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A case study of two Colorado school reform efforts - Denver and Fountain

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A case study of two Colorado school reform efforts - Denver and Fountain
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Locke, Tom
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English
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vi, 149 leaves : ; 28 cm

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Educational change -- Case studies -- Colorado -- Denver ( lcsh )
Educational change -- Case studies -- Colorado -- Fountain ( lcsh )
Educational change ( fast )
Colorado -- Denver ( fast )
Colorado -- Fountain ( fast )
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Case studies. ( fast )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )
Case studies ( fast )

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Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 146-149).
General Note:
Department of English
Statement of Responsibility:
Tom Locke.

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|University of Colorado Denver
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|Auraria Library
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
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230741594 ( OCLC )
ocn230741594
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Full Text
!>
A CASE STUDY OF TWO COLORADO SCHOOL
REFORM EFFORTS DENVER AND FOUNTAIN
by
Tom Locke
B.A., Harvard College, 1974
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
and Health Sciences Center
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
English
2007


This thesis for the Master of Arts
degree by
Tom Locke
has been approved
by
Michelle Comstock
A
i-Tcv}
Date


Locke, Tom (Master of Arts, English)
A Case Study of Two Colorado School Reform Efforts Denver and Fountain
Thesis directed by Professor Ian Ying
ABSTRACT
This study examines the decision-making process, implementation and results in
reform at two school districts in Colorado: Denver Public Schools and Fountain-Ft.
Carson 8. It shows that the Studio Course reform efforts first started in the fall of
2002 in language arts at all DPS middle schools and all but three high schools were
a failure by several forms of measurement, and it examines why. It also shows that
the process-oriented reform efforts started at the Fountain district were successful and
analyzes why. The study shows that measurable progress can be made through
reform, as demonstrated by Fountain, and that misguided reform can have negative
effects, as demonstrated at DPS, even when a doubling of time is allocated to the
targeted area of improvement: language arts. Also, the study shows that inaccurate
statements were made on DPS Comprehensive School Reform grant applications,
further calling into question the decision-making in the Studio Course reform efforts.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. 1 recommend
its publication.
Signed
Ian Ying


TABLE OF CONTENTS
List of Tables...........................................vi
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION..........................................1
Purpose............................................1
Project Overview...................................6
Limitations of the Study...........................7
Key Points.........................................9
2. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE..............................11
Other Case Studies, Other Reforms..................11
Literature Tied to DPS and Fountain Reforms .......15
Denver Public Schools........................20
Fountain-Ft. Carson 8........................23
3. RESEARCH METHODOLOGY..................................27
Data Collection....................................28
4. FINDINGS..............................................29
Denver Public Schools..............................29
Why Reform Was Necessary.....................29
The process of choosing the reform...........31
The Research Basis and Testing of the Reform.33
IV


Comparison with Americas Choice
35
The reform itself..............................38
The implementation of the reform...............44
The results of the reform......................47
The aftermath of the reform....................53
Fountain-Fort Carson 8................................55
Why reform was necessary.......................55
The Process of choosing the reform.............56
Research basis and testing of the reform.......57
The reform itself..............................57
The implementation of the reform...............60
The results of the reform......................61
The aftermath of the reform....................63
5. DISCUSSION...............................................65
Conclusion............................................66
APPENDIX..........................................................68
A. Protocol approved by Human Subjects Committee............68
B. Hard copies not available electronically.................72
BIBLIOGRAPHY......................................................146
v


LIST OF TABLES
Table
1 Eighth-grade CSAP scores for DPS, Fountain, state..................2
2 Seventh-grade CSAP scores for DPS, Fountain, state.................3
3 Sixth-grade CSAP scores for DPS, Fountain, state...................4
4 Fall 2006, Student percentages in free-reduced lunch program.......8
vi


CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
Purpose
The purpose of this paper is to provide real-world examples of reform in two
Colorado school districts in hopes that the practical lessons that have emerged from
those reform efforts will be of use to others. Denver Public Schools was chosen
because of the authors personal experience monitoring a language arts class at a DPS
middle school in 2004. The Studio Course, in its second school year, didnt seem to
be working well at DPS back then, and CSAP test results, then and later,
corroborated that impression. Fountain-Fort Carson 8 was chosen because it had test
scores that had improved over more than a decade of reform. Unlike DPS, it had
greatly narrowed the achievement gap between whites and minorities, and it was a
large enough district to obtain test results segmented by ethnicity. Based on CSAP
scores and other measures, reform at Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8
succeeded and reform at Denver didnt. (See Tables 1, 2 and 3.) This paper explains
why.
1


TABLE 1: EIGHTH-GRADE CSAP SCORES FOR DPS, FOUNTAIN, STATE
Denver Public Schools, writing CSAP scores, by ethnicity and total
8th Grade -percentage scoring proficient or advanced
(Note: The year indicates the spring of the academic year in question. For instance,
2007 indicates the academic year 2006-2007.)
Blacks Hispanics Whites All Students as a whole
2007 23.3 16.5 64.7 28
2006 26.9 18.8 61.4 29
2005 24.0 16.3 59.6 27
2004 23.9 15.2 58.1 26
2003 26.5 15.3 56.2 27
2002* 30.0 17.0 58.0 29
*Note: The 2002 numbers for all three grades were taken from a previous paper by
Tom Locke and were obtained from a DPS school in 2004. Numbers are rounded.
Fountain-Fort Carson 8, writing CSAP scores, by ethnicity and total
8th Grade - percentage scoring proficient or advanced
Blacks Hispanics Whites All Students as a whole
2007 42.5 42.6 57.3 52
2006 65.6 53.7 64.9 64
2005 47.1 54.9 65.8 61
2004 41.6 43.4 52.4 57
2003 47.2 42.6 59.7 55
2002** 52
**Note: Ethnicity data not available, but total data was available.
State of Colorado, writing CSAP scores, by ethnicity and total
8th Grade - percentage scoring proficient or advanced
Blacks Hispanics Whites All Students as a whole
2007 31 27 63 51
2006 34 28 62 51
2005 34 28 62 51
2004 31 26 59 49
2003 33 23 58 49
2002 34 26 60 50
2


TABLE 2: SEVENTH-GRADE CSAP SCORES FOR DPS, FOUNTAIN, STATE
Denver Public Schools, writing CSAP scores by ethnicity and total
7th Grade percentage scoring proficient or advanced
Blacks Hispanics Whites All Students as a whole
2007 35.6 27.7 68.8 28
2006 30.2 19.9 67.9 29
2005 29.7 20.4 64.0 27
2004 23.6 15.7 61.5 26
2003 26.8 16.8 58.0 27
2002* 27.0 16.0 56.0 29
Fountain-Fort Carson 8, writing CSAP scores by ethnicity and total
7th Grade percentage scoring proficient or advanced
Blacks Hispanics Whites All Students as a whole
2007 57.5 60.5 65.3 62
2006 58.8 51.0 62.6 60
2005 57.3 67.2 58.1 60
2004 50.7 55.4 59.2 57
2003 52.3 59.3 62.0 60
2002** 52
State of Colorado, writing CSAP scores, by ethnicity and total
7th Grade - percentage scoring proficient or advanced
Blacks Hispanics Whites All Students as a whole
2007 43 39 71 60
2006 38 32 68 56
2005 39 33 67 56
2004 34 28 63 52
2003 36 28 63 53
2002 34 25 60 50
3


TABLE 3: SIXTH-GRADE CSAP SCORES FOR DPS, FOUNTAIN STATE
Denver Public Schools, writing CSAP scores by ethnicity and total
6th Grade percentage scoring proficient or advanced
Blacks Hispanics Whites All Students as a whole
2007 34.1 27.8 68.2 38
2006 34.0 26.2 67.3 36
2005 36.0 25.5 72.3 36
2004 30.1 21.4 63.9 32
2003 26.2 20.4 60.9 31
2002* 25.0 17.0 57.0 27
Fountain-Fort Carson 8, writing CSAP scores by ethnicity and total
6th Grade percentage scoring proficient or advanced
Blacks Hispanics Whites All Students as a whole
2007 55.8 63.9 64.1 63
2006 65.2 49.0 61.8 60
2005 51.1 66.1 68.9 64
2004 48.4 58.5 59.6 57
2003 47.2 50.7 58.0 55
2002 48
State of Colorado, writing CSAP scores, by ethnicity and total
6th Grade - percentage scoring proficient or advanced
Blacks Hispanics Whites All students as a whole
2007 43 38 71 60
2006 42 37 70 59
2005 42 37 71 59
2004 38 32 67 56
2003 37 30 65 54
2002 30 25 61 50
4


Whether or not CSAPs are a proper measure of success produced very little
difference of opinion among the teachers and administrators interviewed. While some
said it had deficiencies, no one interviewed attacked the notion that CSAPs were an
appropriate measure of student achievement.
The Studio Course reform effort in reading and writing at middle schools and
high schools at Denver Public Schools was a failure not only because of
disappointing CSAP scores districtwide, but also because individual middle schools
fell far short of meeting goals they had set as part of a process of receiving federal
grant money under Comprehensive School Reform Grants. The failure was also
evidenced by actions taken by the district itself to tweak the program almost from the
beginning and to institute a large modification in 2006-2007, four years after it was
first implemented in the 2002-2003 school year, and by decisions by all but two high
schools to jettison the program for the 2007-2008 school year.
Despite the fact that time devoted to language arts for the most part actually
doubled at DPS middle schools through the Studio Course, test scores were largely
disappointing, particularly when compared with state scores as a whole and when
used as a measurement of the closing of the achievement gap between whites and
minorities.
Fountain 8 started its reform efforts in 1992. While statewide test scores did not
become available at the middle school level until 1999 (and then only for the seventh
grade) they are still indicative of the last part of Fountains reform efforts and how
they compare with those of Denver. In 1999,40 percent of Fountains seventh-grade
students were proficient or advanced in the CSAP writing test, according to The
Colorado Department of Educations Web site showing CSAP School and District
Summary Results.
(http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdeassess/documents/csap/csap_summary.html#1999).
That was 11 percentage points below the state average of 51 percent, found through
the same Web site. DPS seventh graders had 26 percent proficient or advanced in
writing in 1999,25 percentage points below the states 51 percent, according to that
Web site.
Eight years later, in 2007, Fountain had 62 percent of its seventh graders
proficient or advanced in writing, a 22 percentage point increase that leapfrogged the
state average of 60 percent in 2007, according to the Colorado Department of
Educations Web site on CSAP School and District Summary Results.
(http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdeassess/documents/csap/csap_summary .html#2007)
During the same time period, DPS, which saw its Studio Course reforms begin in
the fall of 2002, rose 12 percentage points in seventh-grade writing, a little less than
half the gain at Fountain, to 38 percent scoring proficient or advanced. The 12
percentage-point gain was better than the nine-percentage-point gain of the state by
three percentage points, according to the Web site numbers, but the gain was still
overshadowed by that of Fountain. In addition, results for certain individual DPS
5


schools dropped after the Studio Course was instituted, according to the State
Evaluation of the Colorado Comprehensive School Reform (CSR) Program 2004-
2005. And for the 2002-2007 time period show DPS proficient and advanced scores
for sixth through eight grades in writing saw less improvement overall than the state
as a whole, according to the CSAP results at the same Web site.
Even more remarkable, the gap between whites and minorities at Fountain has
been largely eliminated, while at Denver it has worsened in many instances. In some
instances, as will be shown, minorities have scored higher than whites at Fountain.
That is not even close to happening at DPS.
This study shows that DPS failed partly because the Denver program was
instituted under the faulty assumption that curriculum changes, rather than changes in
practices and systems, were the way to institute school reform, and also partly
because Denvers Studio Course was pushed by one person, was a modified program
that had never been tested, and had minimal input from anyone else in its adoption,
resulting in many impractical facets and little teacher buy-in.
The Fountain approach looked at the school district as a whole and took an
approach based on effective schools and systems-thinking, with emphasis on
addressing a few important areas in the beginning: curriculum alignment with state-
imposed standards and tests, feedback loops providing instructional help for teachers
based on evaluations that were tied to the overall goals of the district, and feedback
loops for students based on data that suggested areas of weakness that needed to be
addressed.
Project Overview
The project is based on a number of in-person, e-mail or telephone interviews
with administrators and teachers at both school districts; almost 1,000 pages of
documents received from Denver Public Schools as a result of a request under the
Colorado Open Records Law; nearly 500 pages of documents from the original
Studio Course written for DPS and introduced in the fall of 2002, and from a revised
version introduced in the fall of 2006; a formal third-party evaluation conducted on
the Studio Course by Mountain View, Calif.-based Farr & Assoc., a State Evaluation
of the Colorado Comprehensive School Reform Program 2004-2005. Web site
literature and Webcasting, and a number of books and articles relevant to reform at
both districts.
The failure in Denver can be attributed to several factors, some relating to the
curriculum itself, some relating to the decision-making process used in picking that
curriculum and the lack of buy-in from stakeholders, and some relating to the
inadequacy of curriculum reform by itself to turn a district around. If the success at
Fountain is any indication, the processes within the district and its schools are the
most important elements of successful reform, not the programs. Most important to
6


reform are the teaching techniques, the classroom management, and the tying together
of various elements of a districtwide system to create the best teachers in the best
environment. From the Fountain point of view, curriculum alignment with state
standards is just one part of a bigger whole.
Limitations of the Study
It might be argued that the Denver/Fountain comparison is not a good one
because Denver is a much bigger school district, has a higher percentage of minority
students, and educates a higher percentage of economically disadvantaged students,
as measured by those in the free and reduced lunch program. (See Table 4.)
For instance, looking at the 15 middle schools at DPS, 12 had 75 percent or more
of their students in a free or reduced lunch program in the fall of 2006, according to
the 2007 CSAP results (see 2007 CSAP School and District Summary Results at
http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdeassess/documents/csap/csap summary.html). Two of
the other three, Smiley and Henry, had more than 60 percent of their students in such
a program, and only one, Morey, had less than half of its students in that program.
(See Table 1.) In comparison, Carson and Fountain middle schools, the only two
middle schools in the Fountain-Ft. Carson 8 district, had 36.1 percent and 33.3
percent of their students respectively in a free and reduced lunch program, according
to the same Web site. While one-third in such a program is significant, it still is
considerably less than the three-quarters that Denver middle schools were
experiencing. In addition, DPS is more than 10 times bigger than Fountain. For
instance 4,788 eighth graders took the 2007 writing test at DPS while 412 eighth
graders took the 2007 writing test at Fountain. In addition, the populations are
different. In those same tests. 18.4 percent of the DPS students were white, 57.3
percent were Hispanic, 20.3 percent were black, 3 percent were Asian or Pacific
Islanders, and 1 percent were American Indian. At Fountain, 61.4 percent were white,
13.1 percent were Hispanic, 21.1 percent were black, 2.7 percent were Asian or
Pacific Islanders, and 1.7 percent were American Indian, says the 2007 CSAP District
and School Disaggregated Summary Results from the Colorado Department of
Education (www.cde.state.co.us/cdeassess/documents/csap/csap_disag.html.)
So, it might be concluded that Denver, with six of ten students being Hispanic,
might have a predominantly Hispanic culture, while Fountain, with six of ten students
being white, might have a predominantly white culture. Interestingly, both districts
had about the same percentage of black students: about one in five.
7


TABLE 4: Fall 2006 Percentage of Students in a Free and Reduced Lunch Program
Denver Public Schools, Middle Schools
Grant 82.5
Henry 65.0
Hill 77.9
Horace Mann 93.5
Kepner 87.3
Kunsmiller 93.0
Lake 81.6
Martin Luther King 79.4
Merrill 77.0
Morey 43.3
Noel 86.7
Place 81.4
Rishel 81.4
Skinner 87.0
Smiley 72.5
Fountain Ft. Carson 8 Schools, Middle Schools
Carson
Fountain
36.1
33.3


Another point to note is that Tim Holt, director of secondary education at
Fountain, said in a June 6 e-mail that he guessed that about 10 percent to 20 percent
of the improvement in the reading and writing test scores at the middle school level in
the Fountain district could be attributed to higher income levels over time for the
residents of the district. The free and reduced lunch numbers have gone down, but
we still do better that the other districts that have similar demographics, he said.
In general, however, Fountain administrators said they believe the principles that
worked at Fountain would work at a larger district such as Denver. They did not think
that the Fort Carson Army Base, which makes up half the school district, presented a
different minority population than the general non-military minority population.
Another limitation involves the absence of teacher interviews in the Fountain
district. Despite several communications to try to arrange one or more interviews with
teachers in the district, no interviews were arranged.
Key Points
A key point in understanding this study is this: Those people interviewed in
connection with Fountain were all willing to have their names used and be quoted.
All but one person associated with Denver Public Schools declined to have their
name used, and some even declined to have their quotes used, even without using a
name. That would seem to indicate that those at Fountain dont mind being associated
with its success, while those in Denver would rather not be associated with its failure.
Another key point is understanding the differing viewpoints expressed within the
two districts about whether reform can even be successfully accomplished. A former
Denver administrator, called here Source A, or A, seemed skeptical. If you look
at the literature, its not like theres a clear model that works. The literature is a
hodgepodge of minor impacts and a lack of clarity about what causes them, said A.
There are studies made, but when you get to the actual school districts, theres not a
great case for impacts, said A.
Dale Gasser, who was superintendent at Fountain from 1992-2002, disagrees.
The research is not a hodgepodge that is an excuse of those who have not been
able to implement the necessary changes, he said in a July 5,2007, e-mail. He cites
effective schools research as the basis for reforms at Fountain that worked to raise
scores, improve graduation rates and close the performance gap between whites and
minorities. Among the points stressed in the effective schools research cited by
Gasser are: direct instruction (which stresses small learning increments and clearly
defined teaching tasks); good use of instructional time; vertical alignment of
curriculum; assessment that informs instruction; high expectations; strong
administrative leadership focused on improving instruction; clear academic and social
behavior goals; order and discipline; and focus on instruction.
9


The effective schools research has been compiled over the last 25 years.
Marzano, Schmoker, Berliner, Danielson, just to name a few, said Gasser.
Yet Source A raises an interesting point: Its not so simple to cure the problems
of schools, and if it was, then all districts would be doing it. Gassers point is that the
solution is there but its not all that easy. Problem is that most administrators and
districts either do not have the will or the knowledge to implement the above
(effective schools reforms). The reason that everyone does not do it is that it is hard
work that takes real commitment. Its not too glamorous.
A final key point is this: The single most striking difference in the CSAP scores
for the two districts is the huge gap between whites and minorities in Denver and the
virtual elimination of the gap in Fountain. Looking at the eighth-grade writing CSAP
scores of DPS versus Fountain 8 from 2003-2006, the most apparent difference is the
close in the gap between the scores of whites and minorities. In the 2006 CSAPs,
Denver showed a gap of 40-plus percentage points between whites and Hispanics in
eighth-grade writing and a gap of 30-plus percentage points between whites and
blacks. At Fountain, on the other hand, blacks scored higher than whites that year in
eighth-grade writing (65.6 percent versus 64.9 percent) and Hispanics were less than
15 percentage points behind (53.7 percent versus 64.9 percent.) In 2007, the gap
widened in both districts, but Fountain still had a far narrower gap than Denver. In
2007 at Fountain, 42.5 percent of blacks, 42.6 percent of Hispanics, 57.3 percent of
whites and 52 percent of all eighth grade students combined scored proficient or
advanced on the eighth-grade writing CSAP. At Denver, 23.3 percent of blacks, 16.5
percent of Hispanics, 64.7 percent of whites and 28 percent of all eighth-grade
students combined scored proficient or advanced on the eighth-grade writing 2007
CSAP. (See Table 1.) While the gap between whites versus blacks and Hispanics was
about 15 percentage points at Fountain, it was more than 40 percentage points
between whites versus blacks and Hispanics at DPS. Fountains gap was also
narrower than the state as a whole, which showed 31 percent of blacks, 27 percent of
Hispanics, 63 percent of whites, and 51 percent of all eighth graders scored proficient
or advanced in the eight-grade writing 2007 CSAP. Even at the state level, the gap
was twice as high as it was at Fountain.
10


CHAPTER 2
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
The literature review for this paper can be divided into three parts: that literature
on school reform and on case studies that formed a theoretical basis for this case
study; that literature that formed a basis for the reform at Denver Public Schools; and
that literature cited by Fountain administrators as important to their own reforms.
Other case studies, other reforms
As noted by Robert K. Yin in Case Study Research Design and Methods, the
case study has long been (and continues to be) stereotyped as a weak sibling among
social science methods (xiii). But, he adds, they are the preferred strategy as
opposed to experiments, surveys, histories and archival analysis when how or
why questions are being posed, when the investigator has little control over events,
and when the focus is on a contemporary phenomenon within some real-life context
(1). All three of those conditions apply to this study. Yin states that why or how
questions are more explanatory and deal with operational links needing to be traced
over time, rather than mere frequencies or incidence (6). Some of the questions
relevant to this study, for instance, are why these reforms were adopted, how they
were chosen, and how they performed once they were chosen.
He also notes that case studies can be used to arrive at conclusions beyond the
cases themselves. Case study books can simply present individual case studies or
also use the cases to make broader generalizations. Both approaches are found on a
topic of continued public interest: identifying successful programs to improve U.S.
social conditions (16). It is precisely that purpose that seems apparent in the case
studies of Effective Schools presented below. This study is aimed at adding to that
dialog, but it also tackles the darker side of reform. In the case of DPS, reform was
implemented without sufficient evidence of the reform programs workability.
Michael Bassey, in Case Study Research in Educational Settings, outlines various
types of case studies, including evaluative case studies, which apply in this paper.
These are enquiries which set out to explore some educational programme, system
project or event in order to focus on its worthwhileness, and that can include
whether stated objectives are met, he says (63). He quotes from Helen Simons
statements about the difficulty of generalizing from a single case, but notes that she
welcomes the paradox between the study of the singularity and the search for
generalization. The importance of the Effective Schools case studies below is that
they make generalization easier because they reflect not one instance, but several
11


instances, of success, and those instances are in school districts with bigger school
populations and higher percentages of minorities than at Fountain. They suggest that
the success at Fountain could indeed be exported to a district such as DPS.
The case study of Fountain found herein follows previous case studies on the
Effective Schools approach, which Gasser cites as the foundation for the Fountain
reforms. In Case Studies in Effective Schools Research, published by the National
Center for Effective Schools and edited by Barbara O. Taylor, specific case studies
point to the success in various school districts. In defining Effective Schools the
book (vii) refers to the glossarys definitions of correlates, which are school
characteristics that researchers have found to be present in schools that effectively
teach all children. They include clear and focused mission, strong instructional
leadership, positive learning climate, high expectations for success, opportunity to
learn and time on task, frequent monitoring of student performances, and positive
home/school relations (203).
The Jackson, Miss., school district became involved in Effective Schools in 1980
and showed that a large district, educating roughly 33,100 students by the time of
publication in 1990, could successfully use an Effective Schools program. The district
also had a high percentage of minority students, with a student population of 71
percent blacks, 21 percent whites and 2.5 percent Hispanic, American Indian, or
Asian American (144). Pointing to California Achievement Test scores, three
administrators writing about Jackson Carol Adams, Henriette Allen and Robert
Fortenberry said in an article called Effective Schools Do Make a Difference in
Jackson, Mississippi that fourth graders rose from the 26th percentile in 1975 to the
67th percentile in 1985 and that eighth-graders increased their CAT scores from the
38th percentile in 1980 to the 51st percentile in 1985 (146).
Norfolk, Va., also showed that an effective schools approach could work in a
large district (enrollment of about 36,000 by the time of publication in 1990) with a
high percentage of minority students (58 percent were black and 38 percent were
white in 1989). The major problem in applying the research of the Effective Schools
has been acceptance of the belief that All students can learn, according to the
article by Norfolk administrators Gene Carter, Ann Madison, Eddie Hall and Thomas
Lockamy, called A Case For Equity and Quality: How One Team is Making it
Happen in Norfolk, Viriginia. Norfolk became involved in Effective Schools in 1982
and the dropout rate declined from 15.8 percent in 1980-81 to 8.1 percent in 1987-88.
Scores on SRA standardized tests rose for grades 2,4,6,8, and 11 between 1982 and
1987, with increases ranging from 1 percent to 15 percent.
An Effective Schools program also worked, starting in 1985, in Prince Georges
County, Maryland, which had a whopping 104,140 students enrolled by the time of
publication in 1990, with 63.2 percent being black and 29.7 percent being white.
Located between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, it was the 16th largest school
district in the nation. One thing the program did was significantly influence the
12


