Salem City Schools Banner -Forensics

Elementary Progress Reports

In elementary school students are assessed on standards to see progress toward grade-level goals.  Students work on a variety of assignments to show mastery of the standards.  These standards are assessed to see if a student Met the Standard, is Emerging toward mastery of the standard, or Needs Improvement on the standard. Communication of progress can be found anytime in the parent portal.  The parent portal is accessible through the Salem Parent Portal Site.  You may log in here and access your student’s information.  Each quarter progress reports are issued to the students to show progress toward grade-level goals.

Progress reports show the current level of each category within the subject for every nine weeks.

For example, a student will have the following categories: Number Sense, Computation, Problem Solving, Geometry, Measurement, Graphs & Charts, Patterns & Algebra, and Probability.  Progress toward mastery will be shown for each category with the letters M, E, or N.



You will most likely see assignments come home with the letters M, E, or N to show how the student did on that specific assignment. You may even see the assignment broken into multiple standards and progress toward meeting each standard written on the paper.

The Elementary Progress Report website shares a lot of information on the revised progress reports. Please visit it to find out more about topics of interest.   



Student safety is a top priority for Salem City Schools. Throughout the year, we work with the Salem Police Department and Salem Fire and EMS personnel to develop building-specific security procedures. We then apply these plans by participating in emergency management training and activities. Through our partnership with the Salem Police Department, School Resource Officers (SROs) are assigned to all six of our schools in Salem.

School and division leaders work throughout the year evaluating security measures and planning for both response and prevention.  School Safety Audits are completed using a process and checklist developed by the Virginia Department of Education and the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services. The Audit Team is comprised of the Resource Officer assigned to the respective school, a Salem Police Department Captain and both parent and staff representatives.

School safety and security are ongoing priorities.  In addition to annual school safety audits, the division collaborates with Salem Police and EMS on training exercises. School crisis plans for all six schools also are updated and reviewed annually by the School Board.  While much of our planning and preparation is understandably confidential, we are happy to work with Salem families who are interested in learning more about these plans. We have established a School Safety & Emergency Preparedness webpage for families for this purpose.

In addition to securing school buildings, prevention also focuses on assisting individuals in need.  In accordance with state law, each school has a Threat Assessment Team to promote safety in the schools. The Salem School Division’s Threat Assessment Team is made up of Central Office personnel, school administration, guidance members, the school’s Resource Officer and other individuals with expertise in mental health and school safety. Should you have concerns, please communicate those concerns promptly to your student’s principal.

Each year, our Salem City Schools seek to expand and improve physical security with a combination of local and state resources.  Most recently, a state security grant was used to increase the number of surveillance cameras at Andrew Lewis Middle School and the division also budgeted to add new cameras and improve the quality of older ones at Salem High School. All six Salem schools have the benefit of surveillance systems, secure, “buzz-in” entrances, visitor verification software and trained staff.

Specific questions or concerns regarding a student’s school should be directed to the principal to ensure a prompt and school-specific response.  Parents interested in learning more about the safety and security of our schools are also welcome to contact Dr. Forest I. Jones, Director of Administrative Services.  Parents interested in learning more about Threat Assessment procedures are invited to contact Dr. Randy Jennings, Director of Student Services. Both may be reached at 389-0130.

Together we can continue to make our schools safe and productive learning environments.

Grade Reporting Policy

Some minor changes to the division’s grade reporting policy, IKFAA, have generated a great deal of media interest.  While we suspect that the interest is the result of the original strikethrough underline version, which some might have interpreted to indicate that we were getting rid of our grade scale, the changes are minor and merely reflect our desire to further empower teachers to use their professional expertise, and to consider a student’s growth over time and most recent assessments results when determining grades.   As I explained to several reporters, there is nothing in the revised policy that prevents a teacher from doing anything he or she was doing last year with regard to grading practices.  Nor is there anything in the policy that mandates that a teacher do something completely new.  Here is a link to the actual strikethrough /underline version of the policy.   It might be helpful to have it open on your screen or print a copy to reference as you read.

The first paragraph is intended to reflect our belief that a grade is a communication tool to inform students and parents about student achievement.  It also explains that grades should be a reflection of how well students have mastered course standards at the time the grade is assigned, and in order to do so, grades should consider a student’s most recent attempts rather than a pure average of grades collected from the beginning to the end of the learning process.

