Sunday, January 27, 2013

Leaning into the Change

An article in the January 26th edition of the Cleveland Plain Dealer once again re-iterates what those who have been following the Ohio Academic Cliff saga already know:
A) The tests and corresponding accountability measures are about to get much tougher, and
B) Results are going to plummet across the State of Ohio

Ohio's low cut scores to achieve a 'proficient' rating on the accountability tests have created a false sense of student performance for consumers of report card data (i..e. educators and parents).

When the shock of the new system takes place, the knee jerk reaction will be to blame teachers and the institution of schools for the performance woes.

What will count is how educators react to this criticism.  Planning right now for how to respond, as well as embracing educational practices that leverage student engagement, will help in equipping to survive this day of academic reckoning.

When your car goes into a skid, you know that you should steer in the opposite direction.  However, knowing is one thing.  Actually doing this when the moment happens in much tougher.

The same will be true when the new tests and accountability system come online.  We know that creating authentic, engaging experiences in the classroom (ones where students have multiple options and pathways for demonstrating mastery) will best position students to perform at high levels on whatever accountability test they take (what I like to refer to as teaching in spite of the accountability system).

The difficulty is that while we know this, the firestorm of criticism that will rain down from the sky on schools will make educators want to turn the steering wheel in the wrong direction (i.e. more test prep, more drill and kill, more whole class standardization, more 'experiences' designed to mirror the 'tests' that drain the life out of education.)

The good news is that we know what is coming, and we have time to prepare for our response.  Teaching 'in spite of' and not doubling down on the flawed test prep strategy of the past twenty years will take immense professional courage.

Keep this in mind as you ponder these two options:  As choice in education becomes more of a reality every day, students will increasingly have options as to where they want to spend their educational time.  Given the choice between a classroom where prepping for the test is the focus or engaging in authentic activities is the focus, which do you think they'll choose?

At the end of the day it is always about so much more than test scores.

Don't let the current accountability climate prevent you from teaching in ways that will allow your students to flourish in an economic climate that demands creative thinkers who are capable of producing original, creative content in the post-industrial world.

Open Badge Project Resources

The exciting part about the work to date on the PD overhaul project is discovering the fact that so much information and foundational work exists on the creation of badges.  In order to keep myself organized, and provide a breadcrumb trail for others, below is a list of the resources I'm currently leveraging.

Badges How To: Using Your Classroom Rubrics to Design a Badge System
Author: Karen Jeffrey

The resource above is part of the larger For All Systems initiative.

Mozilla Open Badge Project

One Level Deep: The Mozilla Open Badges Wiki

Two Levels Deep: M.O.B. Wiki of Badge Issuers

Badge Forge - A Tool For Creating Badges that Connect Back to Mozilla Badge Backpack

Based on work recently completed in a free-flowing brainstorm jam with @zjvv77, the following four areas will be the focus of the professional development badge project for the 2013-2014 school year:

1. F.I.P. (Formative Instructional Practices via Battelle for Kids) See a previous post that explores this pathway in more detail.

2. Technology (Creating learning pathways that support the District G.A.F.E. transition)

3. Differentiation (Building personalized online pathways that extend the current District-wide series on this topic)

4. Common Core (Identifying individualized learning pathways that utilize freely available online modules.  For example, building a learning pathway out of modules from Achieve The Core)

The goal is to build on the badge work that is already occurring in the K-12 arena and extend it to the realm of ongoing/sustained professional learning for educators.  The focus of the design work is to create a system that will be replicable in other school districts.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Completion vs. Mastery in an Open Badge Environment

As I have been working on re-inventing a professional development model for my district based on Dan Pink's concepts of Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose, an interesting issue surrounding the tension between completion vs. mastery has arisen.

I created the sketch below to help think this issue through, using F.I.P. as an illustrative concept.

At the surface level (level 1), badges would be awarded for completion of the on-line modules themselves, indicating a basic acquired knowledge and the associated sunk cost of time with the activity.

Level Two badges could be earned non-sequentially.  For example, if you really connected with FIP module 5, you could develop a representative portfolio of work that demonstrates professional practice in this area in order to earn the badge.  You would not have to complete this level for FIP module 4 first.

Finally, a Level Three badge could only be earned through an award by an outside observer (say, an administrator, department chair, or fellow teacher who observes your practice).  This level gets at the heart of mastery and implementation of the skill in practice.  The behaviors inherent in the module, (ex. FIP 4) would have to be observed through demonstrated classroom behaviors/practices in order for the badge to be awarded.

A multi-level system such as this would allow for the acquisition of a wide variety of surface level skills, while at the same time allowing for deep integration pathways in areas of particular interest to educators.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Creating a Bridge to the Change

The Ohio Leadership Council has released a video on the 5 step improvement model for Teacher Based Teams (related to the Ohio Improvement Process).

The principals in my district who have seen it have each shared how they were A) impressed by the message, and B) eager to share and discuss it with their staff members.

What I liked about the video is that it summarized (in 7 1/2 succinct minutes) all of the change initiatives currently underway in Ohio and connected them in a way that made sense (with the end focus on student achievement).

