor for students. Similarly, staff members at HSTW schools also mentioned a cultural shift occurring at their schools due in part to increased collaboration and higher expectations for student work. The major area of cultural change highlighted by staff members at most SPN schools was improvement in relationships.
Interview and focus group participants at the High School Reform Initiative high schools also pointed out several barriers to changing school culture. Staff members at some of the schools admitted to growing frustration about the time commitment involved in being a part of an initiative and about the competing demands of multiple initiatives. As in previous years, staff members’ resistance to change and beliefs about students’ ability to learn continue to be barriers to improving school culture.
Where there have been positive changes in the schools around effective school practices, what has occurred to cause these changes?
Many interviewees reported a hope that the initiatives would have a positive influence on student academic achievement. Some interview and focus group participants reported seeing progress in classroom level assessments. Others were more skeptical about initiative activities impacting student achievement. Some of the activities mentioned as having the potential to influence student achievement were common to all of the initiatives; these shared elements included aligning curriculum and assessments, creating a common focus, and raising expectations for students and teachers.
Quantitative data point to small improvements. In general, the high schools involved in these three school improvement initiatives showed trends for improvement from baseline (2004 – 2005) to Year 3 (2007 – 2008) of the HSRI on the 10th grade WASL. The only exception to this was in math for SPN schools. Schools participating in the HSII and HSTW demonstrated greater improvement than the state average. HSII school averaged a 12% improvement and HSTW schools averaged an 11% improvement, while the state average improved by 9%. In contrast, SPN schools demonstrated a 7% increase during the same period.
An analysis of graduating seniors transcripts revealed that of the 2008 high school graduates, 42% of the graduates from the HSII schools, 42% of the graduates from the HSTW schools, and 51% of the graduates from the SPN schools took the requisite courses for admission to a Washington 4-year college. From baseline to Year 3, results increased for the HSII schools (7%) and SPN schools (5%). HSTW results fluctuated, with a 3% decrease from 2005 to 2008.
Other data also show some mixed results across initiatives. Graduation rates from baseline to Year 2 (2007 graduates) of the initiative showed a decrease for HSII and HSTW schools, while SPN schools went up slightly. All initiatives fell below the state average for percentage of college direct students for the graduating classes of 2004 and 2005, although an increase in the percentage of college direct students occurred for the HSTW schools from 2004 to 2005. HSRI schools performed below the state average on the overall component of the STAR Classroom Observation ProtocolTM during the baseline observation visits. This continued to be true for Year 3 of the initiative, with the exception of HSTW schools. However, increases on some of the components were evident across all initiatives, with the greatest increase in Skills.
Taken together, these results show some improvements, which vary by initiative. Generally, the improvements were more evident in the HSII and HSTW schools, which may be related to the focus and the amount of support and resources available to the schools. Additional improvements may be evident in the future if staff members are able to sustain their efforts beyond the funding period.
Did this initiative assist in developing sustainability over time, and how?
As a part of the interviews and focus groups at each school, evaluators asked principals, teachers, and a representative from the central office about the sustainability of any anticipated changes due to each school’s particular initiative. Within each initiative, there was a variety of opinions about improvement efforts being sustainable. These opinions ranged from believing almost every aspect of the initiative could be sustainable, to the process and structure being sustainable, to none of the initiative objectives being sustainable without the presence of funding. Many interviewees at HSII schools reported teacher collaboration around data and instruction as being sustainable after the grant ends. Changes made to course offerings, curriculum, and graduation requirements were also areas where most HSTW schools thought improvement efforts would continue. Most interviewees from SPN schools commented on the valuable data gained from having students complete the My Voice Student Survey©. Interviewees at all othe schools identified several barriers to sustainability. These barriers included lack of time, resistance to change, student demographics, and lack of coordination between HSRI and district directives.
The BERC Group, Inc.
Duane B. Baker, Ed.D.
Candace A. Gratama, Ed.D.
Kari M. Peterson, Ph.D.
Shawn Bachtler, Ph.D.
Steve G. Scott, M.S.
Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction
Old Capitol Building
PO Box 47200
Olympia, WA 98504-7200
The BERC Group brings experience and an extensive knowledge base to any evaluation project.