‘PQ Systems? Fancy meeting you here:’
Quality improvement in schools
Most of us have been invited to a wedding where we see a guest who is familiar to us from another context, but did not realize that we both shared a connection with the bridal couple until that moment. “Small world!” we exclaim in mutual recognition.
PQ Systems software products sometimes elicit the same kind of recognition. “I didn’t know that you’re the same ones who developed SQCpack...” or “Didn’t realize you’re behind GAGEpack.” The greatest amazement, however, often comes from those who find PQ products and services serving schools. And yet PQ Systems has an active role in training educators to use tools and processes related to improvement efforts in other industries.
If your child comes home from school talking about data folders or flow charts, for example, or other tools that you recognize from your work in engineering or healthcare, it may be that he or she is in a school that has hosted training by PQ Systems. As often noted in the world of quality, “A process is a process,” and whether the process involves queues in teller lines at a bank, delivery of medications in a hospital, or learning multiplication facts in a third grade classroom, it is susceptible to the same rules for improvement.
Responding to an insistence on meeting state standards in math and reading, schools have adopted practices that will assure improvement in learning in these areas, and then finding that the same practices apply to a multitude of school-related tasks. As part of the pioneering initiative in education sponsored by the American Society for Quality, PQ developed materials used in countless classrooms in this country and abroad. This system of process and tools training is based on the Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle developed by W. Edwards Deming and Walter Shewhart.
Schools throughout Ohio, for example, are benefiting not only from process and tools training, but also from learning about the value of short-cycle assessment and data folder use, as well as meeting state standards in math. The training is offered by Sally J. Duncan, PQ Systems consultant. Students gather data, plan action, and study results—all with tools such as check sheets, Pareto diagrams, affinity charts, and histograms. The following check sheet, for example, is one used by a teacher to evaluate her own habits relating to preparation and performance. The same kind of check sheet is used by her students, keeping track of everything from finishing homework to remembering lunch money.
A run chart (or what some educators refer to as a “line chart”) can help a group of students in a classroom track their spelling progress. The same tool can chart data for class averages on weekly spelling tests—but individual students use the same approach to their own scores.
A bar chart reflects class scores as well, this time for performance with writing paragraphs, using a rubric provided by the teacher.
College Corner Union Elementary School, a district where the state line runs directly through the building, separating the Indiana side from the Ohio side, has experienced high achievement in reading and math, and was selected as a Title I exemplary school by the state of Indiana. Using data collection and analysis, teachers have been able to track performance throughout the school.
The school was recently recognized by the Indiana Department of Education with a Title I Distinguished School Award. College Corner Union Elementary School placed in the top two “highly performing” schools. Principal Maureen McDonough attributes this success in large measure to the school’s use of short cycle assessment and data folders, which she says have been “a huge factor” in the rating.
With data folders and standards-based report cards used to monitor student progress, teachers and students in the K-5 school track data in reading and math. The benefits of this approach have accrued not only to performance indicators, but also to what third-grade teacher Michelle Russell says is students’ taking responsibility for their own learning.
If you stand back and look at these examples, you could be beguiled into thinking they are based on data from a plant floor or a hospital lab or a customer survey, rather than from third graders or their teachers in schools throughout the nation.
Small world, isn’t it?
2008 PQ Systems.
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