Tuesday, January 30, 2018

How Coaching in Schools Can Make a Difference

I feel sorry for educators, I really do. But it’s sorry in the sense that I wish I could help them clear away all the unnecessary detritus that clogs up their purpose and their mission. Wait, what? Yes, their purpose and their mission. I’ll get to that in a few more paragraphs.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how hard it is for educators—teachers and administrators. They suffer a deluge of emails from those who believe they have that certain something that will help do something for someone. That’s deliberately vague because the range of gambits offered is far too great. But every educator has seen the email or gotten the flyer (as opposed to “flier” that refers to a person who flies) intimating that if only this program is implemented great stuff will happen in the classroom, or if the school or district invests in this proven something-or-another that test scores will skyrocket or students will behave better or they will have the secret sauce for STEM or whatever the magic potion promises. Except that initiatives and programs and curricula and loads of technology tools or other goodies work only if implemented well. That, my friends, is the stickiest of wickets.

National Equity Project
I’m not saying some of this stuff won’t work or won’t make a difference. In fact, experience tells me that some of it can make a difference. But experience also tells me that implementation is not like flipping a light switch: it takes time and it takes commitment and it takes truly thinking about how best to implement, which means it takes time and it takes planning and it takes commitment. Administrators and school board members must be patient. They cannot expect miracles. They cannot declare at the end of a school year that “it hasn’t worked” if they’re not clear on what was supposed to happen and how it was supposed to happen.

Let’s take blended learning as an example. Lots of schools and districts have climbed on the blended learning train and more than a few are still racing to swing themselves up. Do they know what blended learning is? Do they know what it really constitutes? Do they know what it means for teachers? For parents? For kids? Do they know the impact on infrastructure? Are they aware of logistical implications? Have they considered how it fits with the culture of the school? Of the district? Have they considered how it complements or conflicts with other on-going initiatives? Or are they just glomming on to blended learning as one of the current, albeit sustaining, shiny trends in education?

Now I’m a fan of blended learning. I’ve been a fan of it since we called it modular, web-based learning over 15 years ago when the whole student-centered learning thing was becoming a thing. But I also know it takes time to implement well and that the implementation needs to be planned. I also know that some teachers get a wee bit tetchy (a word possibly first used by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet in 1592) when asked to make any kinds of changes to their teaching, especially if their administrators aren’t quite clear on the expectations. Asking a teacher to go do blended learning isn’t enough.

So let’s talk about that purpose and mission. If you ask many teachers why they teach, you’ll get answers related to those moments when kids get it, when their faces light up because of some new learning or discovery. I was working with some 4th graders and had that thrilling moment when a young girl who’d been frustrated with trying to grasp a math concept literally shouted out, “Oh! NOW I get it!” and absolutely had to explain her learning to some of her classmates. You’ll get answers that relate to wanting to share their own joy of learning or their own passion for their content areas. Their purpose and mission? Their self-imposed long-term assignment? Their self-proclaimed life’s work? To make a difference in the lives of every child who crosses their threshold. Oh, they might not be quite that dramatic, but notice that when they talk about kids on their minds, it’s the ones who are struggling or the ones they can’t quite seem to reach or the ones for whom they haven’t found the best approach. Those are the kids that keep them up at night. Those are the kids that have them scouring the internet and social media to find new strategies and new ideas.

When an administrator proudly announces a new initiative, a new program, a new whatever, teachers begin to calibrate the cost of that new thing and try to ascertain if and how it’s really going to help them help their students learn and achieve.

In my work as an education consultant and instructional coach, I get to field questions from administrators about new things. One of the questions I try to ask is, “What do you hope this will help accomplish?” Or, if we’ve already had that conversation, I keep their wish list in mind and take the time to do some investigation. Based on what I think I know about the school and the teachers with whom I get to work, I try to offer suggestions about adoption. It might be that the cool shiny thing is only a cool shiny thing so, again, because of what I think I know, I might offer some suggestions for options.

On the other hand, I might also suggest we take a step back to do an audit of what’s already in place. It’s important for administrators to examine the initiatives they’ve tried to implement in their schools as well as the ones handed down by the district. I think principals should do a quarterly audit as their own form of progress monitoring, but I also think they cannot do that effectively unless they’ve determined what the what is for each grade.

