Tuesday, August 8, 2017

AV#165 - The privilege of being a teacher


To care – the chief reason we will not be made redundant by artificial intelligence

“I have noticed that is the biggest motivator for kids. If the kids perceive that the teacher genuinely cares about each of them as individuals that's huge. That carries more weight in the classroom than any teaching technique. Establishing a sense of family and community in the classroom."
Joseph Ruhle, 38-year high school teacher (see Addendum A)


As principals, teachers, and staff begin the new school year, a word. 

One word.  The key difference.

Too obvious. A given. Perhaps trite.  But, in the end, we will walk into the school building the next 175 mornings because we … care.

That’s it.

We care about the lives and well-being and education and character of the young people we will be with each day for the next 9-10 months.

It is inaccurate to say we spend the summers “recharging our batteries.”  A good answer for man as machine, but that is not who we are. We are in the business of caring, intensely, about young people … who need strong teaching, support, and kindness.  Our business is a matter of the heart. 

No wonder we reach the final days of school each spring needing to renew our spirit.  More than a few of us crawl across the finish line.  So yes, summer is a blessing: time to restore our soul.  A chance to make sure we will return to the classroom another year with the depth of commitment we know is necessary to do this job well.

The new 28 kids in our elementary class this first week, or the new 125 in our five classes in middle or high school, deserve our best, and so we hope our heart is full – and we are ready now to care about each of them to the best of our ability.

Which is why this is a great profession. 

And why all the talk of artificial intelligence replacing millions of jobs during the next twenty years should not scare off the young men and women who wish to teach.                       

Yes, many imagine education undergoing a dramatic transformation, thanks to the impersonal touch of the computer.  (See The Economist, July 22—right. Addendum B includes excerpts from the cover story, “Machine Learning.”  Subtitle: “Education technology is changing what happens when a child goes to school.”)

There will benefits, to be sure.  But how much is changing?  When our essential purpose is to care, no—teachers will not be out-sourced to machines.       
  
I am not sure anyone told me, in 1975, early in my 18-years of teaching, that it was the most important attribute. I knew it was essential to know my content, communicate clearly, show enthusiasm for the subject, and handle behavior and discipline issues well.  But in looking back, nothing was more important.  Care.

I’ve had many other jobs, but none harder.  None asked me to give as much of myself, to try, daily, hourly, moment by moment, to be a good person.    

Which, again, is why this is a great profession: it does test our character. We know where we are impatient or insensitive, or too proud to admit where we have fallen short—and the kids see it, and base their relationship with us on how we handle ourselves.  They see how we manage disruption, disrespect, teasing; how we snapped, or not; how we treated the student who returned after an illness or a death in the family--or who returned after being sent to the principal or dean, or after a suspension.

They see if we meet with students before and after school, or over lunch.  They sense if the one-on-one conversations are sincere. They like praise, but above all they hope we are fair and kind.  Which can be incredibly hard, when their behavior is more than just “off task.”  The moments when my temper got the better of me had consequences—when I did not pass the test of character. They haunt my dreams.

Their mistakes, and our failures, remind us “what fools these mortals be.”  We strive for a sense of proportion that lets us laugh—at ourselves and each other, that allows us to be of good cheer.  Which is impossible if we see ourselves as burdened, sacrificing our happiness for the good of others.  

Let’s remind ourselves, then, to be grateful for this challenge, this opportunity.  Grateful we can see the faces, moods, hopes, and confusion of boys and girls, teenagers, young adults, trying to make sense of life, of who they are.  Grateful we are asked to play this vital role—to help them on their journey.

It is not that we are better people – good grief, not my point – not at all.  No, what is great—inspiring really—is that we hold a job that sets the bar so high.  We spend most of our working day with many fragile human beings, and it our task to build good relationships with them for this week, this month, … throughout the year.  We fear the student who recalls his or her year with us as painful, uneasy, feeling we had it out for them…. Another bad memory.

No wonder I loved reading Do No Harm by Dr. Henry Marsh, his look back at over thirty-years as a brain surgeon.  Teachers can see themselves in his reflections, someone ready “to admit my fallibility,” to acknowledge “mistakes and ‘complications.’”  And yet deeply proud of his chosen profession.  He writes:

“The book is also the story of an all-encompassing love-affair, and an explanation
of why it is such a privilege—although a very painful one—to be a neurosurgeon.”

Yes, it is privilege to be in a profession that asks so much of us.

The school year begins.  We take a deep breath.  We will fail time and again to be the person we want to be, every day, for 175 days, but we are glad for the challenge—to be asked to care as much as we can, for as many kids as we can….

And then to wake up and do it again tomorrow, and tomorrow, until the final bell rings in late May.

**

Nothing original here.  For over a year I have been gathering quotes that make this same quality in teachers here in Colorado and beyond (see Addendum A).  It is what we all know, or—lest we forget—what we need to remember.  Our chief task: to care.



Addendum A – CARE
Quotes, excerpts, studies

“Meet The 5 New Inductees of The National Teachers Hall of Fame”
National Public Radio, July 25, 2017                              
Joseph Ruhle is a high school biology and genetics teacher at Jefferson High School in Lafayette, Indiana. Total years in the classroom – 38.

After one of the five new inductees stressed the importance of caring, another—Joseph Ruhle— added.

“I have noticed that is the biggest motivator for kids. If the kids perceive that the teacher genuinely cares about each of them as individuals that's huge. That carries more weight in the classroom than any teaching technique. Establishing a sense of family and community in the classroom."


**

Principal James Chamberlin, Fraser Valley Elementary School, East Grand School District

What’s the best advice you ever received?
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” 


**

“New Principal Standards Catch On” - Support and Care for Students

A look at the new standards being approved by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparedness (CAEP).

"There's a lot in the new standards that the preparation programs have not emphasized in the past," said Joseph Murphy, the associate dean of the college of education at Vanderbilt University, who worked on the original Interstate School Leadership Licensure Consortium, or ISLLC, standards in 1996 and was part of the committee that worked on the 2015 revision.