procedures by the school system to assess, interpret, and monitor student
achievement, according to administrators John Murphy and Louise Waynant,
authors of Reaching for Excellence and Equity in Prince Georges County Public
Schools (20). Standardized test results were encouraging not only because of
absolute increases, but because of a narrowing of the gap between whites and
minorities, something Fountain has been particularly good at accomplishing. During
the 1987-88 school year, third grade students in Prince Georges County Public
Schools moved into the top 30 percent nationally on the California Achievement Test
by scoring at the 73rd percentile ... (24). Black eighth graders scored at the 58th
percentile and all eighth graders reached the 67th percentile. The gains by black
students, system-wide, continued to narrow the gap between white and black student
achievement. The gap was reduced to 17 percentile points in grade three alone the
first time the gap has been less than 20 percentile points (24).
The success of Effective Schools reforms at those large school districts would
seem to add credence to Gassers view that what he and others achieved at Fountain
could be transferred successfully to another, larger district with a higher minority
population, such as DPS.
That doesnt mean that the Effective Schools approach has gone without
criticism. In Schools Making a Difference Lets Be Realistic!. Martin Thrupp cites
the tension between Effective Schools supporters and those researchers who stress
the relationship between family background and school performance (18). He notes
that some have argued that school effectiveness research, or SER, has reduced the
autonomy of teachers and minimized their influence over policymaking. The most
common complaint is that SER is an essentially technicist literature which lacks a
critical perspective on the relationship between schools and their social and political
context, he says (17). At the same time, however, school effectiveness research
brought new optimism in the 1980s that schools can make a difference. Such a
viewpoint was welcomed by many after the widely accepted pessimism in the late
1970s that schools were powerless to address social inequalities, according to
Thrupp (17).
Another criticism often heard about school reform is the frequency of testing.
Testing continues to be a central theme in Effective Schools and in the reform effort
at Fountain, which expanded its testing to monthly Tungsten tests.. The argument for
the tests deals with making sure the students are learning what theyre supposed to be
learning. But Wayne J. Urban, in his article The Illusion of Reform in Georgia,
takes a different view. In his article, found in School Reform in the Deep South, A
Critical Appraisal, edited by David Void and Joseph DeVitis, Urban states: Given
this overemphasis on testing, one wonders whether anything besides testing will go
on in the classrooms. What will become of teaching and learning for their own sakes?
Or for any other reason besides performance on some kind of standardized test? Is it
not likely that we will see teachers learn how to teach children to pass tests, without
13


necessarily, or perhaps even probably, learning the things that passing the test implies
that they know? (135)
Richard Elmore, in his book School Reform from the Inside Out: Policy.
Practice. Performance, says that theres a lot more going on in the new movement
than testing. Its a matter of accountability for students, teachers and administrators,
and he argues that professional development needs to be available for the new model
to succeed. (125).
American public education is leaving a period in which questions of practice
and its improvement were essentially pushed into the classroom, where doors were
shut and teachers were left to develop their own ideas and practices, largely
unsupported by the organizations in which they worked. The next stage of
development in American education, propelled by the advent of performance-based
accountability, requires the development of a practice of continuous school
improvement a body of knowledge about how to increase the quality of
instructional practice and boost student learning on a large scale across classrooms,
schools, and entire school systems. At its core is professional development, the
process of professional learning for the purpose of improving student achievement.
He cites one failing school under No Child Left Behind federal legislation that he
visited, Clemente Middle School. While it had highly engaged students (232),
teachers were doing all the work and the students in the classroom, although engaged
and amused, were not doing enough thinking for themselves. Teachers need more
professional development to avoid such pitfalls. The internal accountability and
emphasis on systems and improving teacher effectiveness emphasized at Fountain
appears in line with his arguments.
In general, what we have found in our research on accountability is that failing
schools fundamentally lack what we have come to call internal accountability. That
is, they lack agreement and coherence around expectations for student learning and
they lack the means to influence instructional practice in classrooms in ways that
result in student learning. In our research, high internal accountability, or coherence
and agreement around expectations for teaching practice and student learning, leads
directly to observable gains in student leaming(235).
If schools have high internal accountability, they are far more likely to perform
well under external accountability demands, according to Elmore.
Some of the political pressures for accountability were made evident in the
testimony of Connecticut State Senator Kevin Sullivan in a Sept. 3,1992, hearing
before the Subcommittee on Education, Arts and Humanities of the U.S. Senates
Committee on Labor and Human Resources. As documented in School Reform in
Connecticut: Lessons for our Nation. Sullivan said of Connecticut, Our schools our
educators and our students, for all the challenges still to be met, lead the nation on
almost every measure of performance (5). Among other causal factors, he stressed
accountability, which he defined as strategic school profiles that report critical
14


information linking student needs, school resources, and student results to support
school improvement and greater community awareness (6). In the reforms at
Fountain, the frequency of testing increased over time as tests were viewed as tools
that enabled teachers to see areas of weakness in instruction that needed to be
addressed.
Literature tied to DPS and Fountain reforms
Before looking at literature specifically tied to either the DPS or Fountain
reforms, its helpful to look at both districts in the context of a Webcast by former
Fountain Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Mike Miles and an
article by Aurora, Colo.-based Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning
(McREL), which was cited by Miles in his Webcast.
Key to the Fountain success was its focus on processes rather than programs,
according to Miles, who is the current superintendent at Harrison School District 2 in
Colorado Springs. We are way too program-focused and not system-focused, he
said in a Webcast called Systems Thinking in Practice: How a Superintendent and
Two Districts Applied a Model of Systems Thinking for Increased Student
Achievement. The Webcast was sponsored by the Center for Comprehensive School
Reform and Improvement, found through the Web at:
http://www.centerforcsri.org/webcasts/webcast3/webcast3.html).
In that Webcast, Miles lists three key things that make systems thinking work:
system connections, leverage points and archetypes. With systems connections, for
instance, he notes that budget, training of staff and goals are often disconnected
within school districts and not addressed in the right order. The goals and consequent
action plans for a year should come first, and the budget and staff development
should be driven by those action plans, he said. For instance, the timing of the action
plans at Fountain-Fort Carson 8 was moved to January and February so that those
action plans could precede the budget decisions due in June and the staff development
in early spring. Another group of connections involve what supervisors observe in
teachers, what the instructional priorities are, and how teacher evaluations are
conducted. Often in education there is not an alignment between observations and
teacher evaluations, he said in the Webcast.
Leverage points, the second major factor that makes systems thinking work, are
those places where a school district can get the most bang for the buck, said Miles.
Every department tries to get as many resources as possible, but systems thinking
allows the administration to focus on leverage points first. One might be systemic
curriculum alignment, he said, which might precede staff development or buying
textbooks. Curriculum alignment means bring the subject matter taught in line with
state standards and state tests, said Miles in a later interview. Teachers should teach
what the students are going to be tested on and students should be tested on what
15


theyre taught, he said. Sometimes districts tend to focus on way too many leverage
points at once, and in a reform they may want to focus on two particular leverage
points, such as curriculum alignment and instructional feedback to the teachers
through spot observation, and probably no more than four, Miles said in the Webcast.
An archetype, the third major area within systems thinking, includes four
components: philosophy, making sure everyones belief system and culture is on the
same page; processes, how things get done; implementation, how to monitor the
system for continuous improvement; and leadership density. If there is a weakness in
any of those four components, such as leadership, then there is system dysfunction.
Thats one justification for instituting leadership training within a district.
The system is not program-focused, Miles stressed in the Webcast He said
Fountain-Fort Carson had achieved the lowest minority-white achievement gap of any
school district in Colorado using a systems thinking approach. Fountains
achievement gap is particularly striking when compared with that of DPS.
Some of Miles thinking runs parallel to thoughts expressed in Asking the Right
Questions: A Leaders Guide to Systems Thinking About School Improvement, the
publication by McREL. It makes an important point about carrying through in the real
world the ideas of systems thinking.
After interviewing more than 20 school leaders, we learned that thinking
systemically is often easier said than done. School systems are so complex and
expansive that it is often difficult for school leaders to be certain whether they are
truly considering all the elements of the system when making changes to the system
(2).
That raises the question about whether the success at Fountain can be replicated
easily or whether much of it is tied to the personalities and leadership capabilities of
those people at the top who made it happen. Miles said that leadership is important,
but leaders can be trained, and thats just what they were trying to do at Fountain in
order to develop a depth of leadership. In the systemic coaching cycle rubric that
was part of the tools in his Webcast, Miles refers to teacher leaders who establish
high expectations and ensure new teachers and others understand and act upon the
schools philosophy and administrators who monitor instruction frequently and
provide clear feedback on instruction and ensure a vision is developed and acted
upon.
The McRel paper creates different categories than Miles, citing three domains
of school systems: the technical domain, the personal domain and the organizational
domain. Within the technical domain, one sees the leverage points and points of
connection that Miles talks about. Improvement efforts that center around this
domain might include developing standards and benchmarks for various grade levels,
aligning curricula with standards, identifying effective instructional strategies and
redesigning assessments to better measure student achievement and progress (3).
16


McRel identifies a crucial area in adopting reform where Denver fell short.
Before making any changes in a school system, it is essential to conduct a data-
based needs assessment. Hus is a critical preliminary step that should not be skipped.
School leaders must take the time to gather Mid reflect on student performance data
and consider input from teachers, staff members, parents, and other stakeholders.
This early assessment process helps ensure that reform initiatives are directed to
the right issues, saving valuable time and resources in the long run (5).
That preliminary step was not taken at Denver Public Schools, where new Chief
Academic Officer Sally Mentor Hay simply dictated how things were going to be,
with her notions about change already in place before she assumed her position. She
did not seek feedback from stakeholders before proceeding, according to interviewees
familiar with the situation.
At Fountain-Ft. Carson 8, that preliminary step was taken only in so far as
community forums were held to solicit feedback, and they helped to give power and
legitimacy to the reform effort.
Another piece of advice might well have benefited Denver Public Schools. It
addresses the important element of teacher buy-in. Most states require schools and
districts to align their curriculum guides to identical standards. However, a number of
studies have shown that curriculum guides do not translate into classroom practice
(Doyle 1992; Stodolosky, 1989; Yoon Burstein & Gold, n.d.). Because of time
constraints and personal preferences, teachers often skip over materials designated in
curriculum guides. In a standards-based school, this can mean that some standards are
left out, while material not considered critical is included. Therefore it may be
necessary to carefully examine teachers unit and lesson plans to ensure that standards
are being covered in the classroom (11).
That addresses two key failures at DPS: one, die failure to get teacher buy-in
from die outset, which meant that all standards would likely not be addressed in all
classrooms. And the second was the lack of uniform implementation across schools.
That was particularly evident at the high schools, where some schools were able to
voluntarily avoid participation, according to the third-party study by Farr and
Associates (7), but also at the middle schools, where enforcement of the Studio
Course varied between schools, according to one DPS teacher. The McREL paper
also raises the point brought out by some critics of the Studio Course: It was not
sufficiently aligned with state standards, such as in grammar. At Fountain, the
philosophy from the top was clear that the state standards were in place, the students
would be tested in line with state standards, and that it was unfair to test students on
material they had not been taught. Clearly, then, they would learn in materials
demanded by state standards.
The McRel paper notes that school systems are beginning to see that standards
have widespread implications for their school systems (12). One is budgetary.
Aligning a curriculum with standards can require rather dramatic changes in die
17


curriculum and textbooks. That can be expensive, so one strategy is to see what
standards are already being addressed by the current curriculum and then fill in gaps
over time as resources permit (14).
As an example of what is meant be procedures and aligning curriculum with
standards, the McREL paper stresses the importance of communicating to the
students die relationship between what is being taught and the standard the lesson is
tied to. A recent meta-analysis of 53 research studies (Marzano, 1998) found that
when students were clear in advance about what they were learning, their
achievement was, on average, 34 percentage points higher on tests used in these
studies than students in control groups. This finding suggests that teachers should
explicitly make the connection between standards and every lesson they teach. This
might be done by posting the standards on the wall, a bulletin board, or chalkboard, or
writing the relevant standards at die top of each assignment (14). For that to work, of
course, the students have to understand what the standard is saying, which may take
some translation on the part of the teacher.
That process is similar to Fountains practice. Holt, the director of secondary
education, and Deb Keiley, principal at Fountain Middle School, said in a June 1 in-
person interview that each teacher in the Fountain district has a daily objective posted
in front of the class. The teacher has the flexibility about how to teach the objective,
but the objective needs to be in line with state standards. I think they appreciate the
fact that they teach it in their style and (to) their strengths, Keiley said. For instance,
one teacher may be more comfortable using Internet technology or PowerPoint
presentations, while another might be better with the give and take of questions and
answers in a lecture setting. Plus, flexibility in how to teach allows teachers the
flexibility in addressing the learning strengths of their students, whether they might
learn best visually, aurally, or kinesthetically.
The emphasis on teacher monitoring and feedback is also supported by the
McREL paper. Principals who are in the midst of implementing standards say that
regularly observing classroom instruction is key to ensuring that all teachers are
moving toward standards-based instruction, it says.
Spot observations and instructional feedback were a major part of the Fountain
refonn and was stepped up under Dwight Jones, the superintendent who succeeded
Dale Gasser when he left in 2002, and by Miles. Spot observations were also
implemented at DPS by the coaches of the Studio Program. However, a key
difference was that teachers observed at DPS felt they were being observed in
connection with a highly scripted program in which they had little freedom in how to
teach, whereas at Fountain they were told what to teach but not how to teach it The
spot observations at Fountain had more to do with teacher skills in managing a
classroom, getting students actively involved in the instruction, and using other
effective teaching techniques rather than observing the strictures of a particular
curriculum program.
18


In light of the enormous effort required to implement standards, its especially
important for teachers to understand that standards arent going away and that, more
important, using a standards-based approach will improve student learning, says the
McREL paper (16). The paper doesnt provide proof of the statement, but the results
at Fountain and some other Effective Schools would indicate that a standards
approach, along with other factors, can improve student learning, partly because
standards provide a measurement tool, a feedback loop, to provide data on where
each student stands.
Another point made in die paper is that ALL students are targeted, and are
capable of learning. In practice, many of the complaints about the Studio Course dealt
with its inability to deal with the high and low ends of student academic achievement
At Fountain, on the other hand, adequate yearly progress has been the goal for each
and every student and monthly Tungsten benchmark tests have shown whether
particular students needed remediation. If so, they have received it. For instance, at
Fountain Middle School they can seek remediation before school, after school, or
during lunch, and if they fall behind in writing and reading, they are assigned two
hours of language arts, said Keiley. And teachers use different techniques to reach all
students, including visual learners, auditory learners and kinesthetic learners.
As the McRel paper puts it: For example, teachers may need to learn how
students cultural differences can translate into different learning styles and the need
for different forms of instruction (27).
At the heart of the standards movement is the notion that all students are capable
of learning at high levels. For this to occur, districts and schools must be willing to
provide extra help to students who do not meet standards at identified transition
points, says the McREL paper (17).
Professional development should be linked to student learning (19), not to
reducing teacher stress or other non-student centered items. Fountain 8 has not been
alone in stressing classroom practices rather than curriculum changes. A key feature
of all national professional development award winners is that their staff development
efforts have the explicit goal of improving student learning, usually by finding ways
to improve classroom practices. Moreover, these activities are integrated into daily
activities or can be quickly applied in the classroom (21).
However, right after that statement, the McREL paper goes on to cite an example
that appears closer to DPS methodology than Fountain 8. At one model professional
development award-winning school, for example, teachers professional development
experiences included formal training as well as on-the-job coaching from outside
consultants to help them understand and use specific instructional programs to raise
students literacy scores.
Test data can show weaknesses to point toward areas for staff development, but
they are so broad that it could be caused by a number of factors: weak curriculum,
gaps in earlier curricula, or ineffective instructional strategies (21).
19


This points to the problem of what happened at DPS. In all too many schools
and districts, reform efforts are driven by a single individual or a small cadre of
people. Such reforms are likely to fail for two primary reasons: lack of staff support
and administrative turnover. Both happened at DPS. Sally Mentor Hay, the biggest
proponent of the Studio Course, left the district, as did the superintendent who hired
her, Jerry Wartgow. Some other administrators involved with the program also left.
Not only did state test scores indicate failure, but with the departure of its primary
proponents from die administration, the Studio Course had few people left to argue
that it should be kept. As die McREL paper puts it, Similarly, if the drive and
momentum for change rest solely with a single leader, reform will likely come to a
screeching halt if the leader leaves. Thus its important to embrace an expanded view
of leadership that includes people at all levels and areas of the system (22).
Then theres that criticism of the Studio Course about non-alignment with
standards. Obviously, students cannot be expected to know what they have not been
taught. Yet all too often, classroom instruction is poorly aligned with standards and
assessments. Thus many districts have found it helpful to study the alignment
between their standards, curriculum guides, and district or state assessments, says
the McREL paper (27).
Rather, teachers should be encouraged to see the tests, flawed though they may
be in some cases, as a means of helping students. In particular, test scores can help
focus and clarify school improvement goals and create a sense of urgency about
improving curricula and instruction (29).
Longer periods of classroom time and two-hour, or 90-minute, blocks were also
raised by McREL as pluses. Some school leaders also have found that traditional
class periods are too short to accommodate in-depth, standards-based learning. They
have opted for alternatives, such as block scheduling in which students remain in the
same classroom for longer periods, typically 90 minutes (31). That is what happened
in the Studio Course, with back-to-back 45-minute periods for reading and writing,
but without success.
McRel also points to some schools redistributing staff to create smaller classes
and cites one Colorado school that reduced the average class size to 20 from 25 that
way. School leaders say smaller class sizes contributed to a five-fold increase in the
number of students testing at proficient levels on the statewide reading and writing
assessment (31).
Denver Public Schools
Because John McMillan, the author of the Studio Course, declined to
participate in an interview for this project, it is difficult to know the exact literature on
which the Studio Course was based. However, it is apparent from conversations with
administrators and from Comprehensive School Reform grants that it was supposed
20


to be an updated version of the Americas Choice program developed by the National
Center on Education and the Economy. On page 42 of this paper, there is a
comparison of The Studio Course with Americas Choice.
Also, Nancie Atwells In the Middle was mentioned by sources as a basis for
McMillans Studio Course, as was Richard Allingtons What Really Matters for
Struggling Readers and James Rycik and Judith Irvins What Adolescents Deserve.
Atwell, for instance, talks about establishing a writing and reading workshop
of 90 minutes, just like die Studio Course. Today I see my seventh and eighth
graders four days a week for one ninety-minute language arts block that includes both
writing and reading, she says (96). Within the block I tty to carve out time each day
for a poem, a writing reading minilesson, independent writing and conferring, a brief
read-aloud from a novel or short story, and time for independent reading, usually
fifteen to twenty minutes a day (96).
The independent reading and writing were key parts of the Studio Course, as
was die read-aloud, mentioned elsewhere in the book (144-145), which the Studio
Course called shared reading.
Atwell also talks about a classroom library that is well-stocked (101), similar
to what was attempted, but with mixed results, in the Studio Course. For instance, the
first- year Studio Course for sixth graders (and used by seventh and eight graders)
includes a unit, Reading Investigation #1 Session Four, about How the Library is
Organized.
She also talks about students needing to experiment in writing across four
basic genres fiction, memoir, poetry and exposition to learn the elements of each
and explore what each can do for them (111). Some time during the academic year, a
finished piece of writing was required in each of the following genres: short story,
poem or song, profile of a local citizen, book review and memoir (112).
The Studio Course, too, has focused on a variety of genres, focusing in the
first year on memoirs, magazine articles, and graphic novels in the sixth-grade
curriculum, according to one teacher. In the seventh-grade curriculum offered in the
second year, die genres included short stories, poetry, fairy tales and fables.
Atwell also focuses on multiple drafts in writing (92-93) and setting aside
time eveiy day for writing for a writing folder
We do our students a big favor by approaching rules and forms not as
minutiae to be mastered, but as a means of helping them make their writing look and
sound as they wish it to and in order that readers will engage with a text and take it
seriously (185).
In other words, if conventions are not properly followed, the content of the
communication is lost in the distraction of attention focused on the conventions, part
of which consists of grammar.
Atwell, in teaching grammar (251): never focuses on more than two types of
errors at a time; uses a combination of self editing and teacher editing, with an editing
21


checklist for each student to follow, and with peer editors also checking off that
checklist; uses positive feedback on, say, quotation mark usage, but then points to
how something like indentation can help readers follow dialogue changes.
Interestingly, a Heinemann workshop with Atwell in November 2007, advertised at
http://books.heinemann.com/products/071102NAIL.aspx. points out some
adjustments that may have helped the Studio Course had it been offered to the
teachers. When large class size makes daily, individual writing conferences an
impossibility, Nancie will also show how to make mini-lessons work as whole-group
writing conferences, says the promotional material.
That Denver Public Schools would jump into a commitment to the Studio
Course before it had even been written, much less been tested, and that it was based
to some extent on Atwells writing, may explain a great deal about why it failed. For
one thing, Atwells writings are based on her experience at a small private school in
Edgecombe, Maine, called the Center for Teaching and Learning. That k-8
demonstration school, as it is called on the schools Web site (http://c-t-l.orgA had a
total of 78 students as of September and fewer than five of them were minority
students. At the middle school level, one language arts class was made up of 18
seventh- and eighth-grade students and one was made up of 18 fifth- and sixth-grade
students. Tuition at the school is $6,450, according to the Web site. In other words,
Atwells teaching environment was a world away from the teaching environment of
Denver Public Schools, and its fair to question the applicability of her techniques to
an environment in which the schools are public, classes are much larger, minorities
predominate, and family income levels are far lower.
What Adolescents Deserve: A Commitment to Students Literacy Learning, a
selection of essays edited by James Rycik and Judith Irvin, provides some opinions
that provide a theoretical basis for some strategies in The Studio Course. For instance,
in the essay Discovering Readers in die Middle Level School: A Few Helpful
Clues, author Gay Ivey states: Middle School students probably have very little
voice in creating the reading curriculum; consequently, they either become resistant
to reading or they keep their dissatisfaction to themselves (Bintz 1993).
The Studio Course was striving to address that problem by allowing independent
and free choice within die range of books in the classroom libraiy instead of seeking
out a common reading that would be likely to be more interesting to the group and
that could be discussed by the group. For instance Rebecca Joseph states in her essay
Is This Really English: Using Young Adult Literature in an Urban Middle School,
published in the same book, that she tries to start off each year with a provocative
young adult novel that will not only help students develop their reading and writing
abilities but will also help sharpen their abilities to connect the literature with their
own life experiences and will initiate great conversations (103).
22


But Ivey suggests in her essay that middle level students need time to read in
school (64), that middle level readers want opportunities to choose their own texts for
reading (65), and that (me size fits no one for middle level readers (66). All those
arguments could be used as a theoretical foundation for die independent free reading
time in class and the free choice of books in The Studio Course. Mary F. Roe, in her
essay Combining Enablement and Engagement to Assist Students Who Do Not Read
and Write Well, makes much the same point in What Adolescents Deserve: First
adolescents like control. We can offer this control as we allow them to select books to
read and to select topics for their writing (12). While I have changed many beliefs
over the years, one remains intact: Students need to read texts that fit their
instructional reading level and their interest, she continues (13). There is also a basis
in the literature for the concentration of the Studio Course on quantity of reading,
justifying its emphasis on each student reading a million words in a year. Richard
Allington, in What Really Matters for Struggling Readers, states: Eveiyone has
heard the proverb Practice makes perfect. In learning to read it is true that reading
practice just reading is a powerful contributor to the development of accurate,
fluent, high-comprehension reading. In fact, if I were required to select a single aspect
of the instructional environment to change, my first choice would be creating a
schedule that supported dramatically increased quantities of reading during the school
day (24). Thats exactly what the Studio Course did, by providing large swaths of
timing during the 45-minute reading part of the course to independent reading.
Allington cites a study by Anderson, Wilson and Fielding (1988) that showed a
correlation between differences in volume of reading and high-achieving ami low-
achieving students. And he states, Nagy and Anderson (1984) estimated that
differences in the volume of in-school reading would also be substantial, with some
middle-grade children reading as few as 100,000 words a year, the average student
reading about 1,000,000 words a year, and the voracious middle grade readers
reading over 10,000,000 words per year (26). They argued that sheer volumes of
reading explained differences in students vocabularies. But the poor results of the
Studio Course would indicate theres a problem with such a simplistic view of in-
school reading. It does not deal with motivating students to actually read during the
reading time; it does not address how students will successfully understand new
words except by context, which is often not effective; and it does not deal with
students actually being taught anything during this time or discussing the ideas in
their reading.
Fountain-Ft. Carson 8
Dale Gasser, former superintendent at Fountain- Fort Carson 8, said in a July 5 e-
mail that die reforms at Fountain are based on effective schools research compiled
over the last 25 years by Robert Marzano, Mike Schmoker, D.C. Berliner, and
23


Charlotte Danielson. If you want a real down-to-earth approach, read Harry Wongs
First Days of School, he said.
According to teachers.net (http://teachers.net/wong/JAN02/) that book by Harry
and Rosemary Wong is the best-selling book ever in education, with more than 3
million copies sold. The bode is a nuts-and-bolts approach to helping the reader
become an effective teacher. Thats crucial, because the most important factor in
improved student learning is having an effective teacher, according to the Wongs.
The book outlines the three characteristics of an effective teacher: positive
expectations, classroom management and lesson mastery by the students. (9)
The belief in positive expectations is based on the research that whatever the
teacher expects from the learner is what the learner will produce, say the Wongs
(10).
They say that in a review of 11,000 pieces of research spanning 50 years, three
researchers found 28 factors influencing student learning, and the most important was
classroom management. (82). Classroom management overarches everything in the
curriculum, say the Wongs (84).
They even get down to the nitty gritty of procedure for quieting a class how a
teacher explains to the class from the very beginning, and has them practice, a
procedure for freezing and facing the teacher and being ready for instruction when the
teachers hand is raised or the teacher rings a bell (181).
Fountains Gasser also stresses drat it is not the programs or curriculum drat
make the difference in effective schools, its the practices of the teachers and the
systems as a whole.
The most important thing a teacher can provide in the classroom during the first
week of school is consistency, say the Wongs (84). As for lesson mastery, they
advise an increase in the time students are working, more precision in directions as to
what is to be accomplished, using tests to determine if students have mastered their
objectives, and getting students to work cooperatively (196).
The Fountain schools have also introduced some of the techniques of Fred Jones,
according to Holt, Fountains director of secondary education. In his book Tools for
Teaching. Jones provides tips on classroom management that are as simple as
exploiting proximity, meaning that die teacher walks around the classroom because
the most basic factor that governs the likelihood of a students goofing off is physical
distance from the teacher (30).
Jones also tackles die age-old problem of motivation. He talks about incentives
and disincentives, harkening back to his grade school teacher who told him he could
work on his art project once he had finished the task at hand (108). In another Jones
book, Positive Classroom Discipline. Jones, like the Wongs, sets out details on how
to handle the first weeks of school, starting with the first day of class and how to
handle names, introducing rules and procedures, and room arrangement (76).
24


