Learning, Teaching & Assessing for Student Success

Engaging Students in Their Own Learning

Project-based Learning [PBL].

These experiences involve students in meaningful inquiry that meet an educational objective (Larmer & Mergendoller, 2010), while Authentic Learning Experiences [ALE] is a very similar program (Newman, Bryk, & Nagaoka, 2001). Project-based learning starts with a motivating question, proceeds with inquiry and collaboration with curriculum materials, and culminates in student products. Authentic learning has many of the same facets, focused on the construction of knowledge that arises from deep inquiry and discourse around a relevant or real-world topic (Newman, Marks, & Gamoran, 1996). Using the core of learning sciences to develop LeTUS science’s PBL lessons, students showed significant learning gains (Krajcik & Blumenfeld, 2012). Both PBL and ALE increase student engagement and achievement by helping students answer deeper questions in the context of their learning and by allowing student voice and choice. As students conduct a deep inquiry into the content, these innovative ways of teaching encourage 21st Century skills, such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking and the use of technology. For more information on PBL, see the Buck Institute at http://www.bie.org/ or Place-based Learning at http://www.ruraledu.org/articles.php?id=2758. Examples include High Tech High or ACE Leadership High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Authentic Learning

In this instructional strategy, students delve deeply into content, explore relationships among concepts, and make connections to the real world. For more information and free resources, see http://k20alt.ou.edu, and the lesson and video example at http://k20alt.ou.edu/groups/sweeping-down-the-plains/. Also, Mayo Demonstration School in Tulsa and Howe Public Schools have had success with use of these interactive and authentic learning experiences for their students.

Expeditionary Learning

This involves students in relevant problem-solving challenges similar to PBL. An example is King Middle School in Portland, Maine. Learn more.

The aforementioned student-learning strategies are used to varying degrees in schools in Oklahoma, yet are not widespread. Teachers need professional development to implement these strategies as well as upgraded technology infrastructure in all schools. The research base on many of these practices is limited but growing, as is the advancement of technology.

Personalizing Learning

Partnership for Next Generation Learning

The Council of Chief State School Officers has partnered with the Stupski Foundation to create a system that supports personalized education to engage and motivate students, regardless of their circumstance and prepare them for life, meaningful work and citizenship. Learn more.

Personalized Learning Initiative

Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia mandate individualized learning plans for students to promote college and career readiness. For example, Rhode Island implemented an Individualized Learning Initiative to provide personalized mentoring and graduation plans for all secondary students. Learn more.

Philadelphia, Penn.

The Graduation Coach Campaign is an initiative of the mayor’s office through which adults in the community receive training to become mentors for students. Learn more.

Adams District 50

Adams County School District 50 in Colorado has committed to a system-wide vision for personalized learning. In 2008, the district moved to a competency-based reform model for the elementary and now serves students in all grades. Personalization occurs through goal setting, choice and voice with appropriate instruction as learners are supported in a differentiated learning environment integrating a blended services model to meet individual needs. Learn more.

Oklahoma Career Technology

The Career Technology System provides both Individual Career Plans and Career Academies. Career Plans are documents that show the course sequence a student will take as he or she pursues a Career Pathway and Career Major. Career Academies offered include pre-engineering and biomedical academies, biotechnology, information security, nanotechnology and other emerging technologies.

Preparing Students from Early Childhood through College and Career Readiness From Early Childhood

High-quality early childhood programs improve academic outcomes, reduce crime and delinquency, and enhance future employment success.

Scaffolding Early Learning (SEL)

This evidence-based early learning literacy program from McRel’s is aligned with current theory on early literacy development and positively impacts student readiness. SEL professional development improves student outcomes as described in the U.S. Department of Education’s Doing What Works Clearinghouse for Early Childhood Education. Learn more.


This effective state-funded, half-day preschool program requires each classroom have a lead teacher with a bachelor’s degree and that teachers receive ongoing professional development. A rigorous evaluation of the program provides feedback for continuous improvement (Karoly, 2013).

