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Educators Revolutionize Assessment Practice Amidst Hard Times

Michigan educators partner with Solution Tree to build a new learning-centric model of student measurement

THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION IN Michigan is helping teachers revolutionize learning. In May, 300 teachers from the state’s 535 school districts attended a two-day workshop conducted by Solution Tree, a company in Bloomington, Ind., that helps educators nationwide build professional learning communities and address the unique needs of at-risk learners.

The workshop opened doors and minds, says Kimberly Young, an educator on loan from the Ionia Intermediate School District to the DOE’s office of educational assessment and accountability (OEAA). Now serving as the workshop’s project director, she says it introduces best practices from Ahead of the Curve assessment anthology, and the latest release in the Solution Tree Leading Edge? series, that teaches educators how to create a balanced classroom assessment system.

"The overall goal is to
get school staff working
together as a
learning team."

For example, one component is to write standards in student-friendly language so all students develop a clear understanding of what they are expected to learn. Another is to use formative classroom assessments so students understand what areas they either need help in or excel at, enabling teachers to adjust their instruction. These assessment concepts were eagerly embraced, partly because of the way they were presented by Solution Tree trainers.

“We have such respect for Karen Bailey and Cassandra Erkens and their talents,” says Young. “They are incredible teachers and presenters, highly inspiring.”

The catalyst behind this approach was the state’s gloomy economic condition. By providing students with a stronger educational background, state education officials believed they would be better equipped for college and competitive job markets. So in 2005, the state’s board of education adopted a set of tough courses, ranging from algebra to world history, that all students must pass in order to graduate. Until then, Michigan was among a handful of states that only required students to complete a course in civics to earn their high school diploma.

Now came the hard part. With Michigan’s high school drop-out rate averaging 20 percent and declining student enrollment, revenues and resources, how could teachers ensure student success in such courses?

“As we put more kids into rigorous courses, if teachers don’t change how they teach and how they assess, we’ll have more kids failing,” explains Dr. Edward Roeber, professor at Michigan State University who formerly served as the OEAA’s senior director. “We had to do things differently.”

Dr. Roeber’s plan involved establishing professional learning communities, which would change the way teachers connected with students and each other. Shared decision-making based on accurate data, instructional alignment and a commitment to learning would now become the gold standard.

Solution Tree was the perfect partner, considering its expertise in the fields of assessment research and Professional Learning Communities At Work?.

“The overall goal is to get school staff working together as a learning team,” says Dr. Roeber. “We’re hoping that teachers will think differently about standards. Rather than marching through a test book, succeeding with some students and failing with others, they will adapt lessons in such a way that all students learn.”

The workshops were so successful that over 500 teacher leaders have attended and brought the training back to their buildings. More workshops may be off ered next year, including others that cover diff erent topics such as examining student work and integrated standards-based assessment.

Armed with best practices, teachers throughout Michigan are now sharing and demonstrating what they’ve learned with their peers. The seed to transform learning has been planted.

Ultimately, Dr. Roeber envisions students with varying degrees of knowledge and abilities becoming successful in the classroom. “I’d love to have somebody say, ‘All of our students are succeeding. I never thought that would have been possible.’”

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