Friday, February 26, 2016

Teacher and student voices matter now more than ever

| By Cory Curl |

Dollars, Decisions, and Data – from my experience, these “Three D’s” have been the traditional foundation for much of education policy work for as long as I can figure. If you were trying to decide how to improve student achievement and educational attainment, you worked out how to increase or redirect funding; what policy decisions need to be added or taken out, or made tighter or looser; and what data should be collected, analyzed, and reported to drive change throughout the system.

Education policy experts were largely those who specialized in one or more of the Three D’s.

In the last few years, however, it’s become clear that the Three D’s, while necessary, are completely insufficient for us to make the dramatic gains in student achievement and educational attainment we need as a commonwealth and as a nation.

Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow Tricia Shelton, other teacher leaders, and Student Voice Team members share their classroom insights to inform their postsecondary transition study
Around 2007, the education policy world had a collective “aha!” moment that the key to unlocking educational improvement rested in promoting great teaching – teaching that leads to strong student learning. Reports from The Hamilton ProjectTNTP (formerly The New Teacher Project), and many others underscored that the quality of teaching varied, and the education system itself did little to value great teaching over not-yet-great teaching.

Education policy experts reacted to this discovery by relying on the Three D’s, and set about redirecting dollars, making policy decisions, and developing new measures to evaluate and value great teaching.

But then, in 2013 or so, it became abundantly clear that this was but a first step.
  • John Hattie’s research indicated that one of the most powerful practices for student learning is for teachers to give specific, actionable feedback to students.
  • The Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Project found that students have accurate insights into teacher practices that lead to learning.
  • National Academies of Science report highlighted that most important factor for learning in the early childhood years are the interactions between – you guessed it – teacher and student.
Now we know – we will never get the change we seek until strengthening the learning process between teachers and students is the foundation of our work.

If you’re trying to work on how to improve student achievement and educational attainment, you are missing the boat if you don’t have the most important experts – teachers and students – around the table as equal partners.

For the Prichard Committee to do justice to our efforts to inform the public and policymakers, study the issues, and engage with business and community leaders, families and other citizens, we are ever more committed to lifting up the expertise of students and their teachers.

We collaborate with Hope Street Group Kentucky State Teacher Fellows and other teacher leaders across the state to share teachers’ stories of implementing higher standards, incorporate their insights into our in-depth studies of issues such as the achievement gap, and partner with them in engaging with families and communities. We have launched our Student Voice Team to conduct outreach to collect and share diverse students’ stories, facilitate study groups on a range of issues from school climate to the achievement gap, and lend its expertise and research to educators and other thought leaders as it engages in conversations across the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Student Voice Team leader Andrew Brennan learns from the young Kentucky students

Looking ahead, expect to see us continue to make teacher and student voices an essential part of our work to help build awareness and deepen understanding of what is happening – or not yet happening – in classrooms so that parents, local school board members, and other citizens throughout the state can ask good questions and raise demand for great teaching that leads to strong learning.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Power of Our Shared Science Standards

| By Susan Perkins Weston | 

Kentucky now shares the Next Generation Science Standards with 18 states and the District of Columbia--as shown in the EdWeek map below and discussed in today's Curriculum Matters post.

Over the last year, I've been studying those standards more closely and getting more excited with each round, because there are shifts so deep I didn't understand them on my first or second read.

For one thing, NGSS makes it almost impossible to think about content apart from skills or knowledge apart from active engagement.  That starts with life sciences call for kindergartners to be able to "use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive."  It flows all the way through to the high school engineering expectation that students will be prepared to "use a computer simulation to model the impact of proposed solutions to a complex real-world problem with numerous criteria and constraints on interactions within and between systems relevant to the problem."

Even more deeply, NGSS focuses on a short, powerful list of eight scientific practices:
  • Asking questions and defining problems
  • Developing and using models
  • Planning and carrying out investigations
  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Using mathematics and computational thinking
  • Constructing explanations and designing solutions
  • Engaging in argument from evidence
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information
Those practices give a clear idea of the types of hands-on work students should be doing, the ways critical thinking and active problem-solving  should become tools they can use through a lifetime, and the forms of teamwork and communication that will be embedded in the work they will do as adults. We've known for decades that we need to cultivate  deeper learning and 21st century skills: the NGSS practices look to me like a specific, muscular plan for making that happen.

And at the deepest level, NGSS calls for students to be active science users and science makers.  That's about recognizing students as current participants, rather than just preparing for future engagement.  It's about seeing them as contributing and building here and now and watching for the energy and innovation they're already able to share.

