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Professional development, proficiency scales priority for 2017 Summer Institute

Professional development, proficiency scales priority for 2017 Summer Institute
By Noelle H. Lowery
The hallways are quiet. The art supplies and textbooks shelved. The chairs and tables stacked, and the white boards clean.
It is summertime in the Kodiak Island Borough School District, and while the students are enjoying and exploring the beauty of their island home, the district’s faculty, staff and paraprofessionals already are hard at work preparing for the next school year at the Summer Institute.
Each year, the Summer Institute offers all KIBSD educators professional development opportunities with the goal of developing and deepening best practices districtwide. The 2017 Summer Institute was held May 31-June 2, and although the agenda was abbreviated compared to past years, this Summer Institute had a very specific focus — “Climbing the Proficiency Scale Mountain” — continuing to build on the district mantra of “Together WE Can.”
According to Kim Hanisch, KIBSD’s director of instruction and learning, “the Institute focused upon ensuring a continuous scope/sequence of standards (learning) K-12 and on creating proficiency scales. This is critical as standards are only as ‘good’ as our ability to assess learning in relationship with the standard.”
Standards and Proficiency
KIBSD educators assess student performance through standards-based grading. The standards-based system reports student proficiency through a number of specific learning goals, or standards. These standards are the knowledge and skills that are essential for success in the next level of learning.  Students are expected to not just memorize and regurgitate these knowledge and skills, but to learn, synthesize, process, demonstrate and understand.
Using this approach allows the instructional practice to be an assessment-and-feedback method that helps teachers and students stay focused on the learning progress. Teachers align curricular resources to the standards and give students specific feedback about their strengths and needs.
The grade becomes a reflection of what a student actually knows.  Rather than give students one grade on a test that assesses multiple skills, standards-based grading gives students a score that represent their proficiency in each of the standards assessed within the test, project or activity.
To achieve this assessment-and-feedback method, proficiency scales are key to the grading system. Proficiency scales are sets of objectives that clarify how a student demonstrates learning and learning progress. Each level in the scale describes a stage in development of proficiency. This process helps teachers achieve a deeper understanding of the learning targets and develop consistent expectations for student mastery of the targets.
Proficiency scales are beneficial when setting target learning goals or evaluating progress, and they are useful in deciding what to aim for and in knowing when goals have been achieved.
“Without having a scope and sequence with proficiency scales, unit planning that ensures we are focused on a consistent set of standards and a clear level of rigor isn’t possible,” explains Hanisch. “Clarifying the level of understanding (rigor) for proficiency, score 3, and what score 1, 2, and 4 learning looks like supports our capacity to communicate with students and parents where a student is in the learning progress and what the next step in learning will mean. Proficiency scales, also, allow all teachers and students a tool to monitor progress and provide feedback in a consistent way.”
Developing Professionally
The singular focus of the Summer Institute and shortened schedule also opened up time for additional summertime professional development opportunities for KIBSD teachers and paraprofessionals, including the district-sponsored Math and Reading academies as well as several programs offered through the district’s Federal Programs and Student Services offices. All of these opportunities for continuing education and development are an integral part of training quality educators and allowing them to grow within KIBSD’s instructional framework.
Enter “Together WE Can,” which emphasizes building intentional collaboration within the district’s professional development programming. Hanisch notes this is being done via face-to-face meeting and through the use of technology and digital applications. For example, during the Institute, inservices and academies, there is time built into agendas to bring participants together, share learning, solve problems and celebrate.
“Teachers always want to grow and learn,” Hanisch points out. “Research continues to provide answers about how the brain works, what essential learning is needed for success, how that learning can best be provided. With all of that, if we want to continue to improve and grow as a collective group of effective educators, professional development must be a key priority. There is not enough time within the school year for teachers to both do the work and learn the work.”
She adds: “Teachers get to refine their practice, learn and practice applying new research, and build collaborative relationships. Professional development, when provided appropriately, re-energizes educators.”
Hanisch stresses the importance of these district-sponsored professional development opportunities for KIBSD teachers and paraprofessionals. After all, investing in teacher learning is an investment in student success.
“Teachers at KIBSD are currently effective,” she says.” At the same time, every one of them wants to be even more. Providing professional development opportunities impacts KIBSD by allowing teachers to be learners, providing opportunities to contribute to the foundational aspects of KIBSD instructional framework to move all forward, valuing teacher’s passions and thus increasing a sense of belonging and effectiveness. All of these lead toward sustainability and success.”