Today, Mrs. Hanson, Mrs. Sutton and I are headed to Summit Christian Academy to be trained on a new tool that will enable us to be more effective in working with our teachers to maintain and improve effective teaching in alignment with our mission and vision. This tool is an app that can be used on tablets and smart phones and is called eWalkThrough.
This new tool provides the ability for administrators and other teachers to use 5-10 minute observation segments throughout the year to observe how teachers are instructing, provide immediate feedback and a record that can be reviewed and discussed with the faculty member. The tool will include key criteria for effective teaching that are research based and are fundamental to effective learning. It will include a measurement of what level of learning is taking place in terms of simple to complex. There is a measurement of how well the teachers integrates their subject with God’s Word. Other important aspects include class room management, student engagement, instructional strategies and how well resources are used.
The concept is that over the course of the year many short observations will lead to a composite picture and many conversations between observer and the faculty member. These conversations should encourage the teacher where they are strong and provide opportunities for the observer to help the teacher identify ways to shore up areas of improvement.
This is another part of our ongoing effort to strive to provide a rich learning environment that partners with the home and church to produce young men and women who love and serve Jesus and are enabled to be world changers for Him.
In my last post I celebrated the achievement of students along with their parents and the Academy in significant improvement in one important measurement of achievement – ACT scores. I mentioned some of the areas where we are working to sustain and improve achievement levels across the Academy. One key focus this year is gaining a better understanding of how we can use our test data to strengthen instruction.
Our intensive dive into test scores from across the Academy began in August. But first allow me to provide some context. Currently the Elementary uses Terra Nova and DIBELS® testing tools. Per the Association of Christian Schools International’s (ACSI) web site, Terra Nova “…is designed to measure concepts, processes, and objectives taught throughout the nation in reading, language, mathematics, science, and social studies.” The 3rd through 6th grade students take this test once a year.
The DIBELS® web site reports that “The Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) are a set of procedures and measures for assessing the acquisition of early literacy skills from kindergarten through sixth grade.” DIBELS® Math is comprised of measures of early numeracy, computation, and problem solving that function as indicators of the essential skills that every child must master in order to become proficient in mathematics.
Our 7th and 9th graders also take the Terra Nova tests. Our 8th, 10th-12th grade students take ACT prep and final tests.
Our analysis includes looking back through the years for trends, gaps, and strengths. We are looking at the data first of all from an overall perspective and then beginning to drill down into each school and then onto particular classrooms. We will also help teachers better understand how to use the data to provide differentiated instruction for the students. Training for teachers will be provided throughout the year, and included in the ongoing coaching by principals. Our desire is that we use this data as one source of perspective on the student that will help the current teacher more effectively work with the student. We also will be enriching the process for helping teachers hand off students to the next teacher(s) by including this data in a file that follows the student. This file should be enriched by sharing insight that leads to a well-rounded perspective of the student.
You should begin hearing outcomes of the analysis of this data as you visit with teachers and leaders this year and as we announce adjustments or new programs to build on strengths and shore up weaknesses. Allow us grace as we spend the time analyzing, discussing, planning and adjusting. We are committed to growth and appreciate your partnership in making this happen.
There are many ways to measure the effectiveness of a school. A healthy school will have programs and structure that encourages character development, will have co-curricular activities that help students demonstrate character and achieve success, there will be students demonstrating their love for God by serving Him and serving others, and academics will demonstrate that students are having success and are being prepared for the next phase in their educational process.
One measurement of the academic preparation is the ACT scores. MCA improved in all subject areas this year:
Congratulations to the students who worked hard to make these strides forward and the faculty that worked just as diligently to instill the knowledge and skills to succeed on this test. We were delighted to have an outside firm rank Maranatha with other private schools in the KC metro. We came in #9, and we were the #1 ranked private Christian evangelical school.
However, we don’t stop here. Each class has to make the decision to give of their very best to be able to sustain and improve these scores. In addition, what God has given them in terms of capabilities drives their achievement level. Of course the school must work diligently to draw out the very best from each student and properly prepare them to hit the mark.
So while we celebrate this wonderful progress, we want you to know that we are doing the work to sustain and build on this success. My next blog post will share some of those specific things we are doing in the area of academics. Some examples are analyzing test data to identify strengths and opportunities and then training teachers how to use that data to enhance teaching, getting all of our teachers to put their curriculum in an online tool called Curriculum Trak so we can adequately review and adjust scope, sequence, and rigor throughout the Academy, and standardizing classroom observations by principals and other educators so that we reward right biblical worldview integration, academic rigor, and application.
