• Rethinking Student Progress Communication

    Posted by Jill Urich at 10/5/2016

    In the fall of 2014, a group of administrators, and teachers reviewed the practice of reporting student progress, as defined in Board Policy 505.01: Reporting of Student Progress. The goal of this group was to examine best practices, define the purpose of conferences, and evaluate other options on how to best communicate student progress.   Included in the review was contractual language, schedules, survey data collected from parents, attendance data, and progressive strategies.


    Parent-teacher conferences have traditionally been characterized as the primary vehicle for reporting student progress. The objective of communicating student progress is to shift from a one-time event, such as a conference, to an ongoing dialogue with your student’s teacher(s) about their progress toward their academic goals.


    When the conference discussion occurred it was important to review the current state of conferences and how the conference format was working. The conference structure at elementary schools was working well, with high attendance from parents, staff availability, and technology support as needed. The conference structure at the secondary level was not working well due to:


    • a greater number of students per teacher
    • less meaningful information being shared
    • survey data collected from parents
    • participation numbers
    • coaches being unavailable due to competitions


    For these reasons, better ways of communicating student progress were identified and pursued for the 2015-2016 school year.

    Current Structure of Parent-Teacher Conferences

    Elementary conferences


    Elementary conferences were determined to be operating in a structure aligned to best meet the needs of parents and thus were not changed.


    Sixth-Seventh Grade Conferences


    In the first conference of the year, a face-to-face meeting is encouraged with a focus on the middle school team concept. After the fall conference, the eight conference hours in the spring may be used to tailor teacher communication with parents via other modalities and will not necessarily be scheduled by the building. This will be a building decision, based on the needs of the students.


    Secondary Conferences


    Parents are encouraged to use Infinite Campus. Teachers are encouraged to engage in ongoing communication with parents, rather than communicating progress through a one-time event. In both the spring and the fall, time is set aside for conferences. There are times primarily reserved for parents of students with high needs. These parents are specifically communicated with and scheduled into those conferences. There is additional contractual time for any parent who wishes to schedule a conference with their child’s teacher. Additionally, teachers may update parents on student progress using one or more of the following communication mediums: providing parents with electronic communication, face-to-face meetings, phone calls, or video messaging in the manner desired by the parent.  While we continue to refine the practices implemented to address the problems identified, our goal remains to find the best and timeliest ways to communicate student progress and engage parents early in the process. We believe a strong partnership with parents and students will help each of our students achieve their personal success.

    What to ask teachers about your student’s  progress?

    Below are some questions to help you obtain specific information about your student’s progress as you engage with their teachers.

    • How is my child progressing toward their academic goals?
    • What skills do they need to work on to help them achieve their academic goals?
    • What steps are you taking to help them improve?
    • In what areas have you seen the greatest and least progress this year?
    • How is my child doing behaviorally in your classroom? For example, is work being completed in a timely manner and is my child collaborating well with others?
    • What ideas do you have for me to support my child’s academic and behavioral growth at home?
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  • Class Rank in Ankeny Schools

    Posted by Dr. Sharon Ingebrand at 4/25/2016

    In the Ankeny Community School District Strategic Plan, it states that if we demonstrate the belief that ALL students can and will learn, then every learner will be prepared for a lifetime of personal success. In considering current processes, we look to see how well our practices align with this belief. One area we believe could be more closely aligned with this statement is our practice of class rank. 


    Currently in Ankeny Schools, students are ranked based on grade point average beginning in 9th grade. Students graduate with a class rank comparing them to other students in their class. That rank is put on their transcripts and is communicated to post-secondary institutions.


    We are considering shifting away from a system based on class rank. According to a recent report by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), more than half of all high schools no longer report student class rankings to colleges.


    So what does this mean for your student? A shift away from the class rank system would not harm students or their acceptance to college or other post-secondary institutions. While some larger state institutions outside Iowa still ask for class rank, the College Board suggests schools could communicate other information on applications, such as a student’s grade-point-average, ACT/SAT scores, results of AP exams, and high school curriculum, among other information.  Even if class rank is eliminated as a practice in Ankeny Schools, the information can still be obtained if it is required as part of an application process.


    The Iowa Regent’s Universities have developed two formulas – one for schools with class rank and another for schools that do not rank. Because Ankeny students have a relatively high average GPA, the class rank system can cost them up to 20 points when being evaluated for admission. This means that eliminating the practice of class rank could benefit our students with post-secondary enrollment.  


    Other Iowa schools have made similar moves. Ames, Cedar Falls, Iowa City, Dowling Catholic, and Cedar Rapids Xavier have all removed class ranking systems. West Des Moines offers benchmark rankings of the top three, 10, 15, and 20 percent instead of a traditional class rank system.


    Our primary goal remains that every learner be prepared to achieve a lifetime of personal success. The Ankeny Board of Education is considering the class rank system, and will vote on whether or not to continue with this process at the May 2 meeting.

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  • Measuring Student Learning Through Evidence

    Posted by Dr. Jill Urich at 3/21/2016

    In the last blog post, we answered the question: what should students at a given class level know, understand and be able to do? This is the first of four fundamental questions that guide Ankeny educators’ work.


