Last week I wrote about the steps Capital City Public Charter School (CCPCS), one of our partner schools, took to examine practice and implement changes. You can read about their process here. The actual changes CCPCS implemented are an encouraging reflection of important steps mindful schools and districts across the country - and indeed the world - are taking. They signal the teaching community's dedication to deep learning and the commitment to creating situations that foster and monitor that learning. The 9-12 faculty at CCPCS, led by instructional coach Pat Coyle, are shining examples of positive change-makers in our schools.
Pat and his colleagues saw that finding some common ground would be instrumental in making the shift to standards-based practice. Since they were an Expeditionary Learning school, they already shared some common goals and practices - among them, the commitment to identifying and teaching to well articulated learning targets. The hiccup with the learning targets was that while everyone spent time conceiving of and using them, the targets themselves were not normed. This realization led to other inconsistencies in practice such as the scale for grading, distinguishing between habits of work and academic achievement, and the inclusion of formative assessment data and zeros in arriving at final grades.
The first step in norming some of their practices was the simple acknowledgement that standards-based was the best approach. Pat believed that having all teachers work within a single system would expedite their use of common language and therefore encourage a shift to normed practices. His commitment to using JumpRope as fertilizer for thought and action is not unusual. In January I wrote about this very idea as it emerged in South Portland, Maine. The 9-12 CCPCS staff signed off on the policy they eventually developed, and their use of JumpRope held them to their agreed-upon practices.
This year, the school focused on Habits of Work (HOW) grades. The CCPCS teachers collected data on work habits and agreed that they would not count toward final grades in JumpRope. The teachers wrestled with the interconnectedness of habits of work and achievement on summative assessments, and they strove to ensure that unless a student really was engaged in the learning process, he or she would not do well on summative assessments. This careful look at practice also helped them design formative assessments that truly moved students toward the stated targets; in short, they considered what might have been "busy work" and exactly how to create curriculum and assessments which call for and demonstrate mastery of the stated targets.
Part and parcel of assessing habits and content mastery separately is the practice of eliminating zeros when assessment data is simply missing and reducing marks for assignments that are submitted after the due date. The CCPCS faculty saw that a better approach to these more traditional practices was to find ways to support their students in meeting deadlines and making up missing assignments.
And finally, as they were undergoing these changes, they agreed that the most honest way to arrive at grades for content mastery was to consider progress over time as it is seen in relation to the stated learning targets. At CCPCS, they realized that good teaching actually means students don't fare well in early assessment situations. This makes sense because early on, teachers have not spent time and energy helping students master new ideas and skills. As they invest that time and energy in them, teachers should see assessment scores rise, an indication that they are doing their jobs. Using a mathematical mean to determine a student's final grade short-changes the student and the teacher because it fails to honor the process of teaching and learning.
The teachers at CCPCS are just one example of a growing collection of thoughtful educators who see that the results of shifting to a standards-based practice far outweigh the challenges of actually making that shift. They know the work is hard, but they also know it's worth the result.
And lastly: Part of what makes working at JumpRope so exciting is finding partners like CCPCS. We push one another's thinking and practice, which serves to make learning better for kids. We feel energized as we learn from CCPCS and love sharing stories like these. We hope to bring more of their story to our readers as it unfolds and hope that some of you will reach out to us so we can share your stories too!