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Category: Equity

Keeping Students at the Center with Culturally Relevant Performance Assessments

July 29, 2019 by

This post originally appeared Next Generation Learning Challenges on June 4, 2019.

Student Presenting Performance AssessmentPerformance assessments provide a critical space for students to reflect on and share their personal stories and their identities as learners.

“All instruction is culturally responsive. The question is: To which culture is it currently oriented?”
—Gloria Ladson-Billings

At the heart of the shift toward more student-centered models of learning and assessment is an understanding that learning is socially embedded and that the broader communities that students exist within matter to their learning. Emerging findings from brain science reveal that students’ cultural contexts, in particular, are fundamental to their learning. These findings are not new. They are built upon a rich history of research highlighting how central culturally responsive pedagogy is to providing all students with a high-quality education.

One powerful means of bringing students’ culture into the classroom is through culturally relevant performance assessments. Performance assessments center students’ identity and experiences by asking them to show what they know and can do through multidisciplinary projects, presentations of their learning in front of a panel, and reflections on their educational trajectory. At their core, such assessments provide a critical space for students to reflect on and share their personal stories and their identities as learners.

Lessons From Hawai’i: Defining “Cultural Relevance”

Representatives from the Hawai’i education department and the Hawaiian-focused Charter School (HFCS) network recently shared the ways their state policy and the work of the HFCS school network work together to support culturally relevant assessments that center Native Hawaiian culture in schools across Hawai’i. During a fall 2018 convening in which leaders from HFCS came together with practitioners from districts across California to share lessons from their respective performance-assessment systems, one of the biggest questions that emerged was: What would it look like to employ culturally relevant performance assessments in diverse contexts in which there are many cultures with which students identify?

Charlene Hoe—founder of the Hakipu’u Learning Center in Hawai’i—responded that “culture” is defined by a student’s local context or history: It may include students’ personal racial or ethnic background but it is also defined by their neighborhood, their school, and their home. Making an assessment “culturally relevant” in diverse contexts means allowing students to draw connections between their learning and their direct, daily experiences with the world, and treating those experiences as an asset in the classroom.

Cultural Relevance in Diverse School Systems: Lessons From California

Given this understanding of cultural relevance, it is possible to understand how to design and implement culturally relevant performance assessments to serve diverse student populations. One such context is the California Performance Assessments Collaborative (CPAC), a Learning Policy Institute initiative. CPAC represents policymakers, researchers, and a professional learning community of districts, networks, and schools across the state of California working to study and advance the use of performance assessments. CPAC was founded to help build systems of assessment that more equitably serve all students within diverse student populations; this concern for equity has been a central organizing tenet of CPAC since its inception.

The work of CPAC is being led by school districts such as Los Angeles UnifiedOakland Unified, and Pasadena Unified, which are using performance assessments to operationalize their respective district profiles of college-, career-, and community-ready graduates. These district visions call for students to move beyond the mastery of academic-content knowledge to reflect on their learning, cultivate social-emotional skills, and become civically engaged within their communities.

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Improving School Equity Through A Student-Led PD Activity and an Equity Summit at Casco Bay

May 28, 2019 by

This post originally appeared as “Letter from the Principal Derek Pierce” in the January 2019 newsletter of the Casco Bay High School in Portland, Maine.

Casco Bay High School StudentsDear CBHS Families and Friends,

Happy New Year! The CBHS faculty is always looking to create meaningful opportunities for student leadership, but last month was the first time we ever offered an entirely student-planned and facilitated professional development session.

The goal was to help faculty better understand the lives our students live, especially our immigrant students and students of color. It began with a student fishbowl. A cross-section of about twenty CBHS students, many members of our Student Union, answered questions posed by senior Imti Hassan. Faculty sat around in a larger circle and just listened, for thirty minutes, as students spoke candidly on questions that ranged from “What do you love about CBHS?” to “Where and when have you experienced injustice or inequities at school?” Faculty received lots of kudos, but also heard some hard truths (delivered with remarkable maturity and civility); they ranged from student frustration at having their names or pronouns continually botched by staff, to a request that our curriculum include more uplifting and nuanced tales of oppressed or marginalized people. Afterwards, small groups of students and staff discussed what they had just heard and went deeper into questions about what teachers and students may not yet see or fully understand about each other’s lives.

