Saturday, October 31, 2009

KCCT standards in perspective (retro edition)

From 1999 to 2006, we used one version of the Kentucky Core Content Tests, but in 2007, we switched to a new version. Some folks call it the change from "old CATS" to "new CATS" or from "CATS I" to "CATS II." The differences included revised core content, increased weight on multiple choice questions, a new system of scale scores, and a new definition of the scores needed to be considered proficient.

A new study (introduced here) maps each state's 2005 and 2007 proficiency standards to NAEP scale scores. That gives us a helpful, if indirect, way to think about how our standards changed in 2007.

In fourth grade reading, the study shows:
  • 206 as the NAEP score identified as equivalent to our "old CATS" proficiency standard.
  • 205 as the NAEP score equivalent to our "new CATS proficiency standard.
In eight grade mathematics, the study shows:
  • 285 as the NAEP score equivalent to "old CATS" proficiency.
  • 279 as the NAEP score equivalent to "new CATS" proficiency.
In effect, the report gives us a formal demonstration that we lowered the proficiency bar in 2007. The reading change was quite small, but the math change more substantial.

The report also shows Kentucky's 2005 standards to have been quite high in national perspective, with only 21 percent of the included states having higher standards in either subject.

KCCT standards in perspective

Kentucky's reading and mathematics Kentucky Core Content Tests have higher proficiency standards than many other states, according to a new analysis from the National Center for Education Statistics (here).

The report worked out what NAEP scale score was equivalent to each state's proficiency cut score. Using that method, the 2007 portion of the study shows that:
  • Only 35 percent of states with reported data had higher fourth grade reading proficiency standards than Kentucky.
  • Only 29 percent had higher eighth grade reading standards.
  • Only 29 percent had higher fourth grade mathematics standards.
  • Only 23 percent had higher eighth grade mathematics standards.
The report also showed that state proficiency standards are almost all lower than NAEP proficiency standards. The only exceptions are Massachusetts grade 4 math, Massachusetts grade 8 math, and South Carolina grade 8 math.

The proficiency standards set in 2007--and used in this NAEP comparison--are scheduled to stay in use through 2011. In 2012, Kentucky will launch new tests required by Senate Bill 1, including new definitions of what scores qualify as proficient.

For number-lovers, the chart below gives the numbers behind the percentages above:

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

KTIP for new teachers (Quality agenda item 1.5)

In my working list of key ways to build teaching quality, item 1 is getting teacher preparation focused on practice, and item 2 is getting teaching careers organized around collaborative, data-based work to raise achievement. The Kentucky Teacher Internship Program, known as KTIP, fits in between.

KTIP provides each new teacher with mentoring from a veteran teacher and an education professor, and it's important. It's a state initiative that can make a big difference. It's also a state initiative that's being undermined by funding troubles that are reducing funding for the needed mentors.

I'm going to toss out an idea for others to kick around. How would it work if the state redefined KTIP as a district cost, tasked EPSB to set the stipend schedule and approve mentor qualifications, and reallocated current KTIP funding through the SEEK formula?

Tentatively, hesitantly, I think it might ensure that KTIP is permanent and non-negotiable. I'm sure districts will have a problem with carrying any cost increases and with the years when they have an unusually high number of new hires to support, but I wonder how that minus compares to the lasting negatives of having underprepared teachers.

Where is Kentucky child poverty?

23 percent of Kentucky children live in poverty, according to the American Community Survey's most recent three-year average, combining results from 2006, 2007, and 2008. Nationwide, the figure is sharply lower at 18 percent.

However, Kentucky child poverty is distributed very unevenly. The ACS data is also broken down into thirty microdata areas of roughly similar size, including five for Jefferson, two for Fayette, one for Kenton, and the other twenty-two each combining multiple counties.

The highest child poverty rates are found in one part of Jefferson County and in a set of Appalachian counties:

  • 50 percent in western Jefferson
  • 41 percent in Bell, Harlan, Knox, and Whitley combined
  • 38 percent in Breathitt, Knott, Lee, Leslie, Letcher, Owsley, Perry, and Wolfe combined
  • 33 percent in Floyd, Johnson, Magoffin, Martin, and Pike combined
  • 32 percent in Adair, Casey, Clinton, Cumberland, Green, McCreary, Pulaski, Russell, Taylor, and Wayne combined
The lowest child poverty is found in other parts of Jefferson County and in relatively suburban areas adjacent to Louisville and Cincinnati:
  • 5 percent in eastern Jefferson
  • 11 percent in Boone, Carroll, Gallatin, Grant, and Owen combined
  • 12 percent in central/downtown Jefferson
  • 12 percent in Bullitt, Henry, Oldham, Shelby, Spencer, and Trimble combined
  • 14% in Kenton
Combining its five microdata areas, Jefferson has an overall child poverty rate of 22 percent, slightly below state average. Combining its two areas, Fayette county's overall rate is 21 percent.

A full chart, sorted by poverty rate is below, and the original data was downloaded today from this site.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ugly stuff

Years ago, I heard a legislator say out loud, "Some parents are just dumb and lazy." And I thought to myself, "Anyone who said the same sentence about teachers would be out of office in a matter of months, if not hours. "

Why is there a difference?

It isn't because the sentence about parents is true and a matching sentence about teachers (principals, superintendents, school board members, KDE staff, or legislators) would be false.

It's because it's safe to insult the weakest of parents, and not safe to insult the weakest members of the other groups. The other groups stand up for their own.

Parents, though, are comfortable with insulting other parents. We do it ourselves, and we let other people do it. We think that we can bond with educators and other people with power if we join them in speaking rudely about other parents and people without power. I can't remember having made my own cracks like that, but I can certainly remember hearing others do it and letting them think I agreed.

I shouldn't have done that. I shouldn't side with the strong against the weak.

Neither should Signe Wilkinson. Her recent education cartoon, siding with teachers and administrators and against parents, is out-of-keeping with her usual efforts to support a respectful and inclusive society.

Getting smarter off each other (Quality agenda item 2)

In a nutshell, the title summarizes what happens in professional learning communities: the member-teachers become more effective at their shared craft "off of" each other. When I heard the "getting smarter" phrase in a WUKY report on a new UK multidisciplinary program on muscle health, it struck me as perfect for many other collaborative endeavors.

When PLCs work on becoming "more effective," they apply a concrete understanding of what counts as effectiveness. Their discussions are focused directly on individual student learning, in a steady cycle of data-teaching-more data. They harness the power of assessment for learning, and get the potent learning benefits that come from that data-driven approach.

