Professional Learning Communities
How Have Schools Used the PLC Approach in the Context of Improving Student Achievement?
The literature is replete with numerous case descriptions of PLCs. In fact, the website All Things PLC (http://www.allthingsplc.com) invites schools to share their PLC stories and results in terms of teacher benefits and student achievement gains. While these descriptions are not offered as research-based evidence for the efficacy of PLCs, they show the promise of PLCs to improve practice and contribute to an emerging knowledge base that documents their growing use and acceptance at the school level. Consider these examples:
- South Elementary, Missouri (as reported in Rentfro, 2007). PLCs were established to increase accountability and improve the literacy needs of students. Teachers met during collaborative sessions to plan and pace their literacy instruction and to problem solve for at-risk learners. They used frequent, common assessments to monitor student learning and to identify students who required additional interventions. Communication arts scores rose 24.1 percent from 2001 to 2005. The number of first graders scoring on grade level rose 12.2 percent between 2001 and 2006.
- Boones Mill Elementary, Virginia (as reported in Burnette, 2002). PLCs were established to sustain the high achievement that the school was experiencing. For more than a decade, school staff had implemented effective schools research that served as the foundation for the PLC. Teams committed to a specific measurable student achievement goal, identified the action steps teachers would take to achieve the goal, and outlined evidence they would monitor to assess their progress. Changes in state standards tests rose from Student performance on state standards tests rose in the following areas: English 85 percent to 91 percent; math 87 percent to 97 percent; science 91 percent to 93 percent; and history 79 percent to 96 percent.
- Lewis and Clark Middle School, Missouri (as reported in McREL, 2003). After analyzing data on classroom instructional practices, teachers discovered that the level of active teaching and learning in classrooms was lower than they expected. They implemented a PLC approach that included professional development strands. Each strand incorporated instructional content or methodology designed to increase student engagement and, ultimately, student achievement. Study groups for each strand meet with a teacher-facilitator throughout the year to gain expertise and learn best practices. Changes from 2000 through 2002 showed improvement in the following areas: student disengagement in core areas decreased from 8 percent to 0 percent; student disengagement in exploratory areas decreased from 29 percent to 7 percent; teacher-led instruction in core classes rose from 35 percent to 48 percent; and teacher-led instruction in exploratory areas rose 21 percent to 25 percent.
- Woodsedge Middle School (pseudonym), Texas (as reported in Phillips, 2003). As part of a PLC, teachers created curricula to help low-achieving and underachieving students. Achievement scores on the state standardized test increased during a three-year period. Student scores went from Acceptable-with 50 percent of the students passing subject area tests in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies-to Exemplary two years later, with more than 90 percent of the students passing each subject area test.
- Phoenix Union High School District, Arizona (as reported in Beyond the Book, n.d.). About half of the students enrolled in algebra were earning Ds or Fs, and only 17 percent of students met the Arizona state algebra standards. PLCs were established in 2003 to address student needs. Results in 2005 showed an increase in math standards scores-an increase from 17 percent to 53 percent in students passing, and an increase in the number of students taking algebra (3,800 students compared to 1,800 students).
- San Clemente High School, California (as reported in Buffum & Hinman, 2006; Hinman, 2007). Faculty formed PLCs to answer three core questions posed by DuFour (2004): "What is it we want students to learn? How will we know if they have learned it? What do we do if students have not learned it?" Teachers analyzed data and developed a pyramid of interventions to address student needs. In five years, the failure rate for sophomore, juniors, and seniors declined from 33 percent to 18 percent. The failure rate for freshman declined from 41 percent to 20 percent. Further, the pass rate on the high school exit exam rose from 63 percent to 93 percent.