RISE by 5 Reboot: Updated Framework of Network Focus Areas and Strategies

RISE by 5 Strategies

Looking Back

When we launched the RISE Network five years ago, we set out with the ambitious shared goal to ensure all students experience success in and beyond high school. Our mission is to ensure all RISE high school students graduate with a plan and the skills and confidence to achieve college and career success.  

We pursue our mission as a networked improvement community, which means we work together across schools and districts to pinpoint needs, pursue new innovations, and scale promising practices. When we first launched RISE, each partner school pursued different innovations, and we learned from these experiments about what worked under specific conditions. This led RISE partners to formally adopt five network-wide focus areas in 2017 — the RISE by 5 framework — to increase on-track achievement and postsecondary readiness. RISE by 5 was informed by national research, local data, student voice, and educator expertise. 

Over time, the RISE by 5 strategies have grown and evolved. For example, our initial set of strategies focused heavily on freshman success and Grade 9 interventions. Over time, our work together as a network has taken on a school-wide approach with increasing emphasis around college and career readiness, access, and success. We launched the network five years ago, and as we look ahead to the next five years, we are excited to take this opportunity to update the RISE by 5 framework to better reflect what we do, what we’re learning, and where we’re headed. In this way, the RISE by 5 objectives remain unchanged:

  • Define the work we prioritize as partners in the RISE Network and answer the question “What differentiates RISE high schools?”
  • Establish our big bets as we work to improve freshman success and college and career readiness.
  • Create a framework — used by RISE staff and educators — to organize and advance our work.

Looking Ahead: RISE by 5 Reboot

The table below outlines the updated RISE by 5 focus areas. These focus areas represent various and reinforcing entry points for our work at the network, school, educator team, individual educator, and student levels. Importantly, each RISE high school pursues the RISE by 5 framework in unique ways to reflect local context and priorities, and variation across schools supports continued learning as a network community. Keep reading to learn more about our five focus areas and specific strategies that reinforce each focus area!

On-Track and 
Postsecondary Culture
School communities share a singular focus on results. Educators, students, and families work together to keep freshman success, on-track achievement, and college and career readiness at the forefront.

Targeted Transition SupportsStudents benefit from targeted transition supports in Grade 9 and in preparation for postsecondary pathways. These supports invest in critical moments, key staff, and focused student subgroups.

Data-Driven Educator CollaborationTeams engage in students-centered team meetings, leveraging data tools, protocols, and educator expertise to take a holistic approach to meet individual needs of all students.

Equitable Educator PracticeEducators receive coaching, resources, and support to invest in educators as professionals, pursuing evidence-based ideas to create more rigorous, engaging, and inclusive classroom and school environments.  

Network partners come together across schools to learn, grow, and improve. Teachers, counselors, and administrators share successes, challenges, and ideas to advance our shared goals and collective impact.

Focus Area #1: On-Track and College and Career Culture

At the school level, we focus on building a culture where school community members understand, value, and pursue on-track achievement and postsecondary success. This investment in school culture is reinforced by Peter Drucker’s famous quote: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Culture is cultivated and experienced by students, educators, and families; and thus, a strong or fragile culture will have amplifying or limiting effects on our ultimate outcome goals. In other words, if a school has a weak or fractured culture, then it’s hard to advance new programs or strategies designed to increase student success. Therefore, we invest in school communities that share a singular focus on results by keeping freshman success, on-track achievement, and college and career readiness at the forefront. Our culture-building efforts include work to establish common beliefs, language, and goals, that are regularly heard, seen, felt, and experienced by students, educators, and families.  

RISE high schools implement specific strategies and routines to intentionally build a strong school culture.  For example, schools implement on-track conferences to engage students in quarterly, one-on-one conversations with caring adults. These conferences offer a space for students to discuss their progress, difficulties, and goals.  Conversations are guided by a data profile and grade-appropriate protocol (e.g., Grade 9 students in Quarter 1 discuss their transition into school, hobbies and interests, and involvement in school clubs/sports; Grade 12 students in Quarter 4 discuss their college acceptances, college affordability plans, and career pathways). The conferences are important routines for students and adults, and they create quarterly moments when nearly all school community members engage in conversations about shared goals. Schools also embrace new traditions to celebrate on-track achievement through quarterly recognitions (e.g., assemblies, personalized notes from teachers to students). During the final marking of students’ senior year, schools celebrate students’ postsecondary plans. Students walk across the auditorium stage to reveal their plans to attend a specific college, enlist in the military, or pursue a particular trade or career path. These celebrations now rival graduation ceremonies in their importance to students; this event (and the lead-up to this celebration) reinforces the shared value around postsecondary success. RISE and school partners also recognize that families are key partners in creating a positive culture. Every spring, schools begin methodical outreach to Grade 8 families to support strong high school transitions and to begin sharing on-track language. Similarly, the college and career planning process is daunting and complicated for many families, and schools must partner with families to help students develop and pursue personalized postsecondary plans. We pursue this through workshops, targeted communication, and resources for families.

