Saturday, February 28, 2009

Viewpoint: Portfolios alone won't get us writers' classrooms

Every year since 1992, I've heard reports of students spending vast time on multiple revisions of just a few pieces designed specifically to go in writing portfolios in the grades the portfolio is used for accountability. Like many others, I've learned to call that approach "portfolio hell."

Every year since 1992, I've known that there's a better option that I want to call "writers' classrooms." Give students regular writing assignments as part of ongoing classroom work, allowing one or two rounds of feedback and revision. They'll learn more about writing. At the same time, they'll be getting a deeper understanding of whatever they write about, be it history or music or plant life or something else. In writers' classrooms, students will end up with a folder stuffed with interesting written work. Their writing portfolios can be, should be, items chosen from that folder and perhaps revised one more time.

After all the years since 1992, though, I've come to a conclusion: accountable portfolios alone will not get us writers' classrooms.

I do not yet see a better option. SB 1 proposes multiple-choice and on-demand testing, which looks to me like surrender: it offers no incentive at all for real writing in real classrooms. HB 508 adds program reviews and principals' evaluations, and if I believe there will be financial support and political will behind the reviews, I'll count that as a credible proposal--but that "if" is as wide as the Pacific Ocean. I'm confident that accountable portfolios plus sustained leadership (from teachers and principals alike) would work, but I don't know how to use legislation to compel or even encourage that leadership to emerge.

Instead, on this chilly February evening, I can only state the challenge: to create effective writers' classrooms in every school, organized around the practices that produce stronger writers and deeper understanding of core content, we need a new strategy. Portfolios alone will not make that happen.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Bob Sexton's four big ideas for Kentucky testing

Bob shared this post on January 21, the day we launched the blog, and it's highly pertinent to the current legislative debates:
I believe that the CATS assessment is better for children than an off-the-shelf norm-referenced test, but I do not think it is the best it can be. Four concepts seem to me to hold special promise for creating a stronger test and promoting higher student achievement.

First, we should aim for balanced assessment. Short, clear, powerful standards can guide great classroom work. With those standards, teachers and students can organize their activities around regular evidence of forward movement. Mathematics standards should be our first priority, because that is where our progress has been weakest thus far. Beyond that, all Core Content subjects should be set up for a similar classroom method. The best revisions to Kentucky testing will flow from standards that also work for classroom excellence.

Second, international benchmarking can help us check that our standards and our student results are high enough for global competition. Again, math is the place to start, but other key subjects should follow quickly.

Third, end-of-course testing may be the right way to get high school improvement back on track. I do not want exit exams that keep a student from graduating, but I do see benefits in having the end-of-course scores be a fraction of student grades. Designed well, those tests could also provide sturdy data on readiness for college and for work. The National Association for College Admissions Counseling recommends this approach.

Finally, we can set program standards and monitor implementation in some areas where pencil and paper tests just do not work. In the arts, the Department of Education is already moving forward with efforts to create a far more performance-oriented approach. We may want to adapt a similar model for some skills that employers have repeatedly asked schools to address, including oral communication and teamwork skills.

In recent months, I’ve been in many conversations about ideas like these, including the work of the Task Force on Assessment and Accountability. I’m concerned that we make changes at a responsible pace, one that involves educators, allows good design and permits teachers to implement classroom adjustments well, and one that does not jeopardize our federal funding.

Still, these four ideas give us options for accelerating student progress, and I think we should move quickly to understand their potential.

Kentucky juniors, national seniors

ACT, Inc., has identified the ACT scores at which 75% of students pass introductory level college courses and 50% earn a B or better. The graph above lists each ACT subject with its resulting "benchmark" score.

The dark bar shows the percent of Kentucky juniors who reached that score in 2008, when 100% took the ACT.

The light comparison bar shows results for ACT's last nationally representative sample of seniors. States vary in how many students participate, making the sample the closest we can get to seeing results that are not tilted by an overrepresentation of students who are already planning to attend college.

Sources: Kentucky juniors here, representative sample from Technical Manual here.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Charge nonresidents twice resident tuition?

CPE staff recommends that "the 2009-10 nonresident undergraduate tuition and mandatory fee rate shall be at least two times the resident undergraduate rate." In light of last year's report from Auditor Crit Luallen that nonresident tuition may not be covering the full costs of serving those students, that could be an important step. [CPE recommendation, audit report]

Why portfolios matter

"A writing assignment orders your thinking."

Representative and Former Speaker Jody Richards, ninety seconds ago, and so right!

Postsecondary clips: Tenure, tuition, Pell grants and loans

The KCTCS board is considering a proposal to replace tenure with one, two, and four year contracts? And reduce retirement benefits? Professor Sue Ballard's CJ letter to the editor opposes the idea. I'll be looking for more details on this issue, and I'd love any information readers can point me to.

CPE is proposing caps on tuition increases: 5% for UK and U of L, 4% for regional universities, 3% for KCTCS. [CPE staff recommendation here, C-J reporting here, and H-L here.]

EdWeek's Politics P-12 reports that President Obama's budget proposal, submitted today calls for eliminating federal subsidies for student loans from private lenders, probably to replace them with loans direct from the government. The proposal also calls for making Pell Grant funding mandatory, which would make funding less likely to fluctuate annually.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Feds: "Dramatically better" work expected

Michelle McNeill at Politics K-12 reports on today's stimulus funding meeting between Secretary Duncan and state education chiefs:
"We're going to have a much higher bar than other folks [receiving stimulus money]," Duncan told the chiefs. "We need to create jobs, and we need to get dramatically better."

Biden pledged the administration's continued support—so long as all of this money translates into results.

"This is going to be an education administration," Biden said. "But we want to begin to change the script, demand more of everyone. We expect a hell of a lot more."

That could be bad news if the administration wants to control more details from D.C. It could be very good indeed if they stay focused on a few key factors that matter to achievement, like attention to individual students' progress and embedded professional development.