The PLC model offers a solution to the giant puzzle of best practices. The puzzle, of course, is that nearly all teachers have read about and talked about the research-based methods that promise the biggest improvement in student results. That happens, I think, because teachers have been asked to implement those methods in the isolation of their separate classrooms. Adding collaborative support can be the difference between trying an idea once and trying it repeatedly with increasingly robust understanding of what needs to be done--and the difference between a quick failure and a sustained success at applying a new approach.

What can be done at the state level to push toward making professional learning communities a standard feature of educators' work lives? Three levers will be especially important:
  • Honest evaluations followed by strong help to improve current skills, including KDE monitoring how local board evaluation procedures are implemented.
  • Strong scrutiny of school improvement plans submitted to KDE by schools that miss their achievement gap goals, with primary focus on the quality of professional growth activities.
  • Scholastic audits and reviews that focus intensively on the quality of evaluations, professional development, and instructional leadership.
Notably, state laws and regulations already call for all those steps. While the legal language may need some refinement, the main shift needs to be in the priority given to this work. Even when the Department wants mainly friendly relations with school and district leaders, KDE must speak honestly about failings in these areas. Even when budgets are shrinking, this work must be funded.

Other blog links: read more about PLCs here, and more about assessment for learning (a core part of "balanced assessment") here.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Teaching quality: Carroll County eWalks

Carroll County is using the eWalk method to take a systematic look at teaching practices across the district. Administrators are touring classrooms with notebook computers, noting what they see in a ten-minute observation, and collating results to get a system-wide picture.

Last week, the Madison Courier reported on findings discussed at the Carroll County board meeting:
Administrators also evaluated the time used in the classrooms. They found 62 percent of classrooms surveyed were paced well and 71 percent of the classrooms had students engaged in the materials. To help gauge this information, administrators also talk to students from the classes to ask how the material is taught, the pace of information and if the work is challenging enough.

"We're not going to see everything in 10 minutes," [
Assistant Superintendent Bill] Hogan said.

Evaluators found that 77 percent of the information taught was in the acquisition area, which reflects low-level learning, while 22 percent was application, 6 percent was assimilation and 1 percent was adaptation learning.

Hogan said the lower level learning will be primarily seen in the beginning of the school year as students are just learning about new subjects. Adaptation learning might also take more time, which might not be allowed due to class scheduling, he said.

"Over time, you can get a picture of the school," said Pam Williams, elementary instructional supervisor.

Students are also learning more on the recall reproduction level versus the basic application of information. Strategic thinking levels are just at 3 percent of the classes surveyed and 1 percent use extended learning. James said the schools are to focus more on critical thinking, so depth of knowledge is crucial to look at.

Guided Teaching Practice (Quality Agenda Item 1)

Thinking about the TEK task force and the Race to the Top application is making me sharpen and restate the main ideas on how to get us to greater teaching quality. This week, I'll work on sharing an agenda of specifics.

Guided practice--what the professionals often call practicum--is essential to effective teaching, but undervalued in nearly all current American preparation programs. EdWeek quoted a key researcher on the needed shift last spring:
“Right now, coursework is in the foreground, and the clinical piece is in the background,” said Barnett Berry, the president of the Hillsborough, N.C.-based Center for Teaching Quality. “What we need to do is reverse that.”
The McKinsey report on Top-Performing School Systems made the point this way:
Research shows that in the United States many teacher education programs have little impact on teacher effectiveness. Frequently, this is because the connection between what the trainee teachers do during their training, and what they are expected to be able to do once they arrive in the classroom, is not strong enough. Angus McBeath, former superintendent of Edmonton's schools in Alberta, noted, "We would never turnout a freshly minted doctor and say, 'go operate on somebody' without three or four years of practice - guided practice. But we turn out teachers, put them in classrooms, and ignore them.
And when U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called for major change in teacher preparation programs last week, his examples of good models put guided practice front and center:
[Tennesee’s] Board of Regents has decided that all undergraduate teacher candidates will spend their senior year in year-long residencies in P-12 schools.
* * *
Every student teacher in the elementary education program at [Teachers College] completes at least two semesters of student teaching, and unlike some education schools, every student teacher works under the careful supervision of a well-qualified mentor teacher. About half of TC's graduating teachers in 2007-08 ended up in high-needs schools in New York City. Your commitment to research what really works to advance student learning is impressive.
* * *
At Emporia State University in Emporia, Kansas, home of the National Teachers Hall of Fame, the Teachers College is the crown jewel of the school. Roughly 80 percent of students are supervised by full-time education faculty instead of adjuncts—and all elementary education professors are in the public schools every day. Senior year is a 100 percent field-based program in Emporia's public schools, where student teachers do everything from assisting with grading to sitting in on parent-teacher conferences.
* * *
Alverno College, a Catholic women's college in Milwaukee, also requires a rigorous field experience in the public schools and has faculty and local principals assess videotapes of student teachers. Eighty-five percent of Alverno graduates are still in the classroom five years after graduation, an extremely high retention rate.

For Kentucky, we will need this new focus on practice to meet Senate Bill 1's mandate to equip teachers to organize instruction around meeting standards, including analyzing individual student progress and making repeated adjustment to keep each one on track.

At the state policy level, people have been talking at and about and around those ideas for at least two decades.

In our education programs, I'm essentially certain that the same talking and talking and talking has been happening in lecture halls--but hearing lectures will not do the job. To apply those strategies well, future teachers need to practice them, hands-on, with feedback and mentoring and opportunity to reflect and opportunity to practice again.

I put practice-driven teacher preparation at the top of the agenda for building teaching quality.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The long view of our challenges

At the Rose symposium, Deb Dawahare shared a article that gives wonderful context both to the litigation twenty years ago and our current challenges. Reformatted only to add paragraph breaks and bullets, here's that report:
An Educational Convention is to be held in Frankfort for the purpose of securing a more efficient public school system than the present one, which was established by the legislative act of Feb. 16, 1839, with a financial foundation of $850,000, increased in 1848 to $1,225,768.42, and in 1850 to $1,326,770.01. The school tax is 22 cents on the $100, and provision is made for an optional district tax of 25 cents on the $100 in ordinary districts and 30 cents in graded school districts. It is proposed to make the machinery of common education more effective and diffusive.

