FUESD credits professional development for SARC improvement

The Fallbrook Union Elementary School District (FUESD) board of directors was recently presented with the School Accountability Report Cards (SARCs) regarding the 2011-2012 academic year. SARCs are used by the State of California to provide information on various topics, including student proficiency, school ranking, yearly progress, and types of services funded by the schools.

According to Eric Forseth, assistant superintendent of educational services, the SARCs are merely one of many ways that parents and community members are able to obtain information about the schools within the district.

“The SARCs have been with us for a while, since 1988,” said Forseth. “We are required to publish them by law as part of No Child Left Behind. The disclaimer I want to give is that by the time we get the SARCs out to people, the information we have has been communicated in a lot of ways that are for sure more timely and more accurate.”

According to Forseth, the first data report from the previous academic year is released in the fall of the following academic year.

“In any year, it is typical for revisions to scores,” he explained. “That’s true for almost all of the data in our district. As far as our academic scores, we find that we have higher scores than what was originally recorded on the SARCs. It is a good starting point, but it is important to note the timeliness issues. We don’t want people to get too comfortable with score reports.”

Forseth stated that there have been some initial signs that were very positive, especially in regards to student academic achievement.

The data from the SARCs found that every school had things that they did commonly well, he said.

“Each school shines in one way or another,” said Forseth. “The difference is that we were able to train 100 percent of teachers within a very short period of time. Usually the trajectory for implementation of teaching strategies is usually long, which was not the case. As a system, all our schools are on a pretty equal path.”

“We expected to see the stronger gains in reading and Language Arts (ELA),” he said. “We believe that this reflects district training, and curriculum adoption. The new curriculum materials were strong in terms of academics, so [ELA] is the strongest area of growth.”

The SARCs can help parents better understand the textbooks and instructional materials, said Forseth. New textbooks have been adopted for all ELA classes in grades K-8.

“On the same page as the instructional materials page, parents can find a description of a professional development plan, with extensive description on the support curriculum.”

Forseth believes that the directive for professional development, interactive instruction, has “without question” had a tremendous impact on school success.

“A hundred percent of our teachers were part of the biggest instructional initiative we’ve had in the district,” he said. “In two days, we covered objective writing, feedback to students, and engaging activities. This year, we followed that with modeled lesson training. I think almost anyone connected to our district will tell you the instructional activities have had very positive results.”

The talent found in the teaching staff has also had an enormous impact, said Forseth.

“The anchor for teachers is that they must know about what they are teaching,” he said. “This makes it more likely for the teacher to embrace and implement anything new, like the district’s new direct interactive instruction.”

Forseth explained that with the new interactive instruction, teachers are very clear about the objectives they are teaching.

“There is a ton of research that says the more students are involved actively in the class, the more likely they will learn,” he said. “We are providing learning opportunities that are more collaborative – students are working with other students and working with the teacher.”

“As any teacher will tell you, involving more kids simultaneously in a lesson is really challenging,” Forseth continued. “In addition, teachers are trying to be more conscious and deliberate about feedback to students, especially about how they are doing in specific terms. Teachers are no longer just saying ‘good job;’ they are specific about what students are doing, how they are doing, and what needs to be corrected.”

Forseth stated that classrooms now have students more active in their own learning.

“You would see lots of activity, engagement, and involvement,” he said. “It is well managed, but the strategies are more varied. The typical pattern teacher to student, student to teacher is there but is more expanded upon with more collaborative learning. Students are held accountable for their learning.”

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