You will also notice minimal changes at the end of the second paragraph.  While this might seem a bit confusing, these changes simply remove the phrase “will be recorded at the end of the first and second semester.”  While grades will still be reported at the end of each grading period and the first semester, the only grade that will become part of the student’s transcript is the final grade.  This is based on our belief that the grade that matters is the grade that reflects the level of student mastery at the end of the learning process.  While nine-week and semester grades are an important communication tool, and may influence a student’s final grade, they are not recorded as permanent marks.   For example, if a student is taking a difficult course and struggles with course standards early in the learning process, but uses the feedback and practice opportunities provided by his/her teacher, and ultimately demonstrates a high level of mastery by the end of the year, the grade he/she had at the end of any previous nine-week period or the first semester may no longer be accurate.  Nine-week and semester grades are more like mile posts than a final destination.  They communicate where you are at the time they are assigned and tell you if you are on the right track, but the final grade reflects your final destination.

However, there is no doubt that nine-week and semester grades matter and still may affect the overall grade in the course.  In many courses, there are very distinct units of study that may not be revisited later in the year.  In these cases, it would be appropriate to average performance over several units of study to arrive at an overall grade for the course, or to average grades from each grading period to determine the final grade in the course.

At the bottom of the second page,  you will notice that the grade scale for grades 6-12 is struck through and new descriptors for letter grades are added (underlined) just below the grade scale.  The new descriptors reflect our desire to remove the terms superior, above average, and average from the definitions of student performance.  We believe that these terms best describe grading systems where students are compared to each other (norm referenced/bell curve) rather than a system where student performance is judged based on predetermined criteria or standards (criterion referenced/standards based).    The new language is designed to clearly indicate that student grades should be based on how well students know and can apply course standards and skills, not how they perform compared to their peers.

Finally, you will notice the descriptors marked for deletion, some language about using mathematical averages, and the familiar grade scale. The language just before the grade scale explains that, when an average is used to determine a grade, this is the scale that should be applied.

We hope it is clear that these changes are designed to reflect our current practices based on our belief that grades should reflect students mastery of clearly-defined content standards at the time the grade is assigned, and that, in order to be most accurate, grades should strongly consider a student’s most recent attempts rather than be based solely on a pure average from the beginning to the end of the learning process.  As was previously stated, there is nothing in the revised policy that prevents a teacher from doing anything he or she was doing last year with regard to grading practices.  Nor is there anything in the policy that mandates that a teacher do something completely new.  As a final example, I asked one reporter if she would rather be judged based on her first interviews at the beginning of her career, or her most recent work.  I am sure you can guess her reply.



When Social Media is Not the Tool for the Job (When to Make Direct Contact with Your Child’s School)


The Salem City School Division has a long and proven history of cherishing the great value this community places on children.  This was a cornerstone of the division when it was established in 1983 and remains a core value for all who serve in Salem City’s Schools.  On behalf of the over 500 employees who have answered the call to teach, lead, and serve the children of this City, I want to assure you that student safety is our number one priority.  I have served in Salem City Schools for 25 years and know, without a doubt, that my own children are in the presence of people who would go to great lengths to ensure their safety at school and in our great community.


I understand the emotions that well up in all of us when our values, our sense of community, or our children are involved.  However, we must recognize that what we want most (what is best for our children) may be incompatible with what we may want in the moment (confidential information about another parent’s child) to ease our concerns.


Unfortunately, we live in a world where individuals can purposefully disseminate false claims on a massive scale through social media with little or no accountability.  Too often assumptions, hearsay, and opinions become treated as fact, or factual information is distorted or purposefully taken out of context.  When this happens, trust that our extraordinary employees will go to great lengths to guide and protect the students they serve, but understand and respect that schools are prohibited from countering false claims by providing confidential information about a child.  Please consider that this does not represent a lack of transparency, it represents a fierce adherence to do what is right for individual children over what may be politically expedient or even socially desirable at the moment.


One of the strengths of our school division is its size.  We are large enough to have a computer-controlled plasma cutter in our welding program, multiple reading specialists in every elementary school, art, music, and extra-curricular programs that are beyond compare and an internationally benchmarked program of studies, but we are still small enough to know and care for one another as individuals.  This also affords us the opportunity to respond to individual inquiries from parents and community stakeholders when they have questions or concerns about our schools.


Just as a wrench is the best tool for tightening a bolt, not a hammer, social media is a handy tool for connecting with friends, sharing pictures, and making general announcements, but not the best tool for the job of getting accurate answers to questions or constructively addressing concerns.  If you have a question or concern involving your child’s school, please call or email your child’s teacher or principal.  The Salem City School Board has a proven and longstanding approach to expecting that questions or concerns be addressed as close to the source as possible to provide a prompt and accurate resolution.  (To learn more please our online Questions or Concerns resource.)  We have also established guidelines regarding when we will and will not use our mass notification system.  (To learn more about this communication tool, please see our Communication Practices and Procedures FAQ.)