Robert Marzano, who Gasser cites first when speaking of effective schools
writers, takes a slightly wider viewpoint but still stresses what will work in a
classroom or school. Ironically, in his book A Different Kind of Classroom. Marzano
cites Nancie Atwell. Learners need to feel ownership of the task if they are to
unleash all their talents and abilities, says Marzano (13). For example, consider
Nancie Atwells (1987) description of the effects of providing for student choice in
the form of sustained silent reading (SSR): I began letting my kids read their own
bodes one day each week, and they began driving me crazy. Daily at least one student
would ask, Ms. Atwell, are we having reading today? (13)
And in Classroom Management that Works. Marzano recommends involving
students in the design of rules and procedures to be used in a class (25).
But its not all just about student-directed instruction. A comprehensive approach
to instruction includes both teacher-directed and student-directed types of instruction,
he says in A Different Kind of Classroom (ix).
Marzano also stresses that learning is not just a matter of passively receiving
information. Cognitive psychologists view learning as a highly interactive process of
constructing personal meaning from the information available ... and integrating that
information with what we already know to create new knowledge (5).
He also talks about helping students develop and maintain effective habits of
mind. In other words, as with the other writers cited by Fountain administrators,
Marzano talks about how to improve teaching effectiveness.
For instance, in A Handbook for Classroom Instruction that Works. Marzano
cites the importance of feedback for student achievement. After considering the
findings from almost 8,000 studies, researcher John Hattie (1992) commented, Die
most powerful single modification that enhances student achievement is feedback
(185).
While the effective schools and teachers literature continued in importance after
die departure of Gasser in 2002, the Fountain district saw greater emphasis put on
systems thinking under new superintendent Dwight Jones. According to Miles, who
became the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at Fountain under
Jones, systems thinking was seen as a vehicle for introducing higher levels of
achievement throughout the district. One result was more frequent and consistent
evaluations and feedback to teachers on their performance. Miles cites Peter Senges
Schools that Learn as one source for his views on systems thinking. In that bode,
Senge talks about identifying points of greatest leverage (82) what Miles calls areas
where a district can focus and get the most bang for the buck. Behind each pattern
of behavior is a systemic structure, a set of unrelated factors that interact, and
studying the structure can show where the least amount of effort can provide the
greatest change (82). Miles identified those as curriculum alignment and teacher
feedback when he was at Fountain. Teacher feedback, for instance, could be provided
with little extra variable cost, but potentially great increase in teacher effectiveness.
25


That was particularly true once the process had been systemized, with an evaluation
form and assistant superintendents and principals who made it a top priority to get a
certain number of evaluations accomplished each week, month or year.
Senge talks about school reforms that dont work, or fixes that fail, and
describes a situation that seems eerily like the Studio Course implementation at
Denver Public Schools. Weve all seen it happen many times. A well-meaning and
talented principal initiates curriculum reform, the teachers come on board because
they have no choice, and die principal micromanages the effort. Implicitly he says:
Were going to move forward whether you like it or not. On the surface these efforts
look successful because of the good things that happen. Change occurs, sometimes
very quickly, and teachers admit that they learned something. But because die change
is mandated, the teachers dont feel they own it; it isnt theirs. There is thus a
tremendous cost (92). The most effective curriculum reform initiatives avoid that
problem by starting an open inquiry, Marzano says. Maybe the real problem has to
do not with the subject matter, but the way it is taught, and die training in new
classroom techniques (e.g. the use of simulations or team projects alongside lectures)
will lead to better results (92).
In his literature that accompanied his March 14,2007, Webcast for The Center
for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement, Miles establishes a Systemic
Coaching Cycle Rubric. Under philosophy he states, Teachers and leaders
develop a vision for that school and act upon that vision.... The vision goals and plan
are revisited regularly and often. Under processes he says: Staff development is
closely aligned with building goals and priorities. The focus is on practices and
instructional strategies. He adds that instruction is differentiated to meet the needs
of both struggling and advanced students. For example, gifted students have
personalized learning plans. Under implementation, he notes that teachers are
evaluated regularly and spot observations include specific feedback
In other words, the literature that Fountain administrators cite is tied to teacher
effectiveness and system effectiveness, not to a specific curriculum or program.
26


CHAPTER 3
RESEARH METHODOLOGY
The research methodology for this analysis was in part the outgrowth of
protocol approved by the Human Subjects Research Committee of the University of
Colorado at Denver. That committees approval came into play because of federal
law regarding human subjects used in research. Since interviews with human subjects
make the law applicable, prior approval for the research methodology was required
from the committee. The approved protocol included a consent form that was signed
by the interviewee. It provided for three choices: quotes and name not being used;
quotes being used but no name being used; and name and quotes being used. The
consent form appeared to be an encumbrance to getting information, because it was
worded in such a way as to be offputting to interviewees. Several people declined to
be interviewed after seeing the consent form. If a newspaper had to use such consent
forms, information would be reduced to a trickle and a huge freedom-of-speech
outcry would be raised.
In the Denver Public Schools district, three administrators or former
administrators and two teachers were interviewed. Except for one teacher, they all
wanted some form of anonymity. McMillan, the author of the Studio Course program,
after initially agreeing to an interview, declined to participate once he saw some
sample questions. At Fountain, in contrast, four administrators were interviewed, all
with permission for use of names and quotations.
Besides direct interviews, the literature that served as the basis for the reforms
at each district was read. At Fountain, that included writings from Robert Marzano,
Fred Jones, Peter Senge, Mike Miles and McREL. At Denver Public Schools, the
foundation literature included material surrounding the Americas Choice program,
Atwells In the Middle, other books and articles, a third-party evaluation by Farr and
Associates, documents for CSR grants, copies of e-mails among administrators, and
the Studio Course itself.
It should be noted that CU-Denver was involved in some aspects of the reform
that occurred at DPS. For instance, in the Smiley Middle School application for CSR
funds, it states that teacher candidates (interns) from the CU-Denver School of
Education would be available at Smiley for substitute teaching to facilitate staff
development. (File 2, page 97). Also, Professor Alan Davis from the CU-Denver
School of Education is characterized as the evaluator of the Tri-Academy CSR
project at Smiley (File 2, page 102).
27


Data Collection
Data collection was concentrated on die Colorado Student Assessment
Program (CSAP) with both school districts. Some test information about Fountain
was also provided by former Superintendent Dale Gasser.
28


CHAPTER 4
FINDINGS
The findings are divided first by school district, and within each school
district the following subcategories are analyzed: l)why reform was perceived to be
necessary; 2)the process of choosing the reform; 3)the research basis and previous
testing for die reform; 4) the reform itself; 5) implementation of the reform; 6) the
results of the reform; 7)the aftermath of the reform; and 8) lessons from the reform.
Denver Public Schools
Why Reform Was Necessary
At Denver Public Schools, the administrators and teachers interviewed have been
largely in agreement about why the reform was instituted: students were going
through the system without gaining basic reading and writing skills, there was
inconsistency within teaching methods within grades within the same school and
between schools, and test scores were indicating a need for change.
The need for change was summed up in an Aug 28,2003, third-party evaluation
of the Studio Course by Farr& Associates of Mountain View, Calif. In die fell of
2001, the Colorado state accountability processes resulted in 91 Denver Public
Schools being identified as either low or unsatisfactory. In response to this
finding DPS undertook the development of a district plan to raise expectations, raise
student achievement, and close the achievement gap (between whites and
minorities), said the report, titled Evaluation of Denver Public Schools Literacy
Program: The Studio Course, Final Report on High School Fact-Finding (2). The
report looked at DPS middle schools and high schools, and a separate report from the
same firm looked at reform at DPS elementary schools.
In terms of what low or unsatisfactory really meant, the truth for some
students was not a pleasant one. You had a lot of kids in high school who couldnt
read, said Source A. There were also problems with the curriculum being
uninteresting. For instance, the ninth-grade introduction to literature book was not
interesting, said the source. And the reading level was too hard in some instances.
Low CSAP scores were a consideration in deciding reform was needed in that they
were a consequence of the fact that we had kids that didnt read and a curriculum
that wasnt working, said Source A.
Other sources pointed to additional problems. Test scores were either flat or
decreasing and without a single adopted curriculum, there was no continuity, even
29


within a single school. For instance, in the first grade a teacher might use one phonics
approach to teaching reading and in second grade a teacher might use a whole
language approach, and in the third grade a third teacher might use a phonics
approach, but different from the first grade phonics approach. That lack of
consistency was seen as detrimental to students. In addition, lack of uniformity from
one school to another within a district made it tough on students transferring from one
school to another within the district, said one teacher. If all schools were on the same
page at the same time, a student could transfer from one to another without too much
of a problem adjusting.
However, one problem with a push for consistency is that the argument doesnt
hold water if the program that is consistently instituted is a bad one. It might be
argued that a bad program may be so regimented that even the good teachers cant
overcome it. It might be argued that something along those lines occurred with the
Studio Course, so that, even with a doubling of time allocated to language arts, test
scores reflecting achievement in language arts fell in some instances and improved
slower than state test scores in others.
With well over half the kids in middle and high schools reading below grade
level, reform was seen as imperative. Phis, there was some thought in the
administrative ranks that teachers did not know what to do in catching students up in
reading or that they were more interested in teaching literature than spending time on
getting the below-grade-Ievel students caught up. Grade-level achievement was
generally considered to be a score of proficient or higher on die CSAPs.
Looking at the DPS district as a whole, without regard to ethnicity, only 29.5
percent of seventh graders scored proficient or advanced on writing in the spring of
2000, according to 2000 CSAP School and District Summary Results
(http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdeassess/documents/csap/csap_summaryhtml#2000). In
the spring of2002, that number had declined to 27.5 percent for seventh graders. For
sixth graders and eighth graders, scores slarted being available in 2001. For sixth
graders, 27.1 percent scored proficient or advanced in 2002 in writing, and for eighth
graders, 29.4 percent scored proficient or advanced. Earlier scores were not available
for writing. For reading the overall scores were a bit higher, but still showed that
roughly two-thirds of students at DPS were performing below proficient. And, as in
writing, seventh grade scores showed they werent improving. In 2000,36.1 percent
of DPS seventh graders tested proficient or advanced in reading on the CSAPs while
in 2002 that number dropped to 33.6 percent. In 2002, the reading numbers were 37.2
percent for sixth graders and 40.1 percent proficient or advanced for eighth graders.
Clearly, there was pressure for some sort of change.
But it wasnt just for a change in absolute scores. The achievement gap between
minorities and whites at DPS was astounding, reaching forty percentage points or
more in some areas. In the spring of2002,17 percent of Hispanics in eighth grade
scored proficient or advanced in writing. That meant that S3 percent were scoring
30


below grade level. For blacks, the number was 30 percent proficient or advanced, and
for whites, the number was 58 percent proficient or advanced. That translated to a 41
percentage-point difference between whites and Hispanics and a 28 percentage-point
difference between whites and blacks. In reading, the absolute scores were higher, but
the gap was even wider, with whites at 71 percent, blacks at 39 percent and Hispanics
at 27 percent.
DPS clearly wanted that gap to narrow.
For instance, in a June 28,2002, BoardNews newsletter, it was announced that,
based on a report of an achievement gap between whites and blacks at four Denver
high schools, the Board accepted a resolution directing the superintendent to develop
a strategic plan for closing the gap at the above named four high schools ... .
We have a serious gap that needs to be closed, said DPS
Superintendent Jerry Wartgow in a June 7,2002, BoardNews newsletter.
Four years later, that concern had not changed. In an April 25,2006, open letter
from new DPS Superintendent Michael Bennet and Board President Theresa Pena to
former Denver Mayors Wellington Webb and Federico Pena, Bennet and Pena stated
that the percentage differences between whites and Hispanics and blacks in reading
and math were shocking. At the middle school level, for instance, 73 percent of
whites were scoring proficient or advanced in reading, versus 36 percent for blacks
and 25 percent for Hispanics.
The Process of Choosing the Reform
The choice of the reform at DPS was not so much a choice of the reform
itself, but the choice of the person who would do the choosing. Putting together
various pieces of the sequence of events as described by a number of anonymous
sources, Jerry Wartgow had chosen the Institute for Learning in Pittburgh, Pa., to do
consulting work for DPS. He wanted the institute to help in a reform effort and he
turned to institute head Lauren Reznick for advice. But Wartgow didnt want just a
fellow from the institute to come once a month. He wanted a full-time chief academic
officer. Reznick recommended Sally Mentor Hay, who continued in her position as
senior fellow for the Institute for Learning when she accepted the position as chief
academic officer at DPS. She also continued to live part-time in California and
commuted back and forth to Denver, cutting down her availability at DPS. Mentor
Hay chose John McMillan, a senior consultant at the Institute for Learning. Back in
the fail of2004, the Institute for Learnings Web site described McMillan as having a
doctorate from Texas Christian University and as assisting in the development of the
Disciplinary Literacy program at the institute.
Was it considered a conflict of interest for the chief academic officer of Denver
Public Schools, who was also a senior fellow for the Institute for Learning, to hue
someone from the Institute for Learning to write the curriculum feu DPSs language
31


arte program? Various people said it was not. Mentors Hay relationship with the
institute was never hidden and the institute was being paid for consulting, so it was
not considered a conflict, but rather natural that the consultant (die Institute for
Learning), once asked to recommend someone to serve as chief academic officer
(Sally Mentor Hay), would also provide resources (John McMillan) to that officer to
create a curriculum.
However, it might be useful to draw an analogy between what happened at DPS
and the use of a banking institution to recommend investments when it has its own
arm of mutual funds. If one goes to an independent financial planner who has no
financial gain in recommending one set of mutual funds over another, one can expect
some independence that the recommendation will be based on the best possible
mutual funds and the best interests of the advisee. If one goes to a bank that has its
own line of mutual funds, one can expect the bank to try to put the investor into that
line of funds, even if its performance level doesnt justify it. In the case of DPS,
Wartgow had hired a consultant, The Institute for Learning, which stood to gain by
recommending a program designed by staff at the Institute for Learning. In other
words, the consultant was not completely independent.
Clearly, Mentor Hay did not perform a broad search of the country to find die
language arts programs that were proven to work. She operated on the assumption
that she already knew what worked, and she hired John McMillan to write a course
based on those broad ideas. In a March 21,2002, memo to the Colorado Department
of Education on The Institute for Learning letterhead, and in support of CSR federal
money for Lake Middle School (File 2, page 148), Mentor Hay states: The Denver
Public Schools has established a long-term contract with the Institute for Learning of
the University of Pittsburgh to assist the district with its educational efforts.
As will be shown later in this paper, the reform at Fountain also was based on the
what-would-work ideas of a single person, Superintendent Dale Gasser. But there
were some key differences between the approach taken by Gasser and Mentor Hay in
choosing a reform to implement. Gasser had community forums that indicated a
widespread desire in the community for change. Gasser had 25 years of research in
effective schools as his research base, had taught the subject at two colleges and had
successfully implemented reform at a high school where he was a principal. Plus he
was at Fountain for 10 years, far longer than Mentor Hay stayed at DPS.
The Research Basis and Previous Testing of the Reform
For this thesis, Mentor Hay did not respond to repeated e-mails requesting an
interview. Whether Mentor Hay even had a research base she could point to depends
on how specific or broad one defines what was researched. Obviously, the Studio
Course itself had never been tested or proven in die classroom because it had not even
been written when Mentor Hay decided to implement it in all middle schools for all
32


language arts, and in most high schools, many of which targeted its use only for
below-grade-level students. In other words, she decided to implement a program
affecting thousands of students, and the program itself had not been written yet But
Mentor Hay stressed to others that the concepts implemented in the Studio Course
had been tested through die NCEEs Americas Choice.
Indeed, a look at several applications by DPS for money under die
Comprehensive School Reform (CSR) School-based Grant Program, funded by the
Colorado Department of Education with federal funds, points to Americas Choice as
die tested concept that enabled DPS to fulfill one of the grant requirements.
More troublesome is wording which states that die Studio Course itself had
already been tested successfully. An April 24,2003, report to the DPS Board of
Education from Research Planning and Special Programs states (File 2, page 5): The
Reading and Writing Studio Program is an updated version of the program originally
developed under contract with the U.S. Department of Educations Office of
Educational Research and Development. The Reading and Writing Studio program
has positively impacted several schools with demographics similar to the above
schools. It is based on well-evaluated components and well-researched principals of
instruction, assessment, classroom management, motivation, and professional
development.
Henry Middle Schools 2003 application for three years of CSR funding totaling
$226,637 also characterized the Studio Course (File 2, page 13) as an updated
version of the program developed under the DOEs Office of Educational Research
and Development. Yet later in the same application (File 2, page 25) there seems to
be a different characterization of the Studio Course in response to the question,
Present a comprehensive design for school reform that references methods and
strategies in teaching, assessment, use of technology and classroom management that
are based on scientifically based research and effective practice.
The response is as follows: The Reading and Writing Studio (previously known
as Americas Choice School Design), is a research-based program created by die
National Center on Education and the Economy.
That statement is untrue, since the Studio Course was not created by the NCEE
but by John McMillan..
The application also states, Reading and Writing Studio has a proven record in
schools with high rates of family poverty, minorities, special education students, and
second language learners, and is fully compatible with the philosophy and content of
Henrys instructional strategies. (File 2, 27)
This statement is also untrue. McMillans course, which the SCR grant was to
fund, had no such proven record.
Later in the application (File 2, 32), the application states that the Institute for
Learning created the Studio Course. That conflicts with its earlier statement that
NCEE created it. The application states, The Reading/Writing Studio Course,
33


developed by die Institute for Learning, supports the substantial retooling of a
schools entire program ...
Smiley Middle Schools 2003 application for CSR funds makes the same false
claim made by Henry Middle School. Formerly referred to as die Americas Choice
School Design, the Reading and Writing Studio is a research-based program created
by the National Center on Education and the Economy, it says. (File 2, page 91).
It also falsely states, Reading and Writing Studio has been shown to
dramatically improve statewide assessment scores. A national study of more than 70
schools found that Reading and Writing Studio students scored higher on mandated
state tests in reading and writing than comparable students in schools not assigned to
the two period block course.
No such national study was performed on the DPS Studio Course written by John
McMillan because it was never broadly adopted.
A 2001-2002 application by Montbello High School for $241,602 in CSR
funding, states, The Reading and Writing Studio program is an updated version of
the program originally developed under contract with the U.S. Department of
Educations Office of Educational Research and Development. This $10 million, five
year contract was awarded in October of 1999 to create Comprehensive School
Reform models for High (sic) and high schools. (File 2, page 163).
A 2001-2002 application for three years of CSR funding totaling $223,327 by
North High School uses the same language (File 2, page 197), as does a 2001-2002
application for three years of CSR funding totaling $223,327 from Rishel Middle
School (File 2, page 230) except that the Rishel application corrects the wording
mistake and substitutes the word middle for the first use of the word High.
The first sentence of the description is also replicated in a 2001-2002 CSR
application for three years of funding totaling $190,646 for Horace Mann Middle
School (File 3, page 151).
The Horace Mann application states, The Reading and Writing Studio Program
has positively impacted several schools with demographics similar to Horace Mann in
student population and the numbers of disadvantaged students.
That statement is ludicrous on its face if it is referring to the John McMillan-
written Studio Course because McMillan had not even written the first year of the
Studio Course when the application was prepared. That is evidenced by two
documents that accompany the application. One is dated March 21,2002, and is a
letter of support for Horace Mann from Interim Chief Academic Officer Sally
Mentor Hay. (File 3, page 177).
The other is dated March 21, 2002, and is a statement of support signed by Elaine
Gantz-Berman, then-president of the DPS Board of Education. Gantz-Bermans letter
doesnt say that the Studio Course itself has been tested but states, The proposed
program will implement strategies that are proven and research-based and that have
34


been endorsed by the districts Office of Curriculum and Instruction (File 3, page
178).
The 2001-2002 application by Cole Middle School for three years of CSR
funding totaling $193,242 uses the same language about the Studio Course being an
updated version of the program developed under a five-year, $10 million contract
starting in 1999 with the Department of Education. (File 3, page 191).
The updated version language is also used in a 2003 application by Martin
Luther King Jr. Middle School for three years of funding totaling $199,019 (File 4
page 14). It also states, The Reading and Writing Studio (previously known as the
Americas Choice School Design) is a research-based program created by the
National Center on Education and the Economy. (File 4, page 15).
A 2003 application from Merrill Middle School for three years of CSR funding
totaling $180,413 (File 4, page 32) uses the same updated version language (File 4,
page 32), as does a 2003 application by Hill Middle School for three years of CSR
funding totaling $172,538 (File 4, page 61), a 2003 application for Bruce Randolph
Middle School for three years of CSR funding totaling $201,507 (File 4, page 88),
and a 2003 application for three years of CSR funding totaling $159,687 from
Skinner Middle School (File 4, page 116).
A 2003 application for three years of CSR funding for $311,600 from Smiley
Middle School (File 4, page 158) doesnt use that wording but it does falsely state,
Formerly referred to as Americas Choice School Design, the Reading and Writing
Studio is a research based program created by the National Center on Education and
the Economy.
Documents indicate that the DPS schools obtained hundreds of thousands of
dollars in grants based on false information.
CSR grant award notification forms for the year July 1,2002, through June 30,
2003, were sent to Cole, Rishel, and Horace Mann middle schools and North High
School, each for about $99,000. (File 2, pages 254-265).
Sources say that Mentor Hay referred to the Studio Course as having been tested
through the NCEEs Americas Choice. But was it really?
Comparison with America's Choice
That depends on whether the Studio Course was similar enough to Americas
Choice to consider it tested because Americas Choice was tested. A surface
perusal of the Americas Choice literature shows significant differences between the
two programs.
Americas Choice is divided into two programs: Ramp-Up Literacy, and
Writers Advantage. (NCEE Web site at www.ncee.org). Writers Advantage
promotional materials talk about addressing problems from decoding skills and
reading comprehension to supporting English Language Learners. There is nothing
in the Studio Course about decoding or special support of ELL students.
35


Ramp-up Literacy includes advanced phonics instruction for those who need it
and provides all students with instruction in fluency, says the Americas Choice
Web site. In addition to providing explicit whole-class and small-group instruction,
teachers meet with students regularly to listen to them read aloud, offer supportive
comments and build students confidence as readers.
There is nothing in the Studio Course about meeting with students regularly to
hear them read out loud. In the Studio Course, its the teacher who reads out loud
during shared reading.
Americas Choice has five minutes out of a 90 minute period devoted to daily
vocabulary focus, and it provides for vocabulary instruction as a reading
component within six different time segments within the 90-minute segment. In
fact, all but the last five minutes of the 90-minute period allow some possibility for
vocabulary instruction. The Studio Course, on the other hand, did not initially have a
vocabulary component. It was later added by McMillan, according to one teacher.
The Web site also says that, with Americas Choice, teachers determine students
independent reading levels and fluency and accuracy rates while tracking pages read,
so students can be grouped appropriately for instruction. Students were not tracked or
grouped that way in the Studio Course. The number of words read was tracked, but
that did not result in groupings.
In the Writers Advantage part of Americas Choice, there are also some
differences with the Studio Course. One difference is that the Studio Course allocates
45 minutes to writing and 45 minutes to reading whereas Writers Advantage is one
hour long and Ramp-Up literacy is 90 minutes long. That means, in total, the
Americas Choice program is 2.5 hours while the Studio Course is 1.5 hours.
Writers Advantage builds in classroom management through rituals and routines
that enable teachers to work with individuals or small groups, but the Studio Course
was not specific on rituals and routines for classroom management.
However, there are some similarities. Writers Advantage makes the connection
between reading and writing explicit, and so does the Studio Course. In addition,
Writers Advantage stresses the use of multiple drafts in writing, and so does the
Studio Course. And Writers Advantage explores different genres in writing, and so
does The Studio Course.
At least two sources mentioned Nancie Atwells In the Middle as a basis for The
Studio Course. Atwell talks about drafts in that book (92) and providing examples of
genres (100) to use as models for students, and they are both elements of the Studio
Course. However, Atwells evidence that her theories work is anecdotal. She talks
about her own classroom and her observations of it, but that doesnt supply evidence
that her ideas have resulted in higher achievement outside of her classroom or that
those ideas actually work in classrooms of 30 students in high-poverty areas. As
noted previously, her classroom sizes were far smaller and her student population was
far different than the DPS population.
36


