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Schools amplify inequity with failed solutions to teacher shortage

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We’re racing against a ticking clock to resolve the teacher shortage for our students’ futures as the number of unfilled positions at schools and districts hits record levels.

Every unfilled staff vacancy at a school means that students are not receiving a high-quality education, which has a resounding effect on outcomes. One study shows that 10 additional teacher absences per year lead to 1.2 percent and .6 percent of a standard deviation decrease in math and English test scores, respectively. This principle applies to core subjects, which give students a solid foundation for academic and career success, and enrichment classes, which expand their skill sets and understanding of the world.

The teacher shortage is even more detrimental to students in underserved districts, where teacher absences tend to run higher than the national average of 11 days per year.

But there has been a solution in front of us the whole time: live-streaming teachers can serve in-person or virtual classrooms around the country at the click of a button, providing the quality education that all students deserve.

Failed solutions

Desperate to solve the teacher shortage, schools are trying everything they can, including pleading for parents to volunteer in classrooms. Meanwhile, state governments are trying to help, sometimes by taking actions that have been frantic, extravagant, or misguided. Tennessee offered free apprenticeships to would-be teachers. New Mexico recruited National Guard members.

Perhaps most alarming is the trend of schools lowering certification requirements for people willing to teach. An AAEE survey found that 16 percent of the teachers hired in the past year did not have traditional preparation and were either emergency hires or had non-traditional preparation.

Evan Erdberg, President and Founder of Proximity Learning, has over 16 years of online K-12 and higher education human capital management experience. Prior to Proximity Learning, Evan was the director of Teachscape, managing one of the largest implementations in the country of principal certification and teacher evaluation systems that incorporated student data.

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Here’s why blended and hybrid learning are the future of education

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Blended and hybrid learning models were first introduced to extend personalized and flexible learning options to selected individuals or groups of students. But with onset of the pandemic, widespread adoption of blended and hybrid models suddenly became a necessity across all student populations.

Two years later, how have districts overcome the initial challenges and applied the lessons learned to re-imagine teaching and learning and develop an innovative vision for change in their school communities?

Join eSchool News for a panel discussion with leaders and educators who share a passion for the bold new vision of blended and hybrid learning as the future of education.

You’ll hear how schools can:

As an educator and curriculum content creator, I’m always seeking to develop lessons that offer students opportunities to express complex emotions and share personal experiences. Inspiring self-expression and building a…

The average day in a K-12 school has little margin for error; educators have perfected the art of stretching resources. Yet the typical day rarely goes as planned. Staff absences are on the rise this year, and for each person who is out, others are asked to stretch themselves to make it work.

With recent research showcasing the growing number of STEM-related jobs that will be available to our graduates in Indiana in the coming years, teaching computer science skills has become as important as teaching students how to read or do math. The state has recognized this importance by mandating that all schools incorporate computer science for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

At Scott Elementary School, our approach to education is defined as GAIN (Growth in Academics through Innovation and Neuroeducation), which includes multiple initiatives to ensure each student reaches their maximum potential. Our focus is to inspire a love for learning and prepare students to be successful throughout every stage of their lives.

Close to half of student may have a learning different, and more than half of parents in say they have sought supplemental learning services for their child, according to a recent survey.

Blended and hybrid learning models were first introduced to extend personalized and flexible learning options to selected individuals or groups of students. But with onset of the pandemic, widespread adoption of blended and hybrid models suddenly became a necessity across all student populations.

During all the tumult of the last two years of schooling, from remote to hybrid to masked in-person, educators prioritized the social and emotional needs of students. A full 70 percent of schools now offer mental health programming, according to a recent survey from the American School District Panel and 20 percent of these schools say they added these services as a response to the pandemic disruptions.

Nearly everyone remembers the stress of taking a test in school. In-class exams have the power to make even the most dedicated of students quake with fear, not to mention the damage they can do to the egos of struggling learners.

The collective damage caused by the pandemic has yet to be fully understood, but the toll it has taken on youth mental health and emotional well-being is becoming exceedingly apparent.

According to the CDC, 9.4 percent of children have ADHD. Teachers are often familiar with the associated behaviors of ADHD. Each child’s presentation of ADHD is unique.

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4 innovative online learning practices educators should keep

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Over the past two years, education systems across the nation have been challenged with oscillating shifts, from classroom learning to remote and online learning, and even hybrid approaches, due to COVID-19 precautions and responsiveness. Amid these ongoing changes, educators reimagined the ways they engaged with their students, and many turned to museums and other community organizations for support to better understand how to leverage our collections, educational resources, and expertise creatively for their students.

