Recently, School Vault, a tool to support teacher and student academic success developed by Durango and Bayfield school districts, has been mentioned in articles and editorials.
The construction of this critical online tool has been a shared effort with teachers from both school districts in to better support federal mandates around student mastery of standards and the new evaluation of teachers.
Because of the required expenses to build this unique tool, the topic of School Vault has been a part of our many budget roundtable discussions that took place throughout the 2013-14 school year. In brief, it has been shared publicly that the build-out of such a tool assists our districts in the effort to manage the issue of “over assessment” within public schools. Our school districts, with some help from outside funders and in collaboration with teachers, have worked for the past 18 months in developing this tool with extensive teacher participation in the process.
In July 2012, we recognized the need to capture data about how well students are mastering the Colorado Academic Standards in a way that didn’t require an event – such as a separate test. For years, the district spent funds on a testing system called MAPS from the Northwest Education Alliance. Teachers overwhelmingly expressed concern about this practice when I began my work in Durango.
That particular assessment required three testing windows during the year and gave teachers little information about what students could actually do related to mastery of standards at their grade level. We stopped the administration of this test, recognizing that “testing for the sake of testing” was not improving student learning. Our quest for something better led us to the build-out of School Vault, which is well-supported by school and community members and is gaining attention at the state and national levels, as such a tool does not currently exist in public education.
The fact is, students are assessed each and every day in their classroom through good teaching practice. We teach a concept, and then we provide students an opportunity to show what they learned, whether that is through a worksheet, a project, an essay or a presentation.
In a typical classroom, how students do during that practice today drives what happens tomorrow. If students got it, teachers move on with curriculum. If they didn’t, teachers reteach. What we have lacked is a system to appropriately capture this everyday performance outside of a teacher’s personal recollection.
Like medical records that help drive our health care, wouldn’t it be helpful for teachers to be able to see patterns of success and adjust instruction throughout the school year to maximize all students’ learning as they progress through our prekindergarten to 12th-grade system?
After spending six months researching current tools like School Vault and finding none in existence, we set out to create a system that would support teachers in the important work of tracking student mastery. It is critical that students have an opportunity to experience a guaranteed and viable curriculum across all 11 schools within our district.
Doing so requires common expectations and measurements. We’ve engaged teachers across the district in defining what students should know and be able to do to achieve mastery in any given subject or standard. That work has allowed us to build a common bank of performance tasks that teachers can access and administer at any given moment to get an accurate check on their students’ progress.
School Vault allows easy access to these tasks in assessing learning on a regular basis. This doesn’t need to be through a test, but simple inclusion of these common tasks as students practice their skills within the usual classroom environment. It also provides teachers, parents and students a chance to track student progress on a real-time basis, providing our school districts with a great way to ensure the success of all students through common expectations and clear data available in real time.
As next school year begins, we will offer parents and members of our community a chance to see a demonstration of this tool and better understand what their students will experience. I continue to welcome dialogue with the community.
Dan Snowberger is the superintendent of the Durango School District. DSnowberger@durango.k12.co.us.