    The second question guiding our teachers and Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) is- how will we know if students have learned the standard? In Ankeny, teachers use a variety of assessments, both formal and informal, to gather a body of evidence around student learning. Effective teaching no longer relies upon end-of-chapter tests as the sole piece of evidence. Through our teaching culture of assessment FOR learning, teachers rely upon external assessments, district-level assessments, common assessments for their grade level or department, and classroom created assessments to determine next steps for our learners.


    Overview of Assessment


    In Ankeny, the Overview of Assessment (shown above) summarizes the four main categories of assessments, the intended outcomes or purposes for each category, and specific examples for each. This information serves as a guide for Ankeny educators when determining how to best use assessment results to guide learning.


    External assessments and district level assessments are only a small piece of the assessments used by teachers to determine student learning. An example of an external assessment is the Iowa Assessment. The Iowa Assessment is administered annually and provides data to determine the percentage of students who are proficient as compared to a “norm” group. The assessment results can be used to identify program strengths and weaknesses, as well as to look at big-picture trend data for schools and districts.


    Assessments like NWEA MAP, FAST, and CogAt are examples of district level assessments. These assessments are used by educators to examine the learning of groups of students with similar scores and provide information regarding student progress across a school year. Over time, teachers are able to measure academic growth trends around key understandings in math, reading, and science.


    The next category described on the Overview of Assessment is common assessment. A common formative assessment is an assessment given by two or more teachers with the intention of collaboratively analyzing the results for shared learning, instructional planning, and curriculum and instructional modifications. The primary purpose of common assessments is to inform teachers about the effectiveness of their instruction and help determine next steps for student learning. This is a crucial part of the PLC process. Teachers work together to develop assessments that are directly aligned to the standards that are taught. After the Common Formative Assessment (CFA) is given, teachers come together to analyze the results and learn from each other to improve their instructional practice. This leads to improved learning for students. Laura Ryan, instructional coach at Southeast Elementary, is passionate about the power of Common Formative Assessments. “There is no better tool to bring teachers around a table to discuss student needs than a common formative assessment,” she asserts. “CFAs are the foundation for the work PLCs do. CFAs are the tool that tell us what kids know or don’t know, then we teach them accordingly."


    PLC Meeting


    The final type of assessment is classroom assessments. These are the day-to-day assessments that truly guide teachers’ work. These assessments are closest to the students and provide on-going information to teachers and students. Jeremy Lapka, seventh grade Pre-Algebra and Algebra teacher at Prairie Ridge Middle School states, “The use of formative assessments are key for both the teacher and student. These assessments are purposeful to inform the student what they know and need to work on, and help teachers drive their instruction to meet these needs. Without the use of them in my classroom I would not be able to identify what students know or have yet to know.”


    Examples of classroom assessments could include anecdotal notes, rubrics, samples of student work, running records, exit tickets, and student self-assessments. This is where the rubber meets the road and teachers make adjustments to their instruction based on the individual and their formative classroom assessments.


    Students learning.


    In Ankeny schools, teachers use a variety of assessments to guide their next steps with students, identify enrichment and re-teaching needs, and determine program needs.


    Gone are the days of one-size-fits all instruction and curriculum coverage. Assessment does not mark the end of the learning, but merely the beginning, as teachers engage in the PLC process to benefit the learning of students.

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  • Raising the Bar on Achievement with Standards

    Posted by Dr. Jill Urich at 2/5/2016

    What should students at a given class level know, understand and be able to do? This is the first of four key questions Ankeny teachers focus on daily, both in their classrooms and in Professional Learning Communities (PLC). When a question drives so much of teachers’ work, it’s important to have a common definition. Having clear learning targets, or “standards,” is so vital that Iowa law now requires the use a consistent set of standards to identify what students should know and be able to do, or face losing their accreditation and state funding. Districts across the state have adopted this set of standards under the new Iowa Core.


    What are “standards?”

    Simply put, it is a generic learning target that does not specify activities, texts, or materials. For example, a high school literacy standard might be:

    • Read closely to determine what a text means and make logical inferences from it. Site specific textual evidence in writing or speaking to support the inferences; or,

    Standards also indicate the grade level in which students should be able to achieve these targets.

    For years, curriculum reviews in many districts consisted of groups of teachers getting together and developing the expectations for what students would learn. Learning targets can vary drastically from district to district, which sometimes results in low expectations for what students need to learn. This indicates a need for consistent standards across the state, specifically in reading and math. The standards adopted by Iowa schools are the result of extensive research by educational experts from numerous states.


    Maintaining local control

    One concern with the Iowa Core is a misunderstanding about losing local control over the selection of curriculum materials and textbooks. The Iowa Core does not dictate texts or other materials. The School Board will maintain control of materials for Ankeny Community Schools.


    Effective instruction

    The Iowa Core also includes a section on Characteristics of Effective Instruction, or a set of standards of effective teaching practices. Many of the practices were already being implemented as best practices in Ankeny.

    “We are more than happy to discuss the Iowa Core standards with anyone and help them to understand what it is and what it isn’t,” said Superintendent Dr. Bruce Kimpston, “Any remaining concerns after that point will need to be discussed with their legislators. Under state law, we are required to adopt the standards.”

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