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CCE staff and partner reflections on our collaborative work to create schools where learning is engaging and rewarding, and every student is set up for success.

Imagination and Persistence in Rhode Island

Imagine a high school graduation policy that provided opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning in ways that were genuinely meaningful. As educators, imagine what you could do in a system like this. Imagine what your students could do. Over ten years ago, Rhode Island imagined such a thing, and since then they’ve been working steadily to make it happen.

Since 2012, the Center for Collaboration (CCE) and the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) have worked in partnership to engage in a substantial initiative to build the capacity of school districts to implement the state’s Graduation by Proficiency (GbP) policy with high fidelity, resulting in strong performance assessments with high technical quality being administered to every Rhode Island public high school student. This collaborative effort, known as the Scaling Up PBG initiative (SPBG), has provided intensive professional development to over 225 educators from 38 schools across the state. Those educators have become assessment experts in a process that includes designing, administering,and scoring quality performance assessments. These assessments measure students’ ability to apply and make meaningful connections between their school learning and their lives. This initiative employed a train-the-trainer model to provide professional development, tools, and follow-up assistance to participating schools and RIDE staff so that they could in turn teach their colleagues.  

We had a conversation with Cali Cornell, Educational Specialist at RIDE, about the impact this work has had in the state.

Center for Collaborative Education: We've just finished the second phase of our Scaling Up PBG work. What are your thoughts on the work that's been done thus far?

Cali Cornell: The Scaling Up PBG initiative has been central in supporting our Graduation by Proficiency Requirement. The schools that have participated have shown growth in their assessment literacy and instruction practice. What we also noticed as the network has grown is that there is more sharing of tools and resources across schools. This has blossomed into creating a sustainable network. As an agency, RIDE cannot do it on its own. The ownership schools are taking – to help the state understand what student readiness at graduation looks like – is remarkable.

CCE: What is the learning that has come out from the Scaling Up PBG network?

Cornell: It was really encouraging that the participating schools took a hard look at their respective assessment systems and had robust conversation about how they were using assessment to capture student learning. Educators were having different kinds of conversations that didn’t always happen before -- such as, “Are we assessing what we are intending to assessment? Where are opportunities for student voice and choice? What does demonstrating mastery looks like?”

CCE: What are your thoughts about what the next phase of this work can look like?  

Cornell: I think it will be important to make explicit connections regarding proficiency-based learning in both middle and high schools. Middle schools have an important role in laying foundational skills and providing students with opportunities to assess their proficiencies prior to entering high school. This is occurring in smaller pockets around the state. The network would benefit from expanding the participation of middle schools as part of the work.

CCE: What is the vision of RIDE for proficiency-based education in 2017?

Cornell: As identified in RIDE’s Strategic Plan and revised secondary school regulations, proficiency-based education provides “real” opportunities for students to own their learning and make explicit connections to what “success” looks like for them. Helping students create a context for their learning, understanding what their goals are, and helping them develop pathways to achieve them … this [will] help students see the value of what schools can do. The hard work is to support schools to meet the aspirations when policy hits the ground.

It is one thing for the state department of education to write up policy. Schools are the places where policy becomes realized. When schools come together to share with one another to discuss the implementation efforts, real learning occurs. Educators share how to translate policy into actions that are supportive of their respective school’s context and environment, and provide clarity about the intent and rationale for proposed changes. Initiatives such as Scaling Up PBG create an opportunity where effective and emerging practices can be disseminated and discussed among practitioners. Tools and strategies can be exchanged in support of assessing student mastery. 

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