Policy Analysis and Program Evaluation

Final Evaluation Report: Supporting Improved Literacy Achievement (SILA) Project

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The Supporting Improved Literacy Achievement (SILA) project has attempted to make a difference to literacy achievement in some of the most ‘educationally disadvantaged’ schools in South Australia, and hence to take on seriously what has been an intractable policy and practice problem for many decades. In brief, the SILA project has adopted a coaching model as the means of providing schools with support for developing responses to diagnostic reviews. This strategy is a significant departure from common practice in DECS where schools are expected to undertake regular self-review processes using the DIAf tools with support for post-review development usually left to negotiations with the District Office. The SILA Project is thus a pilot for a more active intervention to support schools in the post-review process. We therefore think it is useful to attempt to map what the SILA project, as a pilot, contributes to the debate about what is possible in primary schools serving high poverty contexts that have been historically resistant to policy interventions. SILA needs to be understood as providing (inter)nationally significant insight into innovation that makes a difference in schools serving high poverty contexts. In addition, we have attempted to draw out particular features of the SILA approach that could be adopted by the system, regions and schools in the future. This report attempts to: understand the effects of the SILA Project on: (1) understandings of SILA school principals; (2) teachers’ understandings; (3) teachers’ practice; (4) development of a viable coaching model and strategies; and (5) student literacy achievement. It is not possible to make claims that the SILA Project has made significant and homogenous changes across all of the SILA schools where the evaluation took place. Instead SILA has made very profound changes in some schools; been the cause of very significant turnarounds in school culture, leadership practices, pedagogy and student learning in others but then not all of these changes are apparent in equal measure; and made some changes in other schools. Put simply, there has been a mixed uptake of the SILA approach across the 32 schools but mostly the uptake has been very positive across the 5 areas of interest stated above. This Evaluation Report is structured according to seven key features of the SILA Project: A. a diagnostic review to ensure that strategies are tailored to specific needs, B. the development of clear, sustained whole school approaches to lift literacy levels, C. use of a coaching model D. leadership coaching support to achieve recommendations and build an effective culture, E. specialist literacy and early years coaches working with teachers and in networks, F. high quality and targeted in-school professional learning for teachers, G. ongoing evaluation, with a significant focus on using student outcomes data, and H. strengthened preschool-school-community partnerships. Asserting causality is difficult in this evaluation, as all SILA schools were involved in a range of initiatives and hence any positive changes are caused by a range of factors. Nevertheless, we believe the SILA Project should definitely be understood as a substantial contributor to positive change in the SILA schools.

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