Archive for the ‘program improvement’ Category

Colorado Standards and Assessments in Pussyfoot Mode

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

“Fog comes on little cat feet,” wrote Carl Sandberg, American poet. None know that better than members of Colorado’s HB14-1202 Task Force on Standards and Assessments. Despite expectations, no testing clarity will likely come from the Task Force. Instead, there will be a lot of pussyfooting in the fog.

As predicted, the 1202 Task Force breaks about 7-7 on the most important issues. Susan Van Gundy, the committee member paid by test consortium PARCC of which Colorado is a member, would be the tie-breaker if the committee decided to vote on recommendations.

The Task Force will apparently offer two types of recommendations: one from those who want to stick with almost all of the Colorado mandated tests and another from those who want to trim way back.

The 1202 committee agrees on eliminating state mandated tests for high school seniors. But seniors took care of that themselves when they didn’t show up for the CMAS social studies and science tests this fall.

The Task Force will probably recommend making non-ACT tests in ELA and math optional for 11th graders. Another brave recommendation may be to make 9th grade ELA and math tests optional. The ELA and math state assessments will occur in 10th grade.

Other than that, the Committee tiptoed away from tough decisions. The two assessment experts on the Task Force, Lisa Escarcega from Aurora Public Schools and Syna Morgan from Jefferson County Public Schools, brought specific recommendations of what they deem a reasonable testing schedule. Both educators cited research that says ELA should be tested in third grade. A report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation confirms that proficient 3rd grade reading is a critical skill that affects high school graduation rates.

But they also said that annual testing in every subject every year is repetitive and unproductive. Local assessments conducted by school districts provide much more refined and timely data related to reading progress, for example. The assessment educators offered a rotation in which each subject, ELA, math, science, and social studies, gets tested once every three years.

Task Force members supporting the status quo are insisting on continuous, annual testing. They believe that standardized tests and the Colorado Annual Growth Model are the most reliable tools for measuring teacher and school performance and improving student achievement. They brought no research that proved their contention. Flat TCAP and CMAS scores don’t make their case.

The Colorado Annual Growth Model is premised on comparing cohorts of students’ scores from year to year. Students who have the same test scores in year one are compared to each other in year two by subject. When students test above their cohort average, they’re deemed to have made progress and teachers get credit. When students test below their cohort average, they haven’t made progress and teachers are dinged.

The state averages credits and dings across subjects by student, class, and school to come up with a credit/ding number used in teacher and school performance evaluations. Teacher salaries may depend on their average of credits and dings involving up to four subjects for elementary school teachers.

It’s easy to see how the Growth Model gives screwy end-results. A child may score very high in reading and very low in math and the teacher’s performance evaluation will tip in one direction or another depending on how high in one subject and low in the other. None of this crediting and dinging and averaging really helps the student.

Task Force parents Bethany Drosendahl and Ilana Spiegel question the Colorado Annual Growth Model. Ilana Spiegel pointed out that a student can advance and go backwards at the same time. That is, some students may progress compared to their non-proficient peers but regress in relation to proficiency.

Parent Task Force members also reminded their colleagues that state mandated tests don’t diagnose ELA, math, science, and social studies challenges. They take resources, money, and teacher-to-student intervention time away from remediation and advancement. Tests don’t get students to proficiency; steady application of intensive effort gets students to the next level.

The status quo members have not identified a pathway to get non-proficient students the actual support they need to meet the standards.

So the Task Force is stuck: no change v. big change. Governor John Hickenlooper acknowledged the need for modifications in high school and social studies testing in his State of the Union. But he, like the status quo members, wants to hang on to the Colorado Annual Growth Model despite its dubious value.

This may be a matter of pride and stubbornness. Many other states are using the Colorado model. But if the Task Force ends up pussyfooting, and the legislature ends up tiptoeing, they can expect big cat parents and students to strike. Watch out! In the electric words of British poet William Blake:

Tyger Tyger burning bright,

In the forests of the night:

What immortal hand or eye,

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?


Technology and Confidentiality

Friday, August 9th, 2013

As schools rely more on technology, parents require more confidentiality of their children’s data profiles.

Schools across the country are in the throes of education change and “reform.”  Desperate to improve student achievement, school districts are turning to technology to provide support of individualized student learning.

The largest school district in Colorado, Jefferson County Schools, may join with the New York City public school system to use a newly designed “middleware” platform called InBloom.  The middleware platform  has received funding from a consortium of foundations, including the Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation, to design the InBloom “cloud” application.

