Category: Uncategorized

Why Engaging Parents Matters: Maloney High School

May 17, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at Students at the Center Hub on March 22, 2017.

RESEARCH SUGGESTS THAT WHEN SCHOOLS PARTNER WITH AND ENGAGE PARENTS TO UNDERSTAND AND STAY INVOLVED IN THEIR CHILD’S LEARNING EXPERIENCES, THE PARENTS ARE MORE LIKELY TO SUPPORT DISTRICT INNOVATION, AND STUDENTS TEND TO HAVE BETTER ACADEMIC AND SOCIAL OUTCOMES.[1]

Francis T. Maloney High School in Meriden, Connecticut, held its first “Parent Walk” earlier this year, inviting parents and guardians to experience student-centered learning in action. Maloney had been hosting successful quarterly instructional and community learning walks, during which community members such as Meriden’s mayor got first-hand views of classrooms and students fully engaged in lessons. These walks helped to demystify the ideas behind student-centered learning by showcasing the academic and social benefits of student-centered approaches. Witnessing the impact and benefits of these instructional tours, leadership and staff at Maloney introduced the Walk to parents to ensure that families of students at the school can experience and fully support a learning environment that may not look like the one they experienced when they were in high school.

Lynette Valentine, a parent of Kaitlyn, a 9th grader, provides an example of the power of Parent Walks. She participated in the recent walk at Maloney, and was moved to write a letter of appreciation about her experience. The following is an excerpt from her letter to the principal of Maloney, Mrs. Straub, and one of the teachers, Mrs. Showerda.

“The first thing I noticed was the bright atmosphere–students were moving and alert–the classrooms were not lined up with seating, front to back in alphabetical order, like traditional classrooms. I could clearly see that Maloney’s learning structure involved both social and academic supports. Classes were engaging–students were able to work in groups and lean on each other, instead of having the teacher as the main resource. To me, this is perfect for socialization and helps students to be ready to enter the workforce­–figuring things out with a team is important! … When Maloney’s B.Y.O.D. (Bring Your Own Device) initiative first came out, I was at first skeptical but it is obvious that it truly works. What a way to engage students to learn! I witnessed teachers helping students interested in pursuing a direction they felt strongly about (e.g., an entrepreneurial experience for a business student). I wish I had the same opportunities when I was a student.”

Read Lynette Valentine’s full letter

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Connecting the Dots: Aligning Efforts to Support Teachers and Students in New Hampshire

May 8, 2017 by

Making the shift to a competency-based and personalized model of education is a process that can be daunting to educators, especially those who work in a very traditional system. Last July I made the move from being the principal of a nationally recognized Professional Learning Community at Work school and competency-based learning environment to the executive director of the New Hampshire Learning Initiative, a non-profit dedicated to seeding and supporting innovative efforts in New Hampshire schools. I had been fortunate to be engaged in a number of the innovative efforts in New Hampshire while I was a principal, and I understood all too well that many educators did not see how the work that we were doing was connected. Anytime a school or district’s next steps are seen as “another initiative” the work is doomed to fail. I set out to connect the dots for as many as I could in my new role.

New Hampshire is quite well-known for an innovative assessment effort called PACE, but it is truly the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the greater ecosystem of personalized learning in New Hampshire. The Performance Assessment of Competency Education (PACE) is the only assessment and accountability waiver approved by the U.S. Department of Education. The results from PACE continue to surprise national experts in assessment, but not the educators directly involved. The results, when compared with SBAC, demonstrate high levels of inter-rater reliability, as well as growth for students in various cohorts, suggesting that opportunities for deeper learning are having a positive impact regardless of where a student is on his/her learning progression. This has been due to a number of factors, but what it comes down to is this: Our teachers, when provided the opportunity to learn deeply, reflect, and collaborate, really know their stuff, and when students are truly given the opportunity for deeper learning, they rise to that level of rigor.