Wilder schools, or wider reporting?

At the Courier-Journal, three headlines caught my eye yesterday:
  • “Parents voice concern over security at Wilt Elementary.”
  • “Three at PRP added to suit over teen's death.”
  • “Court won't hear teen's suit over Boyd school policy,” a sequel to the older story of other students fighting to form a gay-straight alliance group.
Then, at the Herald-Leader:
  • “Former Lincoln school board member indicted in assault of Garrard principal” was at the top of the page.
  • “Nicholas principal charged with assault” was in the same position Friday.
Are we in a new age of authority being abused? Of public claims that authority has been abused? Or have stories like this always traveled by local word-of-mouth, but the internet now brings them statewide attention? I hope it's the third option, because that one carries the possibility that broader attention will encourage better conduct in the long run.

Postscript: when I set up the C-J link, I accidentally went first to their education blog, where the top story is "Former Dixie principal gets five years in prison."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Viewpoint: HB 508 offers a strong step forward

HB 508 starts with key assessment ideas from SB 1 and strengthens them by:
  • Taking a systematic approach to content standards revisions, more likely to get us the lean, globally competitive focus we need.
  • Insisting on constructed-response items as part of the test, protecting the problem-solving and communication skills we'd lose with a strictly multiple-choice approach.
  • Keeping a major norm-referenced component, but making sturdy criterion-referenced testing the central approach.
  • Adding muscle to the “program review” approach to writing portfolios—though still not using the scores for accountability.
  • Adding the same muscle to the reviews for arts and practical/vocational.
  • Insisting that higher education join in setting standards that really fit college readiness.
  • Insisting that teacher preparation programs equip teachers to teach to those standards.
  • Taking a stronger approach to equipping teachers to adjust instruction to student needs.
  • Opening the door to the end-of-course testing option, though without requiring it yet.
  • Setting a demanding-but-doable timetable for the big changes.
  • Sunsetting CATS when we've built our new assessment right.
It isn't perfect legislation, or course. No bill ever is. For instance, I'm concerned about:
  • How we'll work through assessment design concerns, especially if we don't revive the National Technical Panel to guide us on psychometric issues.
  • How program reviews will get the clarity, energy, and funding to succeed.
  • How teachers will get the continuous information they need for instruction and schools will get the interim data they need for program improvement--because HB 508 and SB 1 both talk about "formative assessment" but don't tackle the deep challenges and costs.
Still, HB 508 is not just a good defense or a way to survive another skirmish. HB 508 is a fresh, strong opportunity to build something important for our kids and our state. Speaking for myself, I hope something very close to this bill becomes Kentucky law.

HB 508 says "constructed response," not "open response"

In my earlier post, I treated two terms as synonymous, but they aren't. House Bill 508 calls for the criterion-referenced portion of the new assessment to include constructed response items, which could differ in important ways from the open response format Kentucky has been using. The bill includes this definition:
"Constructed response or performance based items" means individual test items that require the student to create an answer rather than select a response and may include fill-in the blank, short answer, extended answer, open response, and writing on demand formats.
I'll update the original post and the summary, and I appreciate the commenter who alerted me to the issue!

HB 508 on assessment (and more) (UPDATED)

Update: I've revised the post and the bill summary to say "constructed response" instead of "open response." The difference is an important one.

House Bill 508, filed on Monday, calls for:
  • revising all academic content standards by the end of 2010.
  • testing the new reading, math, science, social studies, language, and writing standards with constructed-response, multiple-choice, and on-demand items and using both criterion-referenced and norm-referenced testing elements, starting in 2011-12.
  • using program reviews to check quality of school programs in writing, arts & humanities, and practical/vocational, also starting in 2011-12.
  • requiring school council policy on writing programs and continued use of writing portfolios that will not be part of accountability after 2011-12.
  • continuing the CATS assessment through 2010-11.
The bill also contains strong requirements for alignment with postsecondary and teacher preparation programs, and other changes.

You can download my three-page PDF summary here and the full bill here.

Monday, February 23, 2009

FAQ: What are CSIPs, CDIPs, and improvement plans?

School improvement plans are organized documents setting out a school's challenges and its strategies for improving student performance. That term is used nationwide.

In Kentucky, schools develop versions called CSIPs or comprehensive school improvement plans. A CSIP is comprehensive because it fulfills multiple planning requirements in a single document. For example, a CSIP meets schools’ obligation to plan ways to close achievement gaps, to plan improvements required by federal Title 1 funding, and plan professional development for school staff. The equivalent district documents are called CDIPs or comprehensive district improvement plans.

In CSIP/CDIP discussions:
  • Needs assessment is a process of collecting and analyzing data, in order to identify priority needs and set goals. Information might be collected from student testing, teacher, parent or student surveys, focus groups or other means. The needs assessment is the starting point for developing a CSIP or CDIP.
  • Components are sections of the plan spelling out steps to meet one plan goal, usually including activities, timelines, budgets, and a division of responsibilities.
  • Implementation and impact checks (or I & I Checks) are periodic activities to check that the work listed in the plan is getting done on schedule, look at evidence about whether the work is achieving the needed results, and decide if changes are needed to get things back on track.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

State P-12 funding and the federal $650 million

Kentucky must provide state support for education to get the federal fiscal stabilization funds. More exactly, Governor Beshear must give an assurance that state support for P-12 education for fiscal years 2009, 2010, and 2011 will match the funding given in fiscal 2006. The numbers below reflect my starting sense of what should count toward that requirement.

That's my starting sense, but there may be some debate on the issue, First, I've shown only general fund dollars, but there may be a case that tobacco settlement and restricted funds should be added to the totals. I've included the separate KTRS line for money the state is paying in for past employees and to repay past borrowing, and there may be an argument that it should not as support for current education. Naturally, there may also be other issues I haven't spotted yet.