The defects of the present system are, in part, as follows:

  • The Sheriffs are too tardy in the collection of the school tax;
  • The teachers are poorly paid, and many of them are poorly qualified;
  • The law does not absolutely require a common school to be taught during five months in the year in any district;
  • The people are woefully indifferent in two-thirds of the counties of the State to the importance of common schools;
  • There is a painful lack of normal school instruction;
  • The School Commissioners are, in a majority of cases, not qualified to hold these important positions;
  • The State per capita is always an uncertain and variable quantity;
  • The school-houses are largely in a poor condition;
  • There are many districts without any kind of school-houses;
  • Most of the school districts are too large and the school-houses inaccessible to many children, especially in the mountain districts;
  • The text-books are changed too often and cost too much;
  • The schools do not get all the revenue to which they are legitimately entitled, as from the tax on railroads and turnpikes now diverted;
  • No effort has been made to secure new sources of revenue.

The Frankfort convention must grapple with these defects. The foundation of the school system have been laid 45 years; the building has been slowly rising. The bad bricks must come out the walls; the whole people of Kentucky must be put to work on those walls with a will.

That ran in the New York Times on March 30, 1883, having appeared earlier in the Courier-Journal, and the similarities to our current predicament do indeed loom larger than than the differences.

Leadership in a nutshell

"Judge Combs made you want to do things, and made you not scared of doing things.”

That one line is my favorite bit of Debra Dawahare's account of working on the Rose case at Wednesday night's symposium. It may be the best summary of leadership in action I've heard.

(Along with Bert Combs--the former judge and governor of Kentucky--and Ted Lavitt, Deb Dawahare represented the plaintiffs in the litigation. Folks from the University of Kentucky Law School filmed the whole event, and I hope they'll share the video electronically, so I won't try to retell her story.)

What did the Governor just say about SEEK?

At the Rose symposium, Governor Beshear defined his education funding goal as “keeping our hands off of [the SEEK formula] for two more years.” As with similar remarks last spring (blogged here), I think his words were precise.

His goal is to maintain the current formula itself, so that districts continue to be guaranteed a base level of funding per pupil plus add-on amounts for pupils in some categories of added need.

The guarantee, though, isn’t the amount the state pays. The state pays the amount not raised by the 30¢ local property tax (or the equivalent amount raised by other property taxes.

In all years since SEEK began, that local amount has grown, and thus far the Great Recession has not changed that trend. If the total guarantee is the same, and the local contribution is larger, that means the state contribution can be smaller in the coming biennium.

I think the Governor is planning on that and being honest about it.

Most audiences would not want him to take a detour to explain how the “SEEK formula” is different from the “state budget amount for SEEK funding.” For my blog audience, though, I think it’s worthwhile to be careful about following the nuances and limits of his funding commitment.

Governor Beshear at the Rose Symposium

Governor Steve Beshear was at the Brown Hotel Wednesday night, addressing a symposium on the twentieth anniversary of Rose v. Council for Better Education. The 1989 Rose decision declared Kentucky's public school system to be in violation of the constitutional provision requiring "an efficient system of common schools," and directed the legislature to rebuild the system from the ground up. From the notes I took during his speech, here are a few key points.

The Governor described Rose as “much bigger than a legal case” and as important because “twenty years ago, Kentucky really took a stand against failure…. Twenty years ago Kentucky realized it wasn’t prepared for the competitive world we were facing.”

Naturally, he then turned to his new initiative to “rekindle that enthusiasm,” and to remarks quite similar to others he gave this week about how that will work, both in relation to new competitive challenges and in relation to other recent developments like Senate Bill 1 and race to the top. I couldn’t do that description justice, but I will highlight two things.

First, the Governor called for “assessment that measures what employers value,” meaning capacities like problem-solving, teamwork, and effective application of knowledge. He’s right that those capacities are important and undervalued in current assessments. Still, remembering our earlier efforts with performance events, I’m not sure there’s any form of standardized activity—the sort of thing we’d count as a reliable assessment—that can really judge that sort of work. In short, I see an important puzzle with no quick-to-hand solutions. To me, some version of a school inspection system for sound instruction seems more likely to succeed than an attempt to measure student results on those issues directly.

Second, the Governor point out that “added funding” is not on his list of issues for study, saying both that “everyone knows we need to invest more" and we "don't need a task force" to figure that out. Further, "this current recession will not allow that right now. “ The governor's goal will be more modest: continuing to resist cuts to the SEEK formula for two more years, including 2012 when the stimulus money will all be gone. After that, when revenue should rebound to the 2008 level, he wants the TEK task force to have identified priorities for increased education spending and built political commitment to support those increases.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Students who count for SEEK

Here's a way to see the growth in students and student needs recognized by the SEEK formula:

In the graph, the "add-on equivalents" number is one way to get a quick sense of how the "regular" needs generated by attending students compare to the extra needs of students with low incomes, learning disabilities, and other challenges. Think of it as saying that in 2009, responding to those added challenges was a responsibility roughly as large as serving 158 thousand more students. (For number-lovers, I calculated the "equivalents" by dividing the add-on funding total each year by the per-pupil guarantee amount.)

From 2002 to 2009, Kentucky schools added roughly 21,000 students in average daily attendance for purposes of the basic portion of the SEEK guarantee. In the same period, our schools added the equivalent of 25,000 students for the SEEK add-ons for needs based on income, language, or disability challenges.

The graph below give a further sense of where the add-on growth occurred. The limited English add-on did not begin until 2006.

Notes: the funding figures used for this analysis come from the KDE website here. All counts shown above are based on dividing statewide totals by that year's base guarantee amount per pupil. The same results could be calculated by taking the original student counts and multiplying by the SEEK weight assigned to that group. All years shown are fiscal years.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Governor's task force

Original post:

More when I find the press release and media reports--but Facebook is definitely a hot source for news.

