Tag Archives: NAEP

“Breaking the Rules,” Can School Districts and Teacher Unions Collaborate to Encourage Innovative Educational Practices at the School Level?

Education is rules-driven: state laws and regulations, school district policies and school level compliance monitoring; “faux-innovation” is implementing an innovation mandated from the aeries of leadership, lockstep “innovation” is the goal of school systems.

Over the decades schools “innovated,” quietly, in the teacher rooms of schools. I worked in a large urban high school, over 200 teachers. The Social Studies Assistant Principal left and we asked the principal to allow us to “elect” a teacher to lead the department. He smiled, “We’ll try it,” we wrote bylaws, we elected a steering committee; we set up an alternative to formal supervisory observations (Teacher A observed B who observed C who observed A within a week). Teachers observed each other, met, asked pre-agreed upon questions; the notes of the meeting were in lieu of a formal observation. A couple of years later the supervisory union (CSA) complained, the principal left, our innovation disappeared.

The New York City teacher union (UFT) negotiated a school-based option clause in the 90’s,

A School-Based Option (SBO) allows staff at a school the ability to collaboratively modify contractual articles or to create positions not automatically allowed under the contract.

The UFT and the Board of Education agreed upon a new teacher transfer plan to replace the seniority plan, applicants were interviewed at the school level by a teacher committee, schools had to opt in with a 55% vote of the staff.

The election of Bloomberg and the coming of a mayoral control bureaucracy ended collaborative practices.

The Bloomberg administration negotiated away the school-based option; seniority transfers were replaced by an “open market,” any teachers could transfer only needing the approval of the receiving school.

Bloomberg increasingly attempted to marginalize the union and erode contractual protections.

The system was rigid, some innovative practices, the vast number of schools were part of the lockstep, top-down system.

In the 2014, the first contract after Bloomberg, the UFT and the Department negotiated an expansion of school-based options, called PROSE, Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence.

 … at the heart of this program are predicated on the UFT’s core belief that the solutions for schools are to be found within school communities, in the expertise of those who practice our profession.

… where teachers want to take on the work of transforming their school communities, PROSE offers the ability to alter some of the most basic parameters by which our schools function — including the way teachers are hired, evaluated and supported; the way students and teachers are programmed; the handling of grievances; and certain city and state regulations

Today 175 schools are part of the PROSE project. The PR”OSE application requires the approval of the school leader, the UFT building rep and 65% of the faculty. The “redesigns” move from structural changes in time schedules to use of the budget, time schedules and the teacher evaluations.

The Department of Education website glowingly describes the program. PROSE is moving ahead, a cohort of PROSE schools will be allowed to make changes without the requirement to seek approval from the Department and the Union.

The Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence (PROSE) program was established as part of the contract between the UFT, CSA and the DOE. The PROSE program enables schools who have a demonstrated record of effective school leadership, collaboration, and trust to implement innovative practices outside of existing rules. 

Administrators and teachers in 174 PROSE schools collaboratively engage in reflective conversations that surface changes and improvements to existing practices and systems with the goal of increasing student achievement and teacher effectiveness. PROSE enables collaborative schools to engage in an application and voting process to modify certain existing regulations and work rules for a period of five years.

Ultimately, the goal of PROSE is to improve teacher practice and student learning outcomes and drive innovation across the community of PROSE schools by supporting schools with a history of collaborative practices. PROSE schools also seek to develop a culture of reflection and continuous improvement at every level, in order to create structures that encourage the sharing of lessons learned and promising practices across the school system.

The next level of the program is Option PROSE – supervisory observation will part of a Structured Review Process, the teacher and the supervisory observer agreeing upon the specific skills and jointly discussing and assessing teacher practice.

Ten percent of schools in New York City are part of the PROSE process. On Tuesday I attended a celebration of PROSE and the rollout of the next generation of PROSE Plus schools.

