The travesty that is STAAR testing in Texas

Well, today is the first day of the Spring 2018 STAAR testing cycle. This always begins a bit of a sad and frustrating time as an educator. This is the point of the year where our legislators, in their infinite wisdom, begin their assault on student self-worth and value. Image result for STAARIt’s the time where the state decides to judge the intellectual value of each child based on one test, on one day, with disingenuous and ill-designed assessments. It also creates the data they’ll use to assign haphazard letter grades of A-F on districts as if test scores are the be all-end all way to measure educational system effectiveness. This war, and my required participation in it, on the dignity of students is the worst part of my job as a public educator!

We have legislators who design accountability standards they were never held to when they were in school all the while they’ve allowed learning standards to be shoved further and further down system to where we have 3rd and 4th graders being held accountable for what junior high and high school students were expected to learn 20 and 30 yearsImage result for dignity ago. They give educators dozens and dozens of learning standards to teach at a level of depth and complexity that is unrealistic and unreasonable. To top it off, they make students with intellectual special needs take the same exact test non-disabled students do AND perform on the test at the same passing standard. This is insane and immoral!

We see protests across this nation (gun rights, abortion, teacher pay, the president) but until parents and educators unite to say “No more of this nonsense!”, we’ll unfortunately continue to be pawns in this political game of “public school accountability.” It’s time to give back accountability to local districts and trust the PROFESSIONAL educators to develop systems to measure student progress and performance. They know the students, the care and love for the students, and they want what is best for the students. It is clear our state lawmakers do not have those same goals or else they’d address this ridiculous accountability system we have in place and put the dignity, self-worth, and intellectual development of students ahead of political rhetoric that tries to conflate absurd accountability laws with student learning.

BTW, students have a great day and trust your training and learning all year and do yourImage result for you can do it very best. Your teachers and administrators (and parents) love you, believe in you, and we know this one test on one day in one year does not define you nor will it condemn you (if we have anything to say about it).


New Texas A-F Accountability Ratings are a Failure!

This week districts across the state of Texas received the preliminary “What If” A-F rankings based on the proposed new accountability system for public schoolfailures in Texas.  The preliminary rataings landed with a resounding “thud” and what most educators knew would be a haphazard and arbitrary rating process was proven to be just that.

I’ve spoken with numerous campus leaders and fellow district leaders this week and all of us are left wondering how to make sense of a system that so easily and widespread assigns Cs, Ds, and Fs to the very campuses and districts that “Met Expectations” across the board on STAAR or even received “Distinction Designations”.  Somehow TEA has managed to use the SAME DATA to denote a campus and/or district as meeting expectations, and even recognizing great work through distinctions, while also giving those same campuses and districts grades of C, D, or F using this new accountability system.  Talk about a failure to communicate effectively!

The sad reality that was revealed this week with the release of the preliminary “What If” ratings is the state of Texas has a long way to go in convincing educators, parents, and the community at large this new rating system is anything other than a disappointing effort at taking the easy way out on accountability by assigning arbitrary grades to campuses and districts.  The new rating system is built upon high stakes tests, STAAR, and heavily relies on student test performance to rate and rank schools/districts.  The system is not fair, clear, nor is it transparent.

It’s time that educators, parents, and those who care about the quality of education in our state stand up to this ridiculous and unfair A-F Rating system.  It’s time we reach out to our elected officials and articulate why this rating system is absurd, arbitrary, and ineffective in accomplishing the purposes for which it was developed.

The state called this recent release of ratings a “What If” run of data.  I say we should ask lawmakers and those in TEA our own “What If” questions:

“What If” if we recognize the unfair nature of this A-F rating system as it pertains to stueducated-preschool-kidsdents from low socioeconomic and limited English settings?  Research has shown that these students, and their families, face challenges to access of basic needs and essentials that make it difficult for parents in these settings to prioritize education.  We also know these students require additional support during their educational careers to close gaps in language, literacy, academic vocabulary, and background knowledge.  To rank schools and districts who have a high percentage of low socioeconomic families and English language learners the same way districts with low percentages are ranked is patently unfair and ignores educational research.

“What If” we recognize the unfair nature of this A-F rating system as it pertains to teacherstressteachers?  This new system will denigrate and marginalize teachers who work tirelessly and with great effort to teach, encourage, develop, and care for the multiple needs of each of their students.  We’ll see teachers leave the schools that need the best teachers, often times those that will receive lower grades in this new A-F rating system, in order to move to schools with higher ratings so they can feel more valued and appreciated.

