"We're Off and Running!" Exemplars Hits the Los Alamos School District

Special thanks to Connie Witt, of Los Alamos, NM, for her contribution

Several years ago, Connie Witt tried to implement a standards-based curriculum and grading system into her school district, Los Alamos. At that time, she received little feedback or enthusiasm from her colleagues. Nevertheless, she pushed on. Determined to turn things around, Connie purchased Exemplars with her own money and began to apply basic standards-based skills. As Connie states, "I tried to introduce all of this when I first went back to the classroom a few years ago. No one understood what I was trying to do." After years of hard work, the Los Alamos school district has become extremely successful in using Exemplars and in, "Making a paradigm shift from focusing on instruction to focusing on student learning and using formative assessment to drive instruction."

She began with the principals in her district, teaching them how to assess student work using rubrics. For many it was the first time they had ever looked at student work in this way. By collecting sample math tasks and rubrics from Exemplars web site, and student work from their own schools, Connie led them through the process of working in pairs and using rubrics to evaluate student work. She found this "mini training" highly effective and explained, "They were amazed at the power of the conversations they had around the student work."

She has since conducted similar training sessions with teachers, which has resulted in a whole new approach to staff development. Connie states, "We're moving away from district-wide, one size fits all trainings to peer coaching at sites. "This has become a valuable tool to Los Alamos in teaching the use of rubrics and self-assessment.

The principals were thrilled Exemplars enabled them to provide their teachers and students with high quality rubrics and benchmark student work. The rubrics have also become a helpful tool for parents in understanding the standards-based (no letter grades) report cards.

Next on their agenda is to begin using Exemplars reading, writing and research materials to help develop their language arts assessment. Connie states, "We've started a 4-8 vertical alignment team for language arts and are trying to design a collection of developmentally appropriate sets of rubrics, 'style' sheets/guidelines, etc." They anticipate the same level of success they experienced with Exemplars math materials.