Student Well-Being Opinion

The Science Behind Summit Public Schools’ Model

By Contributing Blogger — August 16, 2017 4 min read
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This post is by Adam Carter, Chief Academic Officer at Summit Public Schools

Over the past couple of years, as we have partnered with educators, researchers, and community leaders across the country to share Summit Learning through trainings, coaching, and a learning platform, we have often been asked, “how do you know that Summit Learning works?”

Underlying this question is a deep feeling of responsibility on the part of teachers, parents, principals, and district administrators. It’s a question that is insufficiently answered by the strong performance of the eleven Summit Public Schools in California and Washington state.

In response to that question, we have spent the past few months developing this white paper, which outlines the research-based foundations of our academic model. These foundations encompass the research-based deeper learning competencies defined by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Since our founding in 2003, we have held ourselves accountable to a vision that every student should be equipped to lead a fulfilled life. We’ve worked in partnership with leading learning scientists, researchers, and academics to develop a model that supports that vision. It combines our core values, what science tells us on how students learn best, and cutting-edge research into a school experience that is tailored to each community’s needs. The Science of Summit is written to share this work with you.

Measurable Outcomes that Drive Student Success

Every element of our model is grounded in what science tells us about how students learn best. In The Science of Summit, we translate the science of learning into the intentional design of our schools to achieve student success in four outcomes: Cognitive Skills, Content Knowledge, Habits of Success, and Sense of Purpose.

Summit Learning students graduate having demonstrated mastery in four key domains.

Through the cited research below and many more references in the white paper, we describe how:

  • Cognitive Skills, such as communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity are skills essential for success in college and career, according to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Multiple prominent curriculum frameworks and standards -- Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards and the Center for Curriculum Redesign -- advocate teaching these skills. We prioritize Cognitive Skills in grading above all else. Working with Stanford’s Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE), we developed a single Cognitive Skills Rubric to assess student work. The rubric outlines 36 Cognitive Skills such as asking questions, interpreting data, and synthesizing sources. Students spend the majority of class time immersed in real-world projects that require this higher-order thinking.
  • Students need a broad Content Knowledge base in order to put Cognitive Skills to work, as outlined in research from The ABCs of How We Learn. Daniel Willingham, Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, tells us students must understand academic subjects more deeply than a web search can provide. We enable students to advance through material at their own pace and move on only when they demonstrate proficiency, in line with findings from Harvard Graduate School of Education professor and scientist Todd Rose.
  • Social-emotional learning is inextricably linked to academic learning. Students need Habits of Success -- a set of skills, mindsets, dispositions and behaviors grounded in the social nature of learning. To prepare our students for college and career success, we adopted prominent educational psychologist K. Brooke Stafford-Brizard’s 2016 Building Blocks for Learning as our framework. It outlines 16 key social-emotional learning skills for comprehensive student development.
  • Students need more than a diploma upon graduation; they need a Sense of Purpose. Research from William Damon, Professor of Education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, tells us students thrive when they understand their interests, values, and skills and have a credible path after high school. To achieve this vision, we incorporate weekly 1:1 mentoring and goal-setting into our approach. By tracking goals weekly with mentors, students cultivate the “why” behind school and develop an inner compass for life after high school.

Our Framework for Designing a School Model

Beyond detailing evidence for each of our student outcomes, The Science of Summit presents a framework for designing school models aligned to a school’s articulated purpose of education and grounded in evidence.

The Aligned School Model Framework was developed at Summit Public Schools.

The Aligned School Model Framework presents six steps for designing a school model that consistently and reliably predicts success for all students when implemented effectively. We used this framework to inform the design of our own model and hope it will be helpful for the greater education community.

This framework is critical to ensuring Summit schools meet the needs of all students. We hope it can do the same for others across the nation, and encourage our peers to use this framework to articulate their own school models. We hope educators everywhere will use the ideas we present in The Science of Summit to serve their communities. Please join us on this journey to support all students.

Download the full white paper now to read more about the science behind our approach and the framework we used to design our school model.

The opinions expressed in Learning Deeply are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.