Raising Student Performance with Foundation for Excellence

Foundation for Excellence is a detailed, objectives-driven program designed to raise student performance every year.

In addition to annual performance growth, Foundation For Excellence includes:

  • An annual validity check linked to commonly known academic performance measures;
  • A connection between academic performance to a career-directed secondary school experience, based on the student’s personal likes and dislikes, beginning at age 12.
  • A long-range viewpoint, beginning at Grade 2 and carrying through post-secondary school education.

First, let’s take a look at annual performance growth.

In most K-8 schools, at the end of a unit (e.g. Long Division), after quizzes and homework, a unit test appears. The time devoted to this unit is limited by the teacher’s year-long schedule.

At the end of that group instruction, some students have total mastery, some have just a little error baggage, and some leave with a lot, as the following graph shows:

Usual performance distribution after new unit is taught.

Usual performance distribution after new unit is taught.

That error baggage may (or may not) be corrected by another teacher.

The Foundation for Excellence model also begins with timed group instruction, but includes no exam at the end of the unit.

Instead, each student begins working through diagnostics—shorts list of items designed to identify ANY and ALL of that student’s error baggage.

The student works alone at his or her own rate. When diagnostics have been completed, the mastery test is given.

As the following graph shows, no student leaves this unit until he or she can show a 90% mastery of the content:

Same unit, performance distribution with Foundation for Excellence.

Same unit, performance distribution with Foundation for Excellence.

Next post (Thursday, March 5): How does this lead to annual student performance growth?

Student Performance Diagnostics

How does Foundation for Excellence lead to annual student performance growth?

Figure 1

Working individually after group instruction, fast-learning and/or highly motivated students will demonstrate mastery more quickly.  With 90% mastery before leaving a level, the percent of students reaching the upper level will increase each year.


In the usual group instruction model, error baggage will inevitably accumulate over time. Only those who begin at the very top will stay there.

Figure 2With 90% mastery required (instead of the usual 60-65%) AND an accumulation of more students in PR95-99, median scores can be expected to increase each year.

Question: How can the Foundation for Excellence get 90% mastery before a student can move on?

Answer: The task was not simple.

Distribution of Diagnostics by Level and Curriculum area:

Diagnostics Distribution Chart

No error baggage will escape.

If that student leaves group instruction with error baggage, each error WILL be identified and corrected.

Now go back to first page: “an objectives-driven program.” What are the objectives? We’ll get into that on the next Foundation for Excellence post.

An Objectives-Driven Program

What is an “objectives-driven” program? The goal of an objectives-driven program is to set students on a course for success beginning at a young age.


Foundation-building starts early in elementary school.

At grade 6, the academic foundation-building expands with a search to connect personal likes and dislikes to the world of work.

classHighest possible performance level is critical at grade 8 graduation. Well-known tests monitor gate-opening for:

  • High school placement test.
  • Access to post secondary school of choice.

Highest possible performance level is critical at grade 8 graduation to monitor gate-opening later on.

High school coursework reflects both academic performance and search for world-of-work connection.

band computer





Long-range planning leads to a post-secondary experience to maximize performance.

When all is said and done, the Foundation for Excellence student will be not only be well-trained for their employment—they will enjoy it!


Opening the Gates

As grade 8 draws to a close, students pass through two critical gates. The objective for each student: Get those gates open as FAR as possible.

Gatekeeper 01: High School Entrance Placement Exams

Most high schools have three levels: Advanced, Regular, and Remedial. Well-known high school entrance exams correlate between 0.85 and 0.90 with the IOWA 8th grade test.

Gatekeeper 02: College Entrance Placement Exams

Very high college placement scores will open the doors of about any post-secondary experience. That first tier may not be accessible, but many state and private schools accessible here. Low-level performers will be limited to community colleges and a few specialized private schools. Well-known college placement exams correlate between 0.85 with the IOWA 8th grade test.

Both high school and college placement exams test the firmness of the foundation each student has established by eighth grade.

