Joining Test Scores, Quality, and Character at DAA

Recently, I attended the Expeditionary Learning National Conference in Boston. What always resonates with me about Expeditionary Learning is that they take what I believe about kids and the way they learn best and say it in a way that really makes sense.  Across the board, Expeditionary Learning really captures my beliefs about what is best in education for kids, and I am so eager to work towards implementing the model with fidelity at DAA and becoming a credentialed EL school.  

While at the conference, I had the experience again, of thinking, "Yes! This makes so much sense!" when I attended a session with Ron Berger where he discussed his recent blog post about EL's Dimensions of Student Achievement (Mastery of Knowledge and Skills, Character, and High Quality Student Work). Oftentimes, we hear people in schools complain that they are sacrificing authentic educational experiences in order to "teach to the test." This way of thinking implies that as educators we have to choose between our students doing well on tests and really learning.  Often this does seem to happen in typically under-resourced schools. These three dimensions of student achievement may not seem like anything new, but it really is groundbreaking thinking in a society where schools are solely judged on test scores. 

At DAA, we are preparing our students to compete with students in schools everywhere, to lead their own learning, and to achieve their hopes and dreams.  In order to be able to do that, our students need to be able to do well on tests as a baseline, but they also need to embark on rigorous, authentic, and engaging learning experiences where they do work they are invested in and for which they are proud. They also need to have the Habits of Character to make that happen. 

In our first year, our test scores were strong. We started some great work with our students related to our Habits of Character.  We designed some pretty good expeditions!  BUT, this year, we have been committed to making each of these components even stronger.  We've looked at low points in our testing and made plans to address them through adding more high quality math benchmarks and focusing our professional development for teachers on writing instruction.  We've created rubrics for each of our Habits of Character so our students can monitor their own progress towards displaying them in their daily lives AND we've added a new Habit of Character: INTEGRITY. We've reflected on our Expeditions from last year and made adjustments to make sure that our products are authentic and engaging for our students and we've worked to integrate our expedition content throughout the day so we are deeply engaging our students in the Common Core standards with rigor. 

At DAA, we will not sacrifice test scores, or high quality work, or our focus on character because our students are capable of achieving across all three dimensions, and they deserve a school that will help them get ready for anything they want to do in life! Thank you EL, for providing a strong vision and framework as a guide for the work we are doing here in Detroit.