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July 02, 2012

TAP Featured in Education Trust Report Building and Sustaining Teacher Talent: Creating Conditions in High-Poverty Schools That Support Effective Teaching and Learning

TAP system's culture of support in Ascension Parish, Louisiana, has transformed the once low-performing district into a destination of choice for top teachers

For the U.S. to remain competitive domestically and internationally, it is imperative that the K-12 education system advances learning for all students. Yet many high-poverty schools, faced with educating our neediest students, are not able to attract, develop and retain effective teachers. Furthermore, many of their teachers are not equipped with the training and tools necessary to address the specific needs of their students.

The Education Trust (Ed Trust) tackles this critical and pressing challenge in the report, Building and Sustaining Teacher Talent: Creating Conditions in High-Poverty Schools That Support Effective Teaching and Learning. The organization highlights five districts that have transformed low-performing schools into places of learning growth where top teachers are eager to teach, and more importantly, stay and thrive.

The first case study focuses on the Ascension Parish School System in Louisiana for its implementation of TAP: The System of Teacher and Student Advancement, which offers powerful opportunities for career advancement, professional development, educator evaluation and performance-based compensation.

Other districts cited in the report are Boston Public Schools in Massachusetts, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina, and Fresno Unified and Sacramento City Unified in California.

What are the key elements that thread throughout these districts? According to Ed Trust, they are a focus on strong leadership, a campus-wide commitment to improving instruction by analyzing student data and reflecting on practice, and a collaborative environment that values and rewards individual contribution. "Done right, improved evaluation systems in coordination with positive conditions for teaching and learning could achieve equitable access to effective teachers for all students," the report states.

Inside Ascension Parish School System, Louisiana
(Excerpted from pages 1, 6 and 7 of the report)

For years, the Ascension Parish School System in southern Louisiana struggled to attract teachers to its highest poverty schools. When the state sanctioned two Ascension schools for low performance, district leaders knew it was time to get serious about improving the quality of teaching in these schools. Just moving teachers around was not enough, they needed to build a culture of professional development and instructional accountability that would attract and keep talented teachers. The district built and implemented systems to help teachers improve their classroom effectiveness and to create opportunities for professional advancement. Now, teachers are eager to work at the once low-performing schools, and other schools in the district are keen on replicating their approach.

In the 2005-06 school year, two west bank schools serving large percentages of low-income students and students of color fell into state school improvement status. Lowery Intermediate School and Donaldsonville High School posted School Performance Scores of 55 and 58 on a scale of 0-200. The cut-off score was 60. In an effort to lift the two schools out of school improvement status and close the achievement gap between high-poverty and low-poverty schools in the district, Ascension decided to focus on improving the quality of teaching in these schools. To this end, district leaders chose to implement TAP: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement.

Kim Melancon, associate principal at Donaldsonville High, says the combination of [TAP's] complementary elements was critical to improving the teaching and learning conditions at her school. "I don't think we could have done this without all four components of TAP together."

District officials say they believe TAP forced teachers to explore their commitment to new learning and helped to create a collaborative environment. Once teachers saw that the more rigorous performance evaluations were employed, first and foremost, to improve practice, rather than as a punitive tool, most embraced the new culture of shared learning and responsibility that TAP brought to their schools.

"Even the best teacher in the world can be better," says Shaneka Burnett, a teacher at Lowery Intermediate School.

[Ascension Parish Director of School Improvement Jennifer] Tuttleton and other district leaders are convinced that helping teachers to become more successful and to feel more supported will help them become more effective for their students.

Since TAP's implementation, both Lowery Middle School and Donaldsonville High have seen steady improvement on their School Performance Scores. On another statewide measure, Lowery received a "value-added" student achievement score of 4, signifying above average individual student growth compared with similar schools in the state. Neither school is on the state's "academically unacceptable" list any longer, although both still have significant work to do to reach Louisiana's new School Performance Score goal of 120.

"We have turned a corner where when you ask teachers to come to these schools, they say it is an honor," Tuttleton says. Her impression is that many teachers are now "waiting for the call."

While Ascension continues to focus on the initial two TAP schools, the district has expanded the initiative into six additional schools. "The second two schools did not take much convincing because they had seen the positive student achievement gains from the first two [TAP] schools," Tuttleton says. "The next four schools joining our TAP team asked for the system to be implemented on their campuses."