Closing Achievement Gaps for English Learners and Increasing Teacher Retention in West Goshen Elementary School, Indiana
West Goshen is a public elementary school located in Goshen, Indiana, serving some 350 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. A town of approximately 31,000 residents, Goshen is situated in north central Indiana's Elkhart County, about three hours east of Chicago and three hours north of Indianapolis. RV manufacturing is the primary driver of the town's economy. West Goshen, now educating a significant number of Hispanics and English Learners, has experienced sizable demographic shifts in student population over the last 20 years.
In 2000, West Goshen Elementary had a white population of 71 percent and a Hispanic population of 23 percent. Since then, steady enrollment increases by Hispanic students made West Goshen a majority–minority school by the 2006-2007 school year. By 2017-2018, nearly two-thirds of West Goshen's students identified as Hispanic. Around three quarters receive free or reduced-price lunch and 43 percent are classified as English Learners (ELs).
The increase of English Learners and students living in poverty presented a number of new instructional challenges for the staff at West Goshen. To help support teachers meet their students' academic needs, the school employed a number of professional learning strategies that sounded good on paper in its Title I plan, but failed to live up to their promise in the classroom.
In addition to these general strategies, West Goshen supported its growing EL population through pullout instruction. While the EL instructors had some knowledge of general techniques, they lacked an understanding of what EL students needed to make academic growth in key subjects. To make matters worse, classroom teachers began to see English Learners' growth as the responsibility of the supplemental instructors.
The New Approach: Implementing Schoolwide Strategies to Raise English Learner Achievement
As first steps toward addressing the unique challenges of their student population, West Goshen leaders worked with NIET to establish a school-based structure of teacher leaders to support job-embedded professional learning for every teacher, and adopt a common language for classroom observations and feedback.
With these systems and supports in place, the school leadership team, consisting of the principal and teacher leaders, was able to more effectively implement instructional strategies that addressed both schoolwide needs and the unique needs of particular student groups. This played a critical role in raising student achievement among English Learners, which had remained stubbornly low despite substantial investment in strategies targeted to ELs.
Given the ineffectiveness of previous strategies, the school leadership team explored new ways to better meet the academic needs of their English Learners. After much discussion, they hypothesized that targeted supports that treated EL needs as separate from general student academic needs may have caused ELs to be neglected during general classroom instruction, thus depriving them of many learning opportunities.
The data supported this hypothesis: ELs consistently had low speaking and writing scores on the World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA), which measures multilingual readers. At the same time, data from state exams showed that most students needed to improve their communication skills. As a result, the leadership team chose to make "Building Better Communicators" a major academic goal for the whole school. Across the building, the staff used weekly meetings to analyze student work and data.
Weekly meetings also provided the opportunity for teachers to learn and practice strategies that provided students with more time to talk and communicate with one another and their teachers. Within these strategies, they developed activities for building discrete skills, such as using academic language or delivering peer-to-peer feedback.
Teacher leaders helped classroom teachers understand how students should be speaking and what teachers should be listening for, and offered support in individual classrooms. By using the greatest academic need to drive schoolwide instructional strategies, West Goshen began to see student growth across the board, but particularly, significant growth for English Learners and students living in poverty.
Because of these improvement strategies, West Goshen has seen tremendous growth in student achievement. After its second year of working with NIET, West Goshen went from a D rating the previous year to a B rating. By year 2015-2016, the school received an A rating and a value-added growth score of 5—the highest possible score on a 1-5 scale. It has maintained the A rating for three consecutive years.
West Goshen is closing achievement gaps for its English Learners and students living in poverty. In 2018, the passing rate for both English Learners and students receiving free or reduced-priced lunch was higher in West Goshen than the state on both ELA and math ISTEP exams.
Most notably, the passing rate for West Goshen's ELs was 17.4 percentage points higher on English Language Arts than the state average, while the passing rate for students receiving free or reduced-price lunch was 11.7 percentage points higher on math compared to the state average.
"Sustaining the A a third year in a row is a testament to the great instruction our teachers commit to every single day," noted Principal Lori Line. "We also are transparent with our students with their data and our students reflect and set specific goals. We have eliminated excuses and are committed to doing whatever it takes to grow our students. We don't just say we are 'student-focused.' We show we are through every instruction move we make based on the specific needs of our students."
To learn more about how West Goshen Elementary School has increased student achievement across student subpopulations, look for the full case study to be released soon. In addition to West Goshen, case studies will cover Somerset Independent School District in Texas and Ascension Public Schools in Louisiana.