Evaluation teams find that district satisfied standards
By Marcy Stamper
The Methow Valley School District has received its formal authorization from the International Baccalaureate (IB) organization, joining just 15 public schools in the state.
Approval for the two programs — the primary-years programme for kindergarten through sixth grade, and the middle-years program for seventh through 10th grade — came just a few weeks apart, following visits by two IB teams in September. The teams observed classes and talked to teachers, staff, students and parents.
The teams sent detailed evaluations with lists of required standards in everything from school philosophy to leadership to curriculum. Evaluators can confirm that a school has met a standard, determine that the school is doing well enough but should work on certain things over the next five years, or find that a school has not adequately met standards, said Anne Andersen, the district’s director of teaching and learning and IB coordinator.
The teams found that both programs in the Methow had satisfied the standards. They included many commendations for work that exceeds expectations for a school just two-and-a-half years into the IB transition.
Before the teams granted their final decision on authorization, they wanted more information on three areas of concern, said Andersen: adequate Spanish-language instruction at the elementary school, an assurance that all seventh- and eighth-graders take at least one visual and one performing arts class, and more details about the school’s assessment policies and how they’re communicated to students and parents.
Andersen said she was able to satisfy the teams’ concerns by providing additional information. Elementary students get half an hour of Spanish instruction each week from Allison DeLong, who also teaches students who are learning English as a second language.
DeLong, who has been teaching Spanish at the elementary school for five years, doesn’t currently have her teaching certificate, but has an emergency certification as a K-12 substitute, which is considered a valid teacher certification, said Andersen. DeLong expects to complete her teaching certification next year and currently works in tandem with a classroom teacher, said Andersen.
The school district doesn’t receive funding for foreign-language instruction at the elementary level, and that part of DeLong’s position has been supported by the Public School Funding Alliance for the past five years.
“They wanted to see if the school district is committed to developing bilingual students and graduates,” said Tom Venable, the district’s superintendent. If the district doesn’t have funding to achieve that now, the IB organization wants to know that the district is willing to move in that direction, he said.
In general, the IB team wanted to see more intensive Spanish instruction. “Having all teachers integrate Spanish support at even a minimal level was an area of needed growth and would greatly strengthen the programme,” they said.
With regard to visual and performing arts, Andersen said she explained to the team that there are a handful of junior high students who haven’t taken both classes and that they will be scheduled for the classes next year.
The team that observed the primary-years program at the elementary school had particular praise for the way teachers have integrated different subjects, like English, math and science, into lessons in each grade. They also liked how those lessons connect from one grade to the next. Teachers used creativity and variety in their lessons, they said.
The assessment teams applauded the schools for their awareness of student needs and learning styles, and for making material accessible to all students, such as those reading at a lower level, gifted students, and students receiving special education services.
The IB teams also commended the schoolyard garden, Classroom in Bloom, and how it’s used to teach science and social studies. “This collaboration between school and community is an example of collaboration and action at its best,” they said.
The teams would like to see students apply what they’ve learned in a more tangible way, which could happen in class, at home or in the community. But they recognized several areas where these connections have been successful, including the recycling club and the “buddy bench” students created for the playground to honor a Liberty Bell High School graduate and firefighter who died in the Twisp River Fire.
The evaluators would like to see the schools integrate more global concepts in the curriculum and in students’ writing. Teachers should identify areas where they can study a host or home country or the culture of individual students, they said.
The team would also like to see the school libraries and multimedia resources become more integrated into overall education.
Looking for clearer grading
Teachers are doing a great job in the classrooms, but the evaluators wanted to be sure students and parents understand how students’ work is being assessed, said Andersen.
The teams liked the fact that teachers provide written and oral feedback to students, but they want to ensure that all teachers share a common understanding of how to evaluate daily class work and students’ grasp of an entire unit.
The school is working on making its assessments clearer to teachers, students and parents, said Andersen. For example, they plan to devote a professional day to developing consistency in grading, where teachers will evaluate student work to be sure they all score it the same way.
The assessment policy is now posted on the school’s website. The district also plans a series of parent meetings early next year to explain grading, said Andersen.
The IB framework
IB is not a specific curriculum, but a framework for teaching and learning. The framework helps teachers organize lesson plans around a central idea (for example, “How the World Works”) and show how that idea recurs in many different fields, such as math, science and music. The district started the IB process three years ago and officially applied for candidacy in spring 2015.
Since then, teachers have been developing lesson plans and integrating the IB framework into their classes. That includes identifying the central purpose of each unit and determining how they’ll know that students have learned key concepts.
“The biggest difference in a school culture is that all of a sudden, everyone’s on the same page, using the same language, and everyone is connected,” said Andersen.
For example, before IB, students in the same grade could have a very different experience, depending on their teacher, said Andersen. Now the teachers plan together and teach the same curriculum, she said.
“It’s even more interesting for the teachers — it’s a very exciting and more satisfying way to teach,” she said.
When the district began the IB candidacy process two-and-a-half years ago, some parents had concerns about the program. Because of IB’s emphasis on inquiry — encouraging students to ask questions — some families were afraid it would teach students to challenge parents’ authority or values.
Since the teachers have been teaching IB units, Andersen said they’ve heard no complaints from parents. Some students who’d withdrawn have now re-registered, she said.
The annual fee for both programs is $16,170. The IB program provides a mentor, professional development and ideas for lesson planning.
While not many schools in the state have adopted the IB approach, there are more than 1,800 programs in the United States and almost 6,400 IB programs in more than 146 counties.
Other authorized IB schools in Washington include a small elementary school on Lummi Island, several in Bellingham, and middle schools in Tacoma and Vancouver.
Andersen said she’s been getting calls from other small school districts about the IB approach. “The message is, it’s a model that works in almost any school setting — it’s not exclusively for small or large schools,” she said.
The next assessment will be in five years. “This is a moment in time, a validation of the hard work, time and energy,” said Venable.