Monthly Archives: October 2018

Kicking Off Quarter 2~October 28, 2018

Starting a new quarter CES style!

 

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One of the special things about CES is that our teachers instruct through Conceptual Units that integrate content areas through a “Big Idea” or universal concept. To kick off these units, you often see our teachers hook students in by dressing up on the first day. Our Kinders are learning about environments and trees, 1st and 2nd graders’ unit is about habitats, 3rd and 4th grade is studying American History and Civics, and 5th and 6th grade is doing the human body. Aren’t our teachers great sports to make learning so fun for kids??

Working on a day off!

On Monday when everyone else was enjoying a nice day off, Hannah, Dillon, and James–3 of our middle school students were preparing to present to the School Board. Their focus was to share information about their upcoming fundraiser, Pasta with a Purpose which will take place here at CES on November 1st. They also provided a bit of an update about how things are going with our middle school and what they are learning. All three of them were very well spoken and professional and made us proud! Good job Trailblazers!

Will Letter Grades Survive?

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In last week’s blog I share some information about our new Standards Based Report Card. This week I would like to share some excerpts from an article I found about traditional grading and why the educational system needs to and is moving away from it. This article came from Edutopia and was written by Laura McKenna.

Under pressure from an unprecedented constellation of forces—from state lawmakers to prestigious private schools and college admissions offices—the ubiquitous one-page high school transcript lined with A–F letter grades may soon be a relic of the past.

In the last decade, at least 15 state legislatures and boards of education have adopted policies incentivizing their public schools to prioritize measures other than grades when assessing students’ skills and competencies. And more recently, over 150 of the top private high schools in the U.S., including Phillips Exeter and Dalton—storied institutions which have long relied on the status conveyed by student ranking—have pledged to shift to new transcripts that provide more comprehensive, qualitative feedback on students while ruling out any mention of credit hours, GPAs, or A–F grades.

Somewhat independently, schools and lawmakers have come to the same conclusion: The old models of student assessment are out of step with the needs of the 21st-century workplace and society, with their emphasis on hard-to-measure skills such as creativity, problem solving, persistence, and collaboration.

“Competency-based education is a growing movement driven by educators and communities focused on ensuring that students have the knowledge they need to flourish in a global economy,” said Susan Patrick, chief executive officer of iNACOL, a nonprofit that runs the website CompetencyWorks. “The future of jobs and the workforce will demand a new set of skills, and students’ capacity to solve complex problems for an unknown future will be essential.”

For their part, colleges—the final arbiters of high school performance—are signaling a surprising willingness to depart from traditional assessments that have been in place since the early 19th century. From Harvard and Dartmouth to small community colleges, more than 70 U.S. institutions of higher learning have weighed in, signing formal statements asserting that competency-based transcripts will not hurt students in the admissions process.

The emerging alignment of K–12 schools with colleges and legislators builds on a growing consensus among educators who believe that longstanding benchmarks like grades, SATs, AP test scores, and even homework are poor measures of students’ skills and can deepen inequities between them. If the momentum holds, a century-old pillar of the school system could crumble entirely, leading to dramatic transitions and potential pitfalls for students and schools alike.

PICKING UP STEAM

Scott Looney, head of the Hawken School in Cleveland, was frustrated. His school had recently begun offering real-world, full-day courses in subjects like engineering and entrepreneurship, but he was finding it difficult to measure and credit the new types of skills students were learning using A–F grades. Looney started reaching out to private high schools and colleges looking for alternatives.

Though he found that many educators shared his desires for a new assessment system, he came up empty-handed.

“The grading system right now is demoralizing and is designed to produce winners and losers,” said Looney. “The purpose of education is not to sort kids—it’s to grow kids. Teachers need to coach and mentor, but with grades, teachers turn into judges. I think we can show the unique abilities of kids without stratifying them.”

Looney began brainstorming a new type of transcript for the Hawken School, but quickly realized he would need a critical mass of schools to influence college admissions offices to accept it. With the initial support of 28 other independent schools, Looney formed the Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC) in April 2017. The group has since expanded to 157 schools, including both historic institutions like Phillips Exeter and newer alternative schools like the Khan Lab School.

In joining the MTC, each school commits to phase out its existing GPA- and grade-based transcripts for a digital, interactive format that showcases students’ academic and enrichment skills, areas for growth, and samples of work or talents, such as a video of a public speaking competition or a portfolio of artwork.

The purpose of education is not to sort kids—it’s to grow kids. Teachers need to coach and mentor, but with grades, teachers turn into judges.

