Only 20% of students are currently on grade level for reading and math. Less than 10% of students are at expected levels on high-stakes tests. The staff at Ranum see a tremendous urgency to improve outcomes for students.
In the beginning, it was difficult for educators to think of a curriculum based on student learning needs. In the past, each teacher had a prescribed set of standards for each subject at each grade level. It didn’t matter whether or not a student mastered the content; teachers were expected to keep moving forward. Now the district was “guaranteeing” its curriculum in 10 separate areas: mathematics, literacy, science, social studies, technology, visual arts, performing arts, physical education, world languages, and personal/social. This means that when a student completes a performance level, it is “guaranteed” the student has met the standards for that level.
Teachers began adjusting their curriculum to meet student learning needs. They worked together with Marzano Research to create their own “Learner-centered, Competency Based System” known as CBS. Learning became highly individualized, which brought a new challenge. In collaboration with Marzano Research and the Center for Transforming Learning and Teaching, lead teachers worked arduously to arrange the multitude of learning targets into progressions of learning. These were bundled into proficiency scales. This effort has greatly reduced the burden of recording and reporting. Yet it has also brought forth new challenges of aligning district curricular resources with the proficiency scales.
Although they had made tremendous progress, Ranum Middle School educators were far from satisfied as they moved into the 2014-15 school year. They knew they needed to break down traditional grade-level barriers and allow students to shift to new groups as they progressed. They also knew they needed to address their own professional learning needs. In order to find the time for teachers to plan, collaborate, and learn, Ranum Middle School began working with TimeWise Schools to create a school design that allowed job-embedded professional learning. This effort was made possible through a larger Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation effort called Innovative Professional Development (iPD). Teachers now engage in about 18 full days of PD during the school year.
Since the changes implemented at Ranum happened in the fall of 2015, it is too early to look to the usual measures for success. However, in the day-to-day work with students, teachers and administrative staff are seeing significant change toward more effective, targeted instruction, which bodes well.