Panels of school leaders, teacher union leaders and teachers describing how PROSE is embedded in their schools. Schools driven by collaboration: between school leadership and the staff, collaboration among staff members, collaboration between the school and the school community. What impressed me the most was the passion; these are not schools with all newer teachers. Teachers moved from traditional schools to PROSE schools, teachers seeking climates of collaboration. On the panel it was hard to distinguish school leaders from teachers.

The innovations range from high schools that moved from semesters to trimesters with the third trimester to makeup failed classes or take elective classes, to increasing the length of the school day on four days so that the staff can have extended planning time and student conferences on the fifth day, to budgetary changes to create small group instruction in intensive modules.

Some of the innovations will improve outcomes, other not. A core value of PROSE of freeing schools from the lockstep practices that drive the vast percentage of schools. PROSE says we respect your professionalism and understand there are no magic bullets; the “answers” are in schools and classrooms.

PROSE is not for every school. In fact most schools function within a traditional model.

In the traditional model schools can’t learn from research and redesign their instructional to reflect new research.

New York City’s recently released NAEP scores  were flat, basically unchanged from the scores in 2017 and the racial and ethnic achievement gaps remain distressingly large.

The Farina/Carranza leadership in New York City hasn’t made any impact.

Reflective educators, school leaders and teachers, seek instructional and organizational structures that will lead to positive academic outcomes. The vast majority of schools function within massive bureaucracies; decisions are made far, far away from schools and the implementation becomes a compliance issue.

Intriguing research by Bellweather Associates might very well be attractive to schools; however, with the exception of PROSE schools, the default model, the model proscribed by the chancellor is the mode of instruction. In the lowest achieving schools off-the-shelf tests (NWEA ) will be given three times a year with rapid proscriptive results. The proscriptions are not a surprise to teachers.

The Bellweather findings,

There are no magic solutions in education, … students who are below grade level will see accelerated progress if they:

 Are in an environment that fosters engagement and agency. This includes building a growth mindset, supporting student goal-setting, creating opportunities for choice, facilitating ownership and using culturally relevant content.

 Have a caring relationship with their teacher, with frequent 1:1 and small-group learning opportunities.Students, particularly those whom the system has historically failed, need to feel psychologically safe and supported to take academic risks. …  both peer and adult relationships play a large role in students’ success and willingness to take on challenges.

 Have consistent access to grade-level work.Most practitioners and researchers … agree that grade-level materials, and supports that enable students to engage with those materials, should be the backbone of instruction, and that personalized learning opportunities and remedial supports should not replace grade-level instruction.

 See the coherence across materials and learning experiences.Students learning across core, supplemental and interventional (including digital) materials should experience clear connections … to transfer this learning back to grade-level standards. This coherence would not just span one grade level but work across grades so learning experiences build over time.

Schools should have the opportunity to avail themselves of current research and create models that mirror research findings

Over the years I’ve been in hundreds of schools, in some, chaos ruled, in others teachers discussing individual students with colleagues, in some an exciting buzz, in others a depressing sloth. PROSE offers a path to models in which school leaders and teacher leaders can control the destiny of their schools and classrooms. There is no magic; we make changes kid by kid, classroom by classroom, and school by school.

Spending a few hours with excited school and teacher leaders, excited about how they were impacting students was exciting to everyone in the room.

And, the PROSE water bottle was a nice gift.

The Assessment Wars: Is a Grassroots Revolution Bubbling Up Across the Nation Opposing Punitive Annual Testing?

The education community has been fighting the Reading Wars for decades, and, continues, unabated.

“Why Johnnie Can’t Read” became a national best seller in the 50’s and the battle simmered for decades. For some “whole language instruction” was a political attempt to capture the minds of our children, for others, namely, ED Hirsch, phonics was the path to effective reading instruction.  “Why Johnnie Can’t Read” even became a popular song.

 They’re back. Or maybe the “reading wars” never really went away. For decades, political skirmishes have raged between supporters of phonics instruction and proponents of language.

 Recently the skirmishes have boiled over into battles

The Assessment Wars are not far behind.

20% of parents in New York State have opted their children out of state tests, the  Long Island Opt Out Facebook page  has 25,000 members who are active in local politics, endorsing candidates and working in campaigns, they are a political force.

