Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Proficiency Based Learning Series Post #6

What to Expect In Our PBL System for 2017-18 

I can't believe we are already at the end of another great school year here at the Gorham Schools! We've accomplished so much, and we have thoroughly enjoyed working with your children day in and day out for the past 10 months.   It truly is an honor to be entrusted by the community of Gorham to serve, cultivate, and grow our most precious resource - our children!  Thank you for giving us this honor!

When I mention that we have accomplished so much in our schools over the past year, our work in moving our Proficiency Based Learning (PBL) system forward has been one of those accomplishments.  Our teachers, administrators, community members and students have worked diligently through our district-wide PBL committees to help clarify our beliefs, define what our system is, and how it will operate for our children and this was no easy task.  Over the course of the school year, we regularly met in seven different committees to conduct this work.  Those committees were:

*  PBL Steering Committee
*  K-5 Grading and Reporting Committee
*  6-12 Grading and Reporting Committee
*  K-12 ELA Committee
*  K-12 Math Committee
*  K-12 Science Committee
*  K-12 Social Studies Committee

Countless hours were spent thoughtfully reviewing our graduation standards, our performance indicators, and our scoring criteria (see earlier posts for definitions of those terms) to make sure they focused on essential learning and created a clear K-12 progression of learning for our students.  Needed revisions were noted, some made, and some will be made, but all identified.  Common definitions were created, grading and reporting scales were created, new report cards and transcripts were created and revisions to policy suggested.  All was done in an effort to make sure that we had a solid plan for how we will move forward with our PBL work and to ensure we are ready for our first class to graduate from GHS with a PBL diploma in the year 2021.  We made decisions about implementation plans for the coming year and for a four-year "step in" process that will get us to our ultimate goal using a methodical and careful approach, making sure that meeting the needs of our students remains at the forefront of all that we do.

The purpose of this last PBL post is to give you an overview of both what to expect for PBL implementation in the coming year at each grade span (K-5, 6-8 and 9-12) and to also provide insights into how we see our students moving through our PBL system over time.

K-5 Grade Span

There really won't be a lot of changes at the K-5 level next year in actual classroom practices.  Our K-5 teachers have been working on the implementation of our PBL system for several years now.  The biggest change you will see is that next year's grading and reporting will be done solely through our standards-based grading and reporting software called Jumprope.  For the past two years teachers have been working to track student learning using this software, but at the end of each trimester teachers had taken those scores and simply input them into the Infinite Campus reporting software so that parents saw very few changes to how student learning was reported.  For the coming year, we will be "removing the curtain" of Infinite Campus and reporting directly through Jumprope.  We will still be sending home reports to parents at the end of each trimester, but those reports will contain a lot more information than what you are used to seeing in Infinite Campus, which is good.  

Of course, it is still a change and one we want to be very cognizant of moving forward because it involves the all-important tool of communication that is our report card.  It is important to us that parents and students understand how to read these new reports, what to look for, and what specific trends might mean for your child's learning.  Therefore, we will be spending considerable time in the fall of next year (likely during the month of October) helping to educate parents on these new reports.  We'll be working with each school's PIE group to get information out to parents on when these events will be held and we'll make sure to offer up multiple methods for learning that will range from face to face meetings to online links and resources and more.

Other than this change, students will pretty much move through our K-5 system just as they have for the past several years.  Students who need support in meeting standards will be provided timely interventions to make sure they don't fall behind in their learning and students who need enrichment will be provided challenging experiences that continue to push their learning in meaningful ways.  Long story short - we'll continue to work hard to meet the needs of each individual learner to take them from where they are in their learning to where they need to be, supporting and challenging in appropriate ways as they move forward on their learning journey!

6-8 Grade Span

Here is where things start to get a little more interesting.  Beginning in the fall of 2017 students in the 6th grade will have their learning reported out utilizing the same standards-based grading software that is being utilized K-5: Jumprope.  Student learning will be reported out on a 1-4 scale by standard and by performance indicator across all content areas.  Additionally, our allied arts courses will utilize Jumprope to report student learning as well as those content areas that were piloting this past year (7th & 8th grade Science).  

One thing that will be different from the K-5 implementation of Jumprope, however, is that parents of students in grade 6 (and others utilizing Jumprope) will have access to the parent portal.  This parent portal is much like Infinite Campus and is intended to help make sure parents are able to follow what their children are learning and how well they are doing in that learning in relative "real time".  Once again, we know this is a change in format so we will also be spending a considerable amount of time this fall offering parent forums and online resources and materials to parents in order to help them better understand how to navigate the parent portal, and what all those colors and drop down menus can show for information and what that information means.  Additionally, we will be placing special emphasis on making sure that our 6th-grade students themselves know how to understand the software so that they can navigate it, and so that they can help their parents to navigate it.

Also as part of our "step in" approach, students in grades 7 & 8 will utilize the "blended scale" for grading and reporting that was outlined in my last PBL post.  I did want to be clear, however, that we have made a few "tweaks" to the original blended scale based upon recent staff, student and parent feedback. The new blended scale for students in grades 6-12 is below:

Proficiency Score
A,B,C Score
100-Pt. Score
Proficiency Description
Distinguished - The student consistently exceeds the proficiency requirements for the course level.  Performance indicators show that the student grasps, applies, generalizes, and extends key concepts, processes, and skills independently.
Proficient - The student consistently meets the proficiency requirements for the course level.  Performance indicators show that the student, with limited errors, grasps key concepts, processes, and skills for the course/grade level and understands and applies them.
Developing - The student is progressing toward the proficiency requirements for the course/grade level.  Performance indicators show that the student is beginning to grasp key concepts, processes, and skills for the course/grade level, but demonstrates inconsistent understanding and application of concepts.
Emerging - The student is making some progress toward meeting the competency requirements.  Performance indicators show that the student is not demonstrating understanding of course-level concepts, processes, and skills and requires additional time and support.
Insufficient Evidence
The student did not turn in enough work to determine his/her level of proficiency.
* Note:  Scores lower than a 60 will not be given to students using this grading scale.

