Monday, March 5, 2012

Recognizing True Success by Telling Performance Stories About Children

At the time of this posting, NCLB is overdue for reauthorization and several of the nation's school districts are adopting new models to monitor "adequate yearly progress." The growth model for measuring success being assumed by most of the states that were granted waivers will require detailed longitudinal analysis of student performance not over the span of a school year, but rather, over the life of a child's Pre-K-12 educational career.

Many districts will have to undergo the painful cultural transformation that will move teachers from a model that tracks student progress from September to June to one that follows a child’s progress from Kindergarten through the high school senior year. A three-step process can move teachers to take ownership of their student's learning career beyond the confines of the 10-month school year.

Step 1- Changing the Culture

Teachers need to realize the importance of "telling the story of a child" over the K-12 span so it’s important that a school district shift its culture from one that honors a 10-month growth system to one that recognizes a child’s success happens over a longer period of time. Time should be dedicated to making the case for the 13-year growth model. I’ve used inspirational video clips to help make this argument. John Wooden’s excellent 2001 interview with TED ( titled “John Wooden on True Success” is one such excellent statement on the definition of success, measured by growth. Leaders may also look to the Obama administration’s own statements on NCLB to persuade teachers that a longitudinal, 13-year growth model is a more authentic and sincere way to measure school success. The administration’s proposal to change the law would have Adequate Yearly Progress determined by a school’s demonstration of individual student achievement from one year to the next.

Step 2- Getting Student Performance Information in Order

Since a story is only as good as its details, a school district will have to pull together a large array of performance measures that describe a child’s ability to grow socially, emotionally, and academically over 13 years time, from Kindergarten through Twelfth Grade. School leaders will have to prepare the state-driven standardized test results and data collected from chosen internal assessment tools such as DIBELS, MAP, and other products that are often aligned to state-specific learning standards, so teachers have the opportunity to follow a child’s progress over years worth of time. Serving up multiple measures will provide “color” to the stories, so leaders will have to invest time harvesting additional performance information by involving teams of teachers in grade-level or content-area group meetings purposed to developing common benchmarks that can be relied upon as measures of a child's progress in a given year. By common, I am referring to like assessments that all content area teachers or all grade level teams implement in their programs. For instance, First to Fifth Grade teachers may choose to share commonly instituted persuasive essay pieces they have their students write at the end of each year. Middle and high school teachers might select mid term and final exams as their commonly implemented benchmarks. It may take at least one full school year to engage teachers in work that has them developing common assessments. Task principals in the district to use their monthly faculty meeting time to have teachers work in their content-area or grade-level groups to accomplish this goal.

Step 3- Setting up the “Warehouse”

Teachers will appreciate seeing all of their student’s performance data but can easily be frustrated by absence of a visual tool that allows them to conceptualize the story of a child’s growth or regression over time. Schools will have to harness the power of data "warehouse" tools. The most efficient means of displaying performance data will likely come from using the student information systems (SISs) that already contain “portals” through which every teacher is able to read the child’s performance story the district is cultivating. When all of this data is placed in the data warehouse, teachers will be able to view the story from Kindergarten through the high school senior year by selecting from a multitude of “data views” for that child. Each teacher should have access to every student’s performance information by selecting a data view and seeing a historical longitudinal display of the multiple performance measures we will have collected over time.

Step 4 (The Final Step)- Training Teachers to Differentiate Instruction

It seems that many districts too often put the “cart before the horse” when trying to promote the differentiation of instruction. Teachers should not be expected to adapt the curriculum’s product, process or content to meet individual student’s needs until they know what those student actually need. It may take almost two years to introduce differentiation of instruction strategies on a formal level. Faculty should have time to digest the student performance stories being read and to fully understand all of the data to teacher's avail. Only when they feel comfortable with the information they’re being given should teachers be held accountable for using the data to adapt instruction.

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