Let me explain that last bit. Just recently I met with some administrators and we talked about blended learning: what it is, what it could be in their schools, etc. We talked about having a plan and reasonable expectations. As an extension of that, I asked principals to think about what they wanted blended learning to sound like and look like in each grade because how it might be implemented in first grade could be different from a reasonable implementation in fifth grade. And if their teachers aren’t clear on those expectations, they’re going to try to do what they can based on their own understanding, at least when the principal comes for an observation.

When I met the next day with a core group of their teachers, we had a similar conversation. We talked about what blended learning is and how different it might look in each of their rooms or at each of their grade levels. We talked about doing what makes sense based on their students and what they were trying to help their students learn as well as their resources and the logistical capabilities of their space. By the end of the day I believe that many of the teachers had a better handle on what they were trying to accomplish, and I know they felt relieved that there was no expectation to transform overnight, or even over the weekend. That we were going to start small and reasonably to figure it out until each teacher is comfortable and then move on to the next thing that makes sense. In the mean time, principals still have to find time to figure out their expectations for blended learning in their schools, and that is no small task either.

In the end, there is no end. The deluge will not stop. As new technological devices are developed, as new programs are rushed to publication to address the latest educational trend, as new professional development programs are designed to help train teachers to execute on those latest trends, the mass mailings will continue. To that end, I realize this is a commercial for coaching.

I know that coaching has become its own trendy thing recently, and a closer look at coaching will be my next blog post. But my experience shows me that sometimes teachers and administrators need that critical friend, that outside other to help them take a step away from the minutiae to revisit the bigger picture and to help them find the balance of paying attention to what teachers are doing as well as what students are doing. In the process of clearing a path through the promotional clutter, a coach can help investigate what could work and whether it supports the school culture and the school’s goals and objectives. A coach can help answer the question: “What does this help solve or what gap does this fill or what need does this meet?” The corollary question is: “Will this be a short-term solution or a longer-term solution?” I cannot begin to tell you of the number of times I’ve seen schools invest in something that is used with great enthusiasm for a month or two and then left to gather dust, virtual or otherwise, because it just didn’t seem to accomplish what anyone hoped. I sigh because I know that people didn’t ask the right questions before they pulled the trigger on the requisition or purchase.

To administrators who feel as though you’re on the edge of the abyss or just weary from the insistent pinging of those who believe they have the answer to whatever ails you and your school, think about hiring a coach. If you can’t hire one full-time, get a good consultant: someone who can visit with you several times a school year and who you believe will invest in you, your teachers, and your kids. In fact, I think a consultant might be the best option because they get to work with a variety of schools so they’ll bring experience from other schools and won’t lose that outside other perspective.

North Hanover Township School District
Here’s what we know: 1) there is no secret sauce and there is no magic potion or bullet or anything else that will suddenly and miraculously make a change in your schools; 2) it’s about the kids so whatever you do has to have clearly defined expectations for how that program, curriculum, resource, and/or technology could make a difference in each grade level AND have a reasonable timeline for that implementation to meet those expectations; 3) it’s about the teachers so whatever you do has to have clearly defined expectations that are reasonable and achievable and can be modified for the early adopters as well as the late majority; and 4) it’s about the community so whatever it is and whatever else is going on has to make sense for the culture of the school and its community.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Personalized Learning: More than Student Choice?

Before we can assess how well it is working and what changes, if any, need to be made, we have to know what it is. In this case, the “it” is personalized learning and personalized learning has caused educator quite a bit of agita over the years.

In October 2014, Sean Cavanaugh of Education Week attempted to provide some discernment in his article “What is ‘Personalized Learning’? Educators Seek Clarity.” For many, technology provides the fulcrum for personalized learning. Eliot Soloway was quoted as saying “Many technology-based approaches to personalized learning amount to nothing more than tailoring or personalizing the reading of texts to students of different abilities—rather than personalizing a mix of activities that give students a richer and more meaningful educational experience.”

Teachers are often asking about different reading levels or lexile levels. As Soloway notes, they want different kinds of texts for different reading abilities. Teachers seem to conflate differentiation with personalization but that may also be because personalization seems too daunting. So rather than ask what personalized learning is, perhaps the better question is “What is personalized learning supposed to be?”, or, even better, “What could personalized learning be for students and their learning?”.

In 2017, Audrey Watters, she of Hack Education who likes to rattle comfortable ways of thinking, presented at an OEB Midsummit in Iceland and said, among other things, “But I contend you cannot analyze digital technologies and the business and politics of networks and computers without discussing how deeply embedded they are in what I’ve called the “Silicon Valley narrative” and in what others have labeled the “California ideology” – and that’s an ideology that draws heavily on radical individualism and on libertarianism.”

