Monarch Writers’ Case Study: From Caterpillar Writing to Monarch Writers
California State University San Marcos
Monarch Writers Case Study: Caterpillars to Monarch Writers
Monarch School is a community school designed to educate and support students and families impacted by homelessness. Through a public-private partnership, the San Diego County Office of Education and the nonprofit Monarch School Project offer an array of supports and services ranging from a world-class education to free healthcare (“About Monarch,” n.d.). Supporting nearly 300 students in grades kindergarten through twelve, Monarch seeks to provide opportunities to assist students and their families in all facets of living, including, but not limited to, creative arts, student leadership, community and global citizenship, healthy living, mental health, physical health, and family health (“Program-Opportunities,” n.d.). As a resource specialist I am responsible for supporting students in grades 7 through 12. Within this grade range there are two distinct teacher teams—middle school and high school. Each team of teachers has been given a different task which serves as its focus to improve student achievement. The middle school team is focusing on improving student reading (fluency and comprehension), while the high school team has been charged with improving student skills in the areas of writing, listening and speaking. For the purpose of this case study, I will be examining high school (grades 9 through 12) student writing achievement.
In this section of the paper, the data related to student demographics and academic achievement in the areas of writing will be discussed. Please note data being discussed here are for educational purposes only and not intended to reveal the true identity of students currently attending Monarch School.
School is predominately Hispanic—making up approximately 76% of the total student population. The second highest demographic group is African-American and they make up about 14% of the student population. The remaining demographic groups are White, American-Indian and Guamanian constituting the remaining 10% of the student population.
Figure 1. Monarch High School student demographic, as of October 2014. Compiled using student information system. (PROMIS, n.d.)
When considering special populations within Monarch, specifically the Hispanic subgroup, approximately 51% are considered English Learners according to their home language survey. All of the English learners being supported at Monarch have indicated that Spanish is the other language spoken in the home. Moreover, of the English Learners, 20% have a documented invisible disability or specific learning disability, of which all are in the area of auditory processing. As a side note, auditory processing is not a disability likened to deafness or hard of hearing, but rather it deals with the processes in the brain responsible for interpreting and making meaning of what is taken in through the ears (Visual and Auditory Processing Disorders, 1999). Furthermore, the English Learners with exceptionality subgroup represents approximately 47% of all students in grades 9 through 12 with documented disabilities.
Monarch School High School Student Demographic Profile, 2014-2015
Number of Student
Percentage of Enrollment
All Students-Grades 9 thru 12
Students with Disabilities
Table 2 lists the current percentages of students attending Monarch by grade level. The largest number of students are the 10th graders and they number 27 students or 30% or the total student population. This group of students will make up the census data for the California High School Exit Exam which is reported to the State of California. Grades 9, 11, and 12 average around 23 students per grade level. There are no paraprofessionals assigned exclusively to any one high school teacher, consequently the student to teacher ratio is around 23 to 1 respectively.
Monarch School High School Student Percentage by Grade Level, 2014-2015
Enrollment on October 3, 2014
Percentage of Enrollment
Student Achievement Data
Student achievement data in the area of writing was gathered from the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test, and the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) essay. In Table 3 MAP scores by ethnicity are presented in the area of language usage exclusively to show the most recent writing achievement data for each ethnic group. The Language Usage subtest performance data is being analyzed because it measures precursory skills of writing, and offers the best data for writing performance of the three MAP subtests. When analyzing this data I had to be mindful of the high transiency rate of Monarch students, which in 2012-2013 had a 57% turnover rate. To put this into perspective for every 2 students who enroll at Monarch 1 of them will not finish the school year. This makes looking at longitudinal data associated with student achievement very difficult to analyze. Another consideration is not every student who attends Monarch will complete a MAP assessment. In the Fall 2014-2015 only 68% of the 91 students took MAP.
Transiency and missing MAP data due to absenteeism or no participation may skew performance data, but a few observations can be made about the data collected. In one year there were three administrations of the MAP test. On average 82% of students tested during these test administrations perform below average (<40 percentile) when compared to those who make up MAP’s normative group. Conversely, over these same testing sessions students on average performed at (between 41 and 60 percentile) or above average (≥61 percentile) approximately 16% of the time combined. When comparing the number of student at or above average in Fall 2013 to Spring 2014 there was a 41% reduction. The subsequent test in Fall 2014 showed an increase of 52%, but did not exceed Fall 2013’s 19% average and above performance (Table 3).
Disaggregating MAP Language Usage scores by student subgroups shows White students (about 6% of students at Monarch) are the only subgroup to have had a consistent reduction in the percent of students performing below average. Fall 2013 88% of Whites were performing Below Average. In each subsequent MAP testing session, White students in Spring 2014 and Fall 2014 scored 67% and 60% below average respectively. The changes in this subgroup’s performance shows an initial reduction in approximately 24% and a secondary reduction of 10%, for an overall reduction of 32%. In contrast, the number of African-American students performing in Fall 2013 to Spring 2014 shows a significant reduction in the number of students performing below average from 85% to 73% (approximately 14% reduction). However, this performance was eclipsed by an increase in the number of African-Americans performing below average from 73% to 91% on the Fall 2014 assessments, which is nearly a 25% increase. When looking at the Hispanic subgroup’s performance over the last three administrations, this subgroup has an average of approximately 84% performing below average. The Spring 2014 administration showed an unbelievable 89% of all Hispanic students performing Below Average.
