Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Common Core Reading: A Full Range of Texts

I've now seen multiple authors claim that the Common Core State Standards mandate that reading and English classes can only have 50% of their texts be literature, with the other 50% a variety of non-literary readings.  For example, there's this new Heritage Foundation publication, and last month there was this (now corrected) New York Times piece.

That claim is untrue, and this post offers a review just how and why it is false.

Lets start with the one place that Common Core uses the number 50%: it's in this table on page 5 of the official standards document:
The document then explains that the Standards "aim to align instruction with" the NAEP reading framework, which does mean 50% literary reading in grade 4 and then smaller shares in grade 8 and grade 12.   

The thing is, that does not mean 50% of an elementary school's reading hour or 30-45% of the one period a day the upper grades devote to language arts and English.  Common Core stakes a claim to the full instructional day and homework time beyond that.  

Here's the key Common Core statement that appears right below that table:
In K–5, the Standards follow NAEP’s lead in balancing the reading of literature with the reading of informational texts, including texts in history/ social studies, science, and technical subjects. In accord with NAEP’s growing emphasis on informational texts in the higher grades, the Standards demand that a significant amount of reading of informational texts take place in and outside the ELA classroom. Fulfilling the Standards for 6–12 ELA requires much greater attention to a specific category of informational text—literary nonfiction—than has been traditional. Because the ELA classroom must focus on literature (stories, drama, and poetry) as well as literary nonfiction, a great deal of informational reading in grades 6–12 must take place in other classes if the NAEP assessment framework is to be matched instructionally.  [emphasis added]
Why does Common Core call for literature and more, studied in English classrooms and many others?

It's because today's students will read widely as tomorrow's adults:

  • In their careers and postsecondary education, they'll need to read everything from scientific research and economic analysis to manuals for advanced machinery and guidance on implementing complex legal requirements.
  • As citizens and community participants, they'll need to read analysis of current events, speeches, editorials, historical explanations, and on and on. 
  • As members and builders of our shared culture, naturally they'll also need to engage literature and richly literary nonfiction. 

For our next generation, reading will be a mix of all those kinds of texts, so Common Core calls on our schools to equip them for that full range of expectations.

In fact, the  document's proper name is "Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects."  The proof that  Common Core aims for high levels of fluency with literature and other reading texts, learned in English and other classrooms, is right there on the cover.

One more thing:  Kentucky science, history, and other teachers are doing fabulous work to build those reading skills.  Even if the Times has to correct its publications and even if Heritage never bothers to check its facts, our educators are engaging Common Core fully and thoughtfully, and our students are already gaining ground as a result.

School Districts of Innovation

David Cook Talks About Kentucky's implementation of Districts of Innovation


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Delivery targets: impact on overall scores

Meeting 2013 delivery targets will produce impressive growth in the "overall scores" that combines all of a school's data in a single accountability number on a 0-100 scale.

For example, meeting delivery targets will result in:

  • 3.3 points improvement in the statewide elementary overall score.
  • 4.0 points improvement in the statewide middle school score.
  • 3.3 points improvement in the statewide high school score.

Improvement will be quicker for schools with results below the statewide level, and slower for those above. That's because delivery targets expect more improvement from those who have more to improve.

Because delivery targets are so ambitious, they can also have a big impact on schools' AMOs (short for annual measurable objectives).  AMOs are another part of our new approach to accountability, and they work by taking schools' overall score and asking for increases of:
  • 1.0 points from schools in the bottom 70% for their level.
  •  0.5 points for schools in the top 30% for their level.
Schools that make their delivery targets will exceed their AMOs with plenty of margin to spare!

Better yet, meeting delivery targets will allow schools to move rapidly toward overall scores of 100.
That's sweet news, because 100 is the overall score that will mean all Kentucky students are on track to graduate ready for college and career after consistently making expected growth.

Note to arithmetic lovers: my basic method here is to work out how much each subject's 2012 percent proficient will improve to hit that subject's 2013 delivery target; then multiply by 20% to show how that will change the achievement part of the overall overall score; and then work out how much that will change the overall score by multiplying by 30%, 28%, or 20% for elementary, middle or high schools.  I repeated the same approach for the gap group.  For middle school, I added in a readiness target weighted at 16%, and for high school I added in readiness and graduation each weighted at 20%. E-mail me if you want to see the whole set of calculations.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Delivery targets narrow the gaps

As part of Kentucky's new accountability system, delivery targets ask each school to move halfway from current results to 100 within five years. Each school has targets for a set of indicators, including proficiency in each K-Prep subject for each student group, readiness of middle and high school students, and graduation rates.