While the transcript is still in its infancy, organizers say it will resemble a websitethat each school will be able customize by choosing from a menu of skills like critical thinking, creativity, and self-directed learning, along with core content areas such as algebraic reasoning. Instead of earning credit hours and receiving grades, students will take courses to prove they’ve developed key skills and competencies. Looney insists that the transcripts will be readable by admissions officers in two minutes or less.

The MTC’s work is not entirely original, though, and takes its lead from a number of public schools—most notably in New England—that have been rethinking traditional methods of assessing students for more than a decade.

Some are supported by the nonprofit group Great Schools Partnership, which helped influence Maine, Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire to adopt state board of education policies or legislation in the last decade on proficiency-based assessment systems. Other districts, in Florida, California, and Georgia, have made similar changes more recently, and pilot programs have emerged in Colorado, Idaho, Utah, Illinois, Ohio, and Oregon.

There’s also backing from colleges. The Great Schools Partnership was able to garner the support of more than 70 colleges and universities, suggesting that higher ed admissions offices are ready for the change.

“We are accustomed to academic reports from around the world, including those from students who have been privately instructed and even self-taught,” said Marlyn McGrath, Harvard University’s director of admissions, replying via email about the transcripts. “In cases where we need additional information, we typically ask for it. So we are not concerned that students presenting alternative transcripts will be disadvantaged because of format.”

MASTERY VERSUS SEAT TIME

But the new transcripts are just the tip of the iceberg, according to supporters, part of a larger movement to do away with a system where kids can progress through grades or courses without really understanding material and be promoted for seat time and good behavior. When students move on to harder topics, they continue to accumulate gaps in their knowledge—a setup for failure in the later grades or collegiate years.

Under a competency model, kids can no longer just “get by,” said Derek Pierce, principal of Casco Bay High School in Portland, Maine, which has used a proficiency-based transcript since 2005.

The new transcripts “get kids focused on doing their personal best on meeting or exceeding standards rather than getting a better grade than the kid next to them,” said Pierce. “There is no longer a ‘gentleman’s C’.”

However, without widespread agreement on the necessary skills and knowledge required for core classes, proving mastery may be just as elusive and arbitrary as the current system. Even MTC member schools won’t rely on a shared understanding of what mastery means. Instead, each school will be able to quantify it independently, leaving college admissions officers—according to critics—without a clear basis of comparison.

Our learning structures have to be much more nimble to allow today’s learners to navigate through opportunities where they can see themselves as the authors of their own education.

While competency-based education proponents argue that the new transcripts will identify students with skills that academia has traditionally overlooked, others worry about equity for marginalized students, who already struggle in the current system. Some critics have suggested that the new transcripts may be a way for wealthier schools, especially private schools like those in the MTC, to give their students an even greater advantage when competing for limited positions at the best universities.

There are other unanswered questions and challenges to be worked out, too. Will college admissions counselors have enough time, especially at large public colleges, to look meaningfully at dense digital portfolios of student work? Will the new transcripts create too much work and new training for K-12 teachers, as they struggle to measure hard-to-define categories of learning? Perhaps most importantly, will parents buy in?

“There’s still plenty of work ahead and some pretty radical changes taking place,” explained Mike Martin, director of curriculum and technology at Montpelier Public Schools in Vermont, whose district starting transitioning to a competency-based model in 2013.

Many public and private schools, like Martin’s, are still years away from full implementation, and others are grappling with the nuts and bolts of how to implement dramatically new systems for student learning and assessment. Those on the forefront of these changes, though, remain hopeful that the new system will push all students to develop the skills they need to succeed in college and careers.

“Our learning structures have to be much more nimble to allow today’s learners to navigate through opportunities where they can see themselves as the authors of their education,” said Martin. “Proficiency-based education is about getting every single student up to a certain skill level and ensuring every student can succeed.”

 

Thanks for reading! Until next time…

~Mrs. A, Principal

 

Short but busy week!~October 19, 2018

This week was a short one for middle school and really short for K-2. It was full of presentations, end-of-the-quarter activities, and Museum Night. Thursday was a day for our elementary teachers to participate in collaboration and staff development. Friday was a work day for teachers to complete report cards and other end-of-the-quarter duties. I hope you all are able to enjoy the beautiful fall weather that this long Fall Break weekends provides. Tuesday we begin our second quarter and before you know it Christmas will be here!