But there was, and is, a piece of our balanced system of assessments that we continue to work on developing. The integration of skills and dispositions into curriculum, instruction, and assessment is an integral component of a competency-based system. There is a growing body of research supporting the absolute necessity of these non-curricular cognitive competencies to success in careers. Employers are identifying these skills as the ones critical to success in the workplace. In New Hampshire, these skills and dispositions are referred to as Work Study Practices (WSP). Our teachers, starting in the PACE schools, took on this challenge over the past two years, and the learning has been monumental. Through the facilitated and guided practice through modules created by 2Revolutions and support through MyWays tools, New Hampshire educators have the opportunity to delve into their own learning, then develop and implement tools and resources within their own classroom environments to integrate these all-important competencies into learning opportunities for students. Teachers from across the State of New Hampshire are then brought together for a facilitated opportunity to share their learning and resources with each other. The number of teachers involved in this effort has doubled over the past two years as educators recognize the importance of these competencies to preparing our students to be successful in today’s world. (more…)

Personalized Learning Worth Fighting For

April 5, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on February 28, 2017. It is the third in a three-part series on “Readiness for All.” Read the first post here and the second post here.

The goal of college and career readiness for all has been the focus of education reform initiatives and a unifying aspiration, yet attainment eludes us. We can continue to debate how readiness is defined and measured, but time has proven that the traditional, factory-style approach will not suffice. Personalized learning is the next logical step toward the “readiness for all” objective.

Personalized learning is when students are provided flexibility in an environment with simultaneously increased structure and support that aligns with their interests, strengths and skill level. We believe meeting students where they are and providing the individualized supports they need to grow is the desire of all educators, but significant flexibility and system change will be required to reach that vision.

The possibilities of a truly student-centered system seem endless, but the irony is that many coincide perfectly with policies special education advocates have long been fighting for.

  • Inclusion. Historically, specialized instruction resulted in segregated settings. In a personalized setting, it is expected and understood that students will be learning in multiple ways and at flexible paces. When this goal is achieved system-wide, we may at long last be able to reduce the stigma associated with being a struggling learner.
  • Self-advocacy and student agency. These terms and goals have been common lingo in special education for years, but the opportunity to not only recognize them but build them in system-wide for all students could increase the realization of these goals.
  • Strengths-based approach. By definition, personalized learning is based on students’ strengths and interests, and with intentional design, the opportunity exists to finally move away from the deficit-based nature of individual education plans (IEPs). At bare minimum, a system that has truly embraced personalized learning has also embraced a growth mindset. This mindset should be able to permeate IEP meetings and bring about a more positive parent experience.
  • Increased academic achievement. The entire premise of special education is to provide the services and supports students need to access and succeed in school. Ironically, this is the same for personalized learning. Perhaps the opportunity to redesign a system from scratch will lessen the need to see special education as a separate program for “those kids” and a real need for ALL kids.

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March CompetencyWorks Catch-Up

April 4, 2017 by

Beyond Test Scores: Introducing the MCIEA School Quality Measures

April 3, 2017 by

James Noonan

This post originally appeared at the Center for Collaborative Education on January 30, 2017.

Ask anyone who loves a school what exactly makes it special, and you are liable to hear a wide range of opinions: competent and caring teachers, a diverse and appropriately challenging curriculum, access to cutting edge technology, a variety of extracurricular activities, availability of special education support services, an established track record of academic performance; the list goes on. And yet, measures of school quality—largely based on student standardized test scores—have long remained disappointingly narrow, unable to capture the full complexity of school quality.

Beginning in 2014, in an effort to move school quality “beyond test scores,” a team led by Dr. Jack Schneider from the College of the Holy Cross, worked with district and city leaders in Somerville to produce a more holistic picture of school quality. Together, they developed a framework now being revised and piloted by a consortium of six school districts across the state (Attleboro, Boston, Lowell, Revere, Somerville, and Winchester).

Convened by CCE, the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment (MCIEA) is committed to more authentic ways of assessing student learning and school quality, addressing the shortcomings of current measurement systems by collecting data that is both broader in scope and deeper in substance. In so doing, MCIEA hopes to demonstrate that collecting better data can produce better outcomes for schools, students, and families.

Broadly speaking, the work of MCIEA is happening across two strands. At the classroom level, teacher-designed and curriculum-embedded performance assessments offer teachers a more nuanced and authentic way to assessing student learning, one that could over time replace standardized testing. At the school and district levels, the School Quality Measures (SQM) project aims to better model the diverse perspectives and experiences of a range of school stakeholders when assessing school quality.

The School Quality Measures project aims to describe the full measure of what makes a good school. Drawing on a close reading of public polling research and empirical research on factors related to school quality, and engaging in conversations with teachers, students, families, principals, and district administrators, we have identified five categories – the first three being essential inputs and the last two being key outcomes – and over 30 unique measures to capture the nuances of schools:  (more…)

Getting Personalized Learning Right the First Time

March 31, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on February 26, 2017. It is the second in a three-part series on “Readiness for All.” Read the first post here.

