Thursday, July 18, 2013

Moving Day

It's been a great run on Blogger, but the time has come to move on to Wordpress.

You can find my blog, along with all the original content, at:

Monday, July 1, 2013

Pushing The Stone Up The Hill

Last week I attended the Ohio ASCD summer conference in Columbus.  In a session on the new accountability standards, I was again reminded about the huge job ahead for school districts in terms of communicating the coming report card cliff everyone is going to fall off of.

In general, the rule of thumb is that the percentage of students who currently score at the accelerated and advanced range will comprise the percentage of students who score proficient or better on the report card in the 2014-2015 school year.

ODE has created a presentation on the simulated grades under the new report card system.  The link to the State Impact Ohio story from March by Ida Lieszkovszky, along with the accompanying presentation, can be found here

It is important to note that the bad news in the report card simulation just takes into account the changes that are coming with the re-designed report card measures in 2012-13 and the increase in the indicator percentage to 80% proficient or above in 2013-2014.

One can reasonably assume that results will continue to go down for all Districts in the first year of the PARCC assessments.

So, the somewhat rhetorical question is what are you (and me) doing as a District leader to communicate the coming dip to your school board and community members?

While he did have his flaws, former State Superintendent Stan Heffner did do a nice job communicating the issue of low cut score thresholds and the associated inflated sense of achievement relative to performance that the scores gave to communities.  In general, in order to be considered proficient, a student can get less than 50% of the questions correct.  This is the reason why accelerated and advanced scores are projected to be the 'new' proficient.

Dr. Bobby Moore from BFK gaven an enlightening presentation on the reality of the current assessments and the false sense of achievement they give for high performing districts.  Using two anonymous districts with high performance index scores, Dr. Moore demonstrated how increasing expectations has a dramatic effect on the percentage of students who would be considered proficient.  The proficient column in the graphics below illustrate the percentage of students at or above proficient using existing cut scores.  If you were to increase the cut score to be at or above earning 75% of the raw point total on a given test in order to be considered proficient (note: 75% is considered a C most realms), look at what happens to the percentage of students who would be considered proficient or above.

(A special thank you to Dr. Moore for his presentation and personal follow up correspondance for this post.  You can follow him on twitter @BobbyMooreBFK)

Do the parents and community members in these districts have ANY sense of the performance description inflation that currently underpins the accountability measures in the state?  Are communities prepared for the re-norming of performance descriptors and the looming drop in ratings?

What about districts that work, strive, and struggle to improve scores each year, but consistently struggle to move their performance index scores past the mid 90's?  What will that cliff look like?

I don't think you would find anyone who would oppose the re-norming of accountability measures to have them accurately reflect the current level of skills and knowledge for students.  Helping parents understand how the performance levels got to where they are (game playing with NCLB standards) and helping them understand how scores will improve under the new system is vital.

Every school district in Ohio should be out there promoting the coming changes now, and ODE needs to also provide communication tools to help with this massive endeavor.  Districts have played by the rules through the entire NCLB accountability era, and they must be supported in telling the change story now that the metrics to earn a high summative letter grade on the 2014-2015 report card are changing so radically.

(A postscript to this blog post....Christina Hank writes in her blog 'Turn On Your Brain" about the morale busting implications for letting a single measure at a single point in time be the sole definition of teacher and school district quality and argues for broader metrics to define success).

Accountability Is Good (If Done Correctly)

An interesting sendup of value added on the heels of the recent CPD/SIO VA series

A key paragraph from the article:

A thought about using value added in a different way....for each teacher that has value added scores, report the results by the percentage of students that each teacher has in each category (x% greater than 2 SD above the gain line, y% b/w 1 and 2 SD above, z% b/w 0 and 1 SD above, etc.)  Then, for policy purposes, examine the corresponding percentage of students in each band who are considered to come from poverty based on subgroup guidelines.  The current method of assigning a single VA score for teachers does not accurately give credit for those students for whom the measure indicates the teacher caused growth.

Much larger than this is still the issue that VA scores are still derived from one test given at one point in time.  This singular, two hour window can not account for the other 900 hours of instruction that children receive, and all of the intangible value teachers add to students throughout the course of a year.

If the state and federal government are serious about measuring the value that teachers add to students, create a series of quarterly assessments for each subject, each year, and combine that score with a portfolio of student work that is rubric scored and normed against expected work outputs at each grade level.

