Perhaps because I was an engineering major, or maybe because I was a math and science teacher, I love a good formula.
I particularly like formulas to describe non-mathematical or scientific situations.
One of my favorites has always been:
Time + Support = Learning
From the worlds of PLC and RTI, this classic formula is a game changer. Historically and tragically, we have held the amount of time a student is provided to learn and the types of supports that students receive constant; predictably but tragically, in this situation, learning is wildly variable.
High levels of learning must be the constant for all students. For this to be a reality, we must proactively plan to make time and support variable, varied depending upon the evidence we gather related to student needs.
Among the most critical goals within my school district are increased rigor, differentiation, and expectations. These areas of focus have led us to develop another formula, to serve as a complement to Time + Support = Learning. The formula is:
More Access + More Rigor + More Supports = More Future Opportunities for All
Let’s dig a little more deeply into each term of this formula.
Access is what high expectations for all looks like. By access, we mean that there is an intentional, proactive commitment to all students being in college preparatory classes or above, whether the student has special needs, is an English learner, or has differences in readiness levels that will make scaffolds and differentiated supports a must. And by access, we don’t simply mean offering the chance for students to take these courses; we mean that we strongly encourage students to enroll.
Access is not enough. Increasing access into watered down classes (with lower rigor levels because we’re now letting those students in) defeats the purpose. But rigor doesn’t mean difficulty. Rigor means that students are struggling (and are given the opportunity to struggle) with tasks of cognitive complexity for which there is more than one solution and/or possible approach. Rigor doesn’t mean more assignments, or covering more content, or reading longer texts or solving math problems that have bigger numbers. Rigor means students are collaborating with one another, that they’re engaged in academic discourse, that they’re thinking critically, problem solving, and modeling and applying using the tools of the discipline. And therefore, rigor takes time. Rigor requires a focus on depth of mastery of prioritized content instead of a shallow coverage of all possible content.
Whether a student has special learning needs or not; whether a student has lower readiness for a given course or not; proactive and positive supports are necessary to ensure that all students master the prioritized concepts and skills of a course. By supports we mean differentiated instruction within Tier 1 and Tier 2 buffer supports (more time and alternative teaching and learning strategies when first, best instruction is not sufficient). By supports, we mean that learning will be the constant – the expectation – for all; we’ll adjust time and types of supports for this to be a reality.
More Future Opportunities for All
Our goal is not simply that 100% of students (ALL students) graduate from high school. We are committed to every student graduating from high school ready for college or a skilled career. Here’s the California scenario. To apply to University of California or California State University schools, students need to meet grade and course requirements in seven categories that are more demanding than most district’s graduation requirements. Our goal is that every student meets these entry requirements. Or, given that community college is the best option for a student, we want to make sure that our students who matriculate to community colleges can take transfer-eligible courses (courses that put them on the path to transferring to a four-year university) right away, without taking remedial courses. Presently, approximately two-fifths of students enrolling in community college must take remedial courses in mathematics and/or English before taking transfer eligible courses. Or, students do not choose to attend university of college, instead pursuing a skilled career. But we know that the demands of a skilled career are now equivalent to the demands of university, in terms of reading and numeracy skills, problem solving skills, and habits of mind. We want every single student to have options, possibilities, opportunities. One last word about all; students are in the all category if they are expected to live an independent adult life, without accommodated rent or modified jobs. This means that the vast majority of students with IEPs are in the all category.
I’m honored and lucky to work in one of the very best school districts in the country. Incredibly high levels of students graduate ready for college and/or a skilled career. And yet there are too many (and one would be too many) students who we do not yet serve well enough. More access, rigor, and supports can lead to all students leaving K-12 with unlimited possibilities, options, and opportunities. We can and must do even better than we already are.