Sunday, June 19, 2011

Leaders get up-close view of new math, literacy approaches

Here's the full Prichard press release for last week's showcase...

LOUISVILLE - Teachers from school districts across Kentucky shared what they see as revolutionary new teaching strategies and lessons that will strengthen what students know in math and language arts. What started as a pilot program in nine school districts will soon spread across the state - and to other states as well.

An audience of 225 state education department officials, policymakers, college professors, and leaders of statewide education organizations got a first-hand look at the new wave of classroom teaching and learning strategies on Tuesday (June 14) at a showcase in Louisville. Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and organized by the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, the event emphasized an approach to math that puts students in the center of problem solving and language arts assignments designed to require deeper thinking and stronger writing in English, science and social studies classes.

Participants worked multi-step math puzzles, looked through real student writing samples, and asked questions to dozens of teachers who have been using new approaches.

"We want to show state leaders what this looks like in the most vivid way possible," said Susan Perkins Weston, a Prichard Committee consultant who is overseeing the work of the Mathematics Design Collaborative group and the Literacy Design Collaborative in Kentucky. Nine school districts across the state are involved in the project, with three of the districts involved in both projects.

Teachers explained how the math program focuses on building students' understanding of math concepts by working through problems, rather than memorizing formulas and plugging them into a page of workbook problems.

"This empowers students to own the work - they think and do the work themselves, building their understanding as they go forward," explained Jenny Barrett, a middle and high school math consultant for the Kenton County schools. She said the district has seen an increase in students' ability to "reason and think mathematically" through the new approach to math.

"This has changed the climate of my classroom," said Stacy Justus, a math teacher at Doss High School in Louisville. The math approach begins with a pre-test to show what students know about a given concept then shows them how to work through the topic. With challenging problems and teacher feedback, students emerge with a stronger handle on what they're expected to learn.

"My students can identify what they know and don't know, and they will tell you that this is constantly pushing them forward," said Justus. "Plus, I know my students a lot better - who's excelling and who needs help. This gives a teacher resources and strategies and a way for students to learn to become a team and accomplish a goal."
Meanwhile, districts in the Literacy Design Collaborative have worked to create "template tasks," or writing prompts that will propel students into deeper thinking and explanation of concepts in science and social studies while building their language arts skills.

Brian Toy, a science teacher at Lafayette High School in Lexington, said the writing tasks developed this year push students to read analytically, synthesize ideas from multiple articles and connect that kind of learning to what they've picked up from classroom lectures or labs. He said the more challenging tasks are the kind of work that will better prepare high school students for college and careers.

"I'm excited to use this because I can see how to use writing to improve content knowledge," added Robin Reid, a social studies teacher at Lafayette High.

Teachers from Daviess County explained how they are moving the approach into middle schools, a growing approach for districts that are part of the pilot effort. In addition to Fayette and Daviess counties, the literacy collaborative has taken root over the past year in Boyle, Jessamine, Kenton and Rockcastle counties as well. The math project, which has been underway for two years, is in Boone, Daviess, Jefferson, Jessamine, Kenton and Warren counties.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, who sat in on showcase sessions, said the project is encouraging. "I got excited because it's about the learning, not the test scores," he said. "The question is how to get this to every teacher in Kentucky."

A recent grant from the Gates Foundation to the state education department will lead to the literacy and math approaches being spread statewide through regional leadership networks created to familiarize teachers and school leaders with the new Common Core Standards. In the coming school year, tools and approaches from the Gates-funded math and literacy programs will become a focus of the state's networks.

Weston said that the showcase provided a way to build a strong understanding about the program as it moves beyond pilot districts.

"This work is going to make a difference across the state and nation," said Stu Silberman, the Fayette County superintendent who is retiring and will become executive director of the Prichard Committee this fall. Indeed, educators from Colorado, Georgia, Florida, and Louisiana attended the Louisville session to gather ideas as they start similar work. Representatives of national organizations and foundations working with Gates on spreading the approach were also among the 40 out-of-state attendees.

Commissioner Holliday added, "This is focused on college- and career-readiness and the answer to the question every teacher has about getting there: 'How?' "

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Showcasing the literacy and mathematics work

Today, I'm at a showcase of "Teaching and Learning at its Best," where Kentucky teachers will share their early work with two key strategies for supporting teachers in implementing the Common Core State Standards: Mathematics Assessment for Learning and Literacy Design Collaborative.