Museum Night and Book Fair

 

 

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What a great night! It is always wonderful to see so many parents in our building and the energy just felt great! Children were happily acting as docents sharing their work with their family and proudly showing off all they accomplished this last quarter.  We had several demonstrations and even homemade tamales and soup! Our book fair and cake walk were both a big hit and well attended. And how awesome is it that we had 4 school board members, one very recent school board member, our recently retired former librarian, and lots of parent volunteers who came out to help with the large crowds our book fair draws. Thank you Mrs. Reed for all of your hard work! And, thank you to Ms. Janitell and Mrs. Hanenberg for the fun cake walk!

 

Standards Based Report Cards–I know you have questions!

Now that we are at the end of the quarter, I am now getting more questions about our new CES Standards Based Report Card. Let me start by giving you a little background information. Due to our Exploratory model, letter grades have never really felt appropriate or relevant. Our philosophy of learning is very student centered and student driven, and we believe that it’s more about the PROCESS than the product. A letter grade system does not honor the process and is very teacher centered. Granted, it’s what we know and what we’re comfortable with but it’s not really what’s best for kids. This is not a comfortable transition for anyone but remember, we don’t ever improve by staying comfortable.

Why are we adopting Standards Based Grading?

Our entire district will eventually have standards based report cards K-5 and possibly higher eventually. Last year, it was rolled out to 3rd grade which really created a problem for us in our multi-age model–half the class was on letter grade and the other on Standards Based Grading (SBG) creating a ton of extra work for the teachers and confusion among the students. We began to look into what  SBG could look like in a multi-age model and were pleased to find a school in Fort Collins that has successfully implemented this for about 20 years. We borrowed their idea of creating our own unique and specifically designed report card that fits our model rather than wait and adopt what the rest of district is doing since it still wouldn’t fit our needs. The result is something of which we are very proud. Our report card is user friendly, in kid friendly language, and written in “I can” statements (which is what we use for our Learning Targets in our instruction), and is designed for multi-aged classrooms.

Accurate Measurement of Learning

One pitfall of traditional grading is inaccuracy. Student averages are highly dependent on the difficulty of work assigned. If teachers present only low complexity activities, students can earn high scores with only a weak command of the material.

The opposite is also true. Highly demanding instructors may present very difficult work, resulting in overly low student scores. Curving and extra credit are used to adjust averages into more appropriate distributions.

In both cases SBG can improve the situation by providing clearer criteria for measuring mastery. Mastery of low complexity work yields lower grades while mastery of higher complexity work provides higher grades. Connecting grades to complexity rather than percentage completion yields more accurate and consistent grades.

Additionally, traditional grading is often more a reflection of responsible behavior rather than mastery towards to the goal. At CES, responsibility will be assessed and communicated through our Culture Rubrics which teachers will now place even more emphasis on than before. Our teachers are also sending home feedback forms and reflection sheets on a daily basis. You can reach out to your classroom teacher to learn more about those if necessary.

One last thing:

Performance indicators DO NOT correlate to letter grades. In other words, a “1” is not an “F”!!

These are the performance indicators on our report card:

Descriptor Proficiency Rating Overview of Work Quality
EXEMPLARY 4 Student performance is beyond expectations.
ACCOMPLISHED 3 Student performance has met the standard and expectations.
DEVELOPING 2 Student needs support or is making progress towards the expectations.
BEGINNING 1 Student is beginning to use or understand the standard;little or no progress has been made.
INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE I/E Student has not provided enough evidence for the teacher to determine level of proficiency.

Another way to think about it:

Here is a quick video that explains a bit about SBG:

What is Standards Based Reporting?

I hope all of this helps!

Thanks for reading and have a great long weekend! ~Kelly Albrecht, CES Principal

Winding down the quarter~October 14

Can you believe this is the last week of the first quarter? Wow! How time flies! We have all settled into our routines and are accomplishing a lot. Our campus is always abuzz with activity as it should be since learning is not and should not be a quiet and still thing. I am amazed daily by the incredible work and opportunities our teachers provide to their students and I am equally amazed at how our students embrace those opportunities. Every day is not perfect, but most days are filled with rigorous and engaging lessons, hard work, lots of giggles, positive attitudes, and friendly relationships. First quarter down and 3 to go–just imagine all of the possibilities of what is yet to come!

