Tag Archives: ESSA

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.”

Should Research Precede Program Creation/Implementation?Is It Too Much to Expect That Education Decisions Are Guided by Evidence?

Two of the foremost education thinkers have written about one of my favorite topics: the eagerness of policy-makers to jump into the frying pan without checking the temperature. The creation of a policy based upon a hope and a philosophical belief rather than evidence. The new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) does require evidence-based approaches to defining accountability. Tom Kane at Harvard and Doug Harris at Tulane argue for evidence, research, at the local level; I couldn’t agree more.

From pharmaceuticals to retail sales, innovators test their ideas before scaling them up. In a new article for Education Next, Thomas Kane of the Harvard Graduate School of Education argues that, similarly, education research must make a fundamental shift toward small-scale, district-level intervention studies in order to support sustained improvement in student achievement.

States should adopt a simple goal: any major initiative involving more than 100 classrooms should be subject to a local pilot test before being rolled out.

Doug Harris expands and suggests that the research take place as close to schools as possible,

… build a new cadre of researchers employed by school districts, state agencies, and local nonprofits. This new army of researchers, with master’s degrees and certificates, would have many of the skills of Ph.D. researchers, especially the ability to design and carry out randomized trials and rigorous quasi-experiments.

*  there would be far more of them

 the in-house researchers would be more connected to practice

 in-house researchers will be able to help education leaders interpret outside research and understand whether the results apply in their contexts.

* in-house researchers would generally be trained by Ph.D. researchers at universities

* by working within the education agencies that actually make decisions, the in-house researchers would also have the relationships to ensure that research is at the table—at strategy meetings with superintendents and school board meetings.

Kane and Harris argue for research at the state and district level; in addition, I argue for action research projects in schools,

[Action Research] is a disciplined process of inquiry conducted by and for those taking the action. The primary reason for engaging in action research is to assist the “actor” in improving and/or refining his or her actions …. action research is always relevant to the participants. Relevance is guaranteed because the focus of each research project is determined by the researchers, who are also the primary consumers of the findings.

For me the key to effective school leadership or effective classroom teaching is taking ownership of your practice. One of the key rules of personal and institutional change is participation reduces resistance. In New York City funds are driven directly to schools, principals, in theory, have wide discretion. Unfortunately it is commonplace for the leader at the top of the policy chain to select what the leader thinks is the best program, and, one size fits all does not always fit. The State maintains a checklist, and struggling schools are “rated” on their compliance to the checklist.

The State visited a middle school in a high poverty high crime neighborhood. The State evaluator asked, “Why don’t you have an after school tutorial program?” The principal explained his kids pick up younger siblings from a nearby elementary school, and wouldn’t stay for the program and kids feel safer walking through the gang turf together. He proudly explained the school had a “lunch and learn” alternative. The teachers tutored the kids, a 3:1 student teacher ratio, during lunch. The teachers were paid, and, the data was excellent,  he had conducted an action research project. The State evaluator had no interest in the data – the alternative wasn’t on the checklist.

Occasionally schools carve out a space within the bureaucracy. Eric Nadelstern created a school for English language learners and working with the staff and the union received a portfolio waiver from the State. The alternative instructional methodology was successful and over the years, with support from external foundations grew into the International Network, fifteen schools in New York City and others beginning across the nation. A seed that grew, based upon research, into a movement.

My former school district was committed to school based decision-making and school-based budgeting. With the support of the district schools crafted a variety of instructional and organizational strategies. I sat in on a number of planning meetings. Some of the schools were totally engaged, they created schools within schools, creative uses of Title 1 dollars, a range of strategies. The only “requirement” from the superintendent was a method of evaluating the effectiveness of the school strategy. Watching teachers grapple with creating an assessment tool is the best kind of professional development.

I worked with a not-for-profit that provided training in school-based action research and a modest grant to pay teachers per session for planning time. The schools explored how to increase parent involvement, comparing “pull out” or “push-in” Title 1 teacher results, exploring whether using Title 1 dollars to extend the school day  is more effective than traditional reading and math Title 1 teachers, etc. Collaboratively creating a research design model, collecting data, assessing, drawing conclusions, making changes in the original model based on their own research.