The formula has a built-in way of tackling achievement gaps: the further a group is from 100, the more it has to improve to meet that half-way, five-year target.

For example, at the elementary level, 2012 mathematics result show 40.4 percent proficient or above for all students and 19.9 percent for students with disabilities.  That's an aching gap of 20.5 points!

Delivery targets don't ask for that gap to disappear by 2017, but they do call for it to be much smaller, aiming for 70.2 percent of all elementary students and 60.0 percent of students with disabilities to be proficient or above.  That will leave a gap of 10.2 points, still bad but an important step better than our current situation.

Below, I've graphed are the full subject-by-subject, year-by-year targets for elementary students with disabilities.  You can see the weakest subjects will need the quickest improvement, and if you compare to yesterday's graph of all students, you can also see how this approach means that schools will need to provide quicker improvement for this group than for all students in each subject.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Delivery targets: halfway to 100 in five years

Here’s an excellent part of Kentucky’s new accountability system: delivery targets ask schools to move a set of indicators halfway to 100 in five years, which means a big step up every year.

For example, here’s what that will require statewide  for elementary students in each tested subject:

All schools and districts have delivery targets like these based on their own starting points. There are also matching targets for:
  • The gap group that combines the student groups that have been historically underserved.
  • Each of those student groups separately.
  • For all students, gap group, and subgroups showing reading and mathematics combined. 
  • Middle and high school readiness results.
  • High school graduation rates.

 Want to see the delivery targets for a particular school or district? 

You can find almost all of them in the state’s excellent new on-line School Report Card portal by looking under delivery targets.  One exception is that graduation targets are under accountability, rather than delivery, in the report cards for each school and district.  Another exception is the gap group targets for individual subjects: at least so far, I haven’t found them in the individual report cards, but I did find them in the data sets section of the portal, in the delivery column’s gap file.  One more: I haven't found a middle school readiness delivery target listing yet at all, but the arithmetic makes that one easy to calculate, and high school targets are in the report cards and the data files.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Top 20 in deeper detail

In 2008, the Prichard Committee challenged Kentucky to set its sites on having schools in the top twenty of the fifty states on a set of important indicators, and shared Kentucky's standings at that point.  This week, the 2012 report on state progress toward those goals is out, and as Stu Silberman has noted, it "offers reason for a real sense of pride and also a real sense of urgency.”

New results show Kentucky moving up on ten of the twenty categories, either reaching the Top 20 or improving at a rate to get there by 2020. Kentucky ranks:
  • 4th in fourth-grade science 
  • 11th in fourth-grade reading 
  • 13th in eighth-grade reading 
  • 16th in completion of associate’s degrees 
  • 17th in eighth-grade science 
  • 21st in family share of higher education costs 
  • 25th in fourth-grade math 
  • 28th in average teacher salary 
  • 30th in adults with a high school diploma or equivalent 
  • 31st in high school graduates going on to college 

On five categories, new results show gains, but the state is moving too slowly to reach the Top 20 on time. Kentucky ranks:
  • 29th in students earning AP college credit 
  • 32nd in eighth-grade math 
  • 35th in bachelor’s degree completion 
  • 38th in bachelor’s degree attainment 
  • 43rd in share of bachelor’s degrees earned in science, technology, engineering and math 

New results show Kentucky stuck or losing ground on three categories. Kentucky ranks:
  • 21st in per-pupil higher education funding 
  • 29th in preschool enrollment 
  • 41st in per-pupil K-12 funding 

Two categories had no new data since the 2012 report. In those areas, Kentucky still ranks:
  • 20th in fourth-grade writing, based on 2002 data 
  • 36th in eighth-grade writing, based on 2007 data
Do check out the complete report, with trend graphs from 2008 forward and Prichard recommendations for reaching the Top 20 goals over the coming eight years.  It's an important way of understanding Kentucky's past progress and making sure we move even more strongly forward in the coming years.