“What If” we recognize how unfair this A-F rating system is for communities across the state?  Affluent communities that will have more schools and districts with A’s and B’s in the new rating system will continue to draw businesses and enterprise growth while struggling communities and those with less economic enterprise will be granted the scarlet letters of D and F and the cycle of struggle will be perpetuated by the state accountability system.

“What If” we recognize this A-F rating system is being built upon a foundation that is an unfair and poorly implemented state test, the STAAR?  The STAAR test has been miss-the-targetimplemented with routine issues and failures since its inception in 2012.  We know the test has biases in it and even the state has run into repetitive issues in scoring the tests, losing test documents all together, and originally didn’t even release questions the first few years so teachers could even see what their students were being assessed on.

Finally, a sad bit of irony rests in the fact that our lawmakers have chosen to rely on this failed A-F rating system all the while being guilty themselves of failing to adequately fund education.  Most national education finance reports give the state of Texas a failing grade when it comes to how they fund education.  For nearly two decades state lawmakers have systematically shifted the cost and burden of educating our children to the local school districts.  This has allowed lawmakers to claim they fight for low property taxes at the state level while forcing local districts to be the “bad guy” in raising local property taxes to fund the educational needs of the district.  “What If” part of the accountability process required local districts to rate the state of Texas and lawmakers on how they provide for a free and public education for our students?

Low SES and Minority Students More Likely to Have Inexperienced Teachers–How to Address this Challenge!

A new White House report reveals what many of us in education have known for a long time: our most needy students often times have the least prepared and experienced teachers.  The report states the share of first-year teachers was strongly correlated with the share of black and chart3_k12_sharefirstyrteachersHispanic students.  Nearly twice as many first-year teachers are teaching in predominantly minority schools (which are often times low SES as well) compared to schools with no minorities.

We know that teaching is a very difficult profession to gain mastery in and that it takes teachers 5-7 years to develop the content knowledge, pedagogy, and skill sets to become a master teacher.  For minority students, the constant revolving door of first-year teachers comes with the reality that their academic gaps will most likely not be closed with novice, inexperienced teachers.  Many schools and districts compound this challenge by placing minority students, often the ones with the most academic needs, in the most inexperienced teacher classrooms.

Our minority students deserve to have the same access to high quality teachers and resources as non-minority students.  Our low SES students, which often cross over racial demographics, deserve the very same access to high quality teachers.

Districts and campuses that serve minority students and low SES communities have to begin to think about providing the in-service support new teachers need in order to develop competencies and confidence as quickly as possible.  A well implemented teacher induction program is not only the best way to support new teachers in those crucial first years but it will also help improve the likelihood that new teachers stick around longer and become the invested teachers these campuses and districts need if they are to truly turnaround the achievement gaps in their system.

Here in West Oso ISD, we are trying to address this very need through our teacher induction program, Bear TIPS.  Our program seeks to provide 3 years of in-service support teacher-induction-logoto our new teachers.  We begin with a First Year Teacher Academy (FYTA) that meets with teachers six times during the first year.  We follow that up with a FYTA2 in year 2 that focuses on deepening teacher understanding of best practices and effective instructional strategies.  FYTA3 is in year 3 and focuses on assessing for learning.  The program also has specific mentor training so that our new teachers are supported by an experienced colleague on their campus in addition to the FYTA supports and the site leader support.  We add to these components a periodic newsletter that lets the entire district know what the FYTA teachers are working on and how to support our new teachers in those crucial first years.

We were fortunate enough to be recognized by Texas School Business magazine fobragging10r the Bragging Rights 2016-2017 issue as an innovative program.  We’re humbled to be included with the other 11 districts recognized in the issue.  We accept the recognition as proof that when district leadership wants to take specific steps to address the staffing challenges and the academic challenges that can come with minority dominant communities, great things can happen.

We know that much work remains and the struggle to provide our students with the highest quality teachers available will exist for some time.  We hope that we have at least modeled a way in which districts, small or large, can begin to address the needs of all students and create the equity we know should exist across the educational spectrum.

Campus Principals: Do you attend PD with your teachers?

I left the campus principal role a few years ago and moved into central office to lead curriculum and instruction at the district level.  One of the things I still try to keep as a priority is to attend PD sessions with district teachers and leaders.  I do this to monitor the quality of the PD I am sending district staff to but I also do it to build my own knoteachlearnblocks1wledge and skills while also connecting with the teachers in my district.  I want my teachers to know I’m approachable, I don’t have all the answers, but I’m willing to learn new things and I want to stay in tune with what is happening in the classroom.