As a community that has established and built one of the finest school divisions anywhere, we must be ready to defend it from unfounded speculation while understanding the just and necessary limits of information sharing in matters that involve children.  Trust that the people who serve our children on a daily basis will go to great lengths to guide and protect them and demonstrate that trust through your individual commitment to contact your child’s teacher or principal if you have questions or concerns about something that happens at school or in conjunction with a school event.

Bless you and thank you all for being a part of this truly special place to live, work, and raise our families.

H. Alan Seibert

Division Superintendent

Salem City Schools Reporting Student Progress

While grades have not always been part of formal education, they have been part of education in America for the better part of the history of schooling, or at the very least, as long as any of us can remember.   Assigning students grades based on their performance was another application of industrial practices to the classroom.  Students were graded in a manner similar to grades that might be assigned to food, clothing, other goods based on their quality, grade A eggs for example.  One of the primary purposes for grades was to allow teachers to “process” more students in a shorter period of time, moving them down the assembly line of the industrial education model.  An unintended consequence of grading was that grades became labels and students were sorted and filtered by these labels, impacting their future educational and employment opportunities

In the 1980’s and 90’s we became increasingly concerned that American students were falling behind.  At the same time, the availability of cheap unskilled labor in developing nations led to a significant reduction in employment opportunities for unskilled workers.  Additionally, advances in technology further eroded opportunities in manufacturing as automation replaced workers here and abroad.  All of these factors made it clear that, in order for our country to continue to prosper, it was critical for every child to succeed in school at a high level.  It was no longer acceptable for any student to be labeled unsatisfactory and allowed to drop from the system.

As the focus on education changed from filtering and sorting students based on their label (grade) to a system built to ensure that every student is competitive in an increasingly competitive global economy, our use of grades has also changed.  Grades are no longer a fixed label. Instead, they represent a communication tool used to let students, parents, and other stakeholders know where a student is on his or her educational journey at the time the grade is assigned; a mile marker on the student’s path to success.

As a result of this change in our use of grades, the Salem City School division revised its progress reporting practices to align more closely with current research on effective grading practices. Our goal is to support students along a continuum of learning by helping them monitor their progress with specific feedback and provide opportunities to apply and expand their knowledge. These practices respect that students learn at different rates, at different levels, and with different degrees of interest while supporting students in mastering standards.

We believe that progress reporting should:

  • reflect the student’s current level of achievement for intended learning outcomes;
  • provide students and their parents with useful, timely, actionable information;
  • support student motivation to learn by providing feedback that assists the student in knowing the next steps in the achievement of learning outcomes; and
  • reflect student growth over the duration of the learning process.

Elementary Progress Reporting

In grades K-5 the progress report provides marks on specific skills and work habits using:

✔ – Performs at or above grade level expectations

N – Needs additional support or practice to meet grade level expectations

4 – Exceeding/Above Grade Level Standards

3 – Meeting Grade Level Standards

2 – Developing Grade Level Standards

1 – Experiencing Difficulty Meeting Grade Level Standards

Blank indicates that the item has not been covered at this time

4-1 Scoring Rubric

4 The student’s performance on tasks and assessments demonstrates in-depth inferences and application of the information, content, processes, etc., that go beyond what was explicitly taught in class.
3 The student’s performance on tasks and assessments demonstrates no major errors or omissions regarding the information, content, processes, etc., both simple and complex, that were explicitly taught.
2 The student’s performance on tasks and assessments demonstrates major errors or omissions regarding the more complex ideas and processes; however, the student does not demonstrate major errors or omissions relative to the simpler details and processes.
1 With help, the student’s performance on tasks and assessments demonstrates a partial knowledge of some of the simpler and more complex details and processes.
0 Even with help, the student’s performance on tasks and assessments indicates no understanding or skill with respect to the learning objective.

The values 3.5, 2.5, 1.5, and .5 may also be used to indicate that the student’s performance level falls between rubric levels.

Parents may view student progress on class assignments and standards in the PowerSchool Parent Portal. Salem sends out student progress reports every nine weeks.  Marks on the progress report should indicate the student’s most recent level of mastery in the content area. The mark is not purely an average of all the marks throughout the reporting period. Instead, it indicates the student’s current level of performance based on the evidence and work throughout the reporting period and should reflect the student’s growth and progress over multiple assessment opportunities.

Progress Reporting in Grades 6-12

In grades 6-12 the division continues to use a more traditional grade scale.

94-100 A
87-93 B
79-86 C
70-78 D
69 or below F

This numeric scale is merely a tool to ensure that, in accordance with policies IKFB -Examinations and IKFAA- Grade Reporting, an

A – Represents superior student performance in relation to course objectives.