Even if Atwell did offer proof that her ideas, once incorporated into a program,
raised achievement on a measurable basis, that would not mean that die Studio
Course itself had been tested. Yet that seems to be the approach taken in some of the
CSR applications. Broad theories are cited as proof that the program itself is on a
solid foundation, without regard to the fact that those broad theories, when interpreted
and put into practice, may be put into practice in a deleterious way while seeming to
comply with the theory.
And some of the statements citing broad theories dont seem to be substantiated
by what actually happened at the Studio Course. For instance, the 2003 CSR
application for Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School (File 4, page 15) states,
Findings from several program evaluations identify the importance of validated
teaching materials and the impact on teacher practices (Slavin, Success for all: Policy
Consequences of replicable school reform Handbook of Education Policy. New York
1998 ...) Yet its clear that die teaching materials that were provided teachers for
the Studio Course had not been validated, and the teachers knew it because McMillan
wasnt getting them his newly written materials on the Studio Course until the last
minute, and they were full of typos. They could not have been tested or validated in
any way because they were hot off the presses.
The same Martin Luther King Jr. application states, The literacy instruction
model is consistent with the comprehensive review of research conducted by the
National Research Council (NRC) in Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young
Children (1998). The NRC found that the most effective literacy instruction
approaches incorporate oral language, the recognition of letters, phonemic awareness,
decoding skills, comprehension, writing, spelling and grammar and provides
students with frequent opportunities to read and write (these approaches are also core
elements of the Colorado Basic Literacy Act).The Reading/Writing Studio
incorporates these approaches into its instructional practices.
First, the list of what works in effective literacy instruction is so broad that,
even if the Studio Course did incorporate all those elements, that would not mean it
itself had been tested in its own implementation of those elements. For instance, how
those elements were taught and prioritized would be key to the effectiveness of their
use.
Secondly, all those elements were not and are not part of the Studio Course, so the
statement is false. The Studio Course does not include the recognition of letters,
phonemic awareness, or decoding skills. And initially it did not include grammar.
Indeed, its lack of grammar has been a key criticism of the course because grammar is
a component of CSAP. That makes the Studio Course out of alignment with CSAP.
An analysis of the Studio Course prepared by Cole Middle School in 2005 stated:
We have reviewed the data and realize that while we are making gains in most areas,
they are not what we were expecting to see. In writing our students are struggling
with the grammar portion of the (CSAP) test. To address this issue we are forming a
37


study group to look at teaching grammar in context. The Studio model does not
support the teaching of grammar through grammar books and exercise, so we need to
make sure that all of our work with students on this issue is in context continuously
throughout the curriculum. (File 3, page 107). In the first training session in the
summer of2002, teachers were asking about where the program was tested and
developed, and McMillan didnt have the curriculum for the first year printed up yet.
So it was obvious that no testing had occurred on that particular program. That was
the first time that that version of it was ever tested for any consumption of it other
than what was in his mind, said one teacher. I know that he was writing it out.
It had all sorts of typos and was almost laughable, said the teacher.
The Reform Itself
Interestingly, the evaluation of the Studio Course by Farr & Associates points to
the content of the course, not implementation or anything else, as the biggest area for
concern. By far, the biggest concern was over the content of the Studio Course units.
While there were some positive comments about all of them, there were some general
problems that need to be addressed: flexibility for teaching the units, language in
which they are presented; length; and modifications needed. Teachers and coaches
felt that since they are the ones who have deployed the units, they would like to be
able to give their input as to changes and modifications that should/could be made.
There was also some general concern about the content, level, and appropriateness of
some of the books in the classroom libraries (52).
The first thing to remember about the Studio Course was that it was introduced in
a piecemeal fashion because it had not been completely written by the first school
year of implementation in 2002-2003. McMillan wrote the Studio Course for two
grades that first year: sixth and ninth. The sixth-grade Studio Course was used for
grades six through eight that first year. The ninth grade course was used mainly by
ninth graders. In other words, at the middle school level all die grades were using the
same curriculum. While there was some sentiment among administrators that this did
not present a problem, the opinion was not uniform. In the first year, all were taking
sixth grade curricula, said one teacher. Thats why everyone was so upset. Even
having the same curriculum for two consecutive grades can be a problem, said the
teacher, because the difference from a low sixth grader to a high seventh grader,
thats just wild.
In the second school year of implementation (2003-2004), McMillan introduced a
Studio Course for die seventh grade and tenth grade. That meant sixth graders were
only taking die sixth-grade Studio Course while seventh and eighth graders were
taking the seventh-grade course. Similarly, ninth graders were taking the ninth-grade
course while tenth graders took the tenth-grade course.
38


The Studio Course put two 45-minute periods back to back, with one devoted to
reading and one devoted to writing. The 90-minute block doubled die amount of time
devoted to language arts in middle schools at DPS. That doubling of time alone might
have led some to believe that test scores would rise as a result, regardless of the
curriculum. In other words, if teachers were teaching the same way that they taught
before the Studio Course was implemented, one might think that simply the doubling
of in-class time for language arts would raise scores. As will be discussed later, for
the most part that didnt happen.
The reading half of the Studio Course each day is divided into three components:
a focus lesson, a work period and a closing meeting. The focus lesson is a five to
seven minute explanation and demonstration of a reading strategy or technique, says
Merrill Middle Schools 2003 CSR application (File 4, page 41). That is followed by
a work period, which includes independent reading by students of self-selected
texts to be taken from young adult fiction, magazines, comic books, newspapers,
encyclopedias, picture books and engaging non-fiction books. During that time, the
teacher is supposed to be having one-one-one conferences with students. After that
portion of the work period, there is a shared reading time in which the teacher reads
out loud, with thinking aloud breaks to discuss the text with students. That is
followed by student-directed literature groups to discuss texts. Finally, in closing the
meeting, students share and reflect on the days experience and teachers and students
deliver oral book reviews, according to Merrills application.
The application outlines a similar structure for the Writing Studio, starting with a
five- to seven-minute introduction of a writing strategy or technique with die focus
lesson, then a work period including independent writing and writers conference,
model text studies, and peer writing groups, and then a closing meeting with students
discussing and sharing their writing.
A number of criticisms of the Studio Course itself were levied by one teacher.
One of die top ones was that the course was too scripted. Every minute literally was
accounted for in the script die first year, said the teacher, noting that it loosened some
die second year. Turn the page and you tell them this, said the teacher. You could
have a computer do it. Theres no human anything in here.
Some administrators reacting to that criticism either disagreed, saying the
teachers did indeed have considerable freedom, or said that the complaints only lasted
a while in the beginning, and that the freedom loosened with later units.
But a look at the teachers manual for die Studio Course appears to support the
highly scripted viewpoint. For instance, in the work period portion of Session
One, Introducing and Customizing the Writers Notebook, the instructions to the
teacher are as follows: Ask the class to open the notebook to the first page. Model
this for the class and create a first page on the overhead that everyone can see.
Write Table of Contents at the top of that first page. Ask those students who know
what a table of contents is to raise their hand. Call on someone for a definition. When
39


youve established a definition for table of contents (that part of a book that tells the
readers what is in the book and where they can find it), ask the students to reserve the
first five pages of the writers notebook to use as a table of contents. Use your own
notebook to model this.
Josh Schachterle, a teacher at Lincoln North High School who came to the high
school in its second year of implementing the Studio Course, thinks the Studio Course
was a prime demonstration of the districts treating teachers as if they are idiots.
I think the major problem with the implementation was the understood-
command to stick to the script in the program. Some of us could see that some facets
werent working with our students, but we were not allowed to deviate and were
regularly checked on by district personnel, he said in a July 26 e-mail.
That raises another major criticism voiced by the other teacher, that the Studio
Course was written for 20-pupil classes, not the 35-student classes she was teaching,
and that it was written for average, grade-level, middle-class students.
It was not written for special-ed students, or below-grade-Ievel students or
bilingual students or highly gifted students, said the teacher. Yet the district chose
this curriculum and implemented it across the board.
Shachterle agreed that teachers had their hands tied behind their backs with
respect to individualized instruction. Teachers, whose job it is to implement
curriculum and then modify it to meet the needs of particular students or classes, were
not allowed to do that but were told to stick to the exact program for all the
students, he said.
You have to start with kids where they are. The Studio Course assumed that all
kids were at the same level, he added.
Yet thats not how the Studio Course was portrayed when DPS schools were
applying for grants. Rishel Middle Schools 2001-2002 application for CSR money
(File 2, page 240), states, Because the program is delivered through individual study,
small and large groups, and teacher conferences, students can learn at a
developmentally appropriate pace.
Merrill Middle Schools 2003 CSR application goes even further, stating,
Reading and Writing Studio has a proven record in schools with high rates of family
poverty, minorities, special education students, and second language learners, and is
fully compatible with the philosophy and content of Merrills instructional
strategies. (File 4 page 46).
Again, that appears to be a false statement. Where was the proven record of
such success when the Studio Course had only just been implemented in the fell of
2002. Those on the front lines of implementing the Studio Course would disagree
with that statement from Merrills application. But they have other criticisms too.
One was the requirement for field trips so that older students could tutor younger
ones. Cross-age tutoring in reading and writing is supported by research that
indicates that middle and high school students increase their literacy practice, develop
40


positive reading habits and attitudes, and even improve their behavior, according to
Merrills 2003 CSR application (File 4, page 46).
Maybe, but the actual implementation was a nightmare for at least one teacher.
She remembers walking a mile to one elementary school, and students were trampling
through peoples yards, fooling around with gas pumps and talking to homeless
people they knew on the way. In some instances, low-level classes at a middle school
might have students with lower reading and writing skills than the elementary school
kids they were tutoring. In some cases it was Twilight Zoneish, where a little first
grader with a high voice would be showing some six-foot middle school student how
to do something.
It was such a pain to get all this done, and so intrusive, said the teacher.
Now its funny. But it was the biggest pain to do this.
The cross-age tutoring was dropped after the first year, said the teacher.
Meanwhile, McMillan was introducing other changes in the first year,
specifically introducing vocabulary and spelling, said the teacher. He kind of started
throwing in things that werent initially there, such as grammar and conventions, she
said.
This was touted as the saving grace of Denver youth, said die teacher, and then
after that, changes kept being added. Dont sit there and say you can walk on water
unless you really can, she said.
One of the most interesting absences evident in the Studio Course is any mention
of the use of a dictionary. Even in the revised program that still used elements of the
Studio Course in 2005-2006, no mention of a dictionary was present in units
explaining what to do when a word was not understood or a troublesome spot had
been reached in understanding the reading.
In reading Investigation No. 1, Session Six is called Monitoring for Meaning.
It states: Readers Monitor for Meaning. Readers notice when they stop getting it.
Readers do the following steps when they realize they have a problem: Reread.
Readers reread a sentence paragraph, or even a chapter when they realize theyre
confused. *Read ahead. Sometimes readers read on to see if that helps clear things up.
*Stop and think. Readers stop to ask themselves questions and to go back and look
for answers on other earlier pages in a text. Readers notice when a problem comes
up, figure out what the problem is, and then do something about it. When theyre
stuck, they ask for help. Tell students that over the next couple of sessions the class
will consider a few more ways to solve problems that arise during reading. (The
Studio Course, page 95)
As noted above, use of the dictionary is not mentioned.
The same is true in Session Seven, titled What do 1 do when I dont know
words? It states, Be sure the following items are on the Handling Unfamiliar
Words chart by the end of the focus lesson: Sound it out. Reread the sentence.
* Break die word up into parts. Look for small words inside a big word. *Skip the
41


word and see if the sentence still makes sense. Read ahead a little bit Reread the
sentence and say blank: instead of die word. Then ask, Whats another word that
would make sense here? (The Studio Course, page 97).
Clearly, McMillan bends over backwards trying to avoid the use of a dictionary,
which in many instances would be far quicker than going through the multi-stepped
contextual process he recommends. And because the context is already there for die
word because it is embedded in a sentence being read, the reader would have both a
dictionary definition and context if the word was looked up while reading. Yet
McMillan shuns dictionaries, apparently operating on a theory that words that are not
understood will magically be clarified by context.
Session Eight, titled What do I do when I lose track of whats going on? also
fails to mention the dictionary. The session suggest questions to ask for a story such
as Who are the key characters? and for an informational text such as Whats the
text about?
Again, McMillan shuns the dictionary as a possible resource to help a student
find his way.
Students need to expand their vocabularies in the context of what they are
reading. One way to do that is to train them to use a dictionary. Another is to provide
them with vocabulary words in the context of what they are reading. In her essay Is
this really English?: Using Adult Literature in an Urban Middle School, found in
What Adolescents Deserve, by Editors James Rycik and Judith Irvin, Rebecca Joseph
puts it this way: Rather than introduce unrelated vocabulary or spelling words, I take
the words directly from the young adult novel (that the students read). Words like
emancipation, oppression, and fidelity become our weekly vocabulary/spelling words.
When die students see the words directly in the context of their readings, they are able
to retain the words and use them in their own writing (107).
When students are not reading the same thing, as was the case in the Studio
Course, that approach is not possible.
Finally, the author of this diesis monitored a DPS language arts class using the
Studio Course in 2004 and wrote an academic paper that dealt with the course. Here
is part of what the paper said: Any observer of the Studio Course in action might
hypothesize that the drop in DPS test scores could be related to the large amount of
Studio Course time expended on babysitting students while they read or write (on
their own) in class. Rather than have students read or write outside of class for
homework and then encouraging diem to think and discuss aspects of their
assignments in class, students are often reading or writing independently in class
while the teacher attends to administrative duties.
Here it might be argued that the Studio Course calls for the teacher to be holding
conferences with individual students during the independent reading or writing. The
problem with that theory is that the teacher is often dealing with disciplinary
problems or keeping them from erupting and doesnt have time to meet one-on-one
42


with 35 students. The same holds true of the small-group meetings the students had
for purposes of discussing their writing or their reading.
They either didnt have the background knowledge or they werent focused on
working independently, said one teacher. The teacher couldnt be in enough places
at the same time to monitor all the groups and what they were talking about. Thats
the whole point. They werent necessarily talking about literature, said the teacher. It
was more like who did what to whom.
You could spend the whole period keeping everybody on focus.
The same was true when the teacher read out loud. Reading out loud is a very
dangerous thing to do, said the teacher. Its easy for them to goof around (while the
teacher is reading). You do a really good job of reading and all of the sudden the
whole class falls apart.
Another problem was with the language of some of the books, which included
the f word, the n word and the sh word and which sometimes seemed to
contradict school policies. Youre not supposed to talk about gangs in schools. But
there were readings about gangs and sex, said the teacher.
One administrative view was that the readings that were more in line with the
students worlds were more likely to gain their interest and be read. On the other
hand, said the teacher, there was the matter of trying to prepare the students for what
theyd see in high school and college.
The authors observations in 2004 included the following: Indeed, a big
disadvantage of the Studio reading program is the free choice allowed students in
picking reading material, which makes it impossible to have common-book
discussions on the student-selected reading.
There is some time within the Studio Course devoted to shared reading, which
provides some opportunity for critical thinking and common discussion. And the use
of common writing prompts (topics) causes some cohesiveness in terms of common
themes to discuss. However, on the whole, the Studio Course appears to emphasize
quantity of reading and writing at the expense of quality, comprehension, discussion
or critical thinking.
The Implementation of the Reform
A number of criticisms have been leveled about the implementation of the Studio
Course and one of the main ones has been lack of teacher buy-in. That has been
attributed in part to a top-down approach with little input from the teachers. But it
appears that the lack of teacher buy-in was due to factors a little more complex that
simply top-down imposition from administrators onto the principals and teachers and
lack of teacher input into how the course would be structured.
43


Was it top-down? Certainly. DPS was organized into four quadrants, each with
an area superintendent and assistant superintendent. Mentor Hay got their support for
the Studio Course in the spring of2002 and those lesser superintendents told the
principals what they had to do and that there was urgency behind it. The principals
then told the teachers.
But the issue of lack of buy-in by DPS teachers seems far more complex than
that. After all, reforms at Fountain were top-down also, yet they have worked.
One big difference appears to have been with the content of the Studio Course
itself. While Fountain reforms were rigid about WHAT was to be taught, in terms of
aligning subject matter with Colorado standards, Fountain allowed considerable
freedom to teachers in terms of HOW it was to be taught. That was not the case at
Denver Public Schools, according to teachers interviewed and according to at least
some comments received by Farr and Associates. There was some reservation and
resistance to the idea that they (the teachers) had to follow the program to the letter
and not veer from it in any way, said the Farr & Associates evaluation (27).
Most just felt that the District officials needed to get more input from teachers
about what works and what doesnt work in the content, it said (27).
Some teachers also felt that the Studio Course restricted their creativity. I can
never bring in anything of my own. There was a great program on NPR about Hip-
Hop that I wanted to bring to class, but I couldnt, said one teacher quoted in the
Farr evaluation. (28).
Some teachers apparently had some freedom to change the Studio Course to
better align with what they thought should be taught, but in at least one instance a
teachers comments pointed to the failure of the Studio Course to align itself with
state standards or basic expansion of vocabulary. The program helps reading and
writing. I have integrated CSAP vocabulary in lessons so theyre getting it all the
time. Its up to the teacher to do that, said one teacher (Farr, 41).
Teachers were reluctant to buy in for other reasons too. The in-class library
materials that were supposed to be available, were not (Farr, 12) and those that were
available were sometimes deemed inappropriate because the materials were too
white or involved negatives about Hispanics, or were gang-related, or simply were
not of the appropriate level and interest for the students in the class, particularly ELA
students. (Farr, 12). In addition, it was not comforting to teachers to see the
curriculum of the Studio Course change as the first-year progressed. The concern
has focused on the frequent change in direction (according to one coach, many
different approaches have been introduced mid-stream).... (Farr, 14).
According to Studio staff, central staff mandated changes to the curriculum
throughout the year without taking into consideration the difficulties involved with
switching gears (Farr, 10).
There was already a sense of skepticism in the district from those who had seen
reforms come and go. As Lincoln High School teacher Josh Schachterle put it, There
44


was almost no buy-in from the teachers. The program was seen by the English dept,
as another in a long line of insults from the district, who assumed that the entire fault
for low test scores rested squarely on teachers shoulders. In addition, teachers were
not allowed to modify the program to fit students needs.
The sentiment was echoed in the Farr analysis, which noted that the skepticism
was enhanced by poor communication. The fact that DPS has often changed
programs in the past caused a significant degree of hesitation on the part of
principals and some coaches and teachers. The failure on the part of the District to
communicate effectively the vision and goals for the program and to establish solid
feedback loops only exacerbated the here we go again feeling. Principals also
developed some misunderstanding about the program, and this also raised some
doubts about the wisdom of implementing it. In addition, the fact that so many
(Studio) Course corrections had to be made as they went along gave school staffs an
uneasy feeling that the program was not planned with enough forethought and that it
would go away for that reason as well.
It didnt help that it was obvious that the specific program being introduced had
never been tested because teachers knew that McMillan had just finished writing it
prior to the teachers first training on it. And he had not even started writing it for
some grades when it was implemented the first year. To say that it was research
based was too broad a characterization to be very convincing to teachers or
principals. (This principal) mentioned that the District has acknowledged that very
little research has been done to track the success of this program at the high school
level; and that no data are available to corroborate the fact that this may, indeed, be
the best program at the high school level (Farr, 9).
Another problem in implementation was the stigma associated with the Studio
Course in some high schools that used it only for those who were performing below
grade level. Thus it was associated with being a remedial course.
Of those interviewed for this paper, there was some sentiment expressed that it
was the implementation of the Studio Course that was the cause of poor test scores,
and that the big failures had to do with grouping of below-grade-level students all
together in a Studio Course and top-down imposition of the course on teachers.
Another problem cited by one teacher was the uneven implementation of the
Studio Course. That happened at the high school level, as noted by the Farr analysis
(7) which said it was much more varied and complex than implementation at the
middle school level and was rife with problems. Three high schools George
Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John F. Kennedy decided not to implement the
Studio Course the first school year, although George Washington implemented a
version of it the second semester. Nine high schools did implement it, but to varying
degrees, with three high schools including all or almost all ninth graders in the
Studio Course while other schools offered a limited number of sections, typically
selecting students on the basis of low CSAP scores (Farr 21). At one high school,
45


Montbello, teachers volunteered to teach the Studio Course the first year, but the next
year the school planned to have all ninth and 10th grade teachers use it. (Farr, 22).
South High School said it offered three sections of Studio Course and would expand
it to the 10th grade the following year (Farr, 21).
At least two coaches and a few others of those interviewed felt that there was a
need for greater consistency in the implementation in high schools across the
district, said the Farr evaluation (28).
It said that implementation was far more consistent in DPS middle schools,
where all language arts students were required to take it. However, one middle school
teacher still stated that the level of implementation was different from school to
school. It was too decentralized in the actual implementation, said the teacher.
When push comes to shove in the schools, some were not doing it.
How did this teacher know that? Talking to other teachers who were here the
first year and went to other schools. I know they didnt have to do the things we were
doing, said the teacher.
That did not change the fact that the course itself was highly scripted, in terms of
what the teacher was supposed to do each minute, and in the method of presentation,
but the level of enforcement to stick with the script, or even teaching outside of the
Studio Course altogether, apparently varied some from school to school. According to
Farr and Associates, that was more a matter of concern at the high school level, while
middle school implementation was more homogeneous (7).
Another big problem was communication. Interviews indicate that both
McMillan and Mentor Hay were difficult to work with and/or inaccessible. Mentor
Hay continued to live in California after becoming chief academic officer in Denver,
and was in Denver Monday through Thursday, often spending Fridays in Pittsburgh
with the Learning Institute. As for McMillan, the Farr evaluation states, with respect
to input from those involved with the training, A few expressed an interest in
hearing more from the developer of the program.
At the high school level, one Farr evaluator who visited five high schools stated,
If only one area of concern regarding the implementation process itself were to be
distinguished from others in this document, that area would be the weak feedback
loops between central administration policymakers and the two implementing bodies
at the school level: Studio (Course) staff and administrators (Farr, 10).
Poor communication also was interpreted as a lack of support. Comments about
support for the program by the District of Area Specialists were decidedly uneven.
Some felt that they got what they needed, but other expressed concern about the
cavalier or non-responsive attitude (Farr, 10).
As it turned out, the skepticism that principals and teachers had about the Studio
Course turned out to be well-founded, and the results were what ultimately drove its
demise. Although a large hunk of it is still evident in middle school programs at DPS,
46


2004, and the other schools received the second to lowest rating, a low, for all four
years, 2002-2004. Three were ranked as declining, Cole wasnt ranked, and only
Horace Mann was marked as stable. None were marked for improvement or
significant improvement for the time period (36).
Some examples from some of the schools receiving CSR grants the schools most
in need of help in raising scores show the depth of the failure in some areas Smiley
Middle School saw its CSAP scores for eighth-grade reading go from 43 percent
proficient and advanced in 2003 to 36 percent proficient and advanced in 2005 while
the percentage scoring in die lowest unsatisfactory category rose from 17 to 25.
(State Evaluation, Appendix 27). At Cole Middle School, the proficient and advanced
percentage in eighth-grade reading was the same in 2002 and 2005, at 10 percent,
while the percentage of those scoring unsatisfactory rose to 50 percent in 2005 from
42 percent in 2002 (State Evaluation, Appendix 8). Interestingly, in math it was a bit
of a different story. Those eighth-graders scoring unsatisfactory at Cole in math
dropped from 83 percent in 2002 to 62 percent in 2005, a gain of more than 20
percentage points, and those scoring proficient or advanced rose from 0 percent in
2002 to 4 percent in 2005. In other words, the same groups of kids were making some
progress in math on the CSAPs while regressing in language arts under die Studio
Course.
Eighth-grade scores are particularly revealing, because by the 2005 CSAPs,
eighth-graders had had three years of Studio Course if they were in the district those
three years. At Horace Mann Middle School, another CSR grant recipient, trends
were similar to those at Cole. At Horace Mann, the percentage scoring unsatisfactory
in eighth-grade reading rose from 26 percent in 2002 to 34 percent in 2005 while the
percentage scoring proficient or advanced dropped from 29 percent in 2002 to 28
percent in 2005. On the math side at Horace Maim, though, the unsatisfactory
percentage went down to 58 percent in 2005 from 63 percent in 2002 while the
proficient and advanced percentage rose slightly, to 8 percent in 2005 from 6 percent
in 2002 (State Evaluation, Appendix 8,15).
At Lake Middle School and Rishell Middle School, also CSR grant recipients,
eighth-grade reading scores worsened, but so did eighth-grade math scores by some
measurements. At Lake, the percentage of eighth graders scoring unsatisfactory in
reading rose from 25 percent in 2002 to 43 percent in 2005 while proficient and
advanced students dropped to 21 percent in 2005 from 24 percent in 2002.
Meanwhile, eighth-grade math scores worsened in the unsatisfactory category, going
from 54 percent in 2002 to 58 percent in 2005 while those scoring proficient and
advanced showed some improvement at the school, with the percentage rise to 9
percent in 2005 from 4 percent in 2002.
Rishel also showed poor results in reading and mixed results in math. Its eighth
graders in 2002 had 25 percent scoring unsatisfactory in reading while in 2005 that
rose to 43 percent of eighth graders. The percentage scoring proficient and advanced
51


worsened from 24 percent in 2002 to 17 percent in 2005. Meanwhile in math, Rishel
saw the unsatisfactory percentage worsen from 51 percent in 2002 to 56 percent in
2005 while the proficient and advance percent improved to 10 percent from 5 percent
(State Evaluation, Appendix 8,15).
All those comparisons would seem to indicate that the Studio Course itself was
flawed because the same students, for the most part, were showing more
improvement in another subject area than they were in language arts through the
Studio Course. Indeed, the reading scores were turning down at an alarming rate at
some of the schools that had applied for CSR grants for the Studio Course.
There is little wonder, then, that the district started turning toward the idea of
greatly revising die Studio Course at the middle school level and eventually did. But a
big segment of it is still present in the revised curriculum. One teacher estimated that,
as of school year 2006-2007, the revised course was 75 percent to 80 percent similar
to the Studio Course in terms of format, and 50 percent the same in terms of subject
matter.
In other words, even though the Studio Course results indicate that it was a
failure, as of2006-2007 thousands of DPS students were still being taught with hunks
of it still intact.
There was some sentiment among people formerly familiar with the Studio
Course that it failed because of improper implementation or because there wasnt
teacher buy-in. The course itself was not generally blamed, although some opinions
about its shortcomings was expressed in both the Farr analysis and interviews with
teachers. In the Farr analysis, one teacher said, The kids still dont seem to care.
(29)
At least one coach also reported that its not as challenging for some of the
kids. I try to get them to pick more interesting books. They are saying theyre bored.
Some finish things quickly. (Farr, 30)
In focus groups at two high schools, the Studio Course was described as not
challenging and too easy, and students felt they were falling behind their peers
taking traditional English courses, and were having to give up electives to take it.
(Farr, 30)
That brings up an important point: The doubling of language arts time through
the Studio Course meant some students were not able to take some electives such as
band, and therefore were not as interested in coming to school, according to one
teacher.
There was also sentiment expressed by interviewees that the Studio Course was
not aligned with CSAP tests or state standards and that teachers were alienated from it
because of the top-down implementation and the scripted, no-deviation mandates in
teaching it. The reform of the Studio Course implemented in 2006-2007 was desired
in part to put it more in line with state standards.
52


