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Equity and Adaptability: A Conversation with Camp, Head of Teaching and Learning at New England Innovation Academy

Success Stories, Video

A Conversation with Camp

Captured at the 2023 Otus Regional Workshop in Marlborough, MA, we took a moment during a bustling day of collaborative learning to sit down with Camp, the Head of Teaching and Learning at the New England Innovation Academy. These Regional Workshops are the ideal platform for Otus users to delve deeper into its features, share success stories, and engage with fellow educators from their region, all geared towards professional enhancement and networking. The Academy, which is entering its third year with Otus, boasts a unique competency-based system for assessment. They found Otus to be the perfect partner in presenting its complex grading system, weaving together traditional, competency, standards, and mastery styles.

Three Key Takeaways from Our Conversation with Camp

Data-Informed Personalized Learning

Recognizing each student’s unique learning journey is fundamental in K-12 education. By utilizing data tools like Otus, NEIA has access to robust data collection capabilities, enabling educators to decipher and act on this information effectively. The visual representation of student progression offers a detailed view of each student’s academic path.

“It’s competency, standards, mastery, and traditional grading — all mashed into what we believe is the best system. And it was very difficult to find an LMS and gradebook to support how we do things. Otus filled every need we had.”

Such insights are invaluable, aiding in early interventions, facilitating parent-educator dialogues, and ensuring students align with their learning objectives. With a continuous feedback loop in place, schools are better positioned to tailor every child’s educational experience, fostering a solid foundation for lifelong learning.

Equity Through Adaptability

Equity is a cornerstone of modern K-12 education. In a diverse student population, each child comes with their unique set of challenges and strengths. By leveraging Otus, NEIA can address the variability in student circumstances – like health issues leading to absenteeism – and adapt assessment metrics accordingly. This flexibility is paramount in a K-12 setting as it ensures that no student is left behind due to external factors. It also fosters an environment where all students, regardless of their personal challenges, feel understood and catered to.

Continual Growth and Calibration

K-12 schools are dynamic entities, continually evolving in their approaches and instructional practices. It’s imperative that assessment practices align with this dynamism, ensuring that they remain relevant, consistent, and transparent. Through Otus, NEIA is equipped to periodically review and recalibrate its grading systems. Consistency in grading across subjects and grade levels is essential as it instills trust in the system among students, educators, and parents alike. A transparent and consistent grading approach ensures that students are assessed fairly, and educators can plan interventions based on reliable data.

“Our assessment system is not like a single data point in a traditional system. Getting a quiz back with 75% doesn’t tell you anything about what you learned or your learning processes, and our system does that. But we need a system like Otus to be able to be able to present that and for students to process and understand it. It’s really using data to inform better student learning.”

Otus Gradebook
The Otus Standards Gradebook provides NEIA with the flexibility needed to clearly communicate progress towards learning outcomes with all stakeholders, including students and their families.

Interview Transcript

Kendell Hunter

Camp, would you mind just starting off by sharing your name, the school you support, and more about your role?

Camp

Sure. My name’s Camp. I am the Head of Teaching and Learning at New England Innovation Academy, which is a, essentially, a startup school, independent school. We’re kicking off our third year in just a couple weeks.

Kendell Hunter

Wow, Congratulations! Three years. Very exciting. Lots of new systems in place, I’m sure.

Can you tell us more about how Otus came into the conversation for New England Innovation Academy? Yep. So, we have a very unique, competency-based system for assessment. And our system is really, I call it a mashup.

Camp

It’s competency, standards, mastery, traditional — all mashed into what we believe is the best system.

And it was very difficult to find a LMS and gradebook to support how we do things and Otus filled every need we had for that. So that was a long journey looking through, like, many, many programs. And, Otus is by far the best, and for for what we needed to do, which is complicated, it does all those things. Amazing, actually.

Kendell Hunter

We love to hear that. Is New England Innovation Academy K-8 or what grade levels are we?

Camp

It’s six through twelve.

Kendell

Six through twelve. Okay. So are all six through twelve grade students being assessed using Otus then?

Camp

They were last year. Now, they’re all of our competencies or standards in Otus, everything gets funneled into Otus. So that we can track their competencies, in a subject area across the whole school that way. So we use it as, like, primarily, like, our because competency-based our competency-based system is super important to us, as we consider it like a distinction of how we do things. Otus is our prime showcase for that, for families and for students and for teachers.