Focus schools in mathematics (a follow-up)

Kentucky now identifies schools as "focus schools" for added support if any student subgroup scores below the third standard deviation in any subject.  In an earlier post, I showed the number of schools identified for this status based on 2012 results, using this graph:
At this week's Kentucky Board of Education meeting, Ken Draut answered one of the puzzles raised by that graph: why no mathematics identifications?

In a nutshell, it's an effect of low, low scores.  If you have a mean of 32 percent proficient and a standard deviation of 12,  you end up looking for  minus-4 percent proficiency--and that's basically how the math scores shook out.

Ken Draut suggested to KBE that the regulation can be amended to say that we'll use zero percent proficient if the third standard deviation yields a negative number.  An amendment makes sense, and that one would solve the problem.

I'm going to throw out an alternative: define a focus school based on gap group to be" an individual student subgroup .... with a score  that places that subgroup in the bottom 1 percent  for all students."  That' can be easier for most folks  to understand, and in most cases it will yield the same result as the third standard deviation method--but when the deviation goes negative, the 1 percent method will still allow schools to be identified if a gap group is far enough below the state mean.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Friday, November 23, 2012

A fresh focus on grim gaps

Under our new "Unbridled Learning" approach to accountability, if a school's results show a particular student subgroup to score at rock bottom, the state steps in to ensure new, more intensive planning to raise those results. 

That is, the Kentucky Department of Education identifies "focus schools" where any subgroup's results in any subject falls in the bottom 1 percent for all students.  (Formally, the rules say the scores are in the "third standard deviation," but bottom 1 percent is easier to remember and understand.)  

The chart above summarizes this year's identifications of 372 groups scoring at that very low level, spread over 244 schools, with plenty to puzzle over:
  • Reading: why are more than half of these severe gaps clustered in one subject?
  • Mathematics: how did one discipline avoid any gaps of this sort at all?
  • Students with disabilities: what are the effective responses when one student group has three-quarters of the deepest gaps?
  • Low-income: what should we think about the fact that only 2% of the identified gaps involve this group we know to be disadvantaged?
While we're puzzling, let's notice that it's the right puzzle. This analysis uses a consistent standard (bottom 1%) for all subjects and all groups, allowing us to do this kind of comparison of where the gaps occur.  That's a nice step forward in thinking about a problem that isn't nice at all.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Teacher careers and principals' impact

The Atlantic Monthly shares a new study on why so many teachers leave the profession:
The researchers found that the most important factor influencing commitment was the beginning teacher's perception of how well the school principal worked with the teaching staff as a whole. This was a stronger factor than the adequacy of resources, the extent of a teacher's administrative duties, the manageability of his or her workload, or the frequency of professional-development opportunities.
This finding matches wider business research on employee retention as well as an earlier Massachusetts study of teachers.  That part, and the other study findings strike me as very plausible.

When the article turns to solutions, I'm less impressed.  Peter Youngs, one of the researchers, is quoted as proposing that principals should spend more time studying interpersonal skills in university courses and professional development sessions.  Respectfully, I'd like to suggest that if the most important factor in whether teachers are willing to stay in their jobs is the principal, the most important factor in whether principals can do their jobs well enough for teachers to stay is sure to be superintendents.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A proficient elementary school example (WITH CORRECTION]


Stu Silberman suggested that I share elementary example to match yesterday's high school post.

Under Kentucky's new accountability system, schools are identified as proficient if their Overall Score is at or above the 70th percentile for schools at their level.  Now that first year results have been released, it's easier to illustrate what goes into the Overall Scores and the proficient classification

To begin, each school now receives an Overall Score on a 0-100 scale.  For elementary schools, 100 will mean that all students are on track to being college and career ready and they are all making typical or higher growth.  Here's the actual example, showing the school's Overall Score of 62.5 and the three components that go into it:

The 73.1 for Achievement shown above is calculated from the students' performance levels in five subjects:

The 46.5 for Gap is also calculated from those five-subjects performance levels, using data only for students in groups that have historically been underserved:

Finally, the 66.6 for Growth reflects the students making typical growth in the two subjects tested more than once in high school:

In future years, the plan is to add program review results and professional growth and evaluation data to the Overall Score calculation. As that happens, the 70th percentile cut point will be adjusted. Once the full formula is in place, the state regulation calls for the 70th percentile to be recalculated every five years.

