28 March 2013

Proficiency Scales: What Lies Beneath

In my last post, I shared a bit about a new frontier with proficiency scales as an evaluation tool. And, okay, I rambled a bit, too. But you have to expect that sort of thing if you're a reader here. It's not for the faint of heart.

Jennifer asked a good question about whether there's a difference between a proficiency scale and a rubric. I don't know that there is one, in terms of the nuts and bolts. The main difference I am seeing is in their overall purpose...as if a proficiency scale is a subspecies of rubric. Maybe if we poke at the idea a bit more, turn it over a few times, we'll be able to better answer her question. So, let's build out this idea of proficiency scales and see what we learn.

One way to start is by translating the big ideas from the standard into something more concrete for students. This is not a new idea. The image below comes from a document I posted here more than five years ago. (Jeez, I feel old...)

It's not terrible. A few of you will no doubt point out that the standard referenced is no longer in place. (Washington adopted new science standards in 2009...and will most certainly jump on the NGSS bandwagon at the earliest opportunity.) But the basic idea is one that is common to many classrooms: "I can..." statements for students.

We can do better, however. Why not place these sorts of statements on a proficiency scale so students can see which ones are for scaffolding, which are for mastery of standards, and which indicate performance above the standard? At the recent ASCD conference, a group from Grayslake Community High School District in Illinois presented something similar to this.

I moved things around, switched up a bit of the language, and made a few additions. The (old) standard is on the left. I used the previous statements and fit them under the "Approaching Standard" and "At Standard" columns. I pulled the "Above Standard" statements out of the NGSS---for now. I understand that this would have to become the "At Standard" expectation in the future. I've left off the Level One (Not at Standard) option. I don't think it's necessary. If you can't even meet the targets for approaching standard, then you aren't on the map yet.

There are a lot more statements we could add here. (It's just a model.) But I like the basic idea. It gives you a place to tie the work you do in class---to be explicit in pointing out the connections to the learning targets. And, it also provides some structure for thinking about where to fall back for remediation...or push ahead for enrichment. It opens some discussion about how to move from one level to another---you can get your ZPD on, if that's your thing.

In the next post, we'll look at how a proficiency scale can worm its way into the assessments we build. For now, if you want to download the models shown above and play with them, be my guest.

25 March 2013

Proficiency Scales: The Next Frontier

Most people who make the shift to standards-based grading have a journey on their hands. Whether it’s a philosophical change, managing communications with stakeholders, reconfiguring grading and reporting tools, or just determining the basic nuts and bolts of a new-to-you program, there can be a lot to sort out. But suppose you have survived the sturm and drang of making this shift and are ready to move out to the bleeding edge again. Why not take a look at proficiency scales?

A proficiency scale breaks down a standard into smaller and more specific skills and abilities. The scale is often 1 – 4, but you can increase or decrease the range to fit your needs. Think of it as a way to determine whether or not a student can meet a specific standard.

Here’s a sample from the Common Core ELA standards for Writing at Grade 5. This is standard #6: With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of two pages in a single sitting.

What are all of the things a student needs to do in order to meet this standard at grade 5?
  • Use technology (including the Internet) to produce and publish writing. 
  • Use technology (including the Internet) to interact and collaborate with others. 
  • Type a minimum of two pages in a single sitting. 
Aside #1:

I’m trying really hard to overlook some of the vagaries here. But this standard is not making it easy.
  • What qualifies as “technology”? Do they mean “digital,” or can a kid still do a science fair project board, take a picture, and post it in order to “produce and publish writing”? Does printing something and pasting it on a poster board equal "publishing"?
  • Can you produce, but not publish, writing? What if you post something and no one reads it—If a science goddess blogs and no one comments, has she still published?
  • Can you collaborate, but not interact? Interact, but not collaborate? I think both of these are possible. Does the Common Core imply they should be simultaneous in order to count here?
  • How on earth does seat time translate to an evaluation of keyboarding skills? I can type two pages of nonsense in a hurry…or sit for a long time while I “hunt and peck” a well-reasoned two pages. What if I take a bathroom break while I’m still logged in—does it still count as a “single sitting”?
I know, some of you will tell me I’m being too literal, but I tend to look at things through the bleary eyes of Assessment. And from a measurement perspective, this standard is too squirrelly for my tastes. I wish I hadn't picked it as a model. Damn.

