Tag Archives: ESSA

Teacher Evaluation: NYS Legislature Returns Teacher Evaluation to Local Districts within Collective Bargaining and Decouples from Student Testing

The New York State legislature voted to return the teacher evaluation process to school districts,

This bill would amend the annual teacher and principal evaluation system to eliminate the mandatory use of state assessments to determine a teacher or principal’s effectiveness. 

This bill seeks to maintain the rigorous standards set for teacher and principal evaluations, while simultaneously addressing some of the concerns from parents and educators. Allowing school districts and teachers, who know their students best, the ability to negotiate whether they would like to use the standardized tests in teacher or principal evaluations will ensure that a more fair and effective evaluation system will be established. Furthermore, in order to ensure that schools are not negatively impacted as a result of their choice between retaining their current evaluation system and choosing a new one, this bill provides that school districts will not lose their state aid increases while a district is in the process of negotiating/entering into a successor collective bargaining plan. 

The original law requiring school districts to use standardized test results to assess teacher performance was widely criticized by teachers and parents, and, in response to the criticism a four-year moratorium was placed on the use of standardized test scores, this is the last year of the moratorium. During the moratorium districts have been using a combination of supervisory observations and “student learning objectives,” aka, “measurements of student learning” determined at the district level, called the “matrix .”

With over 700 school districts in New York State the law returns the question of teacher evaluation to the local level and to the collective bargaining process. Districts will have flexibility within the frameworks set by the new law.

The larger question was whether teacher evaluation should be set by the Commissioner and the Board of Regents, set by the legislative process or driven, within guidelines set in statute, at the local level by elected school boards and teacher unions: that question has been determined.

The law has nothing to do with the administration of grades 3-8 tests, all fifty states must give annual tests.

The anti-testing factions within the state have vigorously opposed the new law  arguing that any changes should specifically reject the use of any testing in teacher evaluation, basically returning to supervisory evaluations only.

On the supervisory observation side New York State requires school districts to choose from among a range of instructional practice frameworks to assess teachers. New York City uses the Danielson Frameworks; other districts use Marzano, Marshall and a few others. These frameworks were originally designed to be used in teacher preparation programs, not to assess teacher performance. Experienced supervisors and teachers can generally agree on what constitutes a “highly effective” or “ineffective lesson,” less agreement on differentiating “effective” from “developing;” more troubling is the use of observations as a retributive act. As the relationship between the teacher union and the former mayor deteriorated in New York City the number of “unsatisfactory” observations increased dramatically. The number of unsatisfactory observations remained at about the same level for decades, tripled under Bloomberg, and returned to prior levels under the current mayor.

The current system places supervisory observations on one side of the matrix and locally developed tools, Student Learning Objectives (SLO) or Measurements of Student Learning (MOSL) on the other side of the matrix. The collective bargain agreement in New York City allows for an appeal if the observations and SLO/MOSL scores show a wide disparity.

There is a fear the smaller districts with fewer resources will choose an “off the shelf” standardized test in addition to the state standardized tests, an additional test for students. Parents have options: they can opt out, or, lobby their elected school board. The Bureau of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), regional student education centers, can coordinate the creation of SLO/MOSL in regions across the state.

Why does the federal law require annual tests? Current federal law requires standardized tests in English and Mathematics in grades 3-8 because a coalition of civil rights organizations lobbied vigorously to include testing in the law. In the run-up to the passage of the new iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, now called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) the Democratic co-sponsor of the law supported required testing,

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., stood on the Senate floor and called standardized testing a civil-rights issue. “We know that if we don’t have ways to measure students’ progress, and if we don’t hold our states accountable, the victims will invariably be the kids from poor neighborhoods, children of color, and students with disabilities,” she said. 

The NAACP and many other civil rights organizations support the annual student testing requirement,

Nineteen groups, including the NAACP and the Children’s Defense Fund, recently released a statement backing the law’s core testing requirement. “ESEA must continue to require high-quality, annual statewide assessments for students in grades 3-8 and at least once in high school,” Wade Henderson, head of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said at a Senate hearing … 

The opt out parents, concentrated in New York State and Diane Ravitch’s Network for Public Education are vigorous opponents of annual student testing, and, in many cases, all student testing.

The NAACP president Derrick Johnson spoke at the Network for Public Education (NPE) conference in Indianapolis in October, the NAACP and NPE both oppose charter schools and the NAACP has called for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools, a position taken a few years ago at their national convention; allies on one issue, opponents on another

New York State has a long history of testing. Regent examinations in New York State began in the late 19th century;  4th and 8th grade testing prior to the NCLB  annual testing. For decades the NY Times published the results of grades 4 and 8 tests, by district in descending school order.  The opposition to testing is partially due to the Obama/Duncan decisions to tests to assess the performance of individual teachers, to use tests to punish schools, the complexity of the algorithm coupled with disastrous roll-out of the Common Core: diverse constituencies melded.

A few days ago the state announced the latest round of schools requiring interventions, 

The State Education Department today announced district and school accountability determinations as required by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and New York’s ESSA plan. State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia identified 106 school districts as Target Districts, 245 schools for Comprehensive Support and Improvement and 125 schools for Targeted Support and Improvement.