For the community of more than 300 museum educators at the Smithsonian, the sudden urgency to scrap our traditional modus operandi unleashed new levels of innovation. We reimagined how to share a vast library of artifacts, artworks, specimens, and content expertise with our audiences to best meet their teaching and learning needs.

As teachers and students return to schools and museums searching for a “new normal,” below are some practices from the past two years I know we’ll keep.

Connecting with students–wherever they are

At the start of the pandemic, our team faced the challenge of helping students learn from home with the support of their teachers and caregivers. As classroom teachers switched from, “How do I engage students in the classroom?” to “How do I teach from home?” our team shifted from “How do we engage people in the museum?” to “How do we meet people where they are?”

Getting there meant making deliberate shifts in how we fulfill our mission and serve our learners. We took our role in a community ecosystem of learning to heart and launched online programs to provide ongoing pedagogical and technical support for the effective use of the Learning Lab – a free portal providing digital access to vast collections of education resources, and developed new templates and tools for teachers to support a range of approaches to learning. We partnered with national and local organizations to provide education resources that supported their evolving needs.

As the return to both classrooms and in-person museum visits is upon us, we will continue to be responsive to the needs of schools and students across the country, no matter where the learning happens.

Better curation

The ways in which we present information as educators shifted during the pandemic, too. Teachers rushed to find high-quality digital content in a vast sea of resources. They turned to podcasts, videos, interactive games, and other media. By experimenting with new types of content, educators changed their own processes of curation.

Ashley Naranjo, M.Ed., is a museum educator, specializing in the use of digital resources for teaching and learning. She currently manages distance learning initiatives and education partnerships for the Smithsonian. She can be reached at learning@si.edu.

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Promoting SEL Through Bulletin Boards

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When you’re walking down a school hallway, what do you notice? Does the environment seem inviting and accepting, or does it seem dull and neglected? Are the walls overpowered with color or bare and gray? My point is, bulletin boards are the billboards of classroom halls—they can capture a school’s mission, display what students are learning, and be interactive for bystanders.

I’d like to share some strategies to use bulletin boards to promote social and emotional learning. The pandemic brought a wave of anxiety to teachers and to the students and families we care for. Consequently, social and emotional learning is even more important now.

Over the past six years, I have taught in environments with a high number of military children. I can recall growing up as one of these kids and experiencing a lot of anxiety and fear of the unknown, and with the pandemic we’ve seen even more anxiety, stress, and fear. The ability to recognize feelings and manage them is vital—prior to learning and teaching, our students and staff must first feel emotionally supported.

With the idea of supporting students, when I create bulletin boards I think about how to make them inclusive and helpful. They don’t have to be extravagant, over the top with decorations, or overstimulating. If we are displaying student work, I want the work to be varied and not just focused on the “best.” This helps every student feel seen and included.

I enjoy creating boards that catch students’ attention and make them want to invest a few minutes into looking at what we are sharing. I believe bulletin boards are something that can get easily overlooked, and the right displays can be a helpful tool for students. Below are a few examples of bulletin boards to support students’ social and emotional learning and inclusivity.

Supporting SEL and Inclusivity With Bulletin Boards

Breathing exercises: In social and emotional learning lessons, I always incorporate breathing exercises to promote self-regulation, and I believe these exercises make one of the best types of bulletin boards. Combining a visual that introduces students and adults to a calming exercise can be beneficial for all. When you teach breathing exercises, students will start to incorporate these strategies when they need to, like when they are taking a test or feeling anxious. I have used bulletin boards to share images that show students how to do “triangle breathing” and “mountain breathing,” for example.

Student check-ins: Checking in with students is a great way to encourage them to express themselves, especially those who may be hesitant to speak up if they feel dysregulated. Connecting students to something like different characters in the Avengers movies is a great motivational tool to get students to recognize how they are currently feeling—are they feeling like the Hulk or Groot today, for example? So I have put up a bulletin board with “Which Avengers character do you feel the most like?” as a prompt above images of five or six characters with different facial expressions.

While students can be hesitant to share how they are feeling, it’s important to know how they are feeling because it will affect their learning. You can construct this kind of board as a virtual board using Jamboard, or as a physical interactive board using sticky notes.

Self-reflection: I believe that as educators, we are constantly reflecting on ourselves and our work. A reflection can be a wonderful tool to recognize our accomplishments and a great way to celebrate them. To support this with students, I created a bulletin board—with a laminated background and dry erase markers handy—with the prompt “What have you done today to make you feel proud?” When my class showcased something they were proud of, more classes joined, and eventually students from all grade levels participated.

This board helps create a positive atmosphere and promotes empathy. One student wrote, “I felt proud when I helped someone up when they fell during recess.” Having students be reflective is a great way to have them create goals and recognize that we all do something every day we can be proud of, whether it be big or small.