For those of you who come from the "standards shouldn't be taught in isolation" camp, welcome to my blog. Line forms at the left for your comments. I totally get where you're coming from, but the reality is simply that most schools want to document what each child is able to know and do for each standard along the way. Apologies in advance for pooping on your quixotic parade.

Let’s move on. We’ll pretend that the people writing the Common Core knew what they were doing when they created these bigger-faster-stronger standards. All of our students will be veritable Olympians of mental and technological gymnastics all because we have new standards. Opportunity gap be damned. Full speed ahead!

Sorry. I got distracted again. But I’m really ready to move on now. Scout's honour. We were talking about proficiency scales, weren't we?

With the statements above, we can at least get the basics of an at-standard performance. But what about student work that is above or below standard?

For above-standard work, we are looking for evidence that the student has transferred or applied their knowledge or skills to new territory. Perhaps the student moderates a discussion about their writing. Or, maybe s/he shows fluency by choosing the publishing tool to best fit the content or audience. Take your pick. The bottom line is that we want more complex thinking.

And for below-standard work, we would see evidence of simpler thinking. Maybe the student understands that a word processor can be used to produce writing and is able to do some keyboarding, but isn’t able to save and share documents…or use features that would allow him or her to comment on the work of others.

Work that is well-below standard could represent a student who is unable to use the available technology or has other learning deficits.

Okay, so we have a basic outline…

Ideally, a group of teachers would sit down and develop this together. I won't claim to have finessed this one...just remember that it's only a model.

If you want to go halfsies with the points, I won’t stand in the way of your interpolations. In fact, if you go here and download the proficiency scale for this standard from Marzano Research Laboratory, you’ll see that they do just that.
Aside #2: Aside #1's Shorter, but More Handsome Brother
Did you notice that Marzano is recycling his Making Standards Useful in the Classroom tome? I always did think that book didn't fit how he was trying to sell it. And now, under the guise of creeping Marzano-ism, we have a whole new hole for this peg. An ugly peg with way too many lines, and ohmygodmyeyes, but a peg nonetheless.

We have more reasons to push into this frontier. Now we can build leveled assessments and other tools that will support our new grading aspirations and make monitoring student progress even simpler. We'll have to invest more time, thought, and energy to get there, but I think you might find it scratches some of your remaining itches from the move to standards-based grading. Stay tuned.

18 March 2013

ASCD 2013: Celebrate

I had the honor of meeting representatives from this year's winner of the ASCD’s Vision in Action: The ASCD Whole Child Award. This award is given to schools that have done an outstanding job of developing students who are "knowledgeable, emotionally and physically healthy, civically active, artistically engaged, prepared for economic self-sufficiency, and ready for the world beyond formal schooling" (full press release here). In other words, they recognize that we are in not in the business of creating widgets---we work with people. They go above and beyond to walk that talk. This year, the award was won by Milwaukie High School in Milwaukie, Oregon.

Here is a brief summary of the work they've done on behalf of their students.
  • Raised $600K to build a health center for students to access free care for physical, emotional, and dental needs.
  • Both staff and students participate in various service projects throughout the community, including social issues (such as addressing the needs of the homeless) and environmental (restoring wetlands).
  • Increasing cultural competency has been a primary focus of ongoing professional development.
  • A system of support has been put in place for students and families. For example, if a student is not coming to school, there is an effort involving public services, school, and the family to determine the reason and address the barriers.This can include additional tutoring, connection to area non-profits to help solve family problems, or anything else that helps build a healthy student who is ready to learn.
  • Building partnerships with the community. At current count, there are 28 different partners who step in to assist students and families. 
I won't claim that every school can (or needs) to replicate what this school has done. They are truly a superschool---and for me, a very inspirational model showing what can happen when a community comes together around common goals. It makes my little grinch heart grows three sizes.

The group from the school who was comprised of five men. The principal, Mark Pinder, is a well-spoken and kind man. He looked a bit overwhelmed and a bit like Charlie Brown's teacher at the Christmas pageant ("Isn't this the best thing ever?"). It was the most endearing expression I've seen in a long time. The rest of the group was equally delightful and committed. And while I did ask about their group being limited to pale males, I was assured that they are being active in increasing the diversity of staff.