(Source: Here, you can download state budget documents with the numbers above. The FY 2006 numbers are taken from the 2006-08 budget in order to reflect cuts after the original was adopted. The 2009 and 2010 numbers reflect the budget adopted last year.)

Kentucky assessment and the federal $650 million

To get Kentucky’s share of federal fiscal stabilization funding, we must improve our assessments. The stimulus bill requires the Governor’s assurance that Kentucky will improve our testing through “activities such as those described in section 6112(a)” of the ESEA. In turn, that section specifies state efforts:
(1) To enable States (or consortia of States) to collaborate with institutions of higher education, other research institutions, or other organizations to improve the quality, validity, and reliability of State academic assessments beyond the requirements for [NCLB] assessments.
(2) To measure student academic achievement using multiple measures of student academic achievement from multiple sources.
(3) To chart student progress over time.
(4) To evaluate student academic achievement through the development of comprehensive academic assessment instruments, such as performance and technology-based academic assessments.
In the past, competitive Title VI grants have encouraged states to do those things, but the stimulus bill provides a much stronger incentive.

(Section 6112 of the ESEA is here, and the initials are short for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the federal legislation that includes Title 1 and some other education efforts. To read the stimulus bill, I recommend downloading the conference committee version of the bill here. Search for "Sec. 14005" to see the required assurances.)

Friday, February 20, 2009

What's this blog about, anyway?

In the big picture, we're about Kentucky education's challenges and possibilities. In the last month, the discussion has included some recurring themes.
  • With math as the exception, Kentucky student performance is in line with the national average.
  • Kentucky testing can be improved by leaner standards, end-of-course exams, international benchmarks, and replacing some testing with performance reviews.
  • Not testing social studies or writing or the problem-solving process of constructed response would not be improvements.
  • The federal stimulus will reduce recession damage to education.
  • Kentucky postsecondary funding is a puzzle: why are we ahead of national average, and what are we buying with the added money?
  • We need a stronger commitment to early childhood development, and stronger citizen engagement to make it happen.
Key challenge of our first month: luring our readers into asking questions, offering opinions, and sharing ideas in the comments section. Short comments are great, and curiousity about basics help us be clearer. And disagreements are a delight.

Narrow Test, Narrow Teaching (In England this time)

The BBC reports here on a new Cambridge study with a concern I understand:

The report says inadequacies in the primary curriculum stem from a mistaken belief that breadth in the curriculum is incompatible with improved standards in the "basics" of maths, literacy and numeracy.

History, geography, science and the arts have been "squeezed out", it argues.

The report's authors suggest learning in primary schools is skewed towards subjects which are formally tested in the national tests, used to draw up league tables.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Governor Appoints Early Childhood Task Force

Governor Steve Beshear today signed an Executive Order creating a 27-member Task Force on Early Childhood Development and Education. “The future success of our commonwealth is dependent upon the education, health and welfare of our youngest citizens,” Beshear said. “We must all work together to provide for them a solid foundation on which to build happy, healthy, successful lives.”

While Kentucky has the elements of a comprehensive system of early childhood programs including dedicated service providers, a supportive business community and leaders who recognize the importance of high-quality early childhood experiences, the governor said it’s time to bring those components together for collaboration and coordination.

The task force of stakeholders including public and private child care providers, school system personnel, college professors and businesspeople has been directed to "promote greater collaboration among service-providers to young children, bring a renewed emphasis to quality at all levels, and determine a common understanding and definition of 'school readiness.' ”
Kentucky’s Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Secretary Helen Mountjoy and Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Janie Miller will co-chair the task force.

Read the proclamation here.

Viewpoint: Citizens, Schools, and Testing

Reading, mathematics, and science are taught and tested because they are crucial for adult success. NCLB requires us to test those subjects, and some argue that we should test only those three. I disagree.

Social studies and writing are as important as science and math for individual adults, and more important for our shared life as a commonwealth. Social studies is, at root, about understanding our shared history, the form of our government, and the rights and duties of citizens. Writing is, at bottom, the skill that lets us share ideas, essential for challenging our government and engaging our neighbors in political debate.

Senate Bill 1 wisely calls for continued assessment and accountability for social studies and writing. Whatever else the House may change, I hope the core content of citizenship continues to be a priority.

Stimulus funding ≠ $300 million

Kentucky will receive more than $300 million in added funding for Title I and IDEA, as reported in the press yesterday. Kentucky will also receive more than $650 million of "fiscal stabilization" funding, and some smaller amounts beyond that.

Higher education will get part of the $650+ million to restore state funding to the 2007-08 level for this current school year and the next two. Looking at the Budget of the Commonwealth, I think that will take about $50 million a year, or $150 million total.

P-12 will get the rest. First, any cuts to "the State’s primary elementary and secondary funding formulae" will be restored. Then the remaining money will be distributed according to each district's proportion of Title 1 funding. Again, the money will be available for this school year and the next two.

I've posted a fuller list of education funding for Kentucky here. To read the bill itself, I recommend downloading the full conference committee version of the bill here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mapping Kentucky's population challenges (not so much)

I'd summarize this map as showing that Kentucky is not straining as as much as other states to handle rapid population change. The larger original of this ENI map, showing a combined indicator of overall growth, young population, and minority population, is here. Comparing Kentucky's Census "microdata areas" to similar areas across the country:
  • In green, eleven areas are in the lowest need quarter of the nation, including big portions of eastern and western Kentucky, a southcentral region, central Lexington, and central and southwestern Jefferson County.
  • In yellow, twelve more areas are in the second lowest quarter.
  • In orange, the remaining seven areas are in the second highest quarter: those around Hopkinsville and Elizabethtown, the outer part of Fayette, a stretch north from there to Boone, and two portions of Jefferson.
  • In red, nothing: not a single area is in the quarter most challenged on this indicator.
Frankly, I don't think all that green signals good health. It shows regions with economic opportunity too limited to attract migrants, including some that losing people and jobs at a painful rate. I'd like to see all of Kentucky with the yellow-to-orange versions of moderate growth, even if red-hot expansion would be difficult.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Quick funding notes: Adequacy, stimulus, Koch

A new funding adequacy analysis by Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning concludes that Jefferson County needs $282.6 million more to be adequately funded, not counting preschool needs. There's a summary of the study (using the "evidenced-based" method) in the new Greater Louisville Education Project report.

