Tag Archives: standards-based instruction

Updated APUSH Curriculum- Now with Learning Targets!

29 Jan

Whether you are a fan of Common Core or local curriculum, or simply believe teachers should develop their own objectives for each course- it’s undeniable that the foundation of any good instructional program is clear learning targets.  Targets must be in place before assessment and planning can be clear to teachers and students.

That’s why I commend the College Board for updating a course near and dear to my heart with actual course objectives.  I taught AP US History when I was in the classroom.  My first year teaching it, I asked my new PLC-mates what they thought (they are awesome teachers).  Their response was, “You pretty much just teach everything- because anything can be on the AP Exam.”

Lack of specific curricular objectives made it a very difficult course to assess, and communicate progress clearly.  Students had to know everything, so discussions on progress with students and parents usually centered on behavior and task completion “They need to complete the nightly readings, to be ready for the quizzes”, “Chapter outlines must be done”, “Students must study harder”….

The exception was the essays, including the DBQ- which were more skills-based and included critical thinking.  They also had a clear rubric so students could understand the performance expectations and receive descriptive feedback from their teacher.  It was time the rest of the final assessment, and course, caught up.

From the new course framework:

The AP Exam will measure student proficiency in the historical thinking skills as well as the thematic learning objectives. Beginning with the May 2015 AP U.S. History Exams, every AP Exam question will be rooted in these specified learning objectives, relieving teachers from the pressure to cover an unlimited amount of content in their AP U.S. History course. 

Now APUSH instructors can assess and communicate student progress towards specific objectives, and student grades should become more aligned with performance on the AP exam.  Still, with the skills-based DBQ and essays, instructors will focus more on application of these objectives, versus the cramming in of “everything that happened in United States History.”


Academic Dishonesty and Grading

23 Jan

As a former coach, I love the period of time between the end of college football season and the NFL Draft.  I find myself glued to the NFL Network as analysts give their evaluation of player skills during the Senior Bowl and NFL Draft Combine.  I guess I am kind of a nerd when it comes to sports and how players are evaluated in order to predict their performance.

And really, that is what Standards-Based Learning is.  During last night’s #sblchat on Twitter, one of the topics of discussion was academic dishonesty and grading.  Does the learner get a zero?  A redo?  The common question I often hear is “If students are doing something wrong, why should it become more work for the teacher?”

Well, this is a tricky area.  First, let me say that I understand how teachers feel when cheating occurs in their classroom.  They feel it is disrespectful and should have severe consequences.  Students must be taught a lesson.  I agree overall with that.  Students should learn the importance of academic integrity and being honest with their own learning progress.  Where I divide with many is that the grade and the behavior must remain separate.  As standards-based grading proponents have pointed out, a grade is a piece of communication.  It is not currency, an incentive, a weapon, a punishment, or a reward.  It represents student progress (or should).

A zero says the student knows nothing.  Not that he/she cheated, but that he/she knows nothing.  If we give a zero for cheating, we are not reporting accurate information.  So what consequences does a student receive?  That depends on your school’s discipline policy.  There is a referral process for discipline, and academic dishonesty should have some sort of consequence (and please let the consequence be a detention served, possibly re-assessing with a proctor- not simply more work/writing/etc).

Because I believe the issues surrounding grading and giving zeroes needs to be something teachers work towards naturally, I tell teachers that if a student is caught cheating they should call home, write a referral, and submit to the student’s assistant principal-  and what they do with their grade is their discrection, and I will support them.  But next we usually have a good conversations through the incident on what a grade is and what it reports.  Often, teachers will end up giving the student the opportunity to reassess as long as they feel the student’s behavior is being dealt with.  Sometimes, they feel strongly that the student “deserves” the zero- but those have become fewer and farther between as our school moves towards standards-based assessment and accurate grading.

Bringing this back to college football, I think of the cheating/behavior scandals of some big-name players and coaches over the last few years.  A couple of years ago, Reggie Bush was stripped of his Heisman for NCAA recruiting violations.   This past year, Johnny Manziel was suspended (very, very briefly) for allegedly breaking NCAA regulations.  Still, when those players had those issues, breaking ethics codes became only part of their stories.  They were and are still evaluated on their speed, strength, football IQ, leadership ability, etc., and teams were aware that they had talent “but” there were some issues to be aware of.  Bush was the 2nd overall pick, and Manziel looks like a top 5 pick this year- based on their overall package.  They weren’t told they had to give up football forever, or they would lose salary from their rookie contract.  What mattered is what teams saw by the time they were ready to draft.  They knew and know what these players can do well, and what they can’t, and they make a decision based on that assessment.