Update with the text of the press release:

Governor Beshear launches new education initiative

TEK task force will be catalyst to reinvigorate public support for K-12 education
LEXINGTON, Ky. – In a move to re-energize the support of public schools that nearly 20 years ago sparked Kentucky to implement the nation’s most comprehensive school reform, Gov. Steve Beshear today launched his new education initiative, Transforming Education in Kentucky (TEK). The goal is to create a unified vision of what schools in the Commonwealth need to offer in order to better serve students today and tomorrow.
“Our world has changed dramatically since the reforms of 1990,” said Gov. Beshear. “We must now turn our focus to the future and again to our schools to ensure that our strategies and programs are designed to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”
To that end, Gov. Beshear appointed the TEK Task Force to help develop new strategies while reinvigorating public and business support for K-12 education in the Commonwealth.
The members of the task force include education advocates, teachers, superintendents, legislators, business leaders and others who have been handpicked for their commitment to education and to Kentucky.
The group will examine efforts currently underway in the state, such as the Common Core Standards Initiative, Graduate Kentucky, the Gates Foundation/SREB college and career readiness initiative, the Race to the Top competition and the Governor’s Task Force on Early Childhood Development and Education. Against this backdrop of renewed energy and activity, the panel will recommend ways to channel all of these efforts into an integrated and comprehensive system of education in Kentucky.
In addition, the task force will explore career and technical education, expanded use of technology for learning, increased opportunities for students to earn college credit in high school and other issues that affect student success.
The goal is to formulate recommendations by the end of 2010, for consideration during the 2011 legislative session.
In an effort to build awareness of the initiative and to receive input from citizens statewide, Gov. Beshear is visiting 10 cities across the state for a series of press conferences and town hall forums. The Governor and the TEK Task Force will use this input as guidance for the work of Transforming Education in Kentucky.
“This effort seeks to build off the progress of the last 20 years in order to lay the foundation for the 20 years ahead,” said Gov. Beshear. “Today, I’m calling on our state and our people to recommit ourselves to ensuring the future of our children.”
Gov. Beshear and Kentucky Department of Education Commissioner Terry Holliday will serve as co-chairs of the task force.
Other members of the task force include:
  • Sen. Tim Shaughnessy, D-19th District
  • Rep. Leslie Combs, D-94th District;
  • Rep. Jeffrey Hoover, R-83rd District;
  • Rep. Carl Rollins, D-56th District;
  • Helen Mountjoy, secretary, Education and Workforce Development Cabinet
  • David Adkisson, president, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce;
  • Sheldon Berman, superintendent, Jefferson County;
  • Mary Ann Blankenship, executive director, Kentucky Education Association;
  • Karen Cash, classroom teacher, Louisville;
  • Margaret Cleveland, school board member, Woodford County;
  • Sam Corbett, chair, Prichard Committee;
  • Ben Cundiff, Cundiff Farms, Cadiz;
  • Sharon Darling, president, National Center for Family Literacy;
  • Betty Griffin, The Griffin Group, Frankfort;
  • Tim Hanner, superintendent, Kenton County;
  • Trichel House, classroom teacher, Russell;
  • Nanette Johnson, superintendent, Hardin County;
  • Eleanor Jordan, executive director, Kentucky Commission on Women;
  • Robert King, president, Council on Postsecondary Education;
  • Nana Lampton, American Life & Accident Insurance Company of Kentucky, Louisville;
  • William Lovell, school board member, McLean County;
  • Brent McKim, president, Jefferson County Teachers’ Association;
  • Bob Porter, mayor, City of Paintsville;
  • Johnna Reeder, Duke Energy, Covington;
  • Stu Silberman, superintendent, Fayette County;
  • Stephen Trimble, superintendent, Johnson County; and
  • Diane Whalen, mayor, City of Florence.
*Gov. Beshear has asked Senate President David Williams to recommend two additional members from the State Senate and they will be added to the task force once they have been named.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fund balances (new concept enters budget debate)

Legislators are considering using local district fund balances as part of a state budget solution for 2011-12 (Courier-Journal report here), making it important to understand the fund balance concept.

In a nutshell, a district's fund balance is calculated by adding up all the money
a district has available and then subtracting all the amounts it owes to employees, vendors, lenders, and others. It's "a 'snapshot' of the net amount that remains between assets and liabilities at any given point in time," according to Daviess County superintendent Tom Shelton's new white paper "Budget Contingencies and Fund Balances," available here.

Districts maintain a fund balance for multiple reasons:

  • Contingency reserves are one part of the story. Districts must set aside at least at the legally required level of two percent of budget expenses. They are advised to go beyond that and keep the contingency amount at the five percent level. That money is meant to be used for expenses that could not be planned.
  • Cash flow is an issues for any enterprise: money you know will flow in next month doesn't let you write checks this month. In school districts, there's a predictable annual challenge while waiting for the current year's property taxes to come in. Districts meet the challenge by carefully keeping a strong fund balance through the spring and then using that money to meet summer and fall payroll before the tax revenue arrives at year's end.
  • Saving for other projects can be an additional reason to maintain a fund balance, including the costs of equipping a new school or launching an additional service for students.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Are Jefferson disaggregated results improving?

After my post two days ago on Jefferson County 2009 results for low-income children, I got an e-mail raising the issue of trends. If Jefferson group results are low, are they at least improving? The shortest answer is: mostly no.

For this post, I'm looking at NCLB groups: reduced lunch students, students with limited English, and for white, black, Hispanic, and Asian students. I'll add students with disabilities when those numbers are available.

For reading and mathematics, NCLB reports show us combined results for all grades, and those reports show that in terms of students proficient and above, from 2007 to 2009:
  • In reading, all 6 groups had declining results.
  • In mathematics, 5 groups had improving results and one (limited English) had a decline.
For science, social studies and mathematics, combined results for all grades are not available. Instead, for six groups and three levels of school, we have eighteen results to look at. From 2007 to 2009:
  • In science, 11 results declined and 7 improved.
  • In social studies, 12 results declined and 6 improved.
  • In writing, 11 results declined and 7 improved.
Below, I've organized the reading and math results in graphs, and switched to a table showing changes in science, social studies, and writing results.

Not moving up on grade 8 math

2009 NAEP math scores included the good news I blogged yesterday, with fourth grade Kentucky students being fully at the national average score after years of lagging behind. It also includes news not nearly as good about eighth grade performance: Kentucky students did not improve, which means we fell further behind the nation than we were in 2007. Two graphs below share the main details of that.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Moving up in math!

2009 NAEP scores released today show Kentucky fourth graders performing at the national average in mathematics. Given our history of being behind in math, it is a sweet, sweet thing to see. Two snapshots of the data are below, and eighth grade results (not as good) will be up tomorrow. We've got a long road to travel, my friends, but this result is a milestone worth some mighty celebration.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How weak is Jefferson County with low-income students?

Jefferson County's high school results for low-income students are in the bottom half of the state in every subject except writing, and Jefferson County's elementary and middle results are in the bottom one-fifth of the state in every subject except fifth-grade writing. Here's an analysis of the percent of those students (identified by participation in the free and reduced lunch program) who scored proficient or above on the 2009 Kentucky Core Content Tests.

