Sunday, November 10, 2013

How Are We Working To Implement This New System Here in RSU 3?

So, a lot of people are asking about how RSU 3 is working to implement a PBE system in our schools.  As you can imagine, this is a pretty complex question since we are asking teachers, administrators, parents, and students to re-think the traditional model of delivering education in ways that contradict how they themselves experienced education, and how they may have been taught to deliver educational programming in their own pre training courses and programs in college.  That being said, we're taking it pretty slow overall, and even that is complex to try to explain!

Overall, we're trying to build this system at the district and community level (through development of a new mission/vision and strategic plan, as well as policies) at the same time we're building this system at the classroom level (developing new curriculum, grading practices, tracking systems, training, etc.)

At the district level, we've completed an 18 month process to create a new Mission/Vision for RSU 3 that defines our "preferred future" for our schools.  This isn't where we are - its where we WANT TO BE.  This process involved students, teachers, parents, and community members from across RSU 3.  We are currently in the midst of creating a Strategic Plan that will help put some more "meat on the bones" of this mission/vision to be more clear about how we will make our mission/vision a reality over time.  This work is ongoing and also includes students, teachers, parents, and community members.  Also, at the Board level we are adding a second Board meeting to each month for the purpose of educating the Board on our PBE system so that they may begin to tackle policy level issues such as graduation requirements, grading practices, etc. later on this spring.

At the classroom level, we've spent two years providing professional development to our teachers on this system and how it works.  We have adopted a new curriculum based upon the work of the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning that we are also working to "customize" for our own local purposes.  We have asked teachers to participate in this curriculum development and revision process, and we have provided training to all teachers in grades K-12 about what the curriculum is, how to access it, and how to navigate within it.  We've started by emphasizing the creation of "student centered classrooms" - so you've probably seen a lot done with School Visions, Classroom Codes of Cooperation, and things called Standard Operating Procedures or SOP's.  These are intended to help teachers build the classroom environments that must exist before we can launch into more full implementation of the curriculum.

Teachers have also worked to break the curriculum out into grade levels (K-12) to help teachers begin to translate between our current age or time-based system and where we want to eventually be with a PBE system.  We've broken our Measurement Topics and Learning Targets across grade levels (or courses at the High School) to make sure teachers know what they are responsible for so that we don't create "gaps" in student learning as we continue to transition into this new system.  The overall work of creating the curriculum, training teachers in its use and creating student centered learning environments for all students in grades K-12 has been the major focus of our work over the past two years.

This year, teachers in grades K-5 will be using EDUCATE as our new reporting system.  This means that teachers are being asked to grade on a 1-4 scale.  Now, the 1-4 scale isn't new per say - as our Elementary teachers have been reporting out 1-4 for a while, HOWEVER - the scale itself is new.  In the old 1-4 scale, a 3 was "proficient" while a 2 was "partially proficient" an a 1 was "not proficient" with a 4 being "advanced" or "above proficient".  In our new scale. .  . a 3 is still "proficient" but a 2 means that the student is proficient at the foundational knowledge level.  This means that students receiving 2's is just fine.  It doesn't mean they are "behind", it just means they are at that level and are working towards becoming proficient at the target.  As you can imagine, this is a little confusing - so we're spending a lot of time with teachers making sure this is clear and helping them to explain it to parents who want to know whether their child is doing "well" in their learning.

An even harder issue we are focusing on this year is at the Middle School and High School Level on the topic of creating consistent grading practices for students of these learning levels.  This has been an ongoing and difficult conversation that we will need to take plenty of time on before rushing to sweeping changes.  Basically, we're having important philosophical conversations around issues like:  "Should students be given zeros?"  or "Should students be allowed to re-take formative assessments?"  or "How should homework be counted?"  We're trying to have these conversations with teachers to build a philosophical understanding of what we should be doing for grading practices within a PBE system and then we can figure out how best to report that out to parents.  To be honest, the Middle School is a little ahead of the High School on these conversations.  Our ultimate goal is to have Middle School use EDUCATE next year (2014-15) as a reporting tool using a 1-4 scale and then to work at having the High School move to EDUCATE either the following year or the year after.  In the end, we know that students in the class of 2018 need to graduate with a PBE diploma - so we're trying to move forward to hit this deadline set by the state while at the same time honoring and respecting that these are not small changes we are trying to make, so in order to do it right, we can't rush.

This is all a long winded way of saying - in the past few years, we've focused on building out our student centered curriculum and training teachers in its use.  This year we are focused on creating consistent grading practices that align with PBE in grades K-12 with the idea that K-5 will be reported out using this system this year, Middle School next year, and the High School as soon after that as we can.  Meanwhile, we are creating a Strategic Plan, working on educating the public and the Board, working on revising policies, ensuring continued professional development for our teachers, and just trying to figure out how best to communicate these changes to parents and communities across 440 square miles! :)

In the end, this is going to be a long process, one that has already taken about two years, and will more than likely take another 3-4 years before we can say we've moved to a PBE system.  In the meantime, we are trying to push to create this new system while having "one foot" still in the traditional system all while trying to balance the need for change with the need to bring everyone (teachers, students, parents, and community) along in their own understanding of the need for this change!  Not an easy task for sure - but one that we are committed to here in RSU 3!

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