We so rarely take time to celebrate accomplishments in this profession. We are focused on continual improvement---which is not a bad thing, but sometimes you just need to get your happy dance on. So with that spirit in mind, kudos to Milwaukie High School!

There was another teacher-blogger at the table who was was singularly unimpressed with this school...because they don't blog about their work.


When the issue was raised about how they shared their work and whether they used social media, I watched the body language in the principal change. He used the thumbs of his interlaced hands to touch and reassure himself. This was not a conversation he wanted to have. (A little later, I whispered to him, "Are you okay?" He said he was. I told him not to worry...I'd fight for him. He seemed to relax a bit after that.)

I pointed out that this school was sharing. They were here at the conference. They had already talked about opportunities in their state to connect with other educators. They weren't withholding or hiding anything. Just because they don't have a blog or use Twitter doesn't mean that they don't share.

But apparently this wasn't good enough. In fact, they were told that they have a "moral obligation" to share their work. Does the lack of a blog automatically make one immoral...a bad person? But beyond that---whose version of "morality" are we talking about---the white middle-class Christian male one represented by the finger-pointer? Out of all that this school has done to move students forward, the only thing you can think of to say is that they've neglected their moral imperative?

There was further discussion when the teacher from Milwaukie said he didn't have time. The blogger thought that was an "excuse." Maybe it is, but if you're out there making sure your students and families have access to quality care and learning...if you're out raising $600K and building community partnerships...then I think that's a damn good excuse. And frankly, a far more important one than writing a blog post. What would you rather say you did with your time? Published a blog post...or helped a family restore the electrical service to their home?

Hey, if all you want on your tombstone is "He blogged." I'm okay with that. Rock on. What I don't support is a sense of entitlement to impose the same thing on everyone else. If the administration of Milwaukie HS doesn't want to blog, that's fine by me. Blogging is not a one-size-fits-all thing. We are educators. We each share our stories in the ways that make sense for ourselves and our communities.

At the end of the day, I want kids to have a healthy and safe environment, and equitable access to educational opportunities. I want them to learn. And I want them to celebrate every positive step along the way. We, as educators, need to support one another in all of the ways we make that happen---blog or no blog.

So, Milwaukie, go get your party on. I've got your back.

ASCD 2013: A Trip to the Library

I had an opportunity to sit down with several ASCD authors. It was part speed-dating, part squee-like-a-fangirl, and part new book smell. Heavenly.

I am first to admit that I have not read all of the books listed below---a deficit I plan to rectify at the earliest opportunity---but for now, let me comment on the authors and my reaction to their ideas during our conversation.

Author: Robyn Jackson
Title: Never Work Harder than Your Students

Ms. Jackson is a passionate educator and author who continues to share her ideas on Twitter. I have read the book featured at her table and remember being inspired by her dedication. In my mind, she was a bit larger than life. In reality, she is a petite and softspoken tour de force. Her confidence takes the form of quiet resolve. A reflective educator, she shared insight into how she continues to find inspiration (read something other than "teacher books") and renew enthusiasm for her work.

Authors: Bill Parrett and Kathleen Budge
Title: Turning High-Poverty Schools into High-Performing Schools

Mr. Parrett is a friend of my colleague who is attending the conference with me. They worked together in Alaska many years ago and it was very sweet to see him insist that he join the table as his personal guest. The authors are based in Boise, Idaho, but spend a lot of time doing consulting work, including some of the districts in my state. While listening to them discuss their ideas and ongoing work, I really appreciated the depth of understanding and individualized attention they applied to each district. Every district is unique, after all. So, this is another book that I’m interested in diving into. I don’t expect a magic bullet (nor was one offered), but new ideas are always welcome.

Author: Allen Mendler 
Title: When Teaching Gets Tough: Smart Ways to Reclaim Your Game

I read this book earlier in the year and was glad to have a chance to sit down with the author. Mr. Mendler has a background as a social studies teacher and school psychologist. He has written extensively about working with challenging students, but the most recent book focuses on helping you rediscover your passion for the classroom. There are lots of common-sense strategies to get you through those rough patches. You know---the ones where you’re questioning your reason for getting into the work in the first place? Give this book a try.