Added note: I've treated the school above simply as an example to help illustrate the main elements involved in being classified as a proficient school, using one of the four elementary schools with an Overall Score of 62.5.  Though my purpose is to clarify the process rather than focus on a particular school, I'll satisfy any reader curiosity and mention that charts above show data from Madison County's Waco Elementary.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A proficient high school example

Under Kentucky's new accountability system, schools are identified as proficient if their Overall Score is at or above the 70th percentile for schools at their level.  Now that first year results have been released, it's easier to illustrate what goes into the Overall Scores and the proficient classification  I'll use a high school right at that 70th percentile cut off to do just that.

To begin, each school now receives an Overall Score on a 0-100 scale.  For high schools, 100 will mean that all students are college and career ready, making typical or higher growth, and graduating on time.  Here's the actual example, showing the school's Overall Score of 58.0 and the five components that go into it.
The 64.5 for Achievement shown above is calculated from the students' performance levels in five subjects:
The 41.7 for Gap is also calculated from those five-subjects performance levels, using data only for students in groups that have historically been underserved:
The 59.5 for Growth reflects the students making typical growth in the two subjects tested more than once in high school. The 47.1 for Readiness looks at ACT and other tests of readiness for college, career or both, with half- point bonuses for students being ready for both options.  Here are the details on those two results:
Finally, the 77.3 for Graduation is simply the school's 77.3 percent averaged freshman graduation rate shown above.

In future years, the plan is to add program review results and professional growth and evaluation data to the Overall Score calculation. As that happens, the 70th percentile cut point will be adjusted. Once the full formula is in place, the state regulation calls for the 70th percentile to be recalculated every five years.

Added note: I've treated the school above simply as an example to help illustrate the main elements involved in being classified as a proficient school, using one of the three high schools with an Overall Score of 58.0.  Though my purpose is to clarify the process rather than focus on a particular school, I'll satisfy any reader curiosity and mention that charts above show data from Bracken County High.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Disaggregated results (because it's about every child)

Take what we already knew about achievement gaps between student groups.  Combine it with our growing understanding that all students need to move up to a substantially higher definition of proficiency.  The results are painful to see--and this post invites you to see that pain. The results below are high school results only.

Please let them make you sad.  Especially, let yourself ache a bit about the results for students with disabilities and students with limited English proficiency, and the continuing legacy of unequal education for students of color.

Then, let them make you strong, because we have plenty of work ahead!

(All the results are taken from the online statewide School Report Card.)

The work begins anew

Kentucky has moved more quickly than any state in the country to define and assess student results that meet the demands of a knowledge-driven future.  This morning, in our newly released School Report Card, we meet the first data, and we see with new clarity what we will need to do to move all our children to those higher expectations.

The chart above shows where we stand in most succinct form, using the overall scores from  our new accountability system.  In that system, a score of 100 meaning that all students (including those in historically underserved groups) are on track to graduate from high school ready for college and career.  By that measure, we're a little more than half way there.

The elementary score combines three kinds of student results shown below.  The achievement number reflects results for all students in reading, mathematics, science, social studies, writing, and language mechanics.  The gap score indicates similar data for students in groups that are often "caught in the achievement gap," while the growth score based on the percent of students making expected growth from one year to the next in reading and mathematics.
The middle school score uses those three kinds of data and adds a college and career readiness indicator based on the Explore test taken by eighth graders.  Here's how those results break out this year.
The high school score reflects college and career readiness measured by ACT and other assessments, and adds in graduation data. Here's how those stack up.

The bottom line is that, this  morning, we can clearly define the work ahead of us. Kentucky has committed itself to raise all of these results to the high levels our children will need for full success in the economy and in their communities.  As you can see, that will be a mighty undertaking, and all of us--parents, teachers, citizens, elected leaders--will have major roles to play.

These results and further details--for our state, districts, and individual schools--is now easily accessible at the Department of Education's Open House.  