The Chicago Child-Parent Centers (CPCs)

This program establishes comprehensive educational support and family support to economically disadvantaged children and their parents, providing a school-based, stable learning environment during preschool, in which parents are active and consistent participants. Parental participation is required for this child-centered, individualized approach. Evaluation data showed that CPC preschoolers outperformed non-preschoolers, with the largest impact of the program on cognitive readiness at kindergarten school entry and showed a statistically significant impact on achievement in reading and math gains through grade six. For more information about this program and other successful preschool programs, click here.

With reduced state funding for education, the quality of Oklahoma’s preschool programs may suffer. In an effort to continue to provide transformational educational programs for our youngest students, we must be vigilant in adhering to the critical factors affecting successful, high-quality early childhood education. These factors include the following key elements: small class size; an adult-to-student ratio of one to 10 with a maximum of 20 children; well-trained, adequately compensated and qualified teachers; strong links to health and social services; adequate and appropriate supplies and materials; appropriate indoor and outdoor space; and the involvement of families (Barnett, 2011).

Through College and Career Readiness

Oklahoma students need the support of a strong, connected curriculum and the collaboration of higher education with common education to ensure that they are college, career and citizenship ready. New standards have been and are being adopted in Oklahoma, but implementation that results in students in each classroom receiving a high-quality education with complex literacy and numeracy strategies is limited thus far. Examples of schools that are preparing students for the world of college and career include those identified by U.S. News and World Reports and others.


With significant increases in its high school graduation rate, Tennessee efforts continue and include: design and implementation of policies to prevent students from dropping out of school; establishing an early warning data system; and working with districts to identify and implement best practices such as individualized graduation plans. The state utilizes the Achieving Graduation for All: A Governor’s Guide to Dropout Prevention and Recovery. Learn more.

U.S. News Top-ranked Schools

Annually, U.S. News ranks the nation’s and state’s top high schools based on serving of all of its students well, not just those who are college-bound; student performance on state proficiency standards; and how well the school prepares students for college (Sheehy, 2013). Three of the top four schools identified were public schools located in or near major cities. These schools provide academic challenges and opportunities to explore their interests and include, in order: School for the Talented and Gifted in Dallas Independent School District; BASIS Tucson, Arizona; Gwinnett School of Mathematics, a charter school in Lawrenceville, Georgia; and Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia. Learn more.

The Effective Learning Program (ELP)

Ballard High School in Louisville, Kentucky, is a two-year program to raise students’ internal locus of control. The program is designed to improve students’ skills in building relationships with peers and adults and increase graduation rates. ELP students are arranged in blocks for English, math and humanities taught by trained ELP teachers in small “team” atmosphere classes. The ELP students showed a higher graduation rate. For more information on this program and other proven or promising high school programs, click here.

High Schools That Work [HSTW]

HSTW is a nationally recognized school improvement initiative to help students make academic transitions into high school and into career/technology centers. HSTW is supported in Southern Regional Educational Board states like Oklahoma to improve student readiness for college and careers. Learn more.

The Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education

Oklahoma has a nationally recognized model that offers numerous opportunities for middle and high school students and adults needing specialized career training. They are a national leader in the development of Career Clusters. These career clusters group common occupations and training. Students can use the career clusters to organize their goals and identify career pathways. Learn more.

Integrating Technology

With the prevalence of technology, individualizing and differentiation of instruction is more easily facilitated. Online and blended learning experiences vary widely but include some level of online delivery of content or instruction with some student control over where or when they access the instruction. Although a recent meta-analysis of research found the results were mixed, it tended to indicate potentially favorable results in the use of blended and online learning (Nagel, 2009). Flipped classrooms are a form of blended learning in which students are provided online resources or videos to view before coming to class or as homework that then allows the teacher to provide more personalized guidance or experiences for students during class time. Flipped classrooms are being touted as transformative, yet little conclusive research has demonstrated this yet. Examples of transformative technology-integration practices include:

Cincinnati Public Schools Virtual High School

This virtual school brings students together during regular school hours, but students work primarily with online content while having face-to-face access to teachers. Two highly qualified teachers in each subject lab with two intervention specialists (for students with an Individual Education Plan), a reading specialist, a school social worker, a guidance counselor, a technology support person and a security staff provide support to the students when they attend the computer labs in two groups every day for three hours in the morning or afternoon.

