Making the Case for Quality
Student Achievement Soars With
Use of Quality Strategies
by Jeanne Chircop
Students at Kingsley Elementary School in Kingsport, Tennessee, traditionally did poorly on the
Tennessee State Achievement Tests, ranking among the lowest performers in the state in writing.
Now, after four years of learning how to use quality tools to take control of their performance, students
have improved their writing scores by 68 percent (see figure 1). Gains in math and other curricular areas
have occurred as well.
Figure 1 Improvement in Kingsley Elementary Writing Scores
2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
At a Glance...
• Kingsley Elementary School
in Kingsport, Tennessee, What’s been the key to improvement? Effective organizational tools developed and shared through
used the Four Square dedicated teacher collaboration have helped the kids really understand how to write. By using a
writing approach and combination of quality tools and strategies, the students have learned better problem-solving skills
ASQ’s Koalaty Kid and self-directed learning techniques. Teachers at the school have honed methods for providing
program for continual feedback to their students and rewarding them for good academic performance.
improvement in student
achievement. A Low-SES School
• From 2001 to 2005,
student scores on
What makes the school’s writing improvement especially significant is that a majority of Kingsley
achievement tests in writing
students are from families with lower socioeconomic status (SES), a factor well documented to affect
improved by 68 percent.
school performance. Approximately two-thirds (63 percent) of the school’s students qualify for free
• Focus on process,
or reduced-price lunch.
consistent practice, and
Located in Sullivan County in upper eastern Tennessee, near the state’s borders with Virginia and
improvement help account
North Carolina, the Title I school is about 100 miles from the Smokey Mountains. The school
for Kingsley’s success.
historically spanned kindergarten through fifth grade but also included sixth-grade classes for a
short time. The fifth- and sixth-grade classes were moved to the local middle school starting in the
2005-06 school year. Kingsley’s current K-4 enrollment numbers around 225 and includes a
large population of special education students.
The American Society for Quality ■ www.asq.org Page 1 of 4
Building a Strategy Process
During the first year, the process used with fourth and fifth
Kingsley students traditionally scored low in several sections of
graders was the Four Square method. First and third graders
the state’s standardized tests, but particularly low in writing,
were trained to use a similar graphical writing organizer known
with a mere 20 percent of students achieving passing scores in
as the Lotus Diagram, which was identified as a best practice
2001. Concerned educators, ranging from individual teachers to
used at schools with student writing deficiencies similar to those
the district’s superintendent, knew something had to be done to
bring scores up, especially in the area of writing. They began to
search for methods they could use to increase student
Although proven effective at nationally benchmarked schools,
achievement. Ultimately, they found several tools and strategies
the Lotus Diagram, with its eight squares, is somewhat more
they could combine to create a collaborative process for
complex than the Four Square tool. Once teachers saw the test
scores for the fourth graders who had used the Four Square
method, they voted unanimously to use it as the preferred
A fourth-grade teacher who was involved at that time with
schoolwide process and incorporated it into the Koalaty Kid
administering the writing tests found one of the first tools that
would set the school on the road to improvement. While
attending a reading conference, she discovered Four Square
Writing Method by Judith S. Gould and Evan Jay Gould. She
shared the book with her colleagues, and by implementing the
A key component of the new approach was having the students
systematic approach presented in the book, these fourth- and
engage in regular practice writing assignments, or “prompts.”
fifth-grade teachers helped their students begin to develop a
The fourth- and fifth-grade teachers drew ideas for the prompts
better, more organized way to write.
from the Tennessee State Education Web site. After witnessing
dramatic improvement in the students’ writing as a result of
Other efforts throughout the school were simultaneously laying
these efforts, the Koalaty Kid team teachers worked to develop
a foundation for higher student achievement across all grade
and assign writing prompts for all grade levels. The writing goal
levels. Peggy Ervin, a former third-grade teacher who now
was included in the SIP for total school involvement.
teaches first grade, was selected to represent the school at a
Koalaty Kid training conference in Raleigh, North Carolina,
The schoolwide approach to writing improvement involved
where she learned numerous techniques for educational
providing every child, kindergarten through sixth grade, with a
improvement compiled by the American Society for Quality
folder to hold his or her writing assignments. The kindergarten
(ASQ). The ASQ Northeast Tennessee Section paid for the
students participated by drawing pictures as their means of
Koalaty Kid training, and Ervin teamed up with a local ASQ
“writing.” A community business partner helped offset some of
member to start the process of implementing quality strategies at
the cost of the children’s folders and other expenses.
Kingsley. Ervin and three other teachers received intensive
Koalaty Kid training over the summer of 2001, and they, in turn,
The children completed weekly writing assignments during the
taught other teachers the strategies they had learned.
first year and biweekly assignments in subsequent years. Two of
the best samples from each class were submitted to the school’s
Hank Somers, a community volunteer retired from ASQ
principal, Dr. Sandra Ramsey, to review. Other writing samples
member Eastman Chemical Company, served as the school’s
were scored and placed in the children’s folders, along with
Koalaty Kid facilitator. Somers met with the school’s Koalaty
charts on which students could graph their grades and track their
Kid team once each month to help monitor progress, identify
own writing development.
problem areas, and brainstorm for solutions.