Students and Staff at Fish Bowl Professional Development ActivityThe insights shared during our closing circle from both faculty and staff made clear the profound impact of the experience. This December professional development session was one action step in response to the Equity Summit held on October 30th. During the Summit, the CBHS faculty leadership team met with members of the Student Cabinet to review feedback generated earlier in the fall by the faculty’s equity self-assessment and the student’s courageous conversation on equity. We also used a set of rubrics on school equity developed by the “Schools of Opportunity” program as another tool to reflect on our strengths and areas in need of improvement. (more…)

65 Years On: A Reflection on Brown v. Board and Educational Equity

May 17, 2019 by

Supreme Court Building

 

 

 

 

 

 

This post originally appeared on the iNACOL blog on May 16, 2019.

“Until we get equality in education, we won’t have an equal society.” – Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Today marks 65 years since the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the seminal civil rights ruling outlawing school segregation.

Since the ruling, American public school systems have wrestled with how to ensure equality for students regardless of race or background. However, equality cannot be achieved when the structures and systems were designed to disadvantage students of color. It is not enough to allow access to our public schools; we must question whether the opportunities, supports, and resources provided to students are what they need and set them up for success. Today we need to ask ourselves how are we creating equitable learning environments where all students can succeed.

“Treating different things the same can generate as much inequality as treating the same things differently.” – Kimberlé Crenshaw, law professor, UCLA and Columbia Law School

Despite dramatic improvements in education over the last century, the one-size-fits-all, delivery-of-curriculum, time-based system simply doesn’t work as well as needed. In fact, the traditional system was designed to rank and sort students through a combination of practices that bolster or reduce grades based on behavior and tracking systems that set different expectations for students, often based on their income or race. (more…)

Deep Poverty, Deeper Learning, and Being an Ally

March 25, 2019 by

This is the last post in a series about equity and anti-racism issues discussed at the SXSW EDU 2019 conference. The two sessions reviewed in this post are Deep Poverty and Deeper Learning, and Let’s Get Real: A Primer for Allies. Links to the other posts are at the end of this article.

Photos of Deep Poverty Deeper Learning PanelDeep Poverty and Deeper Learning

Too few schools committed to deeper learning serve students in concentrated poverty, according to this session’s panelists, but all four of them work in or with schools that are trying to do just that. The three presenters were high school principals—Linnea Garrett from Chicago Tech Academy, Matthew Riggan from The Workshop School in Philadelphia, and JuDonn DeShields from El Centro de Estudiantes in Philadelphia—and the discussant was Carlos Moreno, co-executive director of Big Picture Learning.

Multiple panelists touched on the theme of not assuming that students are ready and open to welcome the deeper learning options being offered to them. This is because students in deep poverty often have good reasons to distrust schools and the adults in them. Matthew noted that offering students voice and choice doesn’t mean that they will immediately open up and go along, after years of being told that they are “special needs” and other words that they hear as “inferior” or “problematic.”

Linnea emphasized that getting to the know students well has been essential, and something the school wasn’t doing enough at first. The key is “pouring love” into students, even when they push back against it, and bringing adults into the school who are able to do this and understand the importance of relationships with students. Matthew agreed, saying that “cool projects” are not what gets kids to keep coming back to school—it’s the sense of community and that people care about them.

Sometimes this caring takes unconventional forms that meet students where they are. Carlos shared a story of a school in his network that struggled with very low attendance rates. The principal learned that a major reason students were missing school was (more…)

Educolor: Elevating the Voices of Public School Advocates of Color

March 21, 2019 by

Photos of EduColor Panel MembersThis is the second post in a three-part series about equity and anti-racism issues discussed in sessions at the SXSW EDU 2019 conference. Links to the other posts can be found at the end of this article.