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Thursday, September 13, 2012

National GEAR UP Week

This is a guest post submitted by: Dreama Gentry, J.D.; Berea College Executive Director Externally Sponsored Programs:


Friday, August 17, 2012

Monday, August 13, 2012

Graduation Rates and Goals

Technically, the new data on Kentucky graduation rates is a year old: the Kentucky Department of Education has traditionally released each year's nonacademic results a year later to address various challenges in data collection.  With that caveat, here's the statewide progress of recent years:
Under our new Unbridled Learning accountability system, 2011 graduation rates will be used to set a graduation goals for each school.  Starting from its 2011 rate, each school will be asked to take 11 equal steps up to a 98 percent graduation rate in 2022.   For the state as a whole, those goals will look like this :

Those goals will require improvement of 1.8 points a year, noticeably faster than the 1.3 point growth from 2010 to 2011.  

Source note: Trend chart reflects graduation rates reported by the Kentucky Department of Education.  Goal chart applies the formula set in the new Kentucky Board of Education regulation, 703 KAR 5:225, Section 1(7).

Sunday, August 12, 2012

What do teachers make?

Taylor Mali's video at Teaching Channel is three minutes of power and bliss.  There doesn't seem to be a way to embed it, but please do follow the link, enjoy for yourself, and pass it on.

Jefferson County Prospects

My remarks to the Louisville Forum included the historic data I blogged yesterday, followed by some thinking about recent developments and future prospects.   Because Dewey Hensley had already described some of the district's strategies, I shortened and changed some of what I had planned to say, but the substance was the same as this prepared version:

Watching from a distance, I see multiple signs that you are on a stronger track: 
1. Your school board and your superintendent are now setting numerical goals for specific years.  If they follow through with annual reporting, celebrating goals met and confronting goals missed, you’ll be developing a culture that expects improvement year over year. 
2. Dr. Hargens has reorganized your district administration and used the savings to fund assistant principals.  That’s an impressive focus on making resources follow priorities. 
3.  Dr. Hargens has also brought a major shakeup to the Gheens Academy, designed to ensure more responsive professional development and support for your teachers. 
4.  Dewey Hensley, the man without excuses who turned around Atkinson Elementary and provided KDE leadership for your recent high school turnaround, is now your in-district chief academic officer.  
Now, let me add a "theory of action" on what will matter most in the next several years.  I’m sold on the research saying that the approach that raises scores and closes gaps involves a particular kind of learning culture.  It’s one where educators work together regularly, looking at student work to understand what the learners need next, designing changes, and coming back together to see what worked and decide what to improve next.  That approach travels under multiple names: 
·      It’s called "formative assessment "by those emphasize how teachers use the evidence. 
·      It’s called "professional learning communities" by those who emphasize the shared way the evidence gets considered. 
·      It’s called "job-embedded professional development" by those who emphasize the cycle of learning. 
·      And it’s called “instructional leadership” by those who emphasize the roles of principals in building and sustaining that focused work. 
When you read any of the accounts of what’s been changing in your historically troubled high schools, you hear versions of that teachers gathering that evidence, sharing the exploration, and staying in the cycle of identifying needed changes together.  You also hear principals focusing on helping that happen—and that’s where adding those assistant principals can be an excellent first step. 
In the coming year or two, the central issue will be making or solidifying that change in school after school. That’s a tough kind of priority because no school board can do it by policy and no superintendent can do it by memorandum.  It takes lasting engagement, with the central leadership making sure it’s a priority for school leadership, fending off distractions and sending in resources—and dedicated people in each building doing the most important work for themselves. 
So, the way to find out what’s happening, without waiting for the state scores, will be to ask teachers and principals what’s happening. Listen for reports of teams working together to examine work and plan instruction. Listen for reports of having time for that because other requirements have been pushed aside.  Listen for principals spending more time in classrooms.  Especially, listen for examples of students making breakthroughs their teachers hadn’t previously thought were in reach—because when teachers find the ways to do that, they’re excited and they’re exciting. 
It can be done.  Your children need for it to be done, and to be frank, the rest of Kentucky needs Jefferson County back in a leadership role. You’re the leading engine of our statewide economy, and in an information age, we need you as the leading engine of our learning economy as well.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Jefferson County Update: High school progress, with elementary and middle difficulties

The Louisville Forum took a fresh look at the Jefferson County Public Schools this past week, and I was honored to be on the panel with Dewey Hensley (the district's Chief Academic Officer) and David Hawpe (former editorial director of the Courier-Journal).

Before sharing my analysis of JCPS test scores, I want to emphasize that Superintendent Donna Hargens has been on the job for one year and scores for that one year have not yet been released.  These numbers define the challenge she accepted and do not reflect on her strategic choices.