Making the Combination Work
Students from the group of best samples were invited to read
their writings over the school’s intercom system as a way of
Dedicated collaboration proved to be basic to the student
recognizing them for a job well done. The top writing samples
improvement at Kingsley. The Koalaty Kid Steering Team was
were also recognized through publication in Koalaty Kid
selected based on leadership, experience, and skills. Along with
Express, the school’s special magazine published in December
representatives from every grade level, the team also included
and May of each year.
the school’s principal, assistant principal, School Improvement
Plan (SIP) representative, and the outside ASQ facilitator.
Celebrations held during the year to recognize quality writing
examples offered teachers an opportunity to give students
The overall approach to Kingsley’s improvement involved:
feedback on the work they had done and on how they were
improving their writing skills, which was impressive. Students
were selected for recognition based on writing excellence or
The American Society for Quality ■ www.asq.org Page 2 of 4
During the celebrations, the ASQ Koalaty Kid mascot, the ASQ Though not as dramatic as the improvement in writing scores,
facilitator, and a business partner representative congratulated the the students’ standardized math scores increased after
students and presented them with recognition certificates. The implementation of the quality strategies. In fact, scores in all
business partner, representing the Business Excellence Institute, subjects tested have increased by at least 2 to 5 points.
which is the training arm for Pal’s Sudden Service, a local fast
Conclusion to Successful Writing Effort
food chain (and winner of a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality
Award), supplied food coupons as gifts.
Kingsley Elementary School continues to undergo significant
changes due to school closings and consolidations in the district.
Over the past three years, Kingsley Elementary has been a K-5,
K-6, and K-4 school, respectively. The state writing metric is no
Figure 2 details Kingsley’s writing results from 2001 to 2005.
longer available to define progress, as writing is evaluated annu-
Within the first year of implementing the highly effective
ally in the fifth grade. Therefore the Kingsley Elementary
combination of the Four Square writing approach, use of the
Koalaty Kid writing effort has come to a successful conclusion.
state’s writing prompts, and the Koalaty Kid process of
Continually improved results over four years verify that the
organized, self-directed learning through folders and grade
Kingsley Koalaty Kid approach to writing excellence is a proven
charting, Kingsley student writing scores shot up 49 percent on
solution for an elementary school targeted in writing to meet
the state-mandated writing test administered each spring. The
acceptable standards rapidly.
following year, the Tennessee State Department of Education
moved the writing assessment from fourth to fifth grade, and
Sharing Best Practices
so these same students were tested again, with an additional
9 percent increase.
Kingsley’s Koalaty Kid team representatives, Ervin and Somers,
have made presentations to other educators, sharing news of their
As the third-grade students who had been trained first in the
school’s success and tips for those interested in implementing
Lotus Diagram and then in the Four Square approach reached
quality strategies in their schools. They have made presentations
fifth grade and were tested, their scores rose an additional 5
in Ottawa, Canada, at the annual Koalaty Kid conference; at the
percent; in 2005, student test scores were even 5 percent higher.
Partners in Education Conference in Nashville for the Tennessee
The continual improvement gain of 68 percent over four years
Department of Education; at the Southern Association of Schools
was so significant that school officials began to consider other
Conference in Atlanta; and most recently at the National Quality
areas where the systematic quality improvement strategies could
Education Conference in Miami.
enhance student achievement.
To date, 19 schools in Sullivan, Hawkins, and Washington
(Tennessee) Counties are trained in Koalaty Kid techniques.
Kingsley Writing Results by Year and Grade Level
Quality Keys, the high school component of the ASQ school
quality program, is already in use at some high schools in the
YEAR GRADE % COMPETENT IMPROVEMENT surrounding community.
2001 4 20.3 BASELINE
2002 4 69.4 + 49%
2003 5 78.0 + 58%
2004 5 83.0 + 63%
2005 5 88.0 + 68%
Math was the next area targeted for improvement, although the
benchmark math scores had not been as low as the writing
scores. While that meant the improvement goal in the math area
was not as high as it had been for writing, school administrators
still hoped for higher scores that would indicate the students had
gained a better understanding of the math concepts being taught
Building on the idea of the highly effective writing folders,
teachers instructed the children in how to use a problem-solving
workbook to track development of their math skills. Taking
responsibility for their own self-improvement through regular
math practice prompts and flowcharting, the children
experienced particular success in the areas of critical thinking
and solving word problems.
The American Society for Quality ■ www.asq.org Page 3 of 4
For More Information Article Contributors
Peggy Ervin is a first-grade teacher who served as the Koalaty Kid
• Learn more about the Four Square approach by obtaining the
program leader. She holds a bachelor’s degree in education, a mas-
Four Square Writing Method books, by Judith S. Gould and
ter’s degree in media, and has 35 years of teaching experience,
Evan Jay Gould, published by the Teaching & Learning
encompassing elementary, special, and high school education.
• Learn about the Lotus Diagram by visiting a number of Web Hank Somers is retired from ASQ member company Eastman
sites, including but not limited to Chemical Co. He served on the ASQ national Koalaty Kid board
www.questlearningskills.org/weblessons/definelotus.htm. To of directors for three years and was the volunteer Koalaty Kid
download worksheets for the Lotus Diagram or other quality facilitator at Kingsley from 2001 to 2006.
tools, visit www.asq.org/education and click on “Quality
About the Author
Tools for Teachers.”
• Learn more about ASQ’s Koalaty Kid program by visiting Jeanne Chircop has been helping organizations share their
http://www.asq.org/edu/kkid. successes for more than 20 years. She has written about quality
efforts in the education, manufacturing, and natural resources
industries. She holds a master’s degree in journalism and resides
in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. ■
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