The Commonwealth Connections Academy (CCA)

This K-11 Pennsylvania public school hosts a mostly online delivery system, yet provides a face-to-face component through a drop-in center where online students work with highly qualified teachers in person. The academy is mostly for struggling students. It also conducts events such as Craft Days and invites all students to attend with their teachers.

Virtual Schools (KYVS) and Kentucky Virtual High School (KYVS)

Through a common P-20 course management system (CMS) platform, local school districts across the state receive this blended learning opportunity. KYVS provides teacher access to a “course shell” for a year and includes professional development, technical support, a student help desk, and the KYVS online content and mentoring for the classroom teachers. Teachers enroll students in an online course to work both inside and outside the classroom, or they can use the CMS to bring online content into the classroom.

Henrico County, Virginia

Schools in this county teamed up with Apple and Dell to deploy a laptop to each secondary school students and staff to close the digital divide and to support a new paradigm for 21st Century teaching and learning. The schools contracted with a local service provider to offer low-cost internet access for students and teachers who did not have access and partnered with text and software publishers for resource materials. Each secondary school had its own technical trainer to support integration of the technology with ongoing staff development. Learn more: http://www.classroomconnections.k12.sd.us/information/training/Teaching_Learning_Initiative.pdf.

Technology can support differentiated student learning. Two technology initiatives that demonstrate how technology can change schools include:

NC 1:1 Learning Technology Initiative [NCLTI].

This project is a strategic plan to support North Carolina high schools to achieve the mission established by the NC State Board of Education: Every public school student will graduate from high school, globally competitive for work and postsecondary education and prepared for life in the 21st Century. NCLTI provided a wireless computing device for every student and teacher as well as technology infrastructure, policy, professional development, community engagement, funding and organization for a sustainable model. Learn more: https://www.fi.ncsu.edu/project/nc-11-learning-technology-initiative-planning/.

Michigan Freedom to Learn (FTL)

This statewide education program assists schools in creating high-performing, student-centered learning environments. The goals of the project are to enhance student learning and achievement in core academic subjects and 21st Century skills, improve access to technology and wireless connections, professional development for educators, empowering of parents, and support of innovative structural changes in schools. A comprehensive evaluation has gauged the impact of the program as successful. Learn more: http://guide2digitallearning.com/files/Michigan.pdf.

Although some of these strategies have been implemented in some schools across Oklahoma, no statewide support for professional development or technology integration and infrastructure is available to ensure their full implementation in all schools in Oklahoma.

Adopting a Coherent Curriculum

Standards differ from curriculum and instruction in that standards are an outcome, while curriculum sets the direction or purpose of learning and the instruction directs the delivery (McTighe & Wiggins, 2012). These authors propose that the goal of a curriculum is to develop thinkers who can apply what they learn to complex situations, thus becoming college and career ready.

Understanding by Design

This popular curriculum design framework from Wiggins and McTighe (2005) is a curricular planning and school reform approach, providing a set of curriculum design tools and design standards to produce a higher standard of achievement for students.

Curriculum 21

Curriculum 21 is a widely used curriculum strategy that encourages curriculum mapping strategies that support collaborative inquiry process among teachers centered on curriculum, instruction, and assessment (Jacobs & Cloud, 2010).

Assessing Learning with a Balanced Approach

Several national assessment consortia are developing assessment systems; most notable are those Common Core State Standards assessment partnerships, Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortia. Other consortia, such as National Center and State Collaborative Partnership and Dynamic Learning Maps Alternate Assessment Consortia, are developing assessments as well. Learn more.


Prior to the aforementioned consortia, most states had developed and administered their own assessments. The states showing the greatest increases in test scores over time along with a closing of achievement gaps were Massachusetts, New Jersey and Maryland (Anderson, 2011). Massachusetts has been reportedly taking a significant leadership role in the design and development of the PARCC Assessments.

Longitudinal Growth Data Systems

In Oklahoma, an Oklahoma State University researcher is collaborating with Western Heights Schools to implement a growth model assessment system that provides teachers, parents and students with timely data three times a year, tracking student growth as well as a variety of factors that can impact student learning. Learn more.