I believe most campus principals share my thoughts.  Campus principals are always thinking about professional development for their staff and looking for ways to improve student learning through better teaching.  Campus principals know an effective professional development (PD) plan can be one of the best ways to improve student learning and develop a cohesive campus culture.  All too often the campus principal is the one providing the professional development to the staff or is responsible for authorizing and sending staff members to various PD opportunities.  However, I suggest one aspect of PD that principals should consider more carefully is the process of learning alongside their staff.  Yeah, that’s right!  Principals should attend PD with their teachers and learn with them.

There are 4 good reasons why principals should attend PD sessions with their teachers.  I hope the 4 reasons I’m going to share with you inspire you to join your staff in learning at an upcoming PD opportunity.

  1. It’s Fun!
    • It’s easy for principals to get caught up in the day to day administrivia. There are many days where principals can feel far removed from the teaching and learning that goes on each day at the campus because of the administrative duties that come with the position.  Principals should be the instructional leader for the campus and while most principals love the chakeep-calm-fun-learningllenge of leading a campus, they also know that it comes with a price that often times removes them from being directly involved with student learning like when they were still teaching.  By going to PD with their teachers, principals get the opportunity to reconnect with the skills and experiences that attracted them to education in the first place.
    • Getting out to a PD workshop with teachers can make the process of staying current on best practices and researched-based instruction much more interesting, engaging, and relevant. Don’t just read an article or a book but rather jump in with your teachers and learn in an authentic and meaningful way!  That is much more fun!
  2. Learn about and relate to your staff!
    • Much like sitting down at a meal builds fellowship and helps one get to know someone, attending PD with your staff and learning beside them is a bonding experience. By participating in PD, you get to engage with your staff in a way that is different than the typical supervisory roles and duties principals take on.  By learning with your teachers you get to see their thinking and understand what they value and how they reflect on their practices.  Opportunities for deeper discussions about learning and the teaching craft can occur in an authentic setting like a PD workshop.
    • Also, don’t bail out at the lunch break to go answer emails and return calls. Take the lunch break and go eat with your staff.  Again, this provides wonderful opportunities to learn more about the personal side of your teachers and you can share similar stories and happenings as well.
  3. Show them you are a learner too!
    • When you attend PD sessions with your teachers you let them know that you are a lifelong learner and are willing to acquire new skills and ulead-learnernderstandings as well. It shows them that you are vulnerable and interested in the things they do day in and day out with their students all year.  It will also provide you a natural connection to deeper conversations later in the year as you and your teachers reflect on what was learned at the PD and how they are implementing it in their classroom. You will also have a better understanding of how the PD fits with the initiatives and goals of the campus from firsthand experience.
  4. Identify potential leaders!
    • Another aspect of attending PD with your teachers that can pay off in the long run is the opportunity to identify potential leaders on your campus. By engaging with teachers in PD you will begin to see which teachers are natural leaders in those kinds of settings but you will also be able to sei-am-a-leadere your thinkers, dreamers, and even your pioneers who are willing to lead the charge!
    • By having a deeper and more authentic understanding of the skills and personalities of your teachers, you can better match leadership opportunities with teachers on your campus. You don’t have to leave it to chance or to those who always tend to lead but instead can tap into the experiences you had with your teachers during the PD and connect the traits you saw in your teachers with the opportunities on the campus.

So this is a call to all principals (and even central office leaders), go find some PD opportunities for your teachers and be an active participant with them!  You just might find you enjoy the opportunity to learn with your staff while at the same time building trust, competence, and a culture of collaboration!

Data Review: Have a Target, Have a Purpose!

Well, it’s the middle of September and for many teachers and campus leaders that means the school year is beginning to settle in to a routine.  It also means teachers are starting to get some data on how students are doing.  The data can be studestudent-datant daily work, formative assessments, project based learning product, or performance assessments just to name a few.  The question then becomes, “what do we do with the data?”

An effective data review process will look at all available data (including individual and collective data) on the campus with the express purpose of guiding intervention support.  An important consideration beyond just looking at data and deciding on interventions for students is the process by which interventions will be monitored and reviewed.

Allow me to share with you a 3 phase process to guide your data review efforts.  I call the guide a “Target for Purposeful Focus”.  Phase 1 is Key Data and focuses on gathering and organizing your data in order to accurately understand current performance levels and trends while alsrti_3_tierso prioritizing performance concerns.  Phase 2 is Intervention and Supports and focuses on setting performance targets, identifying solutions and action
steps, implementing intervention and support systems, and pursuing a problem of practice. Phase 3 is Monitoring and Review which focuses on identifying measurable objectives, using on-going progress monitoring, and identifying critical evidence of intervention success.

