Thursday / April 25

What Difference Does Your PLC Make in Learning for All Students?

We know that when teachers come together and effectively collaborate and learn from each other about the best ways to move their students’ learning forward, achievement gains are likely to follow. We also know that this is easier said than done. There are many roadblocks that can hamper a PLC teams ability to collectively impact their own learning as well as the learning of their students.   

RoadblockExisting as a track team 

One of these roadblocks facing PLCs in any school is teams that act as a group of individuals not interdependent on one another. An accurate metaphor for many teams is they exist like a track and field team. Individuals focus on their specific area and while they unite at the very end to combine their points, they really have little to no impact on the success of each other. Let’s face it, no matter how hard the shot putter cheers and claps, he or she cannot help the long-distance runner. Unfortunately, this is how many PLC teams live. Teams gather together to meetbring their data for their individual students, tally the total number of students that are proficient or belowand set goals based on this group total. Far too often these goals are established against an arbitrary predetermined percentage of expected proficiency and do not take into account the growth and progress students have made or haven’t made. Thus, teams are less likely to be able to monitor their true collective impact on the learning of all of their students. This is far from what we believe is the true purpose professional learning communities.    

Solution Monitor Individual and Collective Impact 

The fifth guiding question in the PLC+ frameworkWho benefited, who did not? provides teams with an opportunity to focus on their individual and collective impact on the learning and progress of all of their students. A way to do this is by conducting an equity audit. 

Equity Audits 

When PLC teams assess the collective impact they are having with all of their students, they can much better determine if any students are being underserved. Also, in doing so, they can identify any bright spots and gems of success to replicateExamining the collective impact on student learning begins with doing so from an individual lensTeachers first separately determine the growth and achievement their students have made from a pre to postassessment. The following example highlights a subset of students from an individual teacher to provide them an opportunity to see the growth and achievement their students made from the pre to postassessment for a current unit of study. Thirty was the highest score on both assessments, with 26 being the level of mastery the team determined.   

Table 1 

Student  Pre-assessment score  Post-Assessment Score  Mastery  Growth  Equity Consideration: Socio Economic Status 


Jill  19/30  22/30  NO  NO  FRL 
Latrice  12/30  23/30  NO  YES   
Juan  17/30  25/30  NO  YES  FRL 
Steve  27/30  26/30  YES  NO   
Jacoby  16/30  29/30  YES  YES  FRL 
Maria  7/30  12/30  No  No   

*FRL= Free / Reduced Lunch Status 

Its critically important for individual teachers and PLC teams to monitor both achievement and the growth their students are making. A simple method is using the progress and achievement matrix (See figure 1). In this second step of equity audits, teachers plot out where their students fared based on both their level of mastery/achievement as well as their progress over the course of the unit or period of instruction. Teachers can then have a visual of the overall impact they are having on all of their students.    

The final step in the equity audit process is for PLC teams to combine their collective evidence to have a better picture of the collective impact they are having as a team. Teams can now Dig deeper to uncover any patterns of inequality by using questions to reexamine their data to shed light on any possible patterns (Fisher, Frey, Almarode, Flories, Nagel; 2019, pg. 139). The following questions can drive understanding for the team where gaps may exist with certain groups of students as well as what some of the reasons may be: 

  • Do the learners within each quadrant have similar attendance habits? Are there any challenges with truancy or tardiness?  
  • Have we elicited student voice to determine how our learners explicit or implicit interests in reading are corresponding to the quadrants they are in 
  • Can we see any disparities in the distribution of males and females across the quadrants? 
  • Are children in poverty showing differential levels of achievement and or growth?
    What is the distribution of races across the quadrants? 
  • How does the ethnic makeup of the grade level show up in each quadrant? 
  • Do students with an identified disability progress and achieve in this classroom and grade level? 
  • Are children learning English as a subsequent language showing differential levels of achievement and/or growth? 

PLC teams can use these questions to drive their dialogue and determine if any learning gaps exist within any specific groups of students. Conducting equity audit periodically throughout the school year allows teams to do so. Identifying which students are benefiting and which students are not from the collective instructional efforts is a moral imperative of PLC teams.   

To find out more about equity audits and how your PLCs can improve learning for all students, read The PLC+ Playbook: A Hands-on Guide to Collectively Improving Student Learning. 

Better Decisions and Greater Impact by Design

Written by

Dave Nagel is an international educational consultant and researcher. His educational career started as a middle school science and high school biology teacher. His administrative experiences involved being a middle school assistant principal, high school associate principal, and director of extended day and credit recovery programs. In his former district, Dave was instrumental in implementing power standards and performance assessments. He was honored numerous times as a “Senior Choice” winner, with graduating seniors selecting him as someone who dramatically affected their life in a positive way. Dave has been a national and international presenter and consultant to schools for over 10 years. Using his experience and expertise, he has presented and helped schools, from pre-K through Grade 12, implement effective practices leading to gains in student achievement. His main focus when working with schools has revolved around assessment, instruction, leadership, and effective collaboration. He has worked specifically with schools in implementing the following topics: prioritizing standards, common formative assessments, building authentic performance tasks, effective use of scoring guides, data teams, rigorous curriculum design, and effective grading practices. Dave is the author of Effective Grading Practices for Secondary Teachers.

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