InBloom allows school districts to aggregate and store gobs of data. InBloom allows districts to aggregate and store information from disparate sources into a single “dashboard,” giving educators and other personnel access to individual student test results, demographics, disciplinary actions, economic status, medical status, etc.  There are over 400 data points that districts can select from using InBloom.

And that’s what makes some parents exceedingly edgy.  Parents in Jefferson County have stepped into the InBloom project questioning whether aggregating so much information on their children into one platform is safe, secure, confidential, and private.

Parents want to know who has access to data under what circumstances. Parents are questioning whether it’s appropriate for the district to send all this student information to a third party for cloud storage on Amazon servers.  They worry about hackers, unauthorized third parties accessing the information, and selling student information to publishers and other education companies involved in developing education content.

Parents don’t want their children’s names, addresses, or any identifying features attached to the data.  They don’t want their child’s disciplinary or attendance records embedded with testing information.  Parents with learning disabled or physically disabled children are concerned that their child’s medical information will escape into the wrong hands.

Districts need to set privacy policies first. So far, Colorado’s Jeffco schools have responded by creating a Data Management Advisory Committee.  It’s focusing on how to secure information.  But as the issue is explored more deeply, the most basic problems are privacy and confidentiality.

Whether districts use InBloom or any other platforms, they must address the relevance and importance of privacy and confidentiality of student information.  Not only should districts have policies related to their own employees, but state Departments of Education should ask legislators to define student privacy in statute.  This definition would include control for self-identifying information; strictly define who has access to information; limit what happens to information not stored within a district; and specification of what information can be shared, with whom and under what circumstances.

These questions are prickly. Schools will lose students if their privacy isn’t protected. Teachers can greatly benefit from single source access to information.  They can benefit from individualized education content to give to students with specific learning issues.  All of this becomes possible with single source data storage and the capacity to identify specific solutions to individual student learning problems.

Somehow, even with these significant benefits, information privacy must not be lost or given away.  Some may say that districts should balance privacy with information aggregation and access.

But for many parents, justifiably, their child’s privacy must come first.

Middle and High School Student Success

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

For sure, middle and high schools in low-income communities need help. Look over the current school problems: crumbling infrastructure; poor scores on any standardized test used; high dropout and tardiness levels; weak graduation rates; extremely low entrance numbers into higher education institutions.

Studies and resources galore confirm these problems. Johns Hopkins University’s well-known School of Education supports Diplomas Now, a model that has shown success for middle and high school students. The model is school-wide and suited for the toughest neighborhoods, failing and just-below-proficiency schools alike. Teachers and administrators have approved in all media that’s covered this phenomenal model.

Any program goal should be to turn around the rate for one-half of the current 500,000 students that drop out. Instead, as any good model maintains: prepare students, motivate them to graduate ready for college or post-high school technical training.

Diplomas Now and the resources gathered to assure the integrated success of the model, Talent Development Secondary, Communities in Schools, the United States Department of Education, and 200 local affiliates is not a program proposed to charter schools, but offered to the 2000 public middle and high schools that produce one-half of yearly dropouts.

Too many of those schools have selected from narrowly organized interventions to change tardiness, behavior, curriculum organization, or another aspect, hoping to change the entire atmosphere of the school. Instead the Diplomas Now complete school-wide model focuses on eliminating poor attendance, poor school behavior, and course failure in English/Language Arts or Math.

Similar to the elementary public school-wide model Success For All, established out of Johns Hopkins University, Diplomas Now accesses education research and school data to target the needs of students. The program insists on professional development and agreement by all school staff to use every aspect of the model. The program expects funds to be provided for extra adult support, technology, and tools to overcome the hurdles at the school.

Funds come from corporations such as Pepsico which understands the need for workers who have successfully graduated. In addition, grants from the U.S. Department of Education have benefited schools countrywide. A California example is Los Angeles Unified School District that has five inner-city middle and high schools receiving a large grant from the Department of Education to foster Diplomas Now.

To see a current video of one New Orleans, Louisiana middle school that uses Diplomas Now strategies, see a PBS Newshour program from Thursday, December 6, 2012.

Like any number of successful models to turn around very low-performing schools and graduating students ready for college or the workforce, relentless focus must be assured to realize student achievement success

The lack of funding resources for every state must be overcome and legislators must realize that high dropout rates will cost plenty in the future when those young adults can’t find work.

Read Fiction or Non-fiction?

Monday, November 19th, 2012

In my last post I wrote about teaching the Gold Rush, one of California’s fourth grade social studies units. It was a great time to read fiction and non-fiction.

reading fiction and non-fiction

reading fiction and non-fiction

Fiction stories galore have been written for students with this theme. Still available are plenty of primary non-fiction texts that explain how to pan for gold, what tools came into use to capture more glitter, and when men of many countries descended on northern and central California before it even became a state.

