Monday, March 28, 2016

Gorham Middle School 4th Quarter Proficiency Based Learning (PBL) Pilot

Good evening everyone!  It's been about a month since my last post so I thought I'd take a moment to share a little of what we have planned for 7th graders at Gorham Middle School for this upcoming 4th quarter.  During the 4th quarter we will be conducting a pilot of our Proficiency Based Learning (PBL) system with all 7th grade students in the content area of science.

Teachers across all content areas at GMS have been using our new Graduation standards, Performance Indicators, Learning Targets and Scoring Guides over the course of this whole school year in their classroom instruction, but this pilot is taking our work up to a whole other level in trying to put all the moving parts together into a cohesive unit!

OK, let's pause for a key terms explanation:

 Proficiency Based Learning - A system of learning whereby students must demonstrate skills and knowledge based upon the attainment of specific rigorous standards of learning.

*  Graduation Standards - The "next to the largest" sized components of a proficiency based system.  There are usually 3-8 graduation standards for each content area.  These are what must be met in order to graduate from a proficiency based learning system.

*  Performance Indicators - The "medium" sized components of a proficiency based system.  There are approximately 4-6 indicators by grade/grade span or course/learning experience for each content area standard that move students toward the achievement of graduation standards.

*  Learning Targets - The "smallest" components of a proficiency based system.  These are the learning objectives that guide the design of curriculum units of study that move students toward the achievement of Performance Indicators.

*  Scoring Guides - These are also sometimes referred to as "rubrics".  They communicate expectations of quality around a particular task or skill attainment.  In Gorham, we use what are called "I CAN" Statements.  For example, if a performance indicator states that a student will use "algebraic concepts to solve complex math problems, then the Scoring Guide might be something like a "3" or "meets" means that "I can identify an unknown variable and create an algebraic equation to solve for that unknown."

All of these together might look something like this:

Gorham Middle School Science Scoring Criteria - 7th Grade
Graduation Standard 1: Stability and Change: Explain how stability and change shape engineered or natural systems.
Performance Indicators1234
7.1A Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations (MS-LS2-4).I can identify parts of an ecosystemI can show the relationship between the physical and biological components of an ecosystemI can construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations.I can evaluate specific changes to and ecosystem and predict the effects it would have on a population.

For this pilot, we will be assessing students toward meeting these performance indicators, and tracking student learning towards standards using our new standards-based grading software called "Jumprope".

Before I get too far into the details, let me take a moment to step back and help everyone to understand why we are piloting at the 7th-grade level and where this work fits in with the "grand plan" moving forward with our PBL implementation.

The Gorham School System has been working to create a proficiency-based system of learning for several years now.  We believe that engagement and student achievement improve when the components of a proficiency-based learning (PBL) system are in place across all grades and content areas.  Those components are:  clear learning targets and performance indicators, aligned instruction and assessments, timely interventions, and grading/reporting that reflects this learning.

Parallel to this work, the state of Maine passed legislation requiring that the class of 2018 graduate from all public schools with a PBL diploma.  Gorham applied for an extension that would require the class of 2021 (our current 7th grade) to be the first class to graduate from our system with a PBL diploma.

The major reason we are piloting with this class is that we believe it is important to pilot our PBL system before the current 7th grade gets to the high school, which is when our system must be fully operational for our students.

Change is most definitely a process and NOT a single event, hence the reason for this pilot with this grade and in this content area.  We are trying to see how our system will work in enough of a "closed system" to identify what works well, and where our challenges are so that we can continue to support our strengths and focus our attention on improving our challenges.  Our hope is that by the time this current 7th grade class moves into the 9th grade, our PBL system will be strong, and better able to prepare ALL our students for success in the complex world that awaits them!  That is a goal, we all most definitely share!

During this pilot, students and parents will be able to access their grades via Jumprope, our new standards-based reporting software.  Within Jumprope, students will still get a composite score on all performance in science.  A "composite score" is like a "final grade" in the content area of science, but it is made up of the student's performance in all Performance Indicators contained within the content area.  All grades for all performance indicators will be reported out using  a 4 point scale where a range of scores between 2.5 - 3 will mean that the student has met proficiency.  Parents will be able to see how composite scores are constructed.  Our hope is that students and parents will have a clearer understanding of learning goals and what actions they need to take to acquire understanding.  As an example, a student learning report in Jumprope might look something like this:

Additionally, student scores will reflect their academic performance and not include their performance on "Skills for Life" which will be reported separately.  "Skills for Life" are things like being prepared for class, turning in work on time, and using class time effectively, etc.  These are important skills, so rather than mixing them up with content area skills, we will instruct these, and report out on student learning in these areas separately.

Our plan will be to spend time during this fourth quarter to train students in how to use Jumprope so that they, in turn, can teach parents how to use the system.  "Welcome" messages to open the parent portal will be sent out to student email accounts for all 7th grade students later this week.   We will then send another message to all 7th grade parents letting them know that this information was sent and that their students have the email that will allow them to login.  Parents who have difficulty, or whose student might have misplaced the email can call the office and we will assist to make sure all parents can access the portal.

Well, this blog post is long enough. .. but before I go - I just want to give a quick glimpse into how this pilot fits into the other work that is going on across all grades to create our PBL system.  This year, K-5 teachers have been tracking student learning in Jumprope for ELA and Math; next year, student learning will be tracked in science, social studies, and the creative arts as well, but still reported out to parents using IC.  This year, 7th grade science teachers will use Jumprope to track and report student learning progress during teh 4th quarter.  Based on the results of this pilot, we will then determine the next steps for a larger pilot at GMS next year, as well as a small pilot with 9th grade at GHS for next year.  Then, during the following year, we would "phase in" our full PBL system, complete with Jumprope reporting, across all 9th grade GHS courses and then continue to phase in through the high school as these students move up through the system.  Eventually, all grades K-12 will fully implement our PBL system and be asked to utilize Jumprope to track student learning and to report that learning to students and parents.

During the course of this summer and the next school year our Grades 6-12 Grading and Reporting Committees will continue to work in order to finalize recommendations for full implementation of our PBL system.  Decisions will need to be made in the following key areas:  1)  Final Skills for Life Rubrics 2)  Grading scales and associated implications for things like honor roll, athletic eligibility, class rank, etc. 3) GHS Transcripts and Profiles that will be sent to post secondary institutions, and 4)  Guiding Principles rubrics.

All through this work, we will continue to emphasize parent communication and engagement.  As always, if you have any questions about our PBL implementation, please reach out to your child's teachers, principal, or even myself!  We are all very interested in helping to answer your important questions!

That's it for tonight (and isn't that enough. . . phew!).  My next post will be an in depth review of the proposed FY 17 Gorham School budget and information on how you can get involved in the budget approval process if you are interested!