Recently at YES Prep, all teachers from across the district got together for “Reading Day.” Every teacher for a particular course sat down in a room together, made sure they all agreed on how to apply the scoring rubrics consistently for all the free response questions on the most recent common assessment, and then scored each other’s student exams. The point of our ‘Reading Days’ is to make sure we all agree on where ‘the bar’ is for excellence in that course and to have a fair way to score student work. As the day was ready to begin, it hit me what a powerful event this is for kids. It’s not often that we have time to stop, look around, and take measure of where was are, but when we do, the view is pretty remarkable.
In 2006, when I started in the role of Dean of Instruction for the Southeast campus, I got my first glimpse into our organization’s steps towards creating a district curriculum. We had just opened our 4thcampus and our CAO, Jennifer Hines, quickly realized how out of sync we all were and started leading the charge for us all to get on the same page. At the time, the four campuses basically taught the district standards in whatever way they chose and no one was aligned to each other. And most of us teachers were pretty okay with doing whatever we wanted – we’d all had a lot of success with our students and we couldn’t help but feel a little competitive towards the new campuses opening up, even though they were technically our colleagues. But the looming question was, “What does it mean to get a YES education?” It was continually clear that all the schools needed to have the same answer in order to produce students who were all equally ready for college and beyond.
Our first few attempts at horizontal and vertical alignment across the schools were basically failures. Everyone had their own opinions. The school directors all still taught at that time and so were very tied to what they did in their own classrooms and no one, teachers and leaders alike, seemed particularly willing to budge.
There were many dissenters among us, myself included, who thought we couldn’t do it and that we should either give up and be okay with it or pay for a canned curriculum or some other quick fix. Fortunately, Jenn Hines wouldn’t have it and we didn’t have the cash for anything other than a homegrown approach anyway, so forward we went whether we liked it or not.
The team that stands out in my mind from that time is 6thgrade science. In 2006, one school had an integrated math and science class, one had an earth science focus, another had a life science focus, and the fourth was trying to figure out which school to follow. Seven years of kicking and screaming later, all the science courses have blind common assessments. We also have several courses where the resulting data reliably predicts a student's AP score years in advance. That’s pretty astounding. And it means real growth and college-ready skills for kids.
As much as those of us inside the organization still grumble about the glitches and complications that inevitably come up, we’ve come a long way and done something pretty amazing. I take pride in the fact that the new teachers coming in have the luxury of taking this sort of collaboration and commitment for granted, as if there wasn’t any other way of doing things. And it’s also fun to remember the days of reinventing the wheel and throw out a few, ‘back in the day’ stories along the way.