A few years ago, an organization of educators, business leaders, and community groups in Texas came together to apply for a federal grant to support a school improvement project built on the Strategic Instruction Model™ and Content Literacy Continuum™. Though their application was not successful, all of the main backers—including the Dell Foundation—believed SIM implementation was so important that they agreed to go forward and fund the Raiseup Texas project without the federal money.
This year, three middle schools from Raiseup Texas—Goodnight Middle School, Simon Middle School, and Knox Wiley Middle School—are recipients of the SIM Impact Award. All three schools have integrated SIM and CLC into the culture of their schools and stand as examples of how to do so with exemplary fidelity.
About the project
Raiseup Texas, which began the exploring and planning phase of the CLC in March 2011, chose to focus on middle school because increasing literacy skills of students of this age can significantly affect their success in high school and college. The project followed a deliberate, well-thought-out plan to full implementation that included student and teacher interviews and surveys, data analysis, and the formation and professional development of a Literacy Leadership Team (LLT) at each school.
“I learned it is absolutely critical to begin talking to teachers and administrators about their viewpoints around the issues of disciplinary literacy and whole-school implementation,” says Mary Black, project director. “All of us on the SIM team learned a great deal about the culture and climate of each individual school. This knowledge was critical to helping us lead principals, coaches, and LLTs through the change process which has to occur with whole school implementation of the CLC and SIM.”
Overall, the Raiseup Texas project schools (eight middle schools in all) realized significant gains:
“As a firm believer in the power of the SIM Learning Strategies to help struggling readers improve their reading comprehension, it was still unexpected to see the results from the Meadows Center’s external evaluation, which showed that our students in LS classes outperformed students across the nation—more than five times the national rate,” says Black.
But the best thing about the project for Black so far is the way all three of the schools being honored this year have integrated SIM into their culture.
“SIM is not an event any more, just what teachers and students do every day,” she says.
Goodnight Middle School
San Marcos, Texas
At Goodnight Middle School, classroom teachers know what is expected of them: Have a Course Organizer ready to hand out on Parents’ Night during the first week of school, have a Unit Organizer completed and ready to co-construct with students on the first day of a new unit, use every Content Enhancement Routine in their instructional toolbox at least once during a unit.
“The key to the success of the project was the support and guidance of our administration,” says Judy Uzzell, campus SIM instructional coach. “Our principal, Steve Dow, could see that this was good for kids, and he insisted that everyone in the building use it.”
Greer Del Rio, campus SIM instructional coach, agrees.
“Though it is hard to pinpoint just one thing, the initial key is support from campus and district administrators,” she says. “They have to be the driving force from the beginning, encouraging and supporting teachers.”
Del Rio also believes data played a starring role in the success of SIM at the school, especially in overcoming skepticism. “Really show the research and data,” she advises. “It will save time in the long run.”
Since the Raiseup Texas project began, the school’s STAAR scores have improved in all areas, and Goodnight outperformed the other middle school in the district.
“What surprised me was that the students were able to see how SIM helped them so quickly,” says Uzzell. “Students seem more confident in the content areas.”
Simon Middle School
Among the biggest challenges in implementing SIM and CLC at Simon Middle School is one that recurs every year: Staff turnover.
“Most of our teachers are new-to-profession teachers who are coming into the school systems with a perception of teaching and learning the way they were taught when they attended public school,” says Matt Pope, principal. “The other group has only been teaching a few years and have developed instructional habits that are not congruent to SIM.”
Pope has developed a couple of strategies to combat these potential roadblocks: The school welcomes student teachers from a nearby university. Plus when recruiting new teachers, he seeks only those who have used SIM or are willing to learn, and staff use the Course Organizer to plan the school year and other SIM devices during staff development.
“I will never work in another school or school system that does not implement SIM,” says Pope, who attended a Potential Professional Developer Institute this summer to become a SIM Professional Developer himself. “The biggest advantage of SIM is it gives all staff a common language of instruction. It allows every teacher and leader on campus to be able to collaborate on instruction no matter the content.”
Kristyna Brewer, SIM/literacy coach, says campus leadership’s “no excuses” policy has been essential to the success of the project at Simon, and students are the biggest beneficiaries.
“We have seen tremendous growth in our students. Since the Raiseup Texas project has started, our students are quickly closing the academic achievement gap,” she says.
In state test results, reading results for grades six through eight improved by 7 percentage points (64 percent in 2012 to 71 percent in 2013); math grades six through eight improved 7 percentage points (69 percent in 2012 to 76 percent in 2013); seventh-grade writing up 5 percentage points from 57 percent in 2012 to 62 percent in 2013; eighth-grade science up 13 points, from 65 percent to 78 percent; and eighth-grade social studies up 29 points, from 38 percent to 67 percent.
The biggest surprises, says Brewer, have to do with teacher buy-in and student confidence. “Student confidence has been through the roof,” she says.
Knox Wiley Middle School
During the planning phase of the Raiseup Texas project, Knox Wiley Middle School staff identified four core values essential to their goals: 1) all students’ literacy skills will improve, 2) all teachers have a role in improving students’ literacy, 3) success builds self-esteem, and 4) a commitment to ongoing and intentional staff development, collaboration, and instructional coaching. Their vision included a commitment to develop a literacy-rich culture.
Kim Watts, APS language arts teacher and SIM coach, has been with the project from the beginning. In fact, she helped open Wiley Middle School in 2006 in one of the fastest growing school districts in Texas. She was not completely unfamiliar with SIM when the Raiseup Texas project began.
“I had heard a little about the program from teachers I had a great deal of respect for, so I knew this would be a good program to bring to our campus,” she says.
In the beginning, though, she says, SIM seemed rigid.
“With time, teachers came to see that the SIM process is the anchor,” she says. “From this structure, teachers developed unique and creative lesson designs. The caliber of thoughts that students pursue is at a significantly higher level.”
The school created an intervention course for students who read below grade level and pre/post test data indicated that students demonstrated significant gains in sentence writing skills as a result.
“By using SIM strategies in my classroom, I now not only push for mastery, I can expect mastery,” says Watts. “Before, students were able to get by with a 70 percent. With this program, 70 percent is not mastery. I love that. My students earn A’s—hard-earned, well-deserved A’s.”