B – Represents above average student performance in relation to course objectives.

C – Represents average student performance in relation to course objectives.

D – Represents minimal but passing student performance in relation to course objectives.

F – Represents performance that does not meet minimal course objectives.

We believe that progress reporting at the middle and high school level should also:

  • reflect the student’s current level of achievement for intended learning outcomes,
  • provide students and their parents with useful, timely, actionable information,
  • support student motivation to learn by providing feedback that assists the student in knowing the next steps in the achievement of learning outcomes, and
  • reflect student growth over the duration of the learning process.

Parents may view student progress on class assignments and standards in the PowerSchool Parent Portal. Salem sends out student progress reports every nine weeks.  Marks on the progress report should indicate the student’s most recent level of mastery in the content area. The mark is not purely an average of all the marks throughout the reporting period. Instead, it indicates the student’s current level of performance based on the evidence and work throughout the reporting period and should reflect the student’s growth and progress over multiple assessment opportunities.

Checking Our Bearings AND Enjoying the View

In 2009, Salem City Schools embarked on an Assessment FOR Learning journey based on research indicating that teachers could accelerate student academic progress and growth by consistently and thoughtfully providing descriptive feedback.  The research further indicated that the benefits of Assessment FOR Learning practices are magnified when students use the information to inform their own learning and teachers use the data to inform instructional practice.

The journey has resulted in the development of new approaches to our work and required that we research and develop new tools for measuring and reporting student progress.  It has required us to shift from an emphasis on grading to an emphasis on learning.  Along the way, our School Board has supported our efforts with tweaks and updates to Board policy and by authorizing the use of alternative grading programs.

Our AFL Journey has been challenging at times, but it has fulfilled the two biggest questions all people and organizations ask when contemplating change:

Can I do it?

Is it worth it?

“Can I do it?” is generally easy for us to answer, as our history of success and innovation proves that we can do almost anything.  But, for the same reason, the second question is more difficult, as success can lead to complacency.  Thankfully, one of the cornerstones of “The Salem Way” involves acknowledging that while we are pretty darn good, we are always working hard to get ever better!

Our Core Business: Teaching and Learning

Our Focus: Continuous Improvement

Our Commitment: Children First: Every Child – Every Day

Still, as we have traveled this sometimes bumpy Assessment FOR Learning road, how did we answer, “Is it worth it?”?  There have been many parts to the answer, but I contend that all of these point toward two fundamental truths about teaching and learning in schools:

  1. All parents of all students ranging from those identified as gifted to those with special needs want to know if their child is learning and growing; and
  2. Teachers long to celebrate not just a point in time grade or test score, but how far individual children have progressed in their classroom thanks to the love they show, the engagement they facilitate, and the inspiration they instill.

On our AFL Journey, we have encountered headwinds, detours, and obstacles.  Some of the challenges faced were rooted in human nature (resistance to change), some were leadership missteps as we walked an uncharted path (the AFL Fair), and some were seemingly out of our control (Federal Law, the Code of Virginia, and Board of Education Regulations).

I am profoundly thankful that the Salem City School Board supported and encouraged our work even when it appeared NCLB and the Virginia Assessment and Accountability System were insurmountable obstacles, even challenging me during my annual evaluation a year ago to make SCS more active and engaged at the state-level.

Now, thanks to the Board’s vision, the support of our community, and years of very hard and very intentional work by all who serve in SCS, we are in a very good place. In December, NCLB was replaced with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) that returns authority usurped by NCLB back to the states.  Virginia is leading the way by rethinking standardized testing and accountability through the SOL Innovation Committee, recognizing that assessments must inform teaching and learning…essentially embarking on a state-wide AFL Journey.

As evidence, I encourage you to read this Washington Post article from Wednesday (2/17/16), where you will note that the Administration and the General Assembly, Republicans and Democrats, are working across branches of government and in a bipartisan manner to make teaching and learning in Virginia more AFL-like!

Va.’s governor wants to remake high school education

While this article focuses on “remaking high school” and bodes extremely well for the work Salem High School is doing with its High School Program Innovation Planning Grant, it also makes clear that Virginia’s entire Pre-K-12 system is being realigned.  How fortunate are we that, thanks to work on the Innovation Grant and the Board’s desire to see more middle school students earn high school credit, ALMS and SHS are collaborating more than ever?  How fortunate are we that, thanks to the locally developed alternative assessment work, ALMS and our elementary schools are collaborating more than ever?