Focus Area #2: Targeted Student Transition Supports

Our student-facing supports focus on key moments of transition into high school and beyond. Within this focus area, students are the intended audience, and RISE high school students benefit from targeted transition supports in Grade 9 and in preparation for postsecondary success. We invest in critical moments, key staff, and priority student subgroups. These targeted transition supports begin before freshman year when all rising Grade 9 students are invited to participate in a teacher-led, no-cost bridge programs at each school site. Summer bridge programs introduce students to their new school and high school expectations, and facilitate relationship- building between students and their new teachers and peers. Grade 9 on-track coordinators (OTC) help to staff these programs, in addition to Grade 9 teachers.

The OTC role is also unique to RISE high schools and was created in response to student needs during freshman year and school counselor caseloads that often limit counseling support for freshmen (i.e., in Connecticut, the student-to-counselor ratio is 466:1, which far exceeds the American School Counselor Association recommendation of 250:1). OTCs are youth development professionals who serve as champions and advocates for a targeted caseload of Grade 9 students. OTCs have a maximum caseload of 60 students identified through Grade 8 data, and this reduced caseload allows OTCs to provide deep and sustained support. As full-time members of the high school staff, OTCs play an integral role supporting students with demonstrated attendance, academic, social, and/or behavioral risk factors in middle school. OTCs function as coaches for students who may otherwise experience difficulty or become off track by collaborating with teachers, administrators, students, and families to ensure every student succeeds.

Targeted transition supports continue and take on a different look and feel as students prepare for postsecondary success. Similar to the Grade 9 summer bridge program, we leverage the summer months to offer college and career summer academies for rising seniors. These summer programs give students a headstart on the postsecondary planning process by having dedicated time and staff to support students in building a resume, practicing interview skills, building a college list, completing college essays, and starting the Common Application. College and career transition supports continue during the school year with a heavy emphasis on senior year. College application and financial aid completion campaigns include a calendar of events to help students complete core access milestones. And transition supports continue after students graduate from high school in June. RISE summer melt texting campaigns provide students with targeted text message reminders and nudges during the summer months to ensure graduates pursue their college and career goals. Summer melt occurs when high school students are accepted into college but miss certain enrollment milestones and are then unable to enroll; the U.S. Department of Education estimates that at least one-third of college-bound students do not make it to campus each year due to missing key milestones, such as submitting financial aid forms and health documents or taking certain placement exams. First-generation college students and students of color are disproportionately affected by summer melt, making this particularly important for our equity goals. Students participating in RISE summer melt texting campaigns receive personalized text messages to help them stay on track towards their postsecondary goals.

Focus Area #3: Data-Driven Educator Collaboration

We also prioritize work with teams of educators, specifically by pursuing data-driven collaboration. Teams across RISE high schools engage in student-centered data team meetings designed to leverage data and educator expertise, taking a holistic approach to meet individual student needs. To support our freshman success goals, Grade 9 teams meet on a weekly basis in on-track data teams to help students stay on-track. Students and schools generate an immense amount of data, including attendance, behavior, grades, and assessment records. On-track data meetings bring together a diverse group of educators across content areas, support staff, and administrators who serve a common caseload of Grade 9 students. Teams use a combination of data, protocols, norms, and team roles to engage in evidence-based and solution-oriented conversations. Educators share their unique perspectives and experiences working with a common set of students in an effort to advance shared student outcome goals.  Distinct from content area meetings (which focus on unit plans, curricula, and assessments), on-track data meetings focus students at the center of adult collaboration.

To support our college and career goals, teams of educators also engage in postsecondary data meetings. Similar to Grade 9 on-track data meetings, these meetings engage teams in regular conversations about Grade 11 and 12 students and students’ progress developing postsecondary plans and completing postsecondary milestones. Counselors and administrators use data and a collaborative tracking tool to ensure all seniors pursue and access their college and career goals. The postsecondary tracking tool and team meetings enable collaboration among counselors, college and career coordinators, teachers, and administrators; teams use data to identify students needing additional support, as well as specific milestones that may require school-wide attention.  

At both ends of the spectrum — in Grade 9 and around the college and career readiness — teams leverage RISE data tools, the strategic data calendar, and coaching support from RISE staff. RISE provides educators with a variety of secure and user-friendly data tools that update nightly; this includes dashboards, list-based tools, and workflow trackers. Educators use these tools in their personal practice and in team settings to ground decisions in evidence. RISE also provides data coaching around a strategic data calendar. Over the course of the academic year, the data calendar encourages proactive and data-driven planning. For example, every spring, Grade 9 teams and OTCs use Grade 8 risk and opportunity data for rising freshmen to make decisions about scheduling, OTC caseloads, and targeted summer bridge recruitment. In the fall, postsecondary teams use the grad on-track dashboards to identify students who may be at risk of not graduating on time and then engage in strategic scheduling for those students, and teams analyze students’ postsecondary aspirations surveys to organize personalized senior-year supports. The strategic data calendar identifies key actions educators must take at specific junctures during the year, and provides data and scaffolded processes to organize decisions and action steps.