Guess what?  The “powers that be,” the compliance monitors at Central nixed a number of the programs effectively stifling creativity.

The leaders of education in New York State support integrated special education classroom instead of self-contained classrooms and have been urging/demanding that school leaders move to integrated classrooms. What is the evidence? The State points to national data, principals point to data from within their schools. Why not teach schools/school districts how to design a research model?

Superintendents were superb principals and excellent teachers; however, what worked for the superintendent in their prior professional life may not work for the next generation of school leaders. The “teaching them to fish” allegory also fits into creating school models.

I worked with a superintendent who had conservative views (“order precedes learning”) and also recognized the power and creativity bubbling within school leaders and teachers. He both encouraged and supported school leaders, do what you think is best, my staff will work with you to implement whatever you and your staff design, we’ll figure out an assessment tool. If it’s a bomb, you do it my way!!!

At the April Regents Meeting the members will make significant changes in the teacher preparation regulations. Six years ago former Commissioner John King forced changes to the regulations, four exams, without any data as to the outcomes. Regents Cashin and Rosa asked whether it was possible to pilot the exams, nope, the exams became a reality. Now five years later, enrollment in teacher education programs is sharply down, colleges are beginning to shrink programs, with no evidence that the exams produced more productive teachers.

Here’s a thought: math scores are low, many high schools don’t even offer the intermediate algebra regents, should prospective elementary school teachers take more math courses? Do kids do better in classrooms when the teacher had more college math courses?

Why not identify the potentially impactful questions, create a pilot, and test out the options?

Sweet memories …

ESSA, Martin Luther King and Accountability: Will the New York State Plan Address Fiscal Inequalities?

Learn baby learn, earn baby earn.” Martin Luther King, 1967

Early this morning I donned my winter bike gear and pushed off, a light snow had fallen; it was crisp, really crisp, with the rising sun low in the eastern sky; a glorious morning to greet Martin Luther King’s birthday.

I spent last night listening to MLK speeches; I had never listened to his 1967 speech to the students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia entitled, “What is Your Life’s Blueprint?” Take fifteen minutes and listen to the speech here – it is as relevant today as it was a half century ago.

A year ago we were jubilant, a new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act promised a new era, the end of the notorious “test and punish” No Child Left Behind.” The new law returned to the states the power to set education policy within broad guidelines set by feds.

Tomorrow the Secretary of Education nominee, Betsy DeVos, who has spent her career and political dollars, with considerable success, opening unregulated charter schools in Michigan. Her vision of education is a return to the pre-Brown v Board of Education days, a voucher system that would return to schools segregated by race, class and parental income; a repudiation of the essence of King’s life work. A few days later the inauguration of Trump: dark clouds hover over our nation.

ESSA, our new education law, passed Congress with wide support across party lines, a rare example of truly bipartisan legislation. As the regulations have been promulgated the fifty states have begun to craft their required accountability plans: the essence of the new law. New York State, after a slow start is fully engaged drafting the plan.

A simple question: How will the plan impact the lives of classroom teachers and students?

We currently live in a world driven by annual English and Mathematics tests in grades 3-8 and exit exams in high school. The unintended consequence was to create a narrow, rigid “test and punish” system. For superintendents and principals the goal was “proficiency:” how many students scored in the proficient realm.

School resources were targeted to kids “approaching proficiency” and ignored kids far below or far above proficiency. The Arts, physical education, school counselors, psychologists, nurses, and enrichment programs fell victim to the targeting of resources to a narrow band of students. Race to the Top dangled dollars if states fully implemented the Common Core State Standards and, New York State was the first state to both fully implement the CCSS and move to Common Core tests.  Standards are not a curriculum, they are skills; while curriculum is the responsibility of the school district the State produced Curriculum Modules on their Engage NY site;  modules that were adopted by schools districts around the State. Since the state produced the tests and the modules it would be foolish not to adopt the modules regardless of what you thought of them.

ESSA allows states to decide how to define accountability, and the change can drive education in a different direction: it all depends upon the New York State plan.

The state can decide to move from proficiency, a score on a test, to growth, comparing scores over time.