"We, as a profession, haven't really paid the kind of attention to children that we probably should," he continued. "What we have learned over the last 15 or 20 years is that setting up a school so that children and young people are deeply cared for is critical. ... We have been light on the care side in preparation programs, and the research tells us that we have to be much more aggressive in helping people to understand how to do that."

**

Jane Shirley - Vice President, Catapult Leadership – What school leaders must do

Of her organization’s support for school leadership. “With all the quest for accountability and numbers, school leaders need to ensure that our schools demonstrate above all – that we care and that our students are more than data points.  We must keep asking how we’re meeting the needs of our students emotionally as well as academically.”

At a session in the Education Policy Networking Series put on by the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado at Denver, May 12, 2016.

**

Lone Star High School - Otis, Colorado
“The seniors say there are some distinct advantages to a small, isolated school where teachers really get to know each student. Parker says some schools don't care if you hand in your homework. They’ll just give you a zero.
“The teachers at Lone Star though are going to get on you if you don’t have your homework, she says, asking ‘why didn’t you do it, how can we help you understand this so you do it? What can we do to help you?’”
“In sum, says Zach Hamar, the teachers ‘care so much, it’s ridiculous.’”

**

Arnaud Garcia - a French teacher at Loveland High School in the Thompson School District

How do you get to know your students and build relationships with them? What questions do you ask or what actions do you take?
I think building relationships is primordial in our job. I have a great sense of pride when students staying in my class, even if they don’t need it to graduate. You see them grow as a student and a person, and it is one of my favorite parts of the job. I don’t have to know everything about their life, but they have to know that I care about them. We have an activity: the star of the week, where we learn about one student’s life. It is a great way to learn that one of your student is an artist or has a secret talent.


**

Bill Cary - a teacher in horticulture program at Pickens Technical College, retires after 25 years

Talk to former students and one thing becomes abundantly clear about the man who was just awarded a lifetime achievement award from the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado:  Cary’s love for plants is only matched by his love for his students.
“It’s who he is. He’s very caring, he’s very warm,” said Shelby Kowalenko, a former student and owner of Colorado Land Escapes in Aurora. “It’s almost like you don’t want to let him down because he’s putting so much into you. You wnt to succeed.”

Aurora Sentinel, “After 25 years of inspiring love of plants, Aurora teacher hangs up his shears,” http://newsvader.com/id/17254632988, June 7, 2017.

**

What I Learned From Listening to 100 Oakland Students

   Charles Cole II asked 100 students: “If you could address any issue regarding education, school, and your community, what would it be?”
   “Every group we spent time with,” he writes, “was incredibly thoughtful during these conversations. Here are the top three answers we got.  I am sharing this with the hope that educators, community activists, parents and the like take heed.”

#1 - TEACH ME LIFE-RELEVANT SKILLS

#2 -  QUALITY TEACHERS WHO CARE ABOUT ME
This one came up with a lot of passion. Students were quite vocal on this point. They each could point to one or two teachers they felt were “different”—who really connected to them. But for the most part, they highlighted that they did not feel cared for. I pressed them for examples.
One student said: “It feels like my teachers don’t wanna be here. And I’m like, if you don’t wanna be here, what makes you think I wanna be here?”
Another student: “My teachers know nothing about me. Nothing! Like, damn, you want me to do all this work that has nothing to do with me, but you can’t even take the time to find out what I care about or where I come from?” That one got a lot of head nods and verbal agreement….

Education Post, by Charles Cole III, https://educationpost.org/what-i-learned-from-listening-to-100-oakland-students/, June 13, 2017.

**

Gallup Student Poll Finds Engagement in School Dropping by Grade Level

The survey, conducted by Gallup, found that only half of adolescents report feeling engaged in school, and a fifth are actively disengaged. About 10 percent of students are classified as both disengaged and discouraged.
"A tenth of American students are really struggling," Shane Lopez, a senior scientist at Gallup, said during a panel discussion on the survey at the organization's headquarters here last week.
The report suggests that engagement drops as students age because older students feel less cared for by adults and see less value in their own work.


**

“More than a third of teenage girls experience depression, new study says”

   Depression is usually considered an issue parents have to watch out for starting in the turbulent teenage years. The CW channel, full of characters with existential angst about school, friends and young love, tells us so, as do the countless parenting books about the adolescent years in every guidance counselor’s office.
   But what if by that time it’s already too late?
   A large new study out this week contains some alarming data about the state of children’s mental health in the United States, finding that depression in many children appears to start as early as age 11. By the time they hit age 17, the analysis found, 13.6 percent of boys and a staggering 36.1 percent of girls have been or are depressed.
   These numbers are significantly higher than previous estimates. Understanding the risk of depression is critically important because of the close link between depressive episodes and serious issues with school, relationships and suicide. The new numbers show that whatever divergent paths boys and girls take happens even earlier than expected.


**

‘Too Smart to Teach’
On the challenges of teaching today, and yet the need for teachers to remember how important they are to the young people in their care.

   To be sure, educating today's youngsters in our virtual-reality culture is a tough task …. Yet these realities are little different from the interferences of past generations, when the introduction of rock-and-roll, television, radio, and the backyard swimming hole all provided newfangled nirvanas for yesterday's students to explore. Though more complex and technological, today's distractions to academics still share some common ground: Each involves children who are active, friend-conscious, and more interested in having fun than in learning math facts. Times may change, and the kids of today may appear more sophisticated than their 1940s counterparts, but a deeper look reveals that which should be obvious: Today's students need caring and intelligent adults to teach them as much as they ever did.
   To the many naysayers in our profession, I kindly ask a favor: Resign or retire or retrain or do whatever it takes to reignite the idealism that brought you here in the first place. Leave education until you once again believe that anything is possible in the life of a child--drugs, poverty, or emotional bankruptcy notwithstanding. If educators do not see their ability to make a meaningful difference for a student who believes in the inevitability of his own defeat, they are taking up valuable space in front of a classroom--space that can and should be occupied by an optimist who takes the role of teacher seriously and pridefully. 
  
