Mercer Island elementary schools work to create unified system to monitor progress and measure achievement of students

In moving toward a more personalized learning environment, the Mercer Island School District elementary schools are working toward unifying and solidifying their practices for measuring student achievement.

During a review of the three schools’ School Improvement Plans with the School Board last week, the principals, Fred Rundle, Nancy Loorem and Rich Mellish, discussed what they are doing to make that goal a reality.

“We are looking for consistency across classrooms and grade levels,” said Loorem. During years past, the grading techniques have often varied between teachers, who would teach using the state standards, but there was no unification or way to know if a grade in one class was comparable to the same grade in another class.

The district and the various teachers are still working on developing measurements topics, based on the state’s Essential Academic Learning Requirements (EALR), and the state Grade Level Expectations or performance objectives.

The EALRs are broken down into four levels, with a level 4 showing mastery of the topic, while level 3 is satisfactory.

The district developed the measurements for math while implementing the new Math Expression curriculum, while writing, reading and communication measurements were developed during the current school year for implementation next year.

A goal of the district is to help both parents and teachers understand what the various EALR levels mean and to keep those definitions consistent across the board. One thing is for sure: the district’s standards at the elementary level are higher than the state’s requirements and other districts in the area.

“We know our standards at the elementary level are higher than those districts around us,” said Gary Plano, the district’s superintendent.

“One of the key things, now, that we’re developing is that our teachers need to find ways to deliver prompts that show a level 4 thought process,” said Mellish, the principal at West Mercer. In making that goal a reality, the district must also determine the best way to deal with students who are beyond the current grade level. Unlike in the past, when grade level work is where a student had to stay, the district is working to make it possible for teachers to be able to provide work beyond the current grade level, if a student needs it.

“Another question we’re wrestling with is what to do with children who exhibit beyond grade level abilities,” said Plano. He said the district is knocking down the idea that students in a specific grade can only do that grade level’s work.

“It’s an important shift in our thinking to do that,” said Plano on moving toward encouraging students to learn perhaps beyond their current grade.

One challenge the principals identified is simply the amount of time it takes to go from a thought process to making these ideas and plans a reality.

“You are absolutely right — we have minimal time with our staff, but I think we’re finding ways to make it work,” said Rundle, the principal at Lakeridge, in response to board member Adair Dingle’s question about how they have the time to make the process happen.

“We have really enjoyed that [working together],” said Loorem, principal at Island Park. “It enables us to move the whole system together.”

One area where this has proven successful is the district’s new teacher evaluation process, which specifically includes points to evaluate how differentiated learning is being used.

“The new teachers’ evaluation correlates very nicely with what we’re working toward,” said Loorem.

However, the principals said teachers are somewhat worried that the district’s vision and plans will get wiped away in several years with something new.

“What they want to know is these things won’t get swept aside,” said Mellish. “They are excited about it, but also a little timid.” The board and Plano assured the principals that there were no plans to change the district’s ideas or direction on this matter.

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