As a leader at the forefront of promoting the change (and trying to figure out how to help my teachers survive and thrive through the change), the video reinforced the professional development I've been promoting, and explained how everything (FIP, SLO's, CCSS, Differentiation, etc) is aligned with basic concept of student growth for all.

If you are a leader looking for a tool to connect your staff to the change, or a teacher struggling to make sense of it all, this is a tool that should be helpful.

Ohio 5-Step Model

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Ohio Accountability Changes Update

Update 1/15
An additional change is the looming State budget and the impact it will have on education.  An interesting video from the Governors office is a first message management step in what is sure to be an interesting legislative session.

I had the good fortune yesterday to attend the BASA regional meeting in Dayton and have Michael Sawyers turn out to be the ODE speaker on the latest with HB 555.  Below is a link to a Google Folder with his powerpoint presentation, ODE talking points on 555, and the BASA powerpoint (ignore my notes scribbled in the margins).  When you download the powerpoint, be sure to view it with the notes visible, as the annotated comments for each slide appear there.

If you have been following this closely, there wasn't a ton of new information, but there were plenty of clarifying points and directional arrows indicating what's coming next.  Below are the information pieces that fell into the 'late breaking' or 'needs action' categories (at least from my vantage point):

  • The State Board of Education (SBE) will meet Monday and Tuesday this week (1/14 - 15).  It is expected that at the close of Tuesday the SBE will appoint a five member accountability committee to work on the specific mechanics of the report card.  (Of significance is to watch for how the State Board defines the letter grades.  Currently the A and F levels are firmly identified in the law.  The level for C is identified, but the language is vague enough - "greater than 70 but no more than 80" - that there is a possibility, albeit remote, that the standard could be higher than 70.  What will be interesting to watch is what the standard for D is set at, given that F is 50 for below)
  • The major focus at the SBE meeting will be to teach the Board about HB 555, and run the members through several report card simulations based on the law in order to stimulate thinking around framing rules and policies for the new report card measures.
  • The Gap Closing Formula for Annual Measurable Objectives on the new report card will most likely look very similar to the formula that was contained in the May 2012 ESEA waiver.  (Since this will be a graded item THIS YEAR, I would examine the formula for each subgroup, plug in last year's numbers, and strategize about your plan as soon as possible).
  • For this school year, the standard to meet an indicator is 75% proficient or above.  This will change to 80% for the 2013 - 2014 school year, before being reset again when PARCC comes on board for 2014-2015. (Teachers in areas where the scores have hovered around 75% will need to know this NOW in order to begin strategizing).
  • In the Overall Value Added Progress dimension, the measurement of students in the lowest quintile will be pegged against the state average of students in this quintile.
  • There is a possibility that value added could be extended to the PARCC exams in 2016.
  • The definition for Safe Harbor (designed to provide temporary relief from the academic cliff) must determined by the SBE no later than March 31st.
  • The new report card will be electronic (the dashboard model) and interactive.  Any printouts would most likely be a 2 page summary of graded metrics, with the electronic version giving people the ability to drill down to reported measures.  Gone are the days of the 8 page printed report card.  (Districts will have to be very strategic in how they unpack the dashboard information for their public, as it appears that not all of the information will be available on the surface level).
  • A major win for Districts was the change during the legislative process from graded to reported for Prep for Success measures (College admissions test results, dual enrollment levels, industry credentials, honors diploma, AP and IB participation and scores).  These will roll out for the 2013-2014 report card.
  • The college and career ready assessment exam has the potential to be an issue (This is most likely the ACT Plan or the PSAT).  Right now it is not scheduled to come on board until 2014-2015, although it may for next year if funding and procurement issues can be worked out.  There is a feeling in the legislature that if it is paid for by the State, it should be graded (right now it is scheduled to be reported only).  The feeling of ODE (and mine as well) is that this test is diagnostic and formative in nature (it tells us where sophomores are in their CCR preparation, not where they are as an end product).  Districts need to pay attention to this and lobby hard if there is a hint it might be changed to graded in future legislation (my opinion).
  • While bits and pieces of the new report card will be coming out as work is completed, a final look at what the new version will look like should not be expected before May 2013.
  • Value Added information is currently being loaded into eTPES, and should most likely be available by 1/19.

Rethinking Honors and Weighted Grades

A central tenant of the common core state standards is an increase in rigor and expectations for all students.  If college and career readiness are truly synonymous terms; all students must therefore be exposed to the same high quality curriculum that prepares for remediation free coursework experiences at post-secondary institutions.  Where then, does an honors section fit in with this model?

The traditional knock on honors is that students end up doing more 'work' to justify the course designation and the weight often associated with the grade.  Teachers feel the pressure to make the experience rigorous, and sometimes have trouble finding the balance between quality (rigor) of assignments versus quantity (extra because you're in honors and you should be able to handle it).  With the raising of standards and expectations for all students, is Honors at risk for becoming marginalized or obsolete?

