Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Great questions: SISI, NAPD, parents, low-performing schools

In a single comment (here), I spy four powerful questions:

Will the SISI document change or be eliminated?
SISI is short for the Standards and Indicators for School Improvement, the document that has guided scholastic audits and reviews since 2000. Senate Bill 1 removes the scholastic audit concept from the law. The new program reviews will overlap in some key ways with scholastic audits, especially on curriculum and instruction issues, but the requirements seem different enough to require fresh guidelines. There are sure to be similarities, because SISI and the new approach should both draw on respected learning research, but the organization may be quite different.

I have always believed that SISI was fundamentally sound and a truly valuable tool--and also weakened by some clumsy redundancies and a few worrisome holes. A new take on similar issues, building on SISI experience, if edited well and developed with broader input, could be a very nice step forward.

And how about the 'Distinguished, Proficient, Apprentice and Novice' language?
Those are the four main performance levels we have used to report students' CATS performance in each subject. I'm confident we'll see at least four performance levels, with "proficient" as the one we want for other students, at least two below that and at least one above. That makes sense and fits NCLB requirements. There may be more levels than that, and the other names could all be changed.

Also, for the most part, parents/guardians have no clue as to what happened to education in the legislature last week---how do we go about putting it in 'laymen's' terms so that everyone (especially the main stakeholders---parents and children) understand what happened and how it will influence the education that their children will receive??
It will take many written pieces, many presentations, and many conversations, won't it? As a starting point, I'd use three major points:
  • The future test will include reading, math, science, social studies and writing, with standards tied to college requirements and more support for teachers to help each student move toward those standards.
  • Program reviews will be used to make sure schools provide robust programs in the arts, practical/career studies, and sustained writing.
  • The transition test leaves out too many subjects--so you should check your child's work and attend council and PTA meetings to be sure that writing, science, history, and other social studies continue to be taught well during the next few years.
How is this going to affect the low-performing schools/children (typically, low-income and minority children)??
The weak accountability of the next few transition years will have the worst impact for those groups. Those children, so often stuck in achievement gaps, flourish in schools with high expectations, a warm collaborative culture, and strong commitment to tracking each child's progress and providing varied responses to keep all students on track. And yet, they are the ones most often stuck in schools that don't provide those things. With only reading and math accountable, I think we'll see fewer schools developing those positive traits, and some that have headed that way will lose ground. (We'll also see some great educators keep right on pushing, based on deep internal commitment to our kids.)

After that, though, the new laws should be good for those same students. The push for leaner standards in SB 1 is intended to make it easier for teachers to plan sustained work on the knowledge and skills students need most, including understanding how each one is progressing based on classroom work and helping students and parents understand that, too. That approach has the biggest benefits for the most vulnerable students. The attention to postsecondary expectations and global competition should yield higher standards, again important to kids whose parents may not have the power to push for that on their own.

The program review approach to the arts, if done right, should mean robust performance activities that are especially valuable to kids whose parents cannot offer them private lessons. Even on the writing portfolio, we've got a fighting chance to get teachers to focus on effective instructional methods more steadily, with program reviews looking directly at how they teach.

Really, truly, I think SB 1 is a good long-term bill tied to a bad short-term mistake.

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