Is testing of children “new”?

We’re tested children for decades; in New York State children in the 4th and 8th grades were tested annually, additionally there were city and school district tests. The Regents Examinations, required for a diploma in New York State have been around for over 100 years

No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the bipartisan law widely heralded in 2002 required testing of all children in grades 3-8 in ELA and Math, and, states had to establish Adequate Yearly Progress. The goal of the law was that by setting AYP goals states would incrementally more forward with all children being at grade level of 2014. The law seemed like NPR Garrison’s Keller’s mythical town of Lake Woebegone where all children are above average. If schools failed to meet goals, higher test scores, the law required interventions, i. e., schools closings, re-staffing, conversion to charter, and the punitive section of the law.

The successor law, the Every School Succeeds Act (ESSA) continues annual testing; the law does change the school measurement metric from proficiency to a combination of growth plus proficiency. Major civil rights organizations strongly supported annual testing. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights , an umbrella advocacy organization, that was led by Wade Henderson  insisted on continuing annual testing.

“I don’t think you can dismiss the role that assessments play in holding educators and states overall responsible for the quality of education provided,” said Wade Henderson, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, an umbrella group of civil rights advocates that includes the NAACP and the National Urban League. States and school districts that don’t want to deal with the daunting task of improving the achievement of poor students complain about testing as a way of shirking accountability, Henderson said. “This is a political debate, and opponents will use cracks in the facade as a basis for driving a truck through it,” he said.

 In spite of efforts by unions and other advocates to test every third year and other compromises the law continued annual testing.

Has annual testing improved student outcomes?

The answer is a resounding “no.”

With a roll of drums the Obama administration rolled out the Common Core standards followed by Common Core based testing, the result: student scores declined, and, failed to recover.

The National Assessment of Student Progress (NAEP), called the nation’s report card, compares educational progress by state and large urban districts. Over the last few years New York State is moving in the wrong direction,; scores flat or actually regressing.

How do we assess student learning:  the collision of teaching and learning, that point at which the light bulb goes on, that magical moment in which a student “learns?”  Mike Petrilli at the Fordham Institution sees more research needed to uncover the “secret sauce.” For others the “solution” was the stick, use test scores to assess teacher effectiveness, use Value-Added Measurements, and reward and punish teachers. VAM has been trashed by leading statisticians; reformers ignored the criticism.

The reformers who led the VAM crusade ignored the “Cuban-Tyack Principle.”, unless teachers and parents embrace the innovation, the reform, it is doomed.

David Steiner challenges a basic premise, Common Core is not an “answer,” the answer should be curriculum; we should test what we actually teach.

Are there alternatives to the current testing regimen?

New Hampshire and a number of school districts are using performance tasks, Louisiana has an approved federal waiver to use periodic tests instead of end year testing, forty schools in New York State use portfolios in lieu of Regents Exams,

Can testing be useful?

Testing to inform teachers, to inform instruction is used every day, that Friday spelling tests, the math problems; Mike Schmoker in Focus  suggests multiple tests for understanding in every lesson.

Statewide testing has nothing to do with individual students, the purpose is to assess school/school district or state “progress,” or lack thereof. It is also used to shame and stigmatize, and, has created a growing opposition among parents.

The opt outs are now a national political movement. In the recent election teachers and parents played a major role. The “blue wave” included massive numbers of teachers, both in service and retired teachers; not only at the polls but in the trenches, ringing door bells, manning phone banks oft times side by side with active parents.

All politics is local, and, the revolt against testing is bubbling up across the nation. In New York State progressives rolled to victory first in the September democratic primary and in the November general election. While education has been on a political back burner the new crop of progressive electeds might very well be at the heart of a growing anti-testing revolt.

As Jefferson wrote 1787, “I hold that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”

New York State Graduation Rates: Are We Sacrificing Student Achievement to Increase Graduation Rates?