Plus, one teacher who was interviewed said that the higher kids were not
challenged by the Studio Course, but it was also not written for special ed students
or below-grade-level students or bilingual students. It was for basic middle class
kids, said the teacher. Denver Public Schools had many students who did not fit that
category.
The Aftermath of the Reform
As described above, the Studio Course was changed as time went along and after
four years of effort at the middle school level, a greatly revised version was instituted
in 2006-2007. It may be too early to tell whether that revised version has had much
impact, but the 2007 CSAP scores are not particularly encouraging. At the high
school level, as noted, die Studio Course will be jettisoned in the 2007-2008 school
year by all but two of the DPS high schools.
In the aftermath of the reform, one clear result is a reluctance by people involved
with the Studio Course to talk about it. Superintendent Jerry Wartgow declined to be
interviewed, former Chief Academic Officer Sally Mentor Hay did not respond to e-
mail inquiries, and course creator John McMillan declined to participate after seeing a
sampling of question he had requested.
One interesting episode in the aftermath of the first year of the Studio Course was
an attempt by John McMillan to market the course to Fayette County Public Schools
in Lexington, Kentucky. The Studio Course, or something similar to it, was presented
as proposal number 10 of a 12-point proposal submitted by a committee to the district
to consider adopting. (See www.2020vision.fcps.net/reoorts/group3 .doc).
Our committee recommends strengthening the measures we take to ensure
literacy gains for our students. When the Denver, Colorado, Public School District
implemented a Reading and Writing Studio Course , a two-period per day program
serving students below grade level, district reading and writing scores steadily
improved. This rigorous course, designed by John McMillan, focuses on best
practices in reading and writing. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education,
in the 2003-04 school year, Denver Public Schools made greater gains in reading
than students in the rest of the state, especially in the tenth grade, where the
percentage gain was double that of the state average (www.all4ed.org/casestudy>.
That information is false, at least when using the most common measurement of gams
in a district, the percentage of students scoring proficient and advanced. In the 2004
CSAPs in reading the percentage of DPS 10 graders scoring proficient or advanced
dropped to 39 percent from 2003s 43 percent. Eighth graders dropped from 40
percent to 34 percent and sixth graders dropped from 39 percent to 38 percent. Two
of the five grades taking the Studio Course rose, but only by a single percentage
point, as ninth grade rose to 38 percent from 37 percent and seventh grade rose to 35
53


percent from 34 percent (See data at
http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdeassess/documents/csap/csap summary.html#2004).
The numbers statewide also went down in some instances, but as a whole, it is
simply not true that DPS grades six through 10, the only grades that took the Studio
Course and also took the CSAPs, outperformed the state numbers. Grades 10,8 and 6
lost a total of 11 percentage points and grades 9 and 7 gained a total of 2 percentage
points, for a net loss of 9 percentage points for the grades as a whole between the
2003 CSAPs and the 2004 CSAPs in reading. The state as a whole dropped from 67
percent to 65 percent in 10th grade and 66 percent to 64 percent in eighth grade,
gained from 65 percent to 66 percent for ninth grade, and stayed the same at 67
percent in sixth grade and 61 percent in seventh grade, for a net loss between 2003
and 2004 of 3 percentage points.
Although Sally Mentor Hays name and contact information are at the bottom of
the Alliance for Education article, which does not have a byline, a spokesman for
Alliance for Education said in a June 25 e-mail, Sally Mentor Hay did not write the
piece and I'm afraid that we don't have the contact information for the person who
did.
In other words, how that false information was obtained cannot be determined.
The Fayette County district did not adopt the Studio Course and the
recommendation was one of many the district received as it looked at reform.
Lessons from the reform are many. The most notable is that a school district
takes a huge risk on a new curriculum that is not only untested, but unwritten when
the wheels are set in motion that lead to its general adoption. A second lesson is that a
school district will provide false information to get grants. It is undeniable that some
of the applications for the CSR grants contained false information about the Studio
Course itself having been tested. And for those applications that said the Studio
Course was based on research that had been tested, much more in-depth questioning
and analysis was needed to determine how there was a connection between the
research and the course, not only by the school district but by those evaluating the
CSR grants. Millions of dollars in CSR grants were provided to DPS to help fond the
Studio Course, which was itself untested, but which purported to be either tested itself
or based on research that was tested. Indeed, the Alliance for Education article states,
To date, more than $8 million in Title I funds have been leveraged for the district
literacy program.
Fountain-Ft. Carson 8
Why Reform was Necessary
To understand Fountain-Ft. Carson, its helpful to draw a distinction between two
time periods: 1992-2002 when Dale Gasser was superintendent and 2002-2006 when
54


Dwight Jones was superintendent and Mike Miles was assistant superintendent in
charge of the curriculum. Jones was hired by Gasser and carried on his programs after
Gasser left, but, along with Miles, also changed some areas of emphasis.
When Gasser arrived in 2002, it was evident that reform was needed. The
performance level of students and the graduation rates were far too low, Gasser said.
We focused on the moral imperative relating to student achievement. 32% of
our students were not graduating (now 2%); children were several years below grade
level in reading. 95% of the children were not proficient in writing, he said in the
July 3 e-mail.
The community also thought reforms were necessary, and provided strong
legitimacy for the reforms through the input provided in community forums. The
reform started at Fountain in the fell of 1992 following a series of Community
Forums where over 300 participants indicated that higher levels of student
achievement were necessary.
Tim Holt, director of secondary education at Fountain-Ft. Carson 8, said in a
June 1 in-person interview that Fountain had a terrible reputation, in part because of
gang-related incidents and the beating to death of a man by several students from the
high school. Kids were coming out of the elementary school not knowing how to
read and write, he said. Teachers were teaching whatever they wanted and were all
over the map.
In other words, when Gasser arrived as superintendent in 1992, there was little
doubt about the need for reform because of low reading and writing levels,
discouraging graduation rates, unimpressive test scores, and input from the
community demanding change.
When Gasser left, Dwight Jones and Mike Miles perceived some need for change
as well. While Gasser had gotten the ship turned in the right direction, said Miles,
some efficiencies needed to be introduced to get the sails catching all the wind
possible. CSAP scores were no longer rising so much.
Staff development was good, but not tied together in a systemic way and not with
enough follow-up with the teachers. And Jones and Miles felt that there needed to be
more systems-thinking introduced into the way the district was run and a focus on
what the district could do better than any other district, an idea Jones had borrowed
from Jim Collins book, Good to Great. In other words, progress had been made, but
there was room for more, and feat meant additional reform.
The Process of Choosing the Reform
For Dale Gasser, the process of choosing fee reform was simple because he was
already convinced of what worked. Choosing a process of reform was NOT a matter
of systematically looking at schools across the nation and picking those that had
55


proven most effective in raising scores through reforms. Gasser was already familiar
with 25 years of research on effective schools and, indeed, while he was at Fountain
from 1992 to 2002 he was also an adjunct professor at the University of Denver and
the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and was teaching the same concepts.
In addition, he had practical experience seeing it work. He was principal of Rampart
High School in Academy District #20, and it was named a National Blue Ribbon
School of Excellence. At Rampart he had focused on the same broad themes as at
Fountain, he said.
The changes I initiated were taken from die research on Effective Schools and
other sources. Many of these changes were directives from my office; we did not use
a committee approach.... It didnt make a lot of sense to use committees of people
who had been responsible for the low achievement to make a plan for improvement.
... What other professions use lay people (to) establish the operational plan? They
may help with the strategic elements, but the operational planning is left to the trained
professionals. Committee work for committee sake seldom leads to good outcomes,
especially when major change is needed. For instance, we didnt need a committee to
tell us that having students take more time for recess than they were receiving reading
or math instruction was a practice that needed to change.
In other words, the decision-making on the choice of reform at Fountain was by a
single person, Gasser, just as in Denver it was by a single person, Mentor Hay. One
difference was that Gasser had the 300 people participating in community forums to
help give the impetus for reform some clout But the choice was also based on his
own previous personal experience of implementing reform successfully based on
effective schools research. In the case of Mentor Hay, the personal success was not
there because she was introducing a course that had not even been written yet. The
concepts were tested, but, as they say, the devil is in the details. The details of what
was written by John McMillan had never been tested.
In addition, the two districts were approaching reform quite differently. Gasser
was choosing a reform of processes, while Mentor Hay was choosing a reform of
curriculum. When a District spends time looking for the perfect curriculum, to solve
their achievement problems, they will be disappointed with the outcome, said Gasser
in the July 3 e-mail. Even the best curriculum, when taught poorly and delivered in a
system that is not aligned with the high quality practices, will fail.
A replacement curriculum was not the answer. Better instructional practices, a
systems approach to improvement, assessment, time and staff development were the
key ingredients, he said.
While it might be argued that DPS had a reform in practices of sorts through the
Studio course by dictating teacher time and even what to say, that is a much narrower
view of practices that excludes the broad concentration on teacher effectiveness
implemented at Fountain.
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The Research Basis and Previous Testing of the Reform
Gasser was confident that his approach to Fountain would work. He had 25
years of research to back him up, from academics such as Marzano, and he himself
had implemented the approach previously as a high school principal and seen it
succeed. Plus, he could point to districts throughout the U.S. that had used the
approach and seen test scores rise and dropout rates decline, as had occurred in
Norfolk, Va., according to Case Studies in Effective Schools Research (44). And he
was confident in his knowledge of the material, since he taught it at a college level.
The Reform Itself
By most measurements, thats exactly what happened in Denver failure. But in
Fountain, Gasser, Jones and Miles proved that it is possible to institute reform and to
make huge positive differences in a hurting school system. And the reforms were
mainly NOT curricular in nature. We looked at systemic changes; we added two
weeks to the school year, began before- and after-school tutoring, started a 10-week
summer school, cut out field trips and movies, focused on good use of instructional
time, increased the amount of direct instruction, observed and gave feedback on
effective teaching strategies and changed the role of the principal to instructional
leader (coupled with a lot of development for principals). Resources were reallocated
from the Central Office and tunneled to the schools (site based). In actuality, each
school site became responsible for the curriculum used to bring about the necessary
changes. It quickly became clear that the effectiveness of the principal was the key
component in bringing about the necessary change, said Gasser in the July 3 e-mail.
And if the principal didnt measure up? He or she might eventually be fired.
If the principal wasnt making the grade, we tried to help them improve, and if
they didnt or couldnt, they were replaced. We needed to do this with about 40% of
the principals. The District must be willing to make the tough call not everyone has
the skills for this type of instructional leadership. (Hiring principals who were
outstanding classroom teachers is a good first step.)
An important aspect of the reforms at Fountain was the amount of flexibility
given to each school and to each teacher to be creative, according to Holt and Deb
Keiley, principal at Fountain Middle School, who was also interviewed in- person on
June 1.
There were certain non-negotiables, mainly, You will raise achievement in your
building. And there was one non-negotiable within the curriculum, the use of Step
Up to Writing, across the district. But other than that, the schools were
autonomous and teachers were under a mandate in terms of what needed to be
taught, but NOT how to teach it, said Holt.
Nobody says you have to be on this page of the book on this day, he said.
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How you teach it is up to you. In other words, its the objective of student
achievement, with that learning being in line with state standards, that counts, and not
how you get to that objective. Flexibility with how something was taught didnt
mean that a teacher could have a classroom in an undisciplined uproar and not have
that brought to her attention in a monitoring evaluation. It did mean that she had
flexibility in terms of bringing other resources or styles to bear in trying to get a
concept across.
That sort of flexibility was in clear contradistinction to what happened in die
Studio Course in Denver. There, teachers were told how to teach, with some
complaining of too much scripting and too little freedom to be creative. That was one
important aspect of the lack of buy-in by teachers. They didnt want to be treated as
idiotic robots, robbed of their creativity. And it is probably an important reason why
Fountain reforms worked while the Studio Course didnt, even though both were top-
down mandates rather than reform that the teachers had a say in devising.
For literacy and grammar instruction, teachers at Fountain are pulling from lots
of different sources to teach their objectives, Keiley said. We dont say, This is the
best book. Indeed, Keiley stressed that there is no one curriculum that a teacher can
use to meet all the state standards. Not one curriculum is going to cover everything,
she said.
All schools within the district are trying to have teachers post a daily objective in
front of the class, said Keiley. The teacher still has flexibility as to how to meet the
objective and how to teach it, and its actually more difficult for the teachers than
handing them a textbook and saying teach these four chapters. I think they do
appreciate the fact that they teach it to their style and their strengths, she said.
Holt agreed. Teachers have a variety of strengths, he said. Thats the problem
with dictating minute by minute.
But that is precisely what the Studio Course did at Denver Public Schools.
While Fountain teachers had flexibility, they were encouraged to improve their
teaching skills, and they were also held accountable not only through test results but
through spot checks by administrators.
Instructional strategies from Robert Marzano were embraced by the school
district and passed on through staff development days. For instance, Marzano
champions teaching in which teachers interact with their students rather than allowing
students to be the passive recipients of lectures. (Marzano, A Different Kind of
Classroom. 5). Peter Senges viewpoints on systems thinking were passed on to
teachers so that they might see themselves as part of a greater whole and understand
why the quick fixes of most school districts arent the answer to fixing a broken
system (Senge, Schools that Learn. 77-78). And tips from Fred Jones were passed to
teachers, which they used out of their own self- interest because the tips saved them
time. The tips are as simple as suggesting, The easiest way to prevent goofing off is
location. When students are near the teacher, they tend to be on their best behavior.
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Effective teachers make an art form out of working the crowd. otherwise known as
management by walking around. And the Discovery Program by Eric Larson in Fort
Collins was proven highly effective with high-risk kids, and cut office referrals by
two-thirds, Holt said.
I personally have brained over 100 teachers, Holt said. Marzano is used in
every building, and the fact that die tips are based on research helps get teachers on
board, he said.
With the departure of Gasser, Jones wanted to move the school district from
good to great, borrowing a concept from Jim Collins book of that name. Collins
had described a hedgehog concept, based on the idea that die hedgehog can do one
thing really well to survive: roll into a ball. Its not fast, and its not intelligent, but
doing that one thing well leads to its survival. Jones wanted to see if the district could
find its own one thing that it did better than any district in the state, and Miles
suggested the idea of moving kids from point A to point B in real adequate yearly
progress. That meant measuring not how many are over a certain bar, but how each
and every student makes the amount of progress that should be made in that time
frame. In addition, Jones and Miles started working more systemically, with schools,
principals, and assistant principals being assessed on their organizational
effectiveness. The curriculum was aligned across the district with state standards and
tests. We were doing it, but not consistently across the board, said Miles. In other
words, what students need to learn was what die state standards dictated, and if
teachers were not teaching state standards regardless of the book being used they
were brought into line, but still with flexibility on the books or other resources used to
teach the standard. Instead of emphasizing a program say a set series of science kits
to teach biology Fountain was focused on practices such as teacher evaluations to
improve their class management and time management skills, frequent student
standardized testing to spot weak points and institutionalized motivational tools such
as rewards that made it cool to perform well academically.
Quarterly assessments had been introduced under Gasser, but under Jones and
Miles, monthly assessments in reading and math called Tungsten Tests (from Edison
Schools) were used to measure monthly progress and were very effective, Miles
said.
The Tungsten tests are aligned with CSAP tests and predict how well students
will do on CSAPs, Keiley said. The monthly tests help measure holes in the
curriculum and also where students need remedial help. In addition, if students fall
below where they should be in reading or writing, they get two hours of language arts
instruction at Fountain Middle School, Keiley said.
Plus, teachers perform daily assessments, such as a discussion at the end of class
or the securing of answers, to ensure that the kids understood what was taught that
day. If they didnt get it, the subject is revisited die next day.
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Instructional feedback was stepped up to ensure all schools were involved and
the frequency was adequate. The two assistant principals and I did over 1,000 spot
observations in one year, Miles said. They would go into classrooms and observe the
instruction using a spot observation form, looking at aspects such as curriculum
alignment.
At first there were some reservations by teachers, said Miles, but by the time he
left it was just a natural part of the school process and teachers started wanting spot
observations. There is a whole methodology to doing them. You have to do it in a
way thats non-threatening, he said. The evaluator always puts something positive in
the comments and then offers tips on how to do something better.
Keiley agrees. The evaluation cant be about gotcha, she said.
Leadership programs were also implemented to deepen leadership skills within
the district and improve effectiveness.
These are all practices. If you dont have good practices, it doesnt matter what
program you have. Invariably, the schools that are faring the worst have the most
programs, Miles said.
Implementation of the Reform
In Fountain, an important thing to note is that reform implementation has been
carried out over a long period of time involving two superintendents and 14 years. A
school district is a big ship to turn, not a 12-foot sailboat, and reform takes time.
Change takes time at least three years; 5 to 8 for real change. I had the good
fortune to be at Fountain for 10 years and Dwight (whom I hired as my assistant) kept
the initiative going for four years after that, Gasser said.
Did Denvers Studio Course have enough time, then? It had four years before a
revised curriculum was introduced in 2006-2007, so yes, it probably did. Plus, Miles,
who is now the superintendent of Harrison School District in Colorado Springs, said
his district scores have already gone up in the first year. And Gasser said the school
district in Minnesota where he is now superintendent has some of the highest scores
in the region and state.
Another aspect about the implementation was that Gasser stepped into a situation
where the community was clearly backing reform through its input in community
forums, giving Gasser some clout to take some drastic steps. Secondly,
implementation was from the top down. While that might theoretically cause some
teacher buy-in reluctance, Gasser had three things going for him: teachers were still
allowed great creativity in foe way they taught as long as what they taught was in line
with state standards; his credibility had been to some extent established through his
success with Rampart High School and with his teacfamg foe subject to administrators
at tiie college level; mid fog change was required. We were in a state of Marshall
Law and needed to make changes quickly, Gasser said. In other words, like a
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president in a time of war, the superintendent had extraordinary power to get things
done.
Holt and Keily also stressed that motivating kids to perform well academically
was also part of the reform picture. Students can win $300 bicycles and boom boxes
and IPODs, and those rewards help make It cool to be strong in academics, said
Keiley.
Results of the reform
The results of the reform might be divided first into test scores between 1992 and
2002, when Gasser was superintendent, and 2002 and 2006, when Jones was
superintendent. A further subdivision might be made in order to examine absolute
increases across the board for the district as a whole in grades six through eight, and
the closing of the relative gap between whites and minorities, as evidenced through
division by ethnicity. Unfortunately, the CSAP data were not in place when Gasser
became superintendent. Improved demographics may also have helped improve test
scores.
The demographics improved somewhat but the district still has 40% free
and reduced and 40% minority. I dont have too much patience for discussion
regarding demographics, Gasser said. Thats because demographics give schools the
opportunity to make excuses, he said. The biggest obstacle I had was to get people to
look past poverty as a barrier for achievement
Looking at the absolute results first, and only examining middle school grades six
through eight, one sees progress over time. Because the CSAPs were introduced
piecemeal in the beginning, the earliest results are from 1998 and only for grades
three and four. The earliest scores from the middle school grades are in 1999, and
only for seventh grade. By that time Gasser had been at fountain seven years. Even
after Gasser left, Fountain seventh-grade reading scores continued to improve, and by
2007 62 percent of the seventh graders scored proficient or advanced (compared with
a 60 percent statewide average). In eight years, the percentage of seventh-grade
students scoring proficient or advance more than doubled, rising 33 percentage points
from 29 percent to 62 percent. Sixth- and eighth-grade writing scores also rose, but
the time span was shorter. The sixth-grade writing proficient-and-advanced scores
went from 48 percent in 2002 to 63 percent in 2007 (compared with a state gain of 50
percent to 60 percent) and the eighth-grade writing proficient-and-advanced scores
stayed the same, resting at 52 percent in the district in 2007, the same as in 2002, after
having climbed to 64 percent in 2006 (the state average went from 50 percent in 2002
to 51 percent in 2007).
In other words, theres some lumpiness in the scores. They are not a straight
progression, and the CSAPs dont go back far enough to represent the entire 14-year
period of reform.
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Still, Gasser provides some other data to help make up for the deficiencies of
CSAP. He said that there was a pilot test done in CSAP writing in which the districts
fourth grade classes showed only 5 percent to be proficient or advanced. In 1997,
CSAP scores in writing for Fountain fourth graders showed 28 percent to be
proficient or advanced. In reading, the number was 45.6 percent proficient or
advanced.
In 2007,63 percent of fourth graders in the district were scoring proficient or
advanced, a 35 percentage point increase from ten years before and a more-than-
doubling of the performance of Fountain fourth graders. The 63 percent was also well
ahead of the statewide proficient-and-advanced average of 49 percent for 2007 for
fourth graders.
In addition, Gasser stresses that graduation rates were 68 percent when he arrived
and are now 98 percent.
The results in closing the gap between minorities and whites were even more
dramatic, especially when compared with the gap at Denver Public Schools. CSAP
scores by ethnicity are only available back to 2003, so there is no way to capture the
results prior to Gassers departure. In terms of progress, the results between 2003 and
2007 are lumpy, but its significant to note that in 2006, blacks at Fountain
outperformed whites in writing at both the eighth-grade and sixth-grade levels in
terms of percentage of proficient-and-advanced students, and they were within four
percentage points at the seventh-grade level. Black scores dropped in 2007 at both the
sixth- and eighth-grade levels below white levels, but Hispanic scores rose at the
sixth-grade level to within two-tenths of a percentage point of whites, coming in at
63.9 percent proficient-and-advanced versus 64.1 percent for whites.
Closing the gap to that extent would seem almost inconceivable after looking at
some of the 30 or 40 percentage-point gaps between whites and minorities at Denver
schools. In 2007 the percentages proficient-and-advanced was at the eighth-grade
level 42.5 percent for blacks, 42.6 percent for Hispanics, and 57.3 percent for whites;
at the seventh grade level, 57.5 percent for blacks, 60,5 percent for Hispanics, and
65.3 percent for whites; and at the sixth grade level, 55.8 percent for blacks, 63.9
percent for Hispanics, and 64.1 percent for whites.
About half of the Fountain district is made up of Fort Carson, so that raised the
questions of whether minorities from the base might constitute a different type of
population than minorities, in, say, Denver. Holt and Keiley dont think so. I think
kids are kids, she said, and minority kids on the base dont appear to be much
different from minority kids off the base.
Having little or no gap between minorities and whites is huge, said Holt.
So how did Fountain close the gap?
Much of this is related to foe improvement of instruction, Gasser said. The
research shows that when the quality of instruction improves, the low-performing
students are the ones who show foe fastest and biggest gains. Secondly, we focused
62


our efforts on making sure that the expectations for all students were high. Finally, we
made a real effort to locate and hire minority staff-teachers and administrators to
make certain that all kids had positive models.
Miles points to two tilings that helped close the gap. All the reform elements I
just talked about helps all kids, but its particularly important to at-risk kids, he said.
Secondly, he added, There was a conscious effort by Dwight (Jones), especially, to
ensure that principals (pay) primary attention to the difficulties of minority students.
If for instance, he or Jones visited a classroom and found some black students at the
back, theyd want to know why. The only acceptable answer would be that they are
the best kids in the class, Miles said.
Y oud better be calling on people of color, he said. Also of paramount
importance was the attitude that all these kids can learn if we engage them.
Aftermath of the reform
Part of the aftermath of the reform at Fountain deals with the promotion of Jones
and Miles. Not only did Jones become superintendent at Fountain after Gasser left,
but he was named Colorado Commissioner of Education cm June 1 by unanimous
choice of the Colorado State Board of Education. The commissioners biography on
the Colorado Department of Education Web site says of Jones: He knows that too
many minority students still suffer the long-term effects of a substandard education.
Jones possesses a proven record of ensuring that all students succeed regardless of
race or status.
Meanwhile, Miles was appointed as superintendent of Harrison School District 2
in Colorado Springs about a year ago. After a year at the helm, despite the disruption
from reform he was instituting there, scores went up. Were seeing the first year of a
large improvement, he said. Among other tilings, he is focusing on aligning the
curriculum and improving instructional feedback. Plus, he travels to other school
districts to help them implement reforms and tries to get the message out about what
has worked at Fountain.
Gasser is the superintendent of a school district in Minnesota where the same
reform efforts are working, he said.
And at the school district at Fountain, the culture has changed. The curriculum is
aligned with state standards, expectations have been raised for all students, and more
data is being collected and used to catch problems early, Holt said.
The atmosphere is one of excitement when CSAPs come around. You know
this. You know how to do it. Show them what you know, is the message
communicated to students, said Keiley. Its cool to achieve academically because
of rewards that have been established. Students can earn Pride tickets all year long
to get into dances or get an ice cream sandwich for lunch. And bikes, boom boxes and
63