Building empathy: Empathy can be a difficult skill to teach and learn. It takes time to understand how others are feeling and requires being present and listening intently. It gives a sense of hope to see a student being empathetic toward another student, and it builds up the community. For these boards I love using emojis because kids can easily connect to them and they’re gender neutral. They’re a simple way to have students connect how someone’s body might look or feel with specific feelings, and they can promote ways to self-regulate.

For example, a board I call Emoji Emotional Awareness has an angry emoji on the left and a relieved emoji on the right, with this prompt: “If you notice your body feeling like the emoji on the left, what is something that helps you to feel like the emoji on the right? Add a sticky note and give your suggestions.”

Then if students are curious they can view the notes and suggestions that fellow classmates have given to help support each other.

Activities: When we engage students in activities, we can challenge them to work toward a goal. With a bulletin board similar to the game tic-tac-toe, students can choose what challenges they want to do.

To set this up, I make a big tic-tac-toe board and fill the spots with the following prompts:

  • Row 1: List 3 things you like about yourself; What is something you’re thankful for?; Stretch up like a tree
  • Row 2: Write a positive note to someone you care about; Complete a breathing exercise; What is something you do well?
  • Row 3: Write a goal you have for the week; What is something you hope for?; What was the last thing that made you laugh?

Students can pick three activities in a row—across, down, or diagonally. When students have choice, we know it increases engagement and helps provide motivation to complete a task. This board is a great tool with a variety of tasks to complete that include physical movement, breathing exercises, and reflection.

Situations: When students are tasked to respond to a situation, they need to synthesize it and figure out if it’s something positive or dangerous. For example, consider asking students to choose two of the situations below and talk to a partner about what they would do:

  • There’s a new classmate and it’s their first day at school.
  • During recess, a classmate called another student unkind names and shoved another peer.
  • You see two classmates arguing at recess about who gets to go first in a game.

These scenarios give students a chance to reflect on their own actions and start to recognize situations where they could bring something positive.

Billboards can be more than a tool to hang student work. When used effectively, they can help students embrace social and emotional learning and teach them tools to help reflect and build empathy and kindness toward themselves and others. Making social and emotional learning the first priority for students creates a positive and inviting culture that brings one classroom community together with everyone else in the school.

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4 Meaningful Activities to Mark the End of School

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As the end of the school year approaches, many middle and high school teachers find themselves faced with less structured time and more opportunities to engage students in community-centered activities. We can dedicate some of this time to meaningful end-of-the-year activities to help our students acknowledge and celebrate the growth they have made while also setting goals for the future.

4 End-of-the-Year Activities

1. Letters to the future. For this activity, students write a letter to themselves one year in the future. Students are allowed to write anything they want, but I encourage them to focus on what they would like to be true in a year. For some students, this might mean writing about how they are now on the varsity basketball team, are captain of their debate club, or have an A in science class.

The possibilities are endless, and I remind students to include both academic and personal goals for themselves.

In order for this project to work effectively, you can either hold the letters and deliver them to students the next year, or work with your school to have the letters sent home.

While teaching sixth grade, I held on to all the letters and then returned them to the seventh graders at the end of the next school year. This was easy to do, as all of my students were still in the same building. For students who are transitioning from one school to the next, it might be easier to work with your school’s front office to mail the letters home.

2. Thank-you notes. Another option for helping students reflect on the year is writing thank-you notes. For this activity, I simply provide blank thank-you cards to students and encourage them to write at least one note to someone in the school and one note to someone outside of the school. Many of my students take the opportunity to write thank-you notes to their parents, friends in the class, teachers, or athletic coaches.

This is one of my favorite end-of-the-year activities because it creates such a positive environment in which students feel grateful for all they have accomplished and are able to acknowledge the people who helped them do it.

You could easily just provide students with blank paper for this activity and even alter the directions to make it more academically focused. For example, you could require that students write at least a certain number of sentences or use specific vocabulary words they have learned over the course of the school year.

3. Performances. This next option is a great way to let students show off all the amazing things they have accomplished over the past year that might not be academic. To effectively engage students in this kind of activity, I provide at least two weeks’ notice so that any students who want to perform can prepare.

In the past, I have had students sing, read poetry, and dance. I have also had a few students present drawings or paintings they had done at home or in outside art classes.

You can decide what types of performances you want to focus on and can even tie them to academics by having students read short stories they wrote in English or perform a skit they wrote in their foreign language class.

I have tended to allow students to show off whatever aspect of their talents they wanted, as many do not have the opportunity to be in the spotlight if their talents are not academic. I have utilized my school’s gym and cafeteria in the past for performances, but the classroom can also work well as long as you are intentional about setting it up.