 I suspect some of these schools were identified due to scores in subgroups: Title 1 eligible, English language learners and students with disabilities, one of the prime goals of the law. I do not know the impact of opt outs on the computation to determine a school’s accountability status. The law requires a 95% participation rate in schools, and, if schools fall below the required participation rate states must develop plans to increase the rate; Optout is only an issue in New York, Colorado and Washington.

It is highly unlikely that we will see any changes in the federal requirements in the near future. New York State receives $1.6 billion annually in federal dollars; the state is not going to take any actions that might jeopardize federal dollars.

If you are interesting in pursuing the methods by which the state determines accountability status click on the link(s) below.

Elementary School Sample PowerPoint Template: Explaining the New Accountability System

High School Sample PowerPoint Template: Explaining the New Accountability System

Understanding the New York State Accountability System Under ESSA

This document provides answers to questions about the New York State Accountability System under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Answers to questions are based upon the 2018-19 accountability determinations, which were made using the 2017-18 school year results

ESSA, Next Generation Standards, Curriculum: The Beginning of a Trip Up a Steep Learning Staircase

Once a month on a Monday morning the seventeen members of the Board of Regents trickle into the ornate Regents Room in Albany. A long table stretches across the center of the room, the members sit along both sides along with the commissioner; a video screen in one corner and automated cameras (the meetings are live streamed). The coffee is strong!!  Three rows of folding chairs surround the table: journalists, State Ed staff, lobbyists, advocates for some issue on the agenda, an occasional legislator, and me. Most of us know each other, at least by sight. On the walls portraits of bearded white men, the many chancellors who have led the Board of Regents since the origin of the Board in the late eighteenth century.

Slavery ended in New York State in 1827, I wonder if any of the first chancellors owned slaves?  (For another day)

The meeting begins with a sort of invocation. The chancellor, or other board member, muses about the role of the board, the million plus students, parents, what the member thinks and/or what should guide their decisions.

The first order of business on Monday was the approval of the ESSA Plan, all hundreds of pages.

View a 10-slide presentation here.

View presentations of various sections of the Plan here.

ESSA fatigue had set in, there was very little discussion. The year long effort is off to Washington with a decision by the feds expected in early 2018.

The meeting moved upstairs to the P-12 Committee and  a discussion of the Next Generation Standards, aka Common Core 2.0. The SED has been juggling the standards for two years. Hundreds of teachers, school leaders, college folk and SED staff have added and subtracted from what was the Common Core. I sat through an offsite meeting of teachers a few months ago. The very engaged teachers were totally committed, parsed words and phrases, and, I wondered: do classroom teachers, the ordinary Joe’s and Jane’s ever look at the standards?

Check out Highlights of the Revisions here.

In the discussion Regent Cashin, who was a teacher, a staff developer, a principal and a superintendent, asked a simple question:  Is there a curriculum that emerges from the standards?  The commissioner responded: curriculum is the responsibility of the school and/or school district and suggested that the BOCES centers, the regional State Education Department Support Centers could work with their surrounding school districts. In New York City the current leadership has been promising a curriculum for years.

Regents Cashin related that twenty schools in her district had used the Core Knowledge Curriculum with outstanding results. (The Joel Klein driven Board of Education did not renew the funding).

While the Common Core and it’s spin offs have dominated discussion for the last few years the importance of curriculum has emerged.

Charles Sahm in Knowledge Bank/US News wrote,  “A Compelling Case for Curriculum: Growing Evidence Suggests High Quality Curriculum is a Key Component of Student Success .”

One of the odd features of education policy is that while a plethora of research exists on the effects of systemic reforms (e.g., class size, charter schools, teacher and school accountability mechanisms), on student achievement there is very little data on whether curriculum – what kids are actually being taught – makes a difference.

 As Rebecca Kockler, Louisiana’s assistant superintendent of academic content, explained at the Hopkins/Hunter forum, over the past four years the state has reviewed more than 100 curricular programs according to their alignment with state content standards. The state leaves it up to districts to select curricula but helps them make informed decisions and facilitates professional development for the most highly rated curricula. Louisiana keeps track of what curricula districts are using and about 80 percent now employ materials from the state’s top rating tier. The state’s emphasis on curriculum appears to be generating results. Louisiana fourth graders achieved the highest growth among all states on the 2015 NAEP and the second highest in math.

Louisiana doesn’t write curriculum, they assess the alignment of curriculum to state standards on a public site.

Chester Finn, in Education Next, (“Curriculum Becomes a Reform Strategy”) hits the nail on the head,

Curriculum … is generally left to districts, which frequently leave it to individual schools and often to individual teachers or departments within them. When that classroom door closes, Ms. Smith and Ms. Gonzalez can teach pretty much whatever they want, using pretty much whatever materials they want, subject only to budgetary constraints, what’s in the “bookroom,” how fast are their internet connections, and what’s apt to be on their pupils’ end-of-year state test, which of course doesn’t exist for many subjects and high school courses.

