Friday, July 30, 2010

What will 2015 testing look like? Smarter Balanced Overview

Based on a helpful summary from ETS, I summarized the PARCC plan for assessing the Common Core standards in my previous post.  Here, I'll turn to the Smarter Balanced group's accountability elements.

At the heart of the plan, to be shared by all the participating states, student will complete four performance "tasks" or "events" during the last twelve weeks of the school year: one each in reading and writing, with a combination of machine and teacher scoring. According to the ETS summary:
Each task/event will require 1 to 2 class periods and will involve student-initiated planning, management of information and ideas, interaction with other materials and/or people, and production of an extended response such as an oral presentation, exhibit, product development, or an extended written piece.
States will also have the option of using "interim/benchmark" assessments that are computer adaptive, meaning that students first answers are used to adjust the difficulty of the later questions each student answers. There will be local flexibility about when those are given.

Finally, there will be an optional end of year assessment, also using a computer adaptive approach, with 40 to 65 questions per subject. That assessment "will include selected response, constructed response, and technology-enhanced items," and "A combination of immediate scoring by computer and teacher scoring using a distributed, moderated online scoring system will be used, and results will be returned within 2 weeks."

This approach is also an option for Kentucky, which currently is participating in both multi-state planning groups.

Smarter Balanced has major plans for formative assessments and classroom supports, as does PARCC, so these accountability elements are only part of the total designs.

The ETS summaries well-worth downloading, and suitable for with many audiences of educators, parents, and citizens. Click here for the Smarter Balanced summary (or here for PARCC).

What will 2015 testing look like? PARCC overview

ETS has developed really nice overviews of the two competing plans for future assessments. They sum up huge applications in a single page and getting each group's agreement that the overview is sound. They're well-worth downloading for the informative visuals, and suitable for sharing with many audiences of educators, parents, and citizens. You can download by clicking Smarter Balanced, PARCC, or both.

Both groups have major plans for formative assessments and classroom supports, but I'm going to zoom in on the accountability elements of PARRC here, and do the same for Smarter Balanced later.  PARCC is short for the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

Students in states that choose the PARCC approach will take four tests spread evenly the course of the school year.

The first two assessments each year will take single class period.  In English language arts, students will have with one or two tasks that ask them to students to read texts, draw conclusions, and present analysis in writing.  In math, they will complete one to three tasks that assess a standard or a cluster of standards.

The third will take several class periods. The English language arts task will be an essay or research paper based on a set of digital resources, requiring students to find and evaluate information and make choices about sources.  For math, "students will perform multi-step performance task(s) that require conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, and application of mathematical tools and reasoning, sometimes in unfamiliar contexts."

The final assessment each year will be a rapidly scored computerized test, and "the test will be composed of 40 to 65 questions with a range of item types, including innovative items."

Since Kentucky is currently a member of both consortia, this could be the model Kentucky will use starting in the 2014-15 school year.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Kentucky 40th on child well-being

The 2010 Kids Count report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranks Kentucky 40th overall in child well-being, up one from our ranking of 41st in 2009. 

Breaking that down, Kentucky moved up on five of the ten indicators used for the report, now ranking:
  • 23rd on infant mortality (improved from to 36th in the previous edition).
  • 25th on teens who are not in school and have not graduated from high school (improved from 36th).
  • 40th on teen births (improved from 42nd).
  • 43rd on children in poverty (improved from 45th).
  • 29th on children in single-parent families (improved from 31st).
Kentucky moved down on the other five, now placing:
  • 34th on teen death rate (dropping from 32nd).
  • 43rd on low-birth weight babies (dropping from 39th).
  • 48th on children in families where no parent has full-time, year-round work (dropping from 44th).
  • 39th on teens not attending school and not working (dropping from 31st).
  • 36th on child deaths (dropping from 26th).
One-page fact sheets for each state can be downloaded here, with more detailed data here.

Our children continue to face especially severe challenges, and our schools continue to deliver better performance than the demographers might expect.  For the long run, that rising performance is our best strategy for replacing the challenges with success stories--especially if we can accelerate the improvement using our new standards and strategies.

RTTT finals and beyond

Kentucky is a finalist again in the Race to the Top competition.  I'm delighted, but not surprised.

The next stop is a panel presentation in Washington, where a Kentucky team will amplify what we submitted in writing, illustrating our commitment and fielding questions.  That could raise or lower our scores, and the other finalists will have the same opportunity.

After that, Secretary Duncan could approach the competition two ways.