She has a point. Let’s look at who is investing millions of dollars into personalized learning: Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. Why? Well, because they can, of course. The more suspicious of us would see marketing opportunities behind the alleged philanthropy. On the other hand, we know that online organizations want access to a lot of our information and they already gather beaucoup amounts of information through every transaction and every click online. Why? In theory so they personalize the ads we’re shown. And they do. It’s eerie, and a trifle annoying. (“Stop showing me ads for stuff I’ve already bought!” I tend to shout at my laptop, when I actually pay attention to the ads, which I rarely do.) Anyway, we can see the direction in which personalization is heading and has been heading, since back in the day when Burger King first started telling us in 1974 that we could have it our way.

Cavanaugh reported that Andrew Calkins, then deputy director of the Next Generation Learning Challenges, asserted that “[t]rue personalized learning calls for a ‘rethinking and redesign’ of schools, which could require them to overhaul classroom structures and schedules, curricula, and the instructional approaches of teachers.” We all know the on-going argument that teachers’ roles much change so they are “more like those of coaches or facilitators than ‘content providers.’” We also know the practical complexities of that model, especially for younger grades.

What we do know is that software is only one component of providing students with a possible pathway for personalized learning. But there is more to consider.

We also know that teachers and administrators still struggle to understand what personalized learning is or can be. Too many think it requires individualized lesson plans or requires 1:1 access for students. Kenya Ransey observes that ‘[l]earning is the primary focus, and technology can be along for the ride—or not. What does it look like when technology is not at the center of a personalized learning experience?” She also asserts that “it’s critical that we realize that once we all consolidate around a standardized definition, it will no longer be personal.” I’m not sure I agree with that, but I’m not yet sure why.

There are certainly plenty of educators who are not fans of personalized learning. Most of that resistance seems to be based on a lack of understanding of what it is and can be; that is, a lack of a concrete definition and clarity of expected outcomes. However, plenty of educators echo Audrey Watters’ concern that it’s simply an opportunity for large organizations to gather information about users for their own capitalistic purposes. Well, there is that and, let’s face it, every edtech organization wants to gather data on students for a range of reasons.

Robyn Howton is one of those teachers who crashed and burned a few times on her way to implementing personalized learning in her classroom. She did research, tried and failed a few times, made adjustments, and kept going. In her ISTE article, she refers to the Rodel Teacher Council Blueprint for Personalized Learning in Delaware as a resource. At the time she worked without 1:1 in her classrooms and realized that she made some errant choices about which technology to use when. Howton had some great a-ha moments when she analyzed her lessons and realized when and how she might have used technology more effectively which helped her determine which tools to use. (She refers to some great tools, too!)

One of Howton’s most important lessons was to give her students choice: “Class often starts with a mini-lesson, which then flows into students making choices about what they need to do next to meet specific learning targets aligned to the standards.

Writing for the Christensen Institute, Elizabeth Anthony notes “the magic of blended learning lies in the instructor’s ability to leverage technology to personalize learning rather than the mere use of certain software programs. A classroom can incorporate technology without actually changing the classroom model and the way students learn.”

What is interesting to me is how often blended learning is mentioned in connection with personalized learning and how occasionally there is reference to competency-based learning in conjunction with personalized learning. We have a lot of trends in education and that causes much of the confusion. Can you implement personalized learning without blended learning? Is competency-based learning an option in personalized learning? Should we be implementing competency-based learning instead of personalized learning?

But wait. This is about personalized learning and trying to figure out what that is and what it means. I don’t mean to oversimplify but I think Robyn Howton found an important key: student choice. Every teacher has objectives or learning outcomes for every lesson. The question to be asked is whether or not students have to demonstrate their learning in the same exact way and if they have to follow the same exact path to get there? If not, students have choice.

I think another challenge is that teachers think personalized learning, like blended learning, needs to be something they do every day for every lesson. That doesn’t make sense. Younger students won’t have the learning tools yet and some high school students may lack the maturity to make good decisions. And not every teacher can implement personalized learning in the exact same way every year. In fact, for middle and high school teachers, they may not implement personalized learning in the exact same way in every class.

I also think personalized learning is an aspiration for some teachers and they cannot be expected to make that transition overnight. That’s one of the reasons I appreciate Howton’s article and her reflection on her transition to blended and personalized learning. In fact, I think she offers something of a template for teachers interested in trying to implement personalized learning in their classrooms.