Education Week Teacher, by James Delisle, when he was a professor of education at Kent State University and an enrichment teacher at Orchard Middle School in Solon, Ohio. http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/1995/11/01/03delisl.h07.html, Nov.1, 1995.

**

“Teaching character – Grit is critical in how and why people succeed” –
Review of two books: Paul Tough’s Helping Children Succeed - What Works and Why, and Angela Duckworth’s Grit

Paul Tough is “almost certainly right that character skills are shaped by a child’s social context and modeling rather than by direct instruction. And he’s probably right that helping students feel authentic connections to the adults in their school and what those adults are trying to accomplish is incredibly important. Thinking about schools as social organizations, as James Coleman once did, will likely prove a much better approach to addressing problems of motivation than pursuing solutions that focus on using incentives or information to change outcomes. … [What students] do lack, too often, is a connection with adults who would be disappointed if students didn’t care and strive for better outcomes.


**

From “Musing on My First Months on Ida” - Emma Willard School, Troy, N.Y.*

One of my first efforts was to gather information from every member of the faculty and staff about their Emma experience. The results of those personal interviews tell a compelling story: Ask any member of this community why they stay at Emma and the answer I heard most frequently was, “the girls.” This isn’t always the case in schools. Emma is blessed with diverse group of caring adults who surround each girl with support and care during her entire time at Emma.

From the Interim Head of School, Dr. Susan R. Groesbeck, Emma Willard School, Signature, Spring 2016
(I taught English at the Emma Willard School from 1984-88.)

**

School Climate - "How Are Middle School Climate and Academic Performance Related Across Schools and Over Time?"

Middle schoolers' math and reading performance rose and fell with their belief that their school had a welcoming climate, says a new study by the Regional Educational Lab at WestEd.
Researchers looked at 7th graders' reports of school climate—including feelings of safety and connection, caring relationships with adults, meaningful student participation, and low rates of bullying, drug use, delinquency, and discrimination at school—at 1,000 California middle schools, from 2004-05 through 2010-11. Researchers compared school climate data to students' test performance in reading and math during that time. …  Schools with high overall school climate … had higher average reading and math scores, and student performance was strongly related to changes in the social climate within the same school from year to year.

Education Week, by Sarah D. Sparks, http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2017/02/08/school-climate-1.html, 2/8/17.

**

Europe’s top-performing school system rethinks its approach

The article began noting the recent praise and attention devoted to Finland’s K-12 schools, but then found a different reality:
   Inside the country, however, educators are worried. PISA scores fell in 2009 and 2012 (the next results will be published in December). Data suggest the slide began around the turn of the century. Children of immigrants tend to score worse, but native Finns’ scores have dipped, too. The problem is worst among girls from non-Finnish-speaking households and native boys: one in eight 15-year-old boys cannot read at the level necessary to keep studying.
   A separate problem is that when Finnish children are in school, they are surprisingly glum. About half of 14- and 15-year-olds feel that their teachers do not care about their lives. Finnish pupils are more likely than the average OECD student to say that their classroom environment is bad for learning. Tuomas Kurtilla, the country’s ombudsman for children, says 20-25% of Finnish girls aged 14 and 15 receive school counselling.


**

“Using Student Surveys: Research Findings and Implications for Teaching and Learning” - by Dr. Ron Ferguson, Senior Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Paul Ronevich, Science Teacher, Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy.

What we have learned through recent research on the use of classroom- level student surveys…. (including) how surveys capture key dimensions of classroom life and teaching practices as students experience them.”


                                  The Tripod 7Cs Framework
What Teachers Do (What Students Experience)
SUPPORT
1.       Care about students (Encouragement and Emotional Support)
2.       Captivate students (Learning seems Interesting and Relevant)
3.       Confer with students (Students Sense their Ideas are Respected)
4.       Clarify lessons (Success Seems Feasible)
5.       Consolidate knowledge (Ideas get Connected and Integrated)
PRESS
1.       Challenge students (Press for Effort, Perseverance and Rigor)
2.       Control behavior (Culture of Cooperation and Peer Support)

**

First Person: “I dropped out of school in Denver at 13. Here’s how I ended up back in the classroom helping kids learn.”  (Chalkbeat Colorado)

Every day when I greet the young children walking into the pre-kindergarten classroom at Rocky Mountain Prep, where I’m a teaching assistant, I wonder what my middle school teachers would think if they could see me now.
   My story starts out like so many others, but it has a happy ending. Why? Because a caring teacher at the school saw in me, a young mother with three kids, someone she wanted to help reach her potential.
   So here I am.
   Back then, no one would have guessed I would end up here. It felt like no one at the Denver middle school I attended took education seriously. The teachers who didn’t bother to learn my name didn’t take me seriously. The kids who walked in and out class whenever they wanted sure didn’t.
**
   I guess you could say my dropping out was no big surprise. In a lot of ways, the process started when I was little. In elementary school, I was one of the thousands of Denver kids who didn’t speak much English. But I could never find the help I needed and wanted at my school.
   I just felt lost, like no one there cared about me.
**
   The school I went to in Mexico was much better for me. Reading, writing, math and Spanish classes were hard. But the teachers really cared. They checked in with me one-on-one every day. It was the first time I began to realize that there were adults outside my family who really cared about me. That made a big difference.
**
   (When her daughter) Alisson turned four, I needed to find a school for her. We lived right across the street from an elementary school. But everyone told me it was not a great school. I knew how to look up information about test scores and every school I looked at near our home did not have the best scores, or at least anything close to my expectations.
   I went to my mom crying. We felt stuck. I really wanted my daughter to receive a better education than I had. I wanted a high quality school that would provide the attention and support she would need. A school that would care for her education as much as I did.
   Then in June, someone knocked on my door. It was a teacher from Rocky Mountain Prep charter school. … I sent Alisson to the school and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. It’s nothing like any of the schools I attended.…
(And then Karen was hired.)
 


