How Compass Montessori is elevating learning experiences
COMPASS MONTESSORI, a K-12 public Montessori charter school, elevated its Montessori teaching practice by mapping its curriculum to the Colorado Academic Standards and introducing interim assessments and an online data management system. Teachers at Compass are now equipped with the resources and performance data they need to deliver rigorous, personalized, standards-aligned Montessori learning experiences to all students every day.
Compass Montessori is a preschool through 12th grade Colorado charter school that has operated in Jefferson County since 1998. With campuses in Wheat Ridge and Golden, the school serves about 700 kids, a quarter of whom qualify for federally subsidized school lunches. Compass is noteworthy as it is the first public school in the nation to offer Montessori education from pre-K through 12th grade.
Montessori education is the foundation of the school’s teaching philosophy and strategic vision. However, as a public charter school, Compass is also responsible for meeting the requirements of Colorado’s accountability framework. When new state standards were first introduced, staff at Compass faced a challenge: how to ensure students received a top-flight Montessori education that met and even exceeded the new standards?
To begin incorporating the new state standards into its Montessori practice, staff at Compass began with the end in mind. Over the course of the 2013-2014 academic year, the school engaged in a comprehensive school community feedback process to inform a strategic plan and vision of success for the school. This included developing specific and measurable academic goals and a set of strategies to achieve them.
Once that road map was in place, Compass staff moved toward full implementation of the new accountability framework. The teachers mapped their Montessori curriculum to the Colorado Academic Standards. Occasionally they came across an instructional area where classic Montessori materials alone couldn’t teach a skill embedded in the standards. In those instances, instructional coaches would develop materials consistent with Montessori practice that would teach those lessons.
The school’s leadership made structural changes aimed at helping students struggling in one or more subject areas. Teachers received training in how to use Montessori materials to work one-on-one with students to strengthen skills.
Compass also introduced two new progress-monitoring tools -- the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment and the online record keeping system Montessori Records Xpress (MRX). MAP provides school staff with more frequent and timelier student performance data and the record-keeping system has a range of capabilities that support in-depth analysis of student progress.
Finally, school leadership began using a Montessori School Quality Rubric to hold administrators and teachers accountable for continuous improvement in academics and Montessori practice. This self-assessment tool includes practical next steps to ensure Compass is delivering an exemplary Montessori experience to children and families.
Compass’ transformation is a work in progress. Now beginning its fourth year of focused alignment of Montessori practice to the Colorado Academic Standards, staff members see positive results at all levels. In 2013-14, Compass' TCAP scores improved by 11 percentage points in math and writing, along with overall growth in the one-year state School Performance Framework of 30.6 points. Data from 2014-15’s MAP assessment shows continuous improvement in all academic areas.
Compass’ culture has evolved as well. “The experience of integrating the Colorado Academic Standards into our day-to-day work helped shift our staff to more of a growth mindset – both for themselves and for their students,” said Bill Kottenstette, the school’s executive director. “It’s been hard work but it has also challenged us to grow, improve our Montessori practice and ultimately better meet the needs of our students.”
The school’s focus on professional development has been another key driver of progress, Kottenstette said. Since the new standards were introduced, Compass has invested heavily in its teachers. One summer, staff members completed more than 7,000 hours of training in areas including development of Montessori practice, effective use of data from the MAP test, improving services for students with diverse learning needs, and leadership development.
Compass also built flexibility into its professional development strategy. For example, when the school introduced MRX, teachers received upfront training but were then allowed whether to opt in for the first year. This approach allowed teachers who were excited to test the new system to become early adopters while giving extra time to those still struggling to learn the technology.
In addition to building knowledge and skills, the emphasis on professional development at Compass also resulted in a more confident and autonomous teaching staff. “Our teachers are more self-governing now,” said Cameron Gehlen, K-6 principal at Compass. “They know what our goals are, and they feel equipped to work toward them. They are now more likely to work together to solve problems rather than looking directly to the administration for answers.”
Professional development has proven so transformative over the past few years that Compass’ leaders wish they had done even more. “We ran into some implementation challenges when we started using (MAP and MRX) that could have been avoided if we spent more time learning the technology up-front,” says Gehlen.
The Compass community is excited to build on its results to date. Indeed, with their commitment to continuous learning, and with new tools and resources in place, Compass staff members are well positioned to offer a strong Montessori learning experience that supports all students in mastering Colorado’s Academic Standards.