Each Ferndale School District school is committed to specific strategies for raising student achievement as part of a district-wide priority and goal.
Every year, each school works with a school improvement plan focused on increasing academic achievement. An example of the commitment to the student achievement priority can be seen at Horizon Middle School, where Horizon Principal Faye Britt and her staff have developed a strategy to improve academic vocabulary for students.
"Traditionally, school improvement strategies may involve specific goals for working to improve academic achievement in independent core subjects," Britt said. "This year, our leadership team looked at a strategy that works with every teacher and in every curricular area with the idea that if we can improve student understanding, knowledge and use of academic vocab then that will open up access during standardized assessments so that students know exactly what's being asked of them."
It’s important for students to understand and recognize differences between academic vocab words in order to be able to access questions and decide on next steps, Britt said. In creating a plan for emphasizing the vocabulary through instruction, the team used a variety of research and resources to collaborate and develop an initial list of 10 words to teach. The words are tier 2 words, common to academic vocabulary and testing.
"Tier 1 words are words such as sun, ball, room, etc. while Tier 2 words are academic vocab such as describe, construct, develop, analyze, etc.," Britt said. "Tier 3 are content specific words like diameter and circumference."
The first set of 10 words were taught over a 10-week period, with a second set of words to follow. For the first session, the following words were taught: analyze, apply, clarify, compare, determine, develop, evaluate, inference, relationship and sequence.
The staff worked together in developing academic vocab workbooks for students. The workbooks feature six sections, with a section being taught per class period; teachers provide several minutes of focused instruction during each class period, using a specific instructional strategy.
"The beauty of the strategy is every single teacher is responsible for teaching the academic word, regardless of subject," Britt said. "Truly, every teacher is working together on this school improvement plan."
Seeing the commitment and instruction in each period has been impactful, Britt said. With other goals often focused on a particular subject area, improvement focus may be limited to teachers of certain subjects. But with academic vocab work, the ability for all teachers to contribute has been important and impactful.
"This way, everyone is using the workbook instruction," Britt said. "We did a lot of professional development and staff trainings so all instructors knew how to instruct and implement the workbook."
Britt said initial assement results have shown improvement regarding vocabulary comprehension, and the team is currently teaching a second set of vocab words using the school-wide workbook strategy.
"If we're excited about something, our students will follow suit," Britt said. "Because this was built from the ground up with the staff, they have strong belief and ownership and in turn the kids are engaged with it."