These are obviously rhetorical questions, but there is no doubt that collaboration between and among our schools is better than at any time in my 25 years serving in SCS…proving that we are indeed one school system and not a system of schools.  With Assessment FOR Learning (AFL) as a journey, Standards-based Learning (SBL) as a practice, and our ongoing Digital Conversion as the vehicle for personalizing the educational experience for all children, we have compelling evidence that Salem City Schools, and all who serve in them, are student-centered innovators and pioneers!

As I have shared before, I enjoy hiking in general and backpacking in particular.  In steep climbs up mountains, I usually bring up the rear of the group because I am not fast and my asthmatic airway literally causes me to “huff and puff,” but I just keep chugging along…one small step at a time.  On flatter surfaces, however, I occasionally get to lead the group, because I have a reasonably long stride and can help set a pace that can cover more distance in less time.  While flatter ground is easier for me and I do not look forward to steep climbs, my favorite part of these trips is cresting the hill.  Reaching the summit, taking in the views, shedding the backpack for a time to enjoy a snack and to rest a bit, are all made more special by the personal and communal satisfaction of having made it to the top of the current mountain.

I have used this metaphor before, and as you know, the journeys continue…there are more trails to hike and mountains to climb, but as we prepare to gather and share on our March 4 (or March 5) Professional Development Day, I want all who serve in Salem City Schools to know that we are in a very good place and we should all enjoy the view and share a sense of satisfaction.  Our journey is not complete, in fact by acknowledging that we are good but always working hard to get better, we know that our journey toward excellence will never end.   However, from time to time we do have an opportunity to enjoy the view, reflect on our journey and to hit our stride…to refine and leverage the mindsets and practices we have adopted and to expand our use of the tools we have tested along the way.

On the Professional Development Day, we will be viewing the documentary, Most Likely to Succeed.  It is a film that began as an effort to examine and document innovation in a number of schools, but ultimately focused on the story of a few students and their families who attend High Tech High in San Diego, California.  Yes, High Tech High is a charter school, but in California at the time, charters were the only way to get the flexibility that Virginia is preparing to make available to schools in general and to High School Program Innovation Planning Grant recipients in particular.  I have personally visited High Tech High (and its neighboring middle school) and can assure you that the schools represent the socio-economic diversity of an urban area.

Please let me be clear about why we are showing this documentary.  We are showing it as an affirmation for all who serve in Salem City Schools that our AFL Journey has been entirely worthwhile and as evidence that we have our bearings and that our entire division is heading in the right direction.  We are showing this film to illustrate that our mission to Love, Engage, and Inspire the children we serve provides the essential elements of our future work together.  We are NOT showing this film to signal the start a new journey, but to provide energy and encouragement for the one that we are already on.

After the film, we continue our Professional Development tradition of learning from one another.  Breakout Sessions will share the best practices and highlight the best tools as our AFL Journey leads us to personalize the educational experience for every child.

Thanks to each and every one of you for being a part of this journey!

Best regards to all,


Alan Seibert


Making Assessment and Learning More Authentic

Most everyone agrees that students are more excited and engaged in school when they see meaning and relevance in their work. Great teachers challenge their students to think creatively and critically by sharing context for the learning ­ perhaps a bigger problem, a real world application, or other example that demonstrates how the content students are learning is useful. After all, what good is content if it does not open doors for students to explore new ideas, to make connections to prior learning, and to help them better understand themselves and the world around them?


Assessment is an integral part of the learning process. Many people think of assessment as cumulative tests. (Actually assessment is much more than that ­ a topic for another time.) In recent years those assessments have been in the form of multiple choice tests. In Virginia, those tests are the high­stakes Standards of Learning (SOL) tests that are administered to students in content areas upon completion of certain courses of study.

In 2014 the Virginia General Assembly passed House Bill 930 and Senate Bill 306. These bills changed the SOL testing program in Virginia schools by eliminating the multiple choice tests in third-grade science, third-grade social studies, fifth-grade writing, U.S. History to 1865 (5th grade) and U. S. History 1865 to present (6th grade). In place of the multiple choice tests, the new regulations require school divisions to administer an alternative assessment. The law further specifies that the assessment should be an age ­appropriate, authentic performance assessment. The law also encourages integrated assessments that include multiple subject areas. In summary, the law charges educators with assessing students in a manner that is more like “real­ life”, similar to the type of meaningful learning described in the first paragraph.

Beginning in late fall of 2014 and continuing this school year, Salem teachers developed authentic assessments for the eliminated SOL tests and administered those to students. Teachers continue to meet on a regular basis to review student results, to revise the assessments as needed, and to investigate other authentic assessment opportunities.