4. Vision boards. This last activity encourages students to think about what they want their futures to look like. Students are given a poster board and tasked with creating collages that illustrate their future goals and the people, words, and phrases that inspire them to achieve those goals.

A few days before I plan to do this activity, I tell students to start collecting photos or magazines that they might want to use on their vision board. Several students always ask to use the printers at school for their images, so it’s helpful to be prepared to let students access computers and printers when completing this activity.

Many of my students include a picture of the college they want to attend or the professional sports team they hope to play for. I have seen students include photos of their friends, family, and other inspirational figures. Once all students are finished, I have allowed students to share their vision boards in small groups or in front of the entire class. It’s an incredible opportunity to hear students speak about their dreams, goals, and futures.

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Remembering Jonathan Haber, Who Taught So Many to Think Critically

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Earnest. Decent. Unassuming.

When I think of Jonathan Haber, who died unexpectedly of a heart attack last week, those are the first words that come to mind.

Jonathan, who wrote columns for EdSurge among his many pursuits, was a wonderful thinker, in education and in life.

The recent author of the book Critical Thinking, a topic about which he cared deeply, Haber had contributed in significant ways to a variety of important education projects.

He co-founded the company SkillCheck—an assessment solutions provider and a prescient creation given today’s skills gap—which he later sold. Among his other education related pursuits, Jonathan consulted to HarvardX; was a founding employee at the Woodrow Wilson Graduate School of Teaching and Learning, which is reinventing educator preparation; and helped crosswalk the tens of thousands of math and English Language Arts standards across different states for the IMS Global Learning Consortium’s CASE Network.

More recently, I had connected Jonathan to a friend and coauthor of mine on the paper “Disrupting Law School,” Villanova Law Professor Michele Pistone, to help her with the instructional design for the online program she has now launched around immigration training for advocates.

I knew Jonathan would deliver—and a fabulous partnership would result. And it was logistically easy because Jonathan was a friend and neighbor of mine here in Lexington, Mass.

Jonathan was incredibly proud of his two sons. As I reached the conclusion that many more students ought to be taking a gap year in my book Choosing College, on which Jonathan had provided early feedback, he was proud to tell me that one of his sons was taking a gap year—and Jonathan loved providing me updates about that year of discovery during walks on the Minuteman bike path.

These updates weren’t just the boasting of a proud parent. They were updates from a person pondering deeper questions about how the world worked. He earnestly probed to understand trends, currents and causality.

During our talks or over a meal with our spouses, I never once heard Jonathan say something negative about another individual, even when there were things to be said.

And he was completely unassuming—so much so that I think it was often easy for others to underestimate his wide-ranging talents and contributions.

Jonathan helped me understand the field of critical thinking far more deeply—and how best to teach it. He shared with me his frustrations at the lack of rigor in schooling around critical thinking and what he considered the “osmosis” way of teaching it. More importantly, he wanted to do something about it and searched constantly for the best way to have impact.

As a sign of his fanaticism around helping people think critically, he wrote about how to help people better discern political arguments as voters and how we might improve the level of discourse in our country. He launched LogicCheck—akin to the fact checkers so popular in newspapers today. And he gave me a couple copies of his book on the topic of being a critical voter—which perhaps nicely suggested I had some learning to do myself.

In the days before I learned of Jonathan’s passing, I had read in the local news about a local project his wife, Carolyn, was working on and realized I ought to reach out to him to let him know that my forthcoming book, From Reopen to Reinvent, heavily quoted from his work in its third chapter.

I also thought about how he had invited my whole family over to his house for dinner. With the weather warming and our understanding of COVID deepening, I thought maybe we could finally take him up on his generous offer.

At Jonathan’s funeral, the rabbi shared that Jonathan’s sons, Eli and Benjamin, had learned to ably debate their father. They would email him essays with evidence to back up their arguments. Jonathan returned the volley in like fashion, with full respect for their points of view.

Although I won’t promise to live up to that example, I will try to live by its spirit: to intentionally teach my own daughters the skills of critical thinking—and to respect not just their positions, but also the intellectually and emotionally capable people they are.

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Pivot Interactives Announces New Iris™ Technology to Increase Students’ Active Phenomena-Based Learning

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(May12, 2022) — Pivot Interactives introduces a new set of tools, Iris™, which make learning critical science concepts—such as heat transfer, Beer’s Law, light emission, population density, temperature (infrared and blackbody), pH, and wavelength—accessible to students regardless of classroom equipment or teaching experience. With this new patent-pending collection of color and light measuring tools, students can now take quantitative measurements of color & light for themselves directly from information encoded in a video within a web browser.