In reading, for low-income students:

  • 92% of districts delivered better third grade performance than Jefferson County
  • 92% delivered better fourth grade performance
  • 81% delivered better fifth grade performance
  • 89% delivered better sixth grade performance
  • 87% delivered better seventh grade performance
  • 89% delivered better eighth grade performance
  • 61% delivered better tenth grade performance

In mathematics, for low-income students:

  • 87% of districts delivered better third grade performance than Jefferson County
  • 83% delivered better fourth grade performance
  • 82% delivered better fifth grade performance
  • 88% delivered better sixth grade performance
  • 88% delivered better seventh grade performance
  • 89% delivered better eighth grade performance
  • 52% delivered better eleventh grade performance

In science, for low-income students:

  • 95% of districts delivered better fourth grade performance than Jefferson County
  • 95% delivered better seventh grade performance
  • 90% delivered better eleventh grade performance

In social studies, for low-income students:

  • 82% of districts delivered better fifth grade performance than Jefferson County
  • 88% delivered better eighth grade performance
  • 52% delivered better eleventh grade performance

In writing, for low-income students:

  • 68% of districts delivered better fifth grade performance than Jefferson County
  • 81% delivered better eighth grade performance
  • 22% delivered better twelfth grade performance

It is very hard to understand how results like that are compatible with the pride Jefferson County has historically taken in its school system.

The chart below provides the numbers behind the reporting above.

Monday, October 12, 2009

How weak is Jefferson County?

Jefferson County is delivering weaker performance than most other districts in the state at the elementary and middle school levels. The high school results are relatively strong. The elementary and middle school results are the ones that deserve serious discussion within Jefferson County, and I'll share those first. Throughout, I'll compare results based on the percent of students who were at or above the state standard of proficiency on the 2009 Kentucky Core Content Tests.

In elementary and middle school reading:

  • 87% of districts delivered better third grade performance than Jefferson County
  • 89% delivered better fourth grade performance
  • 74% delivered better fifth grade performance
  • 86% delivered better sixth grade performance
  • 82% delivered better seventh grade performance
  • 85% delivered better eighth grade performance

In elementary and middle school mathematics:

  • 85% of districts delivered better third grade performance than Jefferson County
  • 81% delivered better fourth grade performance
  • 71% delivered better fifth grade performance
  • 82% delivered better sixth grade performance
  • 77% delivered better seventh grade performance
  • 82% delivered better eighth grade performance

In other elementary and middle school subjects:

  • 94% of districts delivered better performance in fourth grade science than Jefferson County
  • 90% delivered better performance in seventh grade science
  • 81% delivered better performance in fifth grade social studies
  • 82% delivered better performance in eighth grade social studies
  • 62% delivered better performance in fifth grade writing
  • 67% delivered better performance in eighth grade writing

As promised, the high school picture is importantly better:

  • 57% of districts delivered better tenth grade reading performance than Jefferson County
  • 37% delivered better eleventh grade mathematics performance
  • 64% delivered better eleventh grade science performance
  • 39% delivered better eleventh grade social studies performance
  • 17% delivered better twelfth grade writing performance

Before high school, though, the elementary and middle school results ought to startle any community. It should be especially startling any community as close to the very top of Kentucky adult educational attainment, household income, per pupil spending, and statewide leadership as Jefferson County.

Backup detail: the chart below shows the numbers behind the reporting above.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Some additions to those levers

Rereading my "Four Levers for Chairman Brothers" post, I realized that some things that I took for granted maybe weren't obvious in how I set out my ideas. Here come some added notes to that analysis, connecting it to issues I've blogged about often over the last nine months.

1. I'm confident that the educators who work with our children are nearly all willing and nearly all able to take their work to a significantly higher level. When we're working on a very big change, we have to assume some will decide they don't want to make the shift, and a few will be overwhelmed or permanently hostile--but I truly believe it will only be a few.

2. We've spent years wanting teachers to switch to a very different pattern of teaching. We're asking for classrooms to be built around standards, around checking steadily to see which students are reaching the standards, and around constant adaptation to push toward every student mastering required knowledge and skills. We're asking for a lot from our teachers.

3. At times, we've acted as though explaining what's needed would make it happen. Now though, we know that incoming teachers have been reading about the key practices in their education practices for years, just as veterans have been hearing about them during PD days. The missing piece is not exposure to the ideas. If we believed that once, we cannot believe it now.

4. At times, we've clearly thought that adding carrots or sticks would be enough to get educators to apply the changes. We've tried rewards, and we've tried sanctions, and we've tried the promise-or-threat of intervention. We've talked about performance pay and suggested to parents that they bail out of weak schools. Often, we've compared all of that to the discipline of a free market, forgetting that the free market operates with lots and lots of failure: for every business that survives, the market crushes several in the dust. Again, if we once believed incentives would do the job, we can't believe that any more.

5. That's why the crucial step is changing school cultures. The culture that will transform teaching is one of professional learning communities and leadership intensely focused on instruction. That culture gives each teacher support to make the changes, including frank feedback, steady professional development, and a team of colleagues to keep sorting through what's effective and what isn't for each student.

6. The big change in culture must mainly be built at the local level, in individual schools and districts. State officials will never be the main actors.

7. Nevertheless, the state can make an important contribution. Right now, the things the Department can do quickly involve the quality of teacher evaluations, professional development, and principal evaluations, and the thing the Board can do quickly is focus a few more local boards on how deeply their districts need to change. Those things are the levers I commended to the Chairman.

8. Plenty of other improvements would also help. 185 days of instruction and 15 added days in a standard teaching contract. Teacher preparation program already focused on standards, formative assessment, data analysis, and differentiated instruction, delivered in a practicum-intensive format. Stronger entry-level salaries. Staff support to make the principalship a "do-able" job. Robust recruitment programs for teachers, teacher-leaders, and principals. I don''t mean to discount those steps--though I do think it's important to suggest the ones that can work even while the state treasury continues to be very bare.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Four levers for Chairman Brothers

Earlier, I posted Joe Brothers' mighty question from Thursday's KBE meeting. In a nutshell, he asked: "What you just said to me is no different than what I heard in 1987. So why should I be hopeful? ... What are we going to do to change the culture to educate our kids?"
Here's how I answer that question.