I began by pointing out the district's huge strengths: an adult population with substantially higher educational attainment and a community willing to support its schools at substantially higher levels than the rest of Kentucky.  And then (with small adjustments as I spoke), I said this:

To me, all of that says that Jefferson County ought to be in a leadership position.  Your schools should be delivering results in the top third of the state, and educators from elsewhere should flocking here to learn about your successful innovations.
 Unfortunately, that is not what is happening academically in your elementary and middle schools, and it wasn’t happening in your high schools until the state stepped in aggressively.
 Our statewide assessment shows results for grades 3-8, but I’ll keep things short with two subjects and one grade from each level.  I’m going to compare your districts rates of proficiency to other districts rates for similar students.
 In 2011 fourth grade reading, comparing percent of students reaching proficiency
·      89 percent of Kentucky districts had stronger results than Jefferson county for all students
·      92 percent had stronger results for low-income students
·      84 percent had stronger results for African-American students
 In 2011 fourth grade mathematics:
·      86 percent had stronger results for all students
·      90 percent had stronger results for low-income students
·      76 percent had stronger results for African American students
 In 2011 seventh grade reading
·      84 percent had stronger results for all students
·      87 percent had stronger results for low-income students
·      77 percent had stronger results for African-American students
 In 2011 seventh grade mathematics
·      87 percent had stronger results for all students
·      92 percent had stronger results for low-income students
·      79 percent had stronger results for African American students
 Of those comparative twelve results, only two are better than they were two years ago. Seven are worse, and three are flat.
  Now, I’m glad to be able to report that your high schools look much healthier.
 In 2011 tenth grade reading,
·      Only 31 percent of districts had stronger results than yours for all students
·      Only 42 percent had stronger results for low income students
·      Only 26 percent had stronger results for African-American students
 In 2011 eleventh grade mathematics,
·      Only 17 percent of districts had stronger results than yours for all students
·      Only 33 percent had stronger results for low-income students
·      Only 23 percent had stronger results for African-American students
 Those are big jumps into the lead.  Since I spoke here about 2009 results, you passed between 18 and 26 percent of other districts in those subjects for those kids.
 So, between the districts that are outscoring you and the districts you’re rapidly proven you can outscore, enough already with saying you’re urban and your children can’t handle the work. They can, and what’s happened in your high schools is a down payment on what you should expect across the board.
 More than that, from here on out, you shouldn’t need either the state or the federal government to tell you it’s time to turn things around.  That high school turnaround owes a lot to state pressure, but the middle and elementary steps should come from your own community’s demands.
Tomorrow, I'll share from what I said about the strategies that have been deployed in Jefferson County and the key things I hope citizens will listen for as signs that the strategies are taking effect.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Impact of Top Teaching Talent: Watch this video of Ali Crowley, teacher in Lexington, Kentucky


Monday, August 6, 2012

Higher Education Graduation Rates

In today's "Doonesbury" strip, Walden University's top administrators worry over by an 18 percent four-year graduation rate--plus reports that 65 percent never graduate at all.

Inspired, I've pulled both four-year and six-year rates for Kentucky's public private universities from the NCES College Navigator.   Half our state schools outpace Walden in four years, and all but one do better by their students in the long run.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A framework for Kentucky teaching

Kentucky's new Professional Growth and Evaluation System (PGES) is being designed around five major domains of strong teaching:
  1. Planning and Preparation
  2. Classroom Environment
  3. Instruction
  4. Professional Responsibilities
  5. Student Growth
For the first four items, the design is building on Charlotte Danielson's Framework for Teaching, using the 2011 edition.  Ms. Danielson is a widely respected expert on effective teaching and on the creation of evaluation systems that can identify teaching quality and encourage growth.  

