When we began to see this learning take place, we realized that we needed to open up Proficiency-Based Pathways for our students who were not only coming in at different places in their math continuum of learning, but were beginning to move at different paces. Some students needed a bit more guidance and time, while others were quite independent and were able to tackle rigorous mathematical experiences at a very rapid pace... while retaining the math skills that they were applying in context. It was a good problem to have, because it truly opened our eyes to what the "system" had to look and feel like. It had to be flexible enough for us to understand that seat-time no longer mattered and was something that we were no longer going to count on, for completion of a course. Students were now going to be able to work through their learning targets and demonstrate mastery at different times throughout the year, which allowed them to move on to higher levels of math, based on their needs and their own respective pace... this also included learning in the summertime and completing courses in June, July and August, to advance into the next year. Learning became the constant and time was now the variable.
With this new system and understanding of learning in place, we had to re-focus our efforts on to what was commonly referred to as "Grading" and a transformation began. The days of using A's, B's and C's was a thing of the past, because it didn't supply any feedback, outside of a letter grade. Sure, if my kid got an "A," I could presume that they had mastered the learning targets and aced their tests and was moving on. The only problem, however, was that we also had students who were earning C's and D's and were also being passed on from year to year, because, "it was just the way that schools operate..." I was never quite comfortable with this thinking, because what happens? A student who severely struggles in math is passed on, only to continue to struggle and then he/she gets to High School and math quickly becomes a daily nightmare... Algebra will be the biggest hurdle they will ever face and it will slowly begin to destroy any kind of math confidence they may ever have had. What if we built a new system that gave students specific feedback surrounding their evidence of learning and showed them exactly where they needed to focus, but we also raised the bar, as far as rigor and our expectations of what was necessary to move on to the next level? What if we created a Proficiency-Based Pathway for each student?
Today, that is what we have in place at the Waukesha STEM Academy. We have created a system that focuses on evidence of student learning being displayed in a digital portfolio (STEMfolio), consistent feedback being given by teachers, to help the students understand how they are doing and what areas they need to focus on, as well as their next steps and we also report out to both students and parents. All three of these steps are extremely critical to the trifecta, which consists of students-teachers-parent(s). In a Proficiency-Based Pathways system, the thought process used is one that incorporates these main components:
- What are you learning?
- How are you going to learn it?
- How are you going to demonstrate that you have learned it?
- What are your next steps?
As we continue to transition into a fully Proficiency-Based Pathways system, our goal for next year is to have every content area at "P" for proficiency and "AP" for approaching. This year is truly a transition year for many of our teams and we are seeing a few different systems in place, for a transition year, but our end-game and goal is to have ONE system, that is universal no matter what class a STEM student is in. This is an item that parents sometimes inquire about when they contact me... consistency across the board and having varied ways that their child receives feedback and reports on how he/she is doing. It can be confusing to students and parents (and staff) and we want to eliminate that, to have a universal system of reporting. In a true Proficiency-Based Pathways system, students are either proficient or they are not. If they are not, they are approaching... there is no numerical value placed on this and there is no "I am higher or better than you on this test, or that assignment..." There is a great sense of accomplishment when a student demonstrates mastery and we have set the bar very high. That is reflected when we see the results of some of the formalized and standardized tests that our students take, when compared to the rest of the district, their normed-peers and students across the nation. We are WELL ABOVE the average range of achievement and since we expect students to perform at a level that some would consider "exceeding" or "advanced," we have set the new standard of excellence... it is just the way that we do business now. That says a lot about our program model.
When looking at the rubrics that are now used with students to provide feedback, we have basically combined the "Advanced" (previously a 4) and "Proficient" (previously a 3) descriptors to articulate what is required to be Proficient and we have combined some aspects of the "Minimal" (previously a 1) and "Basic" (previously a 2) categories to create the Approaching category. Students are now being asked to apply, innovate and create a product, based on what they have learned in a deep, rich context, to demonstrate learning and competency on each skill. Research has proven time and time again that if someone is able to learn something and then teach it, that they must master that skill or own the knowledge required, prior to being able to teach someone else to do the same. At this level at the Waukesha STEM Academy, students have now begun to own their learning and by demonstration through application and creation in context, we are seeing the highest level of proficiency ever and this is no longer an additional category that some kids might try to reach for, if they are smart enough. This is where we want all students to strive to be... to move their edUcation forward. This is raising the bar and helping students see and realize their full potential, like never before.
So, here's the million dollar question! What does the reporting side of things look like this year at STEM and what does it mean to me as a parent... how does my student know what they are learning, how are they are going to learn it, how are they going to demonstrate what they learned and how do they receive real-time feedback, along with a report declaring that their proficiencies are being met?
