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?

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The 10% Running Rule…for Teaching!

If you’re a runner there’s little doubt that you’ve come across a training principle called “The 10% Rule” or 10PR.  The idea behind the principle is that when training for a running goal, especially longer ones, a runner should never increase their weekly mileage10PR  by more than 10% over the previous week.  This principle has value to runners because most injuries in running come from overuse.  They symptoms start out as aching or throbbing and eventually lead to limping and even periods of rest to recover.  Often times, these overuse injuries are the result of great exuberance at the prospects of a race or some personal goal but, alas, the best intentions are derailed by poor or ineffective planning.

So what does The 10% Rule have to do with teaching?  How can it help teachers plan for more effective and successful teaching while contributing to increased student learning? Most teachers each day have anywhere from 375 to 420 minutes of instructional time.  For elementary grades these minutes can  be blocks of 30 minutes all the way up to 90 or 120 minutes, depending on the content area.  For secondary grade levels, these are typically 45 to 90 minute blocks per day or every other day.  Trying to improve and maximize the instructional time can be a daunting challenge if we consider several hundred minutes a day, five days a week, and six to nine weeks per grading period.  It’s enough to make some teachers shy away from ever even wanting to attempt to improve their instruction or classroom structures.

I propose taking The 10% Rule (10PR) and using it to breakdown the instructional block into more manageable chunks, over a more manageable amount of time.  The goal is to take 10% of the instructional block and look at how teachers are using the time to explain the learning objectives, build context for the learning, engage students on the learning objectives for the day, allow for student collaboration, and monitoring or measuring student mastery.  If a teacher tried to tackle all of these things at once, they would most likely get overwhelmed or frustrated or suffer the teaching equivalence of a runner’s “overuse injury”.  The risk is teachers will return to old habits or structures and lose out on the chance to improve their skills and create a richer, more engaging learning environment for their students.

Some possible steps to take when implementing 10PR in the classroom could be:

  1. Examine the opening and closing activities students are engaged in while in the classroom.  Typically, the first two to three minutes andEngagement the last two to three minutes of an instructional time are the least organized and instructionally productive times for many teachers.  Harry Wong says, “The most essential thing for a teacher to do is to structure an assignment the second the students walk into the room.” I would add that having a culminating or reflective task for students to participate in is just as critical.  These 4-6 minutes (the beginning and ending of a class) constitute 10% of a typical class period or lesson and, if well planned, can be essential to building student engagement for the entire lesson while ensuring a time for a quick assessment for understanding.
  2. It’s important to keep in mind that each time a teacher takes on the process of adjusting 10% of what happens in their classroom, they may need a week or two or more to master that aspect of their teaching time.  That’s ok and just as runners might need to stay at a certain mileage for a couple weeks or more before using 10PR, teachers should be confident and successful with the 10% of their instructional time they adjusted before moving on to the next 10%.
  3. After making adjustments to the start and end of a lesson, teachers can then begin to look at the questioning that will occur during the lesson.  Again, using 10PR means teachers are looking at about 4-6 minutes of a typical lesson or up to 10 minutes for a double blocked class.  This amount of time often aligns well with the discussion portions of many lessons.  Unfortunately, most discussions in classrooms call for simple recall or perhaps the application of an idea or a skill and rarely moves into deeper, questionsintellectually challenging interactions.  By taking the time to examine how questions can promote deeper thinking and more consistent student engagement, teachers can begin to build on the successful start that students have as a result of the previous 1oPR actions.  Teachers have many resources available to them to help in designing quality lessons.  The most successful teachers I’ve worked with take the time to pre-write and think through the questions they will use during the course of instruction.  They identify the issues or skills to be learned.  They craft the questions carefully so that questions elicit multiple responses.  They think through possible student responses.  They ensure that the questions will promote equitable student interactions and participation.
  4. Again, a teacher might need to stay on the 10% of the instruction that focuses on questioning for a a couple weeks or so.  That’s perfectly fine and it’s essential that they are confident and successful with this 10% of their instruction before moving on to the next 10%.  At the end of this time, 20% of the instructional time has now been improved upon and just as runners gain confidence and stamina with their running by following the principles of 10PR, teachers too will begin to feel more confident in their teaching and energized by the conversations and interactions taking place in the classroom.
  5. Teachers can then begin to look at the remaining portions of their instructional time and use the concepts I shared in “Chunk and Chew”, for example, to adjust their actions and the student learning activities in 10% intervals until the entire lesson cycle or instructional period has been revised and improved.

When runners want to improve their endurance and prepare to be their best when it counts, race time, they follow the principles of 10PR.  It allows them to systematically and methodically improve their running while giving their body time to adjust, heal, and grow stronger.  Teachers can use the same principles in 10PR to breakdown their instructional time in a way that improves student learning and grows them as educators.

If you found this article useful, please consider sharing it with other educators and use the comment features of Facebook or Twitter or other social media to begin your own dialogue about improving teaching and student learning.

-CS