Even while visions of sugarplums dance in our heads -- semester evaluations! - Mid-Pacific Institute

Elementary School Principal's Blog

Even while visions of sugarplums dance in our heads -- semester evaluations!

Posted on December 5, 2010

by Dr. Edna Hussey on December 5, 2010

Sitting amongst the audience of parents, families, and friends at the preschool-elementary Christmas program this past Thursday evening, I felt the holiday spirit all around me. Yes, it was inevitable that the children's singing and dancing would charm us! As I glanced across the auditorium, I could read the emotional landscape in the eyes and broad smiles of the audience. Wonder. Joy. Delight. Parents just glowing with pride! And how could one ever sit still through the entire performance? When the fifth graders were waltzing across the stage, I suspect everyone in the audience was also swaying 1, 2, 3...1, 2, 3..., just itching to get on stage and join the children. Congratulations to the entire audience on their participation in The Twelve Days of Christmas. All it took was one group's enthusiastic singing to inspire all 600+ of us. This was the second year we attempted this carol, and I think it's becoming a preschool-elementary tradition! Many thanks to music specialist Diane Koshi and choreographer Noelani Vitarelli for preparing the children. Just ask your children how much fun the practices were and how pleased they were with their performance.

We now turn the corner to an intensive week of preparations for end-of-semester evaluations for each student. As a review, I'm embedding part of a blog posted November 2009 to the website about the performance continua for kindergarten through fifth grade:

Continua covering a range of grade levels. We've come to learn, especially in our work in multiage classes, that student learning is best described as a range of behaviors that might overlap grade levels. A grade level designation is a means for organizing learners by age rather than ability. When we took a careful, critical look at the previous continua for reading and writing, every student beginning at the next grade always seemed to begin at a deficit rather than in a place of growing development. A grouping of grade levels better addressed developmental growth. There are significant differences between the two clusters, K-2 and grades 3-5, as well as expectations about what students should be able to do.

Writing Continuum. We have adapted the work of Vicki Spandel's Six-Trait Writing and Ruth Culham's Six-Trait Writing + 1, both nationally recognized experts in writing assessment and instruction, to create the writing continua. In our deliberations, which began two years ago and continued through the summer, we decided to offer two separate continua for kindergarten through second grade and another for grades three through five. Teachers are assessing your child's writing abilities by looking at pieces in terms of these writing traits: ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions. For kindergarten through second grade writing, teachers are also looking at presentation (the +1 aspect).

Reading Continuum. We have raised our expectations for student reading. Rather than limit "reading" to decoding and comprehension, we are looking at how students engage with the texts they read and whether they analyze and challenge what they read. The term "text" includes visual text. The reading continua is based on the reading research of Alan Luke and Peter Freebody, whose work incorporates and recognizes practices for helping students to become proficient, critical readers. Effective literacy practices allow learners to decode and encode language at an appropriate level of proficiency. Luke and Freebody call this "cracking the code." As "text participants," students should use their knowledge of the world, their vocabulary, and how language works to comprehend their reading. We want students to read for pleasure as well as for information and to apply what they've read. You'll see this noted on the continuum as "text user." Finally, we want students to form opinions about texts ("text analyst") and to be able to offer reasons for their stances.

Inquiry Continuum. Our work on this continuum is most significant to us because inquiry is the approach we use to develop curriculum (students' questions and curiosities) and to describe the learning process. In the past, inquiry was given short shrift because it was embedded in the writing and reading continua. Based on our careful observations of students and analyses of their written work and inquiry presentations, we have developed one performance continuum for kindergarten through fifth grade because growth in inquiry learning is much more subtle and is assessed in terms of degree of performance. (Posted November 2009)

Math Assessment. We continue to use the benchmark-driven assessment that is directly connected to the assessments used in the math program, Math Investigations. Student learning is deemed "meeting benchmark," "partially meeting benchmark," or "not meeting benchmark."

NEW:Music, Art, and Physical Education Continua. In addition to the reading, writing, and inquiry continua, the specialists developed continua for K-5 art, music, and physical education. Their work began in spring 2009, continued through this recent summer and the current semester. This was no easy task, as it required the teachers to identify developmental behaviors and conceptual understanding for various areas of learning in music, art, and physical education across a K-5 span. Students' learning in these classes will be assessed using the performance continua, which place each child along a continuum of performance from "beginning" to "established." These continua resemble the continua for reading, writing, and inquiry.

Parents, we do not evaluate our students' learning in character education, which focuses on emotional development. Unlike an academic skill, the interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences are an undercurrent in all aspects of a child's development. Instead, we address these important intelligences in each content continua under "attitude." Character development, which encompasses values education and relationship- and community-building, is an important outcome of our educational program.

Preschool Assessment. Briefly, children's development in the preschool is reported in Learning Stories. These detailed narratives highlight extraordinary learning in ordinary moments. Drawing from educational research and theory, the teachers listen to, observe, analyze, and interpret children's dialogue, conversations, actions, and problem-solving strategies. A determination is made regarding the ability of each child to demonstrate certain learning dispositions, such as an ability to persevere and work beyond expectations or an ability to take risks.

Electronic posting. All K-5 performance continua will be emailed to each family prior to conferences on December 13 and 14. Teachers will email conference summaries by December 20.

Expect an intranet posting about an explanation about the K-5 continua for all parents who are new to MPI elementary.

It will be a very busy two weeks for the faculty and students, even while Christmas melodies and visions of sugarplums dance in our heads.

For our children,

Edna L. Hussey