The last item, Student Growth, will require careful Kentucky-specific design work.  It's easy to imagine comparing test data from one year to another to decide how much a particular teacher added to student achievement--but it's actually very hard to make that happen. Some reasons:
  • Kentucky's new assessment system can produce year-to-year comparison data for reading and mathematics in six of the thirteen K-12 grades: grades 4-8, using grade 3 scores as a starting point, plus grade 11 by comparing that year's ACT scores to the previous grade's Plan results.  That means that most grades and most subjects need another solution.
  • Matching teachers with students can be surprisingly difficult.  If a student changes schools two months before testing, is the old teacher or the new one responsible?  What if the switch happens two days before the test?  Even within a school, students may switch classes for many reasons, and the student data system may not be quite up to date on which changes have been made.
  • Small numbers can yield weak data.  In general, the more students are tested, the more confidence testing experts have in the results.  Data on thousands of students will be more trusted than data on hundreds, which is why state and school accountability calculations are fairly sturdy.  An individual teacher may have just two dozen students, making it very uncertain whether a particular set of results represent that person's overall effectiveness well.  For students with disabilities, class sizes can be even smaller, and the needed learning approaches can be hugely different from one student to the next.
To tackle these challenges, the Teacher Effectiveness Steering Committee is looking at ways for teachers and principals themselves to take the lead in identifying appropriate measures where test data is not a good option.

This earlier post shares the basics of how and why PGES is being developed.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Starting Teacher Salary $100,000?

Check out the blog Public Engagement and Ed Reform on Ed Week to read the post about $100,000 as a starting salary and the reactions to it:


Aiming higher, scoring lower

Within a few months, we'll see the first scores from Kentucky's new assessment and accountability system, which means we'll be taking a frank look at where our students now stand compared to strong standards of readiness for college and career.

One good way to imagine what's coming is to think about one of those four-foot-high Fisher-Price basketball hoops.  Anyone who switches from one of those to a regulation court is going to score fewer goals the first season.

Kentucky testing is about to go through the same sort of shift, moving from an old definition of proficiency to a new one that fits better with what students will need in global competition.

While the Department still has some work to do to finalize the scoring system and calculate the statewide results, Commissioner Holiday is now sharing initial estimates that involve big drops.  Here's a comparison, reformatted from numbers shared by the Kentucky School Boards Association:

This is a hard thing, but a good thing: we're now aiming for what our children need, with an honest look at how much we must change to make those higher goals reality.

Friday, August 3, 2012

PGES: basics of a new approach to teacher growth and evaluation.

With a new school year beginning, many Kentucky schools will be participating in deeper field tests of a new Professional Growth and Evaluation System for teachers, often called PGES.

That system is being designed on a multi-year timetable that has already included:
  • Sustained involvement from 54 districts providing ideas, feedback, and field-testing work.
  • Guidance from the Teacher Effectiveness Steering Committee, with a parallel group steering work on principal effectiveness. (Cindy Heine and I represent the Prichard Committee at the teacher meetings.)
  • Creation of "framework documents" identifying the overall description of the qualities to be sought and developed in all teachers and principals.
  • 2011-12 field tests of some of the multiple measures that will be used to determine where individual educators stand and how they can further develop their skills.
The major next steps in the process will include:
  • 2012-13 field-testing of all of the multiple measures.
  • 2013-14 statewide piloting of the new system
  • 2014-15 statewide implement of the new system.
Kentucky is doing this work for multiple reasons:
  • Because it allows Kentucky to qualify for $17 million in Race to the Top funding.
  • Because it allows Kentucky to qualify for flexibility under No Child Left Behind.
  • Because the new Unbridled Learning accountability system is designed to include data on "Next-Generation Professionals"
  • Most of all, because it's the right work to strengthen our students by strengthening the educators who guide their learning. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Common Core: good teaching and "cold reading"

Linking to a thoughtful essay by Jeremiah Chaffee, who teaches English in upstate New York, Richard Day writes:
If this author can be believed, low-ordered thinking skills dictated by Common Core "Exemplars" seem to undermine creative and critical thinking. Will we find ourselves five years from now wondering why such a great idea isn't working?  ...and blaming teachers for the failure?
Since I’m investing many of my waking hours in Common Core implementation, I want to respond in some detail.

