District Works to Improve SAGE Scores Through Grade Level Coordination and Standards

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Wellington Principal Stacy Basinger points out some information to elementary school teachers Leigh Ludington (Creekview), Liz Konakis (Bruin Point) and Taylor Sisneros (Castle Heights) during a Essential Standards Project meeting in February.

Carbon County School District Press Release

Having students do well on the Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence (SAGE) examinations each year is a goal of every teacher and administrator in Carbon School District. Since the introduction of the assessments last year, the district’s personnel have been working new and innovative ways to have students at each grade level, from school to school, basically be on the same page at any one time of the year.

The goal of SAGE is to be sure students are knowledgeable at the level they should be for each grade, and to connect the knowledge in math, language arts and science together to be used as building blocks for further education and eventually for use in their work lives when they get out of school. That can only be done if teaching staff in the district work together as a team.

“We believe in the power of the group,” said Superintendent Steve Carlsen just before a group of experienced teachers worked together for a day to review standards for the district at a meeting on Feb. 17. “Consensus on how to do things is important.”

The workshop was called the “Essential Standards Project. ” It was led by Stacey Basinger, the principal at Wellington Elementary.

“We need to know where we are going,” she told the group. “We need to know our standards and how they are assessed.”

Teaching has always been as much of an art form as a science. In the past master teachers always excelled at giving students what they needed. But often in general terms teachers were expected to teach, and students were expected to learn. Today’s philosophy has changed that viewpoint.

“We need to be sure that students are learning, and we can’t do that just by teaching,” said Carlsen later. “We need to be on the same page with regular assessments so that we know students are getting it.

That can only be done by having standards that are the same from teacher to teacher and grade level to grade level across the district.”

The word “mastery” is a key to knowing that students are really “getting it.” In terms of the SAGE assessments, mastery is when 80 percent of the students, are learning and know 80 percent of the material that is taught.

“What we need to be sure of is that every student gets the knowledge they need no matter who their teacher is,” said Basinger during the workshop. “And we need to be sure the instructor has enough time available to teach the content as specified.”

There have been a lot of questions as the district has moved into this process. Some of those include who the experts are for each grade level, are teachers using the right sources to teach the curriculum and while it seems everyone is doing their best to educate students, is it enough or are there other ways and methods to improve learning.

When MasteryConnect was adopted by the district it became apparent that teachers wanted to know what standards should be taught to the mastery level and most teachers said they wanted support to help with essential learning. MasteryConnect is a cloud-based software platform allows teachers to track student mastery of standards, both state and Common Core standards. It is used across the country by many school districts.

So teachers across the district submitted their essential standards after discussions with others in their grade levels for examination. That information produced a document that helped to define what should be done. But doing this also posed some difficulties. As in any profession opinions vary on how to do things, and some of those in the district have and will have to give up some of their “sacred cows” to facilitate the new system. Without the commitment of all those teaching, the process will not work properly. Without the group, as Carlsen stated, the curriculum cannot be delivered in the right way.

That day the teachers at the workshop studied the curriculum posed to them in various areas, they agreed to priorities within it, and they had to define how it will translate into student knowledge. Along with that was included the pacing of teaching the curriculum, keeping everyone in the district at the same grade level on time with everyone else.

One of the other things that was emphasized is that what needs to be learned is so large and expansive that in-depth instruction of the essential concepts is often more important than teaching every concept in the core. But by deeming those concepts that are essential does not relieve the teacher of the responsibility to teach all the standards. That determination is based on what is critical for student success.

One of the other keys to getting it right across the district is called vertical alignment. It used to be that teachers taught a curriculum that was designed for their grade level, and there was poor coordination between their grade level or discipline and others in the school or district. The new standards are being set up to be sure no steps are missed with any student or group of students so they can move on with confidence to the next grade level. On the other hand it is also important that grade levels or disciplines do not repeat concepts that students already know. When that happens time and effort is wasted instead of moving onto new concepts. The standards must have endurance (to achieve knowledge beyond the test date), should aide in learning and understanding other disciplines (leverage), and the standard for a grade level should help students to achieve in the next grade.

“The SAGE test produces critical data on what students have learned,” said Carlsen.  “This data allows all of us, in education, the opportunity to evaluate what and why critical information was missed in the student’s learning.  By knowing this information teachers can adjust their teaching to include missed material or teach more effectively the information that was students scored poorly on.  The process we have been in to determine the essential standards allows us the opportunity to be sure that what we are teaching is critical to the success of all of the children, on the SAGE test but, more importantly to each child’s education experience which will lead to a successful and fulfilling life.”

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