Kendell Hunter

Okay, so you do have students and families logging in to see all of their progress on those competencies. 

Camp

Yeah. Yep.

Kendell Hunter

Are you finding that giving them that level of visibility impacts how they see themselves as learners at all, or?

Camp

Yeah. Definitely. And we have to even do better with using the cool tools in Otus in terms of the graphs and how we can use the data compilation systems to help student learning and help students understand their progress. So it’s really, we haven’t even really fully tapped into all the great things that Otus can do, but, because I just talk about, like, with with the individual students or even families, like, oh, we can look at your, I-Connect competency and, like, I can click on it and pull up a graph. And my favorite things about the graphs are that, you can see the progress on our standards, on our measures for the competencies, but that you can click on anyone to see where that point is.

And it tells you what assessment that was. Like, that’s an amazing data point to talk to a family or a student about, like, oh, look. How you’re doing really well? And you went down a little bit on this assessment, what it was about that assessment and how you approached it, how you took it, all those types of things, how we taught it, that could be better? All those things.

Kendell Hunter

Wow. So it sounds like you’re definitely engaging in a lot of dialogue around all of that data. That that’s fantastic to hear. You’re kind of unlocking things that maybe were a bit more confusing.

Camp

Well, that’s the whole goal of our system, actually, is to have it so that those I always say the way I talk about our assessment system is it’s not a single data point in a traditional system. Get a quiz back in seventy-five minutes. Doesn’t tell you anything about what you learned or what you’re learning processes, and our system does that. But we need a system like Otus to be able to be able to present that and for students to process and understand it.

So yeah. It’s really like using that data to inform better student learning.

Kendell Hunter

Absolutely. And I imagine that ties into a bit when some of the equity practices you all are employing at New England Innovation as well. Would that be?

Camp

Yeah. So one of the great things about, that we feel like about our system is it is equity-based, like, all bias is taken out of it when we’re, assessing and having all of the being able to use the competencies in a way that Otus can track allows us to look at things for equity purposes from whether it’s accommodations or just any individual student circumstances that our system allows us to just for a little example, I noticed that I could tag for you on an assessment three competencies, but for somebody else who was absent for a week because of COVID, only two because they didn’t work on that skill as much.

Those little types of things actually helped the equity process overall for, a student getting a fair experience as a student in a class with grades and everything else.

Kendell Hunter

Absolutely. It’s so interesting how you’re using the same process, but Differentiating it to support, you know, those instances where maybe a student is absent.

Camp

Yeah. And I would say that’s something that I don’t think we necessarily anticipated, but Otus opened that up for us, actually, is being able to realize that for any, assessment, you can select any number of students or a whole class, however you want to do it, it’s really been helpful. Like,  I guess I didn’t think about that when we were doing like, I knew we could that could be part system.

But again, the way Otus services us at NEIA is we can do that whenever we need to, which is awesome. It just helps for the whole clarity purposes for students and in terms of like the equity that we’re talking about.

Kendell Hunter

Sure. Have teachers noticed an impact on how they communicate progress using the system and kind of standardizing the process?

Camp

Yeah. So we’re really lucky as a new school in that every teacher in our school uses the system. So every student, I mean, every teacher uses our competency system, uses Otus to put input, all of it, So, again, like a lot of schools who would like to change their assessment practices, that’s often a long haul. We were able to start with it this way. But I would say that teachers definitely, see the major benefit of how you can use that to improve student learning and have conversations students for just a clarity of what they’re actually learning and doing.

Kendell Hunter

Absolutely. So we are chatting right on the precipice of a new school year. What are you all focused on this year at New England Innovation Academy?

Camp

So one thing that Otus is going to help us with is sort of tracking the data of how many competencies are equitable actually across the school for a fair grade when it all comes down to it. So one of the things I just used Otus, data analytics to do was see how many competencies were assessed in which subject areas, how many times, all those types of things, and being able to take that data then and use it to inform going into this year, this is the target of how many competencies you should be using, in general, so that you’re a student can really have a fair look at or end up in a fair grade based on the trajectory of the year because we do not assess by or, we don’t categorize grades by, semester or a quarter or anything like that. It’s a year trajectory. So we believe in that process too as part of our system, it takes the whole year to sort of really, show somebody their picture, but it also is important that teachers have the same pool of essentially competencies that they’re using to assess so that, you know, one teacher’s not only assessing, you know, six competencies and another teacher is using fifteen. So, going into the year, that’s one of our big goals. It’s just basically, I use the word calibrating all the time when I talk about our system. And Otus helps us do that.

