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.

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.

data-review_target-of-focus_neutral

-CS

Hope for Texas State Accountability Reform

Very hopeful that the “Next Generation” commission will provide our state leaders with some very practical and necessary changes to the state accountability system and the STAAR test.  They are currently meeting and will provide a comprehensive list of reform items in the Fall of 2016.

The test covers too many standards as it is right now and teachers do not have the time nor the resources to effectively teach critical, foundational skills to the depth and complexity necessary for students to have mastery of those essential skills and knowledge.

The test is also too punitive and we should not be determining if a student in 5th grade or 8th grade (even the EOCs in high school) should move on to the next grade based on the results of one test (even with re-tests) and basically diminishing that student’s academic work and learning for the year and perhaps even dismissing a student’s need for additional time and support to meet mastery. All students do not learn at the same rate and to shoehorn every one of them into the timeframe of learning that equates with a standardized testing schedule is absurd.

The commission has a very balanced make up of educators, leaders, and parents. It will be up to the TEA commissioner and our legislators to trust this committee and to do what is right by students.

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

Will 2016 finally be the year that educational ecosystems change…for the better?

Well, here comes 2016.  Another year, another opportunity to actually change education for the better!  This week I was reminded of an article that came out on the MindShift blog way back in 2013.  Yep, that’s right I’m about to refer to an article that was a call to action two years ago and still has so much to say to us even today.

The call to action I’m referring to is the challenge to change the educational ecosystem in your classroom, your campus, your district, or wherever your sphere of influence may imBe-Brave-1024x768pact.  A change in new federal law, ESSA, governing education has created yet another opportunity for educators to dive in and look at our practices, our beliefs, and our bravery.  Bravery?  You read that correctly.  Educators now more than ever, at least more than in the last 15 years, have an opportunity redirect and redesign the environment of the classroom and the campus and create true inquiry based learning that promotes deep thinking, deeper understanding, and authentic learning.

Administrators have to give their teachers the autonomy and trust to develop deeper learning experiences in the classrooms.  We must also know our teachers well enough, individually and as teams, to provide them the professional development and entrepreneurial environment that allows for these changes to occur.

Teachers have to push away the built in excuse that says they can’t because their principals or district won’t let them.  Educators have to tap into their own deep inquiry into practices and pedagogy to advocate and pursue what is best for students.  Teachers don’t have to beEducational Ecosystem tools of the district or a policy or an initiative.  Dig into the research that supports your gut and your intuition and what you know is best for students.  Go to your campus and district leadership with data, research, and the fruit of your labors and prove what you know is best!

Let’s all take this opportunity to be one of the brave!  Let’s be true practitioners of education!  Let’s make 2016 be the year where education truly did change…for the better…for students!