Shakopee Area Catholic Schools is experimenting with personalized plans this school year in an effort to provide its students with a learning experience that goes beyond academic performance.
An infographic sent to SACS families prior to the 2021-22 school year states that the so-called personalized growth plans (PGP) help students, teachers and families “work together to set goals, monitor progress, and celebrate growth related to executive functioning.”
About 700 students are enrolled at SACS, all of them in Pre-K through eighth-grade. Nearly every student and teacher is participating in the initiative.
SACS began work on PGP after performing a market research study in 2020 to learn what parents prioritized in their children’s education. Around 62% of the target market respondents were interested in students having such growth plans moving forward, according to the study’s research data.
Around spring 2021, a committee of staff members across grade levels and subjects was formed to develop this goal-setting tool and decide which skills should be included.
Callie Strop, SACS preschool director and teacher, was one of the main developers of PGP. She said the committee believed it was important that the chosen skills looked beyond typical academic achievement.
“We wanted a holistic view of student development, not just academics,” Strop said. “The marks on someone’s report card or scores on a standardized test might state one thing … but that’s not giving us the whole picture.”
The initiative currently has four categories: Planning & Prioritization, Social-Emotional Skills, Attention & Persistence and Metacognition. Within each category are different executive function skills, including time management, organization, stress tolerance and goal-directed persistence.
The PGP uses a sliding scale to measure success for each skill, with zones demonstrating skill level. Students can be in either the developing, practicing or expanding zone along the scale.
Strop said a scale emphasizes individual growth for students as opposed to an all-or-nothing approach like the checking off of boxes. “I tell the parents of my students that the goal is not for everyone to get up to the highest end — the goal is just to move forward,” she said.
A COLLABORATIVE PROCESS
According to Strop, another important aspect of the program is having students self-reflect on their skills and collaborate with their teachers and parents on setting goals. Rather than PGP acting as another report card, it highlights that collective input and collaboration.
For Pre-K to second graders, teachers go through each skill with parents during conferences, explaining where they think a student is located on a scale. Strop said teachers then ask the parents whether they agree, allowing for more discussion and input from parents.
SACS teachers were able to discuss each student’s PGP during conferences in November. Strop said making the program a collaborative process with parents allowed her to learn more about her students and how to individually support them.
“I think this has opened up conversations about my students that parents may not have shared in a more traditional conference setting,” Strop said. “This gives me further insight into my students and what each of them might need from me.”
From third grade to eighth grade, students self-assess on where they fall on the scale regarding each skill. Teachers then discuss the answers with each student and help them set goals to move forward on the scales.
Having the older students self-reflect, Strop said, can lead to them being more invested in their goals and long-term success beyond just looking at report-card grades.
Since PGP spans across all grade levels at SACS, the plan is to use the tool as a way to track growth over time. Previous scale measurements will be added to students’ cumulative files so personalized growth can be followed through the years.
While the program is only in the pilot stage, Strop said she’s excited for what the future holds regarding the tool and its ability to provide an individualized, holistic education for each student. “What we’re working with this year isn’t perfect, but the great thing about being part of a pilot year is that we’re going to try something out and receive a ton of feedback,” she said. “It’s really exciting to have a tool that we can make our own.”