At the local level, four big steps are needed to create a culture where student performance will substantially improve:

  1. Principals must observe and evaluate teachers based on instructional quality.
  2. Professional development must become a steady cycle of finding and studying fresh evidence of student learning and collaborating to push that learning higher.
  3. Superintendents must evaluate principals based on the quality of staff evaluations, steps to ensure effective professional development, and overall leadership to improve instruction.
  4. School boards must understand whether local student performance is improving at an acceptable place. When they understand that, they will support the superintendents who are doing the job and get those who are not doing it to change or retire.
In schools and districts where those things are happening, the culture is changing, teaching quality is rising, and student performance is improving. In others,the state has not provided consistent, strategic leadership to get them to occur.
The Department must tackle the first three: teacher evaluations, professional development, and principal evaluation. The law already requires them, and they should be drop-dead priorities. KDE monitoring can target the weakest ten percent of schools, allowing those who are not in compliance six months to improve or be removed for neglect of duty. Publicizing that pressure can also help: it will convince other schools and districts to move on the same issues without direct state engagement.
The state board itself must lead on the last item, local board understanding of student results. They have already played an important role in getting the boards in Christian, Covington, and Union to understand the need for mighty change. If KBE calls in half a dozen more boards this year, I think we'll see similar motion in those places within 12 to 18 months. If KBE asks KSBA to offer intensive training on understanding weak scores and pushing district staff to raise them, and urges several dozen boards to sign up for those activities, they can move the impact to a wider group in roughly the same time frame.

Why does KBE itself need to do the local board work? Because KDE is wired to respect, support, and protect superintendents. That is good: our effective superintendents deserve that kind of relationship with the agency. But when the record shows that a superintendent is way off track, KDE is not going to change its approach and reach past the superintendent to other district leaders. The local board needs to know what's wrong, and someone other than the Department staff needs to deliver the message. KBE is the right someone for that task.

Those four culture-changing, achievement-raising levers are already in the Board's and the Commissioner's hands.
They can be used before the legislature meets, before the economy thaws, and before Senate Bill 1's big changes are ready to roll. They can move us from admiring the changed culture of some districts to seeing that change take hold in all districts, and from discussing what's needed to seeing it happen for all Kentucky students. They're my answer to the Chairman's excellent, urgent question.

Joe Brothers' Mighty Question

During Thursday's KBE meeting, as the discussion moved from weaknesses in 2009 scores to KDE plans to get stronger results in 2010 and beyond, Chairman Joe Brothers put a truly fundamental question on the table:

I came on the local board in 1987. What you just said to me is no different than what I heard in 1987. So why should I be hopeful?

Why should I spend the two hundred hours I spent to come to this meeting once every two months and talk about the same thing I was talking about in 1987 at the local level?

What are we going to do change the culture to educate our kids?
Because we’re talking about nice things with good people, but we’re not talking about changes to culture and it’s going to require a culture change.

We have one of two ways to go here, folks.
We can change the goals, which is our tradition, get our politicians to go and change the test or we can step up to it and change the culture. Our kids are waiting in the process and I don’t think I’m being unreasonable or unnecessarily harsh in this. This is 25 years that we’ve been talking about this.

* * *

Tell me what we’re going to do that we should be hopeful that this time we’re going to get it right? We heard from three districts yesterday that I think have done that but we can’t do this three districts at a time.

The video link is here, with his question starting at 1:36:45.

In my opinion, it is the core question. To his 25 years, I'd offer that my oldest child entered the Kentucky primary program in 1993 and my youngest will graduate in 2012. I think we knew what children needed on Molly Weston's first day, and our schools won't be doing it consistently on Joe Westons's last, and it's time for our discussions to address that giant lag.

Answering the chairman's poignant question should, I think, be central to the new vision KDE is developing for Race to the Top and beyond.

I'll offer my best first draft of my own answer tonight or early tomorrow.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Achievement gaps remain severe

Here's the full press release on the Disaggregated Index Report released this morning:

Achievement gaps continue to impair Kentucky’s overall education progress, according to an analysis of state test scores released today by three statewide groups. Kentucky schools are falling especially short with African-American students and students with limited English proficiency, with low-income and Hispanic students also scoring below their peers.

The analysis, presented in a "Disaggregated Index Report," was developed by the Council for Better Education, the Kentucky Association of School Councils and the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence to monitor school performance during the three years that Kentucky is moving from the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System to a system based on new state standards and testing. The new system was mandated in legislation (Senate Bill 1) enacted by the 2009 General Assembly.

The Disaggregated Index is based on a formula similar to the one used in past years by the Kentucky Department of Education to compare student results based on race, income, gender, and other factors. The partner groups applied the formula to state test scores results, and found that:

• Of all groups studied, only gifted students have reached proficiency at all three levels: elementary, middle, and high school.
• Asian students have reached proficiency at the elementary and middle school levels.
• African-American, Hispanic, low-income, migrant and limited English students showed improvement at all levels, but the rate of improvement since 2007 has been too slow to put them on track for proficiency by 2014.
• White students at the elementary level are on track to reach proficiency by 2014. At the middle school level, white students scores are improving too slowly, and in high school, white scores have not increased over the 2007 level.
• On the 0-140 scale used in the analysis, gaps of 15 points or more separate African-American students and students with limited English proficiency from their classmates at every level.

"The goal is to deliver proficiency for each and every child," said Ronda Harmon, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Councils. "These disaggregated index results allow schools to evaluate their strengths and tackle their weaknesses until the 2012 assessment begins."

"The gaps remain painful, reminding us that we still have major work ahead to provide an equal quality of education for all Kentucky’s children,” said Daviess County Superintendent Tom Shelton, president of the Council for Better Education. "Plus, to be competitive in the global economy, we need every single student to be learning at very high levels, preparing for when the new college-ready standards come into play."

Cindy Heine, associate executive director of the Prichard Committee, saw the report as “a call to action for all Kentucky adults on behalf of all our children.” Heine added that the point of the report was to see the trends clearly and encourage all stakeholders to keep attention on raising performance during the testing transition.

The full report is available at, along with results for each school and district in Kentucky and an earlier report on overall results and subject-level trends released by the same groups in September. Results for students with disabilities will be released later this fall.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Student performance, teacher evaluation, and adverbs

Newsweek's Gaggle-blog reports that:
Education reformers were pleasantly stunned when the American Federation of Teachers announced today that two of the winners of their new Innovation Fund grants planned to use the money to create teacher evaluation systems that give weight to students' standardized test scores.
The report is heavy on people who suggest that the AFT has steadily opposed using scores in evaluations, and light on descriptions of AFT actions that illustrate that opposition.

The one example offered is that "
AFT president Randi Weingarten, while head of the New York City teachers' union, helped push through state legislation banning use of student test scores in teacher evaluations for tenure." But then the story adds that Weingarten herself says that action was a response to specific problems with a specific approach then being proposed for the city school system. It wasn't a general objection to other ideas in the same ballpark.

Here's the thing. People who work in a field (any field) come to hear nuances and speak with nuances in discussions of the key issues in that arena.