The adjustments made to this scale were to allow a teacher to utilize EITHER the 1-4 scale in their classroom or the 100 point scale in their classroom and still have Infinite Campus be able to report out the same score on the 100 point scale.

Grades will be reported to parents using this blended scale approach next year for students in grades 7&8 for all core content areas except science (who will continue their pilot work in Jumprope).  Learning for all students in grades 6-8 will be reported on by standards so parents will see a lot more information than what they have in the past.  Additionally, all students will be scored using our Skills for Life Rubric.  Student learning in these areas will also be reported out to parents separately from academic skills.

Students at GMS will move through the grades very similarly to how they have always moved through the grades at the middle school level.  Students who need support to meet standards will be provided timely and immediate support through our Response to Intervention (RTI) programs, our EICAL program, or through other supports as determined by the needs of each child.  Students who need enrichment and challenge will be provided enriching experiences within the classroom.  All students will be challenged to do their very best regardless of what classroom they are in or what standards they are working on.

9-12 Grade Span

Here is where the proverbial "rubber" begins to really "hit the road" for our students.  The Gorham Schools are moving forward slowly and methodically in our PBL practices at these grade levels because we want to make sure that whatever changes are made, are made for the direct benefit of our students and does not disadvantage them in any way - perceived or otherwise.  We have a very clear PBL "vision" for GHS that we will be moving towards over the course of the next four years.  During this time we will be making sure to take our time educating our students and our parents as to what changes are occurring, why they are occurring, and how those changes will benefit our students in moving closer towards our mission/vision.

That being said, there are still going to be some significant shifts in the coming year.  The first major shift will be in the fact that all of our grading and reporting will be done by graduation standard.  Students and parents will still see scores for Algebra I or English I for example, however, students and parents will also see individual scores for each graduation standard that is contained within those courses.  Additionally, as outlined in the middle school section above, we will be utilizing that same blended scale.  Utilization of this scale will allow teachers who are comfortable to begin grading on a 1-4 scale, while also allowing teachers who are still learning about PBL grading practices to grade on the 100 point scale while all scores will be translated utilizing infinite campus into the 100 point scale.  Bottom line is that parents will still see grades for each course based upon a 100 point scale, at least for the next few years.

Another big shift will be our expectation for what is "proficient".  Students must meet proficiency for their course in order to pass the course and receive course credit.  For the coming year, proficiency will be defined by a student receiving a grade of between a 2.0 - 3.0 on the 1-4 scale which can be translated to between a 73.3 - 86.7 on the 100 point scale.  This is a slightly higher requirement than in the past when a "passing" score was considered a 70. 

Another big shift will be that teachers will score academic standards and skills for life standards separately from one another.  Parents will see a score for each course a student takes.  Additionally, parents will see a score for each standard contained within that course - one of which will be the skills for life score.  These skills for life scores will be recorded and reported on report cards and will be seen on the student's college transcript.  Additionally, students will need to demonstrate proficiency on their skills for life scores (as well as their academic scores) in order to be eligible to participate in extra and co-curricular activities.

Speaking of the college transcript. . . another change for GHS next year is that we will be moving to a 2-sided transcript.  The first side of the transcript will seem very similar to what we have now.  It will list a student's year (freshman, sophomore, etc) and the courses they took each year.  For each course there will be a final score.  There will also be a score for the skills for life standard on the transcript.  These individual course scores will be calculated into a total GPA for each student just as they always have been.   On the back side of the transcript however, will be a rolling report by graduation standard where scores from all four years will feed into a single score for each graduation standard in each content area (Math, ELA, Science, etc.).  For students who are seniors next year, this report will include just one year's worth of work, while underclassmen who continue to move through the system will accumulate scores each year as they move through our system.

We will still have a requirement for each student to earn 22 credits in order to graduate from GHS.  Similar to in the past, 4 of those credits must be in ELA, 4 in math, 3 in science, etc. etc.  In order for a student to receive course credit, they must pass the course with a proficient score as outlined above. We will still be using these individual course scores to determine quarterly honor roll, latin honors, and overall GPA calculations.

Once again, students in grades 9-12 will move through our system in a very similar manner to how they have in the past.  Students will take courses, earn credits towards graduation, and once graduation requirements have been met, will graduate from GHS.  Students who need support will be provided timely and targeted support through our Response to Intervention (RTI) System, through Auxillium, our learning labs, and other support programs.  All students will be appropriately challenged and supported to meet their highest potential.

That summarizes the changes we are planning for next year as part of our PBL implementation.  Please know that the Gorham Schools will continue to support our students with some of the strongest and most effective educational programs possible, carried out by some of the best teaching staff in the state!  We will continue to collect data to inform our practices and measure our success.
We look forward to continuing to serve the children of Gorham and in making sure that they leave our schools "prepared and inspired" to take on the complex challenges facing our current and future world.

If you have additional questions, or wish to learn more, please do not hesitate to reach out to me via email (heather.perry@gorhamschools.org).  THANK YOU!