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School Improvement in the ESSA Environment

For over 20 years, Talent Development Secondary (TDS) has been the go-to partner for secondary school transformation and support. We lead the nation, not only in research on effective practices in secondary schools that increase high school graduation rates, but also in bridging research to practice – our staff works directly with schools, districts, and states to coach, train, and implement what works. TDS’ services to schools, districts, and states span the continuum of comprehensive transformation models, to key reform components, to high impact tools and supports.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) means that states and districts have the opportunity to rethink important issues:

  • How can we best support schools with graduation rates under 67%?
  • How do we turn around the lowest performing 5% of schools?
  • What should schools be held accountable for? How do we define a high-quality school?
  • How do schools and districts engage parents/families effectively?
  • How do state standards support rigorous classroom instruction and positive state assessment performance?
Evidence-Based School Interventions

A key aspect of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is its commitment to the use of evidence to drive better outcomes for students. The evidence-based provisions can both improve student outcomes and increase the return on education investments, as more resources are spent on programs and practices likely to have a positive impact. TDS is a well-researched and evidence-based model that meets the ESSA requirements.

As state, district, and school leaders begin work under the ESSA to identify and intervene in low-performing schools and among under-achieving groups of students, TDS experts are skilled at helping districts and schools navigate the following ESSA requirements:

  • Performing needs assessments for middle and high schools
  • Designing and supporting evidence-based school interventions that work
  • Supporting effective instruction and developing engaging curricula designed to accelerate learning for students who are 3+ grade levels behind
  • Coaching teachers and leaders on positive school climate and school structures to reach all students
  • Implementing research-based Early Warning systems and tiered student interventions
  • Supporting strategies to address chronic absenteeism

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Needs Assessments for Middle and High Schools

ESSA requires that any school deemed eligible for comprehensive supports must have an in-depth needs assessment. Comprehensive support schools include high schools with a graduation rate lower than 67% and the lowest performing 5% of schools within a state. Not all low-performing schools need the same set of reforms; the Every Student Succeeds Act requires a more intensive needs assessment process to help schools identify existing strengths and select evidence-based strategies to fill in the gaps.

TDS offers support in designing and conducting needs assessments for secondary schools developing a school improvement plan. During the needs assessment process, TDS helps schools:

  • COLLECT: A comprehensive school data profile identifying adult and student strengths and needs, including indicators related to post-secondary success
  • REVIEW: Site visits that include all stakeholders, to evaluate the school against evidence-based practices
  • DIAGNOSE: Determine school needs and plan evidence-based improvements using the qualitative and quantitative information gathered
  • IMPLEMENT: Capacity-building supports to enable schools and districts to carry out planned improvement strategies


Supporting Effective Instruction

ESSA requires that states to define how they will use Title I and II funds to improve student achievement and educator skills, harness data and consultation to monitor and improve activities, and strengthen support for teachers, principals, and school leaders based on assessed needs.

Among its customizable school improvement services, TDS offers a non-evaluative tiered coaching model, acceleration math and ELA curricula to help teachers meet the needs of all students, including those below grade level in reading or math, and supports in designing and implementing career academies/pathways. Tiered coaching includes:

  • PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT from TDS instructional facilitators in math, ELA, and school and student supports
  • TRAINING AND ONGOING SUPPORT for school-based instructional coaches
  • PEER COACHING – aligned with the Cognitive Coaching model – via teacher teams and professional learning communities

This approach:

  • Helps teachers develop student learning goals, shift to more effective practices built on student-centered learning, and recognize and encourage student aspirations and sense of belonging
  • Provides a venue for adult conversations on sensitive issues (e.g., racial bias in the classroom or the effects of poverty on learning)
  • Supports implementation of TDS acceleration curricula and extra-help labs in math and ELA
  • Enables all students to have a pathway to post secondary success

TDS has developed a range of curricular materials that address the need for accelerated student learning and support teachers in taking new approaches.

Student Support, School Climate, and Academic Enrichment

ESSA requires that districts include “prevention and intervention programs for children and youth who are neglected, delinquent, or at-risk.” As part of this, states are asked to provide plans for assisting the transition of youth and to describe program objectives and outcomes.

TDS provides onsite facilitation or contracted technical assistance to school leaders and teacher teams in creating a culture of high expectations for students as well as staff – one of collective commitment to excellence and shared responsibility for decisions, interventions, and outcomes. TDS has deep expertise in teacher teaming, creating 9th grade academies, and other strategies to focus on key transition years for students. TDS student success courses – Freshman Seminar and Mastering the Middle Grades – help students develop study and life skills, resilience, and social-emotional learning to navigate crucial transition years. TDS facilitators are able to support Restorative Practices, PBIS, and other systems for increasing student voice, engagement, and resilience. They work collaboratively with school leaders to help develop or strengthen multi-tiered systems to reduce chronic absenteeism, increase punctuality, and provide recognition to students and teachers with strong attendance.

Early Warning Systems and Tiered Student Interventions

ESSA means that states and districts will be re-thinking accountability measures and encouraging new ways to track student progress. Early Warning Indicators may tie into new state accountability systems and can be an integral part of a plan to support individual students and schools.

TDS helps school leaders set up and maintain school-wide multi-tiered student data systems for
Attendance, Behavior, and Course performance in math and English – the “ABC” early warning indicators of student disengagement. TDS Early Warning System is based on Dr. Robert Balfanz’ original research, which identified thresholds in these areas as the most reliable indicators for on-time graduation and success in post-secondary education. TDS’ professional development and technical assistance helps teacher teams function efficiently to use data to drive interventions and Tier I initiatives as they

  • ENGAGE in effective weekly or biweekly conversations on student data in these areas (whether individually or in aggregate)
  • IDENTIFY students facing challenges
  • PLAN AND MONITOR needed interventions

Along with technical assistance and professional development, TDS can also provide software for ease of data collection and analysis, and tracking interventions.

Strategies to Address Chronic Absenteeism

Many states and districts will now track chronic absenteeism as part of their new ESSA-approved accountability plans. Research confirms how important this lead indicator is to overall climate and academic achievement.

Through evidence-based approaches piloted and now implemented in 30 major districts throughout the country, TDS has played a lead role in helping schools and districts mobilize existing staff and support organizations in ways that are proven to make considerable differences in attendance, climate and overall academic achievement.

TDS: Deep Experience and Significant Record of School and Student Impact

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