Facing the daunting challenge of preparing all students for college, career and civic success, educators, students and their families are caught in a persistent churn of educational reforms and innovations, one following the other. But have these innovations really moved the needle for students with disabilities? If not, why? For answers, let’s consider the standard playbook for far too many reforms:

  1. Identify a challenge facing the system;
  2. Create a strategic plan to address that challenge with aspirations for how your strategy will address the needs of all learners;
  3. When reality bumps against aspirations, create a subcommittee to think through how the plan and its associated investments can be modified to address the needs of students with disabilities and other struggling learners; and
  4. When that fails, go back to the drawing board and repeat.

The persistent incapacity of the system to change shouldn’t be a surprise—we are often stuck retrofitting well-intentioned ideas for students whose needs were too complicated to fit into our original models in the first place.

Approaches to personalized learning are riding the wave of educational innovation. If implemented well, the benefits for students with disabilities and other struggling learners are numerous and exciting: more engaging educational experiences, systems focused on students’ challenges, strengths and interests, multiple ways to access content, and on-time, targeted supports. It’s because we are excited by this potential that we are adamant that the new approach must be designed for the success of all learners. (more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

by

What's new! star graphicNews

  • The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently awarded a $2.5 Million grant to Lindsay Unified School District and Summit Public Schools, called the California Consortium for Development and Dissemination of Personalized Learning (C2D2). By June 2019, they will develop an open source tool to clearly define personalized learning competencies for various personnel in the learning community. The tool will also identify systemic barriers that stand in the way of mastering these competencies and provide resources that support continuous improvement and development for the adults in learner-centered education.
  • Harvard’s Project Zero is studying how to teach for understanding and have found that when students have structures for thinking, better learning emerges.

Micro-Credentials for Teacher PD

Equity

School Designs

  • Red Bank Elementary, profiled by Education Reimagined here, is a leader in education transformation, designed around personalized, relevant, and contextualized pathways for each learner.
  • This USA Today article highlights how one Brooklyn school, Brooklyn Lab, is changing how students and teachers are taught. Brooklyn Lab is one of 10 to receive $10 million from the XQ: The Super School Project.
  • Washington’s Federal Way school board approved the use of a competency-based model for two alternative schools.

Student Agency & Voice

State Policy Updates

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Starting Over with Personalized Learning

March 28, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on February 24, 2017. It is the first in a three-part series on “Readiness for All.”

In his book The End of Average, Todd Rose describes how a faulty belief in the idea of an average student has led to the design of one-size-fits-all systems Rose states that “there can never be equal opportunity on average. Only equal fit creates equal opportunity.”

This is the premise of personalized learning—designing systems flexible and responsive enough to both address students’ needs as well as build on their strengths and interests, thus recognizing what every parent and teacher has always known—that every child is different.

Our hope is that personalized learning may present the opportunity to flip the traditional model upside down. Or better yet, put it right side up. Rather than trying to retrofit a new design with accommodations and modifications, does a personalized learning model provide us the long desired opportunity to start with a Universal Design for Learning?

The rapidly growing interest in personalized learning leads us to believe that we may be finally reaching a tipping point. The Foundation for Excellence in Education is working with state leaders to create the policy environments that will allow innovative models to thrive and the National Center for Learning Disabilities is deeply engaged in the critical work of ensuring that students with special needs are also able to benefit from these new models. (more…)

The Power of Grades

March 24, 2017 by

GradesThis post originally appeared at iNACOL on December 19, 2016. 

There are few fields where talk of equity is as ubiquitous as it is in education. For all of that, our system of education remains remarkable for its ability to continually reproduce inequitable outcomes along race, class, and gender lines. Up to now, efforts to foster equity in education can be grouped into two broad categories: reforms focused on the input of resources, or those focused on the output of achievement. While debates drag on around the input of funding and output of standardized test scores, what is focused on far less often is what happens inside the system.

