March 21, 2008

NCEA Convention

On the journey: Good schools to great schools!

Central Catholic School third-grade teacher Rachel Brubaker helps Cedric Georges with a reading assignment on Jan. 10 at the Indianapolis South Deanery grade school. Cedric and his sister, Sabrina, a fifth-grader, moved from Cape Haitian, Haiti, to Indianapolis last August with their mother, Rose Georges, and have excelled in their school work thanks in part to English as a New Language classes. (Photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

Central Catholic School third-grade teacher Rachel Brubaker helps Cedric Georges with a reading assignment on Jan. 10 at the Indianapolis South Deanery grade school. Cedric and his sister, Sabrina, a fifth-grader, moved from Cape Haitian, Haiti, to Indianapolis last August with their mother, Rose Georges, and have excelled in their school work thanks in part to English as a New Language classes. (Photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

Special to The Criterion

Through a school improvement grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. and supporting archdiocesan benefactors, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis implemented Project EXCEED, a comprehensive, measurable and sustainable initiative that has provided increased opportunities for academic achievement for more than 23,000 archdiocesan students.

The project’s three overarching goals are to:

  1. Recruit, retain, develop and reward the best teachers and administrators.
  2. Raise the level of students’ performance and report their progress; and
  3. Reach out to those students with special needs—those who have advanced capabilities, who struggle with traditional modes of teaching and learning, who use English as a second language or who fight to overcome the challenges of poverty.

Project EXCEED’s success stems from the interrelated nature of the innovative programs and approaches.

Project Exceed has led to true systemic change in the methods that educators use to reach students, the manner in which student and school progress is reported, and the way in which educators respond to results in central and southern Indiana’s Catholic schools.

Key to the success of Project EXCEED was the piloting of TAP, the Milken Family Foundation’s Teacher Advancement Program.

We all want the best possible education for our children, and research has shown that the single most important school-related factor for student success is having a talented teacher in the classroom.

Through Project EXCEED, the archdiocese works to ensure that all children receive the high quality education they need and deserve from well-trained and caring educators.

Better teachers

The Milken Family Foundation created the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP), a bold new strategy to attract, retain, develop and motivate talented people to the teaching profession.

Because of its broad-based support, results and high demand, TAP is now operated by the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET), a public charity.

TAP’s goal is to draw more talented people to the teaching profession—and keep them there—by making it rewarding to be a good teacher.

TAP provides the opportunity for good teachers to earn higher salaries and advance professionally, just as in other careers, without leaving the classroom.

At the same time, TAP assists teachers in reaching their highest potential by providing them with the opportunity to learn and practice better teaching strategies and by holding teachers accountable for their own performance.

TAP is based on four elements:

1. Multiple career paths.

Under the current system, the most common way for good teachers to increase their salaries is to become administrators.

Unfortunately, this removes them from the classroom, where they often are most needed.

TAP allows teachers to pursue a variety of positions throughout their careers—career, mentor and master teacher—depending upon their interests, abilities and accomplishments.

As teachers move through the ranks, their qualifications, roles and responsibilities increase, and so does their compensation.

This allows good teachers to advance in their profession while still functioning within a classroom setting.

In the archdiocese, TAP schools employ master and mentor teachers. These teachers work to support other teachers by providing appropriate professional development, helping to identify student needs, suggesting and assisting with appropriate strategies and interventions to improve student learning, and by modeling new methods for teachers to enable them to develop new skills.

According to several of the master and mentor teachers in the archdiocese, becoming a master or mentor teacher has enabled them to participate as a school leader, with a bit more financial compensation, but most importantly, it has allowed them to remain in contact with students on a regular basis, at the same time providing them with new learning and exciting professional challenges.

2. Ongoing, applied professional growth.

Teachers seldom have time during the school day to learn new techniques and strategies that would assist them to become better teachers.

Also, few teachers get the chance to collaborate with one another or to learn from those colleagues with more experience.

TAP restructures the school schedule to provide time during the regular school day for teachers to meet, learn, plan, mentor and share with one another so that there is an ongoing effort to improve the quality of instruction and, consequently, to increase student academic achievement.

This collaborative time allows exposure to new instructional strategies and provides the ongoing opportunity to become more effective instructors.

Ongoing Applied Professional Growth in TAP schools focuses on identified needs based on instructional issues that specific teachers face with particular students.