(An article from The Atlantic that also addresses the issues around the reform movement and accountability)

Singular measures of student growth are the least statistically reliable.  The solution above would be expensive.  But if the bureaucrats and private corporations ever want these measures to be taken seriously, the must be a movement away from tests given at one point in a school year driving the entire accountability structure for teachers and schools.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Summer Investigations

During the rush of the school year I always want to spend time wandering around websites and fully exploring all of the resources that they offer.  As that time never seems to come, I'm committing part of my personal summer learning time to revisiting sites that are well known but offer lots of quality content that just takes time to discover and digest.  My goal is to unearth additional tools and strategies that will align with the school improvement work that is a major component of my job responsibilities.

Some places to hang out this summer:


Battelle For Kids


Teaching Channel

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Conference Roadtrip Musings

I'm a lucky guy to have a really smart co-worker to collaborate with on a daily basis.

In the car on the way to a conference together, several musings that evolved from our conversation on the current state of edu-affairs.

Does it worry anyone that the manner in which the Common Core will be assessed has the potential to derail the intent of the Common Core?

Sharing is the new form of social currency.  Share and share alike needs to be the new ethos for collaborative educators.  More importantly, teachers need to embrace collaborative tools in a fearless manner.  For example, film a 15 minute segment of your classroom (not the planned kind....just 15 random minutes), post it on YouTube for your Professional Learning Network to access (with appropriate permissions), and be open to professional dialogue and feedback. (This brings up a rhetorical can you improve professionally if you only get feedback from administrative walkthroughs and observations.....which make up only a small fraction of the total teaching time in a year).  If you really want to move the needle on your professional practice, go all in with your PLN and create the conditions for continuous feedback from your peers.

The tools that teachers are exposed to at the top level of the Google Apps suite are just the tip of the Google tools iceberg.  How can schools use an Ed Camp model to proliferate powerful tools that will enhance professional practice and ultimately impact student learning?

UPDATE 6/25/13 - A Cleveland Plain Dealer editorial touches on the same concerns that are outlined below:

Does the fact that the method in which value-added score calculations are derived lack transparency and a basic level of clarity concern anyone but me?  As value added scores have real world consequences for educators and school districts, there needs to be more to the how the scores are arrived at than the current 'Wizard of Oz calculate the scores behind the curtain and just trust the results approach'.  Systems breed mistrust when there is a lack of transparency and confusion about processes from start to end.  In the value added training manual from Battelle For Kids, they liken the calculation of value added scores to how the consumer price index is arrived at.  In essence, their argument is that no one understands how the PCI is calculated, but is it taken as truth, and therefore so should value added.  The only problem is, I understand the PCI formula and the basket of goods concept (although don't quiz me yet on the move to the Chain PCI model).  I don't, however, get the correlation between how V.A. scores are derived mathematically and the 'growth' that magically appears on value added reports.  There certainly has to be a better way than the current 'just trust me' approach that BFK takes with educators.  If you want your measure to be seen as legitimate, take the time to reach out to those the scores impact and educate them on how the measure is calculated and how it can be practically applied to meaningfully impact instruction.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Final Countdown

Note: Lacrosse season has taken over the last available minutes in an already busy life to write, hence the lack of content over the past few months.  This topic has been on my mind long enough to warrant a brief post.

It's a minute in time

that we exist
We slowly make our way
into the mist

From "Show of Life" by Trey Anastasio

As surely as winter turns to spring, the countdown clock until the end of the school year will appear on numerous whiteboards in classrooms around the country once the calendar turns to May (unless you live in New Jersey, where school goes until the end of June).

Like a prisoner who tallies days in hashmarks on a cellblock wall, the countdown clock is changed daily with fervent zeal, as everyone moves that much closer to liberation and freedom from the confines of school and the expectation of learning.

If you engage in this practice, what messages are you sending to your students (and colleagues) about the value you place on learning and the time spent in your class?

In an era where continuous learners will be at an advantage in our global, interconnected economy; does a countdown clock reinforce the types of learner behaviors that will be beneficial to students?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Dealing with the Disruption of Change

This post was constructed on the eve of eTech 2013 in Columbus, Ohio.  In a rare moment of total solitude, I’m writing while looking out my 7th floor window in the Hyatt looking at North High Street.  A chance to gaze at the place I called home for 5 years.  Like so much else I’ve written recently, this is again about change….but within the framework of a broader reflection on nearing the completion of my 40th trip around the sun….

