The Real Stuff of School Reform

Nell Sears, Principal at Paul Cuffee School in Providence, Rhode Island, describes the school's success with the Developmental Designs approach.

I took some time this year to reflect on our accomplishments with our seventh and eighth graders over the six years since we started our urban public charter middle school:


  • The number of seventh graders who scored "proficient" in reading has increased from 39% to 69%.
  • In 2006-2007, the first year our school had eighth graders, 33% were proficient in reading; this year, 69% are proficient.


  • Seventh grade proficiency has more than doubled, from 25% to 59%.
  • The percentage of eighth graders who are proficient in math has almost tripled, rising from 22% to 64%.

Growth in the scores of our seventh and eighth graders has significantly outpaced statewide growth. And when we disaggregate the results, the news is even more exciting. Our seventh and eighth graders of color and economically disadvantaged students outperform those groups of students across the state in each subject.

As we all know, standardized test scores are a single, imperfect measure of the strength of a school, but I submit that deep, authentic, rigorous learning in our school has followed a similarly successful trajectory. Students are more excited to learn, more engaged in their subjects, and enthusiastic about being in school.

To what should we attribute our success? Did we lengthen our school day? Adopt a new math program? Cut out recess to increase instructional time? Although our school day is a bit longer than most, we are strong advocates of recess, and, in fact, students spend much more time each day in community- building activities than in most middle schools. The structure that undergirds our academic process has been our steady commitment to strengthening the social and academic community of our school through the use of the Developmental Designs approach.

See complete article as it appeared in Developmental Designs: A Middle Level Newsletter, Fall 2011.