August 28th, 2012

Update on Academic Challenge from CPS District Leaders

Below are answers to questions that CALA coordinator Freedom Baird submitted to the School Committee in mid-August, around the issue of advanced learning, especially as it will be addressed in the new Upper Schools. The answers were prepared by Deputy Superintendent Carolyn Turk, and reviewed by Superintendent Jeff Young.

Cambridge Public School District

TO: Superintendent Jeff Young
FROM: Carolyn L. Turk
RE: Questions from School Committee
DATE: August 24, 2012

1. Where are we in hiring the Academic Challenge Program Manager?

Interviews for the Academic Challenge and Enrichment Support Program Manager position were conducted during the week of August 6th. As a result of the interview process, two candidates were moved forward to a final reference check/interview stage. The reference check process was conducted during the week of August 13th. As of August 21st, a finalist has been identified and a job offer has been both extended and accepted. In order to give the individual an opportunity to properly notify her current district, the CPS formal announcement of the appointee is scheduled for Monday, August 27th.

 2. Was “flexible grouping” implemented in the Upper Schools’ classrooms? I.e., were students intentionally grouped into academic clusters within heterogeneous classrooms, so that students with advanced learning needs would have access to academic peers? What specific method was used to create the flexible groupings? What strategy will be used to update the groupings as the year progresses?

Homeroom lists for the 2012-2013 school year were created with a primary focus of balancing groups of students based on considerations such as feeder school, gender, and known special education plan needs. For year 2 (and beyond) of the Upper School Program, information that will become part of the routing spring preparation of homeroom lists for the following year will be expanded as teachers have ongoing opportunities to assess, analyze, and understand more about individual and collective student learning profiles. The structure for homerooms will not prevent implementation of flexible grouping during class time. Consistent with the Upper School Academic Challenge Policy, “flexible grouping will be employed as an instructional strategy based on student need.” Research tells us that effective instructional decisions are made based on both the identified needs of students and the particular characteristics of the content being taught. That said, the instructional strategies of flexible grouping and cluster grouping will be implemented at each Upper School Campus once the school year commences and teachers have their customary opportunity to meet and interact with and assess the students with whom they will be working during the 2012-2013 school year.

Glossary Reference Notes:

Cluster Grouping

Cluster grouping is a practice employed at some schools, usually beginning in middle or high school, where students of similar academic abilities are put in groups for classroom instruction. The inspiration behind cluster grouping is that students of similar abilities will learn better when collaborating with each other, rather than be forced to uncomfortable speed up or slow down to accommodate other students with different abilities.
[education.com]

Flexible Grouping

A method of splitting students into groups for class activities based on specific goals, interests, and learning needs, rather than grouping the students by ability.
[education.com]

3. Who will oversee the administration of SAPs in the Upper Grades starting right now, until the Academic Challenge Program Manager is hired, and is on site, and is up-to-speed? Who, especially, will insure that students without vocal parents will receive SAPs, if they need them, starting at the beginning of the school year?

The Academic Challenge and Enrichment Support Program Manager has been hired.

4. Have teachers, coaches, and school leaders been updated on SAPs and flexible grouping? When, and by whom?

Heads of Upper School, teachers, coaches and the Academic Challenge and Enrichment Support Program Manager will collaborate throughout the school year to support the successful district implementation of the Subject Acceleration Protocol tool/process. The word process is an important factor here. The Subject Acceleration Protocol document is a tool used to facilitate a learning assessment and corresponding curriculum design for an individual student — it is not to a program or meant to be a substitute for a program.

Flexible grouping is not a new concept in the Cambridge Public Schools. Teachers of grades JK-12 routinely group and regroup students in a variety of ways throughout the school day as a means to deliver instruction that responds to students’ readiness, interests, and learning profiles. In Cambridge, the term flexible grouping continues to be used in concert with the term differentiated instruction. During the last two school years, district sponsored professional development on the targeted topic of differentiated instruction has reinforced with our teachers, coaches and school leaders the knowledge and understanding that flexible grouping is a key element of a successful differentiated classroom. As an outgrowth of these professional development experiences, during the recent planning, designing, and writing of the new Upper School units of study, teacher teams built lessons of support and challenge into the overall structure of the curriculum design. Professional development in this area is ongoing and will continue to be embedded in the work of our teachers in the upcoming school year.

The Subject Acceleration Protocol was first introduced to the Cambridge Public Schools in school year 2010-2011. During the 2011-2012 school year [requests for] use of the SAP became more formalized. Teacher representatives, coaches, coordinators, and school/district leaders all played a role in the development and subsequent revisions to the CPS/SAP. To support the implementation of the recently adopted Academic Challenge Policy, information updates/supports designed for instructional staff, students, and families will made available under the coordination of the Academic Challenge and Enrichment Support Program Manager.

 

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