2 surefire ways to empower teachers

2 surefire ways to empower teachers - TLG-IMG-01212020The Umatilla School District, in eastern Oregon, may be small, but it’s a powerhouse.

The rural district works hard to meet the needs of all its students—including a large population of English language learners and many families living in poverty. So it helps to have a no-nonsense superintendent on board, like Heidi Sipe, to steer the ship.

“I meet with new staff upfront and I tell them the honest truth: Our students need the very best educators. They cannot settle for less,” she says. She follows two steps to ensure her team can bring their A game every day.

Step 1: Support staff

Heidi knows it takes more than just honesty to help teachers do their best work. Support is also key.

“We focus a lot on professional development in our district,” Heidi says. “We never expect that everyone walks in the door ready and able to take on every challenge that is posed in a school.” Especially in a school affected by issues common in vulnerable communities, like inadequate preschool instruction and drug addiction.

We never expect that everyone walks in the door ready and able to take on every challenge that is posed in a school.”

The district makes regular professional development a reality with two instructional coaches, Karen Laurence and Kyle Sipe, as well as a full-time roaming substitute. “The sub can cover a class so a teacher can go watch a more effective teacher’s reading class or math class, whatever they may need, and learn from them,” Heidi says.

The district also sponsors trainings, dedicating every Friday afternoon to professional development and at least one Friday a month to understanding student assessment data.

Step 2: Provide high-quality data

Those Friday afternoon data conversations have become much more informative and productive since the district adopted MAP® Growth™—including MAP® Spanish—in 2018.

Heidi and her team began looking for a new assessment solution after repeatedly disappointing state assessment scores. As one of the first districts in the country to adopt Common Core, they expected performance in the classroom to be a good indicator of performance on the state test and of college and career readiness. It wasn’t.

“We were all in on Common Core. Still are. But we expected, because we were proficiency-based, that roughly any student who had a 70% or better would pass the state test if their classroom content was aligned,” Heidi explains. “The only kids passing the state test had a 90% or better in their classroom work. And we had a number of students who were graduating with their associate of arts degree through our early college programming who hadn’t passed either.”

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Without having the data to realize that our need for change was so strong, it wouldn’t have been possible to move staff so quickly toward solutions.”

MAP Growth is helping the district reset. It’s showing where students are compared to national norms, which, in turn, has provided Umatilla some of the proof it needs to request funding through the Oregon Student Investment Account, which is part of the state’s Student Success Act. Heidi and her team will also use assessment data to report on their progress.

MAP Growth is giving educators a common language to use when discussing student growth and achievement, too. And it’s allowing for goal setting and changes in instruction that can accelerate progress.

“Without having the data to realize that our need for change was so strong, it wouldn’t have been possible to move staff so quickly toward solutions,” Heidi says. Solutions like applying for more funding plus revising the elementary school literacy plan and improving teacher onboarding so all students can develop the reading skills required for academic success.

Go deeper

Learn more about how MAP Growth data is helping Umatilla School District serve their students in our case study.