They say things like "we oppose evaluations exclusively on scores," and they mean the "exclusively" part. They're deliberately leaving the door open to a system using that data in combination with other information.

They say "we cannot support relying solely on testing data for tenure decisions" and can easily mean "we can support considering test results for planning professional development."

They aren't wasting words or key strokes when they include terms like "exclusively, "solely," "for tenure" or "for planning professional development." They're adding detail on an issue where details matter. Adverbs can be wasted, but they can also add important meaning.

The AFT grant decisions--like the NEA comments on Race to the Top--suggests a real opportunity for national progress on evaluation systems that value student results. It's good news for improving teaching quality.

Meanwhile, though I admire the Gaggle-phrase "pleasantly stunned," I for one am cheerfully unsurprised by this development.

Update: the AFT press release on the grants is here.

Difficulties with disability scores

2009 test results released in September inaccurately counted some students as having disabilities when they in fact do not, and some schools' NCLB classifications may change as a result.

The basic process
1. Students were identified based on group membership based on sex, race, disability, and other factors before they were tested in the spring

2. Their individual test responses were scored in early summer.

3. The work of all students was tallied to calculate the percent of students who reached each performance level.

4. The same thing was done with each subgroup.

5. A school needed for all students and for each group to have a specified percentage scoring proficient or above. A school that fell short for any group was counted as not making AYP (short for adequate yearly progress.)

6. The reports released in September listed the percent of students at each performance level in each group, and also announced who did and did not make AYP for the year.

Where the problem hit

In step 1, some students were wrongly counted as having disabilities. It looks like the errors were on students who had qualified for special services in the past, but are no longer classified as needing that help. It also looks like the problem did not happen in all districts, but did happen in multiple places, including Barren, Jefferson, and Scott counties.

To me, that looks like a data system error. Maybe a problem in moving data from our old student software (STI) to the newer Infinite Campus. Or maybe a problem in how the data was taken from Infinite Campus on its way to being used in the 2009 testing files.

The department is still working to find the common factor among the districts where the problem occured and to figure out just what went wrong.

The effects of the problem
Individual student scores look sound.

Total scores for all students in a school also look sound.

Group scores for students with disabilities, though, include some students who don't belong in the group. Correcting that is sure to change some results for that group. Plus, changing the scores for any one group can also change a school's overall NCLB category. Thus far, the schools KDE has checked have not changed AYP status, but they're still working to sort out the complete picture.

The department is still analyzing the problem, but included the basics in their briefing to the Kentucky Board of Education this morning.

There is not yet an estimate on when fully corrected data will be available.

Other articles
The Herald-Leader has coverage here, and Brad Hughes at KSBA has the story here.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Coming up at KBE

The Kentucky Board of Education begins a two-day meeting tomorrow, and I'd rank four items as most likely to generate major news:
  • New discussion on what is and isn't working to raise student performance in Christian, Jefferson and Union counties and Covington Independent.
  • A matching discussion of what is and isn't working to raise performance statewide, as shown in recently released test scores.
  • Work on the Board's legislative agenda and budget requests for 2010, likely to include steps that could enhance Kentucky's chance at Race to the Top funding.
  • Selection of an "additional indicator" to be used for NCLB decisions about elementary and middle school progress.
Check out the full agenda and briefing papers, or watch the webcast staring at 9 a.m. each day.

Science + music = effective teaching

Turning classroom experience into lasting knowledge is essential to good instruction, and music is a great tool for making sure memories last. Accordingly, I'm delighted by a tale from Texas about Debra Cave's work to create a new generation of science-in-song.

"I was amazed at how quickly students seem to forget what we captured in class," said Cave, a former nurse who took up teaching four years ago. "If we don't do something to push it into long-term memory, it will be lost."

Her solution: Get a little wild, and the memories stick.

"It's hard to get excited about chlorophyll," she said "But by singing and dancing, emotion gets attached and it's stored long term."

The Dallas News has the full story, with a hat tip to Accomplished Teacher. Sample songs are at

Experts tapped to validate Common Core

The Common Core standards process took another step forward in late September, with the announcement of a twenty-five member panel that will immediately be tasked with reviewing and verifying the standards development process and the resulting evidence-based college- and career-readiness standards." The press release (here) gives more detail on the task, and here's the group chosen to do the validation work:
  • Bryan Albrecht, President, Gateway Technical College, Kenosha, Wisconsin
  • Arthur Applebee, Distinguished Professor, Center on English Learning & Achievement, School of Education, University at Albany, SUNY
  • Sarah Baird, 2009 Arizona Teacher of the Year, K-5 Math Coach, Kyrene School District
  • Jere Confrey, Joseph D. Moore Distinguished University Professor, William and Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, College of Education, North Carolina State University
  • David T. Conley, Professor, College of Education, University of Oregon CEO, Educational Policy Improvement Center
  • Linda Darling-Hammond, Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education, Stanford University
  • Alfinio Flores, Hollowell Professor of Mathematics Education, University of Delaware
  • Brian Gong, Executive Director, Center for Assessment
  • Kenji Hakuta, Lee L. Jacks Professor of Education, Stanford University
  • Feng-Jui Hsieh, Associate Professor of the Mathematics Department, National Taiwan Normal University
  • Jeremy Kilpatrick, Regents Professor of Mathematics Education, University of Georgia
  • Barry McGaw, Professor and Director of Melbourne Education Research Institute, University of Melbourne; Director for Education, OECD
  • James Milgram, Professor Emeritus, Stanford University
  • David Pearson, Professor and Dean, Graduate School of Education, University of California, Berkeley
  • Stanley Rabinowitz, Senior Program Director, Assessment and Standards Development Services, WestEd
  • Lauren Resnick, Distinguished University Professor, Psychology and Cognitive Science, Learning Sciences and Education Policy, University of Pittsburgh
  • Andreas Schleicher, Head, Indicators and Analysis Division of the OECD Directorate for Education
  • William Schmidt, University Distinguished Professor, Michigan State University
  • Catherine Snow, Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education
  • Christopher Steinhauser, Superintendent of Schools, Long Beach Unified School District
  • Sandra Stotsky, Professor of Education Reform, 21st Century Chair in Teacher Quality, University of Arkansas
  • Dorothy Strickland, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Professor of Ed., Emerita, Distinguished Research Fellow, National Institute for Early Education Research, Rutgers, The State University of NJ
  • Martha Thurlow, Director, National Center on Educational Outcomes, University of Minnesota
  • Norman Webb, Senior Research Scientist, Emeritus, Wisconsin Center for Education Research, University of Wisconsin
  • Dylan William, Deputy Director, Institute of Education, University of London

Monday, October 5, 2009

Ashland STEM magnet plan (very cool!)

