GUEST BLOG: Finding the Balance - Amy Harker, Perry Local Schools
By: Guest Blogger
Perry Local Schools, located in Northeast Ohio, is a small, rural district with a mission to inspire all students to achieve personal excellence, pursue world-class standards and become self-directed lifelong learners. We want all students to leave Perry Local Schools with hope and a skill set to be prepared for life. Authentic learning experiences are key to helping our students become workforce ready. To reach this goal of readiness, we are creating personalized learning opportunities for our students to ensure they have the tools necessary to be successful. At Perry, we want to find the right balance of traditional education and evaluation measures, along with authentic experiences, that have a performance-based assessment component. Student voice and choice play a key role in helping students have an awareness of their learning and understanding of their strengths and areas of growth.
We want our students to be able to answer the following questions as they navigate through their educational journeys:
- What are my strengths and interests?
- What do I want to be?
- How do I get there?
- Will I be successful once I get there?
Pathways at Perry, spearheaded by Todd Porcello, Perry High School principal, shows the educational pathways available at Perry High School. In addition, we began a Learning Through Internship course that provides real-world career experiences, along with building employability skills. Our Virtual Career Center has the information for parents, students and community partners. High school teacher Rita Soeder has worked to ensure that the course guides students toward career readiness. Robert Knisely, the principal at Perry Middle School, has led his school to ensure the students have a balance of academic, behavior and career skills. The scope and sequence is found here: Middle School Pathways to Success.
In order to move forward with authentic learning, we need to have assessment systems in place that will support authentic learning initiatives. Working toward that balance, Perry Schools has been part of two grants that focused on competency-based education.
First, we are part of the consortium (Perry Schools, Cleveland Heights-University Heights City Schools, Kirtland Local Schools, Maple Heights City Schools, Orange City Schools and Springfield City Schools), through the Educational Service Center of Cuyahoga County, that received a grant from the Competency-Based Education Pilot to create an innovative and scalable competency-based assessment system. Knowing that students must leave our schools with the abilities to learn at deep levels, pursue personal passions and strengths, and build skills to be career ready, we have been working to establish an assessment system that will capture components that standardized tests do not. Stanford University’s Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity (SCALE) supported this effort throughout the year. Perry Local has begun the implementation of our learning Six Practices for Self-Directed, Authentic Instruction (adapted from the Buck Institute and SCALE) and aligned it with the Formative Instructional Practices, which include the following:
- Setting a Clear task — focus, clarity and coherence; [FIP 2]
- Proficiency rubric clarifies expectations, measures progress and supports feedback/goal setting; [FIP 2/4/5]
- Relevant, challenging issue/question-connecting curriculum through life skills in real-world, worthwhile work;
- Student agency: voice, choice, decision-making and growth mindset; [FIP 5]
- Learning is personalized to student strengths and interests; [FIP 5]
- Exhibition: product is critiqued by public/experts to include clear feedback. [FIP 4]
One of the goals of our work with the Competency-Based Education Pilot grant is to have more valid, varied and richer measures of student learning. We have paired that with creating authentic learning experiences that are vetted to meet rigorous criteria for measuring the learning objectives. During this grant period, two cohorts of teachers received professional development, where our teachers created performance tasks in four content areas. We learned methods and components that are included to ensure that these types of tasks ask students to think and produce to demonstrate their learning. These tasks could be authentic to the discipline and/or the real world. We learned about the four types of assessments but concentrated on three: curriculum-based, on-demand and constructive response.
A highlight of our consortium team’s work included a critical dialogue between higher education institutions and K-12 districts to understand each other’s work, so we can begin to align and transition our students as they matriculate to postsecondary work.
As we looked closely at our instructional practices, we wanted to include not only content (cognitive learning), but also to begin to intentionally teach life competencies (noncognitive factors). Our second area of work for this year is collaborating with seven school districts (Perry Schools, Chardon Local Schools, Fairport Harbor Exempted Village Schools, Mayfield City Schools, North Olmsted City Schools, Olmsted Falls City Schools and Wickliffe City Schools) to identify, define and determine how to monitor and evaluate life competency skills (otherwise known as noncognitive factors, 21st century skills or employability skills). The district’s cohorts of 10-12 teachers worked with Camille Farrington, from the University of Chicago and EdLeader21, to identify, define and build the strategies of “how” we can embed life competencies into our instruction. In addition, using information gathered during the EdLeader21 Professional Development and the Competency-Based Education grant work, we are creating our graduate profile.
Three years ago, we began Authentic Learning Personalized for Higher Achievement (ALPHA), which is a twist on learning how to do the project-based learning process. This project not only provides instruction in the process, it is a collaborative between school districts where students are teaching students about project-based learning with teachers participating by having the process modeled for them. This is a great way to begin a slow introduction of project-based learning.
Career mentoring is an articulated plan from grades 5-12 that allows students to explore interests and passions; take assessments, interest inventories and job skill identifiers; and find a career pathway(s) for selection of coursework.
Personalized Learning at Perry Schools highlights the details of our ALPHA project and our career mentoring program, along with additional information on our Life Competency Grant work, which are just a few ways we are working to individually tailor the learning process for our students.
Amy Harker has been an educator for thirty-one years. Currently she is the Director of Student Services and College and Career Readiness at Perry Local School District. In 2017-2018, she will assume the role of Northeast Regional Career and Innovation Specialist. You can contact Amy by clicking here.