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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Preparing our Schools for the Future

The North Reading Public Schools are always looking to prepare our students for the future.  A large part of this transition includes a coordinated effort to understand digital learning and to look at the concept from many angles. The Alliance for Excellent Education, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education, have formed the Future Ready Schools program and offered summits across the country to work with school districts.


Last year, Dr. Daniel Downs, Director of Digital Learning, and I brought the Superintendent the information about the Future Ready Schools program and as a team we decided to take the pledge.  This lead to a team of educators from North Reading attending the Future Ready Summit in late 2016 and to our administrative team exploring the Future Ready tools in order to better prepare our schools for what lies ahead.


In taking the pledge, the District agreed to focus on the following areas:

  • Foster a culture of collaborative leadership.
  • Provide Rigorous Academic Content for all students to build life skills.
  • Empower personalized professional learning opportunities.
  • Help schools and families transition to anytime, anywhere learning.
  • Rethink the use of space and time.
  • Implement thoughtful data and privacy policies and protocols.
  • Focus on long-term sustainability.
  • Share and mentor for continuous improvement.
At last year’s summit, Dr. Downs, Kathleen Dasho, a Digital Learning Specialist, Kim Brown, our high school Library Media Specialist and Future Ready Librarian, and I joined with teams from around the country to learn more about what Future Read had to offer and shared best practices for adapting our schools to suit the needs of our students.  We left the summit with a network of colleagues to continue to share ideas as well as connections to local organizations that have helped us to advance our personalized learning initiative in North Reading.

This school year our administrative leadership team has engaged in the process of completing the District Leadership Self-Assessment which has helped us to think about how we are serving our students and to guide us as we continued to develop our district strategic plan, NRPS 2021.


We have also explored in depth each of the seven gears of the Future Ready Framework:
  • Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment
  • Use of Space and Time
  • Robust Infrastructure 
  • Data and Privacy
  • Community Partnerships
  • Personalized Professional Learning
  • Budget and Resources
For each gear our administrative team has taken (or plans to take by the spring of 2018) a survey pertaining to the details of each specific gear. Once our team has completed the survey we are able to analyze a very detailed report that is available for our review.  In addition to the great summaries and graphic representations of the data that fuel our discussions, the reports also include suggested action steps that we can incorporate directly into our strategic plan.

We have found the survey questions have lead to detailed and in-depth discussions that have lead our team to ask very important questions about our preparedness for the future.  This Future Ready Schools framework has been an invaluable addition to our process for strategic planning in North Reading.

Next Steps:

After the administrators have reviewed the survey results we may begin to involve other stakeholders (teachers, students, parents, community members) in the survey process for some of the gears in order to gather additional information in order to improve our processes.  Some gears lend themselves more to the inclusion of specific stakeholder groups than others and so our plans may include targeting groups to participate in the future.

We are very excited about the questions that we are discussing as the Future Ready Schools framework and the exploration of the gears has lead us to consider ideas that we had not previously discussed as a team.  The highly specific nature of the surveys guide us to have high-level discussions about some of the cutting-edge concepts of digital learning in our schools.  We believe that this information and the ensuing collaborative conversations will guide us to continuously improve our strategic plan so that we will be in the best position to create an environment for students who will be entering a workforce that is still being designed for careers that may not have even exist in 2018.  It is a challenge for us to envision a curriculum and instructional program that prepares students for the challenges ahead but it is an exciting endeavor and the Future Ready Schools framework is providing us with a solid foundation for this rewarding work.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Next Generation MCAS Update

Next Generation MCAS

In recent weeks the official MCAS results have been released for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the North Reading Public Schools have received their scores for the Next Generation MCAS and shared this information with individual parents and students.  As a District we have also presented our analysis to the school committee on November 13, 2017 and discussed this topic (among others) on the latest edition of Inside NRPS on local access.  The link to this video is available on our website under News and Announcements.