Driving to Columbus this evening I found that my XM radio had been activated once again for a ‘trial’ period.  Flipping through the stations, I landed at the 50’s on 5 station and decided to linger for a bit.  As I listened, my mind wandered to how music changed radically within 10 short years between the 50’s and 60’s.  The 70’s saw change take on different forms, and by the end of the 70’s music was radically different again.  The 1980’s carried on the split personality of the 70’s, with the early half very different from the back half of the decade.  The early 1990’s saw a major course correction with the direction of rock, an evolution in hip-hop, and the rise and fall of the boy bands.  Having arrived at the 90’s on 9 channel, I thought again about the 50’s and wondered what the course of the music industry would have been if there had been a refusal on the part of the participants to change with the times….

The movie ‘Lincoln’ has once again focused attention on the era of the 1860’s.  Imagine being 5 in the middle of that decade.  Assuming you lived to an age of 65, think about the ways in which the world changed.  Electric lights were invented and began the process of replacing gas-powered fixtures and revolutionized the way America worked and played.  The telegraph and the railroads gave way to the telephone and the automobile.  Warfare was revolutionized through industrial era inventions that made the Civil War style of battle unrecognizable for those who fought in World War I.  Air travel, almost unthinkable in 1865, was old news by the 1920’s.  I wonder what happened to people from this era who were change resistant?

As I near this next phase in my life, I look back and recognize how fortunate I am to be living at a particular time in the history of this planet where I can bear witness to the dramatic changes that have occurred between the close of the 20th century and the early years of the 21st century.  I am just old enough to remember Pong, and had an Atari 2600 as my first video game console.  In my lifetime, I have had a reel-to-reel music player (I can still remember the face of Johnny Mathis on the box cover), a record player, an 8-track player, a cassette player, a cd player, and a dedicated mp3 player.  In 1999 my wife and I drove across the country and camped the National Park circuit….using pay phones to communicate with home.  A year later I bought my wife her first cell phone, and signed a two-year contract with Airtouch (after a series of M and A’s the vestiges of this company are now part of Verizon).  The phone was the size of your head and had a one-line screen for numerical input.  I had a T.V. in my room for a bit (hooked up to my Commodore 64).  It was a 13-inch black and white with the VHF and UHF nobs.  In 2004 I bought my first hand held GPS receiver.  It did nothing else but give GPS coordinates. Growing up in New Jersey I was a huge NY Islanders fan.  My best friend at the time had cable, so I would go to his house to watch the games.  We would slide the cable box selector to Sports Channel (no remote).  ESPN had just recently been started, and there was only 1 channel of it (the whole world wide leader thing came much later).

We live in a world where the changes have enriched our lives in many ways.  Change does not stand still, does not take time off, and does not wait for people who are reluctant to get on board.  Change disrupts, causes pain, is disconcerting, while all the while creating new opportunities for those who embrace it.

Think back to your first cell phone.  Would you want to use it today?

Would you want your doctor to practice medicine on you in the same way it was practiced in the 1970s?

Would you like to watch T.V. on a state of the art Sony Trinitron from the mid 1980s?

Do you want your kids taught in the same way that kids have been taught for the past 125 years?

As educators, we are practicing at an amazing moment in the history of our civilization.  Never before has it been possible to personalize the experience for every student in the manner now available through the integration of technology with instruction.  The change this reality is bringing to education is difficult for many.  Every day I hear fellow professionals lament educational change for its difficulty, complexity, or the fact that it is change itself.  Education is going to look radically different in five years.  The educators that have a change adverse attitude run the high risk of marginalization or outright alienation in an era of individualized, self-paced learning.

Our nation needs great teachers; ones who aren’t afraid of change, and who teach with the passion of an entrepreneur and the creativity of an indie tech startup.  Teachers who recognize that the future will be radically different from both our past and our present, and who are willing to re-mix what they do on the fly for the betterment of their students.

Music did not stand still in the 1950s.  Communication technology did not stop evolving with the telegraph.  Medical advances did not halt with the development of the vaccine for polio.  Computer technology did not end with the release of Windows 3.0 or the first Macintosh.

Educational change, though slower to evolve initially, will not stop now that the ball is rolling down the hill and the genie is out of the bottle.

Embrace the change.  Prepare your students for the world they will live in.  They will be engaged in ways we can’t imagine and they will flourish because of it.