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Author: Brian Stack

Rethinking Teacher Evaluation for the Competency-Based Grading & Reporting Environment

April 17, 2013 by
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from Making Mastery Work

Introduction:  Rethinking the Effectiveness of the Dog & Pony Show Model
During my first three years as a high school math teacher in Massachusetts back in the early 2000s, I had grown accustomed to having an administrator in my classroom observe as I taught a math lesson. As a new teacher I was required by district policy to be observed at least three times per year. Both my administrator and I knew how the drill worked:  We would pick a date and a class for me to be observed. We would meet in advance to talk about what I was planning to teach. During my observation I would make sure to use innovative teaching strategies or cooperative learning activities with my students. We would meet after the lesson to talk about what went well and where I could improve. The administrator would write up a narrative, I would sign it, and it would be filed away. The process would then repeat, and repeat, and repeat. Over my first three years I had nine observations. Once I reached my fourth year, I was considered tenured and thus my observations went down to one every other year. This means it would have taken me an additional eighteen years of teaching before I would have completed another nine observation cycles.

I don’t think my experience in this regard is unique, as many school districts used and still use a model very similar to this one. As I reflect back on that experience as a new teacher, years later, I don’t think I ever remember actually using anything that came from my evaluations as a way to improve my own teaching. Don’t get me wrong, my pre- and post-conferences always yielded great advice. My administrator and I always had great discussions about my lessons. We never really talked about my teaching. What I did on a day-to-day basis as a teaching professional to impact the lives of my students wasn’t easily observable during the dog and pony show, the name I had given for the act of preparing an observable lesson that would showcase all the innovative teaching strategies I could cram into a ninety-minute block. (more…)

Which Pilot Do You Want Flying Your Plane?

March 12, 2013 by

apLast week I had the opportunity to deliver the keynote to a large group of school administrators from Oregon at their 2013 State Proficiency Conference, sponsored jointly by the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators (COSA) and the Business Education Compact (BEC) in Portland. I began my talk by sharing with the group how I explained the idea of competency-based grading to a woman, Kathy, whom I shared a plane ride with on my way to Oregon. Kathy was very curious to learn more about competency-based grading. She is a mother of three and lives in the Portland area. Her oldest just graduated from high school and is now in the Air Force. She has another child in middle school and her youngest is in elementary school. As a result, she is very invested in educational reforms that promise to give her children a better future.

To help her understand the competency-based system, I asked her to hypothetically consider how the pilot school was organized that our airline pilot attended. We both agreed that in order to be able to fly our plane that day, he had to have been deemed “proficient” by his pilot school. We can only assume that his school taught him everything he needed to know about being a pilot. I offered her two hypothetical situations about the pilot school, and I asked her to then consider which school she thought was better. (more…)

The Karate Studio: An Excellent Example of a Competency-Based Classroom

February 19, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-02-18 at 7.27.02 PMAt least twice a week I have the opportunity to do a formal observation of the karate instructors that help my wife Erica and my two oldest boys, Brady (7) and Cameron (5), as they work towards their black belts. There are so many parallels between how their karate classes are structured and how we as administrators would like to see our teachers structure their twenty-first century competency-based classrooms. I think we can learn a lot from the karate studio environment. Here are some tips I have gleaned from countless karate classroom observations that I have completed:

1.    Embed the School’s Core Values and Beliefs Into the Classroom
As administrators we spend a lot of time working with our schools to develop documents that identify our school’s core beliefs and values and student expectations for learning. These documents are usually printed with catchy phrases or mnemonic devices on eye-catching posters and banners to help our staff and students remember them, but how often do our teachers refer to them in their classroom? At the karate studio, each class starts with everyone (students and parents alike) standing up to face the American flag and reciting the karate school’s core values and beliefs in unison. Throughout class, the instructors regularly refer back to these values as needed during instruction. There is no question that every stakeholder at the karate studio knows exactly what the school stands for and believes in. As a school administrator I am not suggesting that we make our own students recite our school’s core values statement each day, but I do think we need to find better enduring ways to embed these values into the daily fabric of our students’ lives. (more…)

Our Competency-Based System Has Changed the Face of IEP Meetings

January 24, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-01-24 at 12.53.06 PMCarter’s Story

This past week I had the privilege of attending an IEP meeting for Carter, a student that I have come to know quite well over the past three years. Carter has a learning disability and was diagnosed with ADHD back in fifth grade. School has always been a struggle for him, particularly the parts of school that require him to be focused and attentive in class and to meet assignment deadlines for his teachers in a timely manner. When he is focused, school comes relatively easy to him. With the help of his case manager and the support of his parents over the last two years, Carter has managed to earn all of his freshman credits and sophomore credits. The final course grades that appear on his transcript aren’t stellar, but regardless no one can argue with the fact that he reached proficiency for each of his course competencies and thus received credit for each of his courses. (more…)

Five Things That Changed At My School When We Adopted Competencies

November 15, 2012 by

Jumping into the deep end of competency education

“The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago.

The second best time is now.”

This ancient Chinese proverb sums up my view on why, just three years ago, it was time for my school, Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, NH, to stop “talking” about making the change to a competency-based grading and reporting model, and why it was time to start “doing it.” With a leap of faith in support of the latest educational research from authors Colby, Marzano, O’Connor, Reeves, Stiggins, and Wormeli, our school community “jumped into the deep end of the pool” of high school redesign. Looking back on this now, I firmly believe it was the best thing we could have done. While we haven’t solved all of our issues yet, I think we are well on our way toward realizing our vision of “learning for all, whatever it takes.”