I had time yesterday to visit some classrooms, enjoy chapel and watch kids in the hallways and lunchroom, and today I stood outside and watched as students arrived. What a blessing and huge responsibility that the Lord has asked us to participate in with Him. What a joy it is to link arms with parents, faculty and staff to seek to instill knowledge of God and His creation while drawing out of each student all that God has enabled them to do and to be.
My apologies for not writing more faithfully about my perspective on God’s work in and around MCA as well as providing insight into the political and environmental issues that are affecting Christian education today and tomorrow. I have blocked out time on my calendar to do a more consistent job of that this year.
I thought I would re-start this communication with what is top of mind for leadership at this time:
- Continuing to train, equip and assess our faculty to grow in effectiveness of educating children God’s way. Several traveled to Dallas for the Kingdom School Institute. Others participated in BJU Press’s training on biblical integration in curriculum.
- Re-accreditation. The visiting team will be here next April, so everyone at MCA has responsibilities to be prepared and prepare documentation for the team to review.
- Growing the Academy. With high school preschool growing, we are examining all the factors contributing to a decline across K-8. We are seeking to find partners that can help us analyze, plan and execute.
- Academics. We have several things underway that will continue to sharpen our ability to help student achieve success in academics: training faculty on how to better use data from standardized test scores, on how to work with students with exceptionalities, and on how to be more intentional in meeting course objectives by documenting and using a curriculum map. We have also made some changes to teachers’ assignments to better align with strengths.
- Parent Involvement. Delighted with the resurgence of MAP and the energy that they are bringing to this school year with a main focus of building relationships and community. Should be a fun year!
- Funding. We have 3 fundraisers planned this year with the first one kicking off on 8/29. With help from parents and energetic participation from students, faculty and staff, we could meet our goal for fundraising for operational needs and begin contributing to a growth fund.
- Staffing. We have welcomed 4 new faculty members to MCA and now are investing in them to help them acclimate and be successful. Additionally several people have taken on new roles such as Mrs. Hanson serving as the interim Secondary principal, Mrs. Wilde picking up College and Career Counseling, Mrs. Evans now leading our Elementary Learning Center, and Mrs. Martini moving to teach in the second grade classroom.
These are the big rocks in front of us, but there are many other things that rightfully need our attention. Please join the many MCA parents who have committed to pray for God’s leading and blessing on MCA this year.
MCA knows what is the most important purpose for education.
If you listen to the world there are many important and world saving purposes for education. In reading an article from the magazine The Renewanation Review (2015, vol. 7, no.2) titled Same Lie, Different Tree, I was reminded of some of the purposes that education has been saddled with solving.
- President George H. Bush claimed that education was the solution for everything, “Think about every problem, every challenge we face. The solution to each stars with education.”
- Teen pregnancy crisis – our nation tried to solve that with “sex education”.
- Alcohol and drug crisis – we turned to “drug education”.
- Defeat ISIS – our recommendation was “to provide these people with a good education so they can have good jobs.”
No doubt the Holy Spirit uses an informed mind and heart to do good and change people. However, when we point to education without God at the center of that process, we are falling prey to the tactic of the slithering serpent in Genesis 3. Do you remember what he told Eve (and Adam…remember he was a silent participant in that exchange)? Satan’s claim was “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Ah, yes, the claim that knowledge will set you free and raise you to an equal of the Supreme Ruler of all things.
Theodore Roosevelt said, “”To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.” In studying the Bible, Jesus clearly taught that knowledge is not all that should be gained by a person. In fact, He warned us that knowledge can puff us up (I Cor. 8:1). In all our seeking, what we should seek is God. We want to know Him. If we truly know Him, our lives will be changed with that truth so that we obey His commands and emulate Jesus Christ.
So the next time you are considering what is the most important thing about your child’s education, I trust you will be careful to not fall for Satan’s deceit and reach for the forbidden fruit of worldly knowledge. Rather you will choose to make knowing God the most important thing.
How should that knowledge impact the Academy’s classrooms? We will talk about that soon.
Here is something I shared with the MCA faculty (PreK through 12) this morning:
Paul sets a good example for us by expressing his appreciation and love for fellow believers and co-laborers. I know I do not follow his example as I should, so allow me to a few minutes to begin to correct that situation.