iPods are among the rewards out there for those who achieve academically. Its not
just cool. Its a matter of pride, said Holt.
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CHAPTER 5
DISCUSSION
The differences between the reform efforts at Denver Public Schools and
Fountain-Fort Carson 8 couldnt be more stark. At DPS, the curriculum department
declined to cooperate with this thesis, citing a lack of time. The Denver applications
for federal grants are particularly troubling because of the false information contained
in those applications, as is the information obtained by a school district in Kentucky
about the supposed success of The Studio Course.
That false information raises serious questions about whether grant
administrators should take a close look at the information provided to them on
applications and whether they are indeed examining that information. It also raises
questions about whether schoolchildren at DPS are being raised in an ethical
environment.
With respect to the adoption of the Studio Course, the poor results point to the
necessity for care to be taken in any reform. The reform was done in a slapdash
manner, as evidenced by the fact that the Studio Course had not even been written
when a commitment was made to it. There was no objective analysis of what reform
to use, because the consultant for the district, the Institute for Learning, simply sent
its own senior fellow down to be the chief academic officer, and she hired a colleague
from the Institute to write the course. The superintendent pushed for this, but the
question should be raised whether that is an appropriate method to go about selecting
a reform effort that will affect thousands of children. Its also clear that teachers were
smart enough to figure out that the program could not have been tested when it was
barely finished when they first were introduced to it in workshops in the summer of
2002. That did not help in establishing credibility for the program, and, even worse,
the scripted nature of the program itself, the inability for teachers to easily adapt it to
different levels of students, the top-down enforcement of it without teacher
involvement, and the inaccessibility of the chief academic officer and die author of
the program ail helped to alienate the teachers who were supposed to implement it.
The representation that the course was based on research was far too vague to be
accepted at face value and should have been questioned. As shown in this thesis, there
are many differences between the Studio Course and tire Americas Choice program
of the NCEE, which was one program cited in some of the grant applications. In
addition, citations of Nancie Atwells In the Middle, as a basis for the Studio Course
are unconvincing. There is no data she cites in her book that indicates her manner of
teaching produces measurable results through state test scores. She uses anecdotal
evidence to support the workability of her methods. And the nature of her school is
65


clearly worlds away from DPS inner city schools. What might work for Nancy Atwell
in a private school with small class sizes and a homogeneous student body of upper-
income students might very well not work in an inner city school of great diversity
and very much larger classrooms.
The Fountain-Fort Carson reforms were quite different. For one thing, they were
based on school-wide systems changing, and not a particular curriculum. Secondly,
they focused on improving the instruction rather than the subject matter taught, bid
they gave more leeway to teachers in how to accomplish their instruction. They relied
on data to indicate whether the teachers instruction was working with each student
And the superintendent had testEd the effective schools theory in his own high school
and was a teacher of the concepts. While the institution of the reforms was top-down,
as it was at DPS, the advocate was the superintendent, who had established credibility
elsewhere, and there was more flexibility with instruction, so it was easier to get the
teachers on board. In addition, community forums had helped die superintendent
build a base of support for the changes.
Conclusion
The lessons are there. On the Denver Public Schools side, its clear that a district
is taking risks if it implements a curriculum-based reform that has never been tested,
regardless of general claims that the research upon which it was based was tested.
DPS bet big and lost, and thousands of middle school students lost in the process.
Secondly, checks and balances should be imposed, not only within a district but by
the grant-making authorities that help make school reform possible. That means hard
questions need to be asked and, as is evidence by the grant application information
presented by DPS to get millions in federal money, statements need to be verified,
and not taken at face value. Finally, a school district had better provide some freedom
and room for creativity for teachers if it wants high teacher morale and support for the
direction of the district. On the Fountain side, the lessons are numerous. One is that
its the system, the processes and teacher competence that are most important, not the
curriculum. One example : If a teacher cant manage a class, the students wont leam,
regardless of what it is theyre supposed to leam. Class management is a necessary
prerequisite to student achievement. It trumps curriculum in importance. Another
thing is continuity in leadership. If the superintendent knows what he or she is doing,
it helps to have that person around for a decade. Reform takes time. It also takes will,
and hard work, and people pulling together. Most of all, Fountain showed that reform
is possible. The achievement gap can be closed. Scores can be raised. An entire
culture of a district can be changed over time. Past failure are not indicative of a lack
of potential. The former superintendent of Fountain, Dwight Jones, started working as
the new Colorado Commissioner of Education on June 1. Obviously, the state hopes
that Jones can bottle some of that magic from Fountain and spread it throughout the
66


state. At least the state will be looking to someone who has been m the trenches and
applied theory to practice and emerged successful. It is possible. Fountain has proven
that.
67


APPENDIX A
Protocol approved by die University of Colorado at Denver Human Research
Committee, including consent form
Thomas N. Locke
3645 Nova Road
Pine, Colo. 80470
303-816-9607
locketomkathv@qwest.net
bigmittens 1 @, yahoo, com
3/3/07
UCD Human Subjects Research Committee
Protocol Form For a Thesis on Curriculum Decision-making and Test Results
1) Purpose and background: The purpose of the thesis is to analyze the decision-
making process in the adoption of new writing curricula in at least two school
districts, including Denver Public Schools, and to analyze that process and the test
results which followed after the new curricula were introduced.
2) Description of Subject Populations: a)The subject populations are those I plan to
interview for the thesis. They include the teachers and administrators in two school
districts: Denver Public Schools and one that has yet to be chosen. They also include
anyone else involved in the decision-making process for adopting the curricula, such
as the providers of the curricula. They also include people in positions of knowledge
about curricula adoption who might work for the state or federal government or for
universities or other research institutions. Some may have particular knowledge about
certain federal grants, such as the Colorado Comprehensive School Reform Program.
They also may include people not as yet identified. All interviewees will be adults.
b)The number of people interviewed is not certain at this time, but it will probably be
in the range of 10 to 30. c) The subjects would be identified either through public
documents or referrals by others, d) The criteria and method for including subjects
would be based on selecting anyone who had knowledge of the decision-making
process, the implementation of the curricula, the results, and how curricula are
generally adopted or should be adopted, e) No vulnerable populations will be
subjects, f) No advertisement will be run to recruit subjects.
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3) Methodology: a)The location of the study will be Denver Public Schools and one
other school district in Colorado. b)Subjects will be interviewed and asked for any
documentation they might have regarding the decision-making process or
implementation of the curricula. c)The frequency and duration of tire interviews will
depend on each subject. It is possible that a subject will have several interviews or
just one. The plan is to turn the thesis in during the late fall of2007, after which no
further interviews are planned. Data collection will include interviews, documents
that represent the curricula, documents or e-mails that reflect how the decisions were
made to adopt the curricula, filings of forms through the Colorado Comprehensive
School Reform Program, and test results through the Colorado Student Assessment
Program (CSAP). e)Precautions will be taken to minimize risks. A review of
academic journals indicates that it is not uncommon to use the name of particular
school districts or schools that are involved in a research project. There is no plan to
make the school districts anonymous. However, the names of individual schools will
not be used, and the names of individual people will be used only if those names are
in public documents or if the people are interviewed and have granted their consent
for their names to be used. In addition, anyone who is interviewed will be provided
with a statement to sign indicating how the information will be used with plans by
the author to use it in a thesis paper and plans to submit some form of that paper to
an academic journal for publication. Interviewees will be told that they can request
confidentiality and that even if they dont initially grant confidentiality, they can later
request it or request that all their remarks be deleted from the paper, and those
requests will be granted, e) Precautions to minimize risks will include the informed
consent statements to be signed by any interviewee. Interviews with subjects who are
named in public records in the decision-making process will only be interviewed, and
thus become human subjects, if it is deemed necessary for fairness to give them die
opportunity to present their points of view and only if informed consent is granted.
4) Data Disposition: a) Data will be collected through in-person, over-the-phone and
e-mailed interviews, with notes taken transferred to typed electronic storage on a
computer. b)For those requesting confidentiality, notes will be stored under a code
name. c)After the study is completed, data will be maintained in the personal
computer where it is initially stored. It will also be stored on a disk or flash drive as a
backup incase the computer is replaced or crashes.
5) Potential Benefits: a) The benefits to subjects would include their ability to talk
about the adoption, implementation and change of the curricula and a potential for the
implementation of a better system of decision-making should the administration of
the school districts involved choose to make changes based on the information in the
thesis. There will be no monetary compensation for the subjects. b)The benefits to the
general subject population would be potentially a reevaluation of the methods of
69


curricula adoption by any district reading the information (assuming it is published).
They might then implement processes that will result in better curricula at schools
and benefits for students, parents, teachers and administrators. c)Other potential
benefits would extend to society in general as schools do a better job of educating
children by adopting scientifically based practices that lead them to implement
curricula that has been proven and tested as effective.
6) Potential Risks to Subjects: a) There are no foreseeable physical risks to subjects,
b) There are risks of embarrassment and other psychological reactions once the thesis
is completed if there are job-related repercussions tied to the thesis, but this is
unlikely to occur to the subjects, who are the interviewees. Many of them are likely to
be teachers who were not involved in the decision-making and are not at risk of
embarrassment or job loss. The administrators who are identified through public
documents would not be subjects unless they are interviewed, and they would only be
interviewed with informed consent, c) There is a possibility of negative social or
economic consequences to those involved in the decision-making on curricula
adoption. The way to address this issue is to offer them die opportunity of informed
consent and confidentiality if they choose to be interviewed. If they choose not to be
interviewed, then public documents would be used and they would not be human
subjects. Indeed, one way to avoid the human-subjects risk with administrators or
anyone else involved in the decision-making would be to not interview any of them,
and rely solely on public documents. That would take them out of the realm of being
human subjects, d) At this point the author does not foresee potential legal problems
for the subjects except for this: There is a possibility that fraud may have been
involved in the obtaining of federal money under the Colorado Comprehensive
School Reform Program. At this point the author has no evidence of this. The reason
this has come to mind is that the first component of the CSR program is proven
strategies and methods based on scientifically based research and initial research
into the Studio Course adopted by DPS indicates that the Studio Course that was
adopted did not meet that stipulation, e) If confidentiality were breached, and the
names of the teachers providing information on a confidential basis became known, it
is conceivable that they could be penalized in some way by administrators.
7) Method Of Obtaining Informed Consent: Informed consent will be obtained in
written form after the presentation of the attached scripted statement, to be read by
each subject. In situations where submission of the written script mid getting a written
signature are impractical, the script will be read, and an oral consent will be obtained,
to be followed by written consent.
Consent Form
70


1) This studys purpose is to look at the decision-making process in a school district
through interviews, documents, and data, and analyze the pluses and minuses of that
process and whether the new curriculum adopted was successful or not as measured
by standardized tests. The thesis will last into the fall of2007.
2) The duration of your participation will last no longer than the fall of2007. An
initial interview may last anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours and subsequent
requests for answers to follow-up questions may be made, but those should not last
more than 15 minutes.
3) The risks in participating may be as minimal as embarrassment or discomfort or as
high as affecting employment, depending on your role in the decision-making
process.
4) Your participation is voluntary and you may at any time request confidentiality if
you have not already requested it, and you can withdraw from the process altogether
and ask that any interview material be deleted from the thesis or any article to be
published. Such requests will be honored and will result in no negative consequences
for you.
5) I plan to make an effort to get the results of this thesis published, so the results and
substance of the diesis could become widely known. Should you wish confidentiality,
I will make every effort to keep the information confidential. Code names for your
data will be used to aid in that.
6) The benefit to you from the research may be none at all, may be the positive
feeling of explaining the situation as you saw it, or conceivably could be the positive
changes adopted in a school district as a result of the release of this information.
7) You may contact me at 303-816-9607 or at locketomkathy@qwest.net or at 3645
Nova Road, Pine, CO 80470 should you have any questions at any time.
8) You may contact the HSRC (Human Subjects Research Committee) Administrator
at 1380 Lawrence Street, Suite 300, Denver, CO 80204 or at 303-556-4060 with
questions about your rights as a research subject
9) Signatures. Three options:
I consent to the interview but not the use of my name. Anonymous quotes are
OK. __________________________________________________signature.
I consent to the interview but not the use of my name or quotes.
signature
1 consent to the interview Mid the use of my name and quotes.
___________________________________________signature.
11) You will be given a copy of die consent form to keep.
71


APPENDIX B
This appendix contains hard copies of documents unavailable in electronic
form. They appear in order of reference within the text and are made up of copies of
pages cited from a Colorado Open Records Law request; copies of pages cited from
Beverly Farrs Evaluation of Denver Public Schools Literacy Program: The Studio
Course; copies of pages cited from the Reading & Writing Studio Course; and copies
of pages cited from State Evaluation of the Colorado Comprehensive School Reform
(CSRi Program 2004-2005.
72


ff *- ^
A coach in a high school also noted that the books selected were predominantly about white characters. It
would seem that the district could benefit from establishing a work group or task force of tcacEerswfio
have tried the materials this year to obtain feedback about making some changes or improvements that
would make them more ralatable^o^eaShlsrsrthTpotential benefit for doing this may be captured in the
following statement by atpicher: Give teachers the opportunity to become embedded, to hold onto it, and
embrace it. \ ^
ioibn Hign scnoois x s vs >r is
Vl
Additional Data Collectiorfin High Schools


c?'
.u'
Through the first phase of the evaluation, we found that implementation of the Studio Course in high
schools is .varied and complex. The picture of implementation in the elementary and middle schools.is.much
_ more.boffl.ogeae.ous,-Our general impression was that implementation in the high schools was not as strong,
and in some cases, rife with problems. We thus chose to do some additional fact-finding or closer study in
high schools in the final phase of the first-year evaluation. DPS Program Evaluation staff collaborated with us
on this part of the study so that we might visit all of the high schools in DPS, including those that chose not
£

to implement Studio Course during the first year of implementation. Thus, at the conclusion of the first-year
study, the following data collection activities had been conducted in high schools:

High Schools
School visits 12
Principal interviews 11
Assistant Principal interviews 4
Coach interviews 9
Teacher interviews 7
Student Focus Groups 2
Student focus groups were conducted at two of the schools visited by DPS staff. Comments gathered
11 L.' 1 "
from students in those groups are included in the narrative responses to each of the research questions below.
It also seemed important to visit the three schools and interview the principals who chose not to implement
Studio Course this year. In one caseGeorge Washingtona version of Studio Course was implemented during
the second semester. Findings from the administration of surveys to high school principals, Studio Course
teachers, and Studio Course coaches, as well as information from the Brief Electronic Survey of Coaches and
the Area Specialist survey are also integrated with the research question responses.
r
7


Fv'e 2-}
professional literature regarding project-based learning, literacy, numeracy and creating
professional learning communities.
Use of University of Colorado at Denver, School of Education Teacher Candidates as substitute
teachers One scarce resource that teachers require is time. Due to the-padjMsJliAJiiilbJXD,
Smiley teachers will be able to create additional staff development time during the school day since
UCD teaching interns provide a ready-made substitute pool for scheduling in-school staff
development, focus groups, planning and evaluation meetings. Because they are already
members of the Smiley community, the UCD interns are familiar with the students and understand
the dynamics of the school.
Training the Trainers Model In order to ensure that coaching will be sustained beyond the grant
period, embedded coaches will be selected from among Smileys teachers. Once trained, the
Studio Literacy Coach will teach one unit per day and coach peers for the remainder of the day
with support from a PEBC Instructional Coach. One Connected Math resource teacher will receive
coaching and mentoring from the district Connected Math Curriculum Specialist in order to become
an embedded Connected Math coach.
Analysis of Student Work and Achievement Data Faculty will learn to interpret and integrate
evaluation data for program development and continuous improvement. Both the PEBC
Instructional Coach and the Smiley Literacy Coach will frequently work with teachers (by content
area and by team) in the analysis of student work, with the goal of getting teachers into the habit of
continuous analysis. Results will also be regularly evaluated to gauge the impact of the staff
development program on increased teacher effectiveness and improved student achievement.
Teaming Strategies Because of the Tri-Academy focus on project-based learning, teaming
strategies will be addressed immediately as teams begin during the summer to plan for the
upcoming school year. Professional development for teaming will be embedded in all project-
based learning professional development. It will also address establishing team norms, goals,
recording team decisions and evaluating team effectiveness.
The Tri-Academy needs-based approach to staff development will allow teachers to express and receive
exactly what they individually need in the area of support. Our goal is to promote a spirit of volunteerism
among teachers in the process of their own learning as opposed to mandating development content. This
approach will also allow teachers to build upon existing skills more quickly.
2. Support for Teachers and Principals. The Tri-Academy CSR model provides support for school staff
by creating shared leadership and a broad base of responsibility for reform efforts. A more detailed
description of the management plan appears in the management section of this narrative. Communication
standards wifi be established to encourage frequent dialogue and consistent support throughout the Smiley
community regarding the Tri-Academy redesign and district requirements.
Faculty will meet as an entire staff semi-monthly after school. These meetings will focus on
curriculum, instruction and staff development.
External technical assistance providers will convene monthly to assess the various facets of the
staff development process, to eliminate redundancies and to maximize resources.
Teams will meet daily during the school day to pursue common planning. This will be easily
facilitated with the newly modified block schedule, which will allow teams to meet while students
are pursuing electives.
Department meetings will occur twice each month after school.
The individual Academies will meet semi-monthly to gauge how each academy is functioning.
Smiley Middle School, Denver Public Schools
74
16


r

project. Ms. Wint has more than 21 years of educational experience within DPS including:
teaching both middle school and high school science; counseling students; supervising school
discipline programs; training new DPS teachers; and mentoring teachers.
Brooke ODrobinak, MA, Public Education and Business Coalition (.05 FTE): Currently the
Director of Middle Grades Initiatives at PEBC, Ms. ODrobinak has more than nine years of
professionafexperience in public education and is an instructional coach for PEBC and Turning
Points school design. Her experience includes secondary teaching, staff development, university
teaching, research, consulting in school reform, policy work, state and federal grant programs, and
curriculum design. As the Redesign Facilitator, Ms. ODrobinak will be responsible for coordinating
PEBC professional development leadership services.
Professor Alan Davis, UCD School of Education (.20 FTE): Dr. Davis is Associate Professor of
Research Methodology at UCD. He teaches graduate courses in research design, assessment,
and evaluation, and has been the principal investigator for numerous research studies and
evaluations. He is the author of a book on educational program evaluation, part of the SAGE
Publications Evaluation Series. As the evaluator of the Tri-Academy CSR project, Dr. Davis will be
responsible for the quarterly analysis of performance data.
Community Liaison (.50 FTE): The Smiley Community Liaison will be responsible for operating
the Smiley Parent Center on a part-time basis. Duties will include: conducting school tours;
scheduling workshops for parents; developing a volunteer database; and recruiting and training
parent volunteers.
Section E: Project Evaluation
1&2. Evaluation Methods and Data Sources. The goal of the evaluation plan is to use all information
collected to manage program operations using the principles of continuous improvement feedback in order
to improve program efficiency. This project will also collect data to track progress towards meeting goals
and objectives and to demonstrate accountability. The evaluation will consist of three elements: collecting
quantitative data, collecting qualitative data and using data to provide the project with continuous feedback.
Quantitative data will include: CSAP and ITBS performance data; achievement measures such as CBLA;
and the percentage of students on ILPs. Other variables that will be monitored include: student attendance
and enrollment; the percentage of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch; parent involvement
statistics; suspension/expulsion rates; and safety/discipline records.
CSAP data, which is typically available over the summer, will be evaluated in time for fall use. All other data
will be collected quarterly. The district's Department of Assessment and Testing regularly collects the
majority of this quantitative data. Disaggregated student data (by ethnicity, gender, academy affiliation,
free and reduced lunch status, Special Education, English Language Learners) will be updated annually,
analyzed, and compared to collected baseline data to ensure that all students are making appropriate
progress towards reaching the project objectives related to improving student academic achievement in all
core subjects and all grades.
Qualitative data regarding how implementation of the Tri-Academy CSR plan is proceeding will include
participant surveys and evaluation forms developed by Prof. Davis and distributed and administered by the
Director of Academies. Smiley teachers, students, parents and administration will be surveyed regarding
their views as to: the substantive effect of collaborative leadership; the implementation of project-based
learning and how it is progressing; how teachers and students are experiencing the new project-based
learning methodology; and the progress and daily functioning of the three academies relative to one
another. Qualitative data will be collected three times during the year (fall, winter and spring). Professor
Alan Davis, University of Colorado School of Education, will conduct the analysis of both the quantitative
75
Smiley Middle School, Denver Public Schools
21


/'m fLf r f ^ c ^
/
PRODUCTION
la the fall of 2001, the Colorado state accountability processes resulted in 91 Denver Public Schools being
identified as either "low or unsatisfactory. In response to this finding, DPS undertook the development of a
district plan to raise expectations, raise student achievement, and close the achievement^gap. A cornerstone of
that plan is the DPS Elementary Literacy Program and the Secondary Studio Count. These initiatives were designed to
provide a district-wide curriculum program and the necessary supports in the form of instructional materials,
human resources, and professional development to ensure that they would be established and maintained in ways
that would guarantee achievement success for children. As with any educational initiative, it was critical to develop
an evaluation plan as early as possible in the process of implementation in order to be able to provide formative
data that will allow for Count corrections or strategic revision and to lay the groundwork for collecting outcome
data. DPS contracted with Dr. Beverly Farr & Associates of Mountain View. CaUfomia to conduct such a study
and to provide the formative and summative information the district would need to keep the reform on track.
s
V/
J->s
DPSs Literacy Programs are designed to enable all children to meet challenging standards. As such, they are
aligned with the movement throughout the country toward higher academic standards and greater accountability
for student learning. Elements that have surfaced as ones that undergird successful school reform efforts include:
1) a focus on clear academic goals and high expectations; 2) basing reform effortsjjn data; 3) an emphasis on
classroom teaching and learning; and 4) the improvement of teaching through professional development. The DPS
Literag Programs are based on principles that include: 1) focus work and resources on instruction; 2) use
-instructional strategies that are research-based and designed to enable all students to reach standards; and 3)
provideTn-school support and professional development designed to develop and sustain a powerful instructional
program.
The literacy program for middle school and high schools is known as the Studio Count. The Studio Count is
a 90-minute class, during which students receive instruction and practice in reading, writing, and critical thinking. It
is designed based on research that shows that the more students regd, the better they perform in all academic
subjects. Work in the Studio Count includes Investigationsshort studies focused on specific aspects of being a
reader or writerand Units of Studyunits lasting five to six weeks during which students learn about different
forms of writing (genres), authors, topics, problems, and how to apply their own thinking and learning to new
situations. Students write in their Writers Notebook every dayto collect ideas they may wish to develop
further. The Studio Count is quite distinct from the Literacy Program implemented in the Elementary School and
required differentiation in the approach to the evaluation.
76
2


rr
fH-f
March 21,2002
To:
From:
Colorado Department of Education
Sally Mentor Hay ^5
Senior Fellow of the Institute for Learning, V
Liaison to the Denver Public Schools, and
Interim Chief Academic Officer of the Denver Public Schools
Letter of Support for Grant Application
I am writing to assure you of the intent of the Institute for Learning to supports^
Lake Middle School implement the comprehensive school reform model ofthe^
Reading and Writing Studio Course coupled with the Disciplinary Teaching
Program.
The Denver Public Schools has established a long-term contract with the Institute
for Learning of the University of Pittsburgh to assist the district with its
educational reform efforts. This proposal outlines the work ahead for Lake
Middle School. To assist this school, the Institute will provide the intensive
training programs for the teachers in the school and will provide up to 8 days of
on site assistance to provide feedback on implementation efforts and additional
technical assistance. This assistance will be over and above what this middle
school would receive as part of the district's contract with the Institute.
If you have any questions about how the Institute for Learning will support Lake
Middle School, please do not hesitate to contact me directly at 303-764-3542