Formative Assessment for Students (FAST) SCASS

This project is a part of the Council of Chief State School Officers with the purpose of advancing formative assessment implementation in the states. FAST SCASS is developing resources to support the implementation of formative assessments in states.


The state partnered with the Council of Chief State School Officers to implement a comprehensive and balanced assessment system. State teams in the study used the text and workbook, Classroom Assessment for Student Learning (CASL), a DVD professional development package, as well as facilitator guides and internet support. For description and study results, click here.

Preparing Teachers and Supporting Induction

High-quality clinical preparation of teachers is a key to producing students’ success and is being recognized as such across the country. Examples of strong clinical preparation initiatives include:

Clinical rounds

Commonly known as the Rounds Project, this has significantly revamped the preparation of secondary history and social studies teachers based on increased authentic literacy. Moje and Bain (2011) developed cross-course and cross-semester coordination of curricula and activities with a spiraling program of study that allowed instructors in one course or field experience to refer to and build on lessons learned in another. The interns are placed in five different classrooms in five different school settings over two semesters in order to see a variety of contexts and practices. Learn more.

PDS NEXT Project

Arizona State University and the Arizona Board of Regents is among the 28 Teacher Quality Partnership grants, receiving the largest award of all USDE grantees to provide a statewide, school-university teacher education partnership that includes Arizona State’s College of Teacher Education and Leadership, its College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Vice President’s Office of Educational Partnerships, the Rodel Foundation, and 15 high-need urban and rural partner districts representing 230 schools with a goal to reform 25 historically struggling schools in the urban and rural partner districts. Contact: Scott Ridley, Project Director, ridley@asu.edu. Learn more.

Initial Professional Teacher Education Program

University of Colorado Denver has used an extensive professional development school (PDS) clinical model of preparation to prepare graduate and undergraduates for urban schools. Education teacher candidates experience four internships, exceeding the state’s required 800 hours of field experience, completing the licensure program in a 12- or 18-month format. Learn more.

Oklahoma examples. Several induction examples in Oklahoma stand out, including:

Norman Public Schools [NPS]

After participating in the Oklahoma Mentoring Network professional development institute sponsored by the Oklahoma Commission for Teacher Preparation, NPS has continued to train teacher mentors to work with beginning teachers. The University of Oklahoma’s Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education provides university mentors to their graduates to support this effort in their first year of teaching.

Urban Teacher Academy

The University of Central Oklahoma has partnered with Oklahoma City Public Schools to provide mentors for student teachers and first-year teachers who aspire to teach in their schools. Mentors and mentees received professional development and ongoing support through the student teaching and beginning year for the teachers. This cooperative has expanded to partner with the University of Oklahoma’s Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education.

Partnerships such as these could be expanded and supported across the state. In Oklahoma, universities could work individually to create coherence in their offerings and include more authentic literacy, such as occur in the reader’s and writer’s workshop models, as a cornerstone of teacher preparation. To support the implementation of strong clinical practices, there is a need to collaborate with schools to give systemic support for adjustments. This effort might be led by the Regents for Higher Education in conjunction with the Oklahoma State Department of Education and the Oklahoma Career Technology Department.

Improving Teacher Learning and Professional Development

Professional development schools

Demonstrate meaningful collaborative partnerships between P-12 and higher education. School-university partnerships provide multiple examples of high-quality teacher learning and professional development. These partnerships across the nation are shaping educator leadership and practice. Learn more.

Clinton Public Schools in Oklahoma

Technology can support differentiated student learning as well as teacher professional development. Clinton Schools implemented a 1:1 technology initiative several years ago. By 2013, they have more than 2,000 iPads in the district, with pre-k through 4th grades at a 2:1 iPad ratio and 5th through 12th grades at a 1:1 ratio. To support the implementation of technology integration, Clinton Public Schools’ Professional Learning Days allowed teachers to showcase innovation and best practices in the classroom. Teachers prepared short presentations to share innovation and best classroom practices, and teachers rotated through various sessions. Teachers overwhelmingly endorsed this approach to professional development. Learn more: email Beth Richert.

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