From Testing to Transformational Change with Pam Moran

Pam Moran on episode 231 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

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Pam Moran has been a leader in education reform in Virginia over the past several years as the state moved from testing to transformation. In today’s episode, she talks about the transformation, why they needed change, and implementing successful change. This multi-part series will run over the next several Mondays.

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Enhanced Transcript

From Testing to Triumphant Learning with Pam Moran

Link to show:

Date: January 15, 2018

Vicki: Pam Moran is a superintendent and leader in Virginia and someone who inspires me. Once I was speaking in Virginia and some teachers told me I had to meet Pam, that she was a “teacher’s and student’s superintendent.” I admire her so much so we are doing a multi part series with her.

Pam, what is an update on what has happened with education reform in Virginia since we last talked?

Update on Testing Reform in Virginia

Pam: One of the things that’s pretty interesting since the last time we talked, Vicki, is that I was part of a group originally in 2010 that started lobbying of superintendents. There were several of us. We were called the DaVinci Design Team.

We started really pushing the State Board of Education to think about changes in the state testing requirements in Virginia.

We then worked as president of the superintendents’ association in Virginia, and we actually came up with a blueprint for sort of strategic focus that we thought should occur at the highest level of the state — which would be lobbying the governor, the general assembly, and the state board of education.

So we now have, over the last three years, been reducing state tests that are required. The latest is that we’ve reduced the high school requirement. It used to be that our kids — if you took Chemistry, if you took Biology, if you took Earth Science — all those had a state test. World History I, World History II, American History, Government all had state tests. English, Reading and Writing, Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry.

So our kids in high school, you know, if you were taking a full complement of coursework, you could take — in addition to things like AP tests and SATs and all those things — you also had up to eleven or twelve state tests. The state’s just reduced that to a requirement of one science, one social studies, one math, and a reading and writing assessment. So, that’s kind of cool.

New Profile of Graduate Model Based on 5 C’s

And the thing for us here in Albemarle, is that one of the things that the state has done, the general assembly also have basically developed direction to the state board of education — through its channels of bills that became a law — to move in the direction of reducing state testing with the idea that we would be building out a profile of a graduate model that would be based upon what the general assembly labeled as the five C’s, which were the four that most people are used to — Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity, and Communication — and they added a fifth of Citizenship.

They said, “This is what we want you to work on in terms of the competencies that our kids will graduate from when they leave us after high school. That really changes the game for the state, not just in terms of the state assessments, but also how curriculum and standards, opportunities for multidisciplinary learning, for the localities in Virginia to be able to really take some risk that it’s been difficult to take under No Child Left Behind as it’s evolved into where we are today.

So, I think that Virginia’s feeling like a real breath of fresh air is rolling through the state in terms of really looking at things like more opportunities for kids to get out of school, particularly their junior and senior year, to be able to do internships or work experiences or independent studies or community-based project work.

Just really looking at a very different model that’s far more transitional to adulthood than walking out of a traditional high school and then being expected to go to college or into the workforce or gap years or whatever kids do, and be ready to do that. So that’s kind of cool.

Vicki: Yeah. So Pam, what are the challenges that you see, or obstacles that you see to fully implementing this vision?

Obstacles to Implementing the Vision in Virginia

Pam: I think that one of the things that particularly — in states like Virginia where the resources that localities have access to can be wildly different. We have districts that have all the resources in the world, and we have districts that are really challenged.

So you wouldn’t find, for example, with technology — Albemarle has been in a one-to-one environment for a number of years now, as has Charlottesville City. You know, Charlottesville is the center of Albemarle County. You go to Henrico County? They flipped to one-to-one sometime around 2002.

So all around the state you have school division, as we call them in Virginia, that have had strong commitments to professional development, to implementing technologies, to really providing resources for teachers to be able to do whatever the work is of the moment.

So if it was implementing state standards with the intention of kids passing tests, then people in some divisions had a lot of resources, people in other divisions far less.

How to Get Buy-in For Transformational Change from Teachers

So I think that’s probably the biggest challenge — taking a look at, “What does it take to really create the kind of transformative change that would go with something like the profile of a graduate work?

What’s the buy-in from the beginning point of the resources that are needed to building the investment among educators as to why transformative change is really critical?” I was just talking with some teachers a few minutes ago, and I said, “You can modernize spaces. You can create more transparency in environments.

You can change the dominant pedagogy from teaching at the teaching wall to more project based work or activity based and inquiry focused learning.

But if educators don’t have a sense of what’s the intentional purpose of doing this? How will kids benefit? How will I even as a professional gain something from this process? What you end up with are people who perhaps are implementing it as we educators often do because we’re pretty compliant people, but it doesn’t make sense.

So to me, one of the biggest challenges we have as leaders is how do you help make sense? Not everybody is going to make sense of it in the first day of a change, or the hundredth day of a change or maybe even two years of change.

But you’ve got to have something in place that really allows teachers with parents with even the students that we serve to make sense of the why. It’s what I call the why curriculum. And if you don’t have that built in — and I think there’s probably no district in the country that would say, “We have 100% success stories in terms of implementing change.”