Addendum B

Excerpts from “Machine Learning.”  Subtitle: “Education technology is changing what happens when a child goes to school.”  The Economist, July 22, 2017.

Information technology has reshaped other sectors; it has had little impact on education. … Now, though, the stasis is finally starting to shift …. “edtech” is increasingly able to interact with students in sophisticated ways. Recent studies show that software which imitates the responsive role of a tutor rather than just cranking out questions and answers can indeed accelerate children’s learning.
**
Research in two fields is shaping the new technology. Artificial intelligence (AI) is letting machines learn about the pupils using them by studying the data produced in the process. And research drawing on psychology, cognitive science and other disciplines is providing practical insight into the “science of learning”.
**
Rapid progress in speech recognition and generation may take such ideas further. Researchers at the ArticuLab at Carnegie Mellon University have used voice-recognition technology to develop Alex, a “virtual peer”, who talks to children in a vernacular that makes them feel more comfortable in class.
**
When pupils at the Ascend School in Oakland arrive for their daily hour and a half of maths, they look up at monitors resembling airport information screens which tell them what and how they will learn today. One child is to work on geometry in a group; another will take algebra questions on his laptop. Three teachers walk around the open space, checking on pupils’ progress. At the end of the session pupils take a short test, which is used by developers at New Classrooms, the charity behind Teach to One, to set children’s schedules for the next day. Wendy Baty, the school’s head of maths, is an enthusiast; she says that pupils receive feedback that “even the best teacher could not provide to all of the class”.
**
At the Yerba Buena AltSchool, in San Francisco, Hugo, 12, explains that he learns more from his peers here than at his old school. Teachers at AltSchool say they save time by not marking or planning lessons. Instead they analyse data on pupils’ portraits and tutor them on individual problems. Hugo says “I feel like the teachers here really know me.”
**
If schools can combine personalisation and rigour it is hard to imagine pupils failing to benefit. Education software is not making teaching obsolete. If anything it is making the craft of teaching more important. That would be good news for the staffroom and the classroom. For as 12-year-old Hugo observes, “too many teachers are just trying to get to the end of the day”.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

AV#164 - K-12 public education in Colorado - Are we making progress? How to measure?


With no ACT, no PARCC, & no proficiency benchmarks in our ESSA plan, is NAEP all we’ve got? 

Mid-summer, and a chance to reflect: Gaining ground? Inching forward?

In several newsletters, I have challenged how districts, the state – heck, the nation – cheer higher graduation rates (#162); how the Colorado Education Initiative claims success in expanding Advanced Placement courses in dozens of high schools (#137, #114, and #95); and how Colorado Succeeds celebrates progress on the READ Act after one full year (#144).  Each time, I am asking a basic question about how we measure success.  In the cases above, it seems I measure progress differently from others. 

A few thoughts here as to whether Colorado has any agreed upon benchmarks to measure progress. I conclude with a brief look at the long-term goals in Colorado’s ESSA State Plan and ask if this newest way to assess our progress is sound.

The Colorado State Board of Education also wonders

Are we banging our head against a brick wall? 

All of us paying attention to public education ask if we see improvement, so I was glad to learn that members of the state school board wonder too.

On June 15, as the state board concluded its recent work reviewing and usually approving of the proposals from schools and districts on year 5 or 6 of the “accountability clock,” board member Steve Durham reflected on the big picture of public education. 

Jason Glass on national achievement gains
The new superintendent in Jefferson County Schools offered a similar assessment, in 2015, after the first-year PARCC results were released.
“Nearly 15 years after the passage of No Child Left Behind, which ushered in this era of testing, big data and public shaming of so-called ‘low performing schools,’ … our national achievement gains have actually slowed and reversed.” http://www.vaildaily.com/opinion/editorials/vail-daily-column-not-much-learned-from-tests/  (Nov, 17, 2015)
“I think if there’s any evidence of progress in the last 50 years, progress - from a measurable perspective in terms of test scores and those obvious things - it has been almost nonexistent – for all the pain and suffering and all of the reforms - Dr. Schroeder (referring to state board chair Angelika Schroeder) and I have disagreed about this, she thinks there is some progress - but no one can characterize it as dramatic improvement.”


As Colorado recently decided to end our participation in the PARCC assessments, we will no longer be able to compare how our K-8 students perform against other states still using PARCC.  Such comparisons had been among the goals behind joining one of the two consortiums, PARCC or SMARTER BALANCED, several years ago—as over 40 states did; with Colorado joining many other states withdrawing from PARCC, only 5 of the original 24 PARCC states will participate in 2017-18.

Our shifts from CSAP to PARCC to what-we-come up-with-next-year means that measuring and comparing student performance over time is, well, a work in progress. The Colorado Department of Education offers assurances that we will be able to compare how our students do—year to year—at least within our state.  According to Chalkbeat Colorado:

“Colorado has already changed math and English testing twice in the past decade, making comparing past results extremely difficult — if not impossible. Officials say it won’t be the case now because this is essentially a contract change. However, more significant test changes may need to be considered after the state’s academic standards revision process is completed in 2018.”  (http://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/co/2017/06/14/colorado-will-no-longer-give-parcc-english-and-math-tests-forging-its-own-path/).


A look back – CSAP and NAEP

Looking back 20 years, when CSAP was introduced, can we see progress? Yes - CSAP/TCAP scores rose; e.g. in 1997, 57% of Colorado’s 4th graders were proficient or advanced in reading; by 2014, the percentage reached 67%.  A closer look at 2005-2014, however–see Addendum A—shows only small gains over those final 10 years.   
    
We can see improvement in individual schools, and certainly in specific districts like DPS (see A Plus Colorado’s: Start with the Facts, 2017 –page 4, “How Has DPS Performance Changed Over Time?” http://apluscolorado.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/DPS-Report-Website-Version.pdf?ref=1725)But as a state … what would we say?  Especially now that PARCC results indicate that throughout the CSAP/TCAP years we set the bar for proficiency—let’s admit it—too low.


