Iterating Rapidly: How a flexible model turned USC Hybrid High into a high-performing school in 30 weeks

With the third quarter of the school year wrapping up here at Ednovate – USC Hybrid High School, we have made great strides down the path of personalizing the learning experience for each of our students. USC Hybrid High School’s instructional model is evolving rapidly as we identify tools, strategies, and structures that better enable us to execute on our vision. In less than a year, we have doubled the percentage of students performing at or above grade level in all subject areas on the NWEA MAP assessment, predicting significant growth on other state and national indicators as well.

That said, the path hasn’t always been clear; the truth is that we have taken many turns and U-turns, learning hard lessons along the way about what works in personalized learning. We’ve gotten excited about ideas that we ended up tossing out just a few days in, and we’ve been skeptical about things that we ultimately fell in love with.

What has helped us to make effective decisions about our iterations has been clarifying our Theory of Change. Using that as our North Star has allowed us the flexibility to enact frequent adjustments to our model, constantly driving us closer to our goal of closing the college completion gap for our students.

Quarter 1: Self-paced within one period

In our Quarter 1 model, we focused on having teachers create self-paced learning within each period. We challenged them to create classes in which students were doing the thinking for 100% of the period. We structurally forced this by having alternating “studio” days and traditional days. During studio lessons, students worked online at their own pace for the whole 75-minute period; on traditional days, students experienced a more traditional lesson cycle.

We also created an infrastructure built around IlluminateHaparaCleverGoogle Apps, and Chromebooks to set the parameters for our digital learning platform. We learned what types of learning worked best synchronously and asynchronously as well as strategies for managing self-paced classes. We structurally increased the student thinking time and reduced teacher talk time.

Quarter 2: Interpreting digital data daily & more student autonomy

In Quarter 2, we focused on continuously collecting mastery scores (real-time student achievement data) and adjusting our live teaching depending on what we saw. On studio days, our teachers were receiving data from students at about 10-minute intervals, and we needed a way to analyze that data quickly and make adjustments. Apps like CurriculetActively LearnThinkCERCA, and NoRedInk helped our teachers obtain actionable data in our self-paced learning environments.

We also realized that in order to live our values of trust and integrity, we needed to give our students more autonomy by transitioning to student ownership of their Chromebooks. This had the added benefit of saving even more classroom time and allowed for increased student responsibility.

Quarter 3: Deep learning through performance tasks & extending self-paced learning over weeks

At the end of the second quarter, we were excited about the positive results we were seeing on our own assessments as well as national assessments; we had growth in all areas. After deeper analysis, we saw that our online learning approach was especially effective for our students who performed in the bottom third of all students. Given that we had the right culture and data systems in place, Quarter 3 was ripe for an introduction to our performance tasks to allow for every one of our students to engage in the content more deeply and to make connections to their own passions and interests.

Reflecting on the structure of alternating days we had established in the first semester, we also decided to blur the lines between traditional and studio time. We gave our instructors the autonomy to use their time and space as they saw fit, as long as each student was getting what they needed when they needed it. The patterns that are emerging in how we use space, time, synchronous and asynchronous learning are very informative in how we will design our permanent space and future schools. Our teachers seemed to gravitate toward Canvas, a user-friendly learning management system that allows them to support our students with their self-paced curriculum and projects.

Quarter 4: Mastery-based grading & inspiring performance tasks

As we move into Quarter 4, building on the successes of the last three quarters, we are excited to move into the world of mastery-based grading. Instead of building curriculum from scratch, our teachers are building off of the best digital content available and supplementing the curriculum with Canvas so our student learning aligns to our learning goals and interim assessments. We are also consistently grading our students’ specific critical thinking skills across all disciplines, aligning to our annual themes.

A lot of interesting challenges lie ahead as we continue to evolve. This quarter, we’d like to see how we can take our staff professional development to the next level by personalizing our weekly PD sessions (if anyone has any suggestions, please reach out!), and we want to look at our daily practices with a critical eye to see where updates are needed: for example, whether we should be asking teachers to post their daily objective on the board when students are now working on different objectives on any given day and whether we are ready for laptops to start traveling home with students. We certainly don’t have all the answers, but we’re learning a lot every day.

Constant and never ending improvement

At Ednovate – USC Hybrid High, evolution is constant. As technology resources improve, we also improve in our ability to use technology to provide every student with a personalized education. We believe that our commitment to continuous improvement is what has allowed us to make as much progress as we have in only thirty weeks and what will ultimately allow us to see our real goal come true: closing the college completion gap for our students.

Stay tuned for a future blog post about how we created the right conditions to allow for the type of constant evolution described here.

- See more at: