A Behind the Scenes Look at a School Making Gains on Reading Scores


October 8, 2014


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Springdale, Washington is a town of less than 300 people located an hour north of Spokane in the northeast corner of the state. With light traffic and spotty phone service, the town consists of a few stores and restaurants, train tracks, a community center that’s getting dressed up as a haunted house for Halloween and a campus of school buildings and sports fields that comprise the Mary Walker School District.

On a Monday morning after an overtime win by the Seattle Seahawks on the other side of the state that raised the spirits of the adults in the school, a leadership team consisting of four teachers from the middle and high school, a principal, and the district superintendent was set to meet with a small group from Education Northwest.

The Education Northwest team brought news even better than a Seahawks victory.

Last year, the middle and high school worked with Education Northwest coaches on a change cycle process that focused the energies of both schools on one strand of literacy instruction that had been a challenge area for Mary Walker students: reading analysis. The schools implemented changes in instruction that centered on teaching students strategies for different text types and how to mark up a text to capture main ideas.

Wendy Peone, a Mary Walker teacher, describes how the RICC® change process worked at her school. RICC, short for Rapid Inquiry-Driven Change Cycle® is a component of the Success Now! approach.

The good news was that the hard work that the schools put in toward transforming instruction in this area had paid off. Data from two state tests (the MSP and HSPE) show that Mary Walker’s middle and high school students made significant gains in reading analysis last year. The number of students from last year’s sophomore class now meeting target on reading analysis jumped by over 30 percent compared to the same students’ scores as eighth graders. Other classes also made leaps.

With 50-80 percent of students in grades 3-10 in the district meeting reading targets last year, there is still room to grow. The results in reading analysis show that the school is heading in the right direction.

“The Mary Walker leadership team is the high-functioning poster child for doing this well, and the results are there,” said Mike Siebersma from the Education Northwest’s Success Now! team. “They impacted heavily what they chose to impact. All along we’ve been talking about doing change right.”

Another teacher, Shirley Baker, talks about how Success Now! made a difference in her school’s learning environment.

The continuous-improvement approach that’s working for the Mary Walker School District is called Success Now! The process works through schools putting together a series of change cycles that are designed by teachers and administrators with coaching support from Education Northwest. Lasting 10–12 weeks, these cycles look at the root causes of challenges that impede academic performance and then get everyone together to work toward a solution backed by research. The cycles build from one to the next while school teams strengthen the whole school system needed for long-term success along the way. Success Now! has been the subject of a recent Northwest Matters blog post and white paper.

What’s next for Mary Walker? With ongoing support from Education Northwest that includes monthly check ins, the middle and high school and leadership team is looking at data to decide upon an instructional focus for their change cycles this year. Meanwhile, the district’s elementary school is getting started on the same process.

Five more schools, with a similar intent to raise student achievement, recently signed on to participate in the Success Now! approach with Education Northwest, and more are expected to sign on in the near future. So the process continues, one school and one change cycle at a time.