Growing Educators, Achieving Results with Students (G.E.A.R.S.)
Avondale Elementary School District
School Transformation Pilot Project (Years 1-2)
Avondale Elementary School District is located about twenty miles west of Phoenix, Arizona. The school district serves approximately 5600 Pre-K to eighth grade students across nine schools. Sixty-eight percent (68%) of students receive free or reduced lunch and many students speak another language at home, primarily Spanish. The community is hardworking and very supportive of its schools. During the 2014-15 school year, many students struggled with the new state standardized assessment, achieving a school district pass rate of twenty-three percent (23%) in mathematics and twenty-five percent (25%) in English Language Arts as measured by the AzMERIT test.
In the spring of 2015, school leaders from the Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia presented Governor Ducey with a proposal outlining a school transformation pilot program called Project Momentum. The aim of this effort was to provide a comprehensive school-improvement model designed to assist students, teachers, and staff members in meeting the goal of increasing student achievement. The model focused on improvements to instructional quality that have proven to advance student learning at a rate needed to offset challenging factors such as the strong correlation between free and reduced lunch percentage and student outcomes on standardized tests. The improvement framework for Project Momentum included the following components:
- Develop positive student-teacher relationships.
- Focus on achieving results.
- Use formative evaluation to improve.
- Deliver effective lessons and targeted intervention.
- Build collaborative efficacy and instructional expertise.
Governor Ducey entered into a public-private partnership with the Challenge Foundation and Avondale Elementary School District to implement Project Momentum district-wide beginning in the 2015-16 school year. Avondale Elementary School District was selected because the school district showed evidence of being on the right track for initial implementation with a preexisting school improvement planning model that complimented the tenets of Project Momentum. In addition, Avondale showed an engaged student population, caring community and a district/school leadership committed to the concept of continuous improvement. Governor Ducey's investment of $575,000 supported the following:
- Teacher Leadership Grants (73) for select members at each school to extend their service for one month during the summer and into the school year.
- Principal/Assistant Principal Stipends (15) equivalent to one month of service to facilitate and actively participate in the teacher professional development pilot.
- Substitute coverage for participating teachers (4x per year) to allow for ongoing planning and training.
- Early Start Training Stipends (226) for all remaining teachers.
The philanthropic support from the Challenge Foundation supplied the consulting services of the Project Momentum team led by Dan Parris, Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia (retired). These supports included the following:
- District principals were assisted throughout this effort by experienced principal partners from the Project Momentum implementation team who visited campuses regularly and provided ongoing phone consultation with school leaders.
- Teachers in the district received professional development and expert training aligned with project components.
- District leaders were supported by an experienced Project Momentum implementation team with the mission to help provide oversight, nurture the developing collaborative process and assist with needed structure to drive project goals.
- District instructional team members were supported with technical assistance to help catalogue curriculum maps and pacing guides, organize and preserve lesson materials, deploy frequent common formative assessments, analyze data, track student progress and evaluate program outcomes.
The combined investment by Governor Ducey and the philanthropic partners resulted in a per pupil cost of approximately one hundred and fifty dollars ($150).
Dr. Betsy Hargrove
Dr. Betsy Hargrove, Superintendent of Avondale ESD, along with her school leaders and instructional staff engaged with the Project Momentum implementation team to collaboratively develop a strategic plan for improvement. The Avondale teachers and staff members formed a guiding coalition to help plan and drive improvement efforts at their individual schools. During the course of the project, this coalition of teachers and staff rebranded their work with Project Momentum as G.E.A.R.S. (Growing Educators, Achieving Results with Students). The strategic plan included the following goals:
- Goal 1: Every school in the Avondale Elementary School District will increase their overall pass percentages on the AzMERIT assessment in reading and mathematics.
- Goal 2: A majority of schools within the Avondale Elementary School District will achieve results at or above the performance regression line when comparing pass percentages in reading and mathematics with the percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch for all reporting K-8 schools in Arizona.
Over the three-year course of G.E.A.R.S., Avondale Elementary School District saw student achievement rise and other tangible benefits emerge. District enrollment began to stabilize as parents recognized and became part of the effort to improve school quality; transitions in school leadership and teacher vacancies positions declined; staff developed a greater sense of ownership and understanding of their shared strategic vision and chose to stay in the district; and most importantly, expectations for student achievement increased, as did results.
Goal 1: Every school in the Avondale Elementary School District will increase their overall pass percentages on the AzMERIT assessment in reading and mathematics.
- From the baseline year of 2014-15, performance of students on the AzMERIT Assessment for English Language Arts improved thirteen percentage points (13%) by the 2017-2018 school year. This growth rate was almost double the state growth rate over the same period of seven percentage points (7%). Performance growth was evident across all schools.
- The performance of students on the AzMERIT Assessment for Mathematics improved eighteen percentage points (18%) by the 2017-2018 school year. This growth rate was triple the state growth rate over the same period of six percentage points (6%). Performance growth was evident across all schools.
GOAL 1 RESULTS - ELA
GOAL 2 RESULTS - Math
Goal 2: A majority of schools within the Avondale Elementary School District will achieve results at or above the performance regression line when comparing pass percentages in reading and mathematics with the percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch for all reporting K-8 schools in Arizona.
- At the conclusion of 2016-2017, performance growth was evident in all schools with 6 of 8 schools meeting or exceeding regression comparisons in ELA and 7 of 8 in mathematics. Overall, student pass rate performance for Avondale came close to equaling that of the state notwithstanding a Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL) population that was eleven percentage points (11%) higher than the Arizona average. Avondale narrowed the performance gap to three (3) percentage points in ELA and two (2) percentage points in mathematics.
As an additional aspect of program evaluation, the pass rates for full academic year (FAY) students that had remained in Avondale Elementary School District throughout the course of the improvement effort from 2014-15 to 2016-17, were compared to the overall pass rates for Arizona students at the conclusion of 2016-17. The pass rates for this cohort of students outperformed state averages by five percentage points (5%) in mathematics and two percentage points (2%) in English Language Arts.
When comparing combined student performance in mathematics and reading across districts for the 2016-17 school year, Avondale Elementary School District outperformed fifty-six percent (56%) of Arizona districts.
This performance growth reflected a thirty-five percent (35%) gain from the baseline year of 2014-15.
Wildflower Elementary School
The success rates at individual schools was even more pronounced. Student performance gains increased dramatically at Wildflower Elementary School from 2014-15 to 2016-17. An increase of twenty-eight percent (28%) in English Language Arts and forty-two percent (42%) in mathematics was achieved over the three-year period. Along with the training and help received through G.E.A.R.S., the teacher leaders at Wildflower Elementary School led their own transformational change with improvements visible in every facet of school operation.
The efforts of educators in Avondale Elementary School District make a lasting difference in the lives of students. Their work with G.E.A.R.S. - Growing Educators, Achieving Results with Students, increased not only student learning but also that of teachers. The shared mission of these courageous teacher leaders is to help students exceed what they think is their potential and achieve life goals without limits. All of the participants in G.E.A.R.S. or Project Momentum are extremely proud of this work that has benefited students, teachers and the entire school community.