Today, Jahn Elementary in West Lakeview is a school on the upswing. Many classrooms have both a teacher and a co-teacher working with students. As needed, classroom aides also assist. The school’s fine arts focus includes visual arts, music and dance. In the last two school years, Jahn students have made remarkable gains in math and literacy as measured by standardized tests. The school also has an active parent community through Friends of Jahn.
Jahn wasn’t always like this. When Principal Michael Herring arrived at Jahn in 2012, he quickly tackled the school’s biggest challenges at the time: managing student behavior and including students with disabilities in regular classrooms. He worked with teachers to set common behavioral expectations across the building and trained regular teachers on how to work with a co-teacher with a background in special education.
By 2015, Herring was moving deeper into improving teaching. At a GROWcommunity meeting he learned about UChicago Impact’s STEP Literacy Assessment. Using STEP, schools can track children’s progress toward reading at a third-grade level and teachers can get a better view of what their students need to learn to move forward.
“I can actually look at the data and say, ‘Wow, I need to do some fluency with this particular group of kids,’” says third-grade teacher Janet Walsh.
Coaching Teachers Helps Students Make Big Learning Gains
STEP is much more than just a test. Teachers receive coaching that helps them see how to connect their students’ results to what they are doing in the classroom. Terra Ellingson, a first-grade teacher with experience in Reading Recovery, says that when she realized all her students were getting the same kind of question wrong, it was time for her to rethink how she approached teaching that skill. “Those trends help you unpack your teaching moves,” she said. Unlike other tests, STEP offers the chance to look deeply at students’ actual responses to see why they are making the kinds of mistakes they are making.
Like Ellingson, Walsh is also a highly-experienced teacher with a master’s degree in reading. Even with such a deep background, she still valued working with a coach. “I love the coaching. I needed that,” Walsh said. “Guided reading is different now than it was years ago. Having a coach is awesome. It’s great to be able to ask her questions.”
Walsh took STEP and ran with it. Students in her classroom made huge strides, including one student who made 18 months’ worth of academic growth in a 10-month school year.
Parents See The Difference Jahn is Making for Their Kids
Parents appreciate STEP, too. “I like the fact it is a one-on-one assessment,” says Dan Binder, a father of twin girls starting fourth grade this fall. “If they’re scheduled to have a STEP assessment on one day but that day they come to school and they’re an emotional or attentional mess, the teacher can move it to another day.” His daughters have consistently done well on STEP. But he also sees more students with less support from home succeeding “as a result of getting individualized help and getting their needs met with STEP.”
After three years of working with STEP, Herring says teachers are constantly asking themselves, “How can we change our teacher practices to improve student growth?” Whatever they’re doing, it’s getting results: in 2017, overall NWEA reading growth for the school put Jahn in the 91st percentile nationally.
Jahn’s involvement with STEP has grown into a deep relationship with UChicago Impact, an arm of the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute that links schools with research-based practices. In addition to STEP, UChicago Impact has encouraged Jahn to introduce an innovative math curriculum, JUMP Math, which helps students reduce math anxiety and develop a growth mindset in approaching math problems. UChicago Impact has also coached Herring on how to use data from the 5Essentials survey to improve communication with parents.
Marie Delgado has been an active parent volunteer at Jahn for more than a decade, but will be moving on to Von Steuben High School this fall when her younger daughter joins her big sister there. She can see the difference Herring’s leadership has made at Jahn. “There’s more community participation, more programs to have the kids excel,” she says. “Jahn is moving in a good direction.”