Both initiatives are supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and over the last 18 months, the Prichard Committee has convened educators from a small set of Kentucky districts as they tried out these two approaches.

I wish we had room for every PrichBlog reader to hear the presentations teachers have developed.

Short of that, I'll share all the documents and some of the highlights of the event here, and keep you posted as these efforts expand to include many more Kentucky classrooms in the coming months.

Starting out, here are links to:

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Prichard Committee focuses on new academic standards, teacher evaluation

The Prichard Committee held its spring meeting June 5 and 6, with great discussions described in the press release below:
CARROLLTON, Ky. - Kentucky's tough new academic standards defining what students should know before they graduate from high school offer exciting opportunities for progress, a group of teachers told the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence during its recent spring meeting.
Beginning this fall, teachers and students across Kentucky will be working with a new set of standards in math and English language arts. A few school districts got an early start with the standards under a grant from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Educators from one of those districts spoke with Prichard Committee members about their experiences so far with the new language arts standards.
"The beauty of these new standards is they take these big ideas (of what students should know upon graduation) and back them all the way to kindergarten," said Marty Dixon, middle and high school English language arts specialist for Fayette County Public Schools.
Robin Reid, social studies department chair at Lafayette High School in Lexington, said she was excited about the new standards because they encourage the use of writing to help students learn more about all subjects - a view echoed by Brian Toy, the science department chair at Lafayette. "This type of writing increases content knowledge and prepares students for college and careers," he added.
"Students can do this. They really can," noted Lafayette literacy specialist Sherri McPherson who has worked with diverse classrooms and had initial concerns about whether struggling students could master the work.
The committee also heard from Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, who encouraged the group to continue its vocal advocacy for the tougher standards and the new assessment and accountability system that is being developed.
The state's limited resources will result in more cuts in education funding, Holliday said, predicting that the department will be pressured to spend less on the standards and assessment work to make money available for other purposes. He reinforced the importance of the standards and the need to improve the college/career preparation of all students with some statistical projections. According to the commissioner:
  • Of the 50,000 students who finished 8th grade this spring, between 10,000 and 15,000 will drop out before graduating from high school.
  • Of the remaining 35,000, only 10,000 will graduate ready for college-level courses or the demands of the modern workplace. The rest will need additional training or instruction.
The Prichard Committee has launched a public engagement initiative, ReadyKentucky, to help teachers, parents and other involved Kentuckians understand and prepare for the new standards. The committee is working in partnership with several other organizations and the support of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to disseminate information statewide. More details are available at
The role of teachers in student success is critical, and improving the way teachers are evaluated was the focus of another presentation to the committee by Sarah Buhayer, program manager of the MET Project: Measures of Effective Teaching for The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
"In this country, teacher evaluation is broken," Buhayer said in describing the research project that involves more than 3,000 teachers in seven school districts across the country. "Teachers want to be evaluated in ways that are fair and meaningful."
The study includes student surveys, correlations between student responses and classroom performance, videos of teachers' classroom presentations that they can use for self-evaluation, coaching and materials. The goal is to boost the effectiveness of all teachers through effective evaluation and targeted professional development.
The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence is a statewide citizens' advocacy group, founded in 1983, working to improve education for all Kentuckians.

Kenton shares the math work

Here's a  great Kenton County take on the Mathematics Assessment for Learning work, complete with student and teacher voices describing the impact.

If you don't see a video, try here.  This work is part of a major project originally announced back in February 2010, discussed further on this blog here, here, and here.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

High school graduates up again!

The newest nonacademic data from the Kentucky Department of Education shows continuing growth in public high school graduations in 2010:
From 2005 to 2010, that's a 15% increase in graduates.

Some of that likely is due to population growth, because the class of 2010 has been larger than the class of 2005 all along.  For example, when they were tested in grade 8, the class of 2010 had 50,841 members, compared to just 47,544 in the class of 2005.  

But population changes do not explain all.  In grade 8, 2010 had 3,297 more students than 2005.  At graduation, 2010 had 5,587 more students than 2005.  A 7% increase in grade 8 does not explain away a 15% surge in graduations.

Accordingly, I respectfully submit that Kentucky needs to graduate many more students, and I also respectfully submit that our graduation trends are headed in a positive direction.

Sources: Graduation numbers are taken from the Department of Education's Briefing Packet: Nonacademic Data for 2001 to 2010, available here, while test participation numbers are from the 2006 Kentucky Performance Report and the 2010 Interim Performance report for the state of Kentucky, available here.