100% Proficiency of all RI fourth graders: What will it
II. Responsive, Effective, Exciting Schools
Succeeding in a "standards, assessment and accountability" environment requires an investment in standards-based instruction to help children develop stronger literacy and numeracy skills. The process starts by teachers focusing their lesson planning on what students need to know and be able to do. Teachers then select learning activities consistent with these goals and use classroom assignment standards, sometimes called rubrics, so that students can see exactly what is expected of them. When the standard is not met, standards help to identify the specific problem(s) in the work. Students gain experience meeting standards by revising their work until it achieves at least the minimum goals set by the teacher. Revising work gives both students and teachers the chance to recognize and strengthen academic weaknesses. Challenged learners have more opportunities to bring their work up to standard and learn the material in the process.
Teacher Professional Development in Standards
On the plus side, some RI districts and schools have made significant progress in focusing on standards since they were introduced to schools over the past three or four years. Working with the National Center on Education and the Economy (which also developed the New Standards Reference Exams), RI has developed a course, called Course One, to train teachers and administrators in standards-based instruction. Certain districts have committed to training every single teacher.
Certificate of Initial Mastery
Several districts have committed to awarding the Certificate of Initial Mastery (CIM) which is a standards-based endorsement of the high school diploma. The CIM is, in effect, a guarantee to higher education and to business that the student has met certain academic standards. Rhode Island has five subject matter curriculum frameworks which set high standards for all RI students. These standards are available in hardcopy through the RI Department of Education (RIDE) website.
RI Needs More Opportunities to Coordinate Curriculum
However, taken together, a number of survey responses to questions paint a picture of a lack of common standards in our schools and a lack of adequate preparation to teach to standards. Teachers, students and parents need to discuss the expectations for students work with one another in order to arrive at common standards which all parties understand well. Rhode Island teachers report that they do not coordinate their curricula with their colleagues very often, and in every instance, the level of coordination drops as you move up elementary, middle to high school. Elementary and middle school teachers report coordinating curriculum less than quarterly, and high school teachers report doing so only once a year.
Many Rhode Island teachers have little familiarity with state and/or national standards and do not feel prepared to teach using them.
Students need more opportunities and assistance to bring their work up to standard.
Clearly, efforts to educate all teachers about standards both state and local must increase. Teachers need to develop common and consistent expectations for what all students should know and be able to do. This will require more time in the regular school day for planning and sharing activities, ideas and insights with their colleagues. Schools will need to re-think their use of time, space and the use of school and district resources. The state professional development money allocated by Article 31 will be an important ingredient in changing teacher planning practices. Also, technology will help forward the agenda as more teachers go on line through the RI Teachers in Technology Program.
Students Could Make Better Use of After School Time
See SALT Survey Student charts #19 and #23
Learning and applying complex literacy and numeracy skills requires practice over time. There is time available for such practice both during and beyond the school day. Literacy and numeracy could be supported outside of class with more homework, leisure time reading, and going to the library. Rhode Island students spend relatively little time doing homework or reading outside of school. Often schools assign more homework than students actually do (especially at secondary levels). Better use of the time out of school requires more sustained partnerships and interchange of information between the home and the schools regarding assignments, expectations and penalties for student non-performance. Spending more time on well-designed homework would increase the students chances of meeting the standards.
Without denying the existence or presence of racism, the low expectations that teachers report for some children with certain characteristics speaks volumes about the effects of poverty and the other forces at work mentioned in the following section of this report. The students identified by the teachers as having low academic potential are the ones who most need the extra support that the agencies and communities outside school can provide. On the one hand it is critical that teachers examine their expectations of students with certain characteristics because their expectations can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But it is also the case that the teachers are responding to economic and social impacts on children which are very real.
Note that the numbers of children not expected to graduate from high school is not hugely different from RIs drop-out rate. Indeed, if anything, the teachers expectations are somewhat higher than the actual number of high school graduates. The schools can not possibly handle the socio-economic challenges of many of the children by themselves.