Archive for the ‘school accountability’ Category

What Should Be Part of Public Schools

Friday, January 27th, 2017

Concern amplifies about the president’s choice for Secretary of Education after Betsy DeVos could not bring herself to agree that guns do not belong in schools. She seems to think grizzly bears pervade this nation. It’s laughable. Who needs gun safety rules for protection? Students in urban and suburban America is the usual answer. How many schools are up high in the Rockies where grizzlies roam anyway?

Opinion is that her nomination is being held up in hopes that her critics will move on from opposing the billionaire philanthropist with ties to Amway and the Family Research Council, both funding religious organizations and schools. She has the GOP leadership behind her in spite of an extremely poor showing about the duties as head of the United States Depart of Education. She has not withdrawn her nomination.

Recall that she was selected, first, because she contributes large amounts to the GOP and, second, because she has invested millions of dollars lobbying for laws that drain money from public schools and fought against requirements for measures of accountability in the charter schools in Michigan although accountability is what all schools in the United States must value.

Article after news article, senator after senator during her first hearing, observed that Ms. DeVos has no teacher training or experience in public schools. How will she know the best practices to achieve academic success for the diverse schools in the country?

In addition, her critics do not see that Ms. DeVos is a good fit for overseeing the civil rights of the 6 million students in the nation’s schools, including special education needs, LGBT student needs, high-achieving and low-performing school needs. She refused to commit to upholding Title IX guidance requiring schools to investigate instances of sexual harassment or violence.

Moreover, while one mission for all students in the country is to learn citizenship, kindness, tolerance, and responsibility for others, it may be the purpose of the private schools that Ms. DeVos and her children attended, but has never been the purpose for public schools, to “advance God’s kingdom” – (Ms. DeVos words) – whatever that phrase infers.

One wonders if Ms. DeVos has any knowledge of the many projects in the country whose purpose is to help create success in struggling schools? The President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, which started in the term of President Reagan, has invested in a program called Turn Around Arts. In the 2015 report Reinvesting in Arts Education, Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools showed the evaluation of a three-year pilot program of Turn Around Arts. The lowest performing 5% of America’s elementary and middle schools in the program showed improved academic achievement, reduced disciplinary referrals, and increased attendance – three strong guarantors of  improvement.

What many studies have shown, students, participating in the arts, science, history even though the programs are not direct instruction in reading or math, improve in those important learning areas, as well as become enthusiastic students, for instance, of the arts – dance, painting/sculpture, music.

The first of these programs are found in thirty-six school districts from Minneapolis to the District of Columbia to Los Angeles. In California, an independent non-profit with financial support from architect Frank Gehry and the California Arts Council provides the funds.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama has urged struggling schools to consider this model to bring academic and arts success. One wishes that the U.S. Department of Education would select a cabinet member that knows about and finances valuable tools that support improvement in schools.


Character and High-Stakes Accountability

Friday, April 8th, 2016

Public union agency fees were OKed by the U. S. Supreme Court and Spring means another yearly round of achievement accountability testing, in California based on results from Smarter Balanced assessment.

But educators, in California and other states, are looking at another part of a successful school: using multiple measures to evaluate meaningful learning, including student engagement and school climate.

An opinion article recently in The New York Times “Don’t Grade Schools on Grit” by Angela Duckworth, 3/26/2016, suggests incorporating strategies for character growth that can support a student’s achievement.

When I was a student I rarely received more than an S in citizenship and conduct out of a possible O, S, U on my report cards. When I was teaching elementary classes, as part of the report card I mostly gave S because everyone had good days and bad days. I felt it was simply a section of the report card to complete; it didn’t teach me or my students a way to do better.

For two years when I was teaching, we used a program in which famous persons’ quotes led to discussion and other activities to help students find ways to make habits of good traits. Each showed one of twelve or so positive character traits, like courage, humility, perseverance, kindness, and tolerance. As part of “Success For All”, the reading/language school-wide program used at my San Jose, CA, school to improve reading, students at every grade level practiced being cooperative, helpful, attentive, and engaged in learning to read well.

