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Case study: Providing high-impact curriculum support to teachers and leaders

The District

Located on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River in southeastern Louisiana, East Baton Rouge Parish is the most populous parish in Louisiana, home to the state capital and the second largest public school system in the state. 

Demographics at a glance
Total students 41,637
Economically disadvantaged 78.2%
Limited English Proficiency 8.4%
Black students 71.8%
Latinx students 11.5%
White students 11.5%

The urban school system serves over 41,000 students across nearly 90 schools. In East Baton Rouge, 78% of students come from economically disadvantaged households and 86% are students of color. 

Thirteen schools currently comprise the district’s Innovation Network, a network of schools focused on using evidence-based strategies to accelerate progress across historically low-performing campuses.

The Challenge

Louisiana is a national leader in developing strong, standards-aligned instructional materials. Much like other school systems in their state, East Baton Rouge Parish had already started using high-quality math and ELA materials. Despite access to high-quality curriculum and assessments, however, East Baton Rouge schools still struggled to effectively implement their curriculum. 

In the 2017-18 school year, 34% of students in ELA and 27% in math reached mastery on the state summative tests. Dr. Quentina Timoll, Innovation Network leader and assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, was developing a plan to strategically implement high-quality curriculum, leadership development, and instructional coaching across her schools. 

Dr. Timoll knew a partnership with ANet would be a strong fit for this work: “They had years of experience and expertise around improving instructional outcomes and their focus was very aligned to our focus…  I knew they could bring that expertise to our teachers and - most importantly, with the coaching aspect - to our leaders.” In 2018-19, she launched a partnership with ANet focusing on coaching district and instructional leaders in the Innovation Network. 

The Results

In the 2018-19 school year, schools began focusing on effective implementation of their curriculum.

Early performance results show improvement

  • East Baton Rouge Parish was among the most improved school systems in the state in 2018-19.

  • Innovation Network schools demonstrated significant performance gains, and 86% of schools improved their school performance score from 2018 to 2019.

The impact expands beyond assessment scores and school ratings

Reflecting on the last year, Dr. Timoll is most excited about the student growth she observes across classrooms:

"We visibly see the students' thought processes, whether it's on paper where they are solving math problems and demonstrating models, whether it's in their writing, or whether we hear it in their discussion."

When scores were released in November 2019, Louisiana state superintendent John White praised the improvements, noting:

"It's not just that they've adopted a highly rated curriculum. It's that they've taught the teachers how to use it."

The Approach

Coach leaders to deeply understand the standards

Dr. Timoll’s leaders bring a variety of backgrounds, knowledge, and skill sets to their work, but they weren’t all strong instructional leaders just yet. She wanted leaders “to lead the work of getting teachers acclimated to the curriculum.” So, they began with the standards. “In year one,” she says, “we went through supporting our leaders and building their instructional capacity around standards-based instruction.

Insight: It starts with leaders

"It starts with the leadership. It's so important to make sure administrators become instructional leaders, because they are going to set the expectations for teachers and guide them."

—Dr. Charie Worley, ELA instructional specialist

Dr. Charie Worley, an ELA instructional specialist in East Baton Rouge, says, “Sometimes leaders struggle when they go into the classrooms,” she’s learned, “because they are not sure what to look for. We have to fill that knowledge gap.”

“I’m seeing leaders come together and align their work toward a clear, shared vision. It sounds simple, but it’s not easy,” says ANet executive director Dorie Withey-Perricone. She and coach Kristen Parker have led ANet’s instructional leadership development in East Baton Rouge. Parker shares a few approaches they take to provide support: “We sit alongside leaders to build knowledge of how their curriculum is set up and how it encompasses the shifts required by the standards. We prepare for observations by unpacking the lesson we’ll be observing as well as unpacking the standards that are central to that lesson.” She lists several more strategies, including understanding aspects of rigor, giving feedback, and analyzing student work. 

Understand the impact on teachers and ensure meaningful development

Insight: Consider mindsets

"Part of our trainings and PLCs have been around changing mindsets, because the curriculum requires a different mindset."

—Ms. Malissa Drake, math instructional specialist

A new curriculum is a huge change for teachers, and leaders need to be prepared to shift mindsets. Ms. Malissa Drake, a math instructional specialist in the district, understands why the experience is challenging for teachers. “They’ve gone through a series of emotions synonymous with ‘pulling me out of my comfort zone and dropping me in a new country,’” she shares. “Teachers need to be more familiar with content from a conceptual place versus a procedural place.” They’ve had training in their transition to the curriculum but “it’s just a different type and way of teaching,” she says. “It’s hard.”

