Abraham Lincoln High School

School Level or Grades

Number of Students

Number of Teachers

9-12 1300 81

2016-17 SPF Rating


Years Implementing TLC

Accredited on Priority Watch
FRL- 93%
ELL- 73%
SPED- 11%
Students of Color- 97%
School photo shoot at DMHS in November 2015.

The Numbers Don’t Lie: How Teacher Leaders are Leveraging student Data at Abraham Lincoln High School

Uphill Climb

Abraham Lincoln High is one of the largest secondary schools in Denver Public Schools. With 1,300 students and 81 teachers, relying on a handful of administrators to coach and provide consistent feedback to teachers is simply not realistic — yet such coaching and feedback could not be more vital as Abraham Lincoln experiences the same challenges that many large, urban high schools face: 93 percent of its students receive free or reduced lunch and 73 percent are English language learners. Given past standardized test scores and the school’s orange School Performance Framework rating, there is a palpable sense of urgency to improve student growth as quickly as possible.

Only 6.1% of ninth-graders met expectations in Algebra I on the Colorado state assessments

Only 12.5% of ninth-graders met expectations on the English Language Arts state assessments

Colorado Department of Education

The 2016-17 school year was the first year Abraham Lincoln fully scaled up its Teacher Leadership & Collaboration model with nine Senior Team Leads, nine Team Specialists and two New Teacher Ambassadors.

Building a Strong Foundation

For assistant principal Haidee Halvorson, ensuring the success and positive impact of full scale distributive leadership began with a rigorous selection process. “We went through a pretty extensive interview process. There was a written paper about why you want to be a teacher leader and what you bring to it. We had questions that our personnel committee came up with and we had scenarios and role-plays that they had to do as well. It was intense.”

Haidee said: “Once we picked the team, we started meeting once a week, and we came up with an outline of everything we wanted to do. One of our big focuses was creating a more consistent environment for teachers. We wanted consistent professional learning communities (what Abraham Lincoln called the meetings their teacher teams have), so that everyone knew on Tuesday we’re talking about a problem of practice; on Wednesday we’re working with data; and Friday is our common planning.”

Current math Senior Team Lead Brenda Carlson agreed that the spring and summer planning and training were critical to successful implementation in the fall, particularly in providing clear structures and expectations for collaborative team time. “Preplanning for the school year really set us up for success,” she said.

Haidee also included videos of teachers in the classroom to discuss with applicants how they might coach the teacher to improve. Even current Senior Team Leads were required to reapply to their positions so that, as the school was going from partial to full implementation, all teachers had equitable access to potential leadership roles. “I wanted to make sure that I had the people who wanted to take us where we wanted to go with instruction and I was really pleased with the results,” Haidee said.

Having a strong team in place was only the beginning. Haidee was well aware that strategically leveraging the talent of the Senior Team Leads and Team Specialists would not simply happen by accident — especially in such a complex school environment. Months of advance planning and training, beginning in March 2016, took place in order to set up the team and the entire school for success in the fall.

“Abraham Lincoln publishes what it learns in its staff newsletters so all teachers are aware of what is happening in the school.” 

Throughout the spring and summer, Haidee and the Senior Team Leads also focused on building team and leadership capacity with an emphasis on developing the group’s coaching skills. The goal was to have the majority of competencies and structures in place by the time school started so that the role and direction of the team was clear. By acting with a shared mission and understanding, Senior Team Leads could be more certain that independent work contributed to the larger strategic goal: stronger instruction in every classroom to improve student growth.

87% of teachers said their Senior Team Lead ensures that teachers understand and consistently use student data to drive effective instruction.

Leader of Leaders

Training and development did not stop once the school year began. Throughout the year, Haidee’s role in coaching and guiding the Senior Team Leads has continued at a rigorous pace. Brenda noted that Haidee gives consistent “feedback on feedback” to Senior Team Leads, meaning that the assistant principal sits in on feedback conversations between Senior Team Leads and teachers and offers coaching and advice after the conversation is over.

Brenda also mentioned that the instructional leadership team (ILT) often watches videos of feedback sessions in order to discuss them as a group. Regular norming and calibration of LEAP scores is a common ILT practice as well. Haidee said: “We do norming and calibration in small groups because there are so many of us. We determine what we’re going to be looking for together.’” Brenda agreed that regular calibration has been helpful and not only ensures accurate LEAP scores but is an additional support for difficult conversations she might have with teachers on her team.

Haidee’s commitment to Abraham Lincoln’s Senior Team Leads is certainly not her only responsibility but it does take a considerable amount of her time “I have nine people who I work with on a daily basis, and I’m giving them one-on-one coaching, I’m giving them support through our group meetings, and I feel that’s how I’m making a change in the school.” The investment is worth it. “Our Senior Team Leads are really important to the overall instruction in this building,” she said.

The Power of Data to Drive Instruction

One of the areas where Senior Team Leads have been critical to instruction at Abraham Lincoln is through expanding capacity for analyzing and using student data.

87% of teachers said their Senior Team Lead ensures that teachers understand and consistently use student data to drive effective instruction.

Haidee said: “Because we have Senior Team Leads, we’re focused on a lot more data than we ever have been in the past. There’s always been a lot of data available to all of us but now we can actually do more with that data.” Studying and discussing data is not simply an abstract exercise. At Abraham Lincoln, it has real influence on what happens in classrooms. Haidee said: “During our professional learning days at the beginning of the semester, we looked at how our students did on semester finals (compared to the district), and compared the test scores to the grades in their classes. We were able to take that information and develop the spring semester unit plans. We also incorporated their PSAT data and areas of improvement into those same unit plans. All of that was possible because of teacher leadership.”

Not only has student data afforded the ability to address lesson and unit planning, Brenda noted that observation data collection has impacted the school as well. “The consistent expectations of collecting data on specific indicators really helps us get information on how we’re doing as a school.” Haidee broke down how observation data is often collected: “We’ll take something really specific, like a single content learning objective (CLO), and we’ll break it down into about 12 points of what makes a good CLO, and each of us will do six to seven walkthroughs on just this CLO. What we’re finding is we can really narrow down where teachers are hurting.”

This data doesn’t stay within the ILT; Abraham Lincoln publishes what it learns in its staff newsletters so all teachers are aware of what is happening in the school. Brenda noted that the the results also become the basis of Abraham Lincoln’s whole staff professional learning sessions, often led by the same Senior Team Leads who are intimately familiar with the challenges teachers are experiencing and where they need to grow.

“Our math scores have really benefited. Last year, at the end of the fall semester, we had a 45% failure rate in Algebra I. This year, we’re down to a 28% failure rate — that’s huge.”

Not only is professional learning more relevant and actionable, the continual use of observation and student data contributes to the alignment of all elements of instruction at Abraham Lincoln. Brenda pointed out that her team’s common planning has improved because it is more aligned to LEAP and the math team’s data cycles. Additionally, she said that she has seen teachers become more intentional about backward planning their student learning objectives and engaging with student work on a weekly basis.

Math is one area where Abraham Lincoln has seen growth since its implementation of Teacher Leadership & Collaboration. Haidee said: “Our math scores have really benefited. Last year, at the end of the fall semester, we had a 45-percent failure rate in Algebra I. This year, we’re down to a 28-percent failure rate — that’s huge. And we’re not diluting the courses or anything like that. That’s just because we can do better instruction, we can be more targeted, we can work more on data, we can really focus on that information. We’re seeing real strides.” The strides are likely to continue, as Abraham Lincoln refines and builds on its strong practices of collaboration, strategic data use and dedication to providing students with the very best instruction.