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Seeing Jay McTigue at the ASCD Conference on Teaching Excellence simultaneously reminded me of the wonderful body of work of his colleague, Grant Wiggins and saddened me that with his passing, the landscape of education research has forever changed.  Grant Wiggins was one of my first inspirations in the field of education and his work with Jay McTigue on the Understanding by Design framework transformed the way I thought about curriculum as both a teacher and administrator.  Because of my personal level of belief in the efficacy of starting with the end in mind and the goal of transfer of knowledge, when I taught graduate level courses in curriculum development, I required “Understanding by Design” as the mandatory reading.  It was also the basis for the coursework.

In later years, many of my colleagues and I faithfully made time to read Grant’s blog.  In fact, his was one of the few that I regularly followed.  His willingness to take on any topic and to respectfully but strongly disagree with some of the most prominent figures made my admiration for him grow.   I will truly miss Grant’s blog and his regular contributions to the field of education.  I will remember him as one of the most forward thinking researchers the field and someone who changed education for the better.  Thank you Dr. Wiggins.

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Summer is a great time to catch up on professional reading.  I just finished an amazing new book by Allison Zmuda, Greg Curtis and Diane Ullman.  The title is “Learning Personalized:  The Evolution of the Contemporary Classroom”.  I highly recommend this one for all educators.  Check it out!  Here is the description from Amazon:

A real-world action plan for educators to create personalized learning experiences Learning Personalized: The Evolution of the Contemporary Classroom provides teachers, administrators, and educational leaders with a clear and practical guide to personalized learning. Written by respected teachers and leading educational consultants Allison Zmuda, Greg Curtis, and Diane Ullman, this comprehensive resource explores what personalized learning looks like, how it changes the roles and responsibilities of every stakeholder, and why it inspires innovation. The authors explain that, in order to create highly effective personalized learning experiences, a new instructional design is required that is based loosely on the traditional model of apprenticeship: learning by doing. Learning Personalized challenges educators to rethink the fundamental principles of schooling that honors students’ natural willingness to play, problem solve, fail, re-imagine, and share. This groundbreaking resource: * Explores the elements of personalized learning and offers a framework to achieve it *

Provides a roadmap for enrolling relevant stakeholders to create a personalized learning vision and reimagine new roles and responsibilities * Addresses needs and provides guidance specific to the job descriptions of various types of educators, administrators, and other staff This invaluable educational resource explores a simple framework for personalized learning: co-creation, feedback, sharing, and learning that is as powerful for a teacher to re-examine classroom practice as it is for a curriculum director to reexamine the structure of courses.

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The annual summer conference on Teaching Excellence was held in Nashville, Tennessee from June 26-28.  As usual, it was an amazing conference filled with great presenters and great practical ideas for teachers and leaders.  I had the distinct honor to present a session with Dr. Michael McDowell titled “Developing Leadership:  Visible Learning Mind Frames”.  Our session description was as follows:

Tamalpais Leadership Collaborative is a leadership model developed in 2010 that encourages all school members to model what is expected at each level of the organization to enhance the system wide academic performance of all students.  Through this presentation, participants will learn how to embed Visible Learning mind frames and research across a school system, understand the implementation pathway (introduction, initiation, application, and capacity building) for the relational and tactical aspects of leadership development, and review implementation milestones and challenges associated with leadership work.

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The Tamalpais Union High School District is committed to providing meaningful, relevant and rigorous learning experiences for our students so they are prepared for college and career options.  Student achievement data gives us insight into what is working and helps us to identify areas for continued growth.  At TUHSD, we monitor many types of student data including state and national test scores as well as our own local measures of growth and proficiency.  One data set of importance to staff and to our community is participation and success in our Advanced Placement (AP) courses and exams.  AP courses give students access to rigorous college-level work while in high school with the support of their high school teachers and peers.  A passing score on an AP exam can give students college credit and/or placement into advanced courses in college.

Participation in the TUHSD Advanced Placement program has grown tremendously over the past five years.  In 2010, we administered 1,482 AP exams and this number has grown to 2,100 exams in 2014.  This is a 42% increase!  It is notable we have also maintained extremely high pass rates with scores significantly above state and national averages.  In 2010, 83% of those who took an AP exam earned a passing score of a 3, 4 or 5.  Similarly, in 2014, 84% of students who took an AP exam earned a passing score.  The national average for students with a passing score is about 60%.

