This spring, I was contracted by the Vermont State Agency of Education to teach a graduate course to 21 outstanding physical education professionals. This course blended on-line and on-campus learning through both synchronous and asynchronous learning experiences. The purpose of the course was two-fold: to support teachers’ leadership development and to prepare them for the state-wide mandated shift to proficiency-based physical education. Proficiency-based education is sometimes called standards-based or outcome-based education. For the purpose of this post, I will refer to it as standards-based education.
Before I dive into the standards-based physical education content, I want to highlight the ingeniousness of this project. The physical education coordinator for the state of Vermont, Lindsay Simpson, hired me and then collaborated with me very closely for this course, and I want to be certain she gets major kudos for her tireless efforts. Lindsay supports the PE teachers in VT incredibly well although she would never say that - it is the teachers in VT who made sure I knew this! She realized the only sustainable approach to a state-wide shift to standards-based education would be for physical education leaders throughout the state to work with their physical education colleagues within their local districts. Therefore, the very intense graduate course focused on both the leadership and standards-based physical education components. Course evaluations suggest the teachers learned lots during this course and loved the collaborative nature of it. Lindsay gets all credit for this. She is an exceptional leader and I was humbled to support her vision. If you know Lindsay, you know she is a thorough, responsive, competent and caring professional. You may or may not know what an athlete she is! So, if you talk to her, be sure to wish her major congratulations as she just finished the Vermont 100 - a 100 mile ultramarathon. Not only did Lindsay complete 100 MILES of running, she placed as the 5th overall female. I have goosebumps as I type this! I am in awe!
I also need to thank the 21 incredible educators who hung out with me virtually every Monday night and then for several days in May. You are champions and true professionals. Your determination and commitment to success inspired me daily and I want to thank you for not leaving a stone unturned in our journey together. If my own children have physical education teachers like you, I will be the happiest mum in St. Louis!
Back to the post -
If you work in the physical education sector and are interested in this topic, the first thing you should do is purchase and read this text. Lund and Tannehill do an excellent job of explaining and supporting a district to shift to standards-based education. While I know people want everything to be free and open-source these days, sometimes you get what you pay for. This book is worth it. I strongly recommend the 3rd edition as it's based on SHAPE America's most current national physical education standards and research in the field. This book is necessary to develop sound curriculum and, once that is complete, teachers can focus on yearly plans and then lesson plans. Once teachers are ready to design a physical education lesson based on standards-based instruction, I highly recommend Southwest District Teacher of the Year, Terri Drain's presentation which is presented following this paragraph. Just don't watch it yet. Sometimes teachers make the mistake of examining standards-based instruction at the lesson plan level before they have the big picture, and I think that is too overwhelming for many. I encourage you to bookmark Terri's presentation and watch it once you grasp the big picture of standards-based physical education.
You should know that I am a firm believer in standards-based education. Here are a few reasons why:
- Standards-based physical education assumes that student learning is the primary objective of the course. Sounds good to me! In SBPE, the learning often happens through movement as per sound physical education pedagogy, and it definitely does not settle for movement with no purpose or connection to learning. Traditional programs that focus solely on keeping students moving are outdated and it's impossible to advocate for our profession when that's the primary objective.
- Standards-based physical education acknowledges that students learn at different rates and in different ways. It calls for differentiated instruction and time modifications as needed.
- Standards-based physical education adheres to the notion that students' grades should be an accurate reflection of students' learning. In case you were wondering, assigning a grade based on what one wears to physical education or how much one participates are not accurate reflections of students' learning. Students have to participate in physical education in order to demonstrate learning of the physical education standards. Thus, participation becomes an expectation rather than something that students are rewarded for doing. For an excellent short video standards-based grading, I refer you to this wonderful clip from Rick Wormeli who, by the way, has been working with standards-based learning since 1982. In this clip, he explains why grading on a 100-point scale via averaging does not communicate student progress. If I were teaching K-12 physical education and shifting to a standards-based system, I assure you I would have this clip on my website in hopes that parents and guardians would watch it.