A few examples: a new principal came into a very low achieving school, the students made impressive progress, no one cared, and the school was still below proficient. What was he doing differently? What organizational and/or instructional changes had taken place?  The school was below proficient; the school district was only interested in high achieving schools. Another school had a steady flow of new immigrants, scores were very low; however, the kids in school a few years were doing quite well, the students were below proficient; that’s all that mattered.

Under a growth accountability system, or a combination of proficiency and growth, both schools would receive recognition for their hard work.

This year the Commissioner and the Regents have had a laser focus on educating themselves, reaching out to all constituencies and collaboratively creating an ESSA accountability plan.

Each meeting of the Board of Regents has been a learning experience – experts from across the nation presenting ideas, warning about pitfalls, describing what other states are doing and making a range of suggestions.

Check out the presentations, high quality Power Points below:

ESSA Law Explained: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/accountability/essa.html

ESSA State Plan Development Activities (10/16): https://www.regents.nysed.gov/common/regents/files/ESSA.pdf

SED High Level Concepts for Draft Plan (10/16): http://www.nysed.gov/news/2016/state-education-department-proposes-high-level-concepts-draft-every-student-succeeds-act

Linda Darling-Hammond Papers on ESSA (4/16): https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/pathways-new-accountability-through-every-student-succeeds-act

Michael Cohen, Achieve, College and Career Readiness, Equity and ESSA (11/16); http://www.regents.nysed.gov/common/regents/files/Full%20Board%20Monday%20PM%20-%20MCohen.pdf

Scott Marion: Opportunities and Challenges in the Design of ESSA Accountability Systems (12/16): https://www.regents.nysed.gov/common/regents/files/FB%20-%20Monday%20ESSA%20Assessment%20and%20Accountability%20for%20RegentsSMarion.pdf

Update on the Development of a State ESSA Accountability Plan (12/16): https://www.regents.nysed.gov/common/regents/files/FB%20Monday%20-%20ESSA%20Commissioner.pdf

Linda-Darling Hammond Presentation at the Jan, 2017 Board of Regents Meeting: https://www.regents.nysed.gov/common/regents/files/FB%20Tuesday%20-%20Building%20an%20Accountability%20System.pdf

All the presenters suggested moving away from proficiency only, to multiple measures, called a dashboard, a range of indicators to both define and measure “success.”  In other words, you have to define accountability before you can measure accountability. Yes, the law requires annual grades 3-8 tests; however, the law does not proscribe or define a test. Some states are exploring performance tasks or portfolios of student work; a complex path: how do you assure inter rater reliability? Should the five regents exams be the only path to a diploma? Should we substitute AP exams? Industry certifications in CTE areas?

Other states are exploring the dashboard concept: in addition to proficiency and growth using attendance, parent and student surveys, as well as other possible questions: Can we “measure” non-cognitive behaviors? Should resilience in post-secondary education impact a school?  Should English language learners in their first few years and some students with disabilities be “measured” differently than all other students?

When the dust clears, the State ESSA plan will define accountability and identify the bottom five percent for intervention. This is NOT Lake Woebegone where all children are above average.

In her slide deck Linda Darling-Hammond reached that moment of truth: describing “Support for Intervention.”

* Teams of expert educators trained to work with struggling schools.

* School pairs and networks for learning.

* Content collaboratives/ subject matter projects

* Trained curriculum coaches.

* Wraparound services including extended learning after school and in the summer.

* School redesign initiatives based on research and best practices.

I don’t want to be discouraging – haven’t we been doing some or all of the above?  Does school and district leadership have the capacity to carry out the supports described, and, a question asked by a number of Board members: equity. Where do schools and school districts get the funds to carry out the interventions?  Vice Chancellor Brown asked if the issue of equity can be included in an ESSA plan. Linda Darling-Hammond gave a hesitant “yes.”

Should plans acknowledge that kids don’t start from the same place and by continuing a pattern of extreme inequality in funding aren’t we exacerbating inequality and undermining any plan?

Fifty years after the MLK speech referenced above we are still asking kids to compete on unequal grounds.

High potential; however, a long complex path; can the Commissioner require schools and teachers, who have the ultimate responsibility to enact the new law,  to move forward without an even funding playing field?