“Making measurements using light is a fundamental practice of science. From optical measurements made by microbiologists to the light gathered by powerful telescopes, light, and color-based measurements are at the heart of science at every scale,” says Peter Bohacek, CEO and Founder of Pivot Interactives. “But light- and color-based measurements are normally out of reach in the classroom, limited to expensive and complex equipment. Pivot Interactives brings the power of light- and color-based measurements to students’ fingertips. As the leader in using interactive videos for science education, we are thrilled to be the first to make the power of light- and color-based measurements available to classrooms everywhere.”

Iris technology addresses three critical issues that science classrooms face:

● Having the equipment, time, and expertise to analyze scientific data, like quantitative color and light measurements.

● Using real-world phenomena to define problems, develop models, plan investigations, analyze data, and interpret and communicate information as outlined in NGSS.

● Engaging students with phenomena and the science practices across the learning cycle, from introduction through assessment.

Cerise Cauthron, science department chair at Georgetown Middle/High School in Georgetown, Massachusetts, commented on the new Iris set of tools from Pivot Interactives: “As science department chair, I see Iris being valuable across science subjects and grade levels. Through the grade levels, students can use the same phenomena to continuously build on knowledge & skills. I am excited to use it in our district to empower teachers to use more phenomena and science practices in content areas and parts of the instructional cycle where they were previously constrained by time or equipment.”

Teachers may access Iris tools through the Pivot Interactives license, which integrates with several learning management systems, including Canvas, Blackboard Learn, and D2L Brightspace. Pivot Interactives has achieved the IMS Global Learning Tools Interoperability® (LTI)® Certification and IMS TrustEd App for data privacy. Educators may find teacher and district pricing here. They may try an activity for free using the new Iris technology here and view the growing library of activities using the new Iris technology here.

About Pivot Interactives Pivot Interactives, Inc. creates and develops dynamic tools to actively engage students in the exploration of scientific phenomena, while developing their skills in the science practices. Peter Bohacek, CEO of Pivot and physics teacher, and Matthew Vonk, Chief Science Officer for Pivot and physics professor, founded Pivot Interactives by developing a library of interactive video-based activities funded in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The co-founders began working in 2012 with their own students to develop direct measurement videos that allow teachers and students to break out of the classroom constraints. Now, teachers worldwide are using Pivot Interactives to engage over 1 million students with phenomena and science practices. Pivot Interactives, an award-winning platform, continues to innovate to revolutionize science education because science has the power to change lives.

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VHS Learning’s New Flexible Courses Expand Student Options for Online Course Enrollment

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Boston – May 12, 2022 – Scheduling flexibility is frequently cited by students and teachers as a major benefit of working with VHS Learning’s asynchronous online courses. Starting in August, students will be able to take advantage of an even more flexibly paced course format.

The new Flexible course model will be available for 16 courses beginning in the 2022-2023 academic year:

Each Flexible course is self-paced, and teacher led. Courses begin on the first of every month from August through February (August through December for AP® courses). The courses will end at the completion of the school year, so later enrollees will progress through course material at a faster pace.

“We specifically designed these courses for students who wish to have more flexibility in their academic schedule,” said Carol DeFuria, President & CEO of VHS Learning. “Some students would like to enroll in a course after the beginning of the traditional fall semester start. Now, whether they’re working toward academic goals, career goals, or they simply want to explore a new interest, our Flexible courses give them more choice regarding when they embark on learning.”

“As in all our courses, students taking Flexible courses will receive significant teacher support. VHS Learning teachers interact with students in asynchronous discussions, host weekly office hours, and invite students to monthly one-on-one progress meetings,” DeFuria continued. “This new course model is part of our mission to empower schools with the industry’s best teacher-led online learning programs and provide students with an expansive choice of courses that prepare them for college, careers, and beyond.”

VHS Learning has a 25-year reputation for educational quality, including rigorous professional development for the certified teachers who provide course instruction. All VHS Learning teachers complete graduate-level Online Teaching Methodologies (OTM) training to learn best practices for online teaching and learning, and 81% of VHS Learning teachers possess a master’s degree or higher. The nonprofit’s vision is to prepare students for college, careers, and life and well-trained teachers are an essential part of the equation.

About VHS Learning

VHS Learning is a nonprofit organization with over 25 years of experience providing world-class online programs to students and schools everywhere. Offering more than 300 unique online courses for high school credit, including 25 AP® courses, credit recovery, and enrichment courses, VHS Learning is accredited by Middle States Association Commission on Elementary and Secondary Schools (MSA-CESS), Accrediting Commission for Schools, Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACS WASC), and Cognia. Courses are approved for initial eligibility by NCAA. For more information about VHS Learning please visit https://www.vhslearning.org/ and follow on Twitter at @VHSLearning.