Salem is also closely monitoring the work of the SOL Innovation Committee, a state committee whose role is to advise the General Assembly and the Virginia Department of Education on ways to provide more meaningful assessment of student progress, to identify other measures that are indicators of school success, and to promote excellent instructional practices throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. Our Superintendent, Dr. H. Alan Seibert, serves as a key leader on the SOL Innovation Committee, and he keeps us up ­to date on the committee work and how we can implement their recommendations to benefit the children of Salem.

It is an exciting time for education in Salem and in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The resurgence of a focus on authentic, real­ life, often content integrated learning is not confined to assessments for eliminated SOL tests. Teachers are providing instruction for students that reflects the greater emphasis on authenticity, meaning, relevance, and application. Teachers are emphasizing learning experiences where students are able to monitor their own progress, where mistakes along the learning progression are springboards to deeper learning, and where students have opportunities to collaborate and share their understanding. This focus on meaningful, deeper learning fits well with Salem’s long ­term emphasis on Assessment for Learning, standards-based learning, and performance-based learning and assessment.

To support teachers as they shift their assessment practices to more authentic tasks, the Virginia Department of Education has provided funding to support training in each region. The fifteen school divisions in Region VI are working together to provide support and training to teachers and to develop a repository of sample authentic assessment tasks. Salem will host about 30 teachers from Region VI schools for two weekends in February and March to continue this work. On April 9, 2016 Region VI will hold an Assessment Summit at Salem High School from 9:00 am until 1:00 pm for all educators in the area to learn more about the many innovative strategies for assessment and instruction being used throughout the region. Several members of the SOL Innovation Committee will participate in the Assessment Summit as presenters and panel members.

In summary, assessment and learning are undergoing important changes in Virginia. The emphasis on authenticity, meaningfulness, and relevance permeates all aspects of instruction. Today’s students are learning in a global, changing world with quick and easy access to information. The skills that they use now and will use in the future require collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. Salem and other school divisions across Virginia are working together to assure that students are ready for their future!

Virginia Tech Research Study on the Implementation of Virginia’s New Teacher Evaluation System

Several years ago, a group at Virginia Tech decided to research the implementation of Virginia’s new teacher evaluation system after the state of Virginia issued new guidelines for teacher performance standards and evaluation criteria in 2012.  The study looked at ways to support the successful implementation of the new teacher performance evaluation in Virginia aiming to improve teacher instructional practices and their students’ learning outcomes.  Salem City Schools participated in the research with teachers and administrators participating in surveys and focus groups.

In Fall of 2015, the research group presented its findings from year 2 of the study to administration.  The year 2 study focused on a comparison to year 1 results, teacher perceptions on supports, teachers’ use of information to inform instruction and teacher buy-in of evaluation policy.

Findings from Year 2:

  • Teacher evaluation ratings have a significant and positive correlation with teacher value-added measures.  i.e. the better the teacher was rated, the better the test scores with categories such as instructional planning, AFL, and Student Academic Progress (using outcome data) having the most impact on student scores.
  • Principals are doing a good job of evaluating teachers.
  • Teachers used evaluation for performance improvement.  The programs were more informative and the information collected led to better conversations with supervisors.
  • Professional Development had a stronger effect on teachers at the upper-middle range than on top-performing teacher.
    • The average of the total hours of professional development increased in using data from year 1 to year 2.
    • The rating of the usefulness of the professional development increased from year 1, specifically in the areas of using data and targeting specific content areas.
  • Principal feedback on early-career teachers is important for professional development.
  • Evaluation instruments that were used are perceived as fair and worth the teacher’s effort.
  • The average teacher performance improved in each of the seven categories from Year 1 results, however the most gains were in category 7: Student Academic Progress.

Research Next Steps:

o   The research group will provide Salem City Schools with the Qualitative analysis that was collected through the focus groups.

o  The research group will start it’s analysis of 2014-2015 school year data for their Year 3 Study.

Standards Based Learning

Over the past several years, teachers in Salem City Schools have focused on Assessment FOR Learning practices in order to provide students and parents with specific feedback that reflects student achievement on specific learning goals.  This provides students with the information they need in order to take the necessary steps to improve in areas where they have not yet demonstrated mastery.  Progress reporting that focuses on how well each student meets learning goals, or standards, is referred to as standards-based grading.

One of the limitations of most grading programs is that they record and report grades by assignment rather than reporting grades for specific learning goals or standards.  For example, when students complete work they receive one grade for each assignment based on how well they performed on the total assignment rather than individual grades or scores illustrating how well they had mastered the various standards associated with the work.  Similarly, students would receive one mark on their report card to represent how well they had mastered the learning goals associated with a specific area of study, a 3, an 88, or a B in math for example, rather than a series of scores indicating how well they have mastered each of the standards they studied in math during the grade reporting periods.