This session featured three members of Educolor, an organization that “seeks to elevate the voices of public school advocates of color on educational equity and justice.” The presenters were Lorena German, a teacher in Austin, Texas; Julia Torres, a teacher librarian in Denver; and José Luis Vilson, a math teacher in New York City and Educolor’s executive director.

It was a wide-ranging conversation that started with describing what Educolor can offer its members—“an inclusive cooperative of informed, inspired and motivated educators, parents, students, writers and activists.” The friendly dialogue made it clear that the organization is a source of affirmation and mutual support. Educolor also has a newsletter with materials from members and a resources page that recommends dozens of educational equity and justice books, articles, movies, and websites. Their website even sells #EduColor t-shirts, hoodies, stickers, and coffee mugs.

Much of the session was spent responding to questions from audience members. One question was “How can innovation outside the system intentionally disrupt, transform, and liberate the system?” One panelist responded that district leaders find it hard to listen to voices that are already within the system, such as those of teachers. To outsiders who visit a district, she suggested “bringing the eyes of the people who gave you the money back to the people within the system who are working to make change.” Specifically, she said to identify the most marginalized people in the school and advocate for their voices to be heard.

Another question was “How can white teachers in predominantly white institutions participate while also getting out of the way to make room for voices of people of color?” (more…)

Amplifying Messages on Equity and Anti-Racism from SXSW EDU

March 18, 2019 by

Photos of equity to anti-racism panelTopics such as equity, anti-racism, discrimination, marginalization, and privilege were the main focus of four sessions I attended at SXSW EDU 2019. These issues are also central to competency-based education. One audience member asked, “How do we move the needle on issues of equity, agency, and pedagogy?” A panelist answered that allies should amplify the messages of people from marginalized groups who are trying to move that needle. Following that advice, I’m sharing takeaways from these sessions in a series of three blog posts, of which this is the first.

In a session entitled From Equity to Anti-Racism in Education, the presenters were Marco Davis, a partner at New Profit; Christopher Emdin, an associate professor at Teachers College; Kate Gerson, CEO of UnboundEd; and Jeff Livingston, CEO of EdSolutions, as facilitator. Jeff said that racism is “the combination of racial bias and the power to do something about it.” Systemic and structural racism were mentioned repeatedly as embodied in the American educational system, such as these three examples:

  • Jeff cited studies that students perform better academically when there are more teachers and school leaders who come from the students’ own demographic groups. Knowing this, he said it’s an example of systemic racism that adults of color are so under-represented in American schools and that the system isn’t working harder to remedy this disparity.
  • Kate noted that the term “achievement gap” puts the blame on students, whereas calling it the “provision gap” would suggest that the system is to blame for not providing what students need to succeed. She also said that news of gains such as rising graduation rates nationally often obscures the reality that many students, particularly those from marginalized groups, are graduating without basic skills they need for college and career success.
  • Multiple speakers noted that our curriculum, standards, and assessments reflect what the mostly white, male, middle class people who created them consider important. Skills that may be more common in communities of marginalized groups are often excluded from our standards and assessments. (This reminded me of a recent presentation from Jamila Lysicott where she recounted asking white educators at a PD workshop to develop and perform spoken word pieces; unsurprisingly, their skill level was low and they felt awkward and inferior.)

Affirmation, Agency, and Anti-Respectability

Chris said that anti-racist pedagogy requires many students from marginalized groups to receive deep affirmation first and foremost, as a precursor to successful learning. Being told for years that they are (more…)

How Competency-Based Learning Supports Culturally Responsive Curriculum

March 15, 2019 by

This post originally appeared at Global Online Academy on January 14, 2019.

Photo of Sara Tahir

Sara Tahir

Equity & Equality In the Classroom

I recently attended the National Association of Independent School’s People of Color Conference, an event that I always find to be both an intellectually stimulating and an emotionally taxing professional learning experience. As an educator of color, I feel inspired by the wide array of pedagogical innovations occurring in classrooms across the country to promote equity, from using deeper learning to promote strategic self-advocacy, to incorporating anti-racist teaching into the math classroom. At the same time, I feel daunted by all of the work that needs to be done in order to achieve equity in our schools.

