Following a 3-year initiative to pilot formative assessment implementation in four Tulsa Public Schools, district leaders sought to scale formative assessment across their secondary schools. To ensure implementation efforts were successful, the district team chose to incorporate a key lesson learned from the pilot: leaders need to become knowledgeable about formative assessment and the specific leadership practices that create conditions that strengthen student agency.
Tulsa Public School leaders asked our team to provide a professional learning experience for all secondary site leaders so that district and site leaders would understand the foundational skills of student agency (i.e., metacognition, self-regulation) necessary for equity and the critical importance of developing a learning culture among adults to support shifts in the student role.
Tulsa Public Schools is the largest school district in Oklahoma, with a total enrollment of approximately 32,000 students, 81% of which are experiencing economic hardship.
- 37% Hispanic/Latinx
- 23% Black
- 23% white
- 10% multiracial
- 5% Native American or Alaska Native
- 2% Asian/Pacific islander
School leaders must have a vision that agency is possible for all students in order to play a significant role in supporting the opportunities, culture, and conditions advance teacher learning in formative assessment.
Leaders who apply formative assessment as a vehicle to improve student achievement and agency require new knowledge and skills, such as how to engage teachers in an ongoing reflective dialogue about the student role as a learner and facilitating the necessary shifts in mindsets and systems to increase equitable student outcomes.
What we did
WestEd designed a year-long, virtual course for school and district leaders focused on the knowledge, skills and dispositions of site leaders that strengthen student agency. Through the Leading for Agency course, leaders developed a shared understanding related to:
- Key conditions and instructional practices that support student metacognition, self-regulation, motivation, and ownership of learning
- Leadership and school-level practices that promote shifts in the teacher and student roles as learners
- How learner agency develops over time, including what changes for students as they move from a compliant learning stance, to being engaged in learning, to demonstrating student agency
- Strategies for leveraging systems-level change to scale new models for student learning
- How to communicate a transformative vision of the student role that moves away from a compliance orientation and encourages students to use evidence to guide their learning
- Increased knowledge among district leaders and secondary leadership teams about their role in creating a vision for site-specific formative assessment implementation and supporting instructional practices that enliven student agency
- Following the implementation of the Leading for Agency course, district and school leaders crafted a new model for scaling formative assessment across all 24 secondary schools in the district and introduced new staff to lead this initiative
- Significant work has been done with district partners to align district and school policies to support formative assessment and learner agency
What we learned
The dialogue and reflection with Tulsa leaders helped our team to better understand how leaders can work in collaboration to transform current leadership and systems-level practices to best support development of student agency. Leaders contributed freely about the complexities this new work required and helped us learn ways to surface the initial patterns of a shared vision for student learning. Through this learning experience, we explored:
- New observational strategies for leaders to better understand the current school conditions that support or hinder agency
- Strategies leaders can use to interpret how students talk about their learning, and if student responses show compliance, engagement or agency
- Models leaders could use to integrate formative assessment within existing reform models such as culturally-relevant pedagogies and deeper learning
Through this work, WestEd’s team has developed a framework for engaging with leaders in larger scale settings, through online and blended content that can support leaders at any site, regardless of the approaches that are being used to advance learner agency.