25. The PLAN Pilot Work with the New York State Education Department

I want to share an exciting project that Modern Learners will be doing. We’ve been selected by the New York State Education Department to be the Technical Assistance Center for the PLAN Pilot work.

This is a big deal.

PLAN stands for Performance-Based Learning and Assessment Networks. The work of the PLAN Pilot is to create a network of schools that will explore assessment strategies that foster high quality instructional opportunities where the learner is at the center of the learning experience.

I believe this work has the potential to be the most impactful work that my team will do in our entire careers. Supporting a state that has standardized tests in place as a graduation requirement with the work of reimagining their assessment system is wildly exciting. And a little bit scary. 

The idea of the Regents Exams going away is unimaginable to some. However, New York’s Blue Ribbon Commission has been planting the seeds for that work, and in a call last week, it was mentioned that the Blue Ribbon Commission would be beginning discussions as early as June 2024.

Though our project is separate from the work of the Blue Ribbon Commission, it is intended to help New York plan and prepare to support the schools in the event that the Blue Ribbon Commission charts an alternative path to graduation.

The primary objectives of the PLAN Pilot are three-fold.

  1. To build capacity and knowledge. The pilot seeks to build a strong, shared knowledge base of performance-based learning and assessment among students, educators, families, and communities. There is a lot of information that needs to be elevated in relation to this work, because shifting our brains from thinking about the Regents Exam as a graduation requirement to more of a performance-based assessment will raise a lot of questions and uncertainties. So we will build capacity and knowledge to help calm fears and build more certainty. This involves developing assessment literacy so that stakeholders understand and can effectively use performance data to enhance teaching and learning.
  2. Professional learning and support. I’m really excited about this because educators will engage in high-quality professional learning experiences. I believe that in all systems, everyone is a learner. We have to stop being teachers first and become learners first in order to experience the shifts in the field that we’re hoping for. These include school-based and network-wide trainings, professional developments, and participation in a community of practice. The collaborative environment will be designed to increase and continuously improve the capacity to develop and use high-quality, performance-based approaches to learning and assessment.
  3. Systemic change and sustainability. The pilot aims to establish a sustainable and systemic change in educational assessment by supporting schools in creating transition plans and budgets that ensure the longevity of performance-based learning and assessment practices. This involves working with technical assistance centers like the ones we at Modern Learners will be hosting and building to provide ongoing support and resources. We want to support schools and districts with operationalizing the systems that will need to be implemented in schools. 

By having a Technical Assistance Center, you can build out supports that can help multiple schools at one time and do so in a way that is strategic, predictable, and consistent. That is our goal.

The PLAN Pilot imagines that we will have enhanced learning opportunities where the focus is on creating authentic learning experiences that engage students more deeply and meaningfully. Performance-based assessments allow students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills through real world tasks and projects, which are more reflective of their learning and their abilities.

The next outcome that we believe we will see is a fostering of more equity and inclusivity by tailoring learning and assessments to meet students where they are. The PLAN Pilot will honor the lived experiences and identities of the children and students that come into our classrooms. The work of enhancing learning opportunities means honoring those experiences and honoring the variability of the learners in our classrooms. We need to know that meeting our learners where they are improves our equity efforts as well as our inclusivity. It ensures that all students have the opportunity to excel based on their unique strengths, learning preferences, and opportunities.

Finally, another outcome that we anticipate experiencing is stronger efforts in preparing students for future success. The skills developed through performance-based assessments such as critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration are essential for success in work, family, college, career, civic life, etc. These skills are important in all facets of life. 

We need to go from a content-based curriculum to a concept-based curriculum, where content becomes the tools and the concepts become the work. It is going to be a significant shift, but the approach aligns educational practices with the demands of the modern world.

It’s really important that we think about what we are assessing when we consider the world and the introduction of large language models and generative AI and eventually generalizable AI, where it’s not even based on a large language model.

When we consider our assessments and we consider changing what we do in our classrooms because of what’s happening in the world, we will land in a place where learners can construct knowledge and meaning and improve the outcomes through that work.

All of this sounds amazing. It sounds like exactly what we want to do in schools. But when we consider that we will be working with New York, which has a graduation requirement of passing the Regents Exam, we understand that all of this work will feel like a seismic change, and it will feel likely like the Regents Exam is a barrier.  But after working with the New York State Department of Education for the last couple of months, and seeing how the project has been designed, I believe that the State of New York is doing their best to create the conditions for this work to thrive in schools for students and the project is well-designed.

I’m very excited about the work and the people we are working with are very excited to dig in. But it will force change and the shifts in culture from a teaching culture to a learning culture will be significant. It will not come without conflict and trepidation and struggle, but it will be a productive struggle and we are ready to support those doing this work.

The entire project was designed through the lens of implementation science. Implementation science is a framework that comes out of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. We’re looking forward to identifying usable innovations and readying school environments to allow for this change to happen and supporting implementation through a strong phases and stages approach to the work. The entire project was designed with this in mind.

Because this work is so closely-followed in New York State and around the country, we will be using the Learning to Change podcast to update people on our progress. The whole project will require people to lean into learning in order to experience the change we hope to see, so updates will be a perfect fit for this space.

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