Rewriting the Curriculum on Snow Days

My school has had many more snow days this year than last year...we're already up to 4...and more are predicted. My colleague and I took advantage of the recent ones, since teachers are still required to work, and re-vamped our Algebra One curriculum and assessment scheme.

After a discussion prompted by Sean's blogpost about failure, and a discussion about homework and assessments in general, I gave her a list of required reading (basically, things I have read over the past year to give her the same background knowledge that I have coming into any conversation about these topics). After she read through the blogs (and did some exploring on her own, too, I think), we sat down and talked about Standards Based Grading. I also brought to the table these Algebra 1 concept lists (courtesy of Dan Greene).

By the end of two days, we decided to implement the concept/skill based assessment program, while still continuing cumulative testing. We will call the cumulative tests "Retention Tests," because we recognize that our students struggle with retention and with the preparation/focus needed for longer tests (which they must endure in May, so we might as well give them practice sitting for longer tests). Our rationale for wanting to add the skill/concept tests is threefold: 1) We will be more aware of what the students can and cannot do at any given time. 2) We will have numerical data for IEP time (ex. Suzy Q has achieved the basic level requirement of 80% of the concepts covered so far in Algebra 1. Furthermore, she has achieved mastery of the high school content for 10% of the concepts covered this year. Her areas of weakness lie in the 10% she has not yet reached mastery...).  3) Student grades will reflect their achievement and ability: old weaknesses can be recognized and remediated, and parents will be able to see their child's areas of strength and weakness.

My colleague is an over-achiever. She is implementing this strategy in not only Algebra 1 (which we both teach), but in Geometry, 7th grade and 8th grade math as well. She will be creating skills lists, assessments, and keeping track of it all for 4 classes! I'm just working on one. *smile*  Here's what we have come up with for a skills list (note: concepts #1 - 44 were covered in the first semester of the course..we are starting at "systems of equations", student tracking graph (thanks to dy/dan reader Jacob Morrill for the template), and blank concept list for student record keeping. Here, too, is the letter that we're planning to send home to parents introducing the new system.

We decided on a "basic" and "mastery" level for each skill. The "basic" level shows a general idea of what they are expected to know. If the student can get to that level on each skill, they will earn a B in the course and will have the equivalent to a pre-algebraic understanding of the material. (Not bad, considering where they start the year...). If a student attains the mastery level, it shows that they are truly mastering the high school content and standards. As I mentioned before, our students are well aware that they are below grade level in reading/writing. This system will show them the areas where they truly are at grade level in math, and the areas they need to work on.

I'll keep you posted on how it goes, but I'm really excited to see where it's headed! I think the thing I'm most excited about is for students to take more ownership of their learning. I can't wait to see them with the tracking graphs, looking at where they are and wanting to improve. I think it will give them a realistic view of their strengths and needs in Algebra class, and a more obvious starting point for studying/remediation.
** Footnote: Special shout-outs to Kate, Sam, Dan Meyer, Dan Greene, Sean, and Riley for your awesome way of inviting us in on your process. Thanks for being great teachers and sharing what works with the rest of the world! Thanks to many, many other math teacher bloggers out there, too, and to my twitter pals for answering my questions.