Teachers should start small, with one lesson. It’s not just teachers who have to learn how to conduct a class using personalized learning. Students will need to be taught to think differently about their learning and trust that it’s okay for them to have choice.

No one should expect dramatic changes overnight. It will take time and patience. And it will have to be okay to blow it every now and then, and then learn from the experience and what students can report from their perspectives. After all, it is about the students and their learning and what makes the most sense for them to be successful.

Cavanaugh, Sean. (2014). What is “Personalized Learning”? Educators Seek Clarity. https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/10/22/09pl-overview.h34.html?r=2043444587

Christensen Institute (2018). Squaring Personalization and Digitization in 2018. https://www.christenseninstitute.org/blog/squaring-personalization-digitization-2018/. Guest blogger Elizabeth Anthony.
Herald, Benjamin. (2017). The Case(s) Against Personalized Learning. https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2017/11/08/the-cases-against-personalized-learning.html

Howton, Robyn. (2017). Turn Your Classroom into a Personalized Learning Environment. https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=416

Ransey, Kenya. (2017). What personalized learning is not. https://www.edsurge.com/news/2017-09-01-what-personalized-learning-is-not

Watters, Audrey. (2017). The Histories of Personalized Learning. http://hackeducation.com/2017/06/09/personalization

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Professional Learning Communities: More Than Grade-Level Faculty Meetings

Professional Learning Community. PLC. We hear these terms in schools all the time but, with a nod to The Princess Bride, I don’t think that word means what most people seem to think it means.

Many believe that professional learning communities began with Richard DuFour. In truth, the work predates the publication of Professional Learning Communities at Work: Best Practices for Enhancing Student Achievement by Richard DuFour and Robert Eaker (Solution Tree Press, 1998), a book that catapulted PLC into a more common lexicon for educators.

Through the 1980s and 1990s, educational researchers found constants in schools that were making a difference: collaborative cultures; reflective practice; shared norms and values; and collective focus, effort, and responsibility.

As codified through the work of DuFour and Eaker, a professional learning community is “educators committed to working collaboratively in ongoing processes of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve. PLCs operate under the assumption that the key to improved learning for students is continuous, job-embedded learning for educators” (http://www.allthingsplc.info/files/uploads/brochure.pdf).

A PLC is not a grade-level meeting operating as a grade-level meeting.

I’ve seen a few variations of how to implement a professional learning community and the fundamentals are the fundamentals. The key elements HAVE to be as previously stated: collaborative culture; reflective practice; shared norms and values; and collective focus, effort, and responsibility. We must start with collaborative culture.

Because we’re human beings, we have emotions, egos, and all kinds of things that can get in the way of true collaboration. Petty jealousies, different styles, personality differences. And let’s face it: not all teachers have the same view of teaching and children. Teacher burn-out, skepticism, and professional cynicism will get in the way. And if teachers don’t trust each other or their administration, a collaborative culture is a non-starter.

Let’s assume a school with a reasonably collaborative faculty, one that is able to overlook or work within the constraints of the personal and professional squabbles that will naturally arise and do so as grown-ups. Collaboration, by the way, doesn’t mean that every conversation leads to immediate consensus and that voices are never raised and the occasional feeling is never hurt. It does mean that, as professionals, teachers can rise above those challenges because the focus is on the students and what’s best for them.

The Big Ideas
Professional learning communities emphasize three big ideas. Please keep in mind the emphasis is NOT on the teacher or the teaching, but on the students and their learning. Why? Because the purpose of school is for kids to learn.

The first big idea focuses not on the question “Was it taught?” but on the more important question, “Was it learned?” I can hear the wheels turning and the questions being asked about how kids can learn something if the teacher isn’t teaching it. Stop. We know there are many, MANY ways for students to learn without a teacher teaching it. I think the more important questions are these:
  • Were the students clear about what they needed to learn and why?
  • Did the students have clear guidelines for their learning expectations so they would know when they were successful?
  • Did the students have access to resources to support their learning, especially if they were struggling
  • Did the students have access to resources to support their learning, especially if they wanted to pursue more information and answer their own questions?

Now I hear the primary grade teachers muttering under their collective breath about how their students might not yet know how to read or write so there is no way for them to be able to access resources to support their learning. True, but the questions are NOT about the teacher and teaching. The questions are about the students. As Dr. Shirley Hord notes “[i]n these small groups, members focus on their students’ needs, their curriculum, and instructional practices that appropriately address their students. The team’s learning focuses directly on these students” (p. 42).