Ten school districts in the Ashland area are planning a shared magnet high school that focuses on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The school, scheduled to open in 2011, will give students the option of earning both their diplomas and their associates degrees in four years of study. Details are here.

Stimulus, states, and reform (again)

An internal watchdog at the Education Department says states are using money from the economic stimulus to plug budget holes instead of boosting aid for schools.

President Barack Obama did not intend for state lawmakers to simply cut state education spending and replace it with stimulus dollars.

But Congress made that tough to enforce, and the Education Department's Inspector General said in a memo Thursday that some states are doing it.

That's how EdWeek sums up a report issued last week on how fiscal stabilization dollars are being. I think that version is missing the main story.

The actual Inspector General report applies the rules voted on by House and Senate and signed into law by the President. It does not challenge states that are planning 2009, 2010, and 2011 spending to match the 2006 level--because the law allows that.

Instead, the report challenges the federal department with two recommendations.

First, USED should be tracking state funding both to identify cuts states are making and to be sure those cuts maintain the 2006 level of effort.

Second, USED should not hand out the second installment of the stabilization dollars without evidence that states are carrying out four other ARRA mandates, the ones that require participating states to:

1. increase teacher effectiveness and address inequities in the equitable distribution of highly qualified teachers,
2. implement statewide data systems that track pre-K-through-career progress and foster continuous improvement,
3. make progress towards rigorous standards and high-quality assessments, and
4. provide intensive support and effective interventions to struggling schools.
The core issue is federal monitoring of funding and enforcement of reform requirements--and not state cuts as such.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Prepaid tuition woes?

The New York Times reports:
In the last two decades, more than a million families around the country have invested in state funds that pledged to cover the cost of attending their state’s public colleges and universities, regardless of how much tuition increased.

But in the last year, the stock market slump and rising college costs have combined to drive all but two of the nation’s 18 such funds, known as prepaid college savings plans, into the red, jeopardizing those pledges.
One of my favorite Kentuckians read that and asked "Is KAPT in trouble?" I looked, and here's what I found.

First, the background. KAPT is Kentucky's Affordable Prepaid Tuition Plan, which started in 2000 but has not taken new enrollments since 2005. KAPT offered three plans, designed to keep up with inflation on tuition at KCTCS, public universities, and in-state private schools, respectively. The Plan's assets consist of money families paid into educate their children, plus money earned by investing those dollars, and its liabilities consist of the obligation to pay tuition when those children are ready for school. The Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority administers the Plan.

Then, some numbers. The KHEAA audited financial statement shows that on June 30, 2008, KAPT had:
  • $145 million in assets, including $130 million in investments.
  • $181 million in liabilities.
  • $36 million as its resulting deficit.
Shorter investment performance reports of "assets under management" since that date show:
  • $ 131 million on June 30, 2008.
  • $121 million on September 30, 2008.
  • $103 million on December 31, 2008.
  • $96 million on March 31, 2009.
  • $103 million in assets as of June 30, 2009.
Of course, KAPT exists to pay tuition when the participants need it. Over the long-term, if the Plan doesn't enroll new beneficiaries, its assets should eventually be paid out. In fiscal 2007, KAPT paid out $10 million in tuition, and in fiscal 2008, that rose to $15 million. During fiscal 2009, the amount likely rose again as more participants reached college-age.

And yet, given the recession and what's happened to investments nationwide, I suspect that's not the main reason the assets dropped.

The 2009 fiscal year ended June 30, 2009, so a full KHEAA financial statement for that period should be out soon, offering a clearer sense of how serious the deficit has become.

Source note: the KAPT website offers both the KHEAA financial statement and the investment performance reports.

Teaching quality: distribution or cultivation?

For EdWeek, Stephen Sawchuk opened a recent article saying this:

Lawmakers and teacher spokesmen had a spirited exchange here this week on the equitable distribution of effective teachers, illuminating the contours of a debate that will likely continue as Congress revisits the issue.

* * *

Improving the distribution of effective teachers to schools with high concentrations of poor and minority students should be a top federal priority, lawmakers agreed.

There's something jarring about that word "distribution."

First, teachers are not commodities. They are not tools or machines or chattels. They are free men and women who can choose whether to stay in their current jobs or seek work in another district or switch careers or retire. They are not things that can be redistributed.

Second, effective teaching is not a limited resource. It's a capacity that expands with better pre-service preparation, more sustained professional development, more effective collegial collaboration, and more focused instructional leadership. The world's top-performing systems focus on quality instruction, and they're beating us soundly in the global competition. Their achievement is higher, and their gaps are smaller. Their strategy works.

The main challenge is not distributing a limited supply of good teaching more fairly.

The main challenge is expanding the supply of good teaching quickly and systematically, with the most intensive efforts applied to the schools and students that currently have the weakest results.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

End-of-course: algebra pilots in Kentucky and elsewhere

Last year, Kentucky students participated in two math test pilots, joining four states for an Algebra I test and thirteen for an Algebra II assessment that is also intended to gauge readiness for college math.

The results, freshly released by Achieve (here), provide a remarkably blunt assessment of where the participating students and states stand. EdWeek summarizes:
More than four-fifths of students in all participating states wound up in the not-prepared category in Algebra 2. Massachusetts had the highest share of students scoring in the combined well-prepared and prepared categories, at 19 percent, though fewer than 600 students were tested. North Carolina was among the highest-scoring states, with 18 percent of its 2,551 tested students scoring in those categories. Indiana, which tested more students than any state, saw 17 percent reach either the well-prepared or prepared mark.

Minnesota, which has fared well on federally administered tests, had only 6 percent of students in the top two categories, though only 1,164 students were tested in Algebra 2.

In Algebra 1, Achieve judged students’ performance in four categories: “advanced,” “proficient,” “basic,” and “below basic.”

Of the four participating states, Kentucky had the highest percentage of students reaching proficient in Algebra 1, at 21 percent, though only 520 students took the test. Rhode Island, where 2,416 students took part, had just 8 percent reach proficiency. At least 54 percent of students in all four states scored below basic.

That sounds to me like a test that isn't sugar-coating our national situation on mathematics. It sounds like the blunt facts, bluntly stated, giving us a clear sense of the uphill effort we're beginning to get all students ready for college or work in future years.

Mind, I think it can be done. But doing it will surely require big shifts in how high schools address mathematics, backed up by elementary and middle schools with a far more effective approach to providing the student foundations.