How to use alternative assessments in the classroom

Did you know that a 5th grade teacher is expected to guide students to mastery of 200 standards each year? Given a typical school year of 180 days, that’s 1.1 standards a day! Of course, standards don’t exactly work like that. You can certainly teach more than one standard a day, but that doesn’t give you time to explore them, unpack them, and revisit them, which is where learning and mastery actually happen. That’s a lot of content to cover, and not much time to do it in.

But this is only the beginning. Not all standards can be treated equally. Some have limited application and require lower levels of critical thinking; others are foundational to future learning and broadly applicable. So, how do we even begin to tackle this mess? How can teachers determine their power standards and assess student mastery in a way that’s both fun and effective?

One way to begin is by utilizing a scoring system to single out the standards that align to the chief priorities in your classroom. Consider implementing the following categories and grading them on a scale of 1–5: …Read More

Is now a good time for a reset?

At this time of year, I hear a common refrain from school leaders I know: 1) This work is challenging, 2) We have a plan for student success, and yet 3) There is a lot more we need in order to deliver on our promise of a high-quality, equitable education for every student. These leaders launched the year with an inspiring vision for creating vibrant schools where all students are engaged in meaningful learning, feel loved, and want to come to school each day. There may have been times where this vision came close to reality.

As we head into the middle of the year, however, gaps often emerge. Student culture may become strained, faculty and staff may feel tired and frustrated, lessons aren’t as strong as they had hoped, and/or the highest needs students aren’t getting the support they need. Which raises the question: What do I do right now? 

In my role as the Vice President of Innovation and Impact at Relay Graduate School of Education, the best part of my job is the opportunity to find, study, and share what is working in schools across our country. One of the moves that we see our most effective leaders do at this moment of the year is lead a strategic reset on a key area of the school that – if improved – will have a significant positive impact on student learning and experience right now.  …Read More

How to provide effective and engaging virtual therapy for kids

As was the case for so many other therapists working with children and families, March 2020 felt overwhelming in our center for child and family therapy. From seeing clients in-person all day in our client-centered, carefully designed therapy rooms equipped with all the therapeutic tools that a child therapist might need to engage a child in the hard work of therapy, we scrambled to figure out a way to transfer our clinical tools to the virtual realm. The transition from using toys, games, animal assisted therapy, art, music, movement, and parent-child attunement enhancing interventions to connecting through a digital screen seemed at times to be an impossible mission.

The transition was especially challenging for our very young clients and those who appeared to have significant struggles with the adjustment to virtual education. Even after weeks of creating and identifying multiple virtual tools that enabled us to engage most of our clients in expressive ways to process their experiences and share their internal worlds with us, we consistently received skeptical messages from parents who were certain that their child would not be able to effectively use a virtual platform for their therapy work.

We were convinced that we would be eager to return to our carefully designed, in-person therapy rooms as soon as we possibly could safely do so. Little did we know that we would not only find the virtual therapeutic tools to be highly effective, even in some of our most challenging and complex cases, but we would also discover that there are many unexpected and valuable therapeutic benefits that come with this virtual approach to providing child and family mental health therapy services. …Read More

Does 4 equal 5? Research on impacts of 4-day school weeks

Four-day weeks are becoming more common in school districts, particularly in rural areas of the U.S. Many districts are finding students and families like the shorter school weeks. In fact, in a survey of schools with four-day week policies, 85 percent of parents and 95 percent of students said they would choose to remain on the schedule rather than switch back to a five-day week. While these shorter weeks are popular with stakeholders, might there be unintended consequences of four-day school weeks? Are there certain ways to implement the schedule that lead to better outcomes for students?

Most of what is known about these questions has come from research conducted in the last five years. My colleagues and I have studied the four-day week using quantitative and qualitative data from state departments of education, school districts, and the NWEA MAP Growth research database. These projects and other recent research on four-day weeks have shed some light on questions about the implementation and outcomes of four-day school weeks. The research analyzes qualitative and quantitative data to compare students’ experiences and outcomes on four-day and five-day school weeks. We find that there are both benefits and drawbacks to the shorter school week, and these tradeoffs can vary based on the characteristics of the school district and how they implement the four-day week in practice.

Benefits: What Supporters of the Four-Day School Week Are Saying…Read More

5 ways virtual tutoring reinforces our after-school program

We’ve been working to reinforce and reinvigorate our after-school program with the goal of reaching more students who need it. Staffing shortages and not enough hours in the day have made it difficult for us to achieve this goal, but when we started using the FEV Tutor live, 1:1 virtual tutoring platform we realized that we had discovered the missing piece of our puzzle.