An abundance of research shows that a student’s experience with Advanced Placement is connected to success in college.  A few interesting research highlights include:

  • Hargrove & Dodd (2007) found that students who successfully participated in at least one AP course and exam had higher college GPAs, earned more credit hours, and were more likely to graduate in four years than students from similar family economic status and with similar academic ability.
  • A study by Dougherty, Mellor &Jian (2005) found that students who scored a 3 or better on an AP exam were significantly more likely to graduate from college than their peers.

TUHSD currently offers course work to support 18 Advanced Placement exams.  The programs with the largest number of participants are English Language and Composition, Calculus, Environmental Science, European History, and Biology.

Each Advanced Placement course is developed at the national level by a committee composed of college faculty and high school AP teachers, and covers the breadth of information, skills, and assignments found in the corresponding college course.  AP courses at TUHSD are taught by our own highly qualified and talented teachers who participate in specific professional development so they are best equipped to teach students advanced, college level content.

The Advanced Placement program is just one more example of the rigorous programs offered for the students at TUHSD.  For more information regarding course offerings at your school please contact your counselor or principal.  For more information regarding the TUHSD Advanced Placement data, please contact Senior Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Kim Stiffler, at

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Why is continuous improvement necessary?

It is a moral imperative to ensurethatall students are ready for life and employment in the 21st century. 

  • In the information age and global economy, education is the prerequisite to most careers in growth industries; therefore, all students should be prepared and have the choice about what kind of post secondary education they will pursue. Some will pursue two year and four year college degrees and others will enter apprenticeship and job training programs.  Students need to be prepared no matter, which they choose.
  • Even in the information age, students still must demonstrate proficiency in content in courses such Our mission requires that “all students demonstrate mastery of core competencies” and in order to fulfill that promise, staff must work together to identify these competencies, how to measure them, and must develop predictable, effective systems for students who need more time or support.
  • We have a professional responsibility to enhance our current instruction and assessment practices to meet recommendations outlined in current research and known best practices related to student achievement.
  • TUHSD has a persistent achievement gap – low socioeconomic and African American students have lower grades and test scores and are not likely to complete UC entrance requirements.75% of white students graduate from our schools eligible for UC entrance, as opposed to 30% of our African American students. Similarly, only 34% of low-income students are eligible for UC entrance, as opposed to 75% of non low-income students.(More information about the achievement gap is available in the TUHSD Achievement Report)
  • Minority students are significantly over represented in special education programs.

What work is currently being done to address these issues?

Professional staff members are working in teams to identify what all students should know and be able to do, to develop meaningful ways to measure student progress and systems to intervene when students need more time or support. 

  • Teachers have identified “program goals” for each course or series of courses. Program goals are what students should know or be able to do as a result of taking a course.  Administration has not told teachers what is essential in a course, teachers are collaboratively making decisions based on their content expertise and professional judgment.
  • Teachers are currently working on a meaningful system to assess students’ mastery of the program goals. These teacher-developed assessments will guide instruction and provide information about which students need extra help and which students are ready for enrichment.
  • Over the course of the next 18 months, site leaders, teachers and counselors will develop intervention plans so that students receive timely, targeted assistance when needed.

What is not true about the work in TUHSD?

  • The curriculum will be “cookie cutter.”
    • The truth is that teachers are determining essential skills that are important enough for all students to master. This will even out the playing field so that we know that when students finish one class, they are ready for the next.  Essential skills don’t make up an entire curriculum of a course.  Teacher choice remains for all other skills and activities.
  • Teacher creativity will be eliminated.
    • In fact, teacher creativity is essential to good instruction. Teachers will still be free to plan the activities and experiences that will move their students toward mastery of the program goals.
  • There will be fewer opportunities for high achieving students.
    • Again, just the opposite is true. The assessments will allow teachers to gather accurate information about student performance.  Students who have masteredconceptsshould be provided opportunities to problem solve and to apply the concepts to novel situations.
  • Our system has become “top down”.
    • Teachers working together in teams will actually flatten the organization. Teams have empowered to collaboratively create and agree upon program goals and assessments.  However, the “lone wolf” style of working by closing the classroom door and working in isolation is no longer an option.

The board and administrative team are committed to the Tam District mission statement;in fact, it is our moral imperative to ensure that all students are prepared for 21st century life.

We encourage our stakeholders to seek clarity about the true work of the district and not to be misled by those who seek to maintain the status quo.  Good schools are not the best we can do, and business as usual is not good enough.  We can ensure great outcomes for all our students by empowering our teachers to work in teams, to foster collaboration, and to learn from one another.  Our students deserve nothing less.

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