Aligned by Design: What Learned and How to Apply Level 1
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Like most of the educators attending the Aligned by Design class, I was skeptical. How could this school from Illinois be testing as well as they claim? They must be teaching to the test. They must be cheating. Just like all the other naysayers, however, I learned that Aligned by Design is not quite as simple as the simple way of dismissing it. While the program does seem to stress doing well on the test, many of the methods used to get students to achieve those higher test scores seem fairly legitimate. Furthermore, some of the tenants of the program are very logical, though they run contrary to widely accepted educational practice. While Aligned by Design makes sense as an educational system, it will be difficult to implement and may seem as frightening as many other mandates coming to education.
Last year while I was trying to create a co-taught class with a social studies teacher, I researched integrated classes and discovered how useful they can be in teaching. I’d always been a fan of a television show called “Connections,” and I believed that if I could help to create one or more classes that focused on connections, students would benefit in the ways described in the studies I’d read on integrated teaching. Unfortunately, the ideas I presented were embraced by the principal but not by the other departments, though I reminded some of them that partnering with a core class might be a good idea. While I know that integrated classes or integrated curriculum can work, I can also see some of the challenges that will present themselves. Today, teachers and departments are willing to work on whatever it is that administrators tell them they need to do, but it’s not always because they believe in the changes. Many teachers are not excited about teaching right now in Wisconsin, and even fewer want to deal with wholesale changes to their departments, especially if they believe the next new great fix will be abandoned in only a year or two. Whether or not we implement Aligned by Design fully into our district, I will continue to push for an integrated curriculum.
Tracking is a dirty word in education, but Aligned by Design brings it back and dusts it off for another shot at achieving educational goals for everyone while separating those who do well from those who do not do as well. Teaching a class with vastly differing levels is not easy for a teacher, and I’m not sure the experience is that great for students. In fact, I’ve seen reports that indicate that higher-testing students can learn wonderful social skills while falling behind their peers if their classes include lower-functioning classmates. While I have not studied the benefits of tracking, I do know that the elective-type class I teach has honors-level students along with students in the lower-than-18 ACT range. The class is difficult to teach because students read and perform at such different levels that a teacher would need to address the students at all of those levels in order to successfully respond to individual student needs. Implementation of tracking would be easier than trying to get classes from multiple subjects to line up. While some from special education may complain, the fact is that if certain skills are the focus of the test and of the class, a student who is not prepared to interact with those skills is certainly better off preparing in another setting. Our current class arrangement does not align as closely to the ACT, but once it does and we’re teaching with the Aligned by Design curriculum, I would see tracking as the best means by which to promote success for all students.
While it’s not easy to admit that we’re doing things wrong as teachers, teachers are also interested in doing what is best for students. I might argue that I have an excellent reason for teaching the way I do, and I honestly think my students are better people a few years after I teach them because of my class. However, the new reality in education is that English is responsible for 3/5 of the ACT score and other departments at school probably want it to stay that way. Our school is judged by our test scores, not whether or not a college junior makes the right decision because of what she learned in tenth grade English. Luckily, Aligned by Design is a lot more than memorization or just test practice. Don’t get me wrong, part of it IS test practice, but I believe that if everyone’s going to judge a student because of that test, the student might as well do a decent job on it. I can certainly begin teaching skills even before other departments join to align their units with English, but more effort and time will be needed to get the rest of the departments to participate in a way that will make the entire curriculum align.To read more, a subscription is needed: Click here to subscribe