77


ABSTRACT: COMPREHENSIVE SCHOOL REFORM PROPOSAL
Seven OPS middle schools are seeking funding through Comprehensive School Reform
grant funding provided by the Colorado Department of Education: Henry, Hill, King, Merrill,
Randolph, Skinner and Smiley. Six of the schools Henry, Hill, King, Merrill, Randolph and
Skinner are requesting CSR funds for the Reading and Writing Studio model. Smiley is
applying to implement the Tri-Academy reform model. CSR funds will help the schools meet
District requirements for implementing research-based interventions to help students meet
achievement standards. All seven schools have a high rate of students who are not meeting
reading and writing proficiencies on the CSAP.
Reading/Writing Studio
The Reading and Writing Studio program is an updated version of the program originally
developed under contract with the U.S. Department of Educations Office of
Educational Research and Development. The Reading and Writing Studio
program has positively impacted several schools with demographics similar to
the above schools. The purpose of Reading and Writing Studio is to create well-
structured curriculum and instructional approaches for literacy skill building in
grades six through eight, based on well-evaluated components and well-
researched principles of instruction, assessment, classroom management,
motivation and professional development. Reading Studio activities will include
focus lessons, independent and guided reading, individual and small group
support, comprehension groups, reading demonstration and other activities.
Writing Studio activities will include focus lessons, guided writing, peer writing,
model text studies and writing conferences. The studios are comprised of short
teacher lessons, independent study, teacher-facilitated groups, peer-driven small
groups, and time for investigation and reflection. These hands-on.activities are
designed to spur improved studying and learning skills. By improving student
participation and motivation, the program will also reduce discipline referrals
and student behavioral problems.
Each of the six Reading/Writing CSR schools will utilize its existing full-time literacy coach
to lead implementation efforts, and integrate activities with its family outreach
programs and accountability team. Reading and Writing Studio national staff
and consultants will provide a ten-day summer institute and four in-service
days of training during the school year to prepare teachers to implement the
model. Each schools family involvement staff in close coordination with
teachers will help engage parents in Reading and Writing Studio program
activities.
Tri-Academy Reform Model
Smiley Middle School is requesting funding for its Tri-Academy reform program, a
home grown CSR model developed by the Smiley Redesign Committee during the 2002-2003
academic year. The committee involved the active participation of the schools administration,
faculty, parents, CDM and PTSA, community representatives, DPS, Public Education and
Business Coalition, Stapleton Foundation, Piton Foundation and University of Colorado at
Denver School of Education (UCD). Smileys Tri-Academy will offer the following three
diverse instructional approaches in the form of themed academies:
International Preparatory Magnet (IPM) (beginning with 6lh grade only during 2003-2004)
This will be one of two IP magnet programs in the district. DPS will provide transportation to
eligible students.
78


pjcx, ^5e 1 >

)
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Henry Middle School, the applicant for Comprehensive School Reform funds, is
determined to improve student achievement and school functioning. The selected Reading and
Writing Studio model will help Henry meet District requirements for implementing research-
based interventions to help students achieving below grade level in reading and writing. Henry
students meet reading and writing proficiencies on the CSAP at rates 10% to 15% lower than
their peers statewide. Henry received a low rating on Colorados State Accountability Report,
and is determined to bring instruction and student performance up to state standards.
The Reading and Writing Studio program is an updated version of the program originally
developed und^r conlmct-with4heJLIiLPepartment of Educations Office of Educational
Research and Development. Reading andWriting Studio will help Henry Middle School create
well-structured curriculum and instructional approaches for literacy skill building in grades six
through eight, based on well-evaluated rumprmftntfi nnd well-researched principles of instruction,
assessment, classroom management, motivation and professional development?"'
Reading Studio activities wifi include focus lessons, independent and guided reading, ~
individual and small group support, comprehension groups, reading demonstration and other
activities. Writing Studio activities will include focus lessons, guided writing, peer writing,
model text studies and writing conferences. The studios are comprised of short teacher lessons,
independent study, teacher-facilitated groups, peer-driven small groups, and time for
investigation and reflection. Both studios use real life materials that encourage student inquiry,
and spark excitement and discovery in reading and writing. Students will increase their
motivation and knowledge as they read traditional books, mystery stories, magazine articles,
comic books and other printed materials. These hands-on activities are designed to spur
improved studying and learning skills. By improving student participation and motivation within
the classroom, the program will also reduce discipline referrals and student behavioral problems.
Henry Middle Schools full-time literacy coach will lead implementation and integrate
activities with its family outreachprogr3nir3nd~HCCountabilitv team. Reading and Writing
Studio national staff and consultants will provide extensive staff development, including a
summer institute and four day school year trainings to prepare teachers and coaches. Teachers
will also have regular opportunities for discussion, problem-solving, demonstrations and
coaching. The literacy coach will be trained by Reading and Writing Studio staff and consultants
and supported by district coaches. School staff will help engage parents in Reading and Writing
Studio activities, providing family nights and family literacy programs.
integrate existing programs, including the research-based Connected Mathematics, Advancement
Via Individual Determination (AVID), Educating for Character initiative, a new pre-engineering
program called.Project Lead the Way, Math Counts/Mathematics, tutoring four days a week.
Henry has already restructured its schedule to maximize the impact of the reform model. The
schedule will include 56 minute classes, including Connected Math, and aQ_minute
Reading/Writing Studio literacy sessions. Programs and curriculum will be directed and
moderated by the schools 14 member Collaborative Decision Making Team.
^ < The program has positively impacted several schools with similar* demographics as Henryj
Middle SchoefcHenrv is projecting a 10% annual decrease in the number of students scoring
unsatisfactory or partially proficient on CSAP reading and writing proficiencies, a 40% drop in
students on Individual Literacy Plans/Reading Support Plans, a decrease in discipline referrals,
and increased satisfaction by parents and staff.
79


R le ^
i i" 5
. i S~

The independenfjjv&luation is being conducted by the Consortium for Policy Research in
Education (CPRElah^headea by Tom Corcoran at the University r>f Pennsylvania. Findings are fj
available from the pilots conducted'during the 2000-01 schoolyear in both middle and high \
schools. Students participating in the middle school course and students participatingjntiie
high school courseSCOred higher on mandated state tests in reading and writingthancomp^rable
students in the school not assigned to the two period block course. ..
Pre and post-QRI II tests administered to participating students at the 70 schools ./ \
indicated that middle school students gained an average of three levels andjiighjfifrwl I
students gained four levels. Students participating in the course read and reported on an average l
of 37 books in the independent reading program component of the course. Analysis of the
students reading inventories established that prior to participating in this course, students
reported they did not read on their own. In addition, participating students were able to produce
the writing products required by the units of study and meet the standards established by the
rubrics. - -------
Given the success of the program, additional sites were added in the second pilot year.
More classrooms were added in the schools involved in the first pilot and additional schools
were added as well. The program has been successfully implemented now in cfhnnliti m
size from 500 to 4000 students in urban, suburban and rural settings. Results have been
comparaWeTothe original group of pilot schools. These additional locations include rural
Kentucky, El Paso, Texas, Chula Vista, California, and Rochester, New York. -------------
(4) Present a comprehensive design for school reform that references methods and strategies in
teaching, assessment, use of technology and classroom management that are based on
cientifically based research and effective practice.
The Reading and Writing Studio (previously known as the Americas Choice School
esign), is a research-based program created by the National Center on Education and the
Economy.
Teaching: The Reading/Writing Studio supports academic achievement through a
complete focus on sophisticated instruction that leads students to obtain complex knowledge and
problem solving skills keys to success as identified by Borko and Putnam (1995). The
programs emphasis on cognitive development instruction and higher learning goals is
substantiated by Resnick and Klopfer (Learning organizations for sustainable education reform,
Daedalus Journal, Fall, 1998). Reader s/Writers Studio provides teachers with carefully
developed and tested curriculum materials providing teachers with well-aligned instructional
materials. Findings from several program evaluations identify the importance of validated
teaching materials and the impact on teacher practices (Slavin, Success for All: Policy
consequences of replicable school reform. Handbook of Education Policy. New York, 1998;
Cohen and Hill, Instructional policy and classroom performance, Teacher College Record 102,
no. 2,2000; Ball, Teaching learning and mathematics reform, presented at National Science
Foundation Conference, November, 1994) ' '
The Reading/Writing Studio builds professional communities within schools by focusing
on standards, establishing peer mentoring, supporting collective review of student work and
providing shared professional development experiences leading to a shared sense of purpose
for all student learning, collaborative efforts to improve instruction and learning, and shared
responsibility for outcomes. Newman and Welhage (1995) found that this level of professional
community positively impacts student achievement. The program also supports the development
80
Henry Middle School 11


Ft >c 2-, A?
c £7
Classroom Management: The ReadingAVriting Studios approach to literacy focuses on
research-basfidinstfttction. The daily class block of 90 minutes will incorporate skills
instfOcfionTreading studio and a writing studio. The Studio time is designed to help students
develop strong reading and writing skills along a broad continuum of genres. Whole class
instruction and one-on-one and small group teaching utilized by the Studio in combination are
supported by research to be the most effective approach to literacy instruction. The design
incorporates classroom rituals and routines that cultivate effective teaching and learning (black
and "Williams, 1998). ^-------------^
Another aspect that supports classroom management is cross-age tutoring, which
provides low-performing students the opportunity to tutor students in reading and writing -
incorporating oral reading, writing projects and language-based activities. Research supports
cross-age tutoring as an authentic experience that helps middle and high school students increase
their literacy practice, develop positive reading habits and attitudes and even lead to decreases
in truancvand disruptive behavior (Caserta-Henry, 1996; Newell, 1996; GaustadfT992). Even
moresigiuHcantly, research deafly finds'tliat these tutors consistently make significant gains in
achievement especially for students who are far behind academically (Elbaum, Vaughn,
Hughes and Moody, 1999; Cohen, Kulik and Kulik, 1982).
(5) Presents a comprehensive design for school reform that serves the learning needs of all
students
Reading and Writing Studio has a proven record in schools with high rates of family ^
poverty, mTnoriiles, special education students, and second language learners, and is fully
compatible with the philosophy and content ofHenrys instructional strategies
Because of the models flexibility, cultural relevancy, individualized approaches to
learning, guided reading/writing, one-on-one instruction and assessment, peer-driven groups, the
model will support students at all levels. The program provides important context and support to
students as they develop new literacy skills. The program model challenges all students to
participate in an environment of active learning and inquiry and relates materials to the
I students varied experiences and cultural backgrounds. Because the program is delivered
I through individual study, small and large groups, and teacher conferences, students can learn at a
I developmenttmysappiopriate pace. ThroughIhdividualized instruction, teachers will focus
^activities on the h^hyiduaT needsofeach student, including extra individualized help as needed.
' MoreTadvancedlrtudentTwill haveopportunities to participate in more advanced and rigorous
reading and writing tasks, and support other students who are lower achieving.
ELL Students: The ReadingAVriting Studio supports best practices identified by
Miramontes, Nadeau, and Commins (1997) in Restructuring S'choolsToTttnguistic Diversity.
' The model focuses on implementing active learning, second language development strategies
(assessing student skills and planning tutoring instruction activities based on assessment) and
context for second language development (integrating literacy curriculum that provides students
with a variety of contexts and uses of the English language). The proposed model will focus on
building language proficiency in all aspects of language: (a) listening, (b) speaking, (c) reading,
and (d) writing the four elements supported by research for building proficient language skills
(Council of Chief State School Officers, Summary of Recommendations and Policy
Implications for Improving the Assessment and Monitoring of Students with Limited English
Proficiency, 1992). ReadingAVriting Studio provides ELL students with key contextual
81
Henry Middle School 13


fs k
£
32-
section D: TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE/MANAGEMENT PLAN
(1) Identify the external technical assistance provider that will work with the school to
implement the comprehensive school reform design and describe the roles and
responsibilities of the external technical assistance provider.
Goal Staff Responsible Tracking Activity Timeline
10O% of Henrys staff will receive training on the application of Reading/Writing studio practices. 90% of staff will demonstrate increased understanding and support for the Reading/Writing Studio model. Principal and building team, Building Coach, Reading/Writing Studio trainers, Collaborative Decision Making body. Professional development tracking sheets, satisfaction surveys Henry administration, teachers and support staff will participate in the 10 day Summer Institute and four day school year trainings on the Reading/Writing Studio model, and ongoing coaching support activities at the building-level. Summers, 2003, 2004, 2005; ongoing every school year
The Reading/Writing Studio Course, developed by The Institute for Learning, supports
the substantial retooling of a schools entire program including structures, strategies and
materials to improve the quality of early reading instruction. Reading/Writing Studio
professional development will be provided by The Institute for Learning program staff and a full-
time, site-based literacy coach (see previous section). The staff development training
emphasizes relatively brief initial training with extensive follow-up coaching, detailed
implementation manuals and regular opportunities for open discussion and problem-solving by
staff. Reading/Writing Studio trainers will visit and observe classrooms, meet with school staff
and conduct presentations. Training visits will be tailored to implementation needs and priorities
identified by staff and the Collaborative Decision Making board.
Henrys staff will sustain evaluation and accountability through staff development:
Reading/Writing Studio professional development support will be provided at a high level
throughout the duration of program implementation to help staff continuously refine and
strengthen instructional strategies.
Cohesion and consistency of teaching practices will be sustained through teachers manuals
and other supports.
Reading/Writing Studio trainers/consultants will assist staff and teachers in implementing the
evaluation program that will provide Henry with opportunities to make midcourse
adjustments and continuous improvements in the implementation plan.
As discussed throughout this proposal, Reading/Writing Studio provides research-based
f.laggrnnm material*; curriculum guides and professional development services. These materials
and training opportunities reflect best practices, and are updated and refined to respond to
incorporate evaluation results and needs of participating Reading/Writing Studio schools. In
82
Henry Middle School 18


A compendium of research summarizing 62 studies on the effect of arts learning lists over 50 cognitive
capacities and learning motivations transferred from arts learning to academic work, including reading
comprehension, writing fluency, spatial reasoning and mathematical proficiency. Studies show that in
addition to gaining specific academic skills, students in integrated arts/academic programs also benefited in
the areas of creative thinking, achievement, motivation, cognitive engagement, attendance and community
engagement and identity.20 The studies suggest that for students from economically disadvantaged
backgrounds, learning in the arts may be uniquely able to advance learning success in academic areas.21
Smileys new Renaissance Academy will be designed based upon best practices in arts education,
including those set out in a best practices handbook recently published by the Dana Foundation.22
Connected Mathematics. Both the Discovery and Renaissance Academies will utilize the Connected
Math curriculum. Connected Mathematics received the highest math-curriculum ranking by the American
Association for the Advancement of Science in 199923 The U.S. Department of Educations Expert Panel
has designated the program as one of five exemplary mathematics curricula for K-12 and the only middle
school curriculum.
/
Each Connected Math unit has been field tested, evaluated and revised over a three-to-four-year period.
Approximately 160 teachers and 45,000 students in diverse school settings across the United States
participated in the curriculums development. Numerous studies have been conducted on the effectiveness
of Connected Math, including:
State evaluations in Michigan, Texas, Arkansas and Maine.
District evaluations in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Plano, Texas.
Research Studies on proportional reasoning, basic skills and problem-solving.
Quantitative studies of student reasoning, skills and understanding.
Results of the quantitative tests consistently show that Connected Math students perform better than other
students on basic skills, problem-solving, conceptual understanding and proportional reasoning. Minority
students, gifted students, special needs students, low-socioeconomic students and students from rural,
urban and suburban populations were included in these studies.24
Reading and Writing Studio. Both the Discovery and Renaissance Academy will utilize the districts
Reading and Writing Studio program. Formerly referred to as the Americas Chojc&JScheeFDesigTTrthr
Reading and Writing Studio is a researched-based program created b'yTfTe Nafional Center on Education
and the Economy. Reading/Writing Studio supports academic achievement through a complete focus on
sophisticated instruction that leads students to obtain complex knowledge and problem-solving skills. The
programs emphasis on cognitive development instruction and higher learning goals is substantiated by
Resnick and Klnpfei- zs The Studio provides teachers with carefully developed and tested curriculum
materials giving them well-aligned instructional materials. Findings from several program evaluations
identify the importance of validated teaching materials and the impact on
20 Ibid.
21 Arts Education Partnership Web site: www.aep-arts.ore/CLTemphome.html
22 Planning An Arts Centered School: A Handbook, Dana Foundation, 2002; www.dana.ore.
23 American Association for the Advancement of Science: Project 2061. Middle Grades Mathematics Textbooks: A
Benchmarks-based Evaluation. American Association for the Advancement of Science. Washington, DC. 1999.
24 Connected Mathematics at a Glance, Connected Mathematics Project, www.math.msu.edu/cmp/overview/elance.
25 Learning Organizations For Sustainable Education Reform, Daedalus Journal, Fall, 1998.
26 Slavin, Success for All: Policy Consequences of Replicable School Reform. Handbook of Education Policy. New
York, 1998; Cohen and Hill, Instructional Policy and Classroom Performance, Teacher College Record 102. No. 2.
teacher practices.26

Smiley Middle School, Denver Public Schools
10



phonemic awareness, decoding skills, comprehension, writing, spelling and grammar and
provides students with frequent opportunities to read and write (these approaches are also core
elements of the Colorado Basic Literacy Act). The Reading/Writing Studio incorporates these
approaches into its instructional practices.
The Studio courses also incorporate cross-age tutoring, providing low-performing
students the opportunity to tutor younger children in reading and writing incorporating oral
reading, writing projects and language-based activities. Research supports cross-age tutoring as
an authentic experience that helps older students increase their literacy practice, develop positive
reading habits and attitudes and even lead to decreases in truancy and disruptive behavior
(Caserta-Henry, 1996; Newell, 1996; Gaustad, 1992). Even more significantly, research clearly
finds that these tutors consistently make significant gains in achievement especially for
students who are far behind academically (Elbaum, Vaughn, Hughes and Moody, 1999; Cohen,
Kulik and Kulik, 1982).
The Reading/Writing Studio builds professional communities within schools by focusing
on standards, establishing peer mentoring, supporting collective review of student work and
providing shared professional development experiences leading to a shared sense of purpose
for all student learning, collaborative efforts to improve instruction and learning, and shared
responsibility for outcomes. Newman and Welhage (1995) found that this level of professional
community positively impacts student achievement. The program also supports the development
of a school leadership team empowering school staff to make decisions based on data and
building professional community. School leadership is recognized as a key element for
educational success (Purkey and Smith, 1983; Marsh and LeFever, 1997).
The Reading/Writing Studio programs on-site technical assistance is based on national
research related to professional development. The professional development program helps
teachers connect instruction with student achievement standards, is intensive and sustained
through the technical assistance and coaching model, engages teachers in concrete tasks and is
based on their experience, is integrated with ongoing classroom practices, is focused on subject
matter knowledge and teacher content skills, and focuses on other aspects of school
improvement. These components are key elements for a successful professional development
model (Hawley and Valli, 1999; National Research Council, 1996, Smylie, Bilcer, Greenberg
and Harris, 1998; Darling-Hammond and McLaughlin, 1995; Zigarmi, Betz and Jennings, 1977;
Cohen and Hill, 2000; Kennedy, 1998; Corcoran and Goertz, 1995; and ODay and Smith,
1993).
The Reading/Writing Studio will be fully integrated into Montbellos family involvement
program. Studies identify strong relationships between parent involvement and student
achievement, student attendance, self-esteem and school behavior (Epstein, 1996; Lareau, 1989;
Want, Haertel and Walberg, 1993).
2. Evaluation-based evidence of improvements in student achievement and
3. Evidence of Replicability (implementation in more than one school)
The Reading and Writing Studio program is an updated version of the program originally
developed under contract with the U.S. Department of Educations Office of Educational
Research and Development. This $10 million, five year contract was awarded in October of
1999 to create Comprehensive School Reform models for High and high schools. Now in its
third year of development, the program has been piloted, researched, revised and fully
implemented in a host of High and high schools in urban settings across the country.
84
Montbello High School 7


F> I c c / ^ \ 7
2. Evaluation-based evidence of improvements in student achievement and
3. Evidence of Replicability (implementation in more than one school)
The Reading and Writing Studio program is an updated version of the program originally
developed under contract with the U.S. Department of Educations Office of Educational
Research and Development. This $10 million, five-year contract was awarded in October of
1999 to create Comprehensive School Reform models for High and high schools. Now in its
third year of development, the program has been piloted, researched, revised and fully
implemented in a host of High and high schools in urban settings across the country.
Participating schools include 40 sites in New York City, 11 sites in Jacksonville, Florida, 10 sites
in Long Beach, California, and 10 sites in Plainfield, New Jersey.
The independent evaluation is being conducted by the Consortium for Policy Research in
Education (CPRE) and headed by Tom Corcoran at the University of Pennsylvania. Findings are
available from the pilots conducted during the 2000-01 school year in both High and high
schools. Students participating in the High school course and students participating in the high
school course scored higher on mandated state tests in reading and writing than comparable
students in the school not assigned to the two period block course. Results on the QRIII
administered to the participating students pre and post, indicate that the High school students
gained an average of three levels. The mean gain for high school students was four levels.
Students participating in the course read and reported on an average of 37 books in the
independent reading program component of the course. Analysis of the students reading
inventories established that prior to participating in this course, students reported they did not
read on their own. In addition, participating students were able to produce the writing products
required by the units of study and meet the standards established by the rubrics.
Given the success of the program, additional sites were added in the second pilot year.
More classrooms were added in the schools involved in the first pilot and additional schools
were added as well. The program has been successfully implemented now in schools ranging in
size from 500 to 4000 students, in urban, suburban and rural settings. Results have been
comparable to the original group of pilot schools. These additional locations include rural
Kentucky, El Paso, Texas, Chula Vista, California, and Rochester, New York.
Observational and interview studies (e.g. Stringfield, et al, 1997; Cooper, at al, 1998)
describe the operation of the program and identify the factors that contribute to effective
implementation. The program is very well-documented, making it easy for teachers and other
staff to integrate into their work with students. Detailed teachers manuals cover each
curriculum area and other aspects of the program.
4. How the Models Elements Can Be Strategically Adapted to Meet Academic Needs of the
Applicant
The program is closely aligned with Norths vision and plans for improving student
achievement. Because of the models flexibility, cultural relevancy, individualized approaches
to learning, guided reading/writing, one-on-one instruction and assessment, peer-driven groups,
the model will support students at all levels. The program provides important context and
support to students as they develop new literacy skills.
The Reading/Writing Studio model also is relevant to students who are English language
learners. The Reading/Writing Studio incorporates approaches for students identified by
Miramontes, Nadeau, and Commins (1997) in Restructuring Schools for Linguistic Diversity.
85
North High School 8


F\ k. Z-' | * Z- 3> o
2. Evaluation-based evidence of improvements in student achievement and
3. Evidence of Replicability (implementation in more than one school)
The Reading and Writing Studio program is an updated version of the program originally
developed under contract with the U.S. Department of Educations Office of Educational
Research and Development. This $10 million, five-year contract was awarded in October of
1999 to create Comprehensive School Reform models for middle and high schools. Now in its
third year of development, the program has been piloted, researched, revised and fully
implemented in a host of middle and high schools in urban settings across the country.
Participating schools include 40 sites in New York City, 11 sites in Jacksonville, Florida, 10 sites
in Long Beach, California, and 10 sites in Plainfield, New Jersey.
The independent evaluation is being conducted by the Consortium for Policy Research in
Education (CPRE) and headed by Tom Corcoran at the University of Pennsylvania. Findings are
available from the pilots conducted during the 2000-01 school year in both middle and high
schools. Students participating in the middle school course and students participating in the
high school course scored higher on mandated state tests in reading and writing than comparable
students in the school not assigned to the two period block course. Results on the QRIII
administered to the participating students pre and post, indicate that the middle school students
gained an average of three levels. The mean gain for high school students was four levels.
Students participating in the course read and reported on an average of 37 books in the
independent reading program component of the course. Analysis of the students reading
inventories established that prior to participating in this course, students reported they did not
read on their own. In addition, participating students were able to produce the writing products
required by the units of study and meet the standards established by the rubrics.
Given the success of the program, additional sites were added in the second pilot year.
More classrooms were added in the schools involved in the first pilot and additional schools
were added as well. The program has been successfully implemented now in schools ranging in
size from 500 to 4000 students, in urban, suburban and rural settings. Results have been
comparable to the original group of pilot schools. These additional locations include rural
Kentucky, El Paso, Texas, Chula Vista, California, and Rochester, New York.
Observational and interview studies (e.g. Stringfield, et al, 1997; Cooper, at al, 1998)
describe the operation of the program and identify the factors that contribute to effective
implementation. The program is very well-documented, making it easy for teachers and other
staff to integrate into their work with students. Detailed teachers manuals cover each
curriculum area and other aspects of the program.
4. How the Models Elements Can Be Strategically Adapted to Meet Academic Needs of the
Applicant
The program is closely aligned with Rishels vision and plans for improving student
achievement. Because of the models flexibility, cultural relevancy, individualized approaches
to learning, guided reading/writing, one-on-one instruction and assessment, peer-driven groups,
the model will support students at all levels. The program provides important context and
support to students as they develop new literacy skills.
The Reading/Writing Studio model also is relevant to students who are English language
learners. The Reading/Writing Studio incorporates approaches for students identified by
Miramontes, Nadeau, and Commins (1997) in Restructuring Schools for Linguistic Diversity.
This model focuses on implementing Active Learning, Second Language Development strategies
86
Rishel Middle School 8


f- l 3
/* /
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Horace Mann Middle School, the applicant for Comprehensive School Reform
Demonstration funds, is determined to improve student achievement and school functioning.
The selected Reading and Writing Studio model is designed to help Horace Mann Middle School
meet District requirements that each school identify research-based interventions for students
achieving below grade level in reading and writing. Horace Mann students meet reading and
writing proficiencies on the CSAP at rates 35% to 45% lower than their peers statewide. Horace
Mann received an unsatisfactory rating on Colorados State Accountability Report, and is
determined to bring its instruction and student performance up to state standards.
The Reading and Writing Studio program is nn nprintfri vftntnn nf the program originally
developed under contract with the U.S. Department of Educations Office of Educational
Research and Development. The Reading and Writing Studio program has positively impacted
several schools with demographics similar to Horace Mann in student population and the
numbers of disadvantaged students. The purpose of Reading and Writing Studio is to create
well-structured curriculum and instructional approaches for literacy skill building in grades six
through eight, based on well-evaluated components and well-researched principles of instruction,
assessment, classroom management, motivation and professional development.
Reading and Writing Studio is a research-based model that provides structured and
independent learning opportunities. Reading Studio activities will include focus lessons,
independent and guided reading, individual and small group support, comprehension groups,
reading demonstration and other activities. Writing Studio activities will include focus lessons,
guided writing, peer writing, model text studies and writing conferences. The studios are
comprised of short teacher lessons, independent study, teacher-facilitated groups, peer-driven
small groups, and time for investigation and reflection.
Both studios utilize real life materials that encourage student inquiry, and spark
excitement and discovery in reading and writing. Students will utilize traditional books, mystery
stories, magazine articles, comic books and other printed materials as a springboard for
increasing their motivation and knowledge about reading. These hands-on activities are
designed to spur improved studying and learning skills. By improving student participation and
motivation within the classroom, the program will also reduce discipline referrals and student
behavioral problems.
Horace Mann Middle School will establish a full-time literacy coach to lead
implementation efforts, and integrate activities with its family outreach programs and
accountability team. Reading and Writing Studio national staff and consultants will provide
extensive staff development support in implementing the comprehensive reform model,
including a ten day summer institute (and four day school year trainings) to prepare teachers to
implement the model. Teachers will also have and regular opportunities for discussion, problem-
solving, demonstrations and coaching. The literacy coach, also receiving extensive training from
Reading and Writing Studio staff and consultants and the support from district area coaches -
will provide vital guidance to teachers as they implement the program components. The schools
Family Involvement Coordinator in close coordination with teachers will help engage parents
in Reading and Writing Studio program activities.-
87


ft w 177
March 21,2002
To: Colorado Department of Education
From: ^ Sally Mentor Is
Senior Fellow of the Institute for Learning,
Liaison to the Denver Public Schools, and >
Interim Chief Academic Officer of the Denver Public Schools
' At
Subject Letter of Support for Grant Application
t
I am writing to assure you of the intent of the Institute for Learning to support
Horace Mann Middle School implement the comprehensive scHjpol reform model
of the Reading and Writing Studio Course coupled with the Disciplinary
Teaching Program. /
' .
The Denver Public Schools has established a long-term contract with the Institute
for Learning of the University of Pittsburgh to assist the district with its
educational reform efforts. This proposal outlines the work ah^ad for Horace
Mann Middle School. To assist this school, the Institute will provide the
intensive training programs for the teachers in the school and will provide up to
8 days of on site assistance to, provide feedback on implementation efforts and
additional technical assistance. This assistance will be over and above what this
middle school would receive as part of the district's contract with the Institute.
If you have any questions about how the Institute for Learning will support
Horace Mann Middle School, please do not hesitate to contact me directly at 303-
764-3542
88


fs\e ' "
Denver Public Schools Board of Education
Statement of Support for the Comprehensive School Reform Grant Application
Submitted by Horace Mann Middle School
The Board of Education of the Denver Public Schools submits this written-: statement of support for the
application Horace Mann Middle School for a Comprehensive School Reform Grant.
The proposed application has earned our unqualified support for the following reasons:
The reform activities proposed in the application are those of the new comprehensive District
literacy plan. Moreover, the plan provides financial support for a coherent expansion of the school's
improvement efforts, rather than an isolated "add on" program. ^
In both content and format, reform activities proposed in the grant application are consistent with
the district's goals and strategies for advancing the achievement of all students.
The comprehensive schools reform effort outlined in the proposal is designed to take maximum
advantage of the staff development expertise of nationally recogni|ed consultants and coaching
resources within the district to promote the effective implementation of the program and its sustainability
after grant funding ends. ,
The proposed program meets standards for effective professional development established
by the district's Office of Curriculufri 'and Instruction, which are aligned^with CDE's Guidelines for
Effective Professional Development. It is also designed to meet the qualifications of
Comprehensive School Reform. Professional development sessions fyill be scheduled over the
summer and Release days will be regularly scheduled throughout the aphool year. Ongoing
support will bd afforded by the regular presence of literacy coaches inlhe schools.
The evaluation of the proposed program will be supported by the districts comprehensive
evaluation of the literacy model. Efforts and results will be communicatecf to the entire district through
publication in the DPS newsletter (Inside DPS) and through published individual school report cards
that also appear on the districts website..
The proposed program will implement strategies that are proven and research-based and that
have been endorsed by the district's Office of Curriculum and Instruction. *