Without PARCC to compare with other states, is NAEP how we measure progress?

 “NAEP, a.k.a. ‘the Nation’s Report Card,’ is the only nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in different subject areas. Its two major goals are to measure student achievement and to report change in performance over time. NAEP provides results for the nation as a whole and for the states separately.”
A too-simple response to Steve Durham’s point would be to note the progress for Colorado students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (see box) over 17 years.






NAEP scores for Colorado students - % at or above proficient

1998
2009
2015
1990’s to 2015 - Scores up by
4th grade Reading
33
40
39
6 points
8th grade Reading
30
32
38
8 points

1996
2009
2015

4th grade Math
22
45
43
19 points
8th grade Math
25
40
37
12 points

Gains that, as NAEP likes to say, are “statistically significant.”  In math, up until 2009 anyway, impressive! 

Then again, one looks more closely at NAEP scores over the last decade, especially since 2009, and wonders if Durham’s concern (progress seems “almost nonexistent”) isn’t well-taken:


Colorado NAEP scores – at or above proficient
Gain ’07 to ’15

2007
2009
2011
2013
2015

4th grade Reading
36
40
39
41
39
+3
8th grade Reading
35
32
40
40
38
+3
4th grade Math
41
45
47
50
43
+2
8th grade Math
37
40
43
42
37
-

More disheartening is a look at where we said we would be on NAEP by 2015. In Colorado’s Race to the Top application (2009) to the U.S. Department of Education, we set a series of goals for CSAP and NAEP scores.  Our application envisioned Colorado students performing as well or better on NAEP than Massachusetts students by 2015 - see Addendum B from AV#63 -  Colorado’s RTTT Goal: … How credible …? (July 2010).  Perhaps it was a good idea to use the highest-performing state as our marker, but I described the goals as “illusory,” “impossible,” and “unreachable.”  I recall an unpleasant conversation with a CDE leader back then, who explained that the goals were “aspirational.” 

No need to be a prophet to see we would fall short, as the 2015 results, below, make clear.  True, we did not win that RTTT grant; big bucks from the federal government might have helped.  By 2015 our students averaged 10% points below Massachusetts students on the four tests, and over six years the gap between Colorado and Massachusetts students widened for 4th grade reading and 8th grade math.  On those two assessments, Colorado’s scores declined between 2009 and 2015: from 40 to 39 on 4th grade reading; from 40 to 37 on 8th grade math.


NAEP scores - % at or above proficient

Colorado
Massachusetts
Gap btw/ Mass & CO
2009
Gap btw/ Mass & CO
2015

2007
2009
2011
2013
2015
2015
4th grade Reading
36
40
39
41
39
49
-7
-10
8th grade Reading
35
32
40
40
38
45
-11
 -7
4th grade Math
41
45
47
50
43
54
-12
 -9
8th grade Math
37
40
43
42
37
51
-12
-14

Reality check
RTTT goal for 4th grade reading – climb from 40% proficient in 2009 to 60% proficient. 
Instead, we declined by 1% - 39% proficient.
RTTT goal for 8th grade reading – climb from 32% proficient in 2009 to 52% proficient.
 Instead, 8th grade scores increased by just 6% points to 38% proficient.
RTTT goal for 4th grade math – climb from 45% proficient in 2009 to 65% proficient. 
Instead, we declined by 2% - 43% proficient.
RTTT goal for 8th grade math – climb from 40% proficient in 2009 to 60% proficient. 
Instead, we declined by 3% - 37% proficient.

And let’s not miss the larger point: on NAEP, in 2015, over 55% of Colorado students were NOT proficient on all four assessments.

Is NAEP our sole remaining benchmark to measure progress over time for K-12 schools in Colorado? Back in 1996, I used NAEP and ACT Colorado scores in a report for the Gates Family Foundation to measure progress, 1991-1995.  As we shift from ACT to SAT for high school assessments, and as we wait to see how well 2018 assessments can be used to compare to the CMAS scores of the past three years, is NAEP the best we can do?

Some will say yes, especially as we now see NAEP’s scores, especially in reading, ring true – aligning so well with PARCC results.  A bleaker picture than what CSAP scores had suggested.

NAEP
PARCC
4th grade Reading
39%
41.7%
8th grade Reading
38%
40.9%

Others will disagree, reminding us that only 2,200 Colorado students take the NAEP reading test and another 2,300 the NAEP math test, in fewer than 100 Colorado schools.[i]  So even if NAEP is a useful benchmark, it won’t do for accountability purposes. The tests are taken, according to CDE, by a “representative sample of students at the state level”; still, NAEP results do not give us information on how our students are doing, in our school, our district, and across our state

CDE’s goals – clear, measurable, credible?

In June of 2016 the Colorado Department of Education presented four state-wide goals in its Performance Plan (http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdecomm/cdeperformanceplan). Goal #1 is to expand pre-school services. Fine, but there are no measures of student learning.  Goal #4 (“Graduate ready”) speaks of raising graduation rates over 90% by 2019.  In AV#162 I explained why I do not believe graduation rates tell us anything meaningful about academic achievement (“Higher graduation rates - Fake News”).  Low ACT scores and high remediation rates speak volumes.    

Perhaps Goals #2 and #3 can be measured, even though both are surely “aspirational”:

#2 – “Every student reads at or above grade level by the end of third grade.” 

#3 – “Every student meets or exceeds standards.”

Consider #2.  In its 2016 Performance Plan CDE included the dated information from the 2014 TCAP assessment (3rd grade proficiency - 71.6%) and dated goals (“increase third grade reading proficiency on TCAP … with the goal of nearly 85% proficient by 2018”). It added: “With the new state assessment, the goals will be revised in alignment with our ESSA plan.” 

