It may seem obvious to say that Student Learning is the goal of schooling. In some schools, however, the belief that all children can succeed--regardless of race or ethnicity, native language, poverty, or special needs--is lacking. Sadly, the achievement in these schools reflects this belief. But research has shown, time and time again, that given the right supports and strategies, every child can learn. These supports and strategies include:

A balance between student support and academic press. Schools exemplify the potential for change when support for students and families is at the forefront of school improvement efforts. “Helping students deal with their own personal challenges improve student connections to the school, and facilitating this support throughout the entire staff means that the likelihood of a student-to-adult connection can be increased,” observed an MSU K-12 Outreach staffer. But while student support is very important, work with Michigan schools revealed that a similar focus needs to be placed on academic achievement. Our experience shows that sometimes a school that excells at providing a caring and supportive climate and culture for students are hesitant to stress academics. But poor academic achievement of the students in a school is evidence that student learning needs equal time and effort. “There needs to be a balance with academic structure, curriculum and rigor,” observed an MSU K-12 specialist. One way to do this is to involve students in their own data. Several Michigan schools have adopted a system where students track their own data in notebooks. This gives them ownership of their data…and their learning. In some schools, students knew where they were in every subject in relation to where they needed to be

High-quality, student-centered teaching. The quality of classroom instruction is critical to student learning; in fact, it's the most important factor in student learning. It makes sense, then, that successful schools have systems in place to: monitor the quality of instruction in every classroom; provide ongoing, job-embedded professional development for all teachers; and create collaborative and collegial mechanisms for lesson planning and data review.

A high-quality, rigorous and aligned curriculum. This curriculum, related assessments and instructional strategies should be aligned to state standards, as well as within grade levels in a school and across a district. In addition, curricula and assessments should be vertically aligned from grade to grade. That is, each grade's curriculum should build upon the previous grade's curriculum so students work on expanding their skills and knowledge in a coherent fashion.

The articles and videos in this category of MSU K-12 Connect will explore these multifaceted dimensions of student learning.

Think back to when you were in school. From which teachers did you learn the most? Chances are good that the teachers you learned the most from were quite adept at engaging you during class. For English language learners (ELLs) this point certainly holds true as well. However, educators often have difficulty working with ELLs on meaningfully engaging in classroom activities. Many ELLs must overcome anxiety and the emotional turmoil of moving, living in a new cultural environment, and making new friends. All of this must be done while trying to learn English. The language barrier often pushes students into a state of isolation, further inhibiting their classroom engagement and learning.

The opportunity to step back and reflect on challenges facing schools that are tackling achievement for students with IEPs brings an array of thoughts. Based on my observations, conversations, and consulting experiences across the country over the past few years, I have the following thoughts regarding where we are today relative to moving achievement forward for students with IEPs.

Over the past few years, the Michigan Department of Education, the Michigan State University Office of K-12 Outreach, the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators, and other partners worked to create the MI Excel Statewide System of Support (SSoS). In their role with MI Excel, MSU brought together a cadre of experienced and highly trained educators to mentor and guide Priority and Focus school and district personnel in their pursuit of higher achievement. The work was grounded in the research of nationally known scholars, including Joseph Murphy, William Parrett and Kathleen Budge, Franklin Campbell Jones, Lynn Sharrat, Rick Hess, Brett Lane and Bruce Wellman, all of whom were brought in by MSU to train the specialists and work with school and leadership teams from MI Excel schools and districts.

While we talk generally about "student engagement" as a variable in academic success, we may have differing ideas regarding a definition of student engagement. Engagement in learning has many constructs influenced by both the learner and the learning environment. And the learning environment has many elements, including instructional design and delivery as well as the culture of the environment (safety, reciprocal respect, expectations, supports, and nurturing relationships, to name a few). So, to discuss student engagement we need to identify some specific aspects of engagement.

Michigan has made considerable efforts to prepare schools for the inevitability of online assessments. Since 2012, the Michigan legislature has provided $95 million to support district's technology improvements.1 However, only 262 districts, encompassing approximately 11.5% of Michigan's K-12 students, have provided one-to-one internet-ready devices for students to use in the instructional setting.2 One of the most significant arguments against online assessments in Michigan is that many students, particularly those in disadvantaged areas, have not had the opportunity to utilize these technologies on a regular basis. Past studies have indicated that students living in under-resourced areas are more likely than other students to attend schools with limited access to technology.3 This lack of exposure to technology in schools may be exacerbated to an even greater extent when considering the English language learners (ELLs). Almost 74% of Michigan's students identified as ELLs are also considered socioeconomically disadvantaged.4 The potential for a digital divide is real and great for ELLs. Therefore, effectively integrating technology into instruction is particularly important for classroom teachers who work with ELLs.

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