North Hill Elementary: Setting a Standard With Teaching Standards

North Hill Elementary in Des Moines, Wash., has approached teaching Washington state’s math and English language arts standards in a unique way, and the results are paying off in improved student learning.

“Our school approached the Common Core by selecting three standards, one for English language arts and two for math,” said Nancy Melius, principal of North Hill Elementary. “And then we really just dug in deeper to understand what did that standard say, what did that look like for kids.”

This approach certainly factored in North Hill’s impressive testing scores in spring 2015 on the first Smarter Balanced assessments in English language arts and math. North Hill students finished above the district averages in English language arts and math in grades 3-6, and above the state averages in grades 3-5.

North Hill Elementary, part of Highline Public Schools, has a highly diverse student population, including 20 percent Hispanic/Latino, 10 percent African American, 8 percent Asian and 48 percent White — 12 percent are listed as two or more races. About 11 percent of the students are transitional bilingual and 52 percent receive free or reduced-price meals. The teaching staff has an average of 15 years experience, with all deemed as highly qualified.

Every 10-12 weeks, teams of teachers at the K-6 elementary meet to look at student data and information to determine what worked and what didn’t in their teaching. Then, the teachers create a new instructional plan for the next 10-12 weeks.

“They’ll look and see who got the concepts, who still needs help, who’s ready to move on,” Melius said. ”

Kang-Ricard said she likes the new learning standards because they require more problem solving and deeper thinking.

“What kids are expected to know now with the new standards is so much different and the thinking is so much deeper,” she said. “I wish I was taught to think as an elementary student and not just to replicate a process or to repeat what my teacher had told me.”