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JCPS Students Begin School With A New 'Backpack' — And A New Focus On Tracking Skills


Wednesday is the first day of school for students in Jefferson County Public Schools. And this year, students will have an extra backpack with them — a digital one.

The "backpack" will help teachers, parents and students track what skills students are developing throughout their time at JCPS. Called the Backpack of Success Skills, the program stores student work in a digital portfolio on a custom JCPS app. Student work is uploaded through Google Drive. Items placed in the backpack include reading and math scores.

“We are extremely focused on math and reading,” said JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio at a forum held last Thursday at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage. “Every single student we need to know where they are in math and reading and we have to provide that foundation; that’s the foundation for learning.”

[Disclosure: the forum was moderated by Louisville Public Media President Stephen George.]

A student-narrated video from JCPS, which includes montages of students playing the xylophone, walking in cap and gowns and explaining a project that uses hydraulic cylinders, says the program doesn’t just track test scores.

“We know our students must be academically prepared,” says the student narrator. “But we also know they must be good citizens, creative thinkers, excellent communicators and collaborators.”

Students can also place items such as videos and other project-based work that show they're developing these crucial skills in their digital backpacks.

At the end of key transition points in their education, Pollio said students will also have to defend what they’ve learned using evidence from their backpack.

"Every single fifth grader, eighth grader and twelfth grader in this district," Pollio said. "They will stand up in front of an authentic audience of citizens business leaders in this community, parents, and [students] will do a defense of their readiness for the next transition." 

Pollio acknowledged that schools in the district will have to undergo significant investment to ensure all students and parents —not just those with internet access — can access the virtual backpack.

"It's incumbent on our schools to make sure we take away any hurdles for a student to be successful with this," Pollio said.

The virtual Backpack of Success Skills program is based on a newly-created JCPS Graduate Profile. Graduates from the school district are expected to be "prepared and resilient learners," "globally and culturally competent citizens," "engaging innovators," "effective communicators" and "productive collaborators."

The Backpack of Success Skills is part of the district’s Vision 2020 strategic plan, which includes areas of focus such as improving student literacy, strengthening early childhood education and increasing high school graduation rates.

"The backpack is not the most important part of this," said Pollio. "The most important part of this is the way we are changing how teachers teach and how students learn to an authentic, engaging way."

Roxanne Scott covers education for WFPL News.