New York State points with pride to the curriculum modules on the open source Engage NY web site. Unfortunately the modules are not aligned with current shifting standards; in New York, the state has spent the last two years amending the standards and will spend another set of years rolling out the standards. In other words, “ever-changing” standards, not aligned to modules and not aligned to state tests.

There is an increasing body of research that points to curriculum as the key to increasing student achievement.

Finn concludes,

  • the cumulative impact of a well-formulated curriculum over several years can be very large indeed.
  • “Changes in curriculum are relatively cost-neutral.” In other words, this is a low-budget reform. A powerful curriculum isn’t more expensive than a weak one.

Traditionally the New York City Labor Day parade takes place the Saturday after Labor Day. I met up with the UFT group on 47th Street waiting for our turn to march up Fifth Avenue. It was a spectacular day. For a couple hours you catch up with friends and make new friends. I chatted with teacher after teacher, did they know that New York State had standards? If so, did the standards impact their lesson planning and instruction? The answer was universal: they taught whatever program the school used, maybe Lucy Calkins, Teachers College Reading and Writing Project or Lucy West  or Singapore Math  or even ED Hirsch Core Knowledge or whatever the principal and/or the superintendent is partial to, in other words, the flavor of the day.

In high schools the curriculum is frequently driven by the contents of the book room.

I know this is radical, but, if we’re going to test kids wouldn’t it be a good idea to test them on the content that is actually taught?

What have we learned:

* We really good at crafting a plan, a high level of engagement across the state, every stakeholder having input, using some of the finest minds in the country to guide the process; however, will the implementation of the plan change outcomes for low performing kids and schools? Can ESSA overcome the impact of poverty, funding inequities, corrosive politics at the national and local levels?

* In spite of the federal law requiring testing state educational leaders are beginning to have doubts over the efficacy and impact of the state tests. The opt-out parents are clearly impacting thought across the state.

* Hopefully, now is the time to actually begin to explore alternatives to the traditional standardized tests

A number of states (for example New Hampshire) are piloting performance-based assessments. The Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity (usually referred to as SCALE) partners with school districts to create and implement performance assessments. New Hampshire is in the fourth year is an expanding pilot, partnering with 2Revolutions, an education design lab, embedding performance assessments and working with teachers to change the practice and culture of teaching and learning.

For some the submission of the ESSA plan is viewed as a major achievement, for me, a first step up a long and steep staircase, without handrails.

Should the New York State Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Accountability Plan Punish Schools for High Rates of Chronic Absenteeism?

In the summer of 2013 the state released the Common Core state test results, students moved from 2/3 proficient to 2/3 “below proficient,” aka, failing the test. The public outcry was loud and sustained, the commissioner decided to travel across the state on a “listening tour.”  The tour began in Poughkeepsie, a standing room only auditorium listened for a while, began to interrupt, the meeting became raucous. (Watch the highlights here) Commissioner King was booed off the stage.

As the “tour” moved from city to city the meetings became more and more disorderly and were discontinued, the New York Times wrote,

In a series of public forums across the state, John B. King Jr., the state education commissioner, has become the sounding board for crowds of parents, educators and others who equate his name with all they consider to be broken in schooling today. Some blame him for too quickly imposing more rigorous academic standards tied to what is known as the Common Core. Parents call him deaf to the misery of pupils taking standardized tests and too open to commercial involvement in the system; teachers blame him for sapping what joy they had left in their craft.

This school year, after months and months of meetings the new commissioner presented a draft of the federally required Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) school accountability plan. The first listening/public comment meeting took place Thursday night in the Half Hollows School District on Long Island. About fifty in the massive auditorium, eleven speakers, eight in favor of the plan,  Newsday writes,

Thursday night’s turnout by about 50 educators and parent activists was quiet and mannerly — a marked contrast to the crowds of angry teachers and parents who showed up at state conferences in 2013 to boo Elia’s predecessor, former Commissioner John King Jr.

The Common Core/King induced anger resulted in 200,000 parents opting their kids out of the state tests. Now, a few years later, the massive restart, the ESSA plan, is treated with a yawn.

Read a 60-plus page summary of the ESSA plan here. The first section of the plan creates metrics to measure school performance and moves from NCLB test scores only to the ESSA plan, a combination of test scores, growth and a non-academic metric combined on a dashboard. The second half of the plan describes how progress is defined for schools in the lowest five percent.(Read pages 24 – 26 in the summary for you eduwonks!).

The plan is aspirational, in the perfect world the plan would bring all schools to proficiency; however, as Regents Brown, Young and Johnson have raised again and again, how does the plan deal with equity?  The property tax-based funding formula embedded in state law is grossly inequitable. The ESSA plan acknowledges the inequities; however,  the law does not allow for desegregating metrics. We can’t measure different schools by different metrics.

The non-academic metric the plan chose was chronic absenteeism.

I abjure.

Obviously coming to school is essential. In the fall of 1968, a 40-day strike, later in the school year kids took citywide tests, and the scores dropped. The media asked Albert Shanker for  comment, “Thank goodness.”

Over the last few years studies have tracked the impact of absenteeism: guess what? Kids who are chronically  absent, defined as absent more than 10% of the school year: higher dropout rates, higher “everything negative” rates.

Read articles here and here.

