I recently received a letter from Grayling Tobias, the Superintendent of Hazelwood School District, regarding the improvement he’s seen in his district by adopting our Assessment Literacy principles. I asked him if I could publish his statements, as I feel other school districts would benefit from his experience. He graciously gave his consent. Here is that letter:
This is Grayling Tobias, Superintendent of the Hazelwood School District. I spoke with you about four years ago as we embarked on a district-wide, multi-year professional development initiative. In December of 2010, while in my role as an assistant superintendent, you mentioned three factors that currently serve as the foundation of my educational philosophy about the change process. You said, “you only have one chance for success, so it is important to get it right the first time.” You also told me to “be deliberate, build the capacity of the district leadership team, and develop principals and teachers.” Last, you advised me to, “give permission to lead, build ownership and commit to the process.”
I want you to know that the Assessment Training Institute’s and your work related to Assessment Literacy has had a significant positive change on student achievement in the Hazelwood School District.
We selected the initial steering committee of 12 individuals, which represented a cross-section of the district. I am proud to tell you that the steering committee has now grown to over 50 people. Within two years of the process and because of the strong emphasis on shared leadership, many of the original members of the steering have been promoted to new positions inside and outside of the Hazelwood School District, (i.e., instructional coach to curriculum coordinator, teacher to assistant principal, assistant principal to principal, principal to assistant superintendent and assistant superintendent to superintendent). Most important, the emphasis on shared leadership has built the capacity of numerous teacher leaders in our district. As you know, several teams of HSD teachers and administrators have presented at the Assessment Literacy National Conference in Portland, Oregon. Two years ago, HSD held the largest 3-day Summer Institute (over 700 staff members), which focused on Assessment Literacy practices. At the end of the summer institute, we trained over 1,000 out of 1,400 teachers. We also hosted a parent night (over 600 family members attended) in conjunction with the Summer Institute for the first time in HSD. The Board of Education and parents have been trained in the seven strategies of assessment for learning.
Rick, you said, “Students can hit any clear and understandable learning target they can see that holds still for them.” I believe this holds true for the powerful work that the students are doing in our district. Students are taking responsibility for their own learning. They are able to self-assess, set, keep track and reach learning goals. In addition, they are able to give each other descriptive feedback. With students taking more ownership for their learning, the results have been impressive.
In an 18,000 student enrollment district with a 76% minority (73% African American) student population and where more than 62% of district students qualify for a free or a reduced price lunch, student achievement results (80% (2012) 85.4% (2013) and 82.9% (2014) out of 100% on the Missouri School Improvement Program’s Annual Performance Report) have increased due to the emphasis on the seven strategies of assessment literacy). In 2014, five HSD elementary schools received national recognition from the prestigious Pearson School Achievement Services organization. Barrington, Cold Water, Garrett, McCurdy and Walker were named Pearson Insight School winners. The Insight Schools program celebrates examples of strong leadership and hard work that have enabled schools to achieve breakthrough results. The achievement gap in these schools narrowed. Regarding the Assessment Literacy initiative, we have taken to heart the philosophy of get started, go slow and don’t stop. HSD is successful because everyone in the organization is on the same page. We are committed to student learning.
I want to let you know how much I personally am committed to your continuing your work and how much of a difference it has made in the lives of our administrators, teachers, students and community.
Superintendent, Hazelwood School District
Dr. Grayling Tobias, a life-long resident of St. Louis, was named the superintendent for the Hazelwood School District in the fall of 2012. He has worked for HSD since 2002, previously serving as director of secondary education, assistant superintendent for accountability and assistant superintendent for learning. Dr. Tobias also served as a middle school principal in the Riverview Gardens School District and middle school assistant principal, high school assistant principal and teacher in the Parkway School District. Follow him on Twitter.