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  • Sara Needleman

Exploring Practice

"I truly think that JumpRope has moved our thinking about instruction and assessment further than I could have imagined."

We don't make this stuff up. And if we did, it would never sound as good as most of what we hear from our users who give us positive feedback. When Becky Brown, curriculum coordinator for the South Portland, Maine school district, shared this comment with me, I followed up with a trip to her office and a conversation.

South Portland is a relatively large school district by Maine standards. With 3118 students, South Portland began piloting JumpRope this year in order to move towards state-wide adoption of proficiency-based grading and graduation. In her office, Becky told me that the 6th grade teachers report they feel significant shifts in their practice and that providing them with a tool to manage this shift to standards-based teaching and learning has helped them to focus on just that -- the practice-- and not on how to manage the mountains of data it generates. Becky went on to say, "In the first three months of working with the 6th grade teachers, who are successful with JumpRope, I had more and deeper conversations around instruction and assessment than in any other context in my career."

It's important to note here that my conversation with Becky and her conversations with teachers are at times specifically about JumpRope but that the true conversation - what we're all really discussing - is about standards-based practice. JumpRope gives teachers the tool to link assessments to standards/targets and to enter grades which correspond to those standards/targets. Once a teacher has entered enough data, the system can group and slice the data in myriad ways. It's looking at the data, examining it for trends in any one student, across any one standard, or even according to assessment type, that allows teachers to think and talk about teaching and learning - in thoughtful, substantive ways. And that's exactly what Becky and the 6th grade teachers in South Portland are doing.

Last year, as South Portland attempted to engage in important conversations about their Essential Learning Targets, teachers were able to identify assessments that "related" to those targets, but it was hard for some people to see the difference between a standards-referenced curriculum and a standards-based curriculum. Becky told me that JumpRope gave her a concrete way to say, "OK, so you want students to do X - what standards is X measuring? How is the assessment linked to the standard?" The use of JumpRope did not replace the careful work teachers have done to understand and begin to use a standards-based system, but it did give them a way to bypass countless hours of misunderstandings and partial understandings because they had a clear visual and voluminous data to guide their conversations.

Now that teachers are using JumpRope, Becky continued, teachers see how to directly assess certain indicators of mastery. Their conversations about practice allowed the pilot teachers to use some of Marzano's tools to define student mastery, the instruction needed to support that mastery, and the assessments to measure it. Additionally, Becky and these teachers are asking students to aim higher, with indicators that are more rigorous than those previously used.

As our conversation came to a close, Becky drew this analogy: For South Portland, using JumpRope was like an athlete finally being given the right equipment to excel at playing the sport. The right equipment made it easier to play for real, to play hard. In addition to equipping teachers for the mindful collection of evidence of learning, JumpRope also equipped teachers with a tool to help frame conversations about practice and student progress.

Now, could Becky and these teachers have arrived at this same spot without JumpRope? Probably. I'll go out on a limb, though, and say that it would've taken a whole lot longer and it would've been a whole lot harder - like a downhill skier on board planks.

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