First, he could fund the highest scoring state, and the next one, and the next one, until the money runs out.   Kentucky was ninth last time, and thus seventh among the states that still need to compete.  If we rank at the same level this time, we could be in very good shape.

Second, he could choose a cut score, and fund only the states above that.  For example, he could fund everyone scoring over 444, and thus at or above the level of the two winners from Round One.  That would be harder on Kentucky, since we had a 418 last time.  We made good changes for Round Two, but possibly not 26 points worth.

Accordingly, we'll all be on pins and needles for a bit longer, hoping that RTTT will give us the resources we need to implement Senate Bill 1 and get the strongest possible start on moving our students up to meeting our new standards.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Three questions about future assessments

Since we believe students need to reach the standards for eleventh and twelfth,  do we need to plan  on assessing literacy and mathematics  in those years?

Since we're also planning a board exam that can identify tenth graders as ready for college, will that exam test for ability to work at the twelfth grade level?

Since the whole point is to equip students for success in college and career, how will we close the loop and check that our assessment results really do correlate with success in those two arenas?

I'm confident there's hard work underway on all those issues, and I don't expect all the answers to be ripe for sharing yet.  Still, I'm noticing that working consistently for readiness is going to come with lots of challenges beyond drafting and adopting the standards.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Tempest in an open meetings teapot

The Courier-Journal summarizes a recent opinion of the Attorney General about how a recent Jefferson County board member was chosen:
Conway said that if the three-member committee that interviewed four women for the open school board seat was created by the Kentucky Board of Education — a public agency — then the law was violated. But if it was created by Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, it was not.
The puzzle to me has been why there's any confusion about who named the committee.  The new article has solved that puzzle for me:
“On the KDE website, they say that the committee was created by the state board,” said Jon Fleischaker, an attorney for The Courier-Journal. “If that is the case, they violated the law by meeting in secret and for not following the process for going into closed session.”
On the one hand, state law has said for twenty years that the Commissioner appoints replacements to local boards, and state practice for just about that long has been that the Commissioner asks a small group for advice on that choice.  A review of KBE minutes will show no action taken to appoint the group in question,  and a review of KBE videotape will show no discussion of doing so--and both are easily available on line.  

On the other hand, the C-J can hardly be faulted for thinking the KDE website was a trustworthy source on KDE policy and practice.

It sure sounds like the website carried a small but serious inaccuracy.  Now the puzzle is why a small but serious correction attached to a small but serious apology wasn't an adequate solution for all concerned.

College completion matters, and colleges ought to contribute to it

So, there's a new College Board report urging new focus on raising college graduations.

On the one hand, the goal in The College Completion Agenda 2010 is great: we should indeed aim to "increase the proportion of 25- to 34-year-olds who hold an associate degree or higher to 55 percent by the year 2025."

On the other hand, the plan for getting there has no serious expectation for classroom change in our colleges and universities.

This is a plan for educating without educators, and an approach to students that literally calls for never approaching the students.  

Here's the list of recommendations:
  1. Provide a program of voluntary preschool education, universally available to children from low-income families.
  2. Improve middle and high school counseling.
  3. Implement the best research-based dropout prevention programs
  4. Align the K-12 education system with international standards and college admission expectations.
  5. Improve teacher quality and focus on recruitment and retention.
  6. Clarify and simplify the admissions process.
  7. Provide more need-based grant aid while simplifying and making the financial aid process more transparent.
  8. Keep college affordable.
  9. Dramatically increase college completion rates.
  10. Provide postsecondary opportunities as an essential element of adult education.
The first five items are all great ideas--for other institutions to implement.  

The next, on admissions, is about letting students into higher ed classrooms--but not about what happens for them in the classroom, the library, the writing center, or any other part of the learning experience.

The next two, on funding, are about budgets to keep students on campus--but not about what happens while they're there.

The next to last goes back to completion rates and adds an adverb ("dramatically"), but the upshot is that higher education should improve the numbers by trying to improve the numbers.  Even on this recommendation, there's no substantive thought about teaching students better, supporting them better, or serving them better. 

Finally, there's the idea of adult education programs adding postsecondary elements, roughly proposing to create more classrooms but yet again avoid discussing what needs to happen when students arrive for their classes.

Ladies and gentlemen of the academy, you have been very clear about how other institutions should change and how more resources should flow into your coffers.   

Now, what's your share of the work? 

What will you do differently, you yourselves, with and for students, to ensure a dramatic increase in college completion?  

What will change in your classrooms, hallways, offices, labs, and libraries that results in a better educated population in the next fifteen years, and how will your change come about?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Core Content as of today

Fresh from EdWeek, here's the status of adoption:


The Kentucky Department of Education, led by Commissioner Holliday, is now organized into six offices, each with divisions.

