As you are likely aware by now, I believe passionately that educational excellence is not something that is “arrived at.” In order to prepare our children to thrive in the world that they will inherit, there is an urgent need for accelerated change. As a community we have made some important strides that have improved the learning experience at Schechter, yet there is much to accomplish and we will continue to move forward with our work based on research and evidence.
With all of these changes, one may still wonder how we know our students are truly learning. At Schechter, we routinely ask ourselves four important questions:
The first question frames our curriculum, and the students’ learning goals. The second question relates directly to assessment. The third and fourth questions relate to how we differentiate the student learning experience, in order to meet various student needs.
Asking these questions on a regular basis explicitly, or implicitly, leads to improvements into how we view student achievement, and how our focus is shifting from simply analyzing teacher instruction to emphasizing the development of evidence of student learning. In addition, the emphasis at Schechter Bergen on collaboration and building Kehillot within the school setting is having a positive impact on school culture – and this is just the beginning of this journey.
As we continue our journey as an excellent “this century” educational community, these four questions become even more salient. Our ongoing assessments related to curriculum, and the curriculum itself, are less rigid, opening up opportunities to evaluate student learning in a myriad of ways. We increasingly seek to understand what a student has learned in a broader way, in multiple subjects and integrated units. Using a variety of assessment methods allows teachers to gain a much clearer understanding of what students have learned and what they are ready to learn. A multiple choice test at the end of a unit of study, in order to gauge what a student has learned, is just now but one method of assessment – and a narrow one at that. So, how might we assess these complicated constructs, along with acquisition of content knowledge and skills?
The answer lies in our ability to specify explicit objectives within each learning project or unit. These objectives, or as we are calling them, “I can statements” can be measured in multiple ways, using specific criteria. For example, students may create a culminating project that incorporates Language Arts, Math, Science, Tanakh, and Art. They will use the skills and content learned, specific to each class, and perhaps build a model. Performance-based measurements, such as observation, written and verbal explanations to probing questions, and real-world tasks will increasingly be reviewed based on a rubric, or outlined expectations. We have begun to keep a portfolio of student work that imparts what the student has actually learned over time versus how the student simply performed on a test. While tests have their place, especially in middle and upper grades, they are one measurement and one point in time.
In addition to a variety of teacher-driven assessments, we are also utilizing MAP Growth three times each year. MAP Growth is a computer adaptive assessment in which the difficulty of the questions adjusts throughout the assessment based on the student’s responses. The scores and detailed results help teachers determine what their students know and what they are ready to learn next. By tracking student MAP Growth scores over time, we are able to analyze patterns and trends to improve our teaching and learning.
Our faculty members continually evaluate students’ needs and their progress. On a regularly scheduled basis, teams of teachers in each Kehillah gather to discuss students’ emotional and academic progress together with our Child Study Team which includes our School Social Worker, Psychologist, Rabbi, Director of Student Learning and the Principal of each division.
We have made bold moves this year and have not allowed the ongoing pandemic to deter us. As with any new endeavor, we will continue to learn, reflect on our practices, and improve for the benefit of our students.