While we have become accustomed to receiving standardized test scores over the past eighteen years there are some differences this year that are important to note.  For the first time we are seeing the results, in grades 3-8, for the next-generation MCAS.  This is a different and more rigorous MCAS assessment than we have seen in the past and one that is fully-aligned to our Massachusetts curriculum standards.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has released several letters and provided informational presentations that ask us to consider some very important aspects of the shift to this new assessment.  Links to this information is available on our District Website under Quick Links and also under the Assistant Superintendent’s MCAS page.   I would like to highlight several of these aspects below.

  1. The scores on the next generation MCAS test are not comparable to the scores on previous “legacy” MCAS tests.
  2. There are new performance indicators for next generation MCAS (exceeding expectation, meets expectations, partially meeting expectations, not meeting expectations).
  3. There will likely be more students classified in the “not meeting expectations” range than were previously in the “needs improvement” range on the legacy MCAS.
  4. These Next Generation MCAS results do NOT mean that students learned less; the next-generation MCAS measures in a different way
  5. 2017 is the baseline year — the first year of a new assessment — and we expect scores to change over time, as occurred when the legacy MCAS debuted in 1998.
  6. Massachusetts educators set these standards, and they raised them in order to make sure our students will be college- and career- ready.

What does this mean for North Reading?
The Next Generation MCAS assessment is designed as a computer-based test (CBT) and we will be fully transitioned to a CBT environment in the spring of 2019 for grades 3- 8 and grade 10.  For the spring of 2018 we will be testing on computers in grades 4-8 while grades 3 and 10 will remain on paper.  With our recent upgrades to the wireless infrastructure at all five of our schools and with investments in our computers and Chromebook devices we are confident that we will be able to meet the needs of our students in a computer-based testing environment.

Our website provides many resources for parents and students in understanding the Next Generation MCAS.  I hope that these documents, presentations, and guides will help everyone to become more conversant in the updates to our state assessment system and make the information provided to students as valuable as possible.

It is important for parents, students, and teachers to be mindful of the important data and information that the state assessments provide our school community about our curriculum and the progress our students are making toward meeting the expectations for the standards of our grade level.  We recognize that the state assessment is just one of many data points throughout the year and that the MCAS does not tell the whole story of the student experience or the performance of the school.  However, it does provide us with helpful information about our growth and is a good benchmark for us to look to as we continuously improve the teaching and learning in North Reading.

Our students have once again demonstrated that they are achieving at a high level and that our curriculum, instructional, and intervention practices are designed to be meeting the needs of all of our students in the district.  While there is always room for improvement, it is important to note the dedicated work of our teachers and administrators in preparing our aligned curriculum and focusing our attention on the needs of the individual students in order to lead everyone to success.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Curriculum Update

Curriculum Update

The 2017-18 school year will bring many updates and improvements to our current curriculum frameworks.  In early August I was able to attend, along with three North Reading teachers, a full-day workshop on the changes that are coming to our frameworks in Massachusetts.  At that workshopg several documents were shared that are posted here: http://www.doe.mass.edu/frameworks/ and I’ve included some of the highlights below.

English Language Arts and Literacy (ELA)

The new 2017 frameworks include revisions that were gathered from a multi-year process that included feedback from teachers and other educators.  These changes incorporate some of the standards that were “Massachusetts only” standards that exceeded the Common Core standards, further improving upon our frameworks.  Below is a selection of the highlights from the document.

ELA/Literacy Anchor Standards

·         Reading Standard MA.8.A: deleted; content adapted for integration into other standards, primarily Reading Literature Standards 4 and 5, for coherence and flexibility. Affects grades PK–12.
·         Writing Standard 3: edited to encourage more flexible and nuanced approaches to narrative writing and to incorporate expectations from 2010 Writing Standard MA.3.A. Affects grades PK–12.
·         Writing Standard MA.3.A: deleted; content adapted for integration into other standards, primarily Writing Standard 3, for coherence and flexibility. Affects grades K–12.
·         Speaking and Listening Standard 4: new expectation of appropriate vocabulary use reinforces Language standards. Affects grades 1–12.
Grades 6–12 Literacy in the Content Areas
·         Reading in History and Social Science and Reading in Science and CTE Subjects Standard 1: added references to quoting and paraphrasing to reinforce Writing standards. Applies to grades 6-8.
·         Reading in History and Social Science and Reading in Science and CTE Subjects Standard 4: edited to emphasize academic (tier 2) along with domain-specific (tier 3) language.
·         Writing Standards 1 and 2: edited to encourage wider variety of writing tasks and products.
·         Writing Standard 7: expects more sustained research as well as shorter projects. Applies to grades 6-8.
·         Speaking and Listening Standards 1–6: new for Literacy in the Content Areas.
Our curriculum leaders and teachers have been well informed about these changes and have provided feedback on these revisions.  Teachers will use time this year during our professional development and department meeting time in order to unpack the standards in teams in order to best understand the best ways to implement them in the classroom.