Traditional grading deserves its own debate. Every day students interact with a structure of feedback that places their learning on an alphanumeric scale. At best, this feedback system is non-descriptive; at worst, it is one of the most fundamental pieces of a system that was designed to produce stratification. By its very nature, traditional alphanumeric grading aims to separate “strong” and “weak” students. Final grades are made up of an average of any number of learning tasks, attendance requirements, homework completion, and demonstration of learning on assessments. While each of these tasks may well have discrete and useful feedback, all of that information is aggregated into a non-descript label: A, B, C, D, F or 1-100. A grade of B can mean many things even within a single classroom, and so can an F. This lack of clarity grows exponentially between classrooms and more still between schools. While in some classes students are given A’s as a reward for sitting quietly, other classes demand that learning take place, and most demand a unique blend of both, none of this information is explicit in the end-of-course grade. Traditional grading fails to communicate to students what they know and don’t know, while conveying a false sense of objectivity provided by the use of numbers or letters to calibrate student performance.

Rather than providing accurate and complete feedback, grades label students as “good” or “bad” students. While every teacher knows the benefit of momentum — that knowledge builds on knowledge, and success builds on success — traditional grades halt this momentum, declaring learning on a certain task over, signaling the end of what is actually an iterative process. Imagine a student who has studied lots, worked hard, and is waiting eagerly for feedback on her most recent assessment. And then imagine she was wrong; she was unprepared (or the task was unclear, or the grading biased), and she receives a D. Her face falls; she is discouraged, maybe she folds into herself, maybe she withdraws from trying so hard again. This single label has changed her. When a child receives a low or failing grade, she internalizes the message that she is a failure, that she cannot learn. Students who experience repetitive failure are less likely to re-engage with material and eventually come to think of themselves as bad students who don’t deserve to do well. In this way, traditional grading and assessments can be traumatizing for struggling students, creating a learning identity that becomes self-fulfilling prophecy. (more…)

One Good Question with Susan Patrick: How Can We Build Trust in Our Education System?

March 6, 2017 by
Susan Patrick

Susan Patrick

This post originally appeared at iNACOL on December 16, 2016 and One Good Question on December 6, 2016.

In what ways do our investments in education reveal our beliefs about the next generation’s role in the world?

There’s a big difference in how you would fund the education system if you were building for the longer term – you would invest in building capacity and trust. We need to take a very honest look at our investments. If people and relationships matter, we need to be building our own sense of inquiry. That’s not at odds with innovation investments. We should be about innovation with equity. That way, we can change our own perspectives while we build new solutions.

The debate about top-down reform vs. bottom-up innovation is tied to the same trust issues. In Finland, they made an effort to go towards a trust based model and it meant investing in educator capacity so that the systems trust educators to make the best decisions in real-time. If we don’t start investing in trust, we can’t get anywhere.

When US educators visit other countries, we tend to look for silver bullet programs from the highest-performing countries. What are we missing in that search?  

During my Eisenhower Fellowship, I was able to meet with teams from OECD and UNESCO that gave me great perspective. UNESCO has just published an Education 2030 outlook presenting their global education development agenda that looks at the whole child. Their goals are broad enough to include developing nations who aren’t yet educating 100% of their population. When we read through the goals and indicators, the US could learn a lot from having our current narrow focus on academics. Our current education structure is not going to lead us to provide a better society. Are we even intending to build a better society for the future? We’re not asking the big questions. We’re asking if students can read and do math on grade level in grades 3-8. In Canada, they ask if a student has yet met or exceeded expectations. If not, what are we doing to get them there? You don’t just keep moving and allow our kids to have gaps.

The UNESCO report specifies measures about access to quality education. Is there gender equality? Is there equity? They define equity as:

Equity in education is the means to achieving equality. It intends to provide the best opportunities for all students to achieve their full potential and act to address instances of disadvantage which restrict educational achievement. It involves special treatment/action taken to reverse the historical and social disadvantages that prevent learners from accessing and benefiting from education on equal grounds. Equity measures are not fair per se but are implemented to ensure fairness and equality of outcome. (UNESCO 2015)

Across the global landscape of education systems, there is a diversity of governance from top-down to bottom-up regarding system control, school autonomy and self-regulation and how this impacts processes and policies for quality assurance, evaluation and assessments. It is important to realize the top-down and bottom-up dynamics are often a function of levels of trust combined with transparency for data and doing what is best for all kids. In the US, let’s face it, our policy conversations around equity are driven by a historical trend of a massive achievement gap. Said another way, there is a huge lack of trust from the federal government toward states, from states to districts and even down to schools and classrooms. We ask, “How do we trust that we’re advancing equity in our schools?’” (more…)

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