Sustaining and Evaluating Progress in a Cluster Grouping Model

By Dina Brulles, Ph.D., coauthor of The Cluster Grouping Handbook: A Schoolwide Model: How to Challenge Gifted Students and Improve Achievement for All (Revised and Updated Edition)

The last in a four-part series on successful cluster grouping. Click here for part 1, here for part 2, and here for part 3.

Sustaining and Evaluating Progress in a Cluster Grouping ModelWhen schools rely on cluster grouping to serve their gifted students, it becomes critical that they implement methods for documenting growth and determining progress. Success in the model requires continually examining several key elements. Therefore, it is important to prepare for evaluation of your cluster by creating systems that track student achievement, determine necessary training, and monitor student populations identified and served.

In this fourth and final blog of this series on cluster grouping, I look at methods for monitoring progress and ensuring efficacy of the model in your school or district. Whether you are a teacher, administrator, coordinator, or parent, you may be wondering what tools and methods to use when trying to determine if cluster grouping is working (or will work) in your school.

Three main components for monitoring progress in a cluster grouping model are found in these questions:

  1. How do I know the schoolwide cluster grouping model (SCGM) is working in my school/district?
  2. How can teachers tell if they are meeting the needs of their students in the SCGM?
  3. What information is needed to conduct an effective evaluation of the SCGM in a school or district?

To help answer these questions, I share suggestions, tools, and methods for monitoring and documenting progress, evaluating program efficacy, and planning for program improvement based on your specific school’s or district’s needs and structure.

Explore and consider the following critical questions:

  • Is the ethnic representation of the gifted population you’ve served reflective of your school’s demographics?
  • Are your gifted students making significant yearly academic progress in the core content areas?
  • Do students have consistent opportunities for out-of-level testing?
  • What systems and structures can be used to document advanced academic progress and intellectual growth?
  • Do gifted-cluster teachers have the tools they need to differentiate instruction, accelerate curriculum, and provide enrichment opportunities?
  • Do teachers have the training necessary to understand the affective and academic needs of their diverse gifted students?
  • Is there a professional development plan in the school or district that supports cluster teachers and informs staff?

Sustaining and Evaluating Progress in a Cluster Grouping ModelTo monitor progress on your gifted-cluster model, I encourage you to learn to use school data to effectively plan advanced curriculum and instruction, identify criteria for documenting student performance, provide requisite teacher training, establish appropriate identification procedures, and make effective student placements. Academic achievement studies for gifted and general education students—in cluster and regular classes—are noted in chapter 8 of The Cluster Grouping Handbook.

BONUS! Download the Student’s Self-Evaluation of Academic Progress, a free printable page from The Cluster Grouping Handbook.

Examine Student Progress Regarding Classroom Work

As mentioned earlier, examining student progress in classroom work is one category for assessing and evaluating the SCGM. There are two components to this category: first, monitoring that teachers are receiving adequate and appropriate training to differentiate effectively, and second, assessing individual students’ academic progress.

Assessing progress at the classroom level requires using assessment data to:

  • Discern strengths and learning levels of all students
  • Group students for instruction
  • Determine curriculum levels and instruction methods for advanced learners
  • Scaffold student learning
  • Assess the effectiveness of a particular teaching method
  • Provide an accurate means of sharing student progress with parents

Use Assessments to Document Student Achievement

The types of assessments cluster teachers use are ideally determined at the beginning of the school year, so progress and growth can be documented throughout the year. Assessments can be defined as data that documents student progress in learning.

The three general kinds of assessment are preassessment (diagnostic), formative assessment (ongoing), and summative assessment. Preassessment allows teachers to identify instructional entry points for students, and it reflects the summative assessment planned for a given lesson. Preassessment informs the teacher which students have already mastered upcoming standards and determines into which flexible group to place students for a lesson, unit, or concept.

School Districts That Use Pre- and Post-Summative Assessments

If your school or district has pre- and post-summative assessments that are aligned to your state standards, consider a process such as the one described here:

  1. Administer the pre-summative assessment to the entire class at the beginning of the year.
  2. Create a list of students who have exceeded the grade-level standards. These students will need to commence their instruction using the next grade level’s standards.
  3. Administer the pre-summative assessment for the next grade level to the students in the class who exceeded the regular grade-level standards to determine where to begin instruction.
  4. Administer a different version of that same advanced test at the end of the year to observe growth. The data from these tests stays local and is never combined with regular grade-level test results for community information.

Monitor Teacher Training and Development

The number of teachers receiving a gifted endorsement or a specified number of hours of professional learning in gifted education increases yearly in the SCGM. Keep track of the number of school and district in-service hours and of the topics of gifted-education workshops taken by all staff members and maintain an accurate database to ensure that teachers designated to teach gifted clusters have appropriate training.

A record of the professional learning offerings provided to teachers helps ensure that areas of need are addressed through targeted training and that professional growth occurs for teachers at all grade levels (or in all the district’s schools if you’re incorporating the model districtwide).

Rely on the Data for Program Evaluation in the SCGM

Gifted programs that are responsive to students’ needs rely on information and feedback from teachers, parents, students, and administrators. One way to approach this is to create a rotating schedule for surveying these groups and to administer a program evaluation of your cluster model.

Careful monitoring of the progress in the SCGM in its first few years of implementation can facilitate ongoing success and lay the groundwork for an effective and sustainable model in your school or district. When progress is adequately and consistently monitored and evaluated, it can positively impact the achievement of all students in the school. Collecting data will help you:

  • Verify that gifted students are appropriately placed into gifted-cluster classrooms
  • Ensure that all classes have a balanced range of student achievement levels
  • Analyze the achievement of all students in the school or district
  • Document the effectiveness of professional learning opportunities offered to teachers

In closing, goals for gauging efficacy in the model include documenting evidence that:

  1. All gifted students in your school or district have been placed into gifted-cluster classrooms
  2. Gifted students are making continual academic growth
  3. The components and practices of the SCGM (grouping of students, training of teachers, classroom differentiation strategies) are producing the expected and desired results

Dina BrullesDina Brulles, Ph.D., is a school administrator and the gifted-education director for Arizona’s Paradise Valley Unified School District. Recognized for her expertise in creating and supervising schoolwide cluster grouping, she also assists districts throughout the United States in developing gifted-education programs, including those districts serving culturally and linguistically diverse gifted students. She holds a Ph.D. in gifted education and an M.S. in curriculum and instruction and serves on the faculty of the Graduate College of Education at Arizona State University. Prior to becoming an administrator, Dina was an elementary classroom teacher, a bilingual teacher, an ESL teacher, and a gifted-cluster teacher. She lives in Peoria, Arizona.

Cluster Grouping HandbookDina is coauthor The Cluster Grouping Handbook: A Schoolwide Model: How to Challenge Gifted Students and Improve Achievement for All Revised and Updated.

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