Kendell Hunter

Do you find that other schools in the area are trying to learn from you all? I feel like you are employing what is arguably best practice for students across the board.

Camp

Well, we’re trying to we’re trying to broaden out what it is we’re doing and sharing as much as possible. So we have a great marketing team at NEIA, you know, I did the Otus webinar last year. I did another webinar about how we do competencies.

So the more we can spread it, and have and be able to share what it is we’re doing and learn from other people. So we we have a conference, the Oasis National Conference is being hosted at NEIA this year, and I’m presenting at our conference where I’ll be repping Otus there as well for how we’re able to use it. So yeah. So, just spreading the news of how we do it and, you know, like I did on the Otus webinar, I think Otus is an amazing system for to be able to help, an assessment system that we think is the best. Showcase it and use it.

Kendell Hunter

It’s so interesting because a lot of what you’re saying is, you know, you all have systems in place to support student learning and Otus is just the tool. But that’s just what’s so important about education technology is that your tool doesn’t become your goal. Your goal is your students. It sounds like that nicely fits.

Camp

I would say the biggest thing about Otus, the best, customer service I’ve ever had in any work, and as a customer, whatever it is, being able to use a chat function and people get back to you within five or ten minutes, with Jess our rep, I can email her at any time, she gets back to me. It’s really literally the best customer service of anything I’ve ever had. And so, again, back as a tool, we’re never bogged down by, something that we are struggling with in-house because I’ll be like, “Oh, what? I’ll just chat with Otus right now” or “You can just go chat with Otus right now.”

And, in the the turnaround on the support is literally unbelievable.

Kendell Hunter

Well, we love to hear that. So, thank you for the shout-out. If an administrator in the area or nationally was considering Otus, do you have any advice for them for either getting started or with the implementation since you’re, at this point, over a year in?

Camp

Yeah. I would say that one of the I would encourage it because you’d be, anybody will be surprised at how personalized Otus will make it for your school or your district. Like I said, we had a very specific thing we wanted to do. And, when we reached out to a bunch of different programs, and just they couldn’t do it or wouldn’t do it or all those things. And Otus is like, yeah, we can probably do that. And we sat down and worked through all the things from our, you know, different point values and averages and how we’re measuring things and what competencies we wanted in there and how we wanted them in there, and Otus has handled every single one of them. So, I think that’s the biggest thing. Like, whatever your district or school is doing, and you might think that you have to fit yourself into a box, like Otus actually fits the box around you. That’s what I would say.

Kendell Hunter

That’s great advice, and, you know, grading is not one size fits all, right? So you definitely need customizations.

Camp

Definitely.

Kendell Hunter

Are you finding that you all are shifting anything as you move from year to year and look at the data, or are you all pretty set in how you’re utilizing the program as you move forward?

Camp

So like I said, we’re in, like, calibration and analysis mode as we go. And so using everything that we use Otus for is all part of the fabric of us analyzing and iterating each year or actually each week. Like, if we need to change something, we can change it and Otus will change it for us right there and then, which is pretty awesome.

Kendell Hunter

Yeah. That’s a huge piece just being able to adapt as you see what’s happening and respond to that data.

Camp

Yeah. And I, you know, I think most LMSs, that’s not as easy. Like, I feel like for, like, some of the ones we wanted to use, they just couldn’t they they didn’t have the mechanism in place to, be malleable and flexible to what we needed. And, Otus being able to do that and with, like, a lot of what I think is great. And this is also what I would say to people who are interested in Otus is that there are just many different facets of the program that not only will they adjust for you, but you can adjust to utilize all the many different aspects of Otus. So that’s great.

Kendell Hunter

Well, fantastic. We’re very excited to see you start the new year and follow your progress as you are supporting students. So, thank you for being here with us, sharing more of your story, and just being such a great partner. We really appreciate it.

Camp

We love Otus. Big fan.

Kendell Hunter

We love to hear that!