Monarch School High School Student MAP scores by Ethnicity, 2013-2015
The second set of writing data comes from the CAHSEE essay subtest offered during the 2013-2014 academic school year. A query using the San Diego County Office of Education’s newest student information indicates that of the 35 eleventh and twelfth grade students 77% scored a 2 out of 4 points on the essay portion of the examination (Figure 2). According to the “Writing Applications,” chapter taken from the 2008 California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE), English-language Arts Study Guide, a rubric score of 2 means the response:
demonstrates a limited grasp of the text.
provides few, if any, textual details and examples to support the thesis and main ideas.
demonstrates limited, or no understanding of the ambiguities, nuances, and complexities of the text.
provides few, if any, types of sentences and uses basic, predictable language.
may contain several errors in the conventions* of the English language. (Errors may interfere with the reader’s understanding of the essay.)
may demonstrate an awareness of the author’s use of literary and/or stylistic devices.
provides a thesis or main idea that is related to the writing task.
supports the thesis or main idea(s) with limited details and/or examples.
demonstrates an inconsistent tone and focus; and illustrates little, if any, control of organization.
demonstrates little or no sense of audience.
provides few, if any, types of sentence types, and basic, predictable language.
may contain several errors in the conventions* of the English language. (Errors may interfere with the
reader’s understanding of the essay.)
defends a position with little evidence and may address the reader’s concerns, biases, and expectations
The remaining scores include: three at 2.5; one at 3; one at 1.5; and three at 1. No student scored a 4 on the essay (Figure 2). One factor to keep in mind is that students in the 12th grade may have taken the exam multiple times. This longitudinal data is not available, but it may be worth exploring to see if students have shown growth from their initial 10th grade census administration to their 12th grade test.
Figure 2. Monarch High School student CAHSEE essay scores. Compiled using student information system. (PROMIS, n.d.)
As discussed in the previous section, there are times when students’ writing performance does not meet expectations. With an average of greater than 80% of the students taking MAP exams earning below average scores, or earning 2 out of 4 on CAHSEE rubrics, trying to highlight achievement gaps based on ethnicity or gender seems to be the lesser when considering how the students’ performance compare to normative groups or explicit criterion-based tasks. It is important for educational leaders and teachers to research best practices to improve student performance to meet and exceed expectations.
Conducting research and putting it into action will require schools to be intentional, strategic and reflective in their approach to creating an environment where students can thrive. Graham and Harris (2013) suggest six activities schools should consider when looking to create environments where students can thrive and develop as writers. These activities include:
Creating a positive environment by rewarding hard work, attention to acquisition of skills and strategies, and celebration of all successes by specifically calling out the students’ effort and tactics used.
Setting high expectations and encourage students to give more to accomplish more.
Encouraging writing through a process (e.g. planning, drafting, revising, editing and sharing their work).
Engaging students and thoughtful activities versus mundane activities such as completing worksheets.
Encouraging students to do what they can and help them with those things that they are not able to do independently.
Individualizing writing instruction and assignments to meet the needs of each learner.
Creating nurturing and thriving environments may get students to write more and have positive experiences as they develop as writers, but with high-stakes testing it is important for schools to explore adopting a framework for developing and improving writing assessments, specifically for a small public high school like Monarch. An assessment framework should include: making writing expectations clear and explicit; providing adequate opportunities to demonstrate knowledge and application; emphasizing a balance between product and process; ongoing feedback to both student and teachers; and developing a school culture of ongoing assessment to inform instruction (Allen, Ort, & Schmidt, 2009; Graham & Harris, 2013).
Sundeen (2014) suggests that one way schools can develop a culture of ongoing assessment is to develop rubrics. The development of clear and concise rubrics, coupled with explicit teaching of the expectations outlined on the rubric prior to requiring student to write shows promise in improving the validity of the assessment probe, facilitating the writing process, assessing student writing, and improving overall student writing performance (Sundeen, 2014).
Understanding and gauging students’ feelings about writing helps schools create comfortable environments where students develop into better writers. Having clear and concise expectations about what is expected of students and celebrating effort and acquisition of various tactics, styles and strategies for writing are components of positive writing environment. Of all of the practices outlined, the one that I would like to explore further is the use of rubrics. The approach of having teachers begin with the end in mind and explicitly teach each element I believe is something worth exploring. I am interested in knowing how rubrics may impact student writing? I am also wondering what implications the use of rubrics will have on teachers and their ability to impact student learning through intentional and strategic planning, teaching, reflecting and applying.
Graham, S., & Harris, K. (2013). Common core state standards, writing, and students with ld: Recommendations. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 28(1), 28-37.
Monarch school. (n.d.). About monarch. Retrieved October 3, 2014, from http://www.monarchschools.org/about
Monarch school. (n.d.). Program-opportunity. Retrieved October 3, 2014, from http://www.monarchschools.org/programs@programs-opportunity
Pupil Records Online Management Information System (PROMIS). (n.d.). Retrieved October 3, 2014, from mypromis.org
Sundeen, T. (2014). Instructional rubrics: Effects of presentation options on writing quality. Assessing Writing,21, 74-88. Retrieved September 23, 2014, from http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.asw.2014.03.003
Visual and Auditory Processing Disorders. (1999, January 1). Retrieved October 2, 2014, from http://www.ldonline.org/article/6390/
Wiseman, J. (2013, February 1). School Accountability Report Card (SARC). Retrieved October 3, 2014.
Writing Applications. (2008). In California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE), English-language Arts Study Guide,. California Department of Education.40>