Focus Area #4: Equitable Educator Practice

RISE promotes equitable educator practice among teachers and counselors through a variety of direct-to-educator supports. Educators receive coaching, resources, and support designed to invest in educators as professionals, pursuing new ideas to create more rigorous, engaging, and inclusive classroom and school environments. Here, RISE encourages educators to reflect on their personal practice and center their work in equity by recognizing the unique talents and needs of every student.  We pursue this by building educator capacity, and by providing educators with resources to innovate in their schools and classrooms. RISE freshman success, college and career, and data staff provide coaching for administrators, team leaders, and college and career coordinators. RISE staff use internally-developed coaching rubrics to work with partners to set annual coaching goals, and to then work with partners to further develop these leadership competencies.

The network focus on equitable educator practice also necessitates deeper work around classroom instruction.  Last year, we identified grading as a central leverage point; grading policies and practices directly affect our efforts to promote Grade 9 on-track achievement, college and career readiness readiness, and equitable outcomes. And policies and practices in many schools are inconsistent and highly subjective. For example, educators teaching the same students or even the same course may have very different grading practices (e.g., weightings, number of assignments, resubmission policies). RISE is engaging teachers and administrators — nearly 300 educators to date — in mini networks to discuss grading challenges, data, and potential shifts to make grading more equitable and focused on student learning and engagement.  

RISE also promotes equitable educator practice through the Educator Innovation Fund, which we launched in partnership with Dalio Education and DonorsChoose.org in 2016-17. Schools and districts around the country grapple with budgetary limitations and declining discretionary funds, and many educators use their own resources to purchase school supplies. The average teacher spends $479 out-of-pocket each year.  Students and educators deserve access to resources that enhance teaching and learning and help build students’ connections to school. Resource gaps perpetuate equity gaps that exist within and across schools. The Innovation Fund invites educators to pursue their creative ideas to promote on-track achievement and college and career success. DonorsChoose.org is an online crowdfunding platform for educators, and RISE educators benefit from a generous match offer from Dalio Education to help bring their ideas to fruition. RISE supports and encourages educators’ creative ideas, and also shares these impactful strategies with other educators across the network. Since launching the Innovation Fund, over 400 educators have created over 1,400 projects, raising more than $1,000,000 in materials and experiences for their students. 

Focus Area #5: Cross-School Learning

RISE also facilitates activities at the network level. Through practice-driven research and cross-school learning opportunities, network partners come together across schools and districts to learn, grow, and improve. Through our network learning and research agendas, we embrace the network as the unit of change, allowing for scalable innovations and learning across schools. 

During the 2020-21 school year alone, the network learning agenda engaged over 300 educators (nearly a third of RISE high school educators) in cross-school convenings and role-alike collaboratives. Throughout the year and in different formats, teachers, counselors, and administrators collaborate with one another to share successes, challenges, and ideas to advance our collective impact. In 2020-21, RISE facilitated six role-alike collaboratives for principals, Grade 9 assistant principals, Grade 9 team leads, OTCs, counselors and college and career coordinators, and district data/information technology leaders. In this format, educators in similar roles in different schools are able to discuss problems of practice, share resources, and plan together around network strategies. Throughout the year, RISE also organizes larger convenings and events that bring together diverse stakeholders in goal-alike settings. Here, we create an inclusive space for administrators, teachers, counselors, and support staff to work side-by-side and across schools in support of shared goals. We offer these sessions in the fall and early summer, and each spring we organize an out-of-state, custom-designed, multi-day conference for teams from each RISE partner high school. We value this extended time away from school buildings to create additional time to reflect and plan, and learn from another public school context doing innovative work to improve student outcomes.

Our network learning activities are complemented by our research agenda. RISE districts represent a significant portion of Connecticut’s school-aged population. Through our data warehouse, we have the opportunity to not only provide schools with actionable real-time data, but to also pursue research questions and analyses central to our work and unlocking new innovation. During RISE convenings, educators expect to grapple with new and local research designed to spark questions, generate new insights, and inspire new ideas. For example, the RISE team has provided research around the importance of Grade 9 on-track, as well as student engagement and attendance particularly during the first marking period. In winter 2021, we released a publication on COVID-19 enrollment trends and early learning outcomes. Currently, we are working to understand students’ college and career pathways, which will support and inform our postsecondary strategy development over time in partnership with RISE educators. Importantly, RISE research efforts prioritize practice and actionability by maintaining feedback loops with educators where educators spotlight the topics and questions that matter most to them, and RISE responds with relevant research and insights to support educators in advancing student achievement.

RISE by 5 Focus Areas and Activities

The table below restates the RISE by 5 focus areas central to our school-facing work and facilitated improvement networks. RISE pursues these five focus areas through activities aligned to our Grade 9 and college and career student outcome goals. The table below illustrates how the five focus areas create coherence and a throughline for all of our high school activities in Grades 9 through 12; it shows what these focus areas look like as we advance our parallel goals to support freshman success and college and career readiness.