Mr. Chaffee’s concerns
Mr. Chaffee writes that his department has been working with an “exemplar” lesson designed to align with the Common Core State Standards, one centered on the Gettysburg Address.  He then shares his concerns, which I hope can be fairly summarized in with this excerpt:

Most of [the lesson] was too scripted. It spelled out what types of questions to ask, what types of questions not to ask, and essentially narrowed any discussion to obvious facts and ideas from the speech. 
Another problem we found relates to the pedagogical method used in the Gettysburg Address exemplar that the Common Core calls “cold reading.”This gives students a text they have never seen and asks them to read it with no preliminary introduction. This mimics the conditions of a standardized test on which students are asked to read material they have never seen and answer multiple choice questions about the passage. 
Such pedagogy makes school wildly boring. Students are not asked to connect what they read yesterday to what they are reading today, or what they read in English to what they read in science.
I’ve quoted those two concerns, about scripting and cold reading, in the order Mr. Chaffee shares them, but I’ll offer my response in the reverse order.

Cold reading
It is true that standardized tests require students to read texts cold, without teachers coaching them to pull up their other knowledge or connect to other interests.
The thing is, life itselfrequires cold reading.  On the job, adults get handed manuals, assembly instructions, and memos, and they don’t always get an experienced colleague to coach them through figuring out what they’re reading and what to do in response.  When studying for a technical certificate or a college degree, older students will be assigned texts and expected to read the assignments on their own.  As citizens, we all need to be able to work our way through articles, editorials, and websites as part of thinking through public issues.
Equipping students for cold reading
In some classes, for some topics and some texts, it makes sense for teachers to provide context, help students activate their prior knowledge, review needed vocabulary before students open their books, and otherwise provide a scaffolding that helps students make meaning of the assignment.  All of that makes students’ work easier and all of it can help make it easier for them to engage the substance of what they read.

Still, if every lesson front-loads that kind of support, how do students develop the reading skills they’ll need when they graduate and the support goes away?

Some lessons need to begin with cold reading, to start students on the way to independence. 

Then, after students do their own wrestling, good teaching can include modeling good skills for pulling the text apart and deepening their understanding of what it says.  For example, a teacher might prompt students to identify and wrestle with challenging words, then tricky phrases, and then the overall organization of the piece, before reading it through a second time to think more deeply about how the whole piece fits together. Long-term, students need to be able to summon up those strategies on their own, but part way through their learning process, they may still need to rehearse the steps with a teacher illustrating how to do each one.

As I read Mr. Chaffee’s description of the exemplar lesson, I developed a strong hunch that he was looking at a lesson that specifically designed to model that type of sound teaching: cold reading as the first step, questions to guide students in closer reading as the second round of work.

That is, I suspect that cold reading—meaning independent work to make sense of text without a teacher softening the work—was a central purpose of the exemplar lesson. Understanding the Gettysburg Address wasn't the only goal, and the reading step was not just a teaching method.  On the contrary, independent reading was a capacity being taught both in the "cold" phase and the questioning phrase of the lesson, and the Gettysburg Address, though valuable in itself, was also being used as a vehicle for skill development.

Again, I am not saying that is the only kind of teaching students should receive. I am, though, saying that Mr. Chaffee’s description makes me think that the exemplar is one of the kinds of learning students need. 

Scripting or empowering teachers
The exemplar lesson Mr. Chaffee worked with does not come directly from the Common Core State Standards. I can say that with certainty because the Standards document does not contain any lesson plans.  There are many ideas circulating about how to teach to Common Core, but none of them are required by the Common Core itself, and it’s worth repeating that none of them are mandated by the federal government. 

Given the many different people and jurisdictions involved, it’s certainly possible that some one is dictating scripted lessons for teachers to recite. 

However, many places, including Kentucky, are following far more empowering strategies.  The Literacy Design Collaborative, for example, calls for teachers to develop robust teaching tasks and then plan instruction that builds students’ reading, thinking, and writing skills on the way to responding to that overall task—giving teachers huge control over the skills to be taught, the order of teaching, and the activities used to build each skill.  Kentucky is sharing that strategy across its Leadership Networks, and I’m part of the design team that has been working to develop LDC for use in other states and on-line.

The bottom line
Almost any sound idea can be undercut by foolish implementation, and nothing built into Common Core prevents that from happening.  If teachers convert to “all cold reading, all the time,” that will be a mistake.  That said, “all scaffolded reading, all the way through senior year” would also be the wrong approach.

The ability to “read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently” is clearly part of what every member of the rising generation will need to be ready for higher education, the jobs of the future, and the challenges of the coming century. In the Common Core State Standards, that ability is listed as Reading Anchor Standard 10, and the part about doing the reading independently-- or cold--is a serious part of the expectation.