Parents Gather To Speak Out On Summit Learning Program at BOE

Creekside and Mill Creek Summit Learning teachers and administrators recently presented a recommendation to Dexter Community Schools Board of Education for the continuance of the Summit Learning Platform for a third year pilot during the 2018-19 school year.

Educators, students and parents alike were present at the March 19 Board of Education meeting to speak out on the Summit Learning Program now in its second year of evaluation. While support for the project-based learning program was enthusiastic and overwhelming, there was also recognition that some students fared better in a more traditional classroom.

The Summit Learning Platform is a teaching method designed to empower students to become self-directed learners – through the mentorship of an educator, they set goals for their learning, reflect on their progress and develop habits and mindsets to help them further along in their education, a career, and life. Currently, Summit Learning is used selectively with some Creekside 6th and Mill Creek 7th and 8th graders.

Dexter Community Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Timmis presented the Board with data that showed students in the program were progressing well beyond state expectations as shown by the mid-year testing. Referring to data from the NWEA standardized assessments, Dr. Timmis pointed out the impact Summit Learning was having on students’ education.

“From what we can tell from the data given, we’re significantly improving the kids’ skills in reading and math,” Dr. Timmis said. “While this is great, it is not the reason we want to continue the program. The real strengths in Summit are the cognitive skills inventory that is being developed. Those skills are transferable across subjects.”

Dexter’s implementation of the pilot program has gotten the attention of other educators around the state, as well as the results. Timmis told the Board and audience, “When I talk to other districts and we talk about growth, I show them these stats and they ask, ‘Well how on earth are you doing that?’”

The Summit Learning Platform has students engaging the real world through classroom projects. Students work in teams to apply what they’re learning to models that mimic and solve real-world problems. They develop strong collaboration, communication and critical thinking skills.

For some parents, this has been a godsend. As one parent told the group, “Our 6th grader has ADHD. It’s been a struggle. With this program he gets to pick his activities for learning. He’s all of a sudden interested in History and I don’t think that’s happened before. We’ve reduced his medication because this system keeps him on track and he feels more confident that he can learn things his own way.

In the Summit Program, teachers target instruction individually and in small groups based on one-on-one student assessment data. Students work through playlists of Common Core and NGSS-aligned content at their own pace and take assessments on demand.

A criticism of the program has been that it reduces teacher interaction and leaves students to learn from a computer or peers in their work group.

Mill Creek 8th grader Alex Gilbert disagrees. He told the audience and Board, “The great thing with the Summit Platform is that there is a lot more student/teacher interaction. Before, in the more traditional classroom, there isn’t as much teacher feedback for the student along the way. In Summit, students are constantly getting feedback on their project checkpoints.

Creekside 6th grade teacher Jane Webby, a Summit Learning Platform educator and strong proponent of the new program, responds to the concern of reduced teacher/student input with, “I would invite anyone to come in to visit my classroom because they’re not learning from videos. I’m teaching them.”

And that’s exactly in-line with Summit Learning Platform objectives – Teachers mentor students in regular check-ins, providing ongoing feedback and serving as a coach and advocate to develop habits of success such as learning strategies, emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills.

Mill Creek 8th grader Isa Reyes had this to say about Summit Learning: “Cognitive skills are assessed in each project. The project could be a presentation and along the way you have multiple checkpoints with the teacher. That really helps the students so they can understand everything and give feedback to students.

Jane Webby added, “The projects are what sell this and the projects are what the children love and enjoy. If I couldn’t teach this way, you know I don’t think I would teach anymore. I couldn’t go back to the old way.

The “old way” as Jane Webby says, or “more traditional classroom” as Alex Gilbert describes his former learning experience, still works well for some students whose parents are concerned that Summit Learning will become the only teaching style in DCS.

One parent told the audience, “This has been very helpful to me to hear the stories of the parents whose children have thrived under it. But I think it’s important to be aware that as excited as you are about it and as great as your kids are doing, there are also some kids who are not doing as well in the program. They are having a different experience and perhaps prefer to learn with a book instead of a video. I see Summit as a great program that is one piece of the puzzle that we’re putting together for educating our kids.

The teachers’ recommendation to the Board is to “offer both the Summit Learning option and a non-Summit Learning option in grades 5-8 based on parent and student input. At Creekside, 4 Summit Classrooms would be offered in both 5th and 6th grades. At Mill Creek, parents have been asked if they would like their child on a full Summit Learning team, a hybrid-team using Summit Learning for Math/Science, or a Non-Summit Learning team. Our intention is to offer a more traditional option for parents/students who chose a non-Summit or nonhybrid option.”

There was no action taken by the Board at the meeting to continue Summit. The presentation was for discussion purposes and future consideration. A specific decision on whether or not to continue the program will be made at a future meeting.

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