Fortunately, the national focus is beginning to shift toward measuring and reporting student growth and achievement based on standards.  As a result, programs that school divisions use to record and report student achievement are beginning to make changes that will help teachers provide students and parents with more specific feedback that communicates how well students have mastered specific content standards.  So, instead of providing one score on an assignment, teachers will have the ability to score each standard individually.

By providing students and parents with more specific feedback by standard, students are no longer left to wonder why the received a B on a test.  Instead, they know which standard or standards they have not yet mastered, and they can work with their teacher to learn and practice the skill in an effort to improve their mastery level.  This leads to a focus on learning rather than a focus on earning points.  Instead of asking, “How can I raise my B to an A?” students begin asking, “What do I need to do to demonstrate mastery of adding and subtracting fractions?”

While significant progress is being made in the area of standards-based grading, this practice, and the tools necessary to record and report student progress by standard are relatively new.  We believe that providing students and parents with specific feedback by standard is a priority.  Therefore, the division will continue to expand its knowledge and use of standards-based grading practices and the tools available to record and report student growth and achievement by standard.  We believe that this will empower students to take ownership of his or her learning goals and lead to higher levels of content mastery.

Motivating Andrew Lewis Middle School Students to Embrace Challenges and Realize Their Academic Potential

Carol Dweck’s—‘MINDSET’: Motivating Andrew Lewis Middle School Students to Embrace Challenges and Realize Their Academic Potential

by Forest Jones, Principal of Andrew Lewis Middle School

Andrew Lewis Middle School located in Salem, Virginia chose Carol Dweck’s ‘mindset’ as the theme for the 2015-16 SY. Dweck’s beliefs on mindset have been used throughout educational circles. Our school wanted to continue to engage students and foster that ‘growth mindset’ approach. We truly believe that students can learn this because the brain is the most powerful muscle that we have.

The goal of our school this year is to teach the growth mindset (the ability to understand that intelligence can grow and improve with effort and practice) to our students. We want them to be able to embrace challenges and not shy away from them. They also should be able to assume ownership of their learning and realize that they have the potential for great things.

The research behind Dweck’s book indicates that the growth mindset of a child can have a powerful effect on a student’s motivation, their willingness to embrace challenges in the classroom, and their overall responsibility for learning and academic performance.

The mindset book resonated with me because it described some of our middle school students. Many of them come to us with a fixed mindset (they believe that knowledge is unchangeable). They also avoid challenges in the classroom (they view this as a threat or indicator of their intellectual limitations). These students also are less likely to seek help from teachers and most likely will disengage from academics. Because of this, individual growth and academic performance suffer.

We were interested in the growth mindset because of the research done in the K-12 setting. Carol Dweck found in 2011 that 7th graders showed a sharp increase in grades compared to students who only received study skills training when they were provided with growth mindset training (in which they learn their brains could be trained as muscles to get stronger).

There are several initiatives that ALMS will participate in this year to help implement the growth mindset:

• Iteration of growth mindset themes at key times during the school year (by administration, academic teams, guidance)

• Implementation of growth mindset strategies by the Friends of Rachel Club for fostering growth mindedness in students about their social interactions and development

• Implementation of growth mindset interventions at key times during students’ academic development (academic planning, service learning projects, career curriculum)

• Guest speakers who will address growth mindset themes, encourage risk taking

• Extracurricular activities/events that challenge students to leave their comfort zone/experience growth

• Professional development opportunities for faculty and staff to learn practical and effective approaches for fostering a growth mindset in the classroom

ALMS believes that our school’s focus on the growth mindset will foster a high level of engagement for our students, a sense of ownership for their learning and mindsets that motivate them to seek opportunities that challenge them and help them reach their full intellectual potential. We also believe that the growth mindset approach will build upon a tradition of excellence at ALMS, as faculty and staff continue to identify new ways to innovate and inspire our students for the 21st century.


1:1 at SHS: The Next Step in a Digital Conversion for Salem’s Students

The Salem City School Division has long been a leader in the use of Instructional Technology for the purpose of preparing Salem’s children to be creative problem solvers who are equipped to communicate and succeed in the digital age and global economy.   Most recently, Salem City Schools adopted an Open Device Environment (ODE), which permitted and encouraged students to use their own cell phones and tablets to increase their access to, and use of digital learning resources.  This gave teachers access to additional tools that utilize innovative and engaging methods of teaching and learning.

While proving useful, an Open Device Environment brings with it several challenges.   The first challenge is that not every student has access to a personal device and those students are at a disadvantage when instruction relies on the use of those devices.  We also discovered that personal electronic devices such as phones and tablets are good for consuming information and resources but do not fulfill our instructional objectives for students to create original work.  Lastly, the wide variety of personal devices can hinder teaching because of the technical challenges encountered.

