Northwest Christian Begins High Reliability Journey

Northwest Christian School is on the forefront of a new standards-based model of learning within the Adventist education system in North America, and they are taking their journey a step further by obtaining Marzano High Reliability School Certification.

“This shift is so much more than looking at report card structures or aligning NAD standards to our classroom lessons. This shift, if done correctly, will change the way we teach our children and track their growth over time,” said Craig Mattson, NCS principal.

The preschool-to-eighth-grade campus with 193 students in Puyallup, Washington, received their level one certification paperwork in January 2023. The teaching staff was then recognized in January as a new level one school at the annual Marzano High Reliability Conference in Texas.


Bob Marzano, seated, congratulates Northwest Christian School for their level one status as a Marzano High Reliability School.

The journey to become a certified Marzano High Reliability School is a blend of both philosophy and practical application. One of the first steps is establishing a safe, supportive and collaborative culture which is primarily nurtured through Professional Learning Community.

NCS set up five PLCs, representing various grade levels, to meet twice a month for short work sessions and eight times in the school year for long work sessions.  

The first PLC project: a vertical alignment of math standards. Standards represent learning metrics of what a student should be achieving throughout the school year. There are hundreds of learning metrics for each student that can be categorized into 12 to 14 core standards.

“It’s less overwhelming to look at 14 core standards versus hundreds of individual standards,” Mattson said. “We asked ourselves: What is the standard? Do we know what this means? Is it being taught at the right time of year? Are students, let’s say in second grade, ready for what’s coming in third grade?”

The reliability work associated with levels one, two and three is increasingly foundational. Level two addresses “effective teaching in every classroom” while level three gives a framework for “guaranteed and viable curriculum.” Once this foundation work is established, level four presents “standards-based reporting” and level five offers “competency-based education.”

Already the difference in the classroom is noticeable.

“I’m seeing that my students care more about data. They aren’t categorizing themselves as failures as often, and I’m able to differentiate which students need the most attention based on areas of proficiency rather than on just an assignment,” said Dani Maletin, NCS eighth-grade teacher.

As more Adventist schools adopt standards-based learning, whether through Marzano or another standards-based learning philosophy, the real genius comes through a network of schools making a commitment to developing a high reliability campus.

“NCS doesn’t want to be the one-and-only Adventist school who is Marzano certified. We’re looking forward to more schools from our conference, our union and our division joining us in this journey,” Mattson said.

Featured in: May/June 2023