Added note: there are brand new resources teachers can use to combine NGSS standards with Literacy Design Collaborative approaches to reading, writing, and thinking. Battelle Education has developed an impressive set of new resources, complete with video of the students and teachers who designed and tested them, focused on analyzing data, designing and conducting experiments, and solving engineering problems. I was honored to get an early look at these materials, and I think they offer very important illustrations of how much more students can know and do with the right opportunities. If you give them a look, I think you'll share my excitement about NGSS and the possibilities in reach for learners here and across the country.
Check out the Battelle LDC tools and videos of students at work!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Meshing SB 1 with ESSA? Some Challenges

| By Susan Perkins Weston | 

Kentucky's Senate Bill 1 (SB1) and the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) both address standards, assessments, accountability, and public data reporting. On many issues, the two line up well, but there are definite mismatches on lowest performing schools, low graduation rates, and the contents of school report cards. The Q-and-A below explains those issues and the implications.

SB 1 is a Kentucky bill that has been approved by our Senate. Depending on action by the House and Governor Bevin, SB 1 could become state law in a matter of months. Our PrichBlog summary is available here, but needs updating to show that Senate floor action restored social studies testing.

ESSA is the replacement for the federal No Child Left Behind law and includes rules for what states must do to receive certain types of federal funding. ESSA was signed into law in December 2015, and EdTrust offers an overview here. This PrichBlog post looks specifically at section 1111 of ESSA and its requirements for statewide accountability systems and school improvement and support activities. To qualify for federal Title I funding, states must submit plans that show alignment with ESSA in these areas in time for the 2017-18 school year.

If SB 1 becomes law in its current version, it will identify priority schools based on overall scores “in the bottom five percent of overall scores by level for all schools that have failed to meet the achievement targets of the state accountability system under Section 5 of this Act for at least three or more consecutive years.”

ESSA says states must identify schools with achievement results “in the lowest-performing 5 percent of all schools receiving funds under this part in the State” for “comprehensive support and improvement.”

That is, under SB 1, schools will not be identified so long as they have met their target for any one of the last three years. If only 200 schools missed three targets in a row, SB 1 could identify just 10 priority schools. In contrast, ESSA says that if 800 schools get Title I funding, the lowest 5 percent –40 schools– must be identified for added support, and it does not matter whether they met or missed targets while bringing in those low results.

SB 1's current language will require focus school identification if the graduation rate “has been less than sixty-eight percent for three consecutive years.”

ESSA calls for states to identify high schools that are “failing to graduate one third or more of their students” for “comprehensive support and improvement.

Again, the three-year provision in the state version does not match the federal one. If a school graduates 69 percent of students in one year, 40 percent the next, and 30 percent the year after that, SB 1 does not identify that school for focus assistance. ESSA does require that school to be identified for support and improvement.

SB 1 also calls for four elements to be included in school report cards published by the state, and allow a further local-option element:
  • Student academic achievement on state tests, broken out by gender, English proficiency, free/reduced-price meal eligibility, disability status and minority/non-minority background.
  • Advanced Placement, Cambridge Advanced International, and International Baccalaureate participation and results, broken out by “gender, race, students with disabilities, and economic status”
  • School's attendance, retention, graduation rates, and student transition to adult life
  • Parental involvement
  • Other school performance data that local school districts want to see added
To fit ESSA, school report cards must include elements that are not in the SB 1 list, including:
  • Achievement results disaggregated for migrant students, homeless students, students in foster care, and students with a parent on active duty in the armed forces
  • Graduation results and an “other academic indicator” disaggregated the same ways
  • School climate and safety data
  • Preschool enrollment numbers
  • Teacher qualification information
  • Per-pupil expenditures, broken out by local, state, and federal sources
SB 1 does not appear to allow state officials to add those ESSA elements. The existing statute says report cards “shall include but not be limited to” a set of components, and that lets the Kentucky Board of Education add other things. SB 1 deletes the “but not be limited to,” which seems to mean that the listed items are the only items that can be in the state-issued report cards.

Not necessarily. If SB 1 becomes law, Kentucky can probably keep the funding if we live with two overlapping set of rules. That is, we can:
  • Use low assessment results to identify a small group of SB 1 priority schools and a larger group that get the ESSA-required support and improvement efforts
  • Use low graduation rates to identify a small group of SB 1 focus schools and a larger group for ESSA support and improvement
  • Issue state-published school report cards that fit the SB 1 data limits and have school districts responsible for publishing the rest of the ESSA-required information on each of their schools on their websites
Those side-by-side systems might be confusing and require intensive efforts to explain, but they can offer a possible solution if SB 1 becomes law in its Senate-approved form.