Yes, attending school regularly is crucial; however, punishing schools for high absentee rates is akin to punishing people because they’re poor.

Ed Week writes,

… as states put a largely untested policy idea into practice on such a large scale, implementation is everything. If states select indicators that can’t be accurately measured or influenced by schools, or if they fail to provide schools with the resources they need to carry out new mandates, the indicator requirement could lead to unintended consequences or pushback from educators, K-12 groups and researchers have warned.

In 2010 in New York City Mayor Bloomberg convened the “Mayor’s Interagency Task Force on Truancy, Chronic Absenteeism and School Engagement,” (Read the detailed description of the Task Force here). I was not a fan of the ex-mayor’s education policies, his interagency approach is an exception. Reducing chronic absenteeism must involve all the social service and health agencies that impact the family.

The Center for New York City Affairs at the New School issued a superb report that is the basis of the Bloomberg interagency approach.

Read a summary of the report here and the full report here.

I urge you to read the report, aptly entitled, “A Better Picture of Poverty: What Chronic Absenteeism and Risk Load Reveal About New York City’s Lowest Income Elementary Schools.”

The report identifies 18 Risk Load factors that impact chronic absenteeism:

Measuring A School’s Total Risk Load

School Factors:

  1. Students eligible for free lunch
  2. School’s with children in temporary housing
  3. Students eligible for welfare benefits from the Human Resources Administration
  4. Students in Special Education
  5. Black and Hispanic students
  6. Principal Turnover
  7. Teacher Turnover
  8. Student Turnover
  9. Suspension Rate
  10. Safety Score on Learning Environment Survey

Neighborhood Factors:

  1. Involvement with Administration for Children’s Services
  2. Poverty Rate
  3. Adult education levels
  4. Professional employment
  5. Adult male unemployment’
  6. Public housing in school catchment area
  7. Homeless shelters in school catchment area

The report contains interviews with school leaders, many who are doing “all the right things” with their schools showing little or no improvement.

Schools in the Interagency Task Force initiative did show a modest improvement in rates of Chronic Absenteeism – reductions from 23% to 19%.

“Punishing” schools for rates of high chronic absenteeism or not lessening the rate without acknowledging poverty risk load is simply unfair and smacks of the NCLB “test and punish” approach.  I am betting that student attrition rates in charter schools include many chronically absent kids.

Small numbers of schools are “beating the odds,” usually led by extraordinary school leaders and staffs, sadly, the successes are too frequently short lived.

The community schools project in New York City, and, hopefully around the state offers hope. Community schools engage with the social and health services in the community and this multi-faceted, multi-agency approach has shown progress.

Let’s hope the final ESSA plan does not condemn schools for “poor geography,” and let’s acknowledge the impact of poverty risk load factors. These are not excuses, these are realities. Currently inequality is embedded in the law and I hope the final plan loudly condemns the governor and the legislature for not acting to correct. Highly effective leadership and teaching coupled with support from the district and the state, of course, are essential elements in any plan.

Ignoring inequality is foolish and destructive.

How Would We Assess Student Progress Without Standardized Tests?

In a recent blog post Diane Ravitch wrote,

After twenty years of trying, we should have learned by now that what matters most is having expert professional teachers and giving them the autonomy to do their job with out interference by the governor or legislature.

and Diane points to Finland as the model,

My favorite model remains Finland, where schools are free of standardized testing, teachers are highly educated, teaching is a high-status profession, and politicians and think tanks don’t have the nerve to tell teachers how to teach.

Without getting into a detailed “back and forth,” OECD data differentiates among nations, some data for Finland and the United States.

* poverty rate: Finland the fourth lowest poverty rate,  the US the 30th highest, we only beat out Israel.

* income inequality: Finland is the least inequitable, we only beat out Mexico.

Comparing high wealth schools with high poverty schools is as meaningless as comparing Finland to the United States. If we want to be compared to Finland we should sharply reduce the poverty and inequality gaps within the United States.

Let’s get back to the question of assessing student performance: if our goal is providing the best education, we have to define what we mean by the “best education.” If teaching a student to be literate and numerate is the “best education” we have to set benchmarks and some method of measuring if students are reaching benchmarks.

We currently use what are called “standardized” tests, meaning all kids in the state take the same tests. The grades 3-8 tests required by federal statutes as are exit exams in high school, in New York State, the Regents Exams.

When New York State precipitously  adopted the Common Core State Standards and Common Core tests proficiency rates on the test moved from 2/3 proficient to 2/3 not proficient; thereby angering parents and creating the opt-out movement.

About 20% of parents opt their kids out of the grades 3 – 8 exams, the opt-outs are concentrated in high wealth school districts (meaning folks pay high property taxes) in the suburbs and high achieving schools in New York City.

Tests are not new, prior to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) we tested kids in grade four and eight, and, New York City has a long history of testing; local school districts gave tests to monitor student progress along with citywide tests. Regents exams have been around since the 1880’s

The difference is tests are now used to assess teacher, principal and school performance, and, the results are accountability based; meaning possible school closing and teacher ratings. The new Every School Succeeds Act (ESSA) may, we’ll find out in a few weeks, include in the plan “growth” as well as “proficiency, and, perhaps an “equity” measure.