Revised? How about repeal and replace! Two years of PARCC results tell us (have we really come to grips with this?) that the majority of 3rd graders are not reading at grade-level.

3rd grade reading
PARCC- Met or Exceeded Expectations
2015
38.2%
2016
37.4%

In departing from PARCC, can we still use this baseline data?  I hope so. If we can, will the state now give us (what is not in our ESSA plan—see next section), meaningful goals for 3rd grade reading proficiency?  How about …  say, 40% proficient by 2018? 42% by 2019?  44% by 2020?   

For Goal #3, the state plan presented the 2015 PARCC results, well below the proficiency rates than CSAP/TCAP had been telling us since the late 1990’s. (2016 scores were similar.)

PARCC - % of Colorado students at Benchmark
Grades 3-9
2015
English Language Arts
40%
Math
31%

Again, CDE’s Performance Plan looked ahead to ESSA: “The Department will establish appropriately ambitious and attainable CMASS PARCC goals through the ESSA state plan development, along with the 2016 assessment results.” But do they measure proficiency? No. 

ESSA - Another set of goals

Here are Colorado’s GOALS found in the opening pages of the 150-page application (Section I – pp. 9-11) and detailed in APPENDIX A: Measurements of Interim Progress (pp. 146-147).


Baseline Distribution of Current Year Data
Interim Target Year 2 on Baseline Distribution
Interim Target Year 4 on Baseline Distribution
Long-term Goal on Baseline Distribution
All students
50th Percentile- ELA
50th Percentile- Math
51st Percentile ELA & Math
52nd Percentile
ELA & Math
53rd Percentile
ELA & Math

B.      Graduation Rates

Baseline Current Year Data
Interim Target Year 2
Interim Target Year 4
Long-term Goal
All students
82.5%
85.1%
87.7%
90.3%

C.      English Language Proficiency


Baseline Current Year Data
Interim Target Year 2
Interim Target Year 4
Long-term Goal
All students
12%
13%
14%
15%

What’s this, we ask?  50th percentile in English and Math …? But as we have just seen, recent data tells us only 40% are proficient in English for grades 3-9, less than one-third in math.

In section IV of the ESSA application, under Accountability, we read: “To ensure that student privacy is maintained, Colorado has transitioned to the use of mean scale scores.”  CDE has explained this shift to me—see Addendum C for a more complete explanation found in the full 150-page plan.  It sounds well-intentioned: “This creates accountability for students that are struggling greatly and currently nowhere near meeting benchmark.” Maybe Colorado’s plan is “ambitious” enough and clear enough for the U.S. Department of Education to approve. (Interesting to see a few state plans already facing some tough questions[ii].  Will we be next?)

And yet the benefits of this transition to mean scale scores are not clear to me.  I value the research and analysis of Bellwether Education Partners. Their criticism of Colorado’s ESSA plan (see excerpts in Addendum D) may seem harsh, but I believe this outside perspective deserves a wide reading by Colorado policymakers.  “… the state’s plan does not set long-term goals for students’ early preparation, includes average scale scores rather than a proficiency measure, and does include any goals for college and career readiness.” 

CDE will raise objections to several points made by Bellwether; moreover, I am sure anything written to fulfill federal regulations is bound to be a bit of a mess.  But if it is fair to call “our long-term goals … disconnected from the state’s vision”—as seems true (measuring proficiency on one, using mean scale scores on another), surely we can do better.

My conclusion is that our ESSA plan brings us no closer to clear achievement goals we can understand and rally around and measure ourselves against, year after year. 

State ESSA plans: Just BS, or reform's BFF?  (PODCAST - July 5, 2017)
   This podcast with Chad Aldeman of Bellwether Education Partners offers a fun and informative exchange with Michael J. Petrilli and Alyssa Schwenk of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute on the long-term goals required for ESSA.  Listen to Petrilli mock the “utopian goals” in many state plans: “‘Every subgroup is going to magically be at the same level in 5 or 10 years.’” [NOTE: Colorado’s plan is a perfect example; see the final section in Addendum C and the stated goals for our ELL, Black, and Hispanic students in a few years.]
   Petrilli continues: “… why even pretend that those goals matter? … they [state policymakers] can’t be honest; if everything goes right we will see incremental progress for kids and we will slowly see some slight narrowing of the achievement gaps – that is the best case scenario.  And if you’re a policymaker you just can’t come right out and admit that.”  https://edexcellence.net/commentary/podcasts/state-essa-plans-just-bs-or-reforms-bff?utm_source=Fordham+Updates&utm_campaign=2ddb0a4fe8- _term=0_d9e8246adf-2ddb0a4fe8-70657489&mc_cid=2ddb0a4fe8&mc_eid=c7b7dd90d4

Does it even matter whether we have clear, measurable goals for the state?

Do teachers and individual schools really care about all this?   Probably not.  We can only have an impact on the learning that takes place in our classroom and our building.  It mattered to me as a member of a School Accountability Committee (SAC- 2002-04) to help our school establish meaningful CSAP goals.  As an English teacher, I certainly shared with my classes the CSAP results from the previous year, and I set my own goals for each year’s group.  Where school leaders and teachers feel accountable, goals matter.  But beyond our building, 21-page state performance plans and 150-page documents (and long-winded newsletters) are easy to ignore.

But as one interested in education policy and the big picture, I believe we should establish clear and meaningful goals for Colorado.  All of us who hope we are making a difference would value a reliable benchmark to see if there is progress.  Critical, don’t you agree, if we are to decide whether to “stay the course”? Or if, instead, we have to acknowledge: even we are “inching forward,” it simply is not good enough.

***



Addendum A - Did we see progress during the 15 years using CSAP and TCAP?

