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Friday, June 12, 2020

Rethinking Assessment --Together!

By Lora Shields, Staff Developer
Shelby County Schools, KY
June 12, 2020

     Shelby County Public Schools, Kentucky has been on a journey toward Competency Based Education for the past ten years.  We didn’t always know that was the journey we were on. The beginnings of our journey began in 2008 by focusing on students owning their learning using the structure of the the Workshop Model, modeling and promoting the use of critical thinking through intentionally embedding Thinking Strategies in our instruction. A partnership with the Public Education and Business Coalition (PEBC) in Denver, Colorado helped us to develop lab classrooms where our teachers could observe, reflect, and implement practices with support from instructional coaches. The importance in Workshop of assessment through conferring and reflecting around the target for the student work time was key.  The agency we observed in our students was inspiring, and we wanted to learn more.

     While becoming more and more student-centered, we found ourselves focused on developing a plan to focus on eliminating gaps in achievement. Those gaps persisted for several role groups even when our overall achievement was deemed high. In our quest for equity for all students, and believing that students can perform when given engaging, personalized assessments, an action on that plan was to develop quality performance assessment. There are many action items on our Strategic Plan that we have no idea how, or who will help us accomplish them. But we have always found a way to reach the goals through collaborative learning partnerships with others, just as we began by connecting with PEBC. Together with others, we figure it out.

     After a few years and many pilots of personalization, in 2019 we partnered with the Assessment for Learning Project (ALP) in a grantee learning relationship focused on the Driving Question: 
"How do we develop a process for developing and implementing quality Performance Based Learning and Assessment aligned to our graduate profile competencies, our academic competencies and state standards?" 
     We recognized that the traditional system of assessment as an instrument for accountability has highlighted the opportunity gaps for our low income students, students of color, English language learners, and students with disabilities.  We want to view learning in more culturally responsive ways, and provide access and opportunity for all learners through the transference of learning.  Through our learning grant, we sought to refine our assessment literacy as well as have structures in place to increase feedback to students around competencies named in our Graduate Profile.  We connected with the Center for Collaborative Education (CCE)focused on learning the Quality Performance Assessment (QPA) framework.  We established a team from each school, including a teacher team, an Instructional Coach and an administrator, to learn the protocols for QPA design and assessment.  Using QPA Validation and Calibration Protocols, we have a system in place for making sure our assessments are fair, unbiased, and reliable. In order to have equitable learning, our assessment practices must continue to shift from viewing assessment as moments in time to building a culture of continuous feedback and reflection. 

     In February 2020, as a part of our continuing grantee relationship with ALP, a team from Shelby County Schools attended the first Assessment for Learning Conference in San Diego, California. There we shared the story of our journey, how collaborative partnerships have helps us along the way, and continued to learn alongside other districts who are focused on quality assessment in education.

     Matt Arledge, a 5th grade teacher from Clear Creek Elementary who attended the conference, reflected on his involvement on the QPA team as well as his participation in the Assessment for Learning Conference in February, 2020: 
One of the most powerful statements I heard at the Assessment for Learning Conference was about feedback. To paraphrase, “to give feedback to a student is a way to say I believe in you”. The power of feedback in assessment for learning not only pushes student thinking, but it also pushes students to self-reflect. In my work in Quality Performance Assessments (QPA) this year, one of the most powerful shifts in my thinking has been about conferring and giving feedback during the assessment process. Providing the rubric to students at the beginning of the QPA process allowed not only a specific focus for my feedback to students, but also for students to consistently self-reflect on their own demonstration of learning. This became especially powerful using a single-point rubric in the QPA. The single point rubric allowed students to not only clearly see their areas of growth and revision in the QPA process, but also the areas they were already at or approaching Mastery. This consistent cycle of feedback throughout the assessment process pushed all students closer to achieving mastery of the assessed standards.  

     As our students from Marnel C. Moorman School reflect on their experiences with QPA, we are hearing similar sentiments:

  • Memorizing versus knowing are drastically different...”
  • “My performance can best be assessed when I implement what works for me.”
Drew (sharing how QPA motivates students): 
  • “Multiple choice can’t show you really know the topic because if you circle an answer, you have 25% chance of getting it right….(QPA)...allows students to choose how to show their learning with ...something that they care about.”
  • “I talk almost every day about my project (I did to learn), I never talk about a test.”
  • “We didn’t even realize the QPA was a “test”, we LIKE to do it!”
Naomion single point rubrics:
  • “Looking at a normal rubric is overwhelming, there are THREE examples of how to fail or mess up….”

Scaling these practices we've learned about Quality Performance Assessment to make them routine will be important work in the upcoming years. Because we believe so strongly in the culture of feedback and reflection for students as learners, we hold a parallel belief about ourselves as learners.  A strong culture of feedback and reflection will help us on our journey to a fully balanced assessment system in our district. As we move forward, we have these inquiry question in mind:
  • How do we scale the QPA process in our schools/district in a systematic way that provides us common, valid and calibrated district academic and PoG competency assessments that help inform and propel the work of our goal of a more balanced assessment system for our district, and possibly for our state? 
  • How do we continue to deeply develop a culture of collaborative feedback and reflection as a part of assessment for learning?

     As we continually focus our growth through the Observation-Feedback-Reflection-Revision cycle, we recognize that the reflection process helps us to learn and refine our journey. ALP is focusing efforts on collaborating and sharing learning - and doing so in ways that invite educators and leaders into the assessment for learning movement. We shared our story on the national stage at the ALP Conference in February, 2020, connecting with other districts on the journey and inviting them to visit us.  Having local, regional and national partners observe our practice and reflect with us on our journey will propel our future growth. We invite local, regional, state, and national partners to the conversation.  As members of the Kentucky Competency Education and Assessment Consortium (KCEAC), it is important to us to support others in our state in their journey as we all work toward more balanced systems of assessment, especially in these times when equity is of utmost importance. It is time to Rethink Assessment, as Assessment for Learning project partners say!