Guiding Support Services/General Counsel (Kevin Brown)
  • Communications and Community Engagement (Lisa Gross)
  • District 180 (Sally Sugg)
  • Innovation and Partner Engagement (David Cook)

Administration and Support (Hiren Desai)
  • Budget and Financial Management (Charles Harman)
  • Resource Management (Lynn McGowan-McNear)
  • District Support (Kay Kennedy)
  • School and Community Nutrition (Denise Hagan)

Knowledge, Information and Data Services (David Couch)
  • Engineering and Management (Mike Leadingham)
  • Operations and Services (Phil Coleman)

Next-Generation Schools and Districts (Larry Stinson)
  • Consolidated Plans and Audits (Debbie Hicks)
  • Next-Generation Professionals (Michael Dailey)

Assessment and Accountability (Ken Draut)
  • Assessment Design and Implementation (Kevin Hill)
  • Support and Research (Rhonda Sims)

Next-Generation Learners (Felicia Cumings-Smith)
  • Program Standards (Michael Miller)
  • Learning Services (Larry Taylor)
  • Early Childhood (Annette Bridges)

Each of the six offices is led by an associate commissioner (named above in parentheses), and each division by a director (ditto).  At the top, an entire organizational level for deputy commissioners is gone.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Too much about perception, too little about partners?

Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute has a take on what's happening between the Obama administration and organized teachers.  His new blog post for EdWeek discusses Washington developments on education policy, mainly on Congress and the White House maneuvering on "edujobs" proposal to prevent teacher layoffs, Race to the Top, and future ESEA/NCLB renewal.  In the process, he offers a theory about part of the Obama strategy.

First, Hess shares some work by Dave Rogers of
Rogers depicts a "destructive divide between job-hungry lawmakers and a White House anxious to burnish its business credentials at the expense of teacher unions." He reports a meeting (which was news to me) in which Obama personally appealed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the run-up to the July Fourth recess, asking her "to intercede and protect education reform funds from being cut to pay for the teachers' jobs." She blew him off, resulting in the Obama veto threat.
Later, Hess writes:
Even Capitol Hill's Democratic education kingpin, House Education and Labor Committee Chair George Miller, is now taking shots at the administration. "There's no strategy there," Miller said. Obama and Duncan are trying to find a way to ladle out more bucks while also negotiating public concerns about soaring deficits and using a prickly relationship with the teacher unions as evidence of the president's reform bona fides. It's no big surprise that many Hill Dems reportedly regard the administration's resulting maneuvers as too cute by half.
I can't speak directly to whether Rogers and Hess have the story right.  And yet...

A few months ago, I was wondering why the Race to the Top rules were so rigid on charters, considering that even the most positive study results on charters find a limited impact.  A thought I considered was very like the analysis above: pushing charters works as a signal that one wants big change. Even if the schools themselves continue to turn in (at best) limited improvement for students, pushing for charters works as a posture.

 I share the Rogers and Hess thinking above because they offered such a similar idea: maybe being seen to challenge "the establishment" is actually the main point of the effort.

Of course, if that is what's happening, it's symbolism endangering substance, and perception at the expense of partnerships that are fairly essential for implementing any education reform that will make a difference for students.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Added detail on Kentucky education spending

Here's a way to think a little more about how Kentucky does and does not fund P-12 education:

The data source is the Census Bureau's Public Education Finance 2008, available here.  This version shows the use made of revenue from local, state, and federal sources, and leaves out dollars that goes to capital expenditures like new buildings and major equipment.

My preliminary thoughts go like this:

  • It isn't news to see spending around 85 percent of national average.
  • It is news to see that salary costs are closer to national average.  My first thought is that a pattern like that could be a smart one: if you can't do everything, do staffing right.
  • It's noteworthy that benefits are as far behind national average as overall spending.  Benefits have been a growing part of total state spending, but maybe not in a way that sets Kentucky apart.
  • It's remarkable that other spending is deeply lower than other states. I'm truly puzzled about which other things we are doing at much lower cost.  Books?  Computers?  Utilities? Transportation?

Those are preliminary ideas, because data like this really begs for shared analysis.  Please do share thoughts, questions, and hunches in the comments section below.