Check out the House Education Committee's Kentucky district-by-district summary of Title 1 and IDEA stimulus funds. The bigger fiscal stabilization and smaller school improvement items from the same bill are not included. (Hat tip: Learning Curve)

Kyna Koch, veteran KDE leader on finance issues, will leave Fayette County government to rejoin the Legislative Research Commission staff, according to Bluegrass Politics.

Waiving days and the stuff of government

The House Education committee approved the bill to allow 10 school days to be waived for weather, but with a disagreement described by Bluegrass Politics.

As Representative Cherry wrote the bill, once a school board asks for the days, the commissioner must grant them. At the hearing, Representative Moberly argued that the commissioner should have some discretion, with the option of deciding that some districts do not need the time waived. The bill now moves to the House floor for debate and decision on whether the final choice will happen at the local or state level.

It's one quick glimpse of legislators working on a genuine public issue--not a huge one, but a real one--with some care and conversation. Raised in the cynical Watergate generation, I don't assume that's way legislators always handle our business. Sometimes, though, it really does work that way, and that deserves a moment of admiration.

Mapping our economic challenges

Kentucky economic difficulties --unemployment, low incomes, low-tech jobs-- are summarized in this Education Needs Index map (with the larger original here.) Comparing our thirty Census "microdata areas" to similar areas across the country:
  • In green, two Jefferson County areas rank in the top quarter of the nation.
  • In yellow, the nearby counties running north to Kenton and Campbell and the outer part of Fayette County are in the second strongest quarter of such areas nationally.
  • In orange, Central Lexington, the areas around Georgetown and Elizabethtown and the areas from Bowling Green west along the southern border are in the next-to-bottom quarter.
  • In red, half the state's microdata areas (the rest of Jefferson, our eastern and southcentral counties, and western areas that include Owensboro and Henderson) are in the weakest group.
To build a stronger Kentucky, we need to see both our statewide problems and these regional variations clearly.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Chamber speaks on postsecondary

Dave Atkisson of the Chamber of Commerce writes in today's C-J on Kentucky's need to push forward even in hard times. One sentence caught my eye:
Our recent emphasis has been on higher education, particularly the areas of greater affordability for students and improved productivity by our colleges and universities.
Kentucky rarely spends more than the national average on anything, but higher education is the exception: we spend more per pupil from families and more per pupil from the state treasury. The Chamber's 2007 postsecondary report argued that our state investment should yield lower family costs and higher degree production, and it's good to see the issue raised again.

Mapping Kentucky educational attainment

Kentucky educational challenges -high school, associate and bachelor's degrees, plus a measure of generational gaps- are shown on this Education Needs Index map (with the larger original here.) Comparing our thirty Census "microdata areas" to similar areas across the country:
  • In green, three areas in central and eastern Jefferson and outer Fayette counties are in the top quarter nationwide.
  • In yellow, five areas (central Lexington, south-central Jefferson and adjacent counties, and the areas that include Owensboro and Bowling Green) are in the second strongest quarter.
  • In orange, ten areas are in the next-to-bottom quarter: far western Kentucky, areas that include Elizabethtown and Ashland, much of the central Bluegrass, and our northern Kentucky counties are in the next weakest quarter.
  • In red, twelve areas rank in the bottom quarter nationally, including most of our Appalachian counties, some others reaching well to the west, and two portions of Jefferson County.
This map is a clear reminder that Kentucky has plenty of work to do in building a stronger future for our children and ourselves.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

McKim for Leaner Standards

Brent McKim's op-ed in Sunday's C-J argues that our current Core Content, though clear, is far too long. As a result, it cannot be taught well, and teachers are pushed toward weaker instructional practices. It's a classroom-centered argument I've heard him make well in person, and I'm glad to see it in print. (Brent is president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association.)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Federal stimulus, Kentucky funding (updated with link)

Update: the NEA summary is here: scroll down to a bullet and link that simply say "state."

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, approved this evening, will provide an estimated $1,350 million for Kentucky education over the two years starting July 1, 2009. The newest state-by-state report from NEA shows Kentucky receiving:
  • $655 million for fiscal stabilization
  • $268 million for Pell grants
  • $156 million for IDEA, Part B
  • $150 million for ESEA Title I, Part A
  • $46 million for ESEA School Improvement
  • $31 million for Head Start
  • $35 million for child care and development block grant
  • $10 million for education technology state grant
The final bill contained no designated funding for construction/modernization of schools or higher education facilities. Based on MSNBC reporting, my understanding is that the final legislative language allows fiscal stabilization funding to be spent on facilities.

Facing economic depression, Kentucky and national leaders committed on Friday to continued investments in our children's futures. A day to remember!

Quick Notes: Post-Secondary

The Council on Postsecondary Education discusses 2009-10 tuition Monday. The C-J reports that the goal is to get early University input and avoid the "contention" of last year's process.

A January CPE briefing paper included these affordability and access notes:
  • When tuition in Kentucky is compared to median family income, without considering financial aid, UK ranks11th highest in nation, comprehensive and other state universities eighth highest (including UofL), and KCTCS fourth highest.
  • "Total undergraduate enrollment growth was robust during the first years of reform (5.7 percent annual increase), but it has slowed recently (2.2 percent annual increase).
  • "Enrollment growth slowed the most among full-time, in-state, undergraduate students, from an increase of 14 percent early in reform to -1 percent more recently."
Senator Stine's SJR 89 calls for CPE to report on equity questions about "state fund contributions per full-time equivalent student" at each state comprehensive university.