The issue is that every teacher in the school must be relentless about following whatever model is agreed upon. Every student, every parent must accept the goal to succeed. Angela Duckworth’s article is based on a great deal of field study about a model that has been successful over time in a wide variety of schools, such as private Riverdale Country School in New York and KIPP charter schools. I would suggest school districts consider the model if they want to find useful accountability for school climate and student success.

The tool used to foster character growth is a questionnaire called the Character Growth Card which students complete at the end of a marking period. As I understand, all the traits are correlated, but form distinct clusters of character strength: grit, self-control, optimism help a student achieve; social intelligence and gratitude relate to helping others; curiosity, open-mindedness, and zest for learning enable independent thinking – a strong need for success with the CORE standards curriculum.

Of course, as Duckworth states, feedback from the questionnaire is not enough. For example, students often need strategies for what to do when they are weak in habits of self-control, often a conundrum in low-performing schools. I would suggest that a strong professional development component be implemented if your school wants a valuable character program to succeed, which aligns with California’s emphasis on continuous improvement.

Some teachers, for example, Brett Ashmun, Freshman Composition Instructor at CSU Stanislaus, teaches civility and citizenship through projects on which his students report. California English, Vol. 21-3, “For Greater Good: Teaching Civility and Citizenship Through Community-Based Curriculum”, Brett Ashrum.

While curriculum using the CORE standards is still being developed, opportunities for open-mindedness or curiosity or social intelligence may be found by working on projects with other grades in the school or completing a team math project.

Last, if such a project is started in any public school, from California to New York, my advice would be to not turn accountability into a score that rewards or punishes the school. As Angela Duckworth said,

“Does character matter, and can character be developed? Science and experience unequivocally say yes. Can the practice of giving feedback to students on character be improved? Absolutely. Can scientists and educators work together to cultivate students’ character? Without question.

Should we turn measures of character intended for research and self-discovery into high-stakes metrics for accountability? In my view, no.”



Every Student Succeeds Act

Sunday, December 13th, 2015
K-8 school, Lopez Island, Washington

K-8 school, Lopez Island, Washington

On December 9, 2015, fourteen years after the No Child Left Behind Act’s debacle, Congressional eyes opened. Congress voted to try again to give all students in public school education a chance for academic achievement, optimistically called Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Anyone with an interest in education has an opinion on whether student achievement will succeed in the seven years until Congress debates revision again of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

What were teachers doing this Fall, waiting for Congress to get its act together?

In most states, besides planning and teaching lessons based on the new-ish Common Core State Standards (CCSS), they  hoped the legislation would reflect their long held stance that excessive testing does not lead automatically to academic proficiency in reading and math. ESSA makes CCSS voluntary. That brings a breath of relief to some states, but what now? is the question of many others as state and local entities decide on standards.

Another sigh of relief because the legislation does reduce the number of yearly standardized tests. Yearly tests are mandated, but they may be designed as the state wishes. If a state doesn’t like current assessments available, there will be another scramble to find suitable tests. From test examples on the websites, that may be good or bad.

What else are teachers talking about in the lunchroom?

A special report in the latest CTA Educator used six pages to explore the details of housing costs that outpace educator salaries. The new ESSA does not discuss salary and little about staff development that may lead to a raise in salary. That issue is resolved locally, of course, but collective bargaining that does influence teacher pay is low on ESAA’s totem pole. It’s true that NEA and AFT, the two national teachers unions, support ESSA because the focus is taken off teacher evaluation as the source of all troubles for schools, even though the legislation removes the clause in previous education legislation which protects collective bargaining.