Must the student and parent wait for the 8th grade scores to determine how far each gate will be opened?

No! As early as grade 4, each student receives a prediction like this:

FFE-chartWithout any improvement between 4th and 8th grades:

  • High School will be: Regular level (Not advanced)
  • College: Selective Colleges (Below “Highly”)

The predictions are reliable. Does that mean these results are chiseled in stone, unchangeable? Find out in the next Foundation for Excellence post!


Improving on Predictions

In the last Foundation for Excellence post, we wondered: are predicted results chiseled in stone, unchangeable?


With that kind of information as early age 10, as a parent and/or student who cares: YOU can intervene to raise the performance level by age 14.

When parent, student, and teacher work together, the performance level of nearly any student CAN be sharply improved between ages 10 and 14.

This student is fully capable of:

  • Raising high school placement from the predicted “Regular” to “Advanced.”
  • Raising the college availability from “Selective” to “Highly Selective.”

Where do those predictions come from?

Welcome to the multi-purpose IOWA, given in grades 3 to 8 every fall. The predictions discussed above are based on solid connections to Gatekeeper tests.

  • The prediction of 8th grade scores in 4th grade are based on IOWA scores from both 3rd and 4th The predictions have a reliability of 0.80 and above.

This is just one use. Within the Foundation for Excellence, the IOWA tests also:

  • The term “validity” appeared on the first page. Parents, students, and teacher receive an annual review of the effectiveness of Foundation for Excellence with annual IOWA reports.

That kind of promise of validity monitoring cannot be found in national improvement efforts like Common Core State Standards or No Child Left Behind.

As we’ve already discussed, around age 14 or 15 each student will face two important gates.

The two gatekeepers refers to the same information: How far along the pathway to excellence are you now, at age 14 or 15?

Gatekeeper 1 uses that information to determine the level of high school placement for that student.

Gatekeeper 2 uses that information to determine which college, university or other schooling would be open and accepting to that student.

In the next post, we’ll pursue “who cares” a little further.

Achieving the Highest Possible Level

Remember when we said that the ITBS can reliably predict future performance as early as grade 4?

Using the ITBS for a 10-year-old determines current position along the pathway to excellence. Then it reports to students, parents, and the public:

Expect this placement level entering high school age 15.

Expect college entrance availability at age 17 to 18.

The future.   As they say, there is more to life than academics. FFE helps determine what that “more to life” is for every student.

The FFE response shifts the emphasis from ALL students to EACH student. When? At about age 12.

Parents might be thinking, “What? My 12-year-old would not know an actuary from an architect!”

That may be true. However, that 12-year-old DOES know what she or he LIKES and DISLIKES. If we ask two 12-year-olds, Harold and Marie, a series of age-sensitive questions, they will quickly reveal their likes and dislikes. For example:

“Harold, which of these activities would you really like to do?”

“Marie, which of these activities would you mostly try to avoid doing?”

Build a model airplane? Harold, “NO!” Marie, “Oh, yeah.”

Sit alone and read a book? Harold, “YES!” Marie, “Forget it.”

By age 12, those likes and dislikes are pretty firmly in place. The report identifies for each student categories of strongest likes and dislikes.

The ITBS publisher has a survey asking questions like that. The report from that survey is just the launching tool.

Ages 12 to 14 can now be used to narrow down the “likes to do” side. How?

  • English teachers could use each student’s personal theme to suggest or guide writing assignments.
  • Science teachers could adjust assignments to require more digging into topics.
  • Summer breaks could be used to pursue experiences relevent to students’ interests.

All classes have some link to the world of work—social science, fine arts, even physical education.

The Foundation for Excellence is designed to aggressively pursue the highest possible level a student can attain on the excellence pathway. This will lead to the highest possible placement in high school and maximize college or trade school acceptance possibility.


The Foundation for Excellence guides the student to the highest possible level of readiness for the life work she or he is pursuing.