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Aurora Institute

Refining the Instructional Model and Enhancing the Instructional Cycle

Education Domain Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, How to Get Started, Create Balanced Systems of Assessments

This post first appeared on CompetencyWorks on December 13, 2016. 

This is the twenty-second article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

The instructional infrastructure and its focused attention on student learning, the instructional cycle, and teacher skill-building will be a work in progress for several years. The first year, teachers will offer a flurry of ideas about problems, refinements, and innovations. It is important to create a strategy for managing the revision process. Summit Public Schools has a lean start-up model that quickly tests out ideas to see if they are valuable before implementing them school-wide. Many districts engage educators in dialogue to determine which items are critical to change and which can be addressed later on, which helps to prevent the new system from imploding under the weight of its own potential.

Many issues are likely to emerge at this time: how to improve consistency on assessing student work, how to lift up both assessment and instruction to higher levels of learning, how to better support students who have difficulties with subject matter, how to provide more opportunities for students to personalize their learning experiences, and more. It is likely that the misalignment between the desired depth of knowledge, assessment, and instruction will emerge as a healthy tension as educators recognize that it is an obstacle to ensuring students are attaining higher levels of learning. Based on the feedback from educators, principals can co-design a strategy to strengthen assessment literacy, deepening their knowledge of teaching disciplines through the work on learning trajectories (now referred to as learning progressions), and building performance assessment capacity. It’s not all going to happen in the first year.

In the third year of implementation, Memorial Elementary School began to focus on strengthening their instructional capacity in math. They turned to the Ongoing Assessment Project (OGAP) that is based on research on learning progressions and cultivates the use of formative assessment in the instructional cycle. Teachers worked together on learning progressions to more deeply understand the reasoning behind major concepts, such as multiplicative reasoning, and expanded their instructional strategies to help students learn. For example, students were expected to explain their reasoning and unpack how they were solving problems so teachers could have more data on where to provide formative feedback. Teachers began to build up item banks that provided substantial information on how students approach math problems. They also developed additional assessments of major concepts to ensure students understand the fundamentals they will need for later courses.

Chugach School District made three significant enhancements to their instructional framework. First, they focused on “inter-rater reliability” or calibrating assessment of performance-based assessments. Dedicated time for staff development and the opportunity to score the same student work led to discussions about the assessment tools and processes. Over time, this expanded to include refinement of the tools, instructional alignment, and more meaningful feedback for students and parents. Second, they introduced process standards in all content areas to better prepare students to be lifelong learners. Beginning with the scientific method and later including others such as writing processes, math problem-solving processes, and conflict resolution, staff worked together to build their skills at teaching processes. Eventually the process standards were embedded into the performance-based assessment structure. Older students now use the process standards in developing their individual learning plans. Third, the teacher evaluation system at Chugach was upgraded to reflect the same values and principles. Today, all staff are involved in a year-round Performance Evaluation Process (PEP) that is part of the pay for performance system. Teacher scores are averaged across the district so that Performance Pay is equal for all teachers. This has led to teachers who are scoring higher to be more likely to reach out to assist those who are new to the profession and those in need of assistance. All of this is done in a collaborative spirit where teachers understand that they are all in this together, and ultimately for the good of the students.

For more information, explore this whole blog series: