One size fits one: An interview with Alaska teacher Lee Ann Galusha
No one slips by Lee Ann Galusha.
As a teacher at Chenega Bay School in Alaska’s remote Chugach school district, she knows where each of her students, mostly native Aleutian islanders, is on a trajectory towards mastery of standards. That’s because demonstrated performance on a variety of measures—and not grade levels or Carnegie units—determines student progress. The results of this strategy have been astonishing, earning Chugach a national reputation for student achievement gains that place it far ahead of districts with much wealthier students. (Click here for PublicSchoolInsights.org’s story on the district)
To find out more about this system, PublicSchoolInsights.org spoke with Galusha last week.
Here’s what we learned….
The Basic Overview:
Unlike most school districts, Chugach does generally move students to the next grade level at the end of a school year. To progress towards graduation, a student must reach certain “targets” at different levels. When students meet their targets, no matter where they are in the calendar year, they take an assessment to see if they are ready to move up to the next level.
Personalization and Personal Responsibility at Chenega Bay
Each student works at his or her own pace: A student may for example work at a high level in reading and at a low level in science, if that is what she needs. Because each classroom includes students at so many levels, students do much of their work independently—with strong guidance from teachers, of course.
Freed from clock and calendar, teachers and students work together to ensure true mastery of material designated in standards. No one can coast through.
Together with school staff, students track their progress with an “Everything” binder that contains their assignments, samples of their work, and results on school and state assessments. An on-line data management system helps them understand what they need to do to progress from one level to the next.
Can It Be Applied in Other Places?
Sure, this level of personal attention might seem relatively easy to achieve in a small school like Chenega Bay—and Chenega Bay is tiny. Galusha and her husband are the only two teachers, and between them they teach 17 students from pre-K to high school.
Still, Galusha insists that Chugach’s standards-based system can work in any public school setting. Drawing on her experience teaching at a large school, she believes that, even in large classes, teachers can allow each student to reach standards at his or her own pace.
Galusha concludes the interview with an important piece of advice for people who would like to adopt a standards-based approach like the Chugach strategy: The strategy will succeed only if its proponents do the hard work of getting parents, teachers and students to buy in from the start.
Listen to the Interview
But don’t take my word for it. Listen to the interview either in part or in its entirety:
Listen to a four-minute excerpt:
Hear the entire 15-minute version:
Introduction to the System and School - Listen (1:10)
System Basics - Listen (2:26)
Measuring Student Success -Listen (1:21)
Incorporating Hands-On Learning - Listen (2:06)
Helping All Students Succeed - Listen ( 1:07)
Empowering Students - Listen (2:44)
Can it be Replicated? - Listen (2:35)
Lessons Learned - Listen (1:39)
Click here to browse dozens of Public School Insights interviews with extraordinary education advocates, including:
- 2013 Digital Principal Ryan Imbriale
- Best Selling Author Dan Ariely
- Family Engagement Expert Dr. Maria C. Paredes
The views expressed in this website's interviews do not necessarily represent those of the Learning First Alliance or its members.
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