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By: Steve Gratz
Editor's Note: Our colleague, Steve Gratz, is retiring after many years in education. Steve’s blogs have challenged many education concepts and provided sage advice for innovation in education. Thank you, Steve. We wish you luck as you transition to your next opportunity.
I’m retiring from the Ohio Department of Education on Dec. 31, 2018, after 36 years in education and 10 state superintendents of public instruction — including two interims. Seven of those years were spent as a teacher of agriculture, and the remaining 29 were with the Department in various capacities — the last five serving as one of the agency’s senior executive directors.
When I started my career as a teacher of agriculture in 1983, I never envisioned the path my career would take. I’ve had the opportunity to teach thousands of students at the secondary and postsecondary levels and coach more than 200 Ohio FFA state officers. I love the teaching and learning process and will always consider myself a teacher and learner.
During my 29 years at the Department, I visited hundreds of schools — mainly high schools and career centers. I enjoyed visiting with students, teachers, administrators, board members and community members. Coupled with my teaching experience, these visits helped frame and solidify my teaching philosophy. At one time during my career, I thought I wanted to be a school administrator and went back to the classroom, but I soon realized I could have a greater impact back at the Department.
I have delivered hundreds of presentations throughout my career, including a few commencement speeches. During some of my recent presentations, I’ve shared a list of items those looking to redesign a school should consider. A few people asked for my list, so I felt it would be appropriate to share in my final blog.
These are not in any particular order of importance sans the first one. This list is not meant to be exhaustive but rather thought-provoking. This list is fluid, and I’m sure I’ll revisit it often.
- Transition all students to something and not out of high school. For too many years, we have been focusing on transitioning students out of school simply because they have met graduation requirements. It is time for us to adjust how we envision student success, and graduation alone is not the right measure. Graduation rates out of high school are not nearly as important as student success rates out of high school.
- Make your district the economic driver for your community and region by identifying in-demand sectors in your region — keep your talent local but don’t prevent students from pursuing their career aspirations. Some students may need coaching on differentiating a hobby and a vocation. The recently released OhioMeansJobs Workforce Data Tools website is an excellent resource to help start the process.
- Develop in-demand pathways beginning no later than grade 7, and show the progression of advancement. These begin as broad pathways and narrow as the student progresses. At a minimum, start a Personalized Professional Pathway program. This can be a quick win for students and the community.
- Blur the lines between technical and academic content. I firmly believe this will result in more meaningful teaching and learning. The burden shouldn’t fall on educators alone to make these connections. Employers, communities, and industry leaders should reach out and support educators in making academic and technical concepts real for students.
- Increase the number of integrated courses offered so students receive simultaneous credit. Integrated coursework and simultaneous credit can redesign the school day. If you don’t believe me, ask any STEM school.
- Increase the percentage of students completing Student Success Plans through OhioMeansJobs. Currently, this is only required for at-risk-students, but I encourage all students to have Student Success Plans.
- Ensure every school employee knows the career aspirations of every student. By knowing students’ career aspirations, teachers can contextualize their teaching to students’ interests during the “formal” teaching and learning process and help advise students during the “informal” teaching and learning process. I believe this would have positive impact on the ethos of the school.
- Embrace personalized learning for ALL students. Coupled with competency-based learning, personalized learning will allow students to progress at their own pace. The Future Ready Framework is a great resource to assist with developing personalized learning.
- Provide ALL students with the supports they need to succeed. This will look different from district to district; school to school; and student to student. A good place to begin is the Department’s webpage for Ohio’s Social and Emotional Learning Standards.
- Utilize the Literacy Design Collaborative and the Math Design Collaborative to ensure students are learning literacy and numeracy skills across all disciplines.
- Increase the percentage of students earning industry credentials, where applicable. Please make sure the credentials being earned align to students’ career aspirations.
- Increase the percentage of students participating in work-based learning experiences. There’s ample evidence-based research on the benefits of experiential learning not to mention the embedded work readiness skills.
- Increase the percentage of students earning the OhioMeansJobs-Readiness Seal. The OhioMeansJobs-Readiness Seal is for ALL students, and research indicates that students who have the attributes aligned with the OhioMeansJobs-Readiness Seal are more persistent in their postsecondary endeavors.
- Provide counseling to students for two years after graduation. I realize there are additional costs associated with this concept, but I truly believe this strategy would be extremely impactful to student success. This should be combined with the Career Advising Plan required of every district.
- Work with the Business Advisory Council and regional partners. Students need to learn skills that businesses require, so they can get well-paying jobs as adults. And who can do this better than business? Be sure to involve teachers with the Business Advisory Council too.
- Blur the line between secondary and postsecondary education. Schools need to increase work toward a system that eliminates grades, both student grades and class grades. Competency-based education is an excellent model for school redesign to help accomplish the elimination of grades.
- Encourage participation in all advanced standing programs when students are ready. College Credit Plus is one of the most robust dual-enrollment programs in the country. Districts with limited access to Advanced Placement (AP) courses can encourage student participation in Modern States' “Freshman Year for Free” program, where students can enroll and take tests in AP and CLEP courses for free.
- Start collecting longitudinal data on high school graduates. This data will prove invaluable when sharing the success of graduates. Data should include, but is not limited to, uninsured employment data and college persistence and graduation rates (National Student Clearinghouse).
- Establish metrics with your local board of education that define school and student success. These should be the metrics that are most important to the community.
- Continuous improvement is fundamental to ensuring students are prepared when they transition. This is imperative at all levels of the educational system.
- Communicate ad nauseum with school employees and the community members on the school’s or district’s vision and progress toward that vision.
- Maintain outreach to school and district alumni. One of my favorite ways to engage alumni came from a district that has a class reunion every year, including a parade spotlighting classes in five-year increments. After the parade, all alumni enjoy a picnic together at the community park.
- Share quick wins and promising practices on the SuccessBound webpage.
- Think big, start small, scale fast.
- Move forward with a sense of urgency.
No one should look at this list and feel compelled to try to implement too many at one time. Ideally, school leaders would collaborate with instructional staff to prioritize new initiatives.
Those familiar with Ohio’s Strategic Plan for Education will see a strong correlation with my philosophy, especially with Strategy 10, and that makes me smile.
It has been a great and rewarding career in education, and I am looking forward to transitioning to my next career. Starting in early January, I will be helping a good friend with a program he founded — AgriCorps. AgriCorps focuses on ending generational poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. We’ll be traveling to Ghana, Liberia and Kenya to kick off 2019. Additionally, I’ll be assisting a few educational service centers and districts with school improvement and redesign.
I’m active on LinkedIn, so please reach out and stay connected.
Dr. Steve Gratz is senior executive director of the Center for Student Support and Education Options at the Ohio Department of Education, where he oversees creative ways to help students in Ohio achieve success in school. You can learn more about Steve by clicking here.
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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.
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By: Guest Blogger
In December 2015, Chagrin Falls Exempted Village School District was one of five Ohio public school districts and consortia awarded a grant to allow students to take advantage of opportunities to learn on individualized paths at their own place, time and pace. Our district received $400,000 for the REALIZE U project, which will refine many tools to reflect student competency, grow the capacity of staff to meet the varied and changing needs of our students and develop additional opportunities for students to engage in personalized learning via the provision of enrichment programming.
The Competency-Based Education Pilot is designed to:
- Promote innovative learning that has meaning to students, cuts across multiple curriculum areas and extends outside of the classroom;
- Advance students to higher-level work once they demonstrate mastery of competencies, rather than advancing based on seat time in the classroom;
- Give supports to struggling students before they advance and prevent further failure down the road;
- Keep all students on pace to graduate and ensure those below level make rapid progress;
- Graduate students with deeper college and career ready skills; and
- Inform future development of statewide competency-based policies and programs.
Grantees are required to partner with a postsecondary institution and local businesses or community partners. Our district’s proposal reflected existing partnerships with Ashland University, Hiram College, InventorCloud (curriculum for Innovation Lab use), and the College Board (offering 26 advanced placement courses the PSAT to all students in grades 8-10). The proposal also acknowledged our support from the Chagrin Falls Education Association, as well as our participation in the Innovation Lab Network.
Highlights of our district’s grant project work underway in 2016-2017 include:
- Funded opportunities for our secondary teachers to grow their capacity to reflect student competencies beyond the high school curriculum via:
- College Credit Plus credentialing through online graduate coursework in the area of English;
- Training via College Board relative to additional AP courses, including AP Research, AP World History and AP Computer Science Principles.
- Funded opportunities for identified K-12 teachers to grow their capacity to reflect student competencies relative to students’ varied needs via graduate coursework, including:
- Twenty-four district staff members currently enrolled in funded graduate coursework to earn gifted endorsements (they will be able to earn reading endorsements by summer 2017);
- Two teachers enrolled in graduate coursework to earn reading endorsements (they will be able to earn gifted intervention specialist endorsements by summer 2017).
- Development of summer programming to help students move into more rigorous levels of content in the upcoming school year, including the REALIZE U Summer Enrichment Program, Summer Math Bridging and AP Boot Camps.
- Development of summer and school-year enrichment programming to personalize learning for students, including enrichment programming for students in high school, middle school and gifted students in grades 4-6.
- Teacher training, identification and implementation of curriculum and instructional resources to reflect STEM competencies via Project Lead the Way, which is provided to all students in grades K-8.
- Development of plans to implement personalized capstone research projects to showcase student mastery of content and research competencies in grades K-3, 4-6, 7-8 and 9-12 is underway, and at least one project per grade band will be implemented.
Our district identified “REALIZE U” as a systemic motto last school year. “U” not only reflects our commitment to each student (you), but it also represents potential energy in AP Physics. Potential energy is calculated by multiplying mass x gravitational pull x height (U = mgh). We have locally applied this formula as follows:
- m = our students
- g = ongoing challenges/conflicts/pushes and pulls on students
- h = courses, goals and interests causing students to reach new heights
Thus, “REALIZE U” reflects our commitment to personalize learning to maximize the potential of all students. Our work within the Competency-Based Education Grant project directly supports this mission and vision.
Editor’s note: Ohio’s Competency-Based Education Pilot, established in House Bill 64, allows for five pilot sites to plan and implement competency-based programs. Competency-based education is a system of academic instruction, assessment, grading and reporting where students receive credit, not as a function of how much time they spend studying a subject, but based on demonstrations and assessments of their learning. Instruction is tailored to students’ current levels of knowledge and skills, and students are not constrained to progress at the same rates as their peers. Competency-based education allows for accelerated learning among students who master academic materials quickly and provides additional instructional support time for students who need it. The pilots used the 2015-2016 school year to apply and plan for their programs and will implement from the 2016-2017 through the 2018-2019 school years. To learn more about competency-based education, click here.
Becky Quinn is the director of Curriculum within Chagrin Falls Exempted Village Schools. In this role, she also serves as the district’s gifted coordinator. You can learn more about Becky by clicking here.
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Last Modified: 6/1/2016 4:16:44 PM