A couple of years ago I was invited to a meeting of math teachers in a high school a few days after the Common Core Algebra 1 Regents exam. The teachers had graded the exam and constructed an error matrix, the most common incorrect answers. The teachers were examining their lesson plans and discussing how they could change their lesson plans to address the student errors. They were taking ownership of their practice. Too often parents, supervisors and teachers blame the exam or blame the students: the test was “bad,” the kids didn’t pay attention or study hard enough.

Rising graduation rates, like a rising stock market makes everybody happy, at least for a few moments.

Last week, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) released high school graduation rates for the 2012 cohort, students who entered 9th grade in 2012. The overall graduation rate increased to 79.4 percent, up 1.3 percentage points from 78.1 percent for the 2011 cohort. The 2012 cohort graduation rate is more than 12 percentage points higher than it was a decade earlier, when the 2002 cohort graduation rate was 67.2 percent.

State Ed has been nibbling away at graduation requirements for a decade. About ten years ago the State reduced the Comprehensive English Regents from two days to one – passing rates jumped 20%. The Global Studies Regents which covers work taught during the 9th and 10th will only cover the 10th grade in 2018. Students with disabilities can receive a local diploma with grades of 55, instead of 65 on regents exams, and in some circumstances a grade of 45 (See regulation here)

The State has also created Multiple Pathways in the 4 + 1 plan – students are required to pass four regents and an alternative assessment (See detailed explanation of Multiple Pathways here) instead of five regents exams.

In spite of the new Multiple Pathways parents of students with disabilities continue to strongly criticize the Regents and the State for removing the Regents Competency Test (RCT), a 10th grade level test that was available in lieu of the Regents. A majority of the students in the state graduated through the RCT and received a local diploma. At a forum on Long Island over 200 parents spoke passionately about the inadequacy of the current diploma options,

… on Feb. 7. Roughly 50 parents, teachers and advocates spoke, saying that the state does not offer the necessary testing options to ensure that young people with a variety of learning challenges can graduate from high school on time.

Emotions ran high throughout the evening and peaked when Ava Corbett, 14, of Plainview, took the microphone. She struggled to speak at first, but eventually got her words out.

Ava talked about how, as a special-needs student, her school performance plummeted after she entered high school. She started failing tests, hitting herself and fighting with her mother more often.

Her mother, Jessica, took over and continued the emotional appeal, her voice quivering with rage as she accused the members of the panel of perpetrating a “crime” against a generation of children.

There are no national standards for the type of test required for graduation from high school and the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) gives states even wider authority. Many states require the PARCC or Smarter Balance test, others the SAT or the ACT, others state-designed tests; however, very few states require exit exams. The feds require tests in English, Math and Science; however, tests are used for accountability purposes, not graduation requirements. (See state by state requirements here). New York State is one of the few states that has tests, the Regents exams, that are used both for accountability and high school graduation; the Regents exams are exit exams.

If you’re interested, check out recent New York State Regents exams:

January, 2017 Global Studies Regents: http://www.nysedregents.org/GlobalHistoryGeography/117/glhg12017-examw.pdf

June, 2016, Comprehensive English Regents:: http://www.nysedregents.org/comprehensiveenglish/616/engl62016-exam.pdf

January 2017, Algebra 1 (Common Core) Regents: http://www.nysedregents.org/algebraone/117/algone12017-exam.pdf

The Regents Examination have a long history in New York State,

The first high school examinations were held in June 1878. About one hundred institutions participated. The five studies examined on that first occasion were algebra, American history, elementary Latin, natural philosophy, and physical geography.

At one time a Regents was offered in “moral philosophy,” maybe we should reinstitute.  In the 1930’s students with the highest average Regents scores received scholarships. In the 1950’s the State offered a separate Regents Scholarship Test to all students in the state. In the 1990’s, after a few years of debate, the Regents began the phaseout of the multiple diplomas. The State offered Regents, Local, Commercial, Vocational and General diplomas. Passing grades on the Regents exams were reduced to 55 and the grade of 65 was slowly phased in. The “backup,” the Regents Competency Test was phased out, the State only offered a Regents diploma. As described above the State has created a safety net for students with disabilities and created alternative pathways.