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Districts Make Progress—and Encounter Resistance—as They Update Grading Models

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During the pandemic, teachers, school leaders and district staff in Santa Fe Public Schools noticed a worrying trend. In grades 3 through 12, nearly a third of all students had at least one F. But the troubling failure rates were not necessarily because students weren’t mastering content in their classrooms.

Larry Chavez, superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools, said students often passed competency exams at the end of the year, but still received failing grades on their report cards due to things many have long argued should have nothing to do with grades: attendance, participation, and, during remote learning, turning on Zoom cameras. In many cases, “they were failing because of noncompliance,” Chavez concluded.

The situation prompted some soul-searching. Leaders in the school district of 11,000 students and 28 schools dug deep into the vitals of the data, looking at discrepancies in performance on competency exams versus final grades, and investigating the impact of compliance-based factors like talking too much or penalties for Zoom instruction. Along the way, they concluded that there was a much larger issue that needed addressing: The traditional model of grading students didn’t appear to be working well.

This year, Santa Fe Public Schools announced they’ll gradually transition schools to a standards-based grading (SBG) model over the next two to three years. The shift to SBG will represent a significant change for both teachers and students: Students will no longer start the year with an A+ or a 100 percent and see their averages fall as they make mistakes on tests, turn in assignments late or miss them entirely; they’ll no longer lose points due to absences, disruptions in class, or lack of participation in lessons.

Standard-based grading breaks down broad subjects like math into specific learning targets, or standards—“I can multiply multi-digit numbers,” for example—that students are expected to master. Instead of using letter grades or 1 to 100 percentages, the standards-based model calls for 1 through 4 scores that typically change during the year as students develop mastery of a concept. The approach provides teachers, students, and parents with a more nuanced sense of the broad range of skills being worked on, advocates say, and is more transparent than fixed grading strategies.

“What does it mean to have an 89 in math, and what particular area is that number measuring?” asked Vanessa Romero, Deputy Superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools, reflecting on what the current model obscures. The SBG model, by contrast, spells out the objectives more clearly, encouraging students and teachers to identify and close crucial learning gaps that might persist if they weren’t being assessed on specific skills, Romero asserts—the kind of adjustments that can make the difference between a student who is prepared to move forward, and one who is lost.

AN UNEASY TRUCE

Santa Fe is one of a number of school systems in recent years to trade traditional A’s and F’s for a four point proficiency scale. Proponents of the SBG model, like Maryland school administrator Josh Work, argue that it helps improve the quality of the curriculum and the assessments teachers provide, deepens the way teachers, parents, and students communicate about student performance, and allows students to focus more on mastering concepts and making progress rather than “chasing points” for a final grade.

Veteran educator and school leader Joe Feldman, writing for Phi Delta Kappan, suggests that SBG and similar models also address long standing equity problems in schools that were only exacerbated by the pandemic. Factoring things like participation, attendance, and even behavior into final grades makes them more susceptible to systemic biases, Feldman says, while placing too much emphasis on completing homework can be unfair to students who have fewer supports or resources at home. In some SBG districts, separate “citizenship grades” provide families with a sense of how their students are doing socially and behaviorally, without impacting quarterly or end of semester academic assessments.

Meanwhile the Mastery Transcript Consortium—a network of roughly 350 schools that have agreed to adopt a digital transcript that resembles an online dashboard measuring student progress across a wide range of skills—insists that mastery-based assessment models better prepare students for a competitive job market. Today, the argument goes, employers are less concerned about a high school or college English grade than they are about the employee’s facility with the specific writing skills they need. In Utah, which has the most schools already using the consortium’s transcript, the state legislature has pushed schools to pilot new grading models that they believe will be more equitable for a diverse student body while focusing instruction on “transferable skills necessary for success in the modern world.”

Of the 28 schools in Santa Fe Public Schools, 13 schools will transition to standards-based grading next year. Early College Opportunities High School (ECO), an alternative, trades-based school in the district, is one of two schools already piloting standards-based grading this school year.

Jakob Zgela, a social studies teacher at ECO, told the Santa Fe New Mexican the new grading system compares well to real-world learning. He compares focusing on building proficiency in students to the way doctors build up training to be able to execute a complex surgery; instead of students being judged on the mistakes they made while learning, they are pushed to continue to improve and are recognized for their final results. He admitted the transition for students can be tough—particularly those used to relying on strategies to earn high grades, like taking advantage of extra credit assignments. In the former grading regimen, they might have received an A merely “because they know how to play the game for that class,” Zgela said.