The Importance of Designing Culturally Inclusive Classrooms

In my three years of attending POCC, one theme always rises to the surface: how critical it is for schools to design culturally aware and inclusive learning experiences. Culturally responsive pedagogy comes up quite a bit at the conference, a critical facet of which is culturally responsive curriculum. Students need to be able both to see themselves and their lived experiences reflected in their curriculum and to gain exposure to people and cultures that are vastly different from the ones they know. They need to read and see stories that celebrate people of color in nuanced ways, that don’t treat them as caricatures featured in stories of suffering and oppression.

Yet, even schools that have taken the initiative to develop courses that focus on equity and inclusion often categorize those courses as electives. From my time in the classroom, I can vividly recall my students of color lamenting about how the stories of their people were often relegated to electives that students could opt out of.

From Elective Classes to a Seamlessly Inclusive Curriculum

Maybe it doesn’t have to be this way. A shift to competency-based learning (CBL) can increase opportunities to make curriculum more culturally responsive. (more…)

Step by Step Our Field Builds Its Capacity for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

November 14, 2018 by

Equity Principles (Click Image to Enlarge)

At iNACOL a few weeks ago, people from three different organizations came up to me to tell me about their progress in building organizational capacity around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Some are making steps in building diverse candidate pools that are leading to greater diversity on staff. Some are starting to use an equity lens to review decisions. Some are turning the equity framework developed through the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education into tools to use with their networks.  

I think a good example of how our field is moving step by step (let’s be honest, there are still way too many panels of all white people or equity added as the last bullet point rather then integrated into the core of our work) is from NGLC. In their latest Practitioner Guide, they recount their story toward building their organizational capacity around equity: (more…)

When Equity and Student-Centered Learning Go Hand in Hand

October 18, 2018 by

I spent two days at the Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative meeting last week. Kudos to the Student at the Center team for integrating equity and student-centered learning so deeply that they were one and the same. I’ll share three highlights of the meeting:

First, Eric Toshalis opened up the meeting with an acknowledgement that the meeting was taking place on lands that were originally those of Native Americans and that we were there without permission. After my trip to Aotearoa New Zealand, I have become a firm believer that we can build much stronger cultures of inclusivity if we are in a process of reconciliation and healing. I hold the greatest respect for Eric and JFF in launching the meeting in this way. (For those of you who are interested, this resource on how to honor native land can be helpful.) (more…)

Student-Centered Learning and Inclusion: Getting the Details Right

June 7, 2018 by

This post originally appeared at Education Week on March 29, 2018.

Will student-centered learning be a real long-term driver for equity and inclusion? As with so much in education reform, the devil is in the details.

Or to put it more positively, successful education reforms abide by a set of basic principles. They build from strong learning and human development research, build the capacity of key actors to effectively implement the reform, and align to the demands of an evolving society. Following this logic, the Students at the Center Framework is designed for success. The framework of personalized, anytime, anywhere, mastery-based, and student-owned learning capitalizes on an increasingly sophisticated understanding of learning sciences and whole-child theory and the development of new technologies. And the framework aligns to the demands of the 21st century by staying focused on ensuring students have the knowledge, skills, and dispositions essential for success and the capacity to make informed, active decisions in our society. Nevertheless, all the strong theory behind the framework doesn’t guarantee its promise can be realized for all learners, including those with different levels of abilities (the focus of this piece). Even when adopting a student-centered framework shaped from research on equity and inclusion–as this one is–actors must still be explicit in how to build equity and inclusion into design, planning, and implementation.

To see this first hand, we look closely at a foundational principle of the Students at the Center Framework: student ownership, or agency. Agency is essential to all aspects of the framework. For learning to take place anywhere and anytime, students must be able to make active choices about where and how they learn; for learning to be competency-based, students participate in determining how and when they demonstrate their learning; for learning to be personalized, students have to understand and communicate their needs, skills, and interests. Providing students conditions to exhibit agency is an educational best practice and essential for students entering a world where they have to make more choices about how they live and learn.

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