SBG + PLC = I Finally Get It

This one article assigned in our PLC class has finally cemented how SBG should work FOR ME.

*from Revisiting Professional Learning Communities at Work pg 190-193
Dufour, Dufour, & Eaker, 2008

Diana, Se, Marie, and Amy, the second-grade team at Westlawn Elementary, began their collaborative process for improving  math proficiency for their students by engaging in collective inquiry regarding the current results and practices in second-grade math. Their math achievement data from the previous year's summative district assessment indicated 78% of second graders met or exceeded the district's proficiency target in math. They agree to establish a team SMART goal to improve upon last year's results by at least 10% on that same summative district assessment. The goal was strategic in that it was aligned with the school's goal to increase the percentage of students meeting or exceeding proficiency in math as measured on local, county, state, and national indicators. The team goal was measurable because it asked for a 10% increase over the previous year. The team believed the goal was attainable because improved results (higher levels of student learning) were required to achieve the goal. It was time-bound because the goal was to be accomplished within the course of the school year.

Prior to developing strategies to achieve their goal, Diana, Se, Marie, and Amy had a candid conversation about how they had approached the math curriculum in the previous year. They acknowledged they had followed the same 4-step pattern for each unit:
  • Step 1. Administer the pre-assessment from the textbook.
  • Step 2. Teach the unit.
  • Step 3. Administer the post-assessment from the textbook.
  • Step 4. Move on to the next unit, repeating steps 1 through 3.
They recognized they would only improve student performance in math across second grade by seeking out and implementing new and better practices. They committed to each other to use the team learning process of a PLC to guide their teamwork throughout that year.

What Did They Do?
1. They clarified the 8 to 10 most essential student learning outcomes (skills, concepts, dispositions) in math for each semester by doing the following:
  • Talking with the third-grade team to determine the skills and concepts most essential to student success in math for entering third graders
  • Analyzing and clarifying their state and division second-grade math standards
  • Consulting with school and division math specialists to clarify multiple interpretations of the same standards
  • Analyzing the district assessment, and identifying where their students had struggled in the previous year.
  • Developing a math curriculum map and common pacing guide they all agreed to follow
2. They created a series of common formative assessments aligned to the essential math outcomes by doing the following:

  • Studying the language and format of the district's summative assessment of second-grade math
  • Selecting appropriate items aligned to the essential math skills from math textbooks, individual teacher assessments, and state and national websites providing released math items
  • Creating new items deemed by the members of the team to be valid ways of assessing the essential skills
  • Including at least five items per skill on each common assessment to provide students an adequate opportunity to demonstrate their proficient
  • Increasing the number and frequency of assessments so that only two or three skills were considered on each assessment
3. They established a proficiency target of 80% for each skill on each assessment. For example, if they used five terms to assess a particular skill, students needed to solve four of the five problems correctly to be deemed proficient.

4. They collectively analyzed the results from each common formative assessment, identifying, skill by skill, the individual students throughout second grade whose scores exceeded, met, or fell below the team's proficiency target.

Through this collaborative analysis of common formative assessment data, the team was quickly able to do the following:
  • Identify individual students who were experiencing difficulty on any skill.
  • Identify individual students who were already highly proficient
  • Create flexible groups of students across the grade level for the intervention/enrichment period each day based on skill-by-skill proficiency.
  • Establish a protected block of time each day for the team, resource specialists, and instructional assistants to provide students with coordinated and precise intervention and enrichment based on students' personal needs.
  • Identify the teachers whose students were experiencing the greatest success on each skill.
  • Assign students who were struggling with a particular skill to work with the teachers experiencing the best results in that skill on the common assessments during their intervention/enrichment period.
  • Explore and discuss the strategies being used in individual classrooms
The team also engaged students in the process of monitoring their own learning by requiring each student to maintain simple bar graphs indicating his or her proficiency on each essential math skill. Items on the assessment were arranged by skill, and each item was assigned its own box on the graph. After every common assessment, students would color in the box for each item they answered correctly. As individual students discovered they had not not met the proficiency target on a particular math skill or concept, they knew to report to the corresponding small-group tutorial during the intervention/enrichment period to receive additional support for their learning.

At the completion of this skill-driven cycle, the team administered another form of the common assessment to students who had experienced difficulty on any of the essential skills. At that point, new student learning groups were formed. Students who demonstrated proficiency were moved to enrichment groups, while students who continued to struggle were moved to smaller, more intensive group interventions.

This intervention/enrichment process ensured that any student in second grade who was having difficulty understanding a skill would receive intensive, small-group instruction from the most effective teacher on the team for that particular skill. The process allowed the team to continue with new direct instruction during the regular math period each day, so the difficulties of a few did not adversely impact the opportunity for all students to learn new material. Meanwhile, the team continued to build shared knowledge of the best way to help young students acquire math  skills through  a collective study of the research on the topic. At the same tine, however, members were conducting their own action research on effective math instruction and learning from one another.


  1. I know this is practically sacrilege to ask this....but how did their proficiency levels equate to letter grades at the end of the term. I ask because, the major thing keeping me from going this route is my requirement to assign a letter grade. Does proficiency in a certain number of topics result in an assigned letter grade? Does a student who meets proficiency receive the same "score" as a student who gets all problems correct? Thanks for any insight.

  2. David,
    Maybe I'm misunderstanding but would the student who is proficient be the same as one who gets all problems correct?

    Jason wrote a
    great post
    about one way to translate. I definitely don't think there is one set answer. It's a systematic problem that no one quite knows how to address.