But even as schools across the country are experimenting with new models for assessing students, they aren’t ready to commit to a wholesale divorce from the A to F letter grades that have been around since the 1940s. In fact, many schools and districts that have decided to adopt SBG or similar models, including Santa Fe Public Schools, Spokane Public Schools in Washington, and Poynette School District in Wisconsin, still provide A to F letter grades on transcripts. In Santa Fe, for example, the 1 to 4 proficiency scores and all of the related feedback on how students are progressing toward the mastery of specific skills will be on interim progress reports—but the system will be reverse-engineered and translated back into A to F grades when it comes time to share quarterly report cards and final transcripts.

The same holds true in Spokane Public Schools, according to Heather Bybee, chief academic officer for the district of 54 schools that has used an SBG model for over a decade. “Higher Ed locks us into certain expectations and outcomes,” Bybee said. “If we believe our job as K-12 educators is to open as many doors for our kids as possible for whatever their dream is, then we have to fit those standards.”

THE PAST PUSHES BACK

The concern over whether colleges and universities will understand grades that don’t look like the ones they normally get is one of many that tends to fuel pushback to SBG and similar alternative models of assessment. Other reasons include educators’ unfamiliarity with the new system and concerns that they won’t be given enough training or time, nostalgia from parents over the “old way of doing things” when it comes to grades, and worries from all stakeholders that the shift will compromise rigor and simply make it easier to pass courses.

“This is a practice that has been in place for many, many years,” Superintendent Chavez said, referring to the resilience of traditional grades. “And you know, it’s very easy to continue with the same protocols that you have in place.”

Echoing the concerns of many teachers, Eric Brayden, a 12th grade government, economics, and AP Geography teacher at Capital High School in Santa Fe, said he worries the shift to SBG will create more headaches for teachers without addressing the district’s concern for failing students. Brayden isn’t tied to an A to F grading scale and said he would welcome a 1 to 4 scale if he received more information about the transition. His school is not making the switch until 2023 at the earliest, but after hearing “mixed-reviews” from schools already piloting SBG, he said he would prefer to keep things as they are. Brayden said teachers in the district make incremental progress each year under the current grading model, but that “doesn’t sound great in district newsletters” which he said can lead to a search for “splashy” alternatives. The district’s argument for the change—focusing on proficiency in standards—also sounds off-putting to him. “It carries this insinuation that we are not teaching content based on the standards already.”

When asked about pushback from teachers, Deputy Superintendent Romero agreed that instructors have always had standards to teach to. The change to SBG is not to suggest teachers weren’t doing their jobs before, she said, but rather to make it easier for students and teachers to identify, build up, and master specific skills. Romero also said that there will be plenty of training for teachers and administrators in schools, but added that the program will be rolled out in phases so as not to overwhelm teachers. While some schools will be gearing up to switch by next fall, others will be “playing with the standards” for another year before they get there. “It’s constant and it won’t end next year,” Romero said about the training efforts. “We think it will take a couple of years, just for things to sustain.”

The district is also preparing for pushback from parents. Carmen Gonzales, a member of the Santa Fe Public Schools Board of Education and a former educator, said parents tend to prefer traditional letter grades because they are used to them. She recalled attempting to institute portfolio grading while teaching at a school in Hawaii in the early 1990s. The pushback from parents and teachers was so fierce that the school decided to keep the traditional grading model in place, she said. More recently, parents in Illinois expressed opposition to the removal of letter grades in some districts, forcing a handful to reconsider their approach or come up with report cards that show a mix of standards-based feedback and letter/numeric grades parents are used to.

GOING ALL THE WAY

Despite fears over what kinds of alternative assessments colleges can handle, Mike Flanagan, the CEO of the Mastery Transcript Consortium, said that 200 colleges and universities have already accepted students who submitted alternative transcripts. In 2016, more than 80 colleges and universities—everywhere from Yale to Dartmouth to community colleges—signed formal statements confirming “non-traditional transcripts”, including proficiency-based or competency-based transcripts, will not “disadvantage” students in the admissions process. As long as a school profile accompanying the transcript is “comprehensive and understandable” and clearly explains the “rigor” of the academic program, the technicalities of the school’s assessment and grading system, and the characteristics of the graduating class, “the admissions office will be able to understand the transcript and properly evaluate the strength of a student’s academic record and accomplishments.”

Flanagan applauded Santa Fe’s move to standards based grading. “Any model that gives kids more flexibility, more autonomy, more ways to try something is a good thing.” Although he understands all too well their hesitancy to “go all the way” when it comes to drastically rethinking transcripts, he worries that reverse-engineering grades in that way can ultimately convey misleading information and undermine the competency-based approach to learning. “If you’re really going full in on this competency approach, then a C is not really a C, it’s more like a ‘not yet’,” he said. “So rather than putting A’s and B’s on things and implying we’re doing a traditional model, we actually find it’s just better to rip the Band-Aid off and create something completely different.”