Friday, February 13, 2009

SB 3 early graduation update

Added later: On Comment tonight, Linda Blackford said SB 3 adds an option for kids like "Doogie Houser."

The original version of Senate Bill 3 offered two early graduation options. As amended, the bill now has just one option, allowing students to graduate and qualify for a one-year scholarship if they:
  • Complete a list of sixteen courses worth fifteen credits.
  • Include two Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses.
  • Earn a 3.0 average on a 4.0 scale.
  • Score an 18 in English and a 22 in mathematics on the ACT.
Roughly speaking, SB 3 could allow up to 20% of Kentucky students to start college early with an added one-year scholarship worth about $2,500. You can download an updated one-page summary, including the list of required courses, here, or the whole bill by going here and clicking where it says SB 3 (BR 207).

Grownups pay the bills

As parents, my husband and I have lived by that rule. When a daughter outgrew her shoes, we bought new ones. When another needed braces, we got it done. When our bookish son said he wanted martial arts lessons, we found a way. If that made the rest of the budget tight, we made that work. We skipped new shoes and coats for ourselves. We skipped vacations. We took on extra work. With two girls in college and the boy not far behind, we need seven more years out of a pair of nine-year-old cars.

It isn't always easy, and it isn't always fun, but it's the best work we'll ever get to do. We're the grownups. We do what the children need.

Today, to protect our ability to educate Kentucky's children, the General Assembly did the same thing. They have my congratulations and my thanks.

Student performance and low family income

In the most recent NAEP results for each subject, Kentucky's students from low-income families have a statistically significant lead on their peers nationwide in science and reading. Kentucky performance in writing and mathematics is not significantly different from national results.

Courier v. Councils

Last Saturday, while discussing the Governor's call for an overall review of KERA, a Courier-Journal took a quick shot at school councils, claiming that "Too often they are co-opted by those determined to see schools run as they see fit."

Ronda Harmon of the Kentucky Association of School Councils responds that:
On many occasions, your editorial page has rightly applauded the remarkable strides by schools since 1990. Councils across Kentucky are part of that success story. They are much more likely to be pushing schools and students forward than getting off track.
Ronda's full letter is here.

Manifesto: Classroom implications

Looking at StigginsManifesto, I’ve discussed assessment for learning, levels of assessment, student and parent engagement, and standards. Here, some classroom issues.

Stiggins writes that:
Classroom assessments must provide that information, not once a year or every few weeks, but continuously.... Over time, the student ascends through progressive levels of mastery of prerequisites leading up to mastery of that standard. Ongoing classroom assessment must track that progress in order to know at any point in time what comes next in the learning. Only then can it serve truly formative purposes. (pages 4-5)
The Manifesto does not describe how assessment like that wil fit into a daily schedule. Trying to visualize the process, I imagine one student receiving notes from the teacher about her work on a homework assignment, and another having a quick conference about the quality of his work in a classroom activity. That is, I imagine learning and assessing being joined in a unified classroom rhythm.

Stiggins also expects teachers themselves to create the classroom assessments, not buy from a vendor. I suspect that equipping all Kentucky teachers for this approach won't be cheap or easy. Balanced assessment may well be the right guiding idea for the next decade of Kentucky reform—but we won’t get the big classroom changes or the growth in student performance by sending teachers a memo or showing them a video. If we want to them to move in this direction, we owe them sturdy support.

Manifesto point 5: Classroom-level assessment for learning is a demanding idea that may require a substantial investment to help teachers build strong new skills.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Most states now use constructed-response test items

Thirty-eight states now use constructed-response items as part of their statewide testing, including Kentucky. Of those, six vary their approach by grade, with one using only multiple choice for elementary and middle school testing and five using only multiple choice and writing prompts for high school. Important elements of performance can be measured with multiple choice, but not not students' ability to explain how they've tackled and solved problems. I assume that most states now value that capacity and design their tests to reflect that commitment. (To download a one-page chart of states, click here.)

Kifer, standards, math, and SJR 19

Skip Kifer notes Senate Joint Resolution 19's call to revise our math standards and testing, writing that:
Those of us who have worked with content standards know the issues are not whether they are high or low. Content standards are tricky but on other dimensions: if too broad, they are hard to operationalize; too narrow, and they miss stuff; too many, and they confuse things; too few, we don’t know about since that’s never been done.
SJR 19's supporters, including Senator Kelly and Superintendent Brown, think our Core Content standards are too broad and too many. They hope to "operationalize" the changed standards with testing that reports each student's status on each standard, and that will only be possible if we have a shorter, sharper list of what's expected in each grade.

I'm largely supportive of their approach, but Skip's caution is important. Under SJR 19, we risk narrowing too much. The math skills that can easily be gauged by multiple choice are not the only the math skills students need. Let's be careful not to drop crucial abilities to tackle problems and explain solutions.

(Skip's KSN&C post is here, and I'm delighted to have Skip and Penney Sanders as blogging colleagues. Bob Sexton supports SJR 19 here.)

Manifesto: Lean Standards (and SJR 19)

Working through Rick Stiggin’ s Assessment Manifesto, I've discussed how Stiggins defines assessment for learning, identifies different assessments for different levels of decisions, and and expects students and parents to be in on the classroom-level choices. Today, a look at the role of standards in unifying a balanced system.

What unifies a balanced system is that classroom work, periodic program checks, and annual accountability testing all look for the same clear, well-understood kinds of work from students. That means we’ve got to get our standards right.

Stiggins calls (on page 6) for standards to be:
  • Centered on the truly important learnings of the field of study
  • Clearly and completely integrated into learning progressions within and across grades
  • Precisely defined such that qualified educators consistently interpret them to mean the same thing
  • Within developmental reach of the students who are to master them
  • Manageable in number given the resources available to teach and learn them
  • Thoroughly mastered by those teachers charged with helping students master them
A short, clear list also allows annual accountability testing to report meaningful data for each student on each standard. If we have too many standards, the annual test must either be far too long or use a matrix approach that does not fully test all students on all standards for that grade.

