The most powerful strategy school systems have to improve teacher effectiveness and increase student achievement is professional development. Over the past few years, several large-scale studies have provided compelling evidence on the critical components of effective professional development.
That’s why Hawthorn has increased its teacher learning time. Most recently it added early release days to its calendar. This allows teachers in the same grades across the district to meet and strategize on finding proven methods to help children learn.
It also ensures that teachers are on the same teaching page across the district when it comes to subjects they are teaching and tests they are giving students.
The most powerful strategy school systems have to improve teacher effectiveness and increase student achievement is professional development. Over the past few years, several large-scale studies have provided compelling evidence on the critical components of effective professional development. Key elements address collective responsibility, time and support, use of data, importance of collaboration, intensive classroom-based support, and access to external expertise (Hirsh, 2012).
In order to deliver rigorous and relevant learning for all students, our teachers are engaging in extensive job-embedded professional development. Teachers and administrators are meeting during planning time, during early release days and during teacher institute days to collectively engage in collective inquiry as it relates to lesson design and to develop common assessments across grade levels that will not only test students basic learning skills but also their knowledge of critical thinking, communication, evaluation, synthesizing, and collaboration.
“Our goal at Hawthorn School District 73 is to teach students how to use the information they obtain from their many research resources,” Dr. Lisa Leali, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction.
No longer are students expected to memorize states and capitals. Instead it’s essential that students learn how this nation is organized, to make connections and differentiations between the United States and other countries, to compare and contrast cultures and political views, Dr. Leali said. As teachers develop tests, they will use a rubrics grading system that may include evaluating students on public speaking skills, teamwork, understanding of a subject matter, and how the information is applied to present day problems or situations.
Hawthorn’s redesign of assessments began under the old Illinois learning standards when educators nationally realized there was too much information packed into a single year and students weren’t being given a deep understanding of material. Following the new Illinois learning standards, learning is more about teaching fewer concepts and providing a deeper understanding of those concepts, Dr. Leali said.
As part of the district’s professional development cycle, teachers are now meeting during planning time, during early release days and during teacher institute days when students are not in class to develop common assessments across grade levels that will test students knowledge of these deeper thinking skills.
“Teams of teachers are developing assessments for each unit that will demonstrate students’ knowledge of the material. Yes, these tests will include multiple choice questions and true/false questions, but they are really being designed to also show how a child follows an experiment or understands how a novel they are reading applies to their own lives. One assessment like PARCC or MAP shouldn’t define a child’s overall academic achievements,” she said.
Dr. Leali added, “Most of our students attend Vernon Hills High School, which is ranked as one of the top 20 best high schools in the state. We know our students are excelling at higher-levels of learning. By staying on top of our state’s learning standards, we will ensure our students continue succeed in high school, college and in their future careers.”