But if you don’t have some sense of why you purposefully are doing what you do, then it just becomes, “We’re doing this because somebody said to do it.” And that’s not going to get you the rich, authentic, contextual learning for either adults or kids that I think that you need to really have fully transformative change.

Please stay tuned for future episodes in this series.

Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Bio as submitted

Dr. Pamela R. Moran has served as the Superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools since January 2006. She oversees a division with an annual operating budget of $180.5 million; a self-sustaining budget of $19.2 million and a five-year capital budget of $86.9 million. The division includes more than 1,200 teachers educating 13,700 students in 25 schools.

During Dr. Moran’s tenure, Albemarle County Public Schools has become one of the top performing school divisions for students in the state with an on-time graduation rate of 95 percent. Two out of every three high school seniors graduate with an Advanced Studies Diploma, 30 percent higher than the state average for all school divisions. In 2014, Albemarle County students had the second highest SAT scores among 133 school divisions in Virginia in critical reading and the third highest SAT scores for writing and math.

In 2015, a national survey organization ranked Albemarle County Public Schools in the top five of all school divisions in Virginia and among the top two percent of all school divisions in the county.

Among the school division’s flagship programs are its Learning Commons, AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination) and M-Cubed. Both the Learning Commons and M-Cubed have received the National School Board Association’s Magna Award, given annually to the school division in the nation with the most innovative and effective program. The school division is the only one in the history of the Magna Award to twice receive the association’s highest performance honor. The school’s Learning Commons, which is a multi-disciplined, technology-infused learning center, has attracted visits by MIT, Harvard, the Universities of Virginia and North Carolina and from the Smithsonian Museum and the New York Hall of Science. M-Cubed is a program that supports black middle school males in year-round advanced math studies to improve their high school academic performance. The division’s Jack Jouett Middle School is in the top three percent of all schools in the world for the success of its AVID college and career readiness program.

A key component of the division’s project-based instructional model is its maker curriculum, which has been the subject of presentations by division educators around the country, including at the White House. In 2015, in partnership with two other school divisions and the University of Virginia, Albemarle County Public Schools was one of three public school divisions in the nation to receive an Investing in Innovation demonstration grant. The $3.4 million federal grant is being used to develop advanced manufacturing and engineering programs in division middle schools and is in addition to a $20,000 state planning grant to develop a “school-of-the-future” model.

The division has three centers of excellence. Students in the Math, Engineering and Science Academy earn an average of $24,000 per student in academic scholarships; the Health and Medical Sciences Academy became a Governor’s Regional Health Academy in 2013 and in 2015, a new Environmental Studies Academy began operations.

The division also is home to one of the first CoderDojo Academies in a public school division in the country, teaching computer coding and science skills to students. Other notable new programs include a high school Arts & Letters Pathwayand a summer Fine Arts Academy.

Dr. Moran is a leading advocate of an educational model that prepares students for “success in their century, not mine.” She emphasizes the value of student-led research, project-based learning and contemporary learning spaces that promote collaboration, creativity, analytical problem-solving, critical thinking, and communications competencies among all students.

A past gubernatorial appointee to the State Council on Higher Education for Virginia, Dr. Moran was selected by her peers across the Commonwealth as Virginia’s 2016 Superintendent of the Year. She subsequently was one of four statewide superintendents of the year to be selected as a finalist for 2016 National Superintendent of the Year.

In 2016, Dr. Moran was selected to serve on the Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Development.

She is a member of the MakerEdorg advisory committee and has delivered several TED Talks on the impact of creating a contemporary learning environment for students, one shaped around a student-centered project-based instructional model. Under her guidance, Albemarle County Public Schools was selected in 2015 for membership in the League of Innovative Schools., a nonprofit organization authorized by the U.S. Congress to accelerate innovation in education.

Dr. Moran has appeared on the cover of Education Week’s Digital Directions magazine as a “National Mover and Shaker” for her advocacy of a curricular digital integration model, which will be featured in an upcoming profile by Edutopia. She also was selected by eSchool Media as one of its national Tech-Savvy Superintendents of the Year and under her leadership, the school division received the Virginia Governor’s Tech Innovation Award.

Dr. Moran is a past President of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, Women Educational Leaders of Virginia and the Virginia Association of Science Supervisors. She holds leadership positions with the regional Chamber of Commerce, the Charlottesville-Albemarle Public Education Fund, and the University of Virginia-Public Schools Educational Partnership.

Dr. Moran’s career in public education began as a high school science teacher. She subsequently served as a central office science coordinator and staff developer, elementary school principal, director of instruction, assistant superintendent for instruction, and adjunct instructor in educational leadership for the University of Virginia’s Curry School and the School of Continuing Education. She holds a B.S. in Biology from Furman University and Master’s and Doctoral degrees from the University of Virginia. Dr. Moran also is an alumnus of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business Executive Educators Leadership Institute.


Twitter: @pammoran

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

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