At the same time, fiction versus non-fiction reading laid out in the Common State Core Standards is the controversy in the education news. Remember, CCS was developed under the auspices of the National Governor’s Association to provide a set of guidelines for all grade levels in every state to acquire consistent learning before students graduate from high school.

What do you know? My master’s degree thesis to study writing improvement when students participate in the study of the non-fiction genre fit in with that standard.

One of the controversial and difficult standards to understand across grade levels is the fiction and non-fiction to use at each grade level. In spite of information in the CCS appendix, I’ve been asked at professional development workshops at my school and district to elucidate how to choose texts.

For one, when students reach the upper elementary and higher grades, does the standard look for text complexity in the story or only the reading level of the text? Some text may score high on the reading level but low on the difficulty of the story. Two, students are used to fiction and have well-developed understanding of inferences and can use personal background to sense the conflicts. In non-fiction works students need lessons in how to find the meaning of new vocabulary, much less inferences or cause and effect of actions.

The Pioneer Institute in Boston criticizes the emphasis on types of literature and primary sources to choose at any grade level. It is the group’s position that fictional literature is the most common type of reading in school and provides a wide variety of skills. The group doesn’t deny non-fiction use such as biography, newspapers, and journals, but thinks that the value of non-fiction reading vs. fiction literature is overrated.

On the other hand, corporations and college professors stress the need to be well-versed with non-fiction text as it plays a role in business and research.

In my opinion, one hopes students enjoy learning, whether the Gold Rush in California fourth grade, or rocks in the Earth Science unit, or Euclid’s first axiom about equal  things that can influence human understanding about equality in all its forms (Abraham Lincoln used the axiom to explain the need to pass Amendment 13- abolishing slavery-to the Constitution).

Why controversy? Choose all kinds and genres of text to strengthen understanding.

Apples and Oranges for Schools

Monday, September 24th, 2012

Too many times education critics have thrown past numbers at current school costs and complained that schools have more money in their budgets today but have worse results.  David Brooks made this assertion on September 14, 2012, in the New York Times, complaining about the Chicago Teachers Federation strike.

Since he’s taken it to educators, schools, and unions, it’s time to take on him and his numbers – as well as the many other critics out there who spread crazy factoids.

Brooks states that kids were taught in 1960 at $2800 per student at inflation adjusted dollars, and that current kids receive $11,000 per student.  Yet so many kids are failing.

Let’s examine the adequacy of his first premise – that $2800 is apparently a good base number for average per student costs in an average district budget today.  The district in which I live has roughly 85,000 students.  At $2800 per student, the district’s budget would be $238,000,000, much less than its current $590,000,000, which is significantly less than its 2010 budget of $660,000,000.

The operational budget which pays salaries must be reduced by 14% to adjust for non-compensation costs such as technology, transportation, text books, etc.  That leaves $199,000,000 for compensation, pension, and health benefits.  The district has 12,000 employees.  Based on these figures, our average per employee compensation would be $16,600.  Who would teach school for that amount of money?

Brooks also insinuates that 1960 educators did at least as good a job as current educators, and maybe better.  He offers no data to support that assertion.  What I remember from 1960 is that special education kids were shunted off somewhere or just didn’t go to school.  My district today runs a special school for the most physically and mentally challenged children – kids who need diapers changed, kids who cannot move without someone else pushing a wheel chair, kids with severe autism who lash out at teachers and others.  These kids received no education that I ever saw in 1960.

In 1960 districts had no particular concern about kids for whom English was not their native language.  Minority children weren’t included in advanced classes.  Let’s face it, lots of kids lived in a sink or swim environment then, and the ones who sunk slipped below the surface and the rest of us kids didn’t notice.

It’s impossible to deny that today’s schools do not succeed with all children, and the gap for minority kids is especially grave.  But this week, an article appeared in the September 15,2012, issue of the Denver Post about Colorado’s Sheridan School District, a small district in the middle of the Denver metro area whose schools were non-performing.  With extra money for tutoring, reading support, after school academic programs, and parent involvement, the district has turned its schools from non-performing to performing, a significant improvement.  But because of the improvement, this district with 80 percent minority kids will lose its extra money.  So how long will these improvements last?  Money obviously isn’t the only solution to educating our kids – but when used strategically and precisely, it will make a difference.

When someone compares today’s schools and today’s budgets to the past, I’d say anything more than five years, it’s pretty certain that apples are oranges and the comparisons are specious.