Mathematics

The changes in mathematics are similar to the changes in ELA and also do not represent a major reworking of the 2011 frameworks.  However, there are many improvements and shifts that reflect the feedback from educators in order to continuously improve the document.

At the elementary and middle school levels, in addition to some grade level shifts, there are changes to the language at all grade levels to provide further clarity around the standards.  At the high school level there are some significant updates to all courses, with some standards moving from one course to another and some additions to the courses as well.  These will be reviewed in detail by our Mathematics teachers in order to ensure that our curriculum continues to be aligned to the frameworks.

Other changes include updates to the Mathematical Practices to incorporate language that is appropriate for the grade level.  Each grade still has the same 8 Mathematical Practices, however, language at the elementary, middle, and high school levels is now differentiated to include more clarity on how those practices look for students in those grades.  I anticipate that these changes will be embraced by the educators as they provide more opportunities to clarify and communicate the vital practices in language that is even more accessible to the students.

A final update to the new Mathematics frameworks is the inclusion of some documents that were previously supplemental, including guidance on multiple pathways to Calculus for students.

Overall, the updates to the Mathematics and ELA Frameworks also include many of the elements of the previous frameworks prior to 2011 that many educators requested, including more examples of the standards in action.  It is our hope that these revised frameworks will continue to hold students to the rigor and high levels of accountability as the previous iterations but with many improvements to benefit everyone.

In addition to these updates, educators and students in North Reading will continue the transition to the new Science, Technology, and Engineering frameworks this year, with our grades K-8 fully aligned and additional focus this year at the high school. 

Furthermore, the Digital Literacy and Computer Science frameworks, first introduced in 2016, continue to be unpacked by all of our teachers and implemented with the help of our Digital Literacy specialists at every building.

And coming soon:  updates to the Arts, Social Sciences and History, and more! 


The 2017-18 school year will be a very engaging one for our educators who will tackle the best practices for incorporating these standards into their classroom practices, curriculum, and instruction.  Having reviewed these documents I am confident that these changes represent a step in the right direction for improving student learning outcomes for all students in North Reading and look forward to unpacking these documents with our teachers this year.

Monday, June 12, 2017

1:1 Personalized Learning for North Reading Students

The concept of personalized learning is not new but it is emerging as a trend in education due to several factors.  The students we meet in today’s classrooms need to be engaged and the learning needs to be relevant in order for them to transfer the knowledge beyond the classroom and to apply it to the real world situations that await them in the future.  The industrial model of education, where one-size-fits-all, is no longer appropriate for today’s learner.  With increased access to technology students can learn in self-paced, personalized spaces and at times that are conducive to the most productive learning.   

For several years the North Reading Public Schools have been exploring the concept of 1:1 devices for our students.  Our first task involved providing a digital learning team to support our educators in answering this essential question: “What are the opportunities for improving instruction that are made possible through the 1:1 initiative for our students?”  We know that the first step to a successful 1:1 program is not purchasing devices.  Providing ongoing support and professional development was paramount for us to ensure that there would be a shift in the instructional practice to allow students to learn in new and exciting ways with their new devices.

Over the past five years we have established five digital learning specialists, one at each elementary school, one at the middle/high school, and one who is K-12.  We have also hired Dr. Daniel Downs as the Director of Digital Learning to oversee the department.

Our digital learning team has built the support network for digital learning in the district.  We have also built a physical wireless network capable of supporting additional devices.  For the start of the 2017-18 school year there will be a robust wireless network capable of supporting classroom sets of devices at all schools in the district.

