Frequently Asked Questions: Proposed 2020-2021 Calendar

In an attempt to address some of the questions around the proposed Independence Community School District 2020-2021 calendar, please reference this document for frequently asked questions.

1. Why is the district looking to move to more 90-minute early dismissals?

Last year, the school district began implementing 90-minute early dismissals to provide time for teachers to meet in collaborative teams.  This time has been extremely beneficial to staff and students, and we are now seeing a need for additional time.  At the elementary level, work has been focused on literacy, and we have experienced student growth in this area, so we need to continue this.  Now, we also need to work on math, social studies, and science, and our current structure just doesn’t allow for that. At the Junior/Senior High, teachers are working on instruction, but they also need time to work on their specific content areas. There is work that needs to be done in order for us to improve, and the work we need to do is best done during 90-minute early outs.

2. Who is involved in the development of the proposed calendar?

There is a committee of parents, teachers, and administrators who work together to come up with a calendar that best meets the needs of our students and supports staff in meeting those needs.  Most of the conversations were centered around what was going to help us move forward as a district, what our current needs are, and ultimately what will be best for students.  The committee was in agreement that this was the best option for our district at this time.

3. What does our staff do during the 90-minute early dismissal?

At the elementary level, K-6, teachers are using Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s) as a structure for their collaboration.  Teams meet on Wednesday afternoons to discuss and work through the following four essential questions.

  • What do we want our students to learn? (priority standards)
  • How will we know if they have learned?  (team developed common assessments)
  • What will we do if they don’t learn? (systematic interventions)
  • What will we do if they already know it? (extended learning)

The developers and supporters of the PLC collaborative team process believe that teachers ideally need this time on a weekly basis.

At the secondary level, teachers are using Authentic Intellectual Work (AIW) as a structure for their collaboration.  Teams are comprised of teachers from different discipline areas, and they are focusing on their instruction, the tasks or assignments they ask students to complete, and student performance.  They use rubrics to provide feedback to each other in the areas of construction of knowledge, disciplined inquiry, and value beyond school.  This structure is helping us to transform the quality of student learning.  However, AIW requires a commitment of 4-6 hours monthly for teams to collaborate and work together.  Ideally, this time needs to be spaced out to ensure teachers have frequent and ongoing contact with their collaborative teams.

We are currently making time for AIW and PLCs to happen, and we are in need of additional time to continue and enhance this work.  The district was hesitant to move to this model last year until we knew how it would work. We are seeing that it is working very well for teachers and ultimately benefiting students as instruction is strengthened and more intentional.

4. Why is this time important for teachers?

This time allows teachers to work with their colleagues to design instruction, plan for implementation, monitor student learning, and adjust instruction as necessary. The 90-minute early dismissals allow teachers to analyze student data, get more frequent feedback from their colleagues, and to make more timely instructional/learning adjustments.

5. Why Wednesdays and not another day of the week?

We have staff who also coach and/or sponsor different activities.  On Wednesday nights, there aren’t any scheduled events that would pull the staff away from this very important collaboration time. In addition, students wouldn’t be released early and then be expected to come back for a competition.

6. What does research say about early dismissals?

Although there is very little research about this directly, there is research about the work that is being done during the 90-minute early dismissals.  John Hattie, a world-renowned educational authority, completed a synthesis of over 1200 meta-analyses relating to student achievement.  From that research he has come up with 252 influences and effect sizes related to student achievement.  One claim Hattie makes is that almost every instructional decision works, so the better question is what instructional decision has the greatest impact or “works best?”  Hattie argues that the effect size of 0.40 sets a level where the effects of innovation enhance achievement in such a way that we can notice real-world differences, and should be a benchmark or standard from which to judge effects.

Collective teacher efficacy has an effect size of 1.57 and Jenni Donohoo identified six enabling conditions for collective teacher efficacy, all of these conditions are made possible through 90-minute early outs.  Response to Intervention has an effect size of 1.29.  This approach to education provides early, systematic assistance to children.  This is also part of the work being done with collaborative teams during 90-minute early dismissals.  Teacher clarity has an effect size of .75.  Teacher clarity includes communicating the intentions of the lesson and the notions of what success means, work being done in collaborative teams.  Phonics instruction has an effect size of .70, comprehension programs .47, and small group learning .47.  All of these are part of the resources that were purchased for teacher use and the learning that teachers have received.  Now, time is needed for collaboration about these instructional practices and resources to best serve students.  Finally, providing formative evaluation has an effect size of .48.  This is directly related to critical question number two that teachers are working with during their team collaboration.

7. A few years ago parents were asked what structure they preferred for professional learning. Why is that preference no longer being considered?

When this survey was given, very few parents and/or community members responded.  At the time, the district was in a place where teachers needed greater lengths of time for learning.  Now, teachers have had a lot of learning and need time to collaborate with colleagues in order to put that learning to use.  Just as teachers need to be responsive to students and adjust accordingly, we need to be responsive to the needs of teachers and our school improvement efforts.