FY 2010 state revenue shrank (a tiny bit less than expected)

Full year state tax data came out last week.  In the official press release, the key numbers are stated this way:
“Fiscal Year 10 receipts are at their lowest level in five years, reflecting $201 million less than FY09 receipts; $439 million less than FY08 receipts; $349 million less than FY07 receipts; and $151 million below FY06 receipts,” said Lassiter. “We have reduced the state’s budget seven times over the past two and half years and are now in the process of cutting again.” Final FY10 revenues were $27.2 million, or 0.3 percent, more than the official revised revenue estimate rendered in December 2009 by the Consensus Forecasting Group (CFG) and modified by 2010 legislation, which projected a 2.7 percent decline in revenues.
Putting that in my own words, we expected revenue to be this low, and it was, and times are still tough.  The tiny good news is that we were approximately able to predict the problems, rather than getting surprised yet again.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sharing the Kentucky story (in Seattle)

Bob Sexton will be sharing lessons from Kentucky's education reform efforts next week with a large group from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The"college-ready" team of the Foundation's staff is seeking new insight into how a state can carry out sustained, substantial educational change, and looking to Bob for thought on our efforts to date at a major annual convening.

(Bev Raimondo and I will also be part of the work, looking forward to learning from Bob, each other, and the Gates folks as well.)

Linking teacher performance, promotion and pay (effectively )

Kentucky's current educator evaluations are too weak: they do not do enough to honor and expand the most effective teaching practices. We're planning to change that, with two major task forces working on new ways to evaluate teachers and principals.  Knowing that, I think a new piece in EdWeek is helpful for thinking about what Kentucky might do. The authors, Catherine Awsumb Nelson and Richard Wertheimer, describe an approach that:
  • does tie promotions and added pay to improved teaching quality.
  • does not settle for the narrow, incomplete measures of that quality we can pull from standardized tests.
They start by pushing back on the too-easy idea of just tying pay to scores:
The practice of paying teachers based on students’ test-score gains rests on a false sense of precision about what those outcomes measure and how they are related to what teachers do in the classroom. Although such plans are often justified with references to best practices in the corporate world, in fact few private-sector employees—with the exception of salespeople—are paid primarily based on an objective measure of outcomes. Instead, most compensation systems recognize that outcomes are multifaceted and their relationship to work processes complex. Powerful compensation systems therefore necessarily incorporate a good deal of expert professional judgment about quality performance.
As a better starting point, they offer the evaluation and compensation approach used at Pittsburgh's City High.  That charter school hammered out definitions of four teaching levels: apprentice, journeyman, expert, and master, with major compensation improvement attached to each move up:
Teachers seeking promotion submit a portfolio of evidence, which is assessed by the school leadership team (administrators and master teachers) using a rubric that includes 15 core teaching components. There are also additional components for those seeking “expert” or “master” status.
Evidence can include written reflections, data analysis, student work, lesson plans, videos, records of formal observations, and at least two “case studies” of how the teacher’s work with an individual student has demonstrated targeted competencies and advanced that student’s learning. Master teachers and other colleagues often provide crucial support as candidates develop their portfolios, through informal observations, reviews of accumulated pieces of evidence, and reflections. Teachers report that going through the promotion process is a powerful learning experience and a source of tremendous professional validation.
Overall, this article, and its links to the school's promotion rubric and a longer report on the process, add to my confidence that Kentucky, too, can move to an evaluation process that strengthens teachers in ways that strengthen students.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Science standards: more on the process

I may not have mentioned that I'm experimenting with the novel idea of "vacation," roaming Maryland and Virginia and pausing at coffee houses for only a couple of hours a day. I know it's slowing down the blogging.  Still, I'm spotting a few good things to share.

Here's a very helpful post on how work on shared science standards is being organized quite differently from the literacy and math standards push.  The other efforts started with states signing up, but science is starting with scientists creating a framework of needed content.  After input and debate on that, Achieve, Inc., will work with states on how the framework can become a set of academic standards.

Sexton: Kentucky positioned to lead, struggling for funding

Bob Sexton's new editorial in the Enquirer begins:
The recently enacted state budget is another step backward for Kentucky kids. And it comes at a particularly bad time - just when the state is poised to move student achievement to the next level and help lead the nation on the most important education reforms in a generation.
Check out his full argument here.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Framework for new science standards!