The General Assembly is currently considering Senate Joint Resolution 19, calling for major revisions to our mathematics Core Content and testing. If SJR 19 leads to math standards that can work for classroom and program assessments as well as state accountability, that will be a great first step toward the balance—and the strong results—Stiggins recommends.

Manifesto point 4: In a balance of three levels of assessment, all three aim for the same short, tight list of standards. In a balanced system, there's no room for laundry lists: we have to choose and then focus.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Waiving school days for weather

Correction: the original post said "class for 187 day." School staffs work 187, but only 177 of those are used for student classes.

By law, Kentucky schools are supposed to hold class for 177 days each school year. Between September wind and January ice, that requirement could mean school runs into June this year. House Bill 322, if it passes, will change the rule for this year only and allow districts to drop up to 10 days of classes. Some potential impacts:
  • 10 days missed days of learning time for students, or maybe 10 days of not-very-good learning time when their hearts are already on vacation.
  • 10 days of other duties for school staff, so that they complete their contracts and earn their full contract pay.
  • A little money saved on buses, supplies, and maybe air-conditioning.
  • A little money gained by having better average attendance, which translated into better SEEK funding.
The issue begs for your comments, so please do share questions and opinions below. (More about how to comment can be found here.)

Manifesto: Students! Parents! Participating in Decisions!

Monday’s post on Rick StigginsAssessment Manifesto introduced assessment for learning. Tuesday’s explained that different kinds of assessment, on different timetables, are need for classroom, school , and accountability decisions. Today, an added classroom point.

When Stiggins lays out the classroom level of assessment use, and the decisions about “what comes next in the learning,” he says the decisions are to be made by “students, teachers, and sometimes parents” (page 3).

That's a powerful, pretty radical idea. Children and teenagers bring better energy to projects they understand and support. Parents do too, and parents make a mighty difference in what their kids can accomplish. It’s about empowerment, and about respect.

Stiggins also calls for standards and related curriculum maps to be written so that students and parents can understand and use them as part of their decision-making role.

As I said in the first post, there’s a sunlit vision of confident, excellent classroom work at the heart of this whole project.

Manifesto Point 3: Assessment for learning engages students and sometimes parents, as well as teachers, in key decisions.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Quick Notes: Funding

Senate amendments to the federal stimulus would send $806 million less to Kentucky education than the House version. The biggest two-year cut takes $437 million from fiscal stabilization funds. Construction funds are deleted, taking $210 million from P-12 and $83 million from higher education, with $51 million taken from IDEA, $15 million from Head Start, and $9 million from school improvement. (NEA state-by-state report here.)

The Northern Kentucky Education Action Team is organizing new efforts to support education funding across their region (Great new website here.)

The Education Coalition, bringing together many Kentucky education groups, offers a new statement on the need to invest in education, the damage done by recent education cuts, and need for action to prevent further losses. (Press release and statement here.)

KASS on SB 1, state assessment issues

The Kentucky Association of School Superintendents is calling for "a substantive redesign of the state assessment system." The KASS statement (available for download here) also:
  • proposes specific elements to be included in that redesign.
  • supports testing at the very end of the school year and returning test results in sixty days.
  • opposes elimination of open-response and portfolio accountability in grades 7 and 12.
  • shares concerns about how best to develop changes to state standards and testing.

Manifesto: Three decisions, three kinds of data

This week, I’m working through Rick Stiggins’ Assessment Manifesto. Yesterday’s post noted that assessment for learning, done well, leads to impressively higher achievement. Today, a key point on assessments and decisions made from their results.

Assessment information should support:

Classroom decisions on next learning activities for each student.
Program/school level decisions on whether to keep or change strategies.
Outside accountability decisions on whether a school is delivering acceptable work.

No one assessment can do all that. Those different decisions need different information, on different timetables:

• Classroom work needs evidence about individual students continuously.
• Program planning need evidence about which standards are being mastered, looking at groups of students, on a “periodic but frequent” basis.
• Accountability checks whether enough students are meeting the standards, annually.

Two common Kentucky concerns are that CATS does not provide detailed diagnostics on individual students and that CATS results do not reach schools in time to change curriculum and other strategies before the school year begins. According to the Manifesto, we should not expect the annual test to fill those needs. Instead, diagnostic data should be gathered in the classroom, and planning data taken from program-level testing that happens multiple times a year. Stiggins would say we're right about needing more information, but wrong to think we can fill those need simply by changing the annual state-wide test.

Manifesto Point 2: Don’t expect a single assessment to to support three different levels of decisions that need to be made on three very different timetables. It takes a balanced system.

Monday, February 9, 2009

We love comments! (Updated)

We want you all, our readers, to join our discussion with your comments. Commenting means adding a note after something one of us posts. It could agree or disagree, ask a question, or share a related thought. It's easy:

1. Click "comments" in the pale green box below a post.
2. Scroll down the new page that appears and type your comment in the box at the bottom.
3. Choose "name/URL" from the window shade. Enter your name and click "continue."
4. Click "post comment" to submit what you've written.

If you want, experiment
by commenting on this post. Say something as simple as "hello!" or "testing,"and see how easy it is. You can even use "anonymous" as your name to try it out. We want you in our conversation.

Update: My thanks to e-mail subscribers for reminding me that they don't see that "pale green box" when they're reading. For you, the instructions should start with "0. Go to There, find a post you want to comment on."

Manifesto: Engaged students, profound learning gains

This week, I plan to work through Rick Stiggins’ Assessment Manifesto, using half-a dozen posts to tease out some key ideas in a form that fits the Kentucky discussion.