Wonderful questions and here is a little bit of a cheat-sheet that might help really clear up any areas that may have been a bit fuzzy. Keep in mind that this is the first installment of many Blog posts surrounding this topic, which are designed to help walk our parents through the reporting, evidence and feedback pieces at STEM, to ensure everyone is on the same page. I didn't want to drop everything on our families all at once, as it may be a bit intimidating and people's heads would be just about ready to burst! The components in today's Blog really feel like the Least Common Denominator pieces, which means that they are the most commonly asked questions and ones that will help you understand the day-to-day operations at STEM. As always, please don't hesitate to leave me any feedback, or send questions my way and I'd be glad to get back to you as soon as possible.
I have been using a similar description with parents this weekend, so I wanted to pass along what they felt was a pretty helpful explanation and very beneficial in wrapping their head around our reporting, evidence and feedback system, for WSA students. Please also keep in mind that as we transition into a fully Proficiency-Based Pathways system, we will be working out some kinks and learning as we go, since we are really working at building and strengthening the educational system that has been in place for hundreds of years... it's time to make it better for our students and build a better bridge.
Math & Electives Reporting (STEM Pathways, Phy. Ed., Music, etc):
P = Proficiency
AP = Approaching
P = Proficiency
AP = Approaching
E = Emerging (because all students are able to choose their science courses and they are not grade-based (by age), so they are all working toward 8th grade standards... the E helps students and parents know that there are three years that students have to demonstrate mastery in each target and they may be at Emerging for two or more years, before they hit proficiency... not a bad thing)
6P, 7P, 8P = denotes the "grade level" of proficiency for ELA (English-Language Arts) skills, since students are working at varied levels and aiming for 8th Grade targets by the end of their 540 days at STEM
6AP, 7AP, 8AP = denotes the "grade level" of approaching for ELA skills
The main tools that are used to accompany the descriptions below include:
-Google Classroom: Used to deliver and collect assignments in courses such as literacy, humanities and math.
-BlackBoard 9 (Bb9): Warehouse of student assignments, movies, resources that students can log into and access at anywhere/anytime.
-Infinite Campus (IC): Housing for all reports of how students are doing... this is where you will find a "P" or "AP," along with the rubric that was used to arrive at this declaration. This is also where personal info for your family/student is housed, where fees may be paid, as well as where a final declaration of "C" for completion of the course, or "NC" for non-completion of the course is listed, in June.
-Science Notebook (Google Site): Used by the science team as a means for students to submit their daily independent work (this is linked out of their Gmail account).
-Google Forms: Used to quickly collect data from students and parents, as well as currently being used as a digital permission slip.
-ALEKS, IXL, TenMarks, BuzzMath: Adaptive and Responsive online math programs that are used to help build proficiency with students who are working on reinforcing skill-development. Teachers then step in to help provide opportunities for application and using skills in context.
Our biggest focus among all else, is for the evidence and feedback piece, because that is truly where the learning takes place and where students own their learning. We are hitting the STEMfolios hard this year and students are consistently updating their profiles with their amazing work that demonstrates mastery of their respective learning targets. This will also be the focus of our STEM Student Showcase (S-3), which are our Student-Led conferences this fall, and are co-facilitated by each student's Advisory. The power in this format is unparalleled by any other, because the students truly own their learning and reflect on what they are learning... how they are learning... how well they are doing and areas in need of focus. Talk about a very solid metacognitive piece... this is the pinnacle and we are working with students who have now been doing this since being at the elementary level, so it is the way we do business.
As I sad earlier, we are in a bit of a building phase with our Proficiency-Based Pathways reporting system, but it has become quite clear that this is how we have been teaching our students for five years... this is how our students have been learning for 5 years... this is why our school(s) were originally opened over 5 years ago and now we are building the reporting, evidence and feedback system to perfectly fit and 100% align with our mission and vision. Ideas and conversations are becoming more clear than they have ever been before and students are given five times more opportunities to learn the way they prefer to learn, and focus on what they want to focus on, to demonstrate the same learning targets as their peers. Not only is there a much stronger initiative, but there is also pure enjoyment and engagement, because they actually and finally care about what they are leaning about. They aren't being forced to learn about some garbage that has no meaning to them and that they don't see any value in. How would you respond to a system like that? Why would we make our kids do that then?
Personalized Learning. Digital image. PLE Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web.
PBL Image. Digital image. Venturing into Project-Based Learning. BIE, n.d. Web.