By Shauna Hobbs, Director of Teaching and Learning at Graded, The American School of Sao Paulo
“By raising standards for everyone,” explains Marc Morial, President of the National Urban League, schools “you can help bridge the education achievement gap and create a new reality in which all students are adequately prepared to excel regardless of family income, ethnicity or where they live.”
As the Director of Teaching and Learning at Graded, The American School of Sao Paulo, where instruction is predominantly in English, approximately fifty percent of the student population is Brazilian, and the majority of the curriculum being taught is US-based, ensuring that we address skills required by a US education system as well as the local requirements can be challenging.
This became Graded’s teaching and learning problem of practice, how do we ensure students who are exposed to multiple sets of standards in two languages have an academic experience that is consistent, complimentary to their learning, and builds upon prior learning?
Developing a Consistent Schoolwide Curriculum
This problem of practice was highlighted during our strategic planning process. Two of our significant initiatives were developing a guaranteed viable curriculum that emphasized quality assessments and consistency in PK-12 structures and expectations. Thus, providing a seamless transition between our lower school, middle school, and high school as well as our Portuguese and English curricula.
To this end, we began unpacking standards, creating learning targets, and developing a PK-12 vertical alignment with a focus on quality formative and summative assessments. Our work centered around identifying and prioritizing the most important standards, power standards, by utilizing the three criteria: readiness, leverage and the student in your classroom as defined by Larry Ainsworth. The goal was to go deeper and narrow the number of standards taught in all languages and content areas.
Finding Alignment Between AERO and Brazilian National Standards
With the release of new Brazilian National Standards, Base Nacional Comum Curricular (BNCC), it was an opportune time to begin the crosswalk conversation. The discussion centered on the experience of the local student whose instructional day was primarily in English with only a small portion of the day in the heritage language. Individual courses and instruction across all content areas were strong, but it was evident that the experiences between the two curricula were varied and not systemically connected.
Recognizing that the foundations and methodology of both standards, AERO and the BNCC were aligned, we decided to create a crosswalk of our power standards focusing on correlating skills. Because the instruction is primarily in English, we began the process vertically aligning the AERO standards.
Once there was clarity on our K-12 expectations in English we started developing a vertical alignment across both curricula; the theory of action was, by emphasizing standards with common skills, outcomes, and mastery, we would provide a more rigorous, deeper experience for students regardless of the language of instruction.
Mapping Alignment in Curriculum
We use Atlas as our curriculum development platform. The standards tool helps us to identify power standards that have been crosswalked in both languages. This allows us to pull reports that provide us with a better picture of where we have gaps. This has also sparked the conversation of when one set of standards can support the other set of standards.
Time is always a factor in schools. Using Atlas as a tool enables us to highlight skills that may need more time and depth. In these cases, we can provide our students with an additional focus on the power standards.
Further, as we began the crosswalk with BNCC, it has enabled us to see and articulate when and why the two sets of standards may vary. Developing a common understanding of the various skills, regardless of whether the student is in Portuguese or in English, has started to develop the common student experience. The conversations between English and Portuguese teachers have become much richer and deeper.
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Bringing Alignment to Assessments and Next Steps
“By the same token, high-quality assessments are vital to ensure parents and teachers have accurate, actionable information to support their kids” (Collaborative for Student Success).
As we finalize our vertical cross-walk standards, we have also begun discussing common interim and/or benchmark assessments that are to assess the common skills and correlating standards in an effort to answer the question: how can we assess common skills and use the data from both languages to address student needs?
These results help to support the identification of bilingual students who may need cognitive supports in addition to language supports.
We are still a long way off from being complete, but this work with the standards, assessments, and Atlas has allowed us to address our problem of practice. It has started us down a road of providing a seamless experience for all students, grades PK-12 both vertically and across languages. It has also created some unintended positive consequences.
Shauna Hobbs has been the Director of Teaching and Learning at Graded, The American School of Sao Paulo, in Sao Paulo Brazil since 2016. Prior to this position, she served as Executive Director of Curriculum, Assessment & Instruction for Seattle Public Schools from 2013-2016. Previously, she led preschool and elementary principals and staff in their professional work as PK-5 Instructional Services Director for City Schools of Decatur, Georgia, from 2007 to 2010. Shauna also has served as a principal in Washington, Georgia and Tennessee. Shauna has an Ed.S. from Walden University and an M.I.T. and B.A. from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.