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Magazines > MultiMedia Schools > March/April 2003
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Vol. 10 No. 2 — Mar/Apr 2003
DIRECT CONNECT
Planning for Growth: Identifying Needs and Focusing Resources for Professional Development
By Ferdi Serim, Editor, MultiMedia Schools and Janet Murray, Associate Editor, MultiMedia Schools

"In fixing high stakes to assessments, policymakers borrowed principles from the business sector and attached incentives to learning and sanctions to poor performance on tests. High-performing schools would be rewarded. Under-performing schools would be penalized, and to avoid further penalties, would improve themselves. Accordingly, students would be motivated to learn, school personnel would be forced to do their jobs, and the condition of education would inevitably improve, without much effort and without too great a cost per state. What made sense, in theory, gained widespread attention and eventually increased in popularity as a method for school reform."1

Spring is traditionally a time of planting, yet in schools there is already a feeling of rushing to the finish line. As the sap rises, and the weather warms, it is all too easy to discern the agrarian roots of our school calendar. Yet our work takes more than a season, or set of seasonal cycles. So must our view of professional growth, even in this season of No Child Left Behind. What we harvest in the fall depends on our actions now, and the cultivation that takes place over the summer.

What's different about this season from those that have come and gone before is that this time, technology professional development is mandated. Under the No Child Left Behind law, 25 percent of all funds spent on educational technology must be directed toward "high-quality professional development." And as the Department of Education's John Bailey has said, "Every program is potentially an education technology program" as long as schools clearly define technology's contributions to improved student achievement. These contributions only come to those who've developed their information literacy skills, so we have an opportunity to design these skills into the professional development experiences we provide.

Far too often, technology staff development is too late, too lame. Decontextualized learning ("just in case" instead of "just in time") that teaches tool-centered skills doesn't work for children, so it should not surprise us when it doesn't work for educators. Instead, it is important to anticipate the real work that real teachers will be doing in the near term, providing experiences, modeling, and support that show how technology can help them work smarter.

Accordingly, here are three key activities for you to consider as you work with the decision makers in your school and district to make sure that learning for all students is supported by effective use of both the technology and human investments your district has already made.

• Assessment and Accountability: What's Going On?

• Curriculum Mapping—Charting Your Way to Success

• Developing Your Professional Development Calendar

Assessment and Accountability: What's Going On?

It is widely accepted that assessment and measurement techniques must reflect the instructional strategies used in any course, as well as the desired learning outcomes. However, some schools are turning this advice on its head, by adopting instructional strategies that hyper-focus on test-taking skills. Only through effective professional development activities can we avoid this pitfall.

Today, what accountability means to schools has been redefined by the provisions of No Child Left Behind. Schools are being required to answer on the basis of results, rather than inputs. As summarized by the Education Commission of the States, "Holding schools accountable for the performance of all students is a cornerstone of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. Under the new law, this accountability is based on whether or not schools, districts and states are making adequate yearly progress (AYP) towards the goal of bringing 100 percent of their students at least to academic proficiency by the end of the 2013-14 school year."

Assessment should foster growth, not simply serve accountability compliance. In my school, we've begun examining our students' results from the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) Level Tests. Instead of yielding percentages that compare kids to mythical "norms," each student is compared to him- or herself, which in turn makes it possible for us to see areas of growth, as well as areas where students need to grow. NWEA works with their clients to provide the professional development required for us to learn to use the data to see and guide such growth. Such professional learning is not left to chance.

These benefits are being felt at statewide levels as well, as in Idaho's state test (NWEA's MAP system). Using these tests, most Idaho schools are getting accurate data for 99 percent of students. Teachers are using real data about their actual students to inform classroom instruction, school improvement plans, district-level decision making and individual education plans (IEPs). Linda Clark, director of Instruction at Joint School District 2 in Idaho, said, "For the first time we can look at progress for our special education students in relationship to the regular curriculum, which is a requirement of current federal special education legislation."

When professional development is geared to a specific purpose (as in learning to see individual patterns of growth to shape instruction), educational technology can reach its full potential. According to Shannon Bunch an elementary resource teacher at McMillan Elementary in Joint School District #2, they've learned to harness the power of the assessment tool to break the data down for the special needs students into skills strands. For example, if they're looking at reading, they identify needs by goal strands (such as literal comprehension, word meaning, etc.), then they group the kids into skills groups according to needs and level and then target instruction to the skills where the kids are deficient. This system is being used across the state and is particularly useful in 4th and 5th grade, where they have no other measure. It enables them to move these students toward adequate yearly progress, and more importantly, it helps them hold the special education students toward the standards of the regular curriculum. For more information, see www.nwea.org.