If we ditch tests, it is unlikely we can move to the Finland system: a nation with very low childhood poverty and among the lowest income inequality among the (Organization for Economic and Cultural Development) nations.

There are other tools that are currently being used to assess student progress.

A number of school districts in California are utilizing performance tasks developed by SCALE, a Stanford-based program that has developed a bank of performance assessments,

Unlike multiple-choice “bubble” tests, performance assessments require students to construct an original response rather than simply recognize a correct answer. The Performance Assessment Resource Bank includes high-quality tasks that engage students in multiple-step and extended performances, such as researching and developing mathematical models to write an article on the rising cost of college tuition. As tasks become more complex and require greater student direction they assess more complex and integrated aspects of learning and require the planning, problem-solving, and persistence that are necessary for success in the real world. This means that the use of performance assessment can both measure and encourage the development of many of the 21st century skills—critical thinking, inquiry, communication, collaboration—that are essential for success in college, career, and life.

See an example of a 9th grade Social Studies performance task/assessment here.

The New York City-based Performance-Based Assessment Consortium  (PBAC), currently 39 high schools, has been receiving waivers from the NYS commissioner, students utilize portfolio/roundtable assessment procedures in lieu of three regents (They still take the mathematics and English regents exams). The State Department of Education has been granting waivers for a cohort of CPBC schools since the nineties. The current waiver expires at the end of this school year. Check out the PBAC site here.

In the nineties Vermont moved to a statewide attempt to replace standardized with a portfolio system; after a number of years Vermont abandoned the initiative – an external report, authored by Harvard scholar Daniel Koretz and others, found inter-rater reliability was absent.

In 2004 Jay Mathews at Education Next explored a number of authentic assessments of student work alternatives to testing, and had doubts,

Lisa Graham Keegan, chief executive officer of the Washington-based Education Leaders Council, said she thinks portfolios can help teachers assess their students’ progress, but are not a good tool for determining how a school or a district is doing. She remembers a visit to a northern Arizona school where “the writing teacher was showing me a portfolio of a student’s work in which the student was writing about kamikaze pilots during World War II.” Keegan was state school superintendent for Arizona at the time and saw that “the essay was horribly written, with glaring spelling and grammatical errors, and yet had received a score of 23 out of 25 points.

“The teacher was just glowing with what a mature and moving topic the student had chosen without any direction from her. I was less impressed and said so–something along the lines of how I could appreciate that the student had something interesting to say, but my first impression was that he didn’t know how to say it–and wasn’t that the first order task for the teacher?”

Having students display their personal strengths is fine, Keegan said, as long as they still learn to read, write, and do math capably before they graduate. “A collection of student work can be incredibly valuable,” she said, “but it cannot replace an objective and systematic diagnostic program. Hopefully, we will come to a place where we incorporate both.”

Daniel Koretz and others, raise questions about quality control in performance assessments,

 … direct assessments of complex performance do not typically generalize from one task to another and thus require careful sampling of tasks to secure an acceptable degree of score reliability and validity for most uses. These observations suggest the pressing need for greater quality control in the design and execution of performance assessments. If such assessments are to have lasting effects on instruction and learning, then their technical properties must be understood and appreciated by developer and practitioner alike.

A more recent report explores these questions, The Center for Educator Compensation Reform, “Measuring and Promoting Inter-Rater Agreement  of Teacher and Principal :Performance Ratings,” February 2012, is a comprehensive look.

Moving from testing to performance tasks/assessments and portfolios will be challenging; however, now is the time for New York State to begin to move forward.

I suggest a number of pilots,  maybe in high opt-out schools, a few in New York City, others in suburban school districts.

For example, a number of schools in New York City are high achieving, high opt-out schools, perhaps candidates for pilots. On Long Island and a few other suburban districts, high opt-out schools/school districts might be candidates for district pilots.

Pilots must be partnerships with teacher unions and higher education institutions, moving to performance tasks and/or portfolios is a major instructional shift and will require both buy-in and an enormous dose of support. New Hampshire, the major example of a state that is moving towards performance tasks is hugely invested in supporting the folks on the front lines – classrooms teachers. Read an description of the New Hampshire efforts here.

We should not tarry.

There is an absence of leadership at the US Education Department, ironically, a good thing. Previously Washington administrations (Arne Duncan, John King) were intrusive, they attempted to drive their views of education down to the classroom level. The current administration clearly has no interest in teaching and learning, they are concerned with choice, i. e., charters and vouchers.

As soon as the ESSA plan is submitted, September, the state should begin the process of creating pilot schools and school districts, exploring the complexities of moving away from standardized tests to a system of performance tasks and portfolios. We don’t need a state-wide system, at this point let’s begin the process. Down the road we may have a system in which some schools/school districts stay with standardized testing while others move to other assessment systems.

There are times not being first, waiting and seeing how initiatives work out makes sense; other times being out front allows you to set the rules. Vermont and New Hampshire are well along the path, also, far different than New York State. A window has opened, teacher unions and some schools/school districts, are ready to move away  tests, it will be a complex task, very complex:  let’s get started.