I have had the privilege this week to hear our seniors speak about their faith, knowledge and wisdom gained so far in their journey of life. I have been richly blessed by the experience. Their ability to communicate about essential things in life through a biblical worldview and to encourage those that are following them with counsel based on wisdom shared by you, their parents and their pastors has been wonderful to experience.
You have had a tremendous impact on their lives and their ability to say and do what they have done this week. As we learned with the “butterfly effect”, who knows how profound your flapping your wings in their direction will have on the future of this world. 20 years from now, if the Lord tarries, and if we could glimpse into the lives of all of these seniors, or when we stand before God, I firmly believe the most important aspect of what He has called us to do at MCA is to answer the question, “How well did you help your students know God?” The better we have helped them know God and maximize their abilities, the more profound the impact.
What I heard from these seniors gives me confidence that God will commend you for a job well done. Thanks for listening to Him about how you can integrate subject matter into that process of knowing God, and then using all of the creative abilities, passion, intellect and experience to engage your students to know Him and His world. Saturday, May 21 will be our commissioning of the missionaries you have been training that will go into various different communities and fields of study around the nation. It is a time of celebrating not only the graduating seniors, but all of you and the tremendous part you have played in equipping and encouraging these student through their life’s journey.
Serving Jesus together,
We tried something new on the evening of the Eagle Update on March 29. We added a 40 minute session to discuss a topic that is of interest to everyone: academics. That interest was re-iterated in the school survey that happened in February. The format of this MCA Shaping session was discussion-based. Questions were presented and everyone had an opportunity to voice opinions, insight, and ask questions. Feedback from parents was encouraging that the session was helpful both in the opportunity to be heard and to hear.
I started the discussion by asking the question, “How do you measure the success of academics as it relates to your child?” Some responses were:
- Standardized testing scores like ACT or Terra Nova
- Grade point average
- College acceptance and scholarships awarded
- Feedback from alumni on how well they felt prepared
- Knowing about plans for improving academic performance
- Communication from teachers that convey individual care for students whole education
- How the Academy presents itself: website and other communications are accurate and grammar and spelling are correct.
- Curriculum compares well with other schools, especially public schools
- Use of technology is effective compared with other schools
Next Mr. York and Mrs. Watt reminded everyone of all of the standardized testing that is currently in place:
- Terra Nova – Given to 3,4,5,6,7 and 9th grades
- Request from parents was to provide more help in understanding what the results are saying
- Explore – Given to 8th graders; intended to help 8th graders determine how to plan their high school courses, prepare for the PLAN and ACT tests, and start thinking about a potential career.
- Plan – Given to 10th graders; this is a preliminary ACT test. ACT, Inc. claims that it predicts success on the ACT.
- PSAT – Given to 11th graders; administered by the College Board and cosponsored by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation in the United States. The scores from the PSAT are used to determine eligibility and qualification for the National Merit Scholarship Program
- DIBELS – Given to Elementary students; The Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) are a set of procedures and measures for assessing the acquisition of early literacy skills from kindergarten through sixth grade. And the DIBELS math measures are used as indicators of the essential skills that every child must master in order to become proficient in mathematics.
A parent asked what we are doing with the information we are learning from these tests. Here are some of our responses:
- Science – test scores indicated that we were missing some Earth Science curriculum for our junior high school students. We have added that curriculum to both junior high science courses
- ACT Prep – some teachers have added activities in their course work specifically designed to help students with the ACT tests, e.g. how to read and outline a question so that they can most efficiently tackle the questions.
- Math – revamped many areas of our approach to math: converted to Saxon math for grades 3-6; added a math readiness assessment test for those entering junior high; adjusted high school curriculum paths to meet needs of students with varying abilities and interest in math.
- Uncovered a reading comprehension opportunity that could help our students score better on standardized tests. A task force for exploring this opportunity will investigate how our approach to reading from Elementary through High School could change to better equip our students.
The final part of the discussion centered on how MCA can support students who are outside the normal distribution of learning abilities whether having learning challenges or are gifted in learning. With the increased ability to diagnose different challenges, we are more aware of these students with exceptionalities. It is time for the Academy to relook at this need, so the committee charged with examining academics as part of the re-accreditation effort will work to define the Academy’s approach including admission policies and support structures. Experts, parents, our teachers will all have an opportunity to shape our approach.
My next blog will summarize the content of the Eagle Update session.