Author: Mark Barnes
Title: ROLE Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom

I only got to talk with Mr. Barnes for a few minutes, but we discovered we had a lot in common. His book is about his journey over the last few years as he moved away from a traditional classroom to one that is more student-centered. We chatted about the impact of changing grading practices and using more feedback with students. Yes, this one is going on the nightstand, too.

Authors: Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams
Title: Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day

These authors were seated at the same table as Mr. Barnes and only had a few minutes to spare, too. Although they are the leaders of the flipped classroom revolution, the idea is a familiar one by now. Again, it’s not a book I have read (yet), but it was good to chat with them about next steps. How are people starting to groove off of this idea? There are lots of different variations in play as educators adapt the model. Their plan for book two is to showcase these examples. These authors were very friendly, approachable, intelligent, and interested in both listening and sharing ideas. They have an aura of intensity around them, but don’t be shy if you’d like to engage in some conversation with them. I think you’ll find them game.

Authors: R. Thomas Dewing and Matthew Perini (not present: Harvey Silver)
Title: The Core Six: Essential Strategies for Achieving Excellence with the Common Core

This was far and away my favourite conversation of the event. I had not heard of their book, let alone read it, but hey, why let details stand in the way of a good time? Mr. Dewing and Mr. Perini have a delightful sense of humor and we laughed quite a bit through our chat. Their book focuses on a few central strategies that support the Common Core. The strategies are not new---they include things like Compare and Contrast, and Write to Learn. But I think the message here is important for a lot of classrooms: help kids learn how to learn and they will be able to meet whatever standards there are for their grade level. I especially like this idea as one to bring back and discuss with our “supersmalls.” A teacher in a school district who might have five different grade levels in a classroom, no contractual prep time, and only one other colleague could use this as a way to organize the transition to the Common Core. Planning is reduced somewhat by focusing on the strategy and then differentiating by grade level.

There were a few authors I didn’t get to talk to, but I greatly enjoyed the buffet of ideas I was able to sample. My suitcase is a little heavier for the trip home. My mind is full of ideas, too, but fortunately there will be no overage fee to carry those on the plane. Once I have time to read and think about these books in more detail, you can expect some more expansive posts here.

17 March 2013

ASCD 2013 Day One: Serendipity

As much as I might plan my way through a conference, I am not one to fight fate when it intervenes. And my first day of experiences was full of opportunities to retire gracefully from my plans. It makes life a bit more of an adventure, and as I am away from home already, why bother with a more regimented approach?

To start the day, I ended up in a session entitled "Grit, Multiple Intelligences, and Student Success." I did not wander into the wrong room, mind you. The presenter was someone with whom I've exchanged numerous emails over the years, yet had never met in person. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to drop in and introduce myself before he got started. But then he needed an errand handled and by the time I got back, it would have been awkward to leave the session.

I'm more or less agnostic about multiple intelligences. I think the theory tends to fall close to the "educational woo" part of the spectrum; but I have to admit that I have not read the research in this area for several years. Regardless, I do think that increasing opportunities to engage with content has a positive impact on student learning. The session gave me a lot of food for thought. Here are some of the questions I captured along the way.
  • Is there a difference between differentiated instruction and multiple intelligence theory? If so, what is it?
  • How do you know that the activities designed to increase different attributes of "intelligence" (e.g. student-led conferences for intrapersonal intelligence) really meet that goal?
  • Can we teach optimism---one of the components of developing "grit"? How would we measure or report this?
  • Is it okay to have "grit" but not be successful (by traditional definitions) in school?
  • The presenter stated that a study done about dropouts from West Point suggested that grit was a better predictor of completing studies there vs. transcripts or other traditional measures. (You can see a grit test here.) Suppose we changed up the admissions process at colleges, etc. to be based on a student's grit score  (and assume we have good tools for this). Would we keep students away from these opportunities because they so smart they had remained unchallenged by school so far? 
I did chat with the presenter afterwards. Most of the questions above were intended to guide my own thinking, but he did provide some ideas about the first two.
  • He believes that multiple intelligence theory leads to a more purposeful implementation of differentiated instruction. Also, differentiated instruction can still lead to too great of a focus on scholastic intelligene. 
  • In his school, students rate their interests in the various intelligences and set goals for the different attributes. There is monitoring in the form of qualitative observations and looking at how ratings of interests change. For these students, their ratings have a greater priority than the proficiency they demonstrate.
I'll be thinking more about my questions over the next few weeks---probably a good time for me to get back into the research and firm up an opinion of some sort.