We value the importance of high quality instructional programs and the development of high quality
teaching. As the district seeks to meet the challenges of implementing the state's reform framework of
standards/assessments/accountabiiity, the proposed program will advance our ongoing efforts to build
teacher capacity and enhance teacher knowledge and skills. We urge your favorable consideration of the
grant application.
Denver Public Schools Board of Education
Dated? March 21, 2002
89


P\ P ^
IV
i-J
,ohefi and Hill, 2000; Kennedy, 1998; Corcoran and Goertz, 1995; and ODay and Smith,
1993>.
The Reading/Writing Studio will be fully integrated into Coles family involvement
progr-am. Studies identify strong relationships between parent involvement and student
achievement, student attendance, self-esteem and school behavior (Epstein, 1996; Lareau, 1989;
Want, Haertel and Walberg, 1993).
2. Evaluation-based evidence of improvements in student achievement and
3. Evidence of Replicability (implementing the model in more than one school)
The Reading and Writing Studio program is an updated version of the program originally
developed under contract with the U.S. Department of Educations Office of Educational
Research and Development. This $10 million, five-year contract was awarded in October of
1999 to create Comprehensive School Reform models for middle and high schools. Now in its
third year of development, the program has been piloted, researched, revised and fully
implemented in a host of middle and high schools in urban settings across the country.
Participating schools include 40 sites in New York City, 11 sites in Jacksonville, Florida, 10 sites
in Long Beach, California, and 10 sites in Plainfield, New Jersey.
The independent evaluation is being conducted by the Consortium for Policy Research in
Education (CPRE) and headed by Tom Corcoran at the University of Pennsylvania. Findings are
available from the pilots conducted during the 2000-01 school year in both middle and high
schools. Students participating in the middle school course and students participating in the
high school course scored higher on mandated state tests in reading and writing than comparable
students in the school not assigned to the two period block course. Results on the QRIII
administered to the participating students pre and post, indicate that the middle school students
gained an average of three levels. The mean gain for high school students was four levels.
Students participating in the course read and reported on an average of 37 books in the
independent reading program component of the course. Analysis of the students reading
inventories established that prior to participating in this course, students reported they did not
read on their own. In addition, participating students were able to produce the writing products
required by the units of study and meet the standards established by the rubrics.
Given the success of the program, additional sites were added in the second pilot year.
More classrooms were added in the schools involved in the first pilot and additional schools
were added as well. The program has been successfully implemented now in schools ranging in
size from 500 to 4000 students, in urban, suburban and rural settings. Results have been
comparable to the original group of pilot schools. These additional locations include rural
Kentucky, El Paso, Texas, Chula Vista, California, and Rochester, New York.
Observational and interview studies (e.g. Stringfield, et al, 1997; Cooper, at al, 1998)
describe the operation of the program and identify the factors that contribute to effective
implementation. The program is very well-documented, making it easy for teachers and other
staff to integrate into their work with students. Detailed teachers manuals cover each
curriculum area and other aspects of the program..
4. How the Models Elements Can Be Strategically Adapted to Meet Academic Needs of the
Applicant
90
Cole Middle School 8


h i* H 73
Participating schools include 40 sites in New York City, 11 sites in Jacksonville, Florida, 10 sites
in Long Beach, California, and 10 sites in Plainfield, New Jersey.
The independent evaluation is being conducted by the Consortium for Policy Research in
Education (CPRE) and headed by Tom Corcoran at the University of Pennsylvania. Findings are
available from the pilots conducted during the 2000-01 school year in both middle and high
schools. Students participating in the middle school course and students participating in the
high school course scored higher on mandated state tests in reading and writing than comparable
students in the school not assigned to the two period block course.
Pre and post-QRI II tests administered to participating students at the 70 schools
indicated that middle school students gained an average of three levels and high school
students gained four levels. Students participating in the course read and reported on an average
of 37 books in the independent reading program component of the course. Analysis of the
students reading inventories established that prior to participating in this course, students
reported they did not read on their own. In addition, participating students were able to produce
the writing products required by the units of study and meet the standards established by the
Given the success of the program, additional sites were added in the second pilot year.
More classrooms were added in the schools involved in the first pilot and additional schools
were added as well. The program has been successfully implemented now in schools ranging in
size from 500 to 4000 students, in urban, suburban and rural settings. Results have been
comparable to the original group of pilot schools. These additional locations include rural
Kentucky, El Paso, Texas, Chula Vista, California, and Rochester, New York.
(4) Present a comprehensive design for school reform that references methods and strategies in
teaching, assessment, use of technology and classroom management that are based on
scientifically based research and effective practice.
The Reading and Writing Studio (previously known as the Americas Choice School
Design), is a research-based program created by the National Center on Education and the
Economy.
Teaching: The Reading/Writing Studio supports academic achievement through a
complete focus on sophisticated instruction that leads students to obtain complex knowledge and
problem solving skills keys to success as identified by Borko and Putnam (1995). The
programs emphasis on cognitive development instruction and higher learning goals is
substantiated by Resnick and Klopfer (Learning organizations for sustainable education reform,
Daedalus Journal, Fall, 1998). Readers/Writers Studio provides teachers with carefully
developed and tested curriculum materials providing teachers with well-aligned instructional
materials. Findings from several program evaluations identify the importance of validated
teaching materials and the impact on teacher practices (Slavin, Success for All: Policy
consequences of replicable school reform. Handbook of Education Policy. New York, 1998;
Cohen and King, Instructional policy and classroom performance, Teacher College Record 102,
no. 2, 2000; Ball, Teaching learning and mathematics reform, presented at National Science
Foundation Conference, November, 1994)
The Reading/Writing Studio builds professional communities within schools by focusing
on standards, establishing peer mentoring, supporting collective review of student work and
providing shared professional development experiences leading to a shared sense of purpose
for all student learning, collaborative efforts to improve instruction and learning, and shared
rubrics.
91
King Middle School 11




Bruce Randolph Middle School, the applicant for Comprehensive School Reform funds, is
determined to improve student achievement and school functioning. The selected Reading and
Writing Studio model will help Randolph meet District requirements for implementing research-
based interventions to help students achieving below grade level in reading and writing. Randolph
is a new school established in August, 2002. While it has not yet received results from students
taking the CSAP, students at surrounding schools have scored poorly on the assessment.
Currently, 80% of Randolphs teachers have three or less years of teaching experience.
While idealistic and dedicated, they are very much interested in having more tools to meet the
needs of their students. The school has a high rate of English language learners (ELL), and 94%
of the students are low-income.
The Reading and Writing Studio program is an updated version of the program originally
developed under contract with the U.S. Department of Educations Office of Educational Research
and Development. Reading and Writing Studio will help Randolph Middle School create well-
structured curriculum and instructional approaches for literacy skill building in grades six through
eight, based on well-evaluated components and well-researched principles of instruction,
assessment, classroom management, motivation and professional development.
Reading Studio activities will include focus lessons, independent and guided reading,
individual and small group support, comprehension groups, reading demonstration and other
activities. Writing Studio activities will include focus lessons, guided writing, peer writing, model
text studies and writing conferences. Both studios use real life materials that encourage student
inquiry, and spark excitement and discovery in reading and writing. Students will increase their
motivation and knowledge as they read traditional books, mystery stories, magazine articles,
comic books and other printed materials. Hands-on activities will spur improved studying and
learning skills. By improving student participation and motivation within the classroom, the
program will also reduce discipline referrals and student behavioral problems.
Randolph Middle Schools full-time literacy coach will lead implementation and will
integrate activities with its family outreach programs and accountability team. Reading and
Writing Studio consultants will provide extensive staff development support in implementing the
comprehensive reform model, including a summer institute and four day school year trainings to
prepare teachers and coaches. Teachers will also have regular opportunities for discussion,
problem-solving, demonstrations and coaching. The literacy coach, trained by Reading and
Writing Studio staff and consultants and supported by district coaches, will guide teachers as they
implement the program components. School staff will help engage parents in Reading and
Writing Studio activities, providing family nights and family literacy programs.
Randolphs teachers have received training on the proposed school reform model, Reading
and Writing Studio. Randolph has established momentum for implementing reform, and will
integrate existing programs, including the research-based Connected Mathematics, differentiated
instruction, CSAP instructional preparation, parent outreach, ongoing professional development
and additional time for literacy instruction. Programs and curriculum will be directed and
moderated by the schools Collaborative Decision Making Team.
The program has positively impacted several schools with similar demographics as
Randolph Middle School. Randolph is projecting a 10% annual decrease in the number of
students scoring unsatisfactory or partially proficient on CSAP reading and writing proficiencies, a
40% drop in students on Individual Literacy Plans/Reading Support Plans, a decrease in discipline
referrals, and increased satisfaction by parents and staff.
92


1
(Jc H /f
The Writing Studio work period incorporates independent writing, model text studies,
guided writing groups, peer writing groups and conferences.
The Work Period incorporates independent writing time for students to work silently and
by themselves on their own writing. Students will draft, revise, edit and complete specific
pieces of work that is closely aligned with the Investigations and Units of Study. Students
explore strategies and behaviors introduced during the focus lessons. Students apply their
knowledge with previous learnings acquired during other Units and Investigations.
The model text studies component will involve students in reviewing texts that serve as
graphophonic, syntactic and structural models. These texts will include picture books,
chapter books and articles from newspapers and magazines. They will be revisited
throughout the year to reinforce key grammatical points. Texts will serve as teachers,
helping students use favorite texts to generate ideas for content and form.
r
Guided Writing Groups will introduce a small number of students to strategies that will
help them become stronger writers. Instruction is always accompanied by modeling and
guided practice. Students obtain additional instruction on strategies and skills introduced in
the focused lessons.
Peer Writing Groups are student-directed groups to consider writing by members of the
group or of a published author. Peer writing groups focus on Investigations and Units of
Study. Students review lessons and practical applications of writing in the model text
studies. Key writing rules and habits terms that will appear on the classrooms walls and
in student notebooks will help students develop focused and smart discussions.
Writing conferences are the centerpiece of the Writing Studio. These conferences -
conducted during independent writing time, reinforce previous focus lessons, conduct
assessments and support students as writers. Conferences teach students strategies and
techniques, supports students to be reflective about their own writing and reinforces the
lesson that students learn by investigating the process of writing by themselves.
Component 3: The Closing Meeting
The Writing Studio concludes with a class meeting to provide students with an opportunity
to discuss and share their writing. The closing meeting is a forum for sharing work and
ideas, and validates and affirms the efforts put forth by students.
(3) Describe a comprehensive school reform program that has been found through scientifically
based research or supported by strong evidence to significantly improve academic achievement.
The Reading and Writing Studio program is an updated version of the program originally
developed under contract with the U.S. Department of Educations Office of Educational
Research and Development. This $10 million dollar, five year contract was awarded in October
of 1999 to create Comprehensive School Reform models for middle and high schools. Now in
its fourth year of development, the program has been piloted, researched, revised and fully
implemented in a host of middle and high schools in urban settings across the country.
93
King Middle School 10


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e ^
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Merrill Middle School, the applicant for Comprehensive School Reform funds, is
determined to improve student achievement and school functioning. The selected Reading and
Writing Studio model will help Merrill meet District requirements for implementing research-
based interventions to help students achieving below grade level in reading and writing. Merrill
students meet reading and writing proficiencies on the CSAP at rates 17% to 28% lower than
their peers statewide. Merrill received a low rating on Colorados State Accountability Report,
and is determined to bring instruction and student performance up to state standards.
The Reading and Writing Studio program is an updated version cf the program originally
developed under contract with the U.S. Department of Educations Office of Educational
Research and Development. Reading and Writing Studio will help Merrill Middle School create
well-structured curriculum and instructional approaches for literacy skill building in grades six
through eight, based on well-evaluated components and well-researched principles of instruction,
assessment, classroom management, motivation and professional development.
Reading Studio activities will include focus lessons, independent and guided reading,
individual and small group support, comprehension groups, reading demonstration and other
activities. Writing Studio activities will include focus lessons, guided writing, peer writing,
model text studies and writing conferences. The studios are comprised of short teacher lessons,
independent study, teacher-facilitated groups, peer-driven small groups, and time for
investigation and reflection. Both studios use real life materials that encourage student inquiry,
and spark excitement and discovery in reading and writing. Students will increase their
motivation and knowledge as they read traditional books, mystery stories, magazine articles,
comic books and other printed materials. These hands-on activities are designed to spur
improved studying and learning skills. By improving student participation and motivation within
the classroom, the program will also reduce discipline referrals and student behavioral problems.
Merrill Middle Schools full-time literacy coach will lead implementation and will
integrate activities with its family outreach programs and accountability team. Reading and
Writing Studio consultants will provide extensive staff development support in implementing the
comprehensive reform model, including a summer institute and four day school year trainings to
prepare teachers and coaches. Teachers will also have regular opportunities for discussion,
problem-solving, demonstrations and coaching. The literacy coach, trained by Reading and
Writing Studio staff and consultants and supported by district coaches, will guide teachers as
they implement the program components. School staff will help engage parents in Reading and
Writing Studio activities, providing family nights and family literacy programs.
Merrill Middle School has established momentum for implementing reform, and will
integrate existing programs, including the research-based Connected Mathematics, Accelerated
Reader, English Language Acquisition Magnet program, afterschool tutoring, ongoing parent
outreach programs and a growing focus on technology. Merrill has already restructured its
schedule to maximize the impact of the reform model, providing for 90 minute blocks of literacy
instruction. Programs and curriculum will be directed and moderated by the schools
Collaborative Decision Making Team.
The program has positively impacted several schools with similar riemographifis as
Merrill Middle School. Merrill is projecting a 10% annual decrease in the number of students
scoring unsatisfactory or partially proficient on CSAP reading and writing proficiencies, a 40%
drop in students on Individual Literacy Plans/Reading Support Plans, a decrease in discipline
referrals, and increased satisfaction by parents and staff.


94


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Hill Middle School, the applicant for Comprehensive School Reform funds, is
determined to improve student achievement and school functioning. The selected Reading and
Writing Studio model will help Hill meet District requirements for implementing research-based
interventions to help students achieving below grade level in reading and writing. Hill students
meet reading and writing proficiencies on the CSAP at rates 17% to 29% lower than their peers
statewide. Hill received a low rating on Colorados State Accountability Report, and is
determined to bring instruction and student performance up to state standards.
The Reading and Writing Studio program is an updated version of the program originally
developed under contract with the U.S. Department of Educations Office of Educational
Research and Development. Reading and Writing Studio will help Hill Middle School create
well-structured curriculum and instructional approaches for literacy skill building in grades six
through eight, based on well-evaluated components and well-researched principles of instruction,
assessment, classroom management, motivation and professional development.
Reading Studio activities will include focus lessons, independent and guided reading,
individual and small group support, comprehension groups, reading demonstration and other
activities. Writing Studio activities will include focus lessons, guided writing, peer writing,
model text studies and writing conferences. The studios are comprised of short teacher lessons,
independent study, teacher-facilitated groups, peer-driven small groups, and time for
investigation and reflection. Both studios use real life materials that encourage student inquiry,
and spark excitement and discovery in reading and writing. Students will increase their
motivation and knowledge as they read traditional books, mystery stories, magazine articles,
comic books and other printed materials. These hands-on activities are designed to spur
improved studying and learning skills. By improving student participation and motivation within
the classroom, the program will also reduce discipline referrals and student behavioral problems.
Hill Middle Schools full-time literacy coach will lead implementation and integrate
activities with its family outreach programs and accountability team. Reading and Writing
Studio consultants will provide extensive staff development support in implementing the
comprehensive reform model, including a summer institute and four day school year trainings to
prepare teachers and coaches. Teachers will also have regular opportunities for discussion,
problem-solving, demonstrations and coaching. The literacy coach, trained by Reading and
Writing Studio staff and consultants and supported by district coaches, will guide teachers as
they implement the program components. School staff will help engage parents in Reading and
Writing Studio activities, providing family nights and family literacy programs.
Hill Middle School has established momentum for implementing reform, and will
integrate existing programs, including the research-based Connected Mathematics, its
differentiated House Program, afterschool tutoring, innovative parent outreach programs and a
growing focus on technology. Hill has already restructured its schedule to maximize the impact
of the reform model, incorporating two staff development morning timeslots per month.
Programs and curriculum will be directed and moderated by the schools Collaborative Decision
Making Team.
The program has positively impacted several schools with similar demographics as Hill
Middle School. Hill is projecting a 10% annual decrease in the number of students scoring
unsatisfactory or partially proficient on CSAP reading and writing proficiencies, a 40% drop in
students on Individual Literacy Plans/Reading Support Plans, a decrease in discipline referrals,
and increased satisfaction by parents and staff.
95


ips W Mr } f ^ /1(P
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Skinner Middle School, the applicant for Comprehensive School Reform funds, is
determined to improve student achievement and school functioning. The selected Reading and
Writing Studio model will help Skinner meet District requirements for implementing research-
based interventions tq help students achieving below grade level in reading and writing. Skinner
students meet reading and writing proficiencies on the CSAP at rates 26% to 37% lower than
their peers statewide. Skinner is a Title I corrective action school and received a low rating on
Colorados State Accountability Report. Skinner is determined to bring instruction and student
performance up to state standards.
The Reading and Writing Studio program is an updated version of the program originally
developed under contract with the U.S. Department of Educations Office of Educational
Research and Development. Reading and Writing Studio will help Skinner Middle School create
well-structured curriculum and instructional approaches for literacy skill building in grades six
through eight, based on well-evaluated components and well-researched principles of instruction,
assessment, classroom management,' motivation and professional development.
Reading Studio activities will include focus lessons, independent and guided reading,
individual and small group support, comprehension groups, reading demonstration and other
activities. Writing Studio activities will include focus lessons, guided writing, peer writing,
model text studies and writing conferences. The studios are comprised of short teacher lessons,
independent study, teacher-facilitated groups, peer-driven small groups, and time for
investigation and reflection. Both studios use real life materials that encourage student inquiry,
and spark excitement and discovery in reading and writing. Students will increase their
motivation and knowledge as they read traditional books, mystery stories, magazine articles,
comic books and other printed materials. These hands-on activities are designed to spur
improved studying and learning skills. By improving student participation and motivation within
the classroom, the program will also reduce discipline referrals and student behavioral problems.
Skinner Middle Schools full-time literacy coach will lead implementation and will
integrate activities with its family outreach programs and accountability team. Reading and
Writing Studio consultants will provide extensive staff development support in implementing the
comprehensive reform model, including a summer institute and four day school year trainings to
prepare teachers and coaches. Teachers will also have regular opportunities for discussion,
problem-solving, demonstrations and coaching. The literacy coach, trained by Reading and
Writing Studio staff and consultants and supported by district coaches, will guide teachers as
they implement the program components. School staff will help engage parents in Reading and
Writing Studio activities, providing family nights and family literacy programs.
Skinner Middle School has established momentum for implementing reform, and will
integrate existing programs, including the research-based Connected Mathematics, Balanced
Literacy, differentiated instruction, CSAP instructional preparation, afterschool tutoring,
innovative parent outreach programs, an extensive professional development institute and
additional time for learning in core curriculum areas. Programs and curriculum will be directed
and moderated by the schools Collaborative Decision Making Team.
The program has positively impacted several schools with similar demographics as
Skinner Middle School. Skinner is projecting a 10% annual decrease in the number of students
scoring unsatisfactory or partially proficient on CSAP reading and writing proficiencies, a 40%
drop in students on Individual Literacy Plans/Reading Support Plans, a decrease in discipline
referrals, and increased satisfaction by parents and staff.
96


R U ^ ^ />*
A compendium of research summarizing 62 studies on the effect of arts learning lists over 50 cognitive
capacities and learning motivations transferred from arts learning to academic work, including reading
comprehension, writing fluency, spatial reasoning and mathematical proficiency. Studies show that in
addition to gaining specific academic skills, students in integrated arts/academic programs also benefited in
the areas of creative thinking, achievement motivation, cognitive engagement attendance and community
engagement and identity.20 The studies suggest that for students from economically disadvantaged
backgrounds, learning in the arts may be uniquely able to advance learning success in academic areas.21
Smileys new Renaissance Academy will be designed based upon best practices in arts education,
including those set out in a best practices handbook recently published by the Dana Foundation.22
Connected Mathematics. Both the Discovery and Renaissance Academies will utilize the Connected
Math curriculum. Connected Mathematics received the highest math-curriculum ranking by the American
Association for the Advancement of Science in 1999.23 The U.S. Department of Educations Expert Panel
has designated the program as one of five exemplary mathematics curricula for K-12 and the only middle
school curriculum.
Each Connected Math unit has been field tested, evaluated and revised over a three-to-four-year period.
Approximately 160 teachers and 45,000 students in diverse school settings across the United States
participated in the curriculums development Numerous studies have been conducted on the effectiveness
of Connected Math, including:
State evaluations in Michigan, Texas, Arkansas and Maine.
District evaluations in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Plano, Texas.
Research Studies on proportional reasoning, basic skills and problem-solving.
Quantitative studies of student reasoning, skills and understanding.
Results of the quantitative tests consistently show that Connected Math students perform better than other
students on basic skills, problem-solving, conceptual understanding and proportional reasoning. Minority
students, gifted students, special needs students, low-socioeconomic students and students from rural,
urban and suburban populations were included in these studies24
Reading and Writing Studio. Both the Discovery and Renaissance Academy will utilize the districts
Reading and Writing Studio program. Formerly referred to as the Americas Choice School Design, the
Reading and Writing Studio is a researched-based program created by the National Center on Education
and the Economy. Reading/Writing Studio supports academic achievement through a complete focus on
sophisticated instruction that leads students to obtain complex knowledge and problem-solving skills. The
program's emphasis on cognitive development instruction and higher learning goals is substantiated by
Resnick and Klopfer.25 The Studio provides teachers with carefully developed and tested curriculum
materials giving them well-aligned instructional materials. Findings from several program evaluations
identify the importance of validated teaching materials and the impact on teacher practices.26
20 Ibid.
21 Arts Education Partnership Web site: www.aeD-arts.org/CLTemphome.html
22 Planning An Arts Centered School: A Handbook, Dana Foundation, 2002; www.dana.org.
23 American Association for the Advancement of Science: Project 2061. Middle Grades Mathematics Textbooks: A
Benchmarks-based Evaluation. American Association for the Advancement of Science. Washington, DC. 1999.
24 Connected Mathematics at a Glance, Connected Mathematics Project, www.math.msu.edu/cmp/overview/glance.
25 Learning Organizations For Sustainable Education Reform, Daedalus Journal, Fall, 1998.
26 Slavin, Success for All: Policy Consequences of Replicable School Reform. Handbook of Education Policy. New
York, 1998; Cohen and Hill, Instructional Policy and Classroom Per^mance, Teacher College Record 102. No. 2.
Smiley Middle School, Denver Public Schools 10


f

DENVER PUBLIC SCHOOLS
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98
5