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  • Abner Oakes

Big Ideas

I had a great week last week in Vermont, visiting with several school and district folks as that state moves more and more to a proficiency-based approach. JumpRope already has some great school partners in Vermont - Champlain Valley Union High School, Essex Middle School, and Hartland Elementary School are just three - and we look forward to more work with passionate, kids-at-the-center educators.

Some of the more interesting conversations I had during my three days there were about big ideas. We like educators that dream big, for we at JumpRope tend to do the same thing, as we think about a proficiency-focused approach to education, with a sharp focus on content and skills, with time and place as the variables. We want to see school systems do the same.

At least two of my conversations with folks last week centered on end-of-school-career standards. What are those big standards that a high school wants their kids achieving when they graduate and how do those big standards impact what comes before, even down to the elementary and middle school levels? Some of our conversation had to do with the logistics of mapping these graduation standards or proficiencies - that is, how JumpRope handles them and the standards that roll up into the graduation proficiencies. (In short, yes, JumpRope’s Standards Bank can do that. Easy peasy.)

The more interesting side of those conversations was about back-mapping; if we want kids to master this content and these skills, what preliminary content and skills need to be mastered to lead them to those end goals? And most importantly: What is the process for this work? That is: How does a school district engage in it, getting folks from all school levels to assist? It’s not enough to say, “Oh, that’s why there’s the Common Core. Just plop those into your standards’ bank and follow along.” The Common Core standards are a starting point, I feel; they’re a set of standards that need unpacking, so that they fit the context of the classroom and are re-made so that they can be directly assessed.

Now, we understand that others might disagree with this unpacking notion, that the primary value of the Common Core is its commonality; by modifying and expanding, by in essence changing the standards, you lose access to their shared resources and the best practices that they can engender. Well, we believe that you can have it both ways, and we’re also reporting on what we see in schools and classrooms all over: There’s mad unpacking happening, as teachers make the Common Core more parent- and student-friendly and develop learning targets that, as I said above, can be more directly assessed.

Back to the big picture: We look forward to our work with these new Vermont schools and districts. We look forward to tackling with them the big questions that a very simple question - “Just what are your standards?” - can create. We look forward to creating a standards-based teaching and learning system that works for kids and teachers from the very start of their school career to when they march for high school graduation, a system that links grade level to grade level, school to school, ensuring that at each stage students are working towards mastery of common goals. Not so easy peasy, we know, but so important.

(I got the above pic at this page.)

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