In choosing where to begin our 1:1 initiative we examined our financial means to provide devices to students.  With the support of North Reading’s Capital Improvement Planning Committee (CIPC) the district worked to support the introduction of 1:1 devices to all students in grade seven each year.  The plan is for these students to continue to use these devices each year as they advance through the North Reading Public Schools, with new devices being offered to incoming grade seven students each fall.

We are excited to offer middle school students the opportunity to begin learning the best practices for 1:1 personalized learning and we believe that grade seven is the optimal grade to introduce these devices.  In grades K-6 students are using similar devices to those that will be purchased for the 1:1 program, Chromebooks, in carts that are managed at the classroom level.  Students entering grade seven have been using the Chromebooks for several years and are familiar with the Google Apps for Education suite for learning.

Our grade seven teachers have been preparing for our 1:1 program through a year-long pilot with their current classes.  Students in the class of 2022 have had access to Chromebooks in every class and their teachers have been developing lessons that incorporate the technology tools in anticipation of all seventh grade students having personal devices in 2017-18.  The class of 2022 will continue to have devices available in every core academic classroom as the pilot moves forward and the eighth grade teachers engage in a year-long professional development program similar to what their seventh grade colleagues experienced this year.

Our digital learning team has also participated in sharing activities with many districts to learn from one another.   These conversations have allowed us to reflect on our readiness to implement personalized learning and how to measure the success of this initiative across the district.

It is important to note that technology alone will not bring about increased student learning opportunities without the further alignment of student needs and instructional methods.  Technology is a tool that, in the hands of an engaging teacher, can make a difference in the learning opportunities for our students.


Our essential question has allowed us to focus on a vision for the classroom that represents a change from the status quo.  Flexibility is the key in terms of the space, time, place, and the mode of the learning.  As a district we are very excited to continue to explore the concept of personalized learning and to more fully realize the potential benefits for our students with our new 1:1 program for seventh graders.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Personalized Learning for North Reading Students

One of the proudest achievements for our district this year is our status as a catalyst district in the Massachusetts Personalized Learning Edtech (MAPLE) Consortium.  According to the MAPLE website, “MAPLE is a public-private partnership between the LearnLaunch Institute and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to catalyze personalized learning in the Commonwealth with the purpose of better preparing students for their future” whose vision is “to catalyze personalized learning enabled by technology in K-12 public education.”

The concept of personalized learning is not new but it is emerging as a trend in education due to several factors.  The students we meet in today’s classrooms need to be engaged and the learning needs to be relevant in order for them to transfer the knowledge beyond the classroom and to apply it to the real world situations that await them in the future.  The industrial model of education, where one-size-fits-all, is no longer appropriate for today’s learner.  With increased access to technology students can learn in self-paced, personalized spaces and at times that are conducive to the most productive learning.  

The MAPLE Consortium’s mission is to “energize solutions to ensure student access to personalized learning throughout public education in the Commonwealth. By building public will and connecting schools with necessary resources – professional learning, digital tools, funding strategies, and a rich evidence base – innovative models of teaching and learning will scale and student engagement and achievement will improve.”

Our administrative team has also participated in sharing activities with many districts to learn from one another.   These conversations have allowed us to reflect on our readiness to implement personalized learning and how to measure the success of our initiatives across the district.

As we look toward our 1:1 initiative beginning in the Fall of 2017 for our students entering grade seven we have placed the support system in the hands of our digital learning team.  This team, led by our Digital Learning Director, Dr. Daniel Downs, includes a digital learning specialist at each school (shared for middle/high) and also K-12 district-wide positions.  This team has led our 7th grade teachers in a full-year of professional development centered around the essential question, “What are the opportunities for improving instruction that are made possible through the 1:1 initiative for our students?”  We are also focused on the ways in which we can measure student learning outcomes and the benefits of going 1:1.

It is important to note that technology alone will not bring about increased student learning opportunities without the further alignment of student needs and instructional methods.  Our essential question has allowed us to focus on a vision for the classroom that represents a change from the status quo.  Flexibility is the key in terms of the space, time, place, and the mode of the learning.  As a district we are very excited to continue to explore the concept of personalized learning and to more fully realize the potential benefits for our students.