Is It Time to Review High School Graduation Requirements? Regents Exams? Computer Science as a Required Course? Authentic Assessments?

The Commissioner and the Board of Regents have been totally focused on writing a new school accountability plan under the provisions of the new Every School Succeeds Act (ESSA).  Hopefully the plan will be more equitable, the plan will identify the Title 1 schools in the lowest five percent as defined by the metrics in the state plan.

Will the plan impact teaching and learning?  Will we be identifying the same schools we would have identified under the prior law, No Child Left Behind?

While I am hopeful that the new plan will be an improvement larger questions emerge: How do we define “college and career ready?” Do our current graduation requirements, courses and assessments, i. e., regents exams, lead to college/career readiness?

David Conley, “Four Keys to College and Career Readiness” is the national expert and has written extensively.

New York State uses a narrow definition: The City University (CUNY) defines college and career readiness as grades of 75 on the Algebra 1 Regents and 80 on the English Regents.  State Ed, under the leadership of acting commissioner Ken Wagner was planning to move to aspirational regents grades: five “levels” of achievement.

Level 5: Exceeds Common Core expectations

Level 4: Meets Common Core expectations

Level 3: Partially meets Common Core expectations … comparable to students who pass current Regents exams with a score of 65

Level 2: (Safety Net) Partially meets Common Core expectations (required for local diploma purposes), expect comparable percentages of students who pass current Regents exams with a score of 55.

Level 1: Does not demonstrate Knowledge and Skills.

These “levels” would be scale scores, the test would undergo psychometric massage to determine the level.

The Commissioner, quietly, backed away from the plan to move from the current  0-100 grading system with 65 passing to aspirational scale score levels.

An underlying issue: courses and assessment exams.

The high school graduation requirements are below:  22 units (44 one-term courses) click on the link for a more detailed explanation.

  1. English, four units of commencement level credit;
  2. social studies, four units of credit … ;
  3. science, three units of credit of commencement level science, at least one course shall be life sciences and at least one in the physical sciences, the third may be either life sciences or physical sciences;
  4. mathematics, three units of credit of mathematics, which shall be at a more advanced level than grade eight, shall meet commencement level learning standards as determined by the commissioner, provided that no more than two credits shall be earned for any Integrated Algebra, Geometry, or Algebra 2 and Trigonometry commencement level mathematics course;
  5. visual arts and/or music, dance, or theatre, one unit of credit; and
  6. health education, one-half unit of credit in accordance with the requirements set forth in section 135.3(c) of this Title. Learning standards in the area of parenting shall be attained through either the health or family and consumer sciences programs or a separate course.

In addition to the courses students must pass exit exams – the Regents Exams.

English

Mathematics (usually Algebra 1)

Science (usually Living Environment)

American History and Government (usually at the end of the Junior year)

Global History and Geography (currently covers two years (9th and 10th grades) of work, in June 2018 the exam will only cover 10th grade work)

Check here for a detailed description and alternative pathways

Let’s ask some essential questions:

* Should we continue to “nibble around edges,” namely, making it incrementally easier to graduate, or, address the essential questions?

Should we adopt a state-wide core curriculum with required readings? The current EngageNY curriculum modules are not required and the state tests are not based on a curriculum, they are based on a set of standards. Should state tests be curriculum and standards based?

Should instruction be grade level regardless of the level of the students?  Some argue that by teaching to the level of the kids we are assuring that kids will never reach grade level or higher?

There are school and grade organizational models that are far more instructionally impactful than others – is it the role of the state to “strongly encourage” evidence-based grade/school organizational/instructional models?

Should coding and computer science be part of  school curriculum and graduation requirements? New York City has announced a Computer Science for All initiative,

Through an unprecedented public-private partnership, by 2025, all NYC public school students will receive meaningful, highquality Computer Science (CS) education at each school level: elementary, middle, and high school. Over the next 10 years, the DOE will train nearly 5,000 teachers who will bring CS education to the City’s ~1.1 million public school students. 

Hunter College made a presentation at the last Regents Meeting asking the State to approve a new teacher certification area: Teacher of Computer Science. – Grades 9 – 12. (Read proposal here).

Over 18 million students have code.org accounts – has New York State adopted code.org? Has/should the state add computer science to the state curriculum? State graduation requirements?

And, the elephant in the room: moving from pencil and paper (or computer screen) examinations to performance task and portfolio/roundtable assessments, aka, authentic assessments. Are alternative assessments evidence-based assessments, or, the “softening” of assessments?

A cluster of New York City high schools have been granted waivers from Regents exams for twenty years, although the number of schools and the conditions of the waivers have changed (see the Performance Based Assessment Consortium here).

The state of Vermont spent years in the nineties trying to create a state-wide portfolio system that was eventually abandoned primarily due to the absence of inter-rater reliability (Check discussions here and here); Vermont is once again making an effort to move to classroom-based authentic assessments, read here.

The California Performance Assessment Consortium (CBAC) has created a bank of assessments and is working with a wide cohort of schools. Watch a live U-Tube of an  in depth discussion of the program here, including benchmarks and student work, the site of excellent!!

