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Teaching the Performance Packages
by Cara Hetland
February 9, 2000

Part of Minnesota's new graduation standards are built around 48 standards called the Profile of Learning. Students must demonstrate achievement in 24 of these standards through hands-on assignments called performance packages. The performance packages can take weeks to teach, forcing teachers to bypass large chunks of curriculums. Such changes concern parents who are worried about how missing lessons will effect their children in the long run.

AFTER 20 YEARS teaching high school English at Hills-Beaver Creek, Cyndi Ebert still approaches her job with the passion of a missionary. Ebert is one of two English teachers at the small consolidated Rock County district in extreme southwestern Minnesota, just 10 miles from the South Dakota border.

Starla Scholten says her fifth-grade son, Tom, struggles in school and works hard for average grades. Scholten says she's afraid her son will suffer because of what he's not getting in school.
Behind a desk piled high with papers needing grading, Ebert eagerly discusses the changes she's made to her courses because of the Profile of Learning. She says graduation standard performance packages require her to dedicate two to twelve weeks of class time class time she says could be better spent.

Ebert: Last year I left out the novel Great Expectations in English 9.
Ebert says this year's sophomores, who under current law are the first students faced with the higher graduation requirements, will continually have lessons left out over the next two years as teachers try to make room for performance packages. She's concerned that those student headed to college will start behind their peers when it comes to knowledge of classic literature, so she's trying to adapt her lessons for the next wave of students.
Ebert: I'm hoping that I won't have to leave it out this year. But then, possibly I will leave out something else. I think I will cut back on the number of short stories that I normally teach in English 9 and that would be a better option.
Ebert hopes to add more literature for this year's Dickens-deprived tenth graders. But again she faces a dilemma, because she must work in a performance package unit which requires students to compare authors and styles.
Ebert: I will try to get in all of the works that I normally read in English 10. But it does mean, then, that I'm going to sacrifice I don't know how many weeks of what would be a grammar unit. And I don't know how many weeks because I haven't done this package before.
The purpose of the Profile of Learning is not to take away knowledge from the kids but rather require certain skills and knowledge. Joe Nathan is the Director of the Center for School Change at the Humphrey Institute. He says the skills and knowledge are required by state mandate, not the performance packages. He says it's up to the teachers and the districts to decide how to fit it in.
"I'm almost certain I'll have to take basic English in college just to catch up with what I'm missing because those packages (Profile of Learning) take up so much time."

- Lee Walraven
Hills - Beaver Creek High School
Nathan: All over the state there are school districts that are not using the performance packages, which have come up with ways that they think are better approaches to teaching these skills and this knowledge that do not involve performance packages.
Nathan says millions of dollars have been allocated to train teachers how to incorporate the required standards into their curriculum. He says the district, not the state, needs to change requirements if it feels important information isn't being taught.

Some teachers report they cover the same amount of information in a class, but gloss over the details to fit in the Profile of Learning. At North High School in North St. Paul, American History teacher Marni Brown says in order for her ninth graders to have library time for a performance package research project, she left out part of her Revolutionary War unit.
Brown: I'm thinking 85 minutes here where kids are coloring their things and gluing stuff to the boards and presenting these ideas. But yet, they walk out of there having no idea that maybe 20 percent of the population back in 1776 actually supported the whole idea of independence. They don't understand what perspectives are, what a loyalist was.
John Berdahl is having the Hills-Beaver Creek sophomore geometry class draw several versions of a living space for action figure dolls. Most students play with a Barbie or Ken doll as they listen to the instructions. Berdahl says he chose this package because it seemed the easiest and takes only two weeks to do.

As a first-year teacher, Berdahl hasn't had to throw out any tried-and-true lessons, but he wants to make sure he's able to get in all the basic material.
Berdahl: It's their only chance at geometry. For those that are going to have a profession that involves geometry on a daily basis like an engineer, a physicist or something like that, if they get robbed of some of the skills because we didn't have time in our 180 days to cover it, that hurts them.
Still, Berdahl is more confident than some of his veteran colleagues that the students who go on to college will have a well-rounded education. He says the performance packages aren't much of a burden for new teachers who don't have a set curriculum and can actually assist them in putting a course together.

Among parents, though, the fear of kids missing out on what is still considered "normal" curriculum runs deep. Though students begin completing performance packages to meet graduation requirements in ninth grade, the new system exposes them to profile standards from the moment they enter school in kindergarten.

Starla Scholten says her fifth-grade son, Tom, struggles in school and works hard for average grades. Scholten says she's afraid her son will suffer because of what he's not getting in school.
Scholten: To me, in elementary school you need to get the basics and then you build in high school. And if teachers are taking away from the basics to fit in these profiles, I'm worried my fifth-grade student is going to come to the seventh grade totally lost.
"I'm not able to take classes that matter to me because I'm forced to learn things that, in my opinion, aren't worth knowing."

- Jody Denoble
Hills - Beaver Creek High School Listen
Scholten says she needs an explanation of what was wrong with the old curricula before she can embrace the Profile of Learning.

Supporters of the Profile of Learning say the hands-on way students learn something under the new standards teaches them skills they'll be able to use after graduation.

But students can't seem to help but wonder what they're missing. Many teachers say they try to make the transition to performance packages seamless but they can't keep them a secret. Checklists and expectations accompany every standards package. Some teachers give standards packages two grades - one for the Profile of Learning and one factored in to their class grade. In cases where they don't give two grades, they notice some students slack off.

Hills-Beaver Creek sophomore Lee Walraven says to him the Profile of Learning is more a game than a lesson to draw upon later in life. He says he's not inclined to work for a top score unless it's factored into his grade.
Walraven: You're not thinking what it's going to be doing, because you're worrying if you're going to get the package done and if you're going to be able to pass it.
Walraven says his goal in school is to get high enough grades so he's eligible to participate in sports. He's focusing on extra curricular activities and preparing for the A-C-T test next year. Walraven says he fears his A-C-T score will suffer because of what he's not being taught. In a survey of the 26 members of the Hills-Beaver Creek sophomore class, 60 percent believe the graduation standards are hurting their college preparation. None felt the Profile of Learning will help them later in life.