So as teachers gather in the professional learning communities, they gather to talk about that complex intersection of curriculum, student needs, and instructional practice and strive to answer the question: How can we make sure all of our students have opportunity to achieve the lesson’s learning goals?

The second big idea is that culture of collaboration. Quite honestly, I think this is the harder challenge. I believe teachers want to collaborate, but I think time and a whole host of complex demands get in the way of teachers actually being able to collaborate. Grade-level meetings get hijacked as grade-level faculty meetings and grade-level faculty don’t actually get to talk about students and their learning.

The third big idea is a focus on results. I have some issues with the way DuFour speaks of results in his article, “What is a Professional Learning Community?”. Yes, educators have an amazing amount of data, most of which they don’t or can’t use or don’t know how to use. Assessment data reviewed in isolation are meaningless. Data without context isn’t helpful, but all data are not created equal because that assessment information may be more useless because the assessment wasn’t a good assessment. I think we have to be careful about focusing on results. I think we have to be focusing on student learning, but we also have to be reasonable about how we do that. Some of what informs student learning is the culture of learning and teaching. And that gets back to that culture of collaboration but also to the culture of the school as a whole, and the culture of the district. Yea, it’s complicated.

Years ago I had the privilege of working with Bill Saunders and Ron Gallimore as they were repackaging their years of research and experience into Pearson-supported research, working with Brad Ermerling and Claude Goldenberg. They were focused on instructional teams or, as they called them, learning teams. They developed a protocol for learning team meetings and based on their on-going work with schools, they continued to make adjustments to that protocol to help ensure that the learning teams weren’t just going through the motions but were able to work collaboratively to focus on student learning and what would be effective.

I remember sitting in a learning team meeting with Bill Saunders. He made notes, occasionally raised a question or a point, but essentially left the team to follow the protocol and continue its conversation. What struck me the most was how each teacher addressed how she was going to support student learning in her classroom and why. I remember one teacher stating something she was going to do and then, after she heard her colleagues, making adjustments by taking an idea from one colleague and another idea from a different colleague. In their next learning team meeting, they were going to discuss the results of this lesson as they looked towards what they were going to have to re-teach,
scaffold, or introduce next to their students. In fact, those ideas were part of their conversations about why they were doing what they were doing. I got to talk with one of the teachers after the meeting and she sighed. She said it was wonderful to be able to have that kind of meeting but she was worried what would happen when the district was no longer partnering with Bill.

A challenge for schools and districts is protecting that time for teachers when everyone is crushed by expectations as well as school, district, and state initiatives. A corollary challenge is to have someone analyze all of those initiatives and see which overlap and which conflict, and then find ways to make better use of everyone’s time rather than having separate meetings for each different project or initiative.

The idea of a PLC is not a difficult one but the implementation cannot follow a rote template. How each school, maybe even each grade, implements PLC must be with the students in mind.


Education World. (2012). Best Practice for Professional Learning Communities. http://www.educationworld.com/a_admin/best-practices-for-professional-learning-communities.shtml

Gallimore, R., Ermerling, B., Saunders, B., and Goldenberg, C. (2009). Moving the Learning of Teaching Closer to Practice: Teacher Education Implications of School-Based Inquiry Teams http://mimathandscience.org/img/math-assets/pro-development/Moving-the-Learning-of-Teaching.pdf

Saunders, B., Goldenberg, C., and Gallimore, R. (2009). Increasing Achievement by Focusing Grade-Level Teams on Improving Classroom Learning: A Prospective, Quasi-Experimental Study of Title 1 Schools https://education.illinoisstate.edu/downloads/casei/gradelevelteams.pdf

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

What Standards Have Wrought

This morning I was thinking about professional learning communities and started to write about them having so many implemented so poorly. But as I thought further about the big ideas of PLCs and the kinds of questions teachers tend to ask, I wondered why teachers ask those kinds of questions. I started thinking about my own pre-standards education and that led to investigate the history of standards-based education.

n 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education, formed by then-U.S. Secretary of Education Terrell H. Bell, published the report A Nation at Risk in which the members of the Commission stated: "We report to the American people that while we can take justifiable pride in what our schools and colleges have historically accomplished and contributed to the United States and the well-being of its people, the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people."

ASCD reports that the “strident rhetoric has long overshadowed the fact that its appraisal and predictions of educational disaster were so astonishingly wrong and the exact opposite of what has happened” (p. 2).