I am not advocating for any specific change – I am advocating for an investigation, moving beyond “playing” with graduation/testing requirements and exploring taking a deep dive into the base questions:

* Graduation requirements, are we requiring the “right” courses, and

* Should  the assessments reflect the curriculum as well as the standards, and

* Are authentic assessments, namely performance tasks and portfolios, “reliable” indicators of the quality of student work, and, if so, should we be moving forward with pilots?

Completing the ESSA school accountability plan is a beginning, a baby step, self-reflection is at the heart of effective teaching, and, effective leadership.

If we’re not satisfied with where we are now how we can we make the system better?

“Evening the Playing Field:” Will the ESSA Accountability Plan Acknowledge the Work of Teachers in “Truly Disadvantaged” Schools? Will the plan be “Equitable?”

A teacher: “We love our kids and love to teach in this school, we make a difference in the lives of our kids. Our kids are poor, really poor, some live in shelters, others in foster care, trauma is part of their daily lives. We’re building out our community school, we prepare our kids to learn by feeding them, by searching for contributions of clothes, and, make our classes as rich as possible. I wanted to take my class on a series of trips out of the neighborhood, my principal said wait till after the tests, the future of our school depends on six days of testing, it’s sad that no one cares about the social and emotional needs of our kids, needs that precede the ability to learn. We just want an even playing field.”

In some school districts kids come into school knowing their letter and number facts, in other schools it’s  their first exposure; kids are behind from day 1.

In “The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy (1987)” sociologist William Julius Wilson details how programs across the political spectrum have failed the underclass, he is sharply critical of conservative and liberal policies.

Wilson posits social isolation–a distinction which shifts the problem from the psychological to the socio-economic realm. Instead of blaming poverty and its associated pathologies primarily on the individual, as conservatives do, or on the effects of contemporary racism, as some liberal scholars do, Wilson calls for a “refocused liberal perspective” which emphasizes “the dynamic interplay between ghetto-specific cultural characteristics and social and economic opportunities.”

Thirty years later our society, and especially our schools are even more segregated.

The result is islands of poverty, what Wilson called the “truly disadvantaged,” whose children enter school far behind other children.  The Harvard Education Letter writes,

  • According to a seminal 1995 study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley, 3-year-olds whose parents are professionals have vocabularies that are 50 percent larger than those of children from working-class families, and twice as large as children whose families receive welfare.
  • “We could eliminate at least half, and probably more, of the black-white test score gap at the end of twelfth grade by eliminating the differences that exist before children enter first grade.”
  • In a 2002 study, Valerie E. Lee and David T. Burkam of the University of Michigan found that at kindergarten entry, cognitive scores of children in the highest socioeconomic group were 60 percent higher than those of the lowest group.

From the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act to the 2002 No Child Left Behind Law up to our current iteration, the Every Student Succeeds Act administrations across the political landscape have tried to legislate equity. Previous leadership of education in New York State jumped on Common Core State Standards and testing: the unintended consequence, a massive opt-out movement primarily among middle class white parents.

The current Board of Regents, led by Chancellor Betty Rosa is a newer board. Former superintendents and teachers, a judge, a doctor, an attorney. a parent activist, a range that crosses the spectrum of experience and background.  The board is attempting to create, as required by the ESSA law, a new school accountability system that goes beyond test scores. The new law requires grades 3 – 8 tests in ELA and Math but does not limit the accountability system to test scores.

The process of building a new accountability system has been transparent. Scores of open, facilitated meetings, a think tank made up of stakeholders and hours upon hours of open meetings with national experts Linda-Darling Hammond, Learning Policy Institute and Scott Marion, the Center for Assessment.

Your correspondent has sat through them all.

This past Tuesday a three hour plus session with Darling-Hammond and Marion tele-communicating with the board. It was crunch time, decisions had to be made.

You can check out nine presentations here.

Or, check on the individual power points/reports below:

Status of Development of ESSA Plan

Promoting Diversity – Integration in New York State

Considerations for the New York State Assessment System

Models for State Performance Assessment Systems

Building an Accountability and Assessment system Under ESSA

Putting It All Together – Annual Differentiation Under ESSA

I know parents and teachers ask: why do we need state tests? The answer is simple: the law requires that each state include state tests in any school accountability system and the system must identify the bottom 5% of Title 1 schools.

If you’re going to go beyond test scores what would you add?

You can add other indicators: for example, growth, the increase in scores from year to year, you could add counting subgroups differently, you could add chronic absenteeism, maybe other items. Additionally you can weight the indicators: for example ELA and Math scores could count 30% each, growth can count 20%, other items 5% or 10% resulting in a cumulative score.

Think in terms of a dashboard with the indicators across the top and the levels down the vertical column. Do you use satisfactory, unsatisfactory, levels 1 to 4, ineffective, developing, effective highly effective? Do schools receive an overall numerical score? a letter grade? How do you identify the bottom 5% of Title 1 schools?

One of regents members asked if there was a “scientific” method of making these determinations. Scott Marion explained these were subjective decisions, capturing stakeholder values, for weighting indicators is a subjective decision. Marion explained that subjective is not a negative; Marion discussed “credible  defensibility,” making value-based decisions that reflected the experiences of the members..