Colorado CSAP/TCAP –  2005 - 2014 - % proficient and advanced


2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010
2011
2012
TCAP
2013
TCAP
2014
TCAP
Change between 2005 and 2014
(GOAL for 2014 stated in Colorado’s RTTT application)
READING
66.3%
67.6%
67.2%
67.8%
68.3%
68.4%
67.9%
69.3%
69.5%
68.9%
+2.6% pts
85%













MATH
50.6%
52.4%
53.1%
53.2%
54.5%
54.9%
55.6%
55.8%
56.7%
56.4%
+5.8% pts
85%

From 2008-2013 – “not much change” (2014)
   “Since 2008, scores from the TCAP and its predecessor, CSAP, have gone up and down slightly, adding up to not much change in a state at the forefront of testing and considered a leader in education reform.” Eric Gorski, Yesenia Robles: http://www.denverpost.com/2014/08/14/colorado-students-show-slight-decline-in-state-tcap-results/  

“…the lack of notable academic progress over 10 years…” (2014)
   During a discussion at a Colorado State Board of Education meeting Thursday in Denver, some members said the lack of notable academic progress over 10 years and a large achievement gap between low-income students and more affluent students are disturbing.
   "It's very, very troubling," said Denver board member Elaine Gantz Berman… "What we see is very bleak data here…. Sometimes we inch up, sometimes we inch down ... but we're not making the kind of gains that need to be made if we're going to be competitive….”

4th grade proficiency – increase by 10% points … but then – stagnation or a decline (2014)
   A 2011 analysis of CSAP scores by I-News and Chalkbeat Colorado found that fourth-grade proficient and advanced levels in reading increased by 10 percentage points, from 55 to 65 percent, over the 15-year run of the CSAPs.
But that analysis also found that almost all the reading gains came in the first 10 years of testing, with most districts either stagnating or falling slightly since 2006.


Addendum B: From page 6 of AV#63 – Colorado’s RTTT Goal:  How Credible….?   (July 2010)

(NOT ABLE TO TRANSMIT THIS PAGE HERE - See hard copy of Another View #164.)



Addendum C -  From Colorado ESSA Plan – pages 50-51

Align K–12 and postsecondary education goals
4.1 Accountability System.
  1. Indicators. Describe the measure(s) included in each of the Academic Achievement, Academic Progress, Graduation Rate, Progress in Achieving English Language Proficiency, and School Quality or Student Success indicators and how those measures meet the requirements described in 34 C.F.R. § 200.14(a)-(b) and section 1111(c)(4)(B) of the ESEA.
    • The description for each indicator should include how it is valid, reliable, and comparable across all LEAs in the State, as described in 34 C.F.R. § 200.14(c)….

Indicator
Measure(s)
Description
i.       Academic Achievement
Mean scale score
The mean scale score for each state-required content assessment in 3rd through 11th grades, in English Language Arts, mathematics, and science is included in the Academic Achievement indicator. This includes both traditional assessments and those aligned to the state’s alternate assessment standards for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. To ensure that student privacy is maintained, Colorado has transitioned to the use of mean scale scores. This methodology has several other advantages over percent at benchmark (Polikoff, 2016) including that the performance of all students is reflected in the accountability metrics, not just those students who are close to the proficiency cut-scores. This creates accountability for students that are struggling greatly and currently nowhere near meeting benchmark, as well as for students who are above benchmark that can reach even higher levels. Mean scale scores provide similar performance inferences for school accountability as percent at benchmark. Finally, the percent of students scoring at benchmark will be reported publicly, as long as student data privacy is maintained.
As state assessments are administered to meet federal requirements, they are subjected to the process of peer review by The U.S. Department of Education (USDE). This process ensures that assessments used for state summative reporting are aligned with the state’s academic content standards and are “valid, reliable, and consistent with relevant, nationally recognized professional and technical standards for the purposes for which they are used” (USDE, 2015). Colorado submitted the current battery of state assessments for peer review in 2016 and has received ratings of “substantially meets” for all assessments. Colorado will be working with the consortia and the USDE to provide the additional evidence requested.

Since all public schools in Colorado annually administer the same required state assessments to all students, school-level results should be comparable statewide.
ii.     Academic Progress
Median student growth percentile
The median student growth percentile for each of the CMAS English Language Arts and mathematics assessments in 4th through 9th grades will be included in the Academic Progress indicator. When an aligned system of high school assessments are fully implemented, Colorado plans to report median growth percentiles for high schools as well.
Colorado has been using student growth percentiles calculated using a quantile regression model for many years. This normative metric describes a student’s observed progress in comparison to his or her academic peers. A number of research papers have been published exploring various facets of the student growth percentile model, its underlying calculations, aggregation possibilities, and uses for making school and district accountability inferences (Betebenner, 2009; Castellano, 2011; Dunn & Allen, 2009; Furgol, 2010). Additionally, the model was approved by USDE for use as part of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) growth pilot in 2009, and has been adopted by numerous other states for various accountability and reporting purposes. When used and interpreted appropriately, growth percentiles are a valid measure of student learning and system improvement and demonstrate comparable technical qualities to other measures used for accountability reporting.

Growth calculations are based on the required state assessments; as long as a large and sufficiently representative statewide sample of individuals is included, the student and aggregate results are comparable across all state systems (e.g. schools).

**
More details from Colorado’s ESSA plan and our long-term goals; an excerpt from the Appendix, 

MEASUREMENTS OF INTERIM PROGRESS - page 147, figure 43:


A.      Academic Achievement. English Language Arts and Math


Subgroups
Baseline Distribution of Current Year Data

Interim Target Year 2 on Baseline Distribution
Interim Target Year 4 on Baseline Distribution
Long-term Goal on Baseline Distribution
All students
50th Percentile- ELA
50th Percentile- Math
51st Percentile ELA & Math
52nd Percentile
ELA & Math
53rd Percentile
ELA & Math
Economically disadvantaged students
18th Percentile- ELA
19th Percentile- Math
51st Percentile ELA & Math
52nd Percentile
ELA & Math
53rd Percentile
ELA & Math
Children with disabilities
1st Percentile- ELA
1st Percentile- Math
51st Percentile ELA & Math
52nd Percentile
ELA & Math
53rd Percentile
ELA & Math
English learners
16th Percentile- ELA
19th Percentile- Math
51st Percentile ELA & Math
52nd Percentile
ELA & Math
53rd Percentile
ELA & Math
American Indian or Alaska Native
18th Percentile- ELA
16th Percentile- Math
51st Percentile ELA & Math
52nd Percentile
ELA & Math
53rd Percentile
ELA & Math
Black
19th Percentile- ELA
15th Percentile- Math
51st Percentile ELA & Math
52nd Percentile
ELA & Math
53rd Percentile
ELA & Math
Hispanic
21st Percentile- ELA
20th Percentile- Math
51st Percentile ELA & Math
52nd Percentile
ELA & Math
53rd Percentile
ELA & Math



