7 Strategies to Improve Student Achievement in Schools: The School Turnaround Way

These are challenging times in our country where our normal routines and rituals have been altered by a force, we cannot see but the impact is felt. The impact expands to education,  finances, health, recreation, relationships, and work. 

Boards of education and superintendents are under increasing pressure to improve student achievement and accomplish it with limited resources. Teachers and students are adapting to new norms of virtual and remote learning, while some debate over schooling pods for safety. Yet few districts are achieving all the substantial gains they seek.

As an educational entity, School Turnaround hit some bumps in the road also but learned how to pivot to offer our services to leaders and schools to still attain student achievement.  School Turnaround is a leadership development methodology that helps principals, teachers, and students immediately improve academic achievement. 

While classroom instruction and families are known to be some of the most critical student achievement success factors, there are several other key components in the overall school improvement strategy to realize greater results.

7 Key Strategies to Improve Student Achievement In Schools

1. Seek A Turnaround Specialist

One of the key components of School Turnaround is the use of a Turnaround Specialist.  The unique aspect about the Turnaround Specialist is they have turned around a low performing school and possesses specific characteristics.  They embody turnaround, build effective relationships, and have knowledge and tools.

The Turnaround Specialist has muddied their boots by being in the schools when they re-opened as well as pivoting to the virtual and remote mode. The Turnaround Specialist met the needs of the schools through the various options being offered (traditional, remote, or hybrid). 

They work directly with the leadership by teaching and modeling strategies for them to sustain their growth.  School Turnaround is a result centered organization and focuses on specific strategies to provide the outcomes needed in the schools.  

2. Examine First: Ask What is wrong?

An examination must be done first to determine what is preventing the students from high performance. Looking at the trends and patterns from the past helps in the examination process as well as considering external and internal factors. 

Diagnosing what is wrong requires the leader to look at himself/herself and any turnaround partners, where you are looking for strengths and gaps. 

3. Set Targets

Experience is clear: people with targets outperform those who pledge best efforts to do better. It has been discovered that nothing helps to increase performance more than targets set for activities.

One reason why targets help is that they literally provide the aiming point. The following groups need to set and own targets: leaders, teachers, and students. The targets represent personal commitments, not just general hope or aspiration. These groups cannot achieve the intended results without doing things differently.  

To attain the major district goals, leaders should work with teams of teachers who are responsible for the same student results, such as grade level or department teams.  Central office administrators, principals, and teacher leaders guide the teams in setting targets for improvement in areas of weakness in student performance.  

They support and coach the teams in hitting their targets. For teacher teams to share the best thinking and best instruction, they need dedicated time to work together, ideally a solid hour twice per month.  Administrators work in concert with the teachers’ association to structure the necessary time. All of these student achievement partners are working toward the same goal.

4. Establish A Clear Message

“Everyone Achieves…. No Exceptions, No Excuses”, “SUCCESS: Can you Hear Me Now?” or “AYG! We can Do This! Achieve Your Goal” are all examples of messages created by the leadership team.  

The message is the rallying cry for the school.  It is designed to “fit” each school leader’s personality and style.  There are specific criteria connected to forming the message which includes the targets set.  The message is known by everyone and used widely.

5. Analyze Data

School Turnaround maintains databases with the schools that allow the Turnaround Specialist to review the student’s progress as well as determine if the intended targets will be hit.   The data is analyzed to decide what standards should be re-taught and the specific students who require extra assistance.

Instead of the endless planning and process that occurs in many districts, the best approach to develop effective improvement strategies is to consider what might be the two or three most promising ways to improve learning and then try them.

Ongoing strategies are used with the targeted students including goal setting sessions to make the students aware of their current scores during each benchmark and to identify the help they need to move their score higher. Analyzing the data is a recurring process specifically for the target students as well as other students.

Deep analysis is done to determine consistent mastery or lack of mastery on standards to determine the cause.  This leads to action steps.  While analyzing the data, the Turnaround Specialist provides new ideas and interventions to use.

6. Align Resources

Aligning resources is an action that is free to do and only requires time and honesty. Before resources can be aligned you need to know two things.  

  1. What is your target?
  2. What are your resources? 

The key is taking the time to map out your resources(people, programs, materials, time, community and parents, facilities, and actual funding) to take a close look to determine if they are aligned to help you hit your target.

The leader should be honest in answering the question of how will this person, program, material, time,  community partner, facility, or funding help increase student achievement

7. Classroom Observations

The real action of a school is not in the main office but in the classrooms with the students and teacher.  The best principals do not go in to watch how well a teacher teaches.  They go in to see how well the students are learning. 

The first key to classroom visits lies in making them a daily habit. The second key is having a structure for who gets visited-and for how long.  The feedback loop provided by the principal is essential for the teacher to respond to the suggestions and make an immediate change within the same period or day.

We use our magic wand to plan and provide professional development for teachers based on their unique needs to assist them with getting better.  Conversations are held with the teachers to find out their thoughts on areas they need to improve.  

The classroom walk-throughs also give the administration insight on areas of improvement based on “look fors”.

Why is Student Achievement Important?

Overall, student achievement measures how much a learner has advanced or gained knowledge of a specific set of goals in an allotted time frame for their level. According to the U.S. Department of Education, improving student achievement significantly serves students to make sure students are adequately prepared for the next grade while reducing the risk of them being left behind.

Student achievement not only boosts confidence but also acts as a catalyst for success in other areas of a student’s life. It opens the doors for a greater chance of college enrollment and gives more opportunities for job and career success. School districts should analyze which strategies are most effective and important to their schools and find solutions to implement or results. 

Conclusion

The best feature of School Turnaround is the help provided to the leader on a 24/7 basis.  The relationships forged are real and deep.  The Turnaround Specialist can relate to the principals because they were in the same predicaments before they became a specialist.  

We can talk the talk because we have walked the walk.  They guide the leader in bringing these strategies to life in their schools to reach the highest results for their students. 

School Turnaround is an organization dedicated to increasing the life chances of children where “Everyone Achieves….No Exceptions, No Excuses.”


Schedule a call with us to learn more about our ST6 method, which has everything you need to boost student achievement.

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