Our March 28th Best Practices Forum is designed to highlight strategic innovations that close achievement gaps while raising overall student performance, and Dr. Immacula Didier, principal of Ramon E. Betances Early Reading Lab in Hartford, has some ideas to share! Since 2010, when Betances implemented its new program, the percent of the school’s third graders scoring at or above goal on the Connecticut Mastery Test has increased from 19.1% to 74.2%. We checked in with Dr. Didier to learn about some of the school’s strategies for supporting teacher and student development and improvement.

Q:  Betances has shown pretty impressive improvements in reading. What’s your secret?

A: We make sure that all of our instructional practices and decisions are based on data and that we change course as soon as we realize we’re not seeing the student performance results that were expected.  Really, a lot of the work comes down to heavily tracking the performance of our students and teachers.  We hold “cluster meetings”, which are like mini study groups for staff to focus on student work and data, and to keep on top of individual performances.

Q: What kind of data do you use to keep track of individual performance?

A: One of the ways we do this at the student level is through a weekly benchmark assessment. Every Friday, every student is given a short piece of text to read and questions to answer.  By the following Monday, our teachers have compiled their results, which are then used to guide instructional practices and develop individualized personal learning goals for the students.

Q: Wow! That’s a lot of hard work. Are you really also able to track the individual performances of your teachers?

A:  We make sure to do that weekly as well. Our philosophy is that our students and teachers should both be actively engaged in a program of continued improvement. That’s why we provide all of our teachers with in-house professional development (PD) that is individually tailored.  For one hour every day, all of our teachers are actively engaged in PD programming. They have an opportunity to meet with the principal or in-house dean of professional development to review performance data, and to refine their practices based on the observations of administrators.

Q:  And how often are the teachers observed?

A:  Technology plays a huge role in teacher informal observation/mentoring walkthrough at our school. Because Betances is a “reading lab” school, every classroom is equipped with a video camera, and we’re very thoughtful about how we use the video cameras because we want them to be supportive tools for our teachers’ professional development.

When our teachers try a new instructional strategy, our professional development dean first teaches the new strategy and then models it with the teacher’s students.  The dean then observes the teacher using the new strategy and provides feedback. Only after the teacher has had these three opportunities to learn and practice using the new strategy do we actually use the video camera for a scheduled informal observation.

We’re not trying to take anybody by surprise with the cameras! But we find that, when used in a supportive fashion, they’re a very powerful tool in allowing the principal and the dean of professional development to tap into every classroom and capture information and observations of areas for growth and strength.


Want to catch up with Dr. Didier and some other leaders in education reform? Register for our March 28th Forum for a chance to learn about best practices, and to share your own ideas with Connecticut education leaders and national experts!