At the time, we were really ramping up our summer program and trying to create as much programming as possible for it beforehand. One of the sites integrated the virtual tutoring into its program for four weeks and we received good feedback from the staff, teachers, and students.

We took those results and ran with them, rolling the online tutoring platform out across all 21 of our school sites with a goal of reaching about 2,500 students in grades 3-8. We offer the tutoring in 45-minute, dedicated blocks of time and alternate between math and reading.…Read More

Virtual school nurses can play a pivotal role in schools

Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes requires extremely careful management.  The process of counting carbs, monitoring blood sugar, and injecting insulin throughout the day can be complex and confusing.  As difficult as this is for adults, it can be exponentially harder for children – especially during the school day.

While the need is there – a recent CDC report details how both Type I and Type II diabetes are on the rise in youth populations – not every school has access to a qualified nurse on premises to assist children with their routine diabetes care.  In fact, only 39 percent of schools in the US employ a full-time school nurse and just 35 percent employ a part-time school nurse.  In rural areas, or communities struggling with healthcare staffing shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic, those numbers can be much lower.

As school districts search for a viable solution to this worrying gap in care for young students, they can find an opportunity in telemedicine.…Read More

5 ways tech helps create calmer learning environments

When I started as a school counselor more than 15 years ago, technology in the classroom looked much different than it does today. Only a handful of students had their own personal device and the concept of one-to-one models, meaning every student is given a school-issued laptop or tablet, had not yet taken hold. At that time, students were accessing the internet or using digital tools sparingly throughout the school day, and typically only in tech-focused classes. Today, most teens have access to a smartphone and more than 80 percent of K-12 students use a school-issued device as part of their learning. Students are clearly more connected than ever, both inside and outside of the classroom.

This increased access to technology in school has had both positive and negative impacts on students. For some, the internet has proven to be an incredibly engaging and useful learning tool, while for others, the constant stream of information can be overwhelming. Because of this, it is important for educators to help students use technology in a purposeful way that supports learning.

While it might seem counterintuitive, technology and certain digital tools can actually help provide students with a sense of calm while enhancing in-the-moment thinking.…Read More

Prioritizing teacher well-being can help schools retain talent

As a school administrator, you’re faced with a range of challenges every day. One of the most common at the moment is mitigating the negative impacts of teacher shortages. After all, without a consistent and functional faculty, the quality of students’ education is likely to suffer.

Therefore, it’s important to examine the elements that affect teacher retention. Some of the key influencers here tend to be those related to educators’ wellness. Teachers often report experiencing extremely stressful conditions–not to mention that various pressures of their careers often see them on the road to burnout.

It’s no wonder, then, that establishing methods to prioritize teacher well-being can help your school retain talent. Let’s take a closer look at some key areas of focus in this regard.…Read More

How to be proactive in your cybersecurity strategy

Keeping K-12 schools safe from cyberattacks has become a growing concern for educational institutions, especially as these attacks increase in sophistication and frequency nationwide. This past September, a school district in Detroit was hit with a cyberattack that closed its schools for two days. The Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school district in the country, was also subject to an attack over Labor Day weekend, which shut off access to email and crippled the district’s website and critical systems.

These attacks have been a wake-up call to school districts about the risk of cybercrimes and the impacts they can have on operations. But why are cybercriminals drawn to them?

Why Schools Have Increasingly Become the Target for Cybercrime…Read More

Teaching ‘stranger danger’ should extend to the virtual world

In recent days, Ukrainian officials have expressed urgent concern that “Russia is planning to launch massive cyberattacks on critical infrastructure.” Unfortunately, this is just the latest in a dizzying series of cybersecurity threats and incidences that have plagued the global community for what seems like forever. Every day our country is fighting a seemingly invisible war against cybercriminals, and our students—the most vulnerable among us—are suffering the most.

According to the FBI’s 2021 Internet Crime Report, more than 14,000 victims of cybercrime that year were under the age of 20, with losses totaling $100 million. Of these victims, about six children per day faced online exploitation or abuse. And these are only the crimes that have been reported to the FBI—about 80% of cybercrime goes unreported every year.

That’s why it’s becoming increasingly more urgent for us to protect our students from the constant threats they face online. Teaching them how to navigate these threats must include four vital strategies:…Read More