Do the feds require an exit examination? Can New York State abandon or change the Regents Exam process?

No, the feds do not require an exit exam,  the State has almost total discretion over graduation requirements; however, on the NAEP test New York State falls into the lower percentiles. (41st on the 2015 4th grade math and 34th on 8th grade math), Massachusetts and Minnesota are at the top, nationally. While the graduation rate in New York State has been inching up in NAEP rankings among states New York has remained in the lower half.

While the State has tons of data, “visual data point” and a detailed Power Point of Graduation Rates, the State has failed to take ownership of the results, as the teachers in the school referenced above did.

Who are the students who fail to graduate? and, Why do they fail to graduate?

We know the student by race, ethnicity, gender, geography, by general ed, special education and English language learners, we don’t know why students fail to graduate.

* How many students fail to graduate, or drop out, are chronically absent (absent more than 20% of the time)?  The single unquestioning data point is attendance, students who are excessively absent fail to graduate in staggering numbers. Why are student’s absent?  and, what are schools/school districts doing to get the students in school on a regular basis?  Does the State provide a template for school districts to follow before removing a student from a cohort? (See New York City discharge regulations here)

* How many students pass three or four Regents, not five, and, what exams do they fail? How many of these students are SWDs and ELLs?  How many students fail to graduate because they fail subjects? Once again, who are they? How many dropouts are SIFE? (Students with Interrupted Formal Education)? ELLs entering school in the middle and high school years may not have time to acquire the skills required to pass regents exams.

* How many general education students attend school regularly, pass subjects, and can’t pass five Regents exams?

Based on the data, above, what policies can we institute?

In spite of the fact that New York State is at the top of the nation in per capita student spendin, the disparity among districts also leads the nation. We are a state of “have” and “have-not” districts. Graduation rates parallel funding, clearly we should continue to advocate for ending the funding disparity gap.

The parents at the Long Island forum were  angry, they’re children probably would not graduate. Should we lower Regents pass grades even more for SWDs? and ELLs?  Should we re-create another exam solely for SWDs and ELLs?  Will the result be increasing graduation rates, and, decreasing NAEP scores?

Or, should we follow the path of Massachusetts,

Massachusetts is widely seen as having the best school system in the country: Just 2 percent of its high-schoolers drop out, for example, and its students’ math and reading scores rank No. 1 nationally. It even performs toward the top on international education indices …     If the Bay State were a country, its students would rank ninth in the world in math. It ranks second only to Singapore in eighth-grade science.

[A former commissioner described changes] ‘…pay attention to early childhood education, give principals more freedom and ramp up teacher training … ‘”

The Education Reform Act of 1993 set the path and for twenty-five years Massachusetts has followed the same path. The road was rocky, early in the plan parents boycotted the tests, the curriculum was set at a high level and is taught consistently across the state and tested by a state designed test. The state has pumped considerable funding into the schools through an equitable funding formula that recognizes poverty..

kids should be held accountable to very high standards and we should test to make sure they meet those standards,” David Driscoll, the education commissioner from 1988 to 2007, said in an interview. “This became the basis of the Education Reform Act of 1993.”

That legislation established high academic standards with curriculum guidelines, developed tests to measure whether students were meeting the standards, tied high school graduation to a test and set a higher bar for teachers. Massachusetts also became one of the first states to look at whether the least privileged — minority students, low-income students and special education students — were meeting the grade.

Read a detailed discussion of the Massachusetts Miracle here.

You cannot roll back the clock twenty-five years, the Regents did establish the single Regents diploma however, New York State continued to stumble in the lower half of states. Tests are under attack in the state, from the Opt Out parents as well as some elected officials.

The Regents are faced with a daunting task: should they continue to find alternative pathways, basically satisfying parents and elected and also increasing graduation rates, or, attempt to emulate Massachusetts? Are higher graduation rates a reasonable tradeoff for lower NAEP scores?

Or, can New York State create it’s own path to higher graduation rates and higher academic achievement for all students?