I am sure those of you reading this post will agree that student learning and accurate grading are important in physical education. But, I also want to bring to your attention a few issues that arose as I taught the graduate level course. Before I do so, let me explain that standards-based education is based on a four-point scale usually numbered 1, 2, 3, 4. While numbers or descriptions may vary, they are often described as the student demonstrating:
1 - No evidence of learning
2 - Beginning/emerging evidence of learning
3 - Proficient evidence of learning
4 - Advanced evidence of learning
A key issue that came up in class is that when some people were assigned a 3 (Proficient) on an assignment, they equated this with the word average. On the contrary, a 3 (Proficient) is a standard of learning this is the goal but it must be a very high standard - not an average one. The teachers in this course are incredible professionals and so conscientious that they most often did demonstrate proficiency in learning, but a few did not equate this with a positive initially because they viewed it as something less than an "A" in the old grading system. As I explained in the course syllabus and to the students, a 3 / Proficient is excellent, and a 4 / Advanced is exceptional. It's critical teachers explain to students and parents/ guardians that exceptional = the exception. It's not an easy level to achieve. I doubt I'm exceptional at anything...but excellent would be a great goal for anyone, wouldn't it?
This clearly suggests that communication and professional development with teachers are critical to implementing a shift. Moreover, time and communication are vital if parents and guardians are going to understand how their children are being assessed and graded in a system such as this.
Back to the levels.
I have heard some cool ways to explain levels 1-4 to students. One, from Sarah Gietschier-Hartman who shares her cupcake analogy here on Joey Feith's blog. Building on this wonderful post, Sarah and I later collaborated on a post that you can find here. In this post, we moved from the cupcake analogy to integrated learning with nutrition as we introduced the 4 levels along with Harvard's My Plate. Heather Gardner shared that OPHEA uses a fruit salad or yogurt parfait as healthy food options to represent the four levels. More recently I heard Naomi Hartl share another great way to explain the 4 levels, as was explained to her by her former colleague Katie White: 1 - readiness stairway, 2 - learning hallway, 3 - proficiency doorway, and 4 - enrichment landscape. Naomi actually remembered it a bit differently, and I like her version for it fits very nicely with both activity and grit in a physical education context: 1 - being at the bottom of a set of stairs, 2 - working your way up the stairs, 3 - summiting the stairs, and 4 - a world awaits with endless opportunities and options.
Physical education teachers, consider yourself warned.
Teaching the graduate course to the amazing professionals in Vermont also reminded me of the time commitment required to adequately deliver a standards-based grading system. This, in some ways, worries me. If teachers are mandated to work within a standards-based system, as I hope they are, it is essential that administration and school board members understand the time commitment required to do so effectively. For example, in the class I taught, when students demonstrated their learning was a 2 (beginning/emerging evidence of learning) they were, as they should have been, granted additional time to demonstrate higher levels of learning. In other words, they were encouraged to redo the assignment or submit additional evidence that better demonstrated their understanding. Consequently, more time was needed on my part because I had additional assignments rolling in that had to be graded as students became very motivated to demonstrate learning at a proficient level. It also reminded me that collecting student evidence early on is critical so that I can best guide my instruction and can give them reasonable amount of time to demonstrate learning if they learn in a way that requires more time. Finally, large class sizes must be addressed if physical education teachers are expected to shift to a standards-based system. It simply won't be possible for PE teachers to carry current numbers and provide the feedback and opportunities to demonstrate learning required within a standards-based system.
More time and effort was also required to fully explain and support the concerns around how exceptional work must be in order to represent a level four. Jo Bailey worded it so well while at my house last week,
"Grade inflation has been mad for years now and there is so much work to do to implement a standards-based system because of it."
(Don't you love how the British use the word mad?)
When you shift to this system and your most athletic student may not be demonstrating evidence of learning, or someone who used to always bring his/her shoes and participate but is truly at a beginning level of mastery related to her/his skills, you will receive push-back. Home will be calling and students will be questioning. For far too long, physical education teachers have given grades that have nothing to do with learning - and everything to do with bringing sneakers and participating. I never received a high grade in math for bringing my textbook, a scribbler, pencil, and calculator, or for attempting answers on my quizzes and tests. It's time that we all commit ourselves to truly supporting students' understanding of the concepts that will best support their physical literacy development. It's so worth it.
I encourage you to host a physical education night at your school to explain standards-based physical education, what it will look like, how lessons will be delivered, how students will be assessed and later graded, etc. As well, send a newsletter, update your website, and send emails home! Whatever form(s) of communication you choose, be sure to tell the parents and guardians that physical education grades will actually mean something and this system will motivate their children. Specific feedback will be given as per clear standards and opportunity to practice within authentic settings. Do not drive yourself crazy by holding off on communication. Reach out and work with the greater community to shift to a system that is better for our students. They deserve it.
Stay tuned for a future standards-based education post which will be dedicated to our students with special needs!