Salem Academy Charter School Partners With Salem Public Schools on Dissemination Grant

June 5th, 2015   /   Posted by Erik Sayce   /   Topics: School News

Suppose that each student had a crystal-clear understanding of what he or she needed to learn, which pieces of work would show success, and exactly where there was room for improvement. With the help of the teacher, the student could focus on areas that are not yet mastered. Imagine that a student’s performance at the end of a unit of study carried more weight than the performance at the beginning or midpoint of a unit. And what if parents, teachers, and students could follow student growth throughout the year in real time?  These are the hallmarks of standards-based teaching and learning, which is now taking root in Salem Public Schools. 

“Standards-based” means that all teaching and instruction is grounded in what students will know and be able to do (student outcomes). Teachers ask themselves, “How will I teach these concepts and skills so that my students will be able to show mastery of the standard?  How will I know if they have learned it?  What can I do if they haven’t learned it?”

Through a $364,400 Federal Dissemination Grant (one of only three awarded in Massachusetts), Salem Public Schools (SPS) and Salem Academy Charter School (SACS) have embarked on an exciting partnership to share standards-based instructional practices. Since 2004, Salem Academy Charter School has used this approach to make transparent what students must know and be able to do in order to graduate from high school “as informed, articulate, and proactive students of strong character, who are ready to enter and succeed in college” (SACS Mission Statement).  Standards-based practices have contributed to Salem Academy Charter School’s designation as a Level One school during the past three years, as determined by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

At Salem Academy Charter School, each course is designed to include standards from the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks, the SACS mission and/or Advanced Placement standards.   The students are provided with these standards, as well as a series of benchmarks (smaller steps along the way that will help students to move toward the requirements of the standard).  Success on benchmarks may be measured in a variety of ways, including: writing, informal presentations, projects, tests, quizzes, and conversations. When students have difficulty with a benchmark, the curriculum is flexible enough to respond with additional lessons and activities to solidify learning.  Students, teachers, and families can follow progress toward mastery.

This timely collaboration between Salem Public Schools and Salem Academy Charter School is designed to advance and support the goals set by the district.  During the past few years, SPS has developed a comprehensive standards-based Pre K – 12 curriculum, which is available online to all educators.  Teachers and administrators have engaged in data meetings to analyze student results in order to plan instruction.  To enhance instructional strategies, SPS has partnered with expert providers to create a consistent model that has high expectations for student participation and success.  These structures provide the foundation that the district needs to advance to the next step in standards-based practices.

As part of the grant, Salem Academy Charter School has offered “Study Tours” so that SPS educators can visit SACS classrooms to see practices in action and to talk to SACS teachers about how they develop and use benchmark steps to guide student learning.  More than 40 SPS educators attend these sessions. Salem Academy Charter School has also shared extensive documentation about their standards-based practices. 

Another part of the grant has brought nationally known speakers to present topics focused on standards-based work, with each session followed by a presentation by SACS educators on how the practice has been used at SACS as well as time for school-based planning. 

Salem Academy Charter School’s work is based upon the research of Dr. Robert Marzano, the first speaker in the series.  He recommended that teachers and school leaders design all instructional practices around student outcomes.  The second speaker, Kim Marshall, focused on coaching and supervision of teachers who are implementing standards-based practices.   In late May, the final presenter, Dr. Robert Guskey, will share best practices in grading and reporting to students and families.  An essential element of this model is for grades to reflect academic growth over time.  Non-academic traits are assessed and reported separately.  Educators from both SACS and SPS educators attend these sessions.

Groups of SPS teachers will work this summer to plan how to phase in standards-based practices more deliberately, with SACS teachers providing support. SPS educators are committed to growing their practice as they learn and reflect with SACS partners through 2015-2016.

Written by:  Michelle Herman and Sarah Morrill, Project Managers
Standards-Driven Instructional Practices Dissemination Grant

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