PTO=Parent/Teacher Organization

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PTO Officers, Wanda O’Dell, Brittney White, and Amanda Massey

 

Thursday Night our PTO met for their monthly meeting. We were updated on the fundraiser but don’t have final numbers although we know we did well. We had the best participation ever! Over 73% of the school sold items or got donations and every single class was over 50%. Our PTO does such a wonderful job raising funds for our school that make Exploratory learning possible. Without them, we wouldn’t have our one-to-one tech, be able to take the high number of field trips that are crucial to our model, or enrich classroom experiences with necessary supplies that our district’s budget cannot afford. And the PTO couldn’t do what they do without parent support of course–so thank you for supporting the fundraiser and the other efforts of our PTO!

At the meeting we also discussed the newly formed Building Accountability Committee and are still looking for members. This group will meet quarterly before the regularly scheduled PTO meeting and will be updated on school information and have input into decision making. If you are interested in being on this committee, please let me know. We will meet again in January.

We were also treated to a yummy dinner of chili and cinnamon rolls provided by the wonderful Wanda O’Dell!

 

Destination Exploration

 

The Adventurers are doing a Destination Exploration for their MI Mash this quarter. They are studying different parts of the world and are planning to take parents on a “trip” to visit and teach them about these locations’ food, dress, culture, music, art, history, and geography. As is best practice, their teachers modeled for them and provided an exemplar project taking the kids to Mexico. They provided a hands on approach and the kids got to see and touch a native animal (bearded lizard), try on the clothing, hear the music, see the art, and eat the food. They even got to make homemade tortillas with Senora Lopez!

Middle School Band Concert

 

This last week we had our first concert of the year. Not only was it the first concert for any of our CES kids, it was the first concert for our middle school students, AND it was Ms. Janitell’s first concert here at CES. Ms. Janitell is our fabulous new music teacher. This is her first full time teaching position and she is doing a wonderful job. The middle school band played several challenging pieces and sounded much larger than they are. It will be exciting to see how much they continue to grow this year. Thank you Ms. Janitell for all of your hard work and your investment of time in our students!

Buddy Time!

 

I believe one of the most special things about CES is our Buddy Time. Every community uses the buddy system a little differently but one thing that remains constant is that our older students work with younger students in some capacity–every single one of them. It is a beautiful thing to see a big kid sitting next to a little kid patiently helping them to read, write, learn how to research, or coach them on their Exploration, and even play with them on the playground. Our little ones look up the the big ones and the older students get to feel the gratification of serving others and being a role model. If you haven’t seen this in action, please come and visit us (Fridays are especially active with Buddies) and see for yourself what a wonderful thing Buddy Time is.

Thanks for reading! Until next time…

~Mrs. Albrecht, Principal

 

It was a “How To” Week~October 7, 2018

It’s funny how a theme often arises out of a week and this week was “how to” week. Students are always learning how to do things in school but this week they learned how to be leaders and helpers in a bit of a different way. This week was also a week for parents to take their turn at learning how to do some things with our CES Mini-College.

How to be a Peer Mediator

On Monday Mrs. Hanenberg and Mrs. Wrona, along with retired teachers, Mrs. VanIwarden and Mrs. Wiebers facilitated a very professional training for our new Peer Mediators. This training was held at the school district’s administration building. Students learned about the process of Conflict Resolution and how to be effective mediators. Part of their day was spent in role plays and providing feedback to one another. All of the facilitator’s and some of the district personnel who were in the building were quite impressed with how professionally, respectfully, and politely our CES presented themselves. Good Job and congrats to our new CES Peer Mediators!

“How To” Courses for Parents: CES Mini-College–Compass Courses

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Our first Mini-College was a big success! We had about 200 people attend taking a variety of “how to” classes from that ranged in topics including how to understanding our new report cards, how to help with Explorations and what they are and how they’ve changed from projects, how to build your brain through trying and failing and then learning, what Title I is and why students need it, stress and anxiety can impact learning, and how to parent with Choice Theory and Love and Logic. Several teachers presented classes as did our secretary, Shirlee Brule’, SRO Robbie Vidmar, Social Emotional Coach, Jamie Murray, and our school’s founder, Molly Merry. As our parents were learning in their sessions, students were enjoying the NJHS movie night in the gym and we had our largest turn out for that yet.

I would like to give a big shout out to our staff who volunteered their time to get things ready for this event, supervising students, leading sessions, and allowing us to use their classroom space. “Together We Make a Difference” and together we did!!

 

How to Prevent or Escape from Fires

This was fire prevention week so our local fire fighters came in force to present to our students, take some on fire engine ride, and facilitate a fire drill. Our kids learned a lot and had a great time with the firemen.

Thanks for reading! ~Mrs. A, Principal