Dispatches from the Field: Carissa Duran
By Gary Chapin
Writer, Educating for Good
It’s striking, when you look down the list of folks involved in ALP, how many are still part of the ALP community. Many—most?—have moved away from the jobs they held back then, but they’ve carried the Assessment for Learning values and ideals with them into new settings and roles. This is the ALP diaspora.
Carissa Duran was central to the ALP funded Competency X project at Del Lago Academy of Applied Science, Escondido Unified High School District (CA), but unlike others leading that project, Carissa did not get involved with ALP on purpose. She was not part of the project’s founding team. I talked to Carissa about the happenstance power of ALP. Here are excerpts.
“I absolutely just found myself in the middle of [the ALP work] … I don't have a clear entry point in my memory. I remember being part of reviewing the grant documents. I was an English teacher, so maybe that was part of it too. I could edit these documents.”
“I think largely I became more central to the work because it fascinated me and energized me. I've tried in lots of different ways to center the student learning experience in a way that was meaningful and just, purposeful and equitable. That's the thing that I was most drawn to. The idea of creating these nontraditional pathways and honoring the learning students were doing that wasn't being captured in all of the other ways we assessed. I just kept myself involved.”
ALP conversations helped Del Lago examine its assumptions.
“[Our ALP coach] (disclosure from Gary: I was their ALP coach) helped us to understand that a lot of what we thought we were doing, we weren't really doing.
We would say we did competency-based education and we never actually articulated what those competencies were. And it took you pointing that out to us, for us to be able to ask, ‘Are we going to pursue a more pure version of this or are we going to remain with this sort of modified system? Who are we actually? What do we actually want to do? What's best for our learners?’”
Carissa interacted deeply with other ALP folks. At the San Diego 2020 ALP Conference, the team from Hawai’i led a session about their HĀ framework (go to their website for more info). The framework uses the acronym, BREATH: Belonging, Responsibility, Excellence, Aloha, Total wellbeing, and Hawai’i. Carissa was struck by the deeply place-based structure.
“At the end of the BREATH framework is the word “Hawai’i” … [we want to] create these beautiful, context specific frameworks that are meant to support our learners. We know how important it is to design things with our unique community or context in mind. And you were asking, ‘How do we use [the HĀ framework] on the East Coast when we're not Hawai’i and we need a new age? Like how do we get a new age that still captures this?’ I said, ‘What if the H in Breath is Here?’ For our friends in Hawai’i, obviously, Hawai’i is here. But for any of the rest of us, our home is here. Here is here … I'm always thinking about that as a focal point. What does that mean here? How does this community impact this learner? How are they involved? What do these particular learners need? Centering that in all my work has been probably the most impactful learning that I've taken from ALP.”
After some years, Carissa left Del Lago and worked with Instructure, the developers of Canvas. This year she’s returned to Escondido’s district office as A-G Coordinator. She also began a new stage of graduate work focused on—get this—assessment.
“I started a doctoral program a few weeks ago, my PhD in Educational Leadership and Policy. And I wrote my policy paper, part of my admissions process, on assessment and the impact of accountability policy and its trickle-down effect on what assessment looks like in classrooms. My whole life has become about assessment.”
“Even when it's not about assessment, it's about assessment. Assessment is at the center of all things, teaching and learning. It's literally become the center point of my whole life now. Everything I'll be doing and designing and learning, at least for the next four years, is going to be around assessment.”
“That may be a little bit obsessive. It's maybe a little bit obsessive? But I feel like that's the impact the ALP has. It draws you in because it's assessment, but it is assessment situated within justice.”
At the 2019 Aurora Institute Symposium, Carissa was awarded Teacher of the Year for being an educator “whose efforts as a personalized learning teacher exemplify a commitment to student success, knowledge, and skill as a professional educator and dedication to his or her students.” The video of her acceptance speech can be seen below.
Carissa Duran is an educator in pursuit of justice and currently serving as A-G Coordinator with the Escondido Union High School District. She has worked in the field of education for over 10 years, serving 7 years at Del Lago Academy, an innovative, competency-based high school, teaching Humanities and coaching other teachers in literacy, language development, assessment, and educational technology. Fully committed to disrupting inequities in education, she spent those years leveraging Assessment for Learning, Project Based Learning, Standards-Based Grading, Restorative Practice, and personalized learning to serve her students. In 2019, Carissa was recognized as the Personalized Learning Teacher of the Year by the Aurora Institute (formerly iNACOL). She believes that as long as we're serving diverse students with diverse backgrounds— which we are— we need to leverage technology and personalization to bridge the opportunity gap and give all students an onramp to success.
Carissa can be found on Twitter at @seejodee.