The state’s leading voice in public education reform effort has released a report that highlights the successful partnership between three Everett elementary schools and the Bay State Reading Institute (BSRI).
A study by the Boston-based Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy entitled, “Bay State Reading Institute: A Case Study of Teacher Culture Change,” details how Everett the Keverian, Lafayette, and Parlin schools utilize BSRI strategies to boost student achievement.
The BSRI model, which changes teacher practice through data use its monitoring and small group instruction, helped Everett educators tailor instruction to student needs and set higher expectations for all students. Teachers learned to set higher expectations about what their students could do, “regardless of background, disability, language, etc.” Additionally, teachers gained “a better understanding of how to differentiate instruction and use data to guide their teaching.” Through new classroom practices modeled by BSRI coaches and the schools’ reading coaches, teachers saw improved teamwork, a school-wide culture of collaboration, and increased collegiality across teams.
In terms of student performance, Everett’s Keverian School – which has partnered with BSRI for five years – moved from Level 3 to Level 1 in the Massachusetts accountability system, and saw improvements in student engagement, behavior, skills and confidence. Teachers at all three Everett schools Rennie studied reported that, “students are more confident and independent at self-managing their own learning.” Additionally, the report states, “the BSRI model has particularly helped the English Language Learner students and have seen similar results with students with special needs.” This is in terms of consistent growth at their own levels of learning.
The Rennie Center Report, which was discussed during a recent event at the State House, details three elements of the BSRI plan that were crucial in quickly and effectively improving the culture of the school and its student success: coaching, use and oversight of individual student assessment data to inform instruction, and school-wide collaboration.
Jen Poulos, Rennie Center Associate Director, attributes the success in the Everett Schools to strong school leadership, district-level buy-in and clear, strategic direction and goals. And she stresses, “Driving change in school takes hard work – and it takes hard work that takes a number of years. In Everett there was support for the model at both district and the school level, but that alone did not get the work done. It took a lot of hard work from teachers and it took a lot of years to stick.”
But the effort brings results, says Poulos. “As teachers begin to have more time and resources to work with each other, fine-tune their practice, use data to change their expectations about student work, teachers become more invested or become re-invested and hold themselves accountable, as well as their students accountable for progress.” From there, Poulos says, “Following that teacher culture piece comes the Holy Grail: the change in student performance we saw at Keverian School as part of this study.”
John Obremski was the Keverian Principal who first brought BSRI into the school and is now Principal at the Lafayette School which was also part of the Rennie study. He saw the need for change, and the significant transformation BSRI brought to his schools, “At what point do you decide, are we going to change what we do and instruct every kid individually, or are we going to just do a stand-and-deliver model and hope that the kids learn. That’s really not what we can do in this day and age, when we have kids from all over the world. We have kids with all different needs, whether they are high needs, or low needs. This model of differentiated instruction coupled with the curriculum supports that BSRI prescribes, is an effective model of instruction that truly has made a marked difference.
Michelle Rooney, Title 1 Coordinator for Everett Public Schools, was the first reading coach at Keverian, a new position the BSRI model required for successful implementation. She has seen the benefit of the hard work and commitment the entire staff made to their students. “Change is possible over time. It’s amazing what we did at Keverian. So much change can occur in just one building with the right curriculum, staff and administration supporting you. It’s exciting that students can learn more than we ever thought they could. We’re an example of that. It’s been a great experience for us.”
Massachusetts State Senator Sal DiDomenico has seen the impact firsthand. “I can tell you that through the work of BSRI and the dedicated work of teachers and administrators supporting the program implementation, the Keverian School became a Level 1 school. I credit this program. I have seen a change in the culture and teaching in schools whereby teachers consistently analyze data for individual students and monitor it regularly. In Everett, I see the collaborative and positive working relationship with the Superintendent, Principals and Teachers.”
Findings of this report have strong implications for many struggling schools across Massachusetts, as the Rennie study points out, “As more schools and districts around the Commonwealth welcome diverse student bodies with a variety of learning needs, it will be important to consider how to adopt a unified strategy to promote improvement in teacher practice and student success.”
Bay State Reading Institute Co- Founder Ed Moscovitch points out that the work its partner-school teachers are doing “is much more than teaching kids to read. Teachers are saying kids are doing things they never thought possible.” From there, “When teachers come to see what’s possible, they really like working together…it changes their perception.”