By Gina Coco
Paul T. Hill in School Choice and Social Controversy: Politics, Policy, and Law, published by the Brookings Institute, notes that a strong school with an established identity—well-defined goals and instructional methods—must deliver on its promises for stability, continuity, and a continuing clientele. Teachers in such school’s benefit by being more actively engaged in reflecting on their own practices and being able to solve problems more effectively. Hill further describes the best schools as distinctive, coherent, and reliable—having a mission that is consistent and guarded. D’Evelyn is such a school. D’Evelyn’s founders had such a mission, and it continues to be maintained and protected by the D’Evelyn Steering Committee.
D’Evelyn’s staff is charged with implementing the D’Evelyn philosophy as defined in the D’Evelyn Document. Here is one staff member’s very accurate view of D’Evelyn—what it is, why it works, and how we know it works.
Compliments of Briant McKellips and the Science Department
The overarching consideration for classroom practice at D’Evelyn is the D’Evelyn “Document.” The mission of the founding committee was to provide all students with a rigorous liberal arts curriculum that would prepare each for college should he or she choose to go. This commitment to a broad-based study of the great ideas which have shaped civilization guides all classroom practices in all academic disciplines ranging from pre-algebra to P.E. to vocal music to physics to drama to philosophy to economics to 7th grade literature. We are a textbook based curriculum; therefore, classes are standardized from teacher to teacher within a given discipline by holding up the text as the knowledge that needs to be imparted in a given year. We teach for learning. Our first principal, Lloyd Carlton, used to say, “You haven’t taught it unless they know it.” We hold this up as our standard and do not believe that simply “covering” the material gets the job done.
The most important instructional practice at D’Evelyn, which is somewhat different than other schools, is teacher directed, whole-group instruction. At Back-to-School night, I had parents who wanted to know if their students were in my small physics classes or my large ones; at D’Evelyn the question is somewhat irrelevant. I teach a class of fifteen students in almost exactly the same manner as a class of thirty-two. Nearly all teachers at D’Evelyn employ a range of techniques from lecture to modeling to demonstrations to review to Socratic questioning to nightly homework.
No classroom at D’Evelyn is an island. The administration supports the school-wide classroom practices, especially as they relate to school discipline. Rigorously enforced discipline standards make one of the pillars upon which teachers can work. The Steering Committee makes sure the practices and learning in one classroom or discipline fits with the overall plan of the liberal arts education for the entire 7th — 12th experience. We see a 7th grader as someone who needs the entire D’Evelyn 7th — 12th grade experience to be properly intellectually equipped as a graduate to tackle college and/or life.
Our amazing test scores on widely recognized standardized tests such as ITED/ITBS, AP, SAT, SAT II, ACT, and CSAP speak for themselves. I’m always somewhat surprised our results are dismissed out-of-hand with comments like “Well, of course you do so well with those kids.” There are certainly schools whose populations have at least our level of socioeconomic advantage and parental support that are not doing as well. What impresses me most about the D’Evelyn education is the progress that students make from 7th to 12th grade on these tests—something that cannot be dismissed.
D’Evelyn has a far higher percentage of kids taking advanced science courses as electives than in other schools. And our AP test rate is much higher than the district and national averages. Again, the college readiness tests such as SAT, SAT II and ACT are what I feel are the ultimate assessments to consider.
Also, data items such as college acceptance rates and college graduation rates are crucially important and seem (though we are very young and our first graduates are just now college seniors) to be panning out nicely.
At D’Evelyn, parental support for both the discipline procedures and educational practices is crucial. We are a demanding school that places an emphasis on nightly homework as critical for student success. Students need to be encouraged at home to complete this work with priority over student employment and sports and other extra-curricular activities during the academic week.
Originally published in the October 2001 publication of the JagTracks. CSAP, a state test, is no longer in use in Colorado having been superseded by several subsequent state tests.
The Steering Committee is the governing board of the school and establishes policies designed to maintain and enhance its liberal arts philosophy. The Steering Committee appoints Directors to the Board of the D'Evelyn Education Foundation.