The report itself states “[o]ur society and its educational institutions seem to have lost sight of the basic purposes of schooling, and of the high expectations and disciplined effort needed to attain them.” Perceptions like that put my teeth on edge. I review the list of the members of the Commission, but did not want to take the time to do a deep search on each of their backgrounds. Instead I thought about what was happening in the early 80s and during the 18 months the Commission conducted its research and wrote its report.

I thought about Reagan’s America then: the Strategic Defense Initiative, the Challenger missions, the then-USSR and the US conducting nuclear tests, Sandra Day O’Connor becomes a Supreme Court justice, etc. It was a tumultuous time. I can see where educational leaders, still recovering from the 60s and 70s, trying to assess the coming changes in the 80s, including the rise of computers. Technology must have been terrifying for educational leadership. There were incredible disruptions in multiple avenues, I can imagine those educational leaders clinging to the need to retain control of education the way a rider grips the safety harness of a roller coaster. What better way to exert control than to establish standards and specific criteria that had to met if one was to demonstrate a worthy education.

The Commission wrote
The risk is not only that the Japanese make automobiles more efficiently than Americans and have government subsidies for development and export. It is not just that the South Koreans recently built the world's most efficient steel mill, or that American machine tools, once the pride of the world, are being displaced by German products. It is also that these developments signify a redistribution of trained capability throughout the globe. Knowledge, learning, information, and skilled intelligence are the new raw materials of international commerce and are today spreading throughout the world as vigorously as miracle drugs, synthetic fertilizers, and blue jeans did earlier. If only to keep and improve on the slim competitive edge we still retain in world markets, we must dedicate ourselves to the reform of our educational system for the benefit of all--old and young alike, affluent and poor, majority and minority. Learning is the indispensable investment required for success in the "information age" we are entering (“The Risk”).

Part of me applauds the enthusiasm for and esteem in which education is held, but another part bemoans the short-sightedness of this thinking. They were so close with that phrase “[k]nowledge, learning, information, and skilled intelligence. . . “ but without the recognition that this new world of learning needed to reflect and leverage the powers of the new and possible rather than rely on scaffolded and puffed old strategies and thinking.

The Commission even noted that there was “demand for highly skilled workers in new fields” because “[c]omputers and computer-controlled equipment are penetrating every aspect of our lives” and that “[t]echnology is radically transforming a host of other occupations (“Indicators of the Risk”). Then why rely on more of the same and the old rather than invite learning strategies and thinking that could propel the United States even further? Fear of the unknown? Maybe.

From their work, the Commission offered several recommendations. The first focused on content and introduced what they called “Five New Basics”: English, math, science, social studies, and computer science. They also recommended two years of foreign language in high school.

Then they recommended standards: “more rigorous and measurable standards, and higher expectations, for academic performance and student conduct, and that 4-year colleges and universities raise their requirements for admission. This will help students do their best educationally with challenging materials in an environment that supports learning and authentic accomplishment.”

Within the recommendation for standards, grades became a “formal indicator of academic achievement” and that standardized tests were proposed “to (a) certify the student's credentials; (b) identify the need for remedial intervention; and (c) identify the opportunity for advanced or accelerated work.”

And then the music died.

It is my belief that the moment we acceded to the idea that grades were a true indicator of academic achievement and that standardized tests told us anything of value about a student’s learning, we were mired in a mess of mazes from which there is no easy escape. Too many businesses have built entire industries on the premise that grades indicate a student’s academic achievement and that standardized tests measure something we need to know. Yet those of us who were nominal B students and managed to do reasonably well on standardized tests, even under adverse conditions, can attest to the balderdash of those beliefs.

The concept of professional learning communities was being studied in the 1980s and 1990s. Here we are in 2018 and still fighting the suffocating constraints of standardized tests and the limiting ideas of grades. Pick any imagery of something trapped and striving to escape that trap and that’s where we are now. Confounded by state and federal policies even when we know to the core of our beings that so much of what we’re doing in education does not make sense.

We can’t just cast off grades and standardized tests. I know that. But we can start to make inroads to change how we do what we do, and how we work within those constraints and still do what’s best for the students and their learning. How? I have some thoughts on that and we’ll start with professional learning communities and how we can make those work more effectively for students, teachers, and administrators. More to come.

A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. (April 1983). The National Commission on Excellence in Education. https://www2.ed.gov/pubs/NatAtRisk/title.html

Ansary, Tamin. (2007). Education at Risk: Fallout from a Flawed Report.

Park, Jennifer. (2004). “A Nation At Risk.”