A Superintendent Writes… A Synthesis of Montelongo and Cain

A LYS Superintendent share the following:

LYS Nation,

I had the privilege of working directly with John Montelongo several years ago at an inner-city, 5A high school.  Like most schools, we were struggling with math scores and to combat this Montelongo had developed a warm-up book.  Montelongo had analyzed his school-wide data and determined his school’s weakest objectives in math and then developed a series of warm-up lessons to be used in math classes, every day.  I considered it the carpet-bombing approach to the problem, but I didn’t see what it would hurt, and I knew better than betting against Montelongo.  At the end of the year that high school jumped from AU, skipped acceptable, and became Recognized.  Granted, we did a lot more than just implement the Montelongo warm-ups.  Both Montelongo and I were very well versed in the LYS practices and we descended on the campus, full-speed, with everything we knew.  It was beautiful, and another chapter in the ever growing book of LYS success stories.

Fast-forward a couple of years.  I was doing LYS training with Cain at another struggling high school.  Cain is one of the first to understand, and then create a process based on that understanding, that you use 3-week common assessment data to find the deepest holes in student understanding.  After each common assessment the teacher analyzes the data for her class, identifies the “deepest hole” (the most missed objective) and then develop a re-teach plan.  When Cain trained us, though I don’t recall why, for some reason our database was messed up and we did not have access to our common assessment data for the training.   Cain did not miss a step, we simply used historical TAKS data disaggregated by classroom and analyzed it to find the “deepest hole.”

Montelongo was finding the deepest hole, but on a school wide basis, and using historical testing data.  Cain was finding the deepest hole using targeted frequent assessments.  But I had seen the power of Montelongo’s strategy, and it was hard to dismiss.  On the other hand Cain’s strategies are also very successful and hard to dismiss.  So I began thinking about barriers to learning.  Cain with his Fundamental Five and Foundation Trinity addresses the adult practices are a barrier to learning.  Of course Cain is correct (trust me, you don’t want to argue with his data), but there are other factors.  In short, what learning barrier caused the “deepest hole” effect?

Fast-forward another year and now I’m a superintendent in a district with a struggling high school (detect a trend here?). It occurred to me that when several students have not done well on the same objective there is a learning theory explanation.  It is very likely the learners had no cognitive hooks on which to connect new learning to what the brain already knew.  Gaps in learning can be caused from an unaligned curriculum, poor teaching, or any number of other reasons.  It is also possible to have an aligned curriculum, adequate or better teaching, and to still have “deepest holes” in a classroom due to a lack of cognition. 

So I combined Cain and Montelongo, put in a pinch of learning theory, and came up with a plan.  I used Cain’s process of 3-week common assessments and data analysis to drive the RTI and re-teach process. We did this district wide.  We also used historical data, TAKS and other data, to determine the historical deepest hole in every individual classroom in the district.  This deepest hole was addressed with warm-ups and was assessed every nine weeks instead of the quick three-week cycle.  Cain’s method added more precision to Montelongo’s approach.  Note, I do not worry if the warm-up is not always aligned to the curriculum.  We follow the CSCOPE scope and sequence for three weeks assessments and piggy back what we teach in the warm-up cycle on top of that.  The purpose is to try to make cognitive “hooks” so that when we reached the historical deepest hole SE in the current year’s curriculum sequence there will be something for the learning to stick to.

This is working for us. Last year 97% of our students passed Algebra 1 EOC at the Level 2 phase in level.  Not awesome, but not bad.

Think. Work. Achieve. Your turn…

  • Call Jo at (832) 477-LEAD to order your campus set of “The Fundamental 5: The Formula for Quality Instruction.” Individual copies available on Amazon.com!  http://tinyurl.com/Fundamental5 
  • Call Jo at (832) 477-LEAD to order your campus set of “Look at Me: A Cautionary School Leadership Tale” Individual copies available on Amazon.com!  http://tinyurl.com/lookatmebook 
  • Now at the Apple App Store: Fun 5 Plans (Fundamental 5 Lesson Plan Tool); PW Lite (Basic PowerWalks Tool); PW Pro (Mid-level PowerWalks Tool) 
  • Upcoming Presentations: Texas Association of Secondary School Principals Conference (Multiple Presentations) 
  • Follow Sean Cain and LYS on www.Twitter.com/LYSNation  and like Lead Your School on Facebook
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