The “Superintendent Shuffle” is another concern for teachers and school districts. For example, “Two-thirds of superintendents in the state’s (California) 30 largest districts have been in their posts for three years or less according to EdSource.” Sherry Posnick-Goodwin, Educator, November 2015, p. 33. Again, ESSA assumes states and local districts will readily resolve administrative issues. If that actually happens, superintendents should be very happy; if not, districts will be absorbed with hiring, not effective teaching.

In the 3000 schools (the 5% lowest-performing schools in the country) that will depend on Title I federal funds, staff and teachers have devoted their efforts to keep up attendance, reduce dropout rates, and from Kindergarten on prepare students to graduate high school. ESSA combines funds for special education, English Language Learners, at-risk and more into a huge Title I block grant for each state to handle. And, states must set aside funds for private/parochial school students who need help. Since there is no discussion of meaningful curriculum or disparities in school discipline and suspension, it is those 1 million students who will be subject to the arbitrary local program decisions in high-performing and low-performing school districts.

One good thing about NCLB was the transparency of data used to identify interventions and accountability. Now, the Southern Poverty Law Center and NAACP Legal Defense Fund worry that the data may be transparent, but the federal oversight of the data is the weakest link in ESSA. As David L. Kirp said in his opinion article “Left Behind No Longer” New York Times, December 10, 2015, “advocates will need to keep up the pressure for equity.”

That has ever been the educator’s responsibility since 1965 when Lyndon Johnson said ESEA was the “passport from poverty.” General enthusiasm may be the spin of the bipartisan ESSA legislation, but recall Alexander Pope’s famous line “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”


SBAC Summative & Formative Assessments & Digital Library

Thursday, March 19th, 2015
From the SBAC Digital Library

From the SBAC Digital Library

Michelle Obama will travel to Japan and Cambodia in the middle of March 2015 to garner support for the Peace Corps and Japan’s Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (OCV). The visit will initiate USAID’s Let Girls Learn, “an international effort aimed at enabling millions of young women to attend, and stay in, school.” President Obama’s initiative introduced two weeks ago without much fanfare. Education opportunities for girls in eleven Balkan, Asian, and African nations are the Peace Corps’ and OCV’s focus in 2015. That means building school sites, finding books, purchasing uniforms.

Think about the United States. The states struggle over a new set of standards for learning called Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the assessments for the standards devised by two consortia, Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). These assessments need computers, laptops, or tablets to take the exams; professional development to implement the standards and learn how to instruct students to take the exams; servers and cables, cables, and more cables. Are $$ ca-chinging in your brain?

Our last post discussed the problems for PARCC with the development of assessments handed off to Pearson, a UK education corporation. Let’s see how the 21 SBAC states have fared in 2014 and soon this year, 2015 Will the cost be supported?

From the latest updated SBAC website, the most controversial of the assessments given once a year over a period of several days, is the summative test explanation. The site shows a summary of the content of the exams and description of the revisions and analysis of the Pilot and Field Tests. The Field Test Report outlines the 2014 results from the 13 field test states, used to gauge accuracy of questions and school readiness for 2015. It also describes support for students with learning disabilities, second language issues, and physical constraints like hearing and vision. Unlike the PARCC model, 65 teachers, administrators, and parents from 17 states plus the U.S. Virgin Islands determined the achievement levels for 2015 exams.

Second, anyone who is interested can look over the practice tests and the Digital Library of teacher resources to prepare grade 3-12 students for the collaborative thinking and problem solving the assessments require. SBAC practice, however, is as sparing and confusing as PARCC practice critics claim.

When you look at the English/Language Arts practice tests, it is apparent that only some lucky students, but certainly not the majority, will be able to handle the punctuation, grammar, and formatting requirements asked of them. Think of your third grader. The parent can, however, buy as much practice as she can afford from a multitude of education companies. Browse the internet.

Last, the most vigorous outrage has unfurled over the numerous testing days, preparation for, stress for students, outcomes already long suspected, privacy of information analyzed and held on databases. Each state’s department of education, whether a PARCC or SBAC affiliate, will have to come to terms with the backlash generated, NOT by the standards, but by the lack of long-range planning before the actual implementation of assessments for CCSS.

