Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

October 8, 2013

Walkthroughs lead to school improvement at Lawrence

LOUISA — State education officials recently applauded a classroom observation technique to which administrators give partial credit for Lawrence County High School’s dramatically improved state accountability scores.

Principal Christy Moore calls the technique “walk-through calibration,” which to non-educators means periodic classroom visits by teams of administrators who watch quietly and intensely and then offer swift feedback to teachers, often as soon as the class is over.

Lawrence County was one of 11 schools and districts commended at a recent school improvement summit to identify and share effective practices.

The visits, which started last year, are a refinement of district-wide classroom walkthroughs that administrators have conducted for some time.

The visits typically take about 25 minutes. In its first year, Moore, two assistant principals and two educational recovery experts assigned to the school when it was designated as a low-achieving school made the visits as a team.

This year, the experts have left and the visits are conducted by smaller groups of school administrators.

The team enters classrooms as a group and members sit or stand quietly, taking notes and comparing what they see with a rubric, or guide to expectations.

Team members may ask students brief questions about the class but otherwise avoid interrupting the flow of the class.

“We’re looking for growth and progression,” said assistant principal Tom Holbrook. “We want to know if there is rigor involved, are students being challenged.”

Immediately on leaving the room they compare notes in the hall, then one team member confers with the teacher after class.

The visits are frequent but unscheduled. “That way the class is not a dog-and-pony show,” Holbrook said.

The teams can manage up to 15 visits per week.

By now students are accustomed to administrators slipping into the room and aren’t distracted. Among faculty, the visits are welcome and valuable, said science teacher Lonnie Laney. “They give me pretty much immediate feedback,” he said. When he receives expert coaching right after class, he can more easily make improvements for the next day, he said.

The visits are one in a number of initiatives that have resulted in dramatic jumps in academic performance, according to Moore. Based on its accountability test scores, Lawrence County High was in the 14th percentile among all state public high schools in the 2011-12 school year — meaning it performed as well or better than only 14 percent.

It skyrocketed to the 78th percentile in the 2012-13 year, putting it ahead or better than 78 percent of the state’s public high schools and placing it in the proficient category for the first time ever.

The school also has seen gains in graduation rates, college and career readiness and other categories.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.

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