SOURCE NOTES: SB 1’s full text is available here. The full text of ESSA is here, using the last link in the Resources sidebar to download the law, and Section 1111 on state plans can be found at pages 19-51. For lowest performing schools and graduation rates, see SB 1, page 69, and ESSA, page 36. For school report card contents, see SB 1, pages 36-37, and see ESSA, pages 45-49, looking first at the listed requirements for a report on the whole state and then noting that local reports must include all the same data except for NAEP results.

ADDED NOTE: This post has been mildly edited to make it clear that SB 1 is legislation being considered, rather than a bill that has already become state law. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Senate Bill 1: Changes from the Senate Committee (With A New Overview)

| By Susan Perkins Weston | 

Senate Bill 1 is the proposed legislation to revise Kentucky standards, assessments, and accountability rules.  Yesterday, the Senate Education approved a substitute provision of the bill, keeping many major features but making a number of changes as well. 

For those who liked the PrichBlog summary of the original language, here's a downloadable next edition in the same two-page format.

This post will give a quick tour of the changes, with one clarification about the original bill included at the very end.

The arts language in the state law defining student capacities that schools must increase will not be amended. The original bill would have changed that wording to allow “application experience in coursework that incorporates design content, techniques of creativity, and interpretation” to be part of the arts expectation. That change has been deleted.

The Commissioner will participate in the standards revision process, presenting recommendations to the Interim Joint Committee on Education and serving as a non-voting member of the recommendations committee composed of legislators and members appointed by the governor.

Standards for arts & humanities and practical living/career studies will be revised in 2017-18 (and every six years after that). Those standards were not addressed in the original bill.

Students with disabilities who spend more than four years in high school will not be exempted from testing during those added years.

An assurance form will require principals to describe how social studies, arts & humanities, practical living/career studies, and writing are integrated into the school curriculum. School council members will sign off on the form. Students, parents, and staff will be able to take concerns about those subjects first to the school council and (if needed) on to the Kentucky Department of Education for investigation. The form and the approach to concerns are new provisions.

Graduation rates will include alternate diplomas. That is a new provision.

College admission and placement scores will be included using increases in percent of students earning composite scores that meet benchmarks. The original bill called for using the scores rather than change in scores.

Intervention schools will not be exempted from the vacancy definition found in KRS 160.380. The sentence on that has been deleted.

For priority schools, there are four new provisions.
  • Audits done by the Kentucky Department of Education will be an option if a local board cannot find another outside team of educators.
  • Turnaround teams will not have to have to be organized as nonprofit organizations.
  • Turnaround plans will need approval from the Kentucky Board of Education as well as the superintendent and local board, but will not need Kentucky Department of Education review and recommendations.
  • Superintendents will report to local boards and the Commissioner on turnaround plan implementation.
The original bill and the committee substitute both call for state-level intervention if schools fail to leave priority status or focus status for four years. The previous summary noted that provision for priority schools but not for focus schools.

To see PrichBlog's two-page summary of the complete provisions, click here.  To see the complete legislative language in the committee substitute, click here.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Financial Aid and Lottery Dollars in the Governor's Budget Proposal

| By Susan Perkins Weston | 

The Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA) will be able to offer almost $251 million in FY 2017 financial aid if Governor Bevin's budget proposal become law. 

Here's a breakdown for the programs included in the KHEAA budget, with yellow shading for cuts and green shading for increases and a new workforce training and development program.
Counting the workforce proposal as a lottery funded effort, this plan honors the state law that calls for nearly all lottery dollars to flow to postsecondary education. 

However, that also means overriding the legal provision calling for the College Access Program and the Tuition Grant Program to receive 55 percent of those dollars.  Those two needs-based programs will receive $35 million less than promised in statute, with those dollars moved to the workforce initiative and to KEES scholarships awarded based on grades and test scores.  The chart below shows the available dollars and compares the statutory approach to the one the Governor proposes.
Source note: The dollar figures above reflect the 2016-18 Executive Budget released by the Office of State Budget DirectorKRS 154A.130 sets the rules for allocating lottery proceeds, with $3 million annually committed to literacy development and the rest divided between 45 percent to KEES and 55 percent to CAP and Tuition Grants.