Is It Working in Your Middle School?

The following is an excerpt from the newly released book titled Is It Working in Your Middle School? I highly encourage any middle level educator to access the book and use it as tool for ensuring the success of any program, strategy, or initiative that your middle school is implementing. Continuous improvement in our middle schools is essential.

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.

—Leonardo Da Vinci

Middle level education is critical to the success of a child’s development and progress. Some call it the “critical middle” due to the importance of this time in a child’s development. With increased accountability and expectations, most middle schools have implemented programs and initiatives to support achievement and overall development of the middle level child. If 100 middle school educators were asked to make a list of the programs and initiatives that they have implemented at their schools, they could probably easily create that list. Although some of the lists would be long and others short, every educator would likely be able to develop a list. However, if we asked the same 100 middle school educators what the effectiveness was of those programs and initiatives after implementation, the percentage of those able to answer likely would drop significantly.

Planning for and deciding on improvement programs and initiatives is fairly easy if a school strives to understand the root cause of failure to meet targeted standards. Deployment of those plans is more difficult, and measuring the effectiveness of the deployment is usually overlooked. In many middle schools, the district, state, or federal government mandates the initiative or program. The program title or implementation area alone is not necessarily as important as the process to review improvements with fidelity and determine the program’s effectiveness. Middle school educators know how to monitor the progress of students when they implement a particular individualized instructional strategy—they use a variety of tracking tools, professional learning community meetings, and various tiers of support to specifically monitor the students’ progress. Educators should follow the same improvement process to monitor system progress of programs implemented in schools. Think of the difference between a football coach watching the scoreboard during a game hoping that the score will change and coaches who constantly monitor the blocking, tackling, and other efforts during a game. Rather than implanting a new program and hoping it will improve achievement, educators must continually and effectively monitor the progress of the programs they implement.

The purpose of this personalized system is to provide school administrators and teachers the process and tools needed to ensure continuous improvement of student learning. This system will not give specific instructional strategies or programs for schools to implement. Each school must determine the instructional practices that will have the greatest impact on teaching and learning based on research and experience. The focus of this workbook is on continuous improvement and accountability. The objective is to provide schools with a system to identify improvements and support areas of growth that can be applied to any initiative, strategy, or program that has been implemented.

This book will guide you through a system of planning, implementation, and evaluation of programs step-by-step. Although designed to be used by middle level educators, the same system or framework works for any grade level or school. Each chapter has the same format. First, an idea or background information is shared so it can be discussed for educator learning and professional growth. This is followed by a Case Study example from a middle school. Finally, and most important, the Personalized Reflection section is your opportunity to personalize the learning and conduct your own program evaluation as you progress through the book.

Teachers, departments, school improvement committees, administrators, and central office administrators can benefit from suggestions in this book. Certainly there is power in teamwork as group thinking yields deeper reflections, but individual teachers can use the framework described in this book to determine the effectiveness of programs or strategies they have implemented in their classrooms, too.

This book is unique because it offers perspectives from both educational and business project management experts, yielding a value-added process of evaluating school programs. Dr. Woodson’s educational expertise and Mr. Frakes’ quality assurance expertise have combined to develop a framework that educators in any school setting can use to raise student achievement levels. They have shown that the very actions non-educational organizations have used to ensure quality and become successful, when applied with fidelity, can work in schools, too.

The book is not laden with technical language or hard-to-grasp concepts. In reality, you will notice processes and actions that are familiar to you; there is data gathering, problem solving, and formative and summative assessment to name a few. Achieving success using quality assurance principles is about discipline—putting in time and effort to

  • Determine root causes of problems rather than treating symptoms
  • Set clear and measurable goals
  • Gather data
  • Interpret data/draw conclusions
  • Create plans with specific, measurable actions
  • Monitor progress and provide support where needed
  • Hold individuals accountable for implementation

As you can see, these reflect actions you routinely perform as educators accountable for student achievement. The aim of this book is to provide you with tools for each step of the process to make your goal setting, strategizing, data collecting, and ultimately communicating to staff about how to focus on what will make a difference in their students’ performance—to help them narrow in on what matters.

I hope you embark on this important journey of continuous improvement through the tools available in this book. Please visit the AMLE website for more details: