Column: Standard 3: Teaching and Assessing for Learning

In the continuing series of our preparation for the upcoming AdvancED accreditation visit in two weeks, this particular article focuses on the heart of education—the teaching and assessing for student learning. This standard reads “The district and school’s curriculum, instructional design, and assessment practices guide and ensure teacher effectiveness and student learning.” Simply put, this is where the “rubber meets the road” or “the heart of the matter.” Education is an interconnected series of processes and products ultimately aimed at student achievement. Since this is the very nexus of the accreditation process, it is not surprising there are twelve distinct indicators (as compared to only three for Standard 1: Purpose and Direction and six for Standard 2: Governance and Leadership). A quick summary of these indicators reveal the critical water marks for success: 1. The school’s curriculum provides equitable and challenging learning experiences that ensure all students have sufficient opportunities to develop learning, thinking, and life skills that lead to success at the next level; 2. Curriculum, instruction, and assessment are monitored and adjusted systematically in response to data from multiple assessments of student learning and an examination of professional practice; 3. Teacher engage students in their learning through instructional strategies that ensure achievement of learning experiences; 4. School leaders monitor and support the improvement of professional practices of teachers to ensure student success; 5. Teachers participate in collaborative learning communities to improve instruction and student learning; 6. Teachers implement the school’s instructional process in support of student learning; 7. Mentoring, coaching, and induction programs support instructional improvement consistent with the school’s values and beliefs about teaching and learning; 8. The school engages families in meaningful ways in their children’s education and keeps them informed of their children’s learning progress; 9. The school has a formal structure whereby each student is well known by at least one adult advocate in the school who supports that student’s educational experience; 10. Grading and reporting are based on clearly defined criteria that represent the attainment of content knowledge and skills and are consistent across grade levels and courses; 11. All staff members participate in a continuous program of professional learning; and 12. The school provides and coordinates learning support services to meet the unique learning needs of students. I believe we do a very good job with some of these indicators, particularly #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #11, and # 12. Having all schools participate in TAP permits us to have ongoing, embedded professional development (tied to student learning). Maintaining focus on aligning instructional practice with student achievement is another strong suit for us in Laurens 56. There are a few others I feel we need to continue to refine, most notably # 8, #9, and # 10. There is no doubt the schools and the district attempt to contact each parent many times during the year. Unfortunately, there is an abiding malaise where some parents remained aloof, distant, and in some cases openly hostile to the school’s best efforts. With the growing and festering mistrust of large, public entities—including churches, government, and education—some individuals are far less inclined to be openly communicative. We must redouble our efforts to extend support and assistance to these, and all, families in the growth and development of their children and their ultimate welfare. As our district has suffered from the loss of industry, a crippling side effect has been the increase in transient families. Students often do not stay a year at a school (in elementary) and indeed hopscotch from school to school in the county and its geographical neighbors. Consequently, we have not been able to develop programs and formal structure whereby each student is well known by at least one adult. This is a noteworthy goal and all of our schools are keenly aware of this need and have begun with advocacy programs with local churches and other agencies. Finally, we still need to develop and refine our grading process among our elementary schools and even within schools. It is very difficult to ensure Teacher A’s grades (tests, rubrics, assignments) are not harder or easier than one across the hall—even though the content is exactly the same. We continue to work in this area and are making strides. We may not be as good as we want in all of these areas; however, we are fully aware of our issues, our resources, and our desire to make teaching and learning the very best for each and every child. Again, on a scale of 1 – 4, I give our schools and district a solid 3+. (Dr. David O’Shields is superintendent of Laurens School District 56.)

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