Current assessment methods do not just measure learning: the tests themselves teach students something we can't ignore. Students who do well on the tests benefit, learning that further effort can bring them further success. For others, the results are not as benign:
Consider, for example, that students are constantly asking themselves, “Can I get this, or is it just too hard for me? Is the learning worth the energy I must expend to attain it? Is the learning worth the risk of public failure?” We must understand that, if students come down on the wrong side of these crucial decisions and thus stop trying, it doesn’t matter what the adults around them decide. The learning stops. (page 8 of the Manifesto.)
Stiggins proposes an "assessment for learning" approach aimed at turning those despairing students into energized participants:
We help students build a strong sense of academic self-efficacy when we help them understand that their role in the assessment environment is to strive to understand what success looks like and when we show them how to use each assessment to determine how to do better the next time. (page 9)
And Stiggins argues that the approach he urges us to take on already has proven, important results:
When assessment for learning practices like these play out as a matter of routine in classrooms, as mentioned previously, evidence gathered from dozens of studies conducted around the world consistently reveals a half to a full standard deviation gain in student achievement attributable to the careful management of the classroom assessment process, with the largest gains accruing for struggling learners. (page 10)
Manifesto Point 1: Assessment for learning shows students how they can succeed and energizes them to make stronger efforts. When that happens, they learn at much higher levels. There’s a sunlit vision of confident, excellent classroom work at the heart of this Manifesto project.

Friday, February 6, 2009

My view: The gaps we can close

Richard Day flagged a report on a California superintendent saying:
It's just not possible for the average kid who comes to this country in seventh or eighth grade, or even third grade, without a word of English and parents with little formal education, to match the achievement levels of kids whose mom has a Ph.D. in English from Stanford and can afford to stay home and spend time supplementing the education of her kid. [Original article here.]
True, we can't move all kids to the same level. That isn't, actually, the important goal.

The important goal is to move very nearly all kids to a good level, and the remaining few much closer than they are now. We can equip them, consistently, to be effective citizens. We can close the gap between current performance and systematically sturdy results.

What our teachers do matters. How we support our teachers matters. What we do together, in this generation, matters for the future we will all share.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Comments on Governor Beshear’s call for review of KERA

Applause for Governor Beshear for announcing a “thorough review” of the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act. “Let us bring together educators, business and legislative leaders” he said, “to not only clear our course and see if corrective steering is necessary, but just as importantly to review and re-energize our commitment to education.”

There’s been talk about this since Governor Beshear took office, so it’s good to see it finally launched. (In fact the Prichard Committee, and I expect many others, recommended this to Beshear.)

Doing the job right will take time, talent and financial resources—no point in a seat-of-the-pants horse trading session for politicians. This is too serious for that.

Let’s be as conscientious as the group that created KERA in the first place, Governor Wilkinson’s task force that responded to the Supreme Court decision of 1989 declaring Kentucky schools to be unconstitutional.

Doing a good job will require involved Kentucky educators, parents and business people; first-rate staffing (Jack Foster, Wilkinson’s brilliant education secretary, led the 1989 effort); cutting edge national thinkers (the Education Commission of the States helped with this in 1989); and serious research and analysis (costly, but without it we’re driving in the dark with no headlights.)

Postsecondary clips

General education courses may soon have a common curriculum across Kentucky's public institutions. Chairman Winters has filed Senate Joint Resolution 49 (full test here), providing that:
Section 1. The president of the Council on Postsecondary Education is directed to appoint by September 1, 2009, working committees composed of instructors and professors from the Kentucky Community and Technical College System and from the four-year postsecondary institutions to develop curriculum content for general education courses.

Section 2. Prior to the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year, the Council on Postsecondary Education shall require postsecondary institutions to provide students with information listing the institutions to which course credit will transfer, whether the credit may be applied toward general education requirements, and whether the credit will apply toward a college major.
Kentucky's Higher Education Working Group has recommended steps to reduce textbook costs and better work to share information about college benefits, college costs, and financial aid. The Working Group's first report, issued in January, also identifies issues and research needs for a second, more ambitious report due in September, including a complete review of state financial aid offerings and CPE analysis of instructional costs, barriers to transfer, and strategies to improve graduation rates. The full document is available at the CPE website.

CPE is likely to adjust its ACT requirements, allowing another year for students and schools to meet the "systemwide standards" set in 2007 and lowering the reading standard from a 21 to 20. Our earlier report is here.

How does Kentucky rank on postsecondary education funding? A report on State Higher Education Finance 2006 (available here) looked at each state's public funding per full-time equivalent pupil for the 2005-06 school year. In that data, Kentucky ranked:
  • 14th of the 50 states in appropriations provided by the state per FTE pupil,
  • 23rd in net tuition paid by students and their families after subtracting financial aid, and
  • 16th in total revenue from the two sources combined.

House and Senate Versions of Education Components of Stimulus Package

The Ed Money Watch Blog offers a nice side-by-side comparison of education funding in the stimulus package along with more details about the bills.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

SB 3 proposes major graduation changes

If Senate Bill 3 becomes law, students will be able to graduate and attend Kentucky community colleges after completing fourteen required courses if they have 2.8 GPAs and ACT scores of 18 in reading and 19 in math.

Students will be able to graduate and attend Kentucky four-year colleges after sixteen required courses, provided they have taken two AP/IB courses, have 3.4 GPAs, and meet ACT's college readiness benchmarks (18 English, 22 Mathematics, 21 Reading, 24 Science).

For comparison, Kentucky currently requires 22 credits as the minimum for a diploma.

Students graduating early will be able to convert some state SEEK money into scholarships for their first year of college, and their KEES award will be based on multiplying their average earnings for three years of high school by four.

You can download a more detailed one-page summary, including the courses that will be required, here, or the whole bill by going here and clicking where it says SB 3 (BR 207).

SB 1 proposes major state testing changes

Senate Bill 1, filed yesterday, proposes to replace CATS, primarily with norm-referenced tests augmented by additional multiple-choice questions. Writing would continue to include on-demand, multiple choice, and portfolio work. Arts & humanities and practical/vocational would no longer be tested, but districts would report on the quality of school programs.