Back at the press room, I ended up meeting Gregory Patterson, managing editor for Phi Delta Kappan. A Chicago resident, he helped my friend and I learn about the area...and even took us to meet his wife and have a late dinner. A merry time was had by all due to the right handshake at the right time.

The last session of the day was one about data tools. Several people with keen interests showed up, but the presenter did not. However, the interest was so strong, that many of us stuck around and had table discussions about the topic. I really enjoyed the spontaneous and informal conversations about different parts of the data use process in schools---from people who build and maintain the databases their teachers use to the coaches who help guide conversations about classroom data to administrators who need to look at a broad range of information. Even though I was disappointed to not get the original information I came for, I really loved the opportunity to dig into a discussion I would not have otherwise had.

It's Day Two now. I've had breakfast with representatives from the school that won ASCD's Whole Child award...gotten into a discussion about whether educators are "obligated" to share their stories (spoiler alert: I don't think they do.)...and voiced some concerns about equity of representation within the room. It's the peacemaker in me. I want everyone to feel welcome and valued. I'd like to think that Serendipity does, too.

15 March 2013

ASCD 2013: Ticket to Ride

It's that time of year again---time for ASCD's Annual Conference. Last year, I was unable to attend in person, but took part in the virtual conference. This year, I'm back in the saddle again...ready to share my learning from Chicago with you.

Each time I attend one of these events, I can't help but think about the role of conferences in an age of "anytime, anywhere" learning. If I can engage in Pajama PD at home...or make connections via social media...are one-shot conferences still relevant? The short answer is "yes." I won't claim that every educator should attend one or will get more out of it than another form of PD---but for the 10K people here (and those who wish they could be), this is still a viable form of professional learning.

For example, I met an instructional coach from St. Louis this evening. She's here on her own at her very first ASCD conference. She's in a job that she hasn't provided her with access to support and is here to grow her background knowledge.

I also chatted with a college professor from New York who wants to focus on how schools are thinking about Common Core State Standards. He has attended many ASCD conferences over the last 30 years and keeps coming back because of how this event adds to his base of knowledge.

And then there was a couple at a restaurant who noticed us paging through our conference planners and struck up a conversation. They were retired principals mentoring a cohort of new administrators and were attending the conference from Tennessee and excited about the reflective conversations ahead.

As for me, as my role as an educator has changed over the years, so have my learning needs. This time, I am looking for sessions on rural schools and developing collaboration opportunities for teachers. You would probably not be surprised that I'm also interested in sessions on visual literacy and data. And while none of the sessions will equip me with everything I need to know about any or all of these topics, I appreciate that they will prompt thinking and conversation. They will raise awareness about the gaps in my own knowledge and motivate me to move my thinking forward in the next year.

It's a great community to join and we have the whole weekend set aside just for learning. So, come on along for the ride.

05 March 2013

Everybody Wants Some


This...this...a thousand times this.

Perhaps you've seen a different message going around recently---one imploring that every student should learn to code (based on a Steve Jobs quote). You may have even had a look at the slick video in support of a message about "what most schools don't teach." Hey, kid, there are starving kids in India who would be glad to have your code. You want to be a doctor? No way. We have jobs in programming to fill, so get on it.

I have to admit that I'm a little tired of everybody these days. Everybody keeps telling me that if I'm interested in x I must read/watch y. If I don't click the link, I am obviously an uncaring and useless educator. Everybody says that I should join their Facebook page/Twitter chat/G+ Circle/LinkedIn Profile---because that's how (name the guru) said to do social media right. Everybody is a real bully, you know?

Should everyone learn to love learning? Maybe not. But I'll take that approach any day over what everybody says.