Of course that is easier said than done—particularly for public schools that are governed by state policies and often don’t have the same flexibility that private schools do. Nonetheless, Flanagan believes that grading inequities, as well as an increased focus on how education translates to real-world success, will help create a larger push toward competency-based education models. “What’s going to make higher ed leaders and families and legislators change is the growing disconnect between how much money we’re spending on higher education and the improved job outcomes that kids are not getting as a result of those expenditures,” he said.

Flanagan said that more research points to the issues with traditional assessment models that tend to confuse “speed with quality” and often don’t create space for deep learning. This insight, in tandem with high school graduation rates going in the wrong direction nationwide while spending on K-12 students and college debt climbs, will likely create further shake ups in grading systems nationwide, Flanagan said. “The bigger model will change when everybody realizes, through and through, it’s just not working.”

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Bump-It-Up Walls Make Learning Progress Visible

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A good teacher uses formative assessment data to improve their teaching and address student learning needs. Isn’t it time we let our pupils in on the secret too?

Bump-it-up walls are linear visual rubrics that clearly show students how they can progress in their learning. The walls can be used for any subject and work best when they are narrow and specific. Model work samples are displayed with annotations in a progressive continuum. Through formative assessments and student-teacher conferences, students learn to be reflective and evaluate their own learning.

Bump-It-Up Walls as Formative Assessment Tools

Education researcher Dylan Wiliam explains that for formative assessment to be effective, students should have a clear and visible understanding of their learning target, the assessment should relate directly to future instruction, and teachers and students should review success and progress together. A bump-it-up wall accomplishes all of these goals, while also promoting student agency. Through the use of this tool, students experience power and autonomy in the classroom as they track and measure their learning growth.

Goal setting is the number one high-impact teaching strategy for student learning. My classroom’s bump-it-up wall establishes differentiated and challenging goals for my students. They can track their progress and identify where they might need help. We use student-teacher conferences for students to evaluate their own learning. Students also provide evidence to show when they’ve achieved a goal. Through the use of this tool, feedback is authentic and purposeful because students understand the purpose of their learning tasks.

Bump-It-Up in Math

To create a math bump-it-up wall, I first administered a counting preassessment. I aligned the results to the various curriculum levels. I then created five leveled examples with annotations that demonstrated counting achievements and possible goals to progress students’ counting abilities. For example: The first level demonstrated the ability to count forward and backward by ones. The next level showed skip counting by twos, fives, and 10s. Each level was a little more challenging, and the fifth level asked students to be able to identify the rule for any counting pattern and complete patterns that had missing numbers.

I took time to confer with each student, showing them their test papers and helping them to identify their strengths and stretches. They placed their name under the example that best described what they could currently do. They studied the adjacent annotated example to see what they needed to do to progress to the next level.

Throughout the unit, I conferred with my students regularly, and they came to me with their work when they thought they were ready to move to the next level. The levels of the bump-it-up wall became my differentiated success criteria for assessing student progress in the counting unit. This directly informed my teaching and the tasks I provided to students. It further created student agency opportunities by giving students the choice of which level of activity they wanted to work on in each lesson.

Bump-It-Up in Writing

After my success with using this tool to set goals in mathematics, I created a new bump-it-up wall for writing. I chose the 10-week term when we were focusing on narrative and persuasive writing genres. I quickly came to realize the necessity of narrow and specific goals, since there were so many aspects of writing that could be analyzed and scrutinized. I knew that it would take considerable time to progress in writing and that a whole term would be needed for students to see some progress.

I selected the “ideas trait,” as identified in Ruth Culham’s book 6 + 1 Traits of Writing, as the focus for the bump-it-up writing wall. Using Culham’s book, I found example writing pieces and attempted to annotate these pieces in student-friendly language. As I conferred with my students about their own writing, I soon realized that the pieces on the bump-it-up wall showed a logical progression of ideas. However, the annotations were not accessible or easy to apply to the students’ own writing.

I adapted my approach and worked with the students to create annotations that made sense to them. We looked at each writing piece over a series of days, and together we discussed what we liked or didn’t like about each piece. The students told me what they noticed about each piece and what they wished to see more of. As the facilitator of this activity, I was careful to keep them on course with “ideas” as their analyzing lens. This process proved to be much more effective, and students were able to evaluate their own work and set themselves goals using the wall.

The strategic use of a bump-it-up wall has been a success in my classroom. Not only can I accurately report student progress back to parents, but students themselves are able to understand and discuss their progress. It also has made goal setting a much more authentic experience for my students, which has increased their motivation to challenge themselves.

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