As a more complete overview, you can download a two-page chart of the bill’s provisions, including the schedule, provisions for formative testing, and provisions for added help for students with weaknesses, here. You can download the whole bill by going here and clicking where it says SB 1 (BR 803).

I have three concerns after my first study of this new bill. I am worried about:
  • Abandoning open-response questions. Open-response is a stronger way to measure the more demanding “depth of knowledge” elements of the core content and the better way to check how well students can apply what they have learned.
  • Trying to take a test designed for norm-referenced scoring and use it for criterion-referenced reporting of whether student meet standards—especially when the goal is for all students to be able to succeed.
  • Understanding how portfolios will be used, because I think they will be excluded from accountability but I can’t find a place in the bill where that is spelled out.

SB 1 proposes major state testing changes

Senate Bill 1, filed yesterday, proposes to replace CATS, primarily with norm-referenced tests augmented by additional multiple-choice questions. Writing would continue to include on-demand, multiple choice, and portfolio work. Arts & humanities and practical/vocational would no longer be tested, but districts would report on the quality of school programs.

As a more complete overview, you can download a two-page chart of the bill’s provisions, including the schedule, provisions for formative testing, and provisions for added help for students with weaknesses, here. You can download the whole bill by going here and clicking where it says SB 1 (BR 803).

I have three concerns after my first study of this new bill. I am worried about:
  • Abandoning open-response questions. Open-response is a stronger way to measure the more demanding “depth of knowledge” elements of the core content and the better way to check how well students can apply what they have learned.
  • Trying to take a test designed for norm-referenced scoring and use it for criterion-referenced reporting of whether student meet standards—especially when the goal is for all students to be able to succeed.
  • Understanding how portfolios will be used, because I think they will be excluded from accountability but I can’t find a place in the bill where that is spelled out.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Funding news

Local revenue for schools (from property, utility, and occupational taxes) will also suffer during the recession. KSBA reports on word from district leaders and state experts here. At least tentatively, it seems that Kentucky, by not having as big a real estate boom in years past, may have a smaller real estate bust now.

State funding will be the major issue as the legislature goes to work in Frankfort. Yesterday, it was good news that key legislators are now saying openly that revenue is likely to be an essential part of the solution here.

The federal stimulus bill includes important investments in education, which could be at least a temporary relief from state and local losses. In the House version of the bill, $1.1 billion might come to Kentucky P-12 and postsecondary starting July 1. Part would be targeted at construction, Title 1, IDEA, while another major portion would come directly to replace lost revenue from the recession. Another $800 million would come the next year. Some detail on the state totals from the House bill are here, but do remember that the bill has gone to the Senate and changes are likely before anything becomes law.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Kentucky and national NAEP scores

We have work ahead to ensure that our students can perform above national average and be ready for global competition, but it is well past time for us to stop believing rumors that our children and our schools lag far behind their peers. The most recent results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows Kentucky public school students to be:
  • Ahead of national average in fourth and eighth grade science.
  • Statistically tied with national average in fourth and eighth grade reading, fourth grade writing, and eighth grade mathematics.
  • Behind the nation in eighth grade writing and fourth grade mathematics.

Report on state policies for new teachers, taken with a grain of salt

What can states do to retain effective new teachers? The 2008 State Teacher Policy Yearbook analyzes state-level efforts here. (Hat tip: Equity Express)

The report grades states on a tough scale. Kentucky’s D+ matches 16 other states, with 15 scoring higher and 19 (including the District of Columbia) scoring lower.

The report is impressive as a tour of key issues, but in the end, I am not convinced that these standards are quite the right ones to watch. I’ll settle for just two examples.

First, it looks for state-level value-added approaches using test scores to track teacher effectiveness and state-level processes “to evaluate cumulative effectiveness in the classroom.” State-level rules can matter on those issues, but the commitment of district and school level leaders matter more. If principals start each school year checking steadily on their newest teachers, they can spot problems and offer help long before detailed test data arrives—and district culture is crucial to whether principals keep that in the forefront.

Second, it advocates stronger pay increases at tenure, added compensation for relevant non-teaching work, differential pay for difficult assignments, and increased salaries for higher student performance—all widely discussed, and all with price tags. Yet the report offers little idea of what costs can be and asserts in the introduction that its goals “are for the most part relatively cost-neutral.” It's difficult to imagine a state affording robust implementation of all four ideas.

Again, a report worth reading to see possible issues and consider ways Kentucky could do things differently, but not, to my mind, a convincing checklist of the changes we most need to make.

District by district amounts from stimulus

Reader Melanie Tyner-Wilson wrote in to pass on the link to an even more detailed summary of how the House version of the stimulus bill could affect Kentucky schools:
The Congressional research service has put together a list of projected allocations to each local school district form the appropriation proposed in the House stimulus bill. Although there seems to be some emerging controversy in the Senate, the educational portions don’t seem part of the problem.

The House Education & Labor committee has posted a state by state breakdown of the CRS estimates for allocation of the money to respective school districts in each state. Here’s the url:
Thanks, Mel!

(My post on the total possible stimulus amounts from the House version of the bill are here.)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Good words from the Advocate-Messenger

This morning's editorial on the weather and its aftermath:
It has been miserable. But we have done it together, people helping people, the way God intended.
Those are worth applying long after the ice melts, the power is restored, and all those branches are turned to mulch.

Richard Day on CATS and other tests

Over at Kentucky School News and Commentary, Richard Day offers a substantial post on Kentucky testing issues and the challenges we will face if we attempt a wholesale replacement of CATS. The whole piece is informative, and there's special value to his original reporting on an interview with Dorie Combs, who chairs EKU's Department of Curriculum and Instruction and serves on the Kentucky Board of Education. It's valuable reading here.