Across ELA classrooms, Dr. Worley sees and understands teachers’ challenges as well: “I find deviations where the curriculum outlines activities and, for some reason, teachers are taking another route.” She says she started to question: “Why are they making the decision they are making when the guide is laying it out for them?” Often, it is due to gaps in student learning; their Tier 1 curriculum is on grade level, but many students are not yet demonstrating proficiency. It’s a real challenge, as “scaffolds have to be built in to support students, but the structure and pacing doesn’t give a lot of time with the number of scaffolds we need.” To address this, Worley deeply supports teachers in the planning phase.

Insight: Make PD effective

"When you have educators together bouncing ideas off each other and you are giving them a step-by-step process of how to get to where you want them to be, it is much more effective.

They feel like, you know what, I can do this. I can replicate this process because someone has helped me go through it, and I was able to get to the outcome before I left this PLC. It's meaningful."

—Dr. Charie Worley

Teachers are supported to take a backwards-design approach to planning. In a given unit, they start by unpacking the culminating unit assessment and then move on to the four assessments that align to that unit assessment. Worley says, after this, they start to look at the lessons individually. They ask themselves a series of questions, “What is the outcome of lesson one? How will these activities align? What are some scaffolds that may need to be built in?” She says they use data to anticipate what some of the learning gaps may be and teachers collaboratively work on strategies they can build into the lesson. When teachers can see themselves get to the learning outcome before leaving the PLC, it’s a meaningful experience.

Across the Innovation Network, leaders now provide concrete, meaningful development, and teachers help drive the learning culture across schools. Ms. Drake is proud, sharing, “I’m not getting requests just from administrators. I’m getting requests from teachers that they want more, or want support, or even just have questions. It’s really dynamic to see everybody committed to learning.”

Design instructional support for teachers and leaders as “two parallel lanes” 

Insight: Focus on teacher and leader development leads to stronger feedback

"When you start meshing the two, we're eventually going to merge in the middle.

We're seeing better results because we're not just focusing on one side."

—Dr. Charie Worley

From where does their powerful learning culture stem? Ms. Drake explains, “there’s support at all levels. There’s support for leaders from their executive directors, with ANet, and also the instructional specialists. There’s support for teachers from executive directors, administrators, and instructional coaches. There are opportunities for growth at all levels.”

The multi-leveled support has been intentionally designed. By giving equal focus to supporting leaders with standards-based instruction and supporting teachers with high-quality curriculum, “we are working two parallel lanes,” says Dr. Timoll.

Dr. Worley says their “bottom-up, top-down” approach  “has made a huge difference.” She reflects, “If you’re just focused on one phase of it, you spend a lot of time because there’s a lot to go through with just one group. But if you’re using that bottom-up, top-down approach, you get to tackle both sides simultaneously and you see the results quicker.

Teach the students, not the curriculum

Dr. Timoll says her biggest learning experience as a leader has been in understanding the importance of the standards in the curriculum:

“Many times you go through curriculum implementation and we will say to teachers ‘teach the curriculum with fidelity’ and so we spend a lot of time getting teachers to understand the curriculum and the components of the curriculum. And so the ‘a-ha’ moment for our whole team was the importance of standards-aligned instruction, which is very different from curriculum-driven instruction. A lot of times I will say to teachers, teach your students and not the curriculum.

Insight: Have a vision for teachers' and leaders' growth, too

Beyond her vision for students, Ms. Drake considers growth for teachers. For example:

"I hope to see administrators being led by initiatives from teachers within the school. I hope to see a teacher or group of teachers leading PLCs, and administrators serve as observers or participants - not necessarily facilitators."

In East Baton Rouge, leaders and teachers see the curriculum as a guide; it’s a tool to help students get to the bigger outcomes, life beyond high school. Dr. Worley encourages her teachers to adapt lessons to make stronger connections to students’ lives. Ms. Drake has a vision for students becoming better problem solvers and taking over their learning as a result of becoming better critical thinkers and communicators. “I know that sounds different,” she says, “math giving you a voice, but math is about more than procedures, operations. It’s about a way of thinking.

Dr. Timoll sums up her ANet partnership and shines a light on the driving force behind her team’s focus. “This partnership,” she says, “is about what happens in the lives of our students.”

Interested in learning how ANet can support your school or district?

Want to learn more about the improved student outcomes that resulted from ANet’s Breakthrough Results Study?

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