For Colorado’s ESSA State Plan, go to http://www.cde.state.co.us/fedprograms/essa



Addendum D

An Independent Review of ESSA State Plans, by Bellwether Education Partners* (6/27/2017)
                                                                                (Bold mine)                                                 

From Executive Summary 
This batch of ESSA plans marks another radical shift. As a country, we’re moving away from criterion-referenced accountability systems—where all schools are held to the same, predetermined criteria—to norm-referenced ones, where schools are compared to each other instead of to some external criteria. This change has given states the freedom to adopt more rigorous, and more honest, state standards and assessments, but it has also created a disconnect between the standards for students and the standards for schools. As one peer put it, states are now putting “the engine of a Mercedes in a Ford Taurus body.” That is, states have done the hard work of adopting more rigorous standards and more sophisticated assessments, but they’re only holding schools accountable for their place in relative ranking systems. Those systems ignore information on whether or not students are on track to succeed in college and careers. https://bellwethereducation.org/sites/default/files/Bellwether_ESSAReview_ExecSumm_Final_0.pdf

From Colorado –Project Overview (9 pages)

Under Weaknesses:
Colorado is proposing to shift to an entirely normative approach, where all indicators and the accountability system itself are based on relative performance, not a predefined standard. That approach may not be sufficiently clear to parents, educators, or other stakeholders, and it means the accountability system has no incentives aligned to the state’s professed goal of college and career readiness for all students. The state also lacks coherent goals for its schools, and the ones provided are disconnected from the state’s long-term vision. As a result, the system does not provide schools clear signals about how they need to improve, and it’s particularly problematic for those students who have been historically sidelined as a result of their race, class, and/or life circumstances. (page 1)

Under Plan Components:  Each state’s plan has been rated on a scale of 1 (“This practice should be avoided by other states”) to 5 (“This could be a potential model for other states”).
Goals: Are the state’s vision, goals, and interim targets aligned, ambitious, and attainable? Why or why not?

Bellwether’s report gave Colorado its lowest score on this component, a 1 out of 5.   
Colorado’s long-term goals are disconnected from the state’s vision. The vision lays out the priorities of all students demonstrating readiness for school, third-grade reading proficiency, meeting or exceeding standards throughout their schooling years, and graduating high school ready for college and careers. However, the state’s plan does not set long-term goals for students’ early preparation, includes average scale scores rather than a proficiency measure, and does not include any goals for college and career readiness. The enumerated long-term vision is also disconnected from the state’s system for classifying school performance.

Colorado has not set clear long-term goals or interim targets to reach its vision. Instead, the state has proposed a confusing percentile-based system that intends to raise the statewide performance from the 50th to the 53rd percentile. The goal to increase the average scale score from the 50th to the 53rd percentile statewide in six years is (1) difficult for parents, educators, and the public to understand; (2) does not set strong expectations for all schools and all groups of students to improve; and, (3) may not be ambitious improvement because the plan does not provide any information about the percentage of students meeting grade-level standards at that performance level. Each of these factors goes against best-practice research on goal setting.

As written, Colorado expects children with disabilities, who currently score at the 1st percentile statewide, to score at the 53rd percentile in six years. That would be an impressive gain, but Colorado also expects Asian students, who currently score at the 82nd percentile statewide, to regress backward to the same 53rd percentile within six years.

In contrast, Colorado has set graduation rate goals using objective data on past performance. The state set a goal of increasing its graduation rate to 90.3 percent within a six-year time frame, based on its analysis of what the state has achieved in recent years. But unlike the percentile approach, which is normative, graduation rate gains are based on actual, observed changes over time against a predefined threshold. The state should apply a similar approach to its achievement goals.

Lastly, Colorado’s plan lacks information and specificity about historical English-language proficiency performance, goals, and interim targets. (page 3)
--
Note also Bellwether’s low scores (2 out of 5) for Colorado’s plan for the sections on accountability indicators and academic progress.
 
*More on Bellwether Education Partners is at: https://bellwethereducation.org/.



[i] “Participation Facts: • Nationwide: 137,400 public school fourth- grade students in 7,230 schools participated. • Nationwide: 135,100 public school eighth-grade students in 5,670 schools participated. • Colorado: 2,200 public school fourth- grade students in 98 schools participated. • Colorado: 2,300 public school eighth-grade students in 94 schools participated.” (http://www.cde.state.co.us/assessment/naepsummaryreading4and8
[ii] Letter from U.S. Department of Education of Delaware on its ESSA plan: “Because the proposed long-term goals for academic achievement are not ambitious, DDOE must revise its plan ….” https://www2.ed.gov/admins/lead/account/stateplan17/deprelimdetermltr.pdf
ALSO -
Every Student Succeeds Act Consolidated State Plan - Frequently Asked Questions June 16, 2017 – from U.S. DOE  -
5. If the statute does not define certain terms, such as “ambitious” long-term goals, “substantial” weight of indicators, or “much greater” weight of certain indicators over others, who determines the meaning of those terms? In cases where the statute does not define a specific term, a State has significant discretion to determine how it will define that term. In accordance with the Secretary’s responsibility to review State plans, the Secretary is obligated to make a determination as to whether a State’s proposed definition, on its face, is reasonable. https://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/essa/essastateplansfaqs.pdf