Now, other sports have had more severe cheating scandals (steriods in major league baseball), that have carried more severe consequences (long-term suspensions, being left out of the Hall of Fame).  But this mirrors life, too.  I can’t get away with cheating in my job, and could be fired if I go against regulations that govern what I do.  But I’m also a professional who has learned there are certain things that must be done a certain way, and that my position holds high moral and ethical standards.  Students are still learning the ability to discern that.

The stakes get bigger as they move into college and the professional world, so there should be consequnces, as previously.  However, giving a zero and moving on is really letting them off the hook from their main responsbilities as a student.  This is the responsibility to learn and demonstrate what they have learned, and what they haven’t.  Hammering them with an insurmountable F, on top of any disciplinary consequences, is not appropriate, and it certainly does not pass the test of good communication.  Addressing the behavior and learning as two separate entities is a best practice that we need to see more of.

Principles of Standards-Based Instruction and Assessment, and Tip Sheet for School Leaders

7 Jan

As a hard cold falls over the country this week, I can’t help but think about summer.  This past summer, I had the opportunity to present on standards-based grading, along with my principal and a team of teacher leaders in my school.  We presented to adminstrators and leaders across the school division.  While it was fun to share in person, I realize that I haven’t done much sharing with my PLN as of late.  So, please check out what my school has found to be the key principles of standards-based instruction and grading, as well as essential tips for school leaders (administrators AND teachers).

Also, please feel free to comment here or tweet me with your own.

Standards-Based Planning, Instruction and Assessment: Principles

  1. This is about communication as much as anything else: The purpose is that teachers, students, parents and administrators are all very clear on the learning targets of a particular course, how students will be assessed on their progress, where they stand in relation to these targets, and what to do as next steps towards mastery.
  2. Backwards Planning is a must:  Once established, look at your targets then plan assessments.  Consider that different types of assessments match up better with different types of targets.  Once assessments are planned, instruction can be planned.
  3. Give students a “GPS”: Students should know the targets and assessments up front.
  4. The goal of multiple opportunities is that students will learn each target:  Re-testing or re-assessment policies are not to raise grades artificially or make things easier on the student.  These policies are in place to let students know they will learn, and will have the support necessary to do so.
  5. Descriptive feedback is vital: Any system that allows students multiple opportunities without descriptive feedback on an ongoing basis will fail.  Students should be clear on these three questions through the formative assessment process: “1. Where am I going? 2. Where am I now? 3. How can I fill the gap?” (Stiggins)
  6. Quality assessments and quality rubrics must be developed:  This will take time, and requires reflection and continuous improvement.  Assessments and rubrics must be aligned with targets and expectations.
  7. Continue to document and communicate student behavior, apart from the grade: Although the grade should be based on mastery of clear targets, behavior is still important.  Follow the discipline and parent communication processes as usual.  You will find parents will back you when they realize their son or daughter is being given every opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned.
  8. Gradebooks should be organized by targets, not assessment type: This will change the conversation from what the student is doing or not doing to what the student knows or does not know.
  9. This is not a program or a one-time fix: This is an ongoing process for all of us as professional educators.  We must continue to learn about assessments and grading that is best for students.  One size does not fit all!

Standards-Based Planning, Instruction and Assessment:

Tip Sheet for Administrators and Teacher Leaders

  1. Start with where you are now: Analyze the key issue.  For us, it was lack of clear learning targets across departments.  Some schools may already be beyond that and need to look at assessment practices, gradebook, etc.
  2. Go Slow: Understand this will take time and be patient.  Even if you are not making the progress you expected, ask yourself, “Are we further along than we were a year ago?”
  3. Read the research and apply it to your staff development and school plan: See the resource matrix provided, add your own.  It is not just about gaining the knowledge, but application.
  4. Find your core people: Start with any teachers who are “on board”.  Do not hold them back or make them wait for others to catch up.  Empower them to lead the way.  Give others time.
  5. Communicate with stakeholders: Use the syllabus, parent meetings, Principal’s Advisory, letters home to educate the community.
  6. Offer ongoing professional development: This is not a one-time training.  It has multiple components and requires a lot of follow-up and reflection.
  7. Align with the evaluation process: The PPP has several areas of focus that support this approach.  (Especially Standard IV- Assessment OF and FOR learning, Standard VII- Student Academic Progress)
  8. Be open to different approaches: Allow teachers room to use strategies that are true to their style.  There are many different ways to get to the same goal.  Support time for PLC’s to work together and plan the best approaches for their content.
  9. Build capacity for teachers to produce exemplars and lead staff development: Look at what teachers across departments are using for targets, pacing, assessments, gradebooks, “GPS for students”.  Collect these and use in staff development.  Eventually, teachers should be the ones delivering the staff development in your building.