However, roiling from budget cuts to its once outstanding school master plan, California has centered on new directives to forge an array of measures to gauge school success. For one, the California State Board of Education voted to suspend for another year the Academic Performance Index (API) that gave schools a score used to evaluate performance of teachers, students, and schools in boosting academic achievement. The API and the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) score, mandated by the federal NCLB legislation, had yearly distinguished success from failure.

In addition, the state’s “school quality” measures will take in not only assessment scores, but student attendance, English proficiency, access to educational materials, suspensions, graduation rate, dropout rates, and performance in college-level courses; all factors that indicate whether or not the achievement gap is closing. Hallelujah! The aspects that make up the climate for a succeeding school will be addressed.

You have most likely heard of “continuous improvement”-a way to examine how a school is improving. The strongest change for California is the State Board of Education’s decision to designate an agency of highly-qualified (recognize that term?) teachers, administrators, superintendents, and County Office of Education experts to form the California Collaborative of Educational Excellence (CCEE). Its duties are to support learning, share knowledge, evaluate a school’s needs, and provide sources of direct intervention so that California schools, public and charter, well-heeled and low income, succeed for every student. To come is the $$ assessment!

Fortunately, the United States doesn’t need the Let Girls Learn initiative. Think about it: teacher, parent, business person, Congress person! Our job is to suck up our complaints and embark on the long road to raise the educational stakes for all our children.




FERPA-Whose Hands Tap Student Data?

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

The window of time for field testing California’s Smarter Balanced tests, designed to assess Common Core State Standards (CCSS), began Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Next the issue of analyzing the test questions for validity will come and that means a conflict with limits in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

The March 26, 2014, program on NPR’s Forum discussed the pros and cons of assessment that had been roundly criticized in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation. In spite of the troubles for states that have already used new exams to assess Common Core State Standards, like New York, the advocates of Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) in California are upbeat. Teacher education is to be modified; standards are fewer but explored more deeply; technological components needed in school districts have been surveyed; and new curriculum is to be phased in gradually. Most important, at least in California, analysis of the assessments is to improve instruction, rather than assign a label which stays in the student’s record for all school days.

However, the analysis of student assessments and who is allowed to handle such data is the conflict in many states. Since 1974 the law called Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a bill by Senator James Buckley, has provided the guidelines for sharing student records. As a brief summary, only parents and students can peruse and amend information in the student’s record. Schools may not hand over information unless all identification has been eliminated and, even then, only certain groups are authorized to use the records. Every state’s department of education has the full legislation available on its website.

The 1974 legislation has been amended several times to define vague wording or to update references. The latest amendments came about in 2011when the United States Department of Education offered clarifications to the act. The main change was to ask for written agreement between the school, district, or state and any private company before allowing disguised information to be touched by the private company hired to analyze educational assessment data. For example, SBAC has hired and will hire firms to verify validity of field test data. (See 3-18-14 post for information about SBAC).

Look up FERPA on the internet. You will find many articles and blogs chastising the U. S. Department of Education, saying the latest changes make it easier for outside vendors to exploit the data for financial marketing reasons. For example, in some PARCC consortium states, parents objected to data being managed by InBloom, a private cyber cloud firm that might sell the data to other vendors. Parents say the legislation no longer protects student rights of privacy. It is true that in 2001 after passage of the Patriot Act, directory information was amended to be disclosed for military purposes.

Although 45 states and Washington, DC, agreed to update their curriculum to reflect Common Core Standards, it is not certain that all education changes will unfold smoothly. Criticism abounds. Conservative states have dropped out of consortia. Money concerns overtake the explanation of advantages. Technology in schools is not as advanced as news stories share.

On the other hand, why denigrate one change to public education that over time may finally improve student learning? Student achievement is the goal. Fix the problems. Move along!