Teachers use data to target these areas of need, rather than trying various strategies on their own without input or specific information.

By utilizing data and collaborating with others, teachers in the archdiocese are able to quickly remediate, using strategies and techniques that have been suggested by the data and the professional judgment of skilled colleagues.

Allowing teachers to take time to learn and to work with another professional educator for the purpose of developing new skills and knowledge is a great advantage for students and teachers!

Because of the time that is set aside specifically for professional development, teachers have increased their knowledge and skills, greatly benefiting students.

Master teachers work with classroom teachers to determine appropriate interventions for students and continue to work with them so that the new techniques can be incorporated smoothly.

Results indicate that where this method of professional development is practiced, students’ individual needs are being met and learning is increased.

3. Instructionally focused accountability.

Most people agree that the best teachers should be paid more than less effective teachers.

But what makes an effective teacher?

TAP has developed a comprehensive system for evaluating teachers and rewards them for how well their students learn.

Teachers are held accountable for meeting the TAP Teaching Skills, Knowledge and Responsibility Standards as well as for the academic growth of their students.

Both achievement and growth are measured using value-added assessment, which yields the regular standardized data on proficiency, but also measures the student’s academic growth from one year to the next using the state required ISTEP tests.

Value-added assessment measures and isolates the direct contribution that the teacher has on academic growth. (See the box on value-added assessment.)

Holding teachers accountable for their teaching skills means that principals and master or mentor teachers are often in the classroom!

Teachers in TAP schools are observed on a regular basis and the results of those observations are utilized to further develop teacher skills and knowledge.

Master and mentor teacher model new skills for teachers in the classroom so that teachers not only hear of new techniques, but also are able to watch other teachers utilize the new strategy before they are asked to implement it.

This method of professional development and instructional focused accountability has led to increased student learning, which is the goal of all school improvement efforts.

4. Performance-based compensation.

In most professions, people are rewarded and promoted for how well they perform their jobs.

Unfortunately, teaching has too often been the exception to this rule.

TAP changes the current system by compensating teachers according to their roles and responsibilities, their performance in the classroom and the performance of their students as measured by value-added assessment.

Based on student performance and the observations, teachers in the TAP schools of the archdiocese have earned additional performance pay.

Amounts vary and it is the desire of the archdiocese to be able to continue and expand this practice. (See the box on performance pay.)

Teachers who participate in TAP schools indicate that the performance pay is appreciated, but it is not the sole reason they support the TAP program.

The ongoing professional development and the structures that are in place to support teachers are of great benefit to everyone in the TAP schools.

As one teacher put it, “By implementing TAP, the archdiocese showed that they wanted to invest in me and what I do matters to them.”

A new era of standards, assessment and accountability in Catholic education

Catholic schools have always been committed to providing strong academic environments, which enable students to grow to their full potential.

But with a growing number of choices for parents and students, it has become even more important to demonstrate the benefits of a Catholic education.

To continue the progress that our schools have achieved, the archdiocese recently determined that it would pursue district accreditation through the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, a partner of AdvancED.

After a successful three-day site visit in February 2008, the archdiocese was granted district accreditation! (See related story on page 5B.)

Collaborating with the network of schools that are a part of AdvancED and following the school improvement processes developed in conjunction with the organization will assist our schools in continuing on our journey of educational excellence.

The results of Project EXCEED have been astonishing. Students, administrators and educators at Catholic schools have demonstrated measurable levels of excellence, achievement, growth and proficiency.

The rich environment in these schools focused on faith, academic rigor, good citizenship, social justice, technology and community provides students with the opportunity to realize greater academic growth than their counterparts in other schools.

Further, high expectations from archdiocesan educators, extensive training opportunities and resources to implement change at the classroom level have helped to create a community of exceptional teachers and administrators.

At the heart of this new attitude is what we have learned from the TAP experience that can be applied in other schools.

Project Exceed has successfully transformed schools and individual students into achievers beyond their expectations.

Goals have been set and met as students and teachers have succeeded and exceeded expectations.

These important experiences in the original 33 Project Exceed schools have led to new aspirations for the future of Catholic school children in the archdiocese.

The future is bright, and it is with great hope and expectation that we are meeting the “challenges at the crossroads.”

(The full Project Exceed report is available from Ron Costello, superintendent of schools, at The Teacher Advancement Program and TAP are trademarks of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching. For more information, go to †

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