Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Essential Outcomes

At our most recent staff development on March 11, our elementary staff was able to collaborate and work to identify our essential outcomes for grades K-5 in the areas of English Language Arts and Math. I have compiled a list of Frequently Asked Questions including a picture of how we plan to progress in the future regarding this important work:

Essential Outcomes

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. What are Essential Outcomes and skills?

Essential Outcomes are a subset of the complete list of standards within the Iowa Core Curriculum. They represent a vertically aligned “safety net” of indicators that our teaching professionals strive to ensure students’ learn prior to exiting each grade level. It is important to realize, however, that state law mandates that educators be bound to teach their students all the standards and indicators in their assigned grade level or department. Denver Elementary is not eliminating any standards, although we ARE clear on the knowledge, skills, and dispositions (that is the essential outcomes) that students will acquire as a result of each content area/grade level. To find a complete list of our Iowa Core Standards, please visit: http://www.corecurriculum.iowa.gov/

2. Why Essential Outcomes?

Essential outcomes provide a laser focus for us as a K-5 elementary system. We have prioritized our standards, based on the research that this type of system philosophy increases student achievement.

3. How did Denver Elementary staff select the Essential Outcomes?

Our teachers and administration worked together to prioritize our standards, based on three criteria:

1. Endurance – Does the standard provide value beyond a single test date?

2. Readiness For Next Level – Will the standard provide students with skills and knowledge necessary for success in the next grade or level of instruction?

3. Leverage – Will this standard provide knowledge and skills that will be of value in multiple disciplines?

4. How will Denver Elementary staff move forward, in successfully implementing and using the Essential Outcomes?

Denver Elementary teachers work within very high standards of excellence. Our system allows for collaborative time among elementary teachers (Professional Learning Communities) in order to focus on three guiding questions:

1. What do we want our students to learn?

2. How do we know students are learning?

3. What are we doing when students are/are not learning?

As we continue our important work, we will move forward by:

1. Sequencing essential outcomes for logical progression within each grade level

2. Developing Common “Formative” Assessments to go with standards

3. We will provide for Intervention and Enrichment opportunities based on data from assessments

4. We will strive to move toward a revised K-5 Standards Based Report Card by the 2012-13 school year

Saturday, March 5, 2011


As we continue to grow within our Professional Learning Community (PLC) culture that we have developed at Denver Community School District, I am continually impressed by the conversations that I am having on a regular basis with grade level teams at the elementary level in terms of what our professionals are collaborating about. In our district, we reach to find the answers to the following three questions, each time we meet within our PLC: What do we want our students to learn? How do we know if they are learning? And finally, what are we doing if they are or are not learning? These three questions were derived from the work of DuFour and Eaker and many others, although to my knowledge Ralph Taylor introduced these questions in similar context as early as 1949.

Primarily, in my experience, a system that does not support this collaborative nature in terms of time allocation on a regular and consistent (weekly) basis will not reap the benefits of rich, meaningful, and focused conversations based on student achievement. In previous years, we offered sporadic, monthly, and even bi-monthly PLC meeting times, which at the foundational level, was valuable, although it wasn’t until this academic year, in which we MADE time within our schedule, in order to provide for WEEKLY collaboration of our PLC teams that we really are starting to see the true benefits. Ultimately, the focus of this time must always be around making data driven decisions, while also always focusing on our three driving questions.

This culture, over time, was made possible only because we had professionals on board that saw the importance of this quality time for themselves, their students, and their fellow colleagues. For example, our teacher-librarian has gone out of her way this school year to help mold this common time for our teachers. Next year however, we have created a schedule which steps away from tradition and towards innovation, as we modify our related arts schedule in order to create time for continued collaboration. We will also embed time for intervention and enrichment for our students, which will allow for the decisions that we make during our collaborative time to come to fruition with the help of other staff outside of the typical general education grade level team. This again, only happens if the system allows, which comes down to careful and methodical scheduling. For more information, I would encourage you to read the following article: http://www.allthingsplc.info/pdf/articles/make_time_for_collaboration.pdf

Our professionals have always put students first, though they are now at a point in which they understand the importance of consistency across a grade level, collaboration, and data-driven decision-making. For example, our second grade team has been looking at data and making decisions about what effective strategies could be used to raise reading fluency across the grade level. Our kindergarten team, is collaborating about Changing their literacy Checkups (formative assessments) including the rate and timing of introducing the vowel sounds, specifically the short vowel sounds, in order to better meet their students’ needs. They also discussed the explicit nature of the mini-lessons in which they will be teaching across the grade level. Our fourth grade team just discussed the importance of “Intervention and Enrichment” time, and the value in having agreed upon essential outcomes in order to provide a “safety net” for our students.

The bottom line is that these rich, meaningful, student-centered conversations most often, do not happen when passing in the hallway, during a fifteen minute conversation prior to school, in an email, or even during a 25 minute common planning time. These conversations happen within a SYSTEM that allows for a minimum of one hour, in my opinion, of weekly collaborative time. I am so proud of our staff, and the commitment that they have made in making the most of a system that has provided an opportunity for consistency, collaboration, innovation, and data-driven decision-making.

Kim Tierney

Denver Elementary Principal