The National Research Council has released its draft framework for new science standards.  This is a major step toward a multi-state approach on an additional subject, though being developed by different groups and through a different process than the literacy and math standards.  Check out the EdWeek coverage, the NRC announcement, and the actual framework document.  Public comments will be taken through August 2--but the input form is not yet available on-line.  I'll share thoughts when I've had time to read.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Nurturing consistent teaching quality

Here's a great analysis of the challenge:
But what amazes me about most great teachers, is that in most cases nobody taught them how to be great. They figured it out on their own. That takes a spark of genius. But there’s a problem with that method. If we leave teachers to learn it on their own, we will never make the most of their talent. If we don’t develop the talent of our teachers, we’re going to waste the talent of our students.
We can’t afford that. We need to make sure that every teacher can learn from the best – and keep learning every year for their entire career. That’s what drives a profession forward.
When I was working in software, many times I would look at the computer code someone wrote and I’d say: "Oh, wow, this guy is good. That’s better than what I would have written. What process did he go through? How did he model it?” Whenever I found someone great, I would study how they worked. I looked at every factor that made that person successful.
This happens in a lot of fields.
Some of you may have read a book by Steven Jay Gould about baseball. Gould explains that in the 1920s and ’30s, there was a big gap between the highest and lowest batting averages. But over time, people learned from each other, the gap narrowed – and the average hitter today is much closer to the best hitter.
That’s an important mark of a profession: the difference between the average and the great becomes smaller – because everyone is eager to get better, and they’re doing everything they can to learn from the best. That trend improves the entire profession. But it requires a process: you have to identify the skills of the best and transfer them to everyone else.
That hasn’t been happening enough in teaching. And that give us a big opportunity.
If we analyze the teachers whose students are making big gains, if we identify what they do, and if we find out how to transfer those skills to others – then every teacher can move closer to the top. It will elevate the whole profession. Teachers will experience the same thrill of getting better that they make possible for their students.

That's fresh from Bill Gates' speech today to the American Federation of Teachers. The full speech is here.

(Side note: the speech does not discuss the Gates Foundation's support for new teaching tools that support the Common Core Standards, and thus is not connected to Prichard work around those tools.)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Kenton County shares strategies (at Harvard)

Their collaborative model is getting some well-earned national attention:
More than 100 school administrators in Harvard's pre K-12 Professional Development Program will hear from Superintendent Tim Hanner, Deputy Superintendent Terri Cox-Cruey and Kenton County Teachers Association President Sharon Cross as they present Strengthening the Quality of Instruction through Improved Communication and Mutual Respect - a presentation that outlines how the district's teachers and top administrators worked together to develop a common approach for high-quality instruction.
The district worked with its teachers union to develop a common language and understanding of professional practices by forming a committee of more than 70 of the district's educators and administrators who worked together for several years to develop a Professional Practices Rubric designed specifically for the district.
"The unique aspect about the presentation is that it's not about the Professional Practices Rubric and what we put together - it's about the process of how we got there," said Hanner. "We built a partnership based on respect and cooperation, and that was the key to its success."
The full Enquirer article is here.

Georgia makes 22!

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported just before noon today:
Second ago, the Georgia Performance Standards became the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards with the unanimous passage of the new standards by the state Board of Education. The vote met with a standing ovation from the audience of educators, teachers and PTA members.
I'll add an aunt's applause to that: my nieces Hannah and Mimi are Georgia girls as of last week.

The adopting states so far are Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


For this year's Fourth of July, I happily offer up two causes for delight.

First,  from our history, consider the thoughtful, disciplined thinking behind our national push to independence:
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. 
Second, from our present headlines, know that in Kentucky and at least nineteen other states, we are now agreed on a new principle.  Graduates of our high schools should all study, and be well equipped to study, our founding documents.   Quite specifically, they must be prepared to:

  • Analyze seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century foundational U.S.documents of historical and literary significance (including The Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address) for their themes, purposes, and rhetorical features.

We are further agreed that each and every graduate should be well prepared to master text as demanding and powerful as Mr. Jefferson's immortal prose, with the skills they need to:
  • Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequence of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact and develop over the course of the text.
  • Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term or terms over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).
  • Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective, analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness, or beauty of the text.
  • Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning (e.g., in U.S. Supreme Court majority opinions and dissents) and the premises, purposes, and arguments in works of public advocacy (e.g., The Federalist, presidential addresses).
The work we have done this year and the work ahead to deliver on the Common Core Standards will matter, not least because it marks a new commitment to preparing future citizens for challenges we know are coming and others we cannot yet imagine.

I count that a fine development, worth a happy moment of reflection amid the music, food, and fireworks tomorrow so richly deserves.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

P-12 funding below nation, slipping

Kentucky state and local education funding remained below the national average in the newest report from the Census Bureau.  2008 Public Education Finances shows Kentucky per pupil revenue at 80.6 percent of national average, down from 81.4 percent in 2007.  On an inflation-adjusted basis, Kentucky funding declined by $16 while the national number grew by $92 from the previous year.