The graphic below illustrates how the 3 phases work together to frame your data review efforts.  As with any on-going or cyclical process, there is no rigid or linear structure to which phase comes first, second, or third.   In fact, effective teams will take aim at multiple areas of the target throughout their data dig, intervention support, and monitoring or review process.  Student performance and the effectiveness of your intervention supports will drive where your focus is during the process.  As you begin the process you will typically start in the center with the data and move outward on the target but your student and campus needs may dictate you return to another phase (or ring) on the target.  Effective use of data will utilize all 3 phases of the target and allow teachers and leaders to develop a more focused intervention plan while supporting those efforts with clear evidence of success or a need for further adjustments.



Educator lessons from visiting Pinterest

As part of the Lexington Institute’s LELA Fellows program (Cohort 3), which I’m privileged to be a part oLexingtonf for the next six months, I attended the Education Elements Personalized Learning Summit in San Francisco May 18-20.  It was a phenomenal time to get toEE.Logo-170
know my 9 cohort members but to also immerse myself into the work of “personalized learning” that is beginning to shift the very landscape of K-12 education as we know it.

One of the perks of the trip was an opportunity to visit the headquarters of Pinterest.IMG_20160519_105651  I was excited to get to visit the tech company headquarters and learn how they do business but, more importantly, how young, talented, motivated, and fresh-thinking business professionals are challenging the way business is done today.  As educators of young people, we have to be aware of what the business world is needing from our graduates but also what systems and approaches to problem solving are being used effectively to grow businesses in the very nimble and cut throat world of technology.

When one first walks into the Pinterest HQs it doesn’t take long to see that they do things a lot different than a lot of companies and certainly a lot different than how schools operate.  The culture, as is the case in a lot of the tech industry, is very casual and very flexible but it is also incredibly flexible, highly collaborative, incredibly competitive, openly accountable, and focused on giving their employees the tools, culture, and climate to be their very best.  Yeah, it’s easy to get caught up in the dining area that has numerous fully stocked coolers with everything from water to juices to sodas and beer (yep, that’s right).  There’s also the catered breakfast and lunch items available free of charge to all employees each day.  Moving beyond that there are numerous collaborative areas that include “soft seating” (aka, couches and lounge chairs), group situated alcoves, numerous private office spaces with catchy names and themes (as one sees on Pinterest), and of course there is an immense amount of technology.

But beyond the noticeably different physical arrangements in the building and the nice perks of working there, it becomes very clear after talking to their leaders why they do what they do.  See, Pinterest is in a very cut throat business that can see a company like Pinterest grow from four employees in an apartment 5 years ago to what they are now and then barely existent in a couple years if they don’t constantly evolve and develop their value to the world around us.  In order to avoid being the next tech-bust, they need employees that are creative, passionate, hard working, risk takers, collaborative, challenging, confrontational, and caring.

As educators, we have to be able to prepare students to enter this world and compete for these kinds of jobs.  To do that, we have to begin to “do” education differently.  I’m not necessarily talking about making classrooms and campuses look like Pinterest (though there are certainly some things to take away from their approach).  See, our students are going to have to be able to work in cultures that might be more “free flowing” like many tech companies but they are also going to have to work in more structured industries like hospitals/clinics, service industries, the military, schools, and others just to name a few.  It’s not about changing schools so that everyone wears shorts and flip flops and sit around on couches but rather dissolving the formulaic, factory styled, one-size-fits all learning model that no longer serves the needs of our students.  That model doesn’t serve students, it serves teachers.  That model doesn’t instill learning, it instills disconnect and apathy.  Education has to change.  We owe it to our young people.  We owe it to our society.  We owe it to ourselves as educators to teach better and to better ensure that all students do learn and develop the skills they need to pursue their deepest desires upon leaving high school.  That is the power of personalized learning and that is the journey I am on and will enjoy documenting as my LELA Fellowship continues.


Lexington Education Leadership Award Cohort 3

I am humbled, honored, and greatly inspired to be informed last week that I will be one of 10 superintendents and assistant superintendents from around the country (over 200 entries) selected to be part of cohort #3 in the Lexington Institute’s LELA Fellowship.

The LELA fellowship is a unique and highly selective Lexington6-month program designed to expose district leaders to personalized learning and facilitate the first steps to implementation.  We are working in my district, West Oso ISD, to implement a blended learning model that seeks to offer our students a more personalized learning experience with more control over the pace, path, place, and time they learn and are able to demonstrate mastery.  Being a part of this LELA Fellowship will allow me to be a part of a dynamic team of educational leaders and cutting edge thinkers in changing the very landscape of K-12 education.  We really are creating a new K-12 ecosystem for learning!

I will use my blog to document our work and share ground-breaking ideas, research, and connections to blended learning and personalized learning models.  I hope it will prove useful to you and your work as a teacher, leader, administrator, or education advocate!


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