As you might expect, our leap of faith into the deep end of the pool didn’t happen without some advanced strategic planning and groundwork. In the years leading up to our jump, teachers in my school spent a great deal of time developing common course-based competencies and making sure they were aligned to the New Hampshire Grade Span Expectations (GSEs) and ultimately the common core. They worked in teams to develop common assessments and common rubrics to measure student learning. As a school, we talked about the importance of focusing our professional work on student learning and mastery of competencies. Still, we were only scratching the surface of our potential. We knew that if we truly wanted to impact student learning on a large-scale in our school, we were going to have to operate differently.

Last year, we developed a blueprint to help us become a premiere high school in New Hampshire. We identified three “pillars” of success, and we recognized that if we could do these three things well, then everything else would fall into place:

Pillar One:  Our LEARNING COMMUNITIES work interdependently to advance student learning and academic performance for which we are collectively responsible and mutually accountable.

Pillar Two:  Our STUDENTS ARE ENGAGED in learning tasks and performance assessments that accurately measure learning and mastery of competency.

Pillar Three:  Our community fosters a POSITIVE SCHOOL CULTURE AND CLIMATE for each of our stakeholders that promotes respect, responsibility, ambition, and pride.

Since the adoption of our pillar model, we have made some great strides toward becoming a premiere school. Here are five ways our school has changed since we went to a competency-based model: (more…)

Class Rank in a Competency-Based High School

October 2, 2012 by

My school, Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, NH, made the shift to a competency-based grading and reporting   system about three years ago. For those of you who have recently made the switch, as well as those of you who are planning one in the near future, I can tell you that once you go down the “competency road” it creates a chain reaction of other proposed changes – some you would anticipate, some you would not.For us, we weren’t too far down the path before the question came up of what we should do about class rank. Like most traditional high schools, we have always used a weighted grade point average (G.P.A.) to compute our class rank. We also have always engaged in traditions such as holding a banquet for students who were ranked in the top ten percent of the graduating class and naming a Valedictorian, Salutatorian, and a Class Essayist to the students who were ranked 1, 2, and 3 respectively in their graduating class. With the shift to a competency-based system, we hoped to remove the tradition of class rank. We found that this would prove harder to do than we originally thought.

(more…)

Assessment of Learning with Competency-Based Grading

August 13, 2012 by

From SRHS website

This past spring, two members of my administrative team at Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, New Hampshire had the opportunity to present our school’s competency-based grading and reporting system to admissions representatives from each of the New Hampshire Colleges and Universities. A very interesting conversation unfolded when the team passed out two competency-based report cards from two students at our school. Both students had earned a final grade of an “80” in their Forensic Science class, but both had very different grades in each of their competencies for that particular course. One had an “exceeding” grade of 95 for the crime scene management competency (students will demonstrate the ability to use and understand how observation is used in order to collect and gather evidence in scene investigation). The other student had an “inconsistent progress” grade of a 75 for the same skill. This evidence suggests that one student perhaps had a more complete understanding of the scientific inquiry process that goes into a forensics investigation, while the other still had work to do to bring that skill to competency.

The ability to be able to “dig deeper” into what a final grade represents and how it can be used to report learning not only intrigued the admissions officers, but it generated an entire discussion around what else a competency-based grading and reporting system could do for students. Indeed, this model should be the way of the future for all high schools. Our school made the leap from a traditional to a competency-based model over a period of about three years, and I challenge you to explore how you might make the same leap at your school. (more…)

Using Competencies as a Blue Print to Personalize Learning

July 30, 2012 by

The following was written by Brian M. Stack, Principal; Michael Turmelle, Assistant Principal / Curriculum; Ann Hadwen, Assistant Principal / Freshman Learning Community; Michelle Catena, Guidance Director; and Vicki Parady-Guay, Athletic Director

Sanborn Regional High School had a very successful 2011-2012 school year in which it was recognized at local, state, and national levels for its work in school redesign for the twenty-first century. The school strives to become one of the premiere high schools in the State of New Hampshire and beyond. Using a competency-based grading and reporting system is one way the school personalizes learning for all students, but it is only part of a bigger picture. To move forward, the school has developed a master plan for redesign that is based on three pillars for success.

Pillar #1 – Learning Communities: Our learning communities work interdependently to achieve successful student performance for which we are collectively responsible and mutually accountable.

The term “learning community” describes a collegial group of administrators and/or school staff who are united in their commitment to student learning. They share a vision, work and learn collaboratively, visit and review other classrooms, and participate in decision-making. At our school, all staff belong to one or more learning communities that are based on a shared content and/or grade-level. Teams use student learning, specifically the mastery of school and course-level competencies, as a foundation for their work. (more…)

Freshman Learning Community – A Successful Model That Puts Competency-Based Grading into Action

June 1, 2012 by

The transition to ninth grade is challenging for many students. For Sanborn Regional High School students, their transition struggles pointed to several issues in the district. In 2008, the district convened a summit to consider research on the needs of these students and to review the best practices in teaming. The ninth grade teachers decided to focus on a Professional Learning Community model framed by teachers from English, Social Studies, Wellness, and Science.  Over the next three years, the team worked to develop team norms, goals, common grading practices for class work and homework, grading policies, integrated units, performance-based assessments, and communication to parents.  Their work spurred a movement in the Sanborn Regional School District to become a competency-based grading and reporting school district, which the district became officially for the 2010-2011 school year.

In the fall of 2011 under the direction of Assistant Principal Ann Hadwen, the team that had come to be known as the Freshman Learning Community (FLC) took their next big step in development. Working within the master schedule, the FLC created a school-within-a-school model (more…)

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