This week’s post is by Jean Garrity, Associate Director at the Institute.

Exciting work is underway in several middle schools in the West Allis – West Milwaukee and Waukesha school districts.  As part of its ongoing research and development, Educational Testing Service is supporting a research initiative titled CBAL (Cognitively Based Assessments As, Of and For Learning). As part of its work with the Innovation Lab Network, Wisconsin is one of just three states (along with Maine and New York) nationwide that are participating in CBAL research examining English Language Arts learning progressions in the area of argument.

Rooted in learning sciences research, CBAL defines learning progressions as “a description of qualitative change in a student’s level of sophistication for a key concept, process, strategy, practice or habit of mind.”  Learning progressions may be similar for many students, but are not identical for all students.  Think of it like crossing a stream – we may all have the same destination, but we will likely step on different rocks as we cross to the other side.  Learning progressions help in the scaffolding of instruction and the design of assessment tasks.  Different from traditional scope-and-sequence, learning progressions are highly interconnected and dynamic.  This is important to our work as they are intended to inform instruction rather than define curriculum.  Learning progressions are mapped to the Common Core State Standards and range from preliminary to foundational, basic, intermediate and advanced.  Students in the project write at about an 8th grade level.

The CBAL Learning Progressions pilot began last fall in Wisconsin with two days of professional development.  A team from CBAL ETS worked with middle school teachers on the implementation of the CBAL English Language Arts materials, including learning progressions, formative assessments in support of argumentation, summative assessments, and adapting and customizing tasks to meet individual student needs.   As the year progresses, students are participating in instruction on reasons and evidence, taking a position and summarization.  Students also participate in both formative and summative assessments.  The teachers meet periodically in professional learning communities to examine student work, discuss what is working (and what is not), and plan for further instruction.  The CBAL ETS team will return in January to provide further support to our local teachers.  In addition to piloting learning progressions, formative and summative assessment tasks, teachers are also piloting professional support materials.

This is the first year of a multi-year project, and work around the provisional learning progressions is still in its early stages.  We look forward to sharing the results and making the work available for more of our Institute districts.

One thought on “Learning Progressions

  1. This sounds very interesting! Looking forward to learning more about the work.

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