    Join with us, collaborate with us--and in this time of unprecedented change, let's Rethink Assessment--TOGETHER! 

    It is one step toward a fully Competency Based Learning system.

    It is one more step toward equitable education for all students.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Times, They are A-Changin'--Assessment, It is, TOO!


                                                           2 of 7 in "WHY CBE" Series

Stephanie Walker,  teacher in The Rock Academy @West Middle School, reflects on her journey around assessment following her attendance at the Assessment for Learning Conference in San Diego, CA in February, 2020.

Assessment has long been known as a dirty word to students.  They hear the word, they groan, they anxietize, and they prepare for a torturous event to occur. Maybe they know it, maybe they don’t, they might not even know what’s coming.
Throughout a decade in education, I have been fortunate to be part of an evolution, and a change of thinking in Shelby County Schools.  Assessment is losing its long deemed negative connotation and is emerging as a platform for equity among all students.  
The first dramatic shift to my thinking occurred during a professional learning opportunity with the Institute for Personalized Learning visiting schools in Waukesha, Wisconsin, a school district where they said “personalized learning” was occurring.  Skeptically, I went with a team, wondering if I would really see anything different, anything outside of my Shelby County norm.  
It didn’t take long to realize something special was happening there. We had to bring it back to our own students. It was clear these were the opportunities they were missing. Passion Projects were in full swing in Waukesha with students researching their passions intently, receiving feedback from their advisors, synthesizing their learning, and preparing for an exhibition.  I had never seen students so engaged and active in their learning journey.  This had to happen for our kids. 
Now in our third year of passion project exhibitions, an annual performance assessment our students yearn for, I have seen students display strengths that have been masked for years by traditional assessment practices.  Students are taking their own interests, applying research principals, and displaying their proficiency in SCPS’ Profile of a Graduate competencies. They are able to demonstrate who they are and what they have to offer, not being bound by the constraints of a piece of paper with choices labeled: a,b,c and d.  
I currently have a 7th grade student who is deep into her passion project development.   She quickly self-identified her driving question before others had even narrowed it down, launching her research ahead of schedule. She‘s conducted interviews, visited locations for research on the weekends, and is leading by example to classmates who consistently outperform her on traditional assessments.  Her mother’s response after seeing her daughter featured on social media while conducting an interview, “Look at my daughter. She took charge of her passion and is bringing it to life through her passion project.  I am so proud of her.”
Pride felt, through the power of performance assessment, a move Shelby County is making to provide equity for all students, empowering learners and their families, and allowing students to shine in ways they never had the opportunity to before.  

Stephanie Walker
The Rock Academy @West Middle School
Shelby County Public Schools 
Shelbyville, KY

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Why We Do What We Do: 

Empowering Students!

January 21, 2020

1 of 7 in "WHY CBE" Series

Shelby County Public Schools is in the second year of Strategic Leadership Plan 2.0 created to ensure our graduates attain skills and dispositions as effective communicators, responsible collaborators, inspired innovators, critical thinkers, global citizens and life-long learners.  We believe that all students should have the opportunities to reach mastery in these competencies of our Profile of a Graduate as well as academic standards.  In fact, our mission is "preparing wise students who master standards, lead by example and embrace social responsibility." We are on a journey to become a competency-based education district built on the foundation of a quest for equity for all SCPS students.

 The Aurora Institute (formerly iNACOL) recently updated the definition of competency-based education to include the following:
  1. Students are empowered daily to make important decisions about their learning experiences, how they will create and apply knowledge, and how they will demonstrate their learning.
  2. Assessment is a meaningful, positive, and empowering learning experience for students that yields timely, relevant, and actionable evidence.
  3. Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
  4. Students progress based on evidence of mastery, not seat time.
  5. Students learn actively using different pathways and varied pacing.
  6. Strategies to ensure equity for all students are embedded in the culture, structure, and pedagogy of schools and education systems.
  7. Rigorous, common expectations for learning (knowledge, skills, and dispositions) are explicit, transparent, measurable, and transferable.
East Middle Pride Pursuit: Learning Chess!
This blog series will focus on each of the 7 elements of CBE outlined above. The first element, “Students are empowered daily to make important decisions about their learning experiences, how they will create and apply knowledge, and how they will demonstrate their learning,” is becoming evident throughout our elementary, middle and high schools.  SCPS students have the opportunity to pursue topics of interest at Shelby County East Middle School through Pride Pursuits.  These pursuits include sessions like photography, Algebra, chess, scientific inquiry and more.  Shelby County West Middle School provides similar opportunities in their Majors program.  These learning opportunities include engineering, psychology and other student-selected areas of interests.

PLP in Empower
Another way students in SCPS are empowered to make important decisions about their learning is by creating and maintaining a Personalized Learning Plan (PLP).  K-12 students work with teachers and advisors to set academic and personal goals. The PLP provides a place to track progress toward goals and explore new areas of interests with the help of an advisor. Currently our student PLPs are housed in our Learning Management system, Empower.

Mrs. Zaring's 1st graders at Painted Stone
Each day, teachers continue to provide students the opportunity to have voice and choice in what they learn, how they learn and how they make their learning public.  Our teachers, as lifelong learners, embrace the challenge of this transformation and work as responsible collaborators to explore what giving students more voice and choice looks like in their setting.

These are a few examples of student empowerment in Shelby County. I look forward to sharing many more stories from our students and teachers in the coming weeks and months.

~Susan Dugle, CAO, Shelby County Public Schools