Richard DuFour Rejects Triage
In this paid column in Education Week, author/consultant Richard DuFour responds to a high-school administrator who asked which students to focus on to improve state test scores – the very lowest-achieving students, the next level up, or those close to proficient (the “bubble” kids).
“The answer is, the school must focus on each and every student who demonstrates he or she is not learning,” says DuFour. “How to respond will be different, but the goal should be to give any student who struggles additional time and support for learning in a way that is timely, directive, and systematic.” He says that focusing on particular groups of students means the school is trying to game the system rather than educate all students to high levels.
When he led Adlai Stevenson High School in Illinois, DuFour and his colleagues adjusted the schedule to give the lowest-achieving students a double dose of language arts (one period devoted to intensive reading instruction) and added at least an hour a day for intensive small-group instruction or individual tutoring (some tutoring was done by National Honor Society members to fulfill their service requirement). Other Stevenson students who were in danger of failing because they didn’t understand specific skills or concepts were identified by regular interim assessments and required to devote extra time to learning the concepts – without missing any time from regular-class instruction.
“Principals and teachers should not be allowed to pick and choose,” says DuFour. “Education is not a zero-sum game. Helping one group of students learn does not take learning away from other students.” The key steps of the Professional Learning Community process are:
- Teacher teams clarifying what students must learn, unit by unit;
- Giving common, team-developed interim assessments to monitor student learning;
- Teachers using the results to inform and improve instruction and learn from one another;
- Using the results to give struggling students additional, non-negotiable time and support that is part of a schoolwide plan.
“In schools that become effective in this approach,” concludes DuFour, “state test scores take care of themselves.”
“Which Students Warrant Our Attention” by Richard DuFour in Education Week, Jan. 12, 2011 (Vol. 30, #15, p. 25)