Divergent Goals: Training, Learning, Education

"The proponents of increased accountability see testing as a lever to force improvements in school performance, and therefore student achievement. However, differing definitions on desired destinations create tension and confusion as states, districts, schools, and classrooms chart their courses. Our understanding of this tension can benefit from 'a clarification of the distinctions between the related concepts of education, learning (particularly school learning and the concept of transfer of learning), and training.' For most citizens it is education (the broadest and most difficult to define of the concepts) that is the goal of schooling. Learning is the process through which education is achieved. But merely demonstrating acquisition of some factual or procedural knowledge is not the primary goal of school learning. That is merely a proximal goal.

"The proper goal of school learning is both more distal and more difficult to assess. The proper goal of school learning is transfer of learning, that is, the application or use of what is learned in one domain or context to that of another domain or context. School learning in the service of education focuses deliberately on the goal of broad (or far) transfer. School instruction that can be characterized as training is ordinarily a narrow form of learning, where transfer of learning is measured on tasks that are highly similar to those used in the training. Broad or far measures of transfer, the appropriate goal of school learning, are different from the measures typically used to assess the outcomes of training."2

Curriculum Mapping—Charting Your Way to Success

Curriculum mappingis a process that educators use to develop a calendar that shows the content, skills, and assessments that students experience at each grade level in a school. This calendar (called a curriculum map) provides an accurate view of the pathway a student's learning experience follows from grade to grade. Curriculum maps are particularly useful for making visible the missing pieces and the duplications as a student goes from one grade to the next.

One never knows exactly what's been learned when the lesson is over, but it's a fairly safe bet that if it wasn't taught, it wasn't learned. Yet, the variation between what goes on behind closed classroom doors is so great that (at least in the case of my children) it resulted in both frequent duplication (dinosaurs six times in 12 years) and gaps (no parts of speech, minimal geographic awareness). The curriculum guides that stack the central office shelves are no assurance that the guides reflect actual teaching. The only way to know is to ask. Every teacher, in every classroom.

Effective I&T teams do this informally, already. When working with classroom teachers, the starting point is always, "What will you be teaching?" Hence, the technology wraps itself around the learning objectives. However, in order to reach all children, we must determine what they'll be doing in each class, all year long. Only then can we know how to help. The tool to accomplish this goal is a curriculum map, and if you're not already using one, you should consider obtaining the professional development that will allow you to do so.

Developing Your Professional Development Calendar

Both the springtime planting of crops and the cultivation of student achievement are information-based problems. Although the introduction of the Internet into schools raised the requirements for information literacy skills for both students and teachers, No Child Left Behind's reliance on data means these skills have moved from optional to essential. One great place to start is the IMSA 21st Century Information Fluency Portal [http://wizard.imsa.edu/learn]. This site, provided by the Illinois Math and Science Academy, is a terrific resource for anyone interested in supporting digital information fluency. In addition to the IMSA Search Wizard, you'll find a WebSite Evaluation Tool, Citation Tool, Information Literacy Project Tips, a Spelling Tool, and Thesaurus Tool. Membership is free and is not limited to Illinois residents (although Illinois educators can receive graduate credit for courses taken on the site). The site is funded by the U.S. Department of Education under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Once you know the targeted areas of improvement (by examining student performance data from a variety of sources in your school) and curriculum maps allow you to see the upcoming academic challenges students will face, you are prepared to apply the power of information literacy to both staff and student efforts.

With this information, you can be an informed consumer, making recommendations about how the 25 percent of your district's technology purchasing power should be directed. There are a host of free and for-fee professional development offerings available, but none of these can be effective until you've identified your needs. For more information about resources that can help you determine your needs and chart your professional development strategy, please visit http://oii.org/IT4L.

 

Footnotes

1 Amrein, A. L. & Berliner, D.C. (2002, March 28). High-Stakes Testing, Uncertainty, and Student Learning. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 10(18). Retrieved 11/21/02 from http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v10n18/.

2 Ibid.

 


Communications to the editor may be addressed to Ferdi Serim, MultiMedia Schools, 11 Palacio Road, Santa Fe, NM 87505; 505/690-6039; fax: 505/466-1901; ferdi@infotoday.com

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