After extensive discussion the members agreed on a weighted dashboard. The first draft will be released at the May regents meeting, public comments, meetings around the state, submitted to the governor and submission to the feds in September.

Colorado has completed and submitted a dashboard plan that goes beyond test scores: read a description of the plan here.

Hopefully, maybe, the changing of the metrics will “even the playing field” for the “truly disadvantaged.”

The next steps will be to begin to explore alternative assessments, aka authentic assessments. Vermont and New Hampshire involved in pilots; however, the path is long and complex, and to quote Robert Frost,

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

 

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Creating an ESSA Accountability Plan Without Re-Creating Another NCLB

New York State is making every attempt to include whomever wants to be involved in the creation of the Every State Succeeds Act (ESSA) accountability plan. A series of facilitated engagement sessions across the state, an online survey and an all-day retreat of the entire board facilitated by Linda Darling-Hammond, Learning Policy Institute and Scott Marion, Center for Assessment.

Almost seven hours of discussion, a working lunch, with another session next Tuesday after the scheduled regents meeting.

Read a couple of hundred pages of supporting documents here.

Read my live-time tweets from the meeting at #edinthepple

Under the new law, ESSA, each state must construct an accountability plan, which means, within the confines of the law, select indicators, including but not limited to standardized test scores that will identify the lowest 5% of schools.

An overriding question: proficiency (only giving credit for a fixed point, a score) versus growth (progress for last year to this year) – how do combine the two concepts?

The entire board wants to include equity, how do you define and measure equity?

How many indicators do you want to identify? Remember, you must include standardized test scores.

Let’s get deeper into the weeds, should you weight the indicators?  Scott Marion, one of the facilitators gave examples of weighted indicators, the many paths all lead to identifying the bottom 5% in the state.

A number of the regents were getting edgy, Regent Johnson asked: Are we recreating NCLB?

The regents questions increased:

How do you account for schools/districts that have substantially differing access to supports due to lack of dollars and geographic constraints?  How do you “compare” schools with large percentages of ELL and Special Education with schools with much smaller percentages? Poverty really, really matters: how do we account for poverty in a plan? Should you reward schools with large percentages of kids who graduate with higher level diplomas?  If so, are we rewarding parental income and education rather than school achievement?

When the dust settles we’re going to have the same number of  lowest performing schools: will we be identifying schools with the same characteristics?  Schools in the highest poverty zip codes in the state?.

(Take a look at Center for NYC Affairs A Better Picture of Poverty report).

Once we identify the schools, how do we report the results?  letter grades? number grades? other options? That “scarlet letter” problem: shame and punish or identify, assist and improve?

The identified lowest 5% schools must use “evidence-based” solutions, the term “evidence-based” is defined in detail in the law. Should the state have an “approved list” of interventions?  Should schools pick off the approved list or have discretion as long as they are evidence-based?

As we discussed the issue of interventions the state staffer leading the discussion seemed to be recreating the same state interventions we are currently utilizing. Basically the state sends a outside contracted assessor into a school with a checklist, using a state rubric.

A SED staffer asked:

Should teachers new to 5% schools have to be rated “effective” or “highly effective” in their previous schools?  The problem is staff retention, “effective” and “highly effective” teachers tend to leave and move to more successful schools and the 5% schools are staffed with newer teachers. There was no discussion of teacher retention and the high teacher turnover rate in the lowest ranked schools.

Should principals have had successful experience in leading similar schools? Should they receive special training? Sounds like the state might want to move towards a Principal’s Academy approach, not successful in New York City.

To what extent should the state interventions be proscribed (top-down) or created and owned by the school? Top-down approaches only work with school district leadership that is skilled, in most places authoritarian leadership is resented in the trenches.

How do you differentiate between schools in NYC, the “big four” (Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo and Yonkers), small. rural schools/districts?

The ominous sword hanging over the process is not ESSA, its the New York State Receivership Law. For schools that continue to stumble, by which I mean fail to get off the 5% list, or, get off and fall back on the school faces closing, combining with another school or receivership.  In 2015 the governor aggressively pushed the concept.  I wrote about receivership: click to read:  “Cuomo. ‘Fifty Shades of Gray’ and Receivership: Whipping School Communities Does Not Create More Effective Schools, Working Together Really Does Work,” and “Receivership: A Magic Bullet for Struggling Schools or Another Chimera: Castor Oil or Ambrosia.”

To be clear, there was no mention of receivership at the plenary session, in the small group meeting a State Education staffer responding to the dilemma of “on, off and on” the 5% list indicated the next step was receivership.

At the end of the day the commissioner mentioned the section of the law that allows for up to seven states to apply for pilot status, to create assessment tools other than standardized tests. The feds have not issued an application, and may not; however, the commissioner and the regents expressed considerable interest. In the hundreds of pages of materials one was a brief description of alternative assessments (Take a look here)

Back on Tuesday afternoon for the continuation of the discussion, a draft plan at the May board meeting, public comments, approval by governor, August submission to the feds.

Kudos to the commissioner, the chancellor and the board members active participation along a winding and complex path. To quote the president, “This is complicated.”