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  • Sara Needleman

Leading in One JumpRope School

When teachers really believe that all students can succeed and that it's their job to facilitate success, we see deep and positive change. This was one of the "shifts" Alison Angrisani, assistant principal at the Expeditionary Learning School for Community Leaders in Brooklyn, shared with me when we spoke last month. She talked about the faculty in her school coming from the same wide range of experiences and practices that we see in most faculties, and that for them, the school-wide implementation of standards-based practices has taken some time, but she sees huge progress.

Expeditionary Learning School for Community Leaders has been using JumpRope since it opened in 2009; it's one of our original partners and a native JumpRope environment. Since it began as a school rooted in standards-based teaching and assessment, the faculty has continually worked to reach common understandings and practices, and learning for the staff is as important as learning for its students. For example, some faculty members spent time reading and talking about Ken O'Connor's 2010 publication, A Repair Kit for Broken Grading: Fifteen Fixes for Broken Grades, others attended professional development sessions hosted by Expeditionary Learning, and others sought out and capitalized on collegial conversations on the topic. It was all done in an effort to do what was best for their students.

Alison shared that everyone kept an open mind and thought deeply about how a standards-based system could benefit students. Understanding that the goal was to achieve mastery on the learning targets, but not necessarily on each part of each assessment, teachers began to see the value in giving students more time, trying alternate strategies and offering students the chance to revisit assessments. They were focused on the positive, not the negative, and they saw the path to mastery as a semester-long journey.

But they still wrestled with many questions, such as:

  • How do we sort out content mastery from work habits, which this schools calls leadership?

  • How many times can a student revisit a target to demonstrate mastery?

  • How can formative assessment data be represented?

The question around formative assessments was troubling enough to some teachers that they chose to enter that data into the system, giving it a weight of 0.1. That way, the data shows on progress reports, but since it's formative, it has nearly no mathematical bearing on an actual grade. (Interestingly, the question of reporting on formative data also resonated with teachers in a school district in Maine I recently wrote about.)

According to Alison, a seminal moment for her school was the formation of its Grading Norms. They came from an effort to increase consistency across the school, and the school's leadership team facilitated a process to help everyone arrive at and agree to them:

  • Grades shouldn't be used to punish or reward; they are objective measures based on what students know or can do

  • There is no academic penalty for submitting late work

  • Every assessment is tied to at least one leadership target

  • M (Missing) has zero weight – the expectation is you need to and will make this up

  • Blank = no evidence of progress – the expectation is you're not expected to make this up, either because of an absence (e.g., presentation, group work, Socratic seminar) or preparedness (e.g., a student who is new to the country being asked to write a formal essay)

  • There must be more than one assessment for each learning target

  • Departments will norm how many (range) learning targets teachers should have

The story of Expeditionary Learning School for Community Leaders is a story of success for a several reasons. The most obvious is that the faculty works hard to inspire student success. They have also worked hard to reach common understanding around best practice. They approach their students with shared understandings about what defines success, and therefore students are clear on how to attain it, both in terms of content and in terms of leadership.

Feel free to contact us to learn more about Expeditionary Learning School for Community Leaders or to share your story. We'd love to hear from you!

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