Windsor Locks works toward new graduation requirements for Class of 2020

By Calla Vassilopoulos - Staff Writer
Windsor Locks - posted Thu., Aug. 8, 2013
Windsor Locks - which said goodbye to the Class of 2013 last June - is now working on new standards to enact for the Class of 2020. File photo by Cathi Sasportas.
Windsor Locks - which said goodbye to the Class of 2013 last June - is now working on new standards to enact for the Class of 2020. File photo by Cathi Sasportas.

Grade schools statewide are one academic year away from being required to implement Common Core State Standards in the curriculum and evaluations for teachers and students. However, Windsor Locks public schools decided to take it one step further and get ahead, according to Superintendent of Schools Wayne Sweeney.

“We have been building a culture, and I think we have a critical mass of people that really do believe learning needs to be constant and time needs to be variable,” said Sweeney.

The idea behind the district’s goal is to produce a learning environment which grows with each student individually, rather than keeping students at levels determined by age. That goal is also the basis of the district's latest initiative, a competency-driven graduation program. Sweeney said the program will measure a student’s competency, rather than “seat time.”

The district will have a complete program in place for the Class of 2020. That class, now entering sixth grade, will graduate with higher standards than a typical senior class, according to Sweeney. He noted the average graduate in the U.S. needs 24 credits and a D average to receive a diploma. He believed the current standard does not demonstrate competent skill level.

“In Windsor Locks, our kids will be competent in relationship to earning Carnegie units and earning a diploma,” said Sweeney. “They will have to demonstrate their understanding at a level of mastery or above - A or B, if you will.”

Though measuring competency has its challenges, the district began to create a “road map” at the Innovation Summit held in July, according to Interim Assistant Superintendent Dr. Susie Bell. The summit included administration, teachers, members of the League of Innovative Schools - of which Windsor Locks is now a member - and members of the Connecticut Department of Education.

In addition to the district’s latest initiative, Windsor Locks has also begun to transition over to the Common Core State Standards by implementing small adjustments each year. This school year will mark the fourth year the district has used Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), an online assessment test. The test measures the students’ skill level at the beginning of each academic year, and tracks their progress every 90 days. MAP is an adaptable assessment, which means the test not only starts where students left off, but the computer adjusts to students’ responses.

“It really is an amazing tool,” said Bell. “It allows us to figure out where students are having success and where they might be having some struggles.”

The test is used to measure reading, language arts and mathematics. As of now, it supplements the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT) and Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT), both state-mandated standardized tests.

Sweeney said that in the 2014-15 academic year, Smarter Balanced - an online assessment similar to MAP - will replace the CAPT and CMT.

Aside from being the interim assistant superintendent, Bell is also the director of curriculum, instruction and assessment. In recent years, she and other district staff members have rewritten the language arts and mathematics curriculum to align them with the CCSS. This year will be the second year of the new curriculum.

In terms of language arts, lesson plans are now being focused on broadening students’ understanding of non-fiction and teaching them to navigate through different types of non-fiction literature. Bell believes most of the material adults read fall into this category. She gave the example of a political campaign, which requires a certain level of understanding to make an informed decision.

“We need to make sure our graduates leave here as caring citizens, knowledgeable citizens, creative thinkers and problem solvers,” said Bell. “That's what we need in the world.”

As for math, the new curriculum promotes problem solving. In other words, students are encouraged to think of multiple ways to solve a problem, rather than being taught a specific formula. While Bell said this is a change from what teachers and students were used to, it teaches students to think differently.

In order to help faculty adjust, three years ago the district created “professional learning communities.” The Monday meetings are designed to give teachers the opportunity to share their students’ success, talk about what is or is not working in the classroom, and work with each other to improve the learning experience through lesson planning, according to Sweeney.

“That is the cornerstone of what we are trying to do, to improve our students’ learning experience so that they achieve at levels never before imagined,” said Bell.

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