The Salem High School Technology Team met and reflected on the Open Device Environment.  They determined the best way to conquer the digital divide and allow students to be creators of content would be to provide each student with the same mobile digital device.   The preliminary work by this group was considered by the School Board at the Board Development Workshop on January 30, 2015.  At that time, the Board urged the staff to prioritize, “an investment in students” to eliminate the inequity and do so, “as a moral imperative.”

Starting this fall 2015, Salem High School will begin a 1:1 computer device program in grades 9-12.  This will mean that every student has immediate access to mobile technology throughout the school day and that the computing device is mobile so it can move easily from classroom to classroom as needed.  The goal is to move beyond using technology as a substitute instructional tool, to redefine the classroom experience to allow for the creation of new practices previously inconceivable.

This approach to ensuring that all Salem High School Students have equity of opportunity is significantly enhanced thanks to community and business partnerships.  The City of Salem has established a community “Salem WiFi” in downtown and other City locations.  This access, combined with opportunities for the School Division to connect families with financial need with Internet service providers for their residences will enable every SHS student the opportunity to be an anytime, anyplace learner.

To provide a successful transition into a 1:1 initiative at Salem High School we will engage in steps to provide infrastructure support in the area of professional development and wireless technology upgrades.  Participating students and their families will choose from multiple opportunities this summer to pick up their device, receive important information, and get answers to any questions they may have.

Innovating at Salem High School will also benefit all other Salem schools.  A significant number of laptop carts and other devices will be redeployed to the other schools, increasing access to digital learning tools for all Salem students and accelerating division efforts to personalize learning while cultivating critical-thinking, communication, collaboration, and problem-solving skills in the students we serve.

Questions regarding this initiative may be directed to Jennifer Dean jdean@salem.k12,va,us, Jim Rieflin, or Curtis Hicks

The Journey

I routinely tell people that our school division’s size is one of its greatest strengths.  We are large enough to provide terrific opportunities and support for our students, yet small enough to be in a position to adapt and innovate.  Perhaps most importantly, we are large enough to enhance the quality of life in our community and yet small enough to know and care for each other.

Many of you know that, as the son of a small business owner, people in my small town growing up expected me to major in business, but that I was prompted to answer the call to teach because of my experiences in scouting.  The Scout Oath begins with, “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country.”  My faith, my family, this community and all who serve Salem’s children are profoundly important to me.  I am committed to doing my best and thankful to serve in an organization with similarly committed people.

In addition to my values, scouting has shaped me in many other ways.  Currently, I am training along with the rest of a “crew” to backpack for 10 days this summer.  Backpacking requires planning and preparation.  It can be physically challenging, but is also rich with excitement and provides abundant personal gratification.  Hiking usually leads to an exciting place so, full of anticipation; you push yourself to arrive in time to enjoy what awaits you.  Sometimes the trail is difficult, but you keep pushing on.

Along the way, trail markers inform and guide you.   Sometimes markers are hard to find, trails become narrow, and you have to rely on your map, compass, and fellow hikers.  No matter how difficult the journey, there is an inner joy and a sense of fulfillment when you arrive, even when you know you will face new challenges the very next day.

Life within an organization such as a school system is not all that different from a hike.  We are on a journey, and the journey is rarely easy.  There will be difficult climbs that will result in fatigue and perhaps even sore feet or muscles.  There are times when the trail markers will be difficult to find and we will wonder if it’s worth soldiering on.

The journey’s ultimate value has a direct relationship to the destination.  Is a steep hike over dangerous rocks and through thorny underbrush worth it if we arrive at a cement block wall?  What price would you pay to arrive at a beautiful overlook that inspires us to continue and encourage others to join our journey?

It’s easy, though, to lose sight of the destination – to lose the forest for the trees.  It’s easy to sometimes forget what the destination even is.  Worse than that, it’s also possible for members of an organization to get asked to go on a journey without a clear or meaningful destination.

Public education in our nation and world is changing…it must change.  As a result, our school division is on a grand journey toward the ultimate destination, excellence.  Along the way, it’s rarely going to be easy.  Each section of the trail will have challenges, obstacles, and reasons to turn back.  That’s why it’s so important to know the destination – to keep our eyes on the prize.  Excellence is a difficult journey, but it’s a worthy destination.   We will face many challenges.  I hope to use this blog to keep the destination of excellence, the destination of continuous growth, the destination of serving the needs of young people in the forefront.

Please never hesitate to ask questions or offer suggestions.  This blog will be an “as needed” source of sharing information, but students, parents, staff, and citizens of Salem are welcome to contact me any time.