Another knock on Honors courses and students is the lack of motivation and solid work ethic for many.  Once in the class, with the knowledge that the weight will be granted no matter what, many students often settle for a certain grade and do not stretch themselves to their full potential.  The lack of an AP exam at the end of the course or other such incentive to work diligently throughout the year often allows students to slip into coast mode.

As the PARCC assessments get closer, what if schools were able to sieze this moment to radically re-think how honors designations are earned by students.  Instead of having the title 'Honors' bestowed upon you at the beginning of the year because you just happened to be in the class, what would happen if you had to work for the designation, and it could only be earned by your performance on the PARCC assessment?

As the flipped classroom, blended learning, and personalized learning pathways become more prevalent in courses, students in collegiate level classes will have opportunities to learn and grow to their highest potential.  So, if in a given week a student demonstrates mastery of a certain concept, that particular student can work on extension activities designed to enrich and extend learning and understanding.  These pathways can be tied to authentic, real world applications of the concepts, which will prepare students to apply the material in meaningful ways.

The question is, how do you sell this as something other than 'more work' or a penalty for being smart? The key is to leverage the PARCC assessments themselves.  Early indications are that the assessments will be much more rigorous than the current Ohio Graduation Tests.  The personalized pathways that students would invest time in could be sold as a means to prepare to excel on the PARCC assessments. The payoff for this extra work/initiative would be an honors GPA add-on for only the highest scorers.

The system would work like this.  Every student who earns a four (the minimum benchmark score to be considered at a remediation free level) would receive a GPA weight add on of .01, and those who score a 5 would receive a weight add on of .02.  Instead of giving the weight away at the front end merely for enrolling in the class, students would have the incentive to prepare diligently throughout the year in order to have a chance to truly EARN the add-on weight.  This would solve the problem of rigor at both the collegiate and the honors level, because the course is now as rigorous as you want it to be, based on your individual strengths and motivations.  It also takes a ton of pressure off of the teacher, because it de-couples the grade earned in the class from the associated credit and the weight.  The student alone controls the outcome, based on performance, as opposed to the games that get played with assignments and grades currently in honors sections where the weight is already pre-supposed.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

CCR and the Academic Cliff

A challenge that I find myself constantly facing is where to archive the ever growing trove of rich resources I encounter daily.  To a certain extent, I use my twitter feed as a repository for links to stories I find worthwhile enough to share with others.  More recently, I've been rethinking how shorter blog posts can also serve as both a vehicle for sharing and a place to park these resources.

The story below, from the Akron Beacon Journal, is the most succinct to date that I have seen in describing the effects of the new PARCC assessments on peoples' notion of 'proficiency' in the State of Ohio.  The link that follows will take you to a report from the Ohio Board of Regents (OBR), in which they lay out performance standards, by subject, that will provide evidence of college and career readiness for high school seniors.  In addition, they include ACT and SAT cut scores that will be accepted at all Ohio public universities for placement in credit bearing, non-remedial coursework in the discipline in which the score was earned.

While I am not suggesting an easy cause and effect relationship between implementing the OBR standards and a reduction in the readiness gap issue, focusing on how you can support the OBR recommendations will be a good first set in reducing the pain of the Academic Cliff that is, without a doubt, coming.

Surviving The Change

The underlying narrative for educational professionals in my district, around the state, and I'm sure the nation is how overwhelming all of the change in education feels.

As the person in my District responsible for implementing the change, I find myself often feeling like I am pushing the stone of change up the hill.  A standard line in my stump speech is that the professional development activities the district is implementing are designed to equip teachers to survive the change and end up in a better place when (OTES begins, the Common Core arrives, the PARCC assessments begin, the new report card comes, etc.).

While the professional development I work on is necessary, good, and designed to be helpful, I still can't escape the feeling that teachers feel like it is one more thing (in a long line of things) that is being 'done' to them.

I've come to the conclusion that there is absolutely no way that districts can provide enough professional development to effectively prepare teachers for the shifts in mindset and professional practice that must occur in order to be successful in 2014-2015 and beyond.  The teachers that will not only survive but also thrive are those who take ownership for their own professional learning.

To that end, a project on my part is to re-design professional development in my District and create individualized learner pathways, tied to Mozilla's Open Badge Initiative @openbadges  While I would like to have this done yesterday, the reality is that it's going to take a ton of preparation, research, development time, and a change in the mindset for how professional development occurs in my district.  In order to truly be effective, professional development must meet teachers at the intersection of readiness/capacity to learn and willingness.  Personalized learning pathways that account for where individual teachers are as learners, as well as give credit for knowledge they have already acquired, will not only be more meaningful, but will also reinforce the types of learning experiences we want our teachers to create for students.

In the interim, while this idea builds itself out, I am making a full court press to get teachers to create Personal Learning Networks and to get engaged with Twitter.  These two actions are guaranteed to help teachers take control and ownership of their own professional growth and learning.

To get to where they need to go, there is no other way.

For example, today every teacher in my District worked through an SLO approval calibration activity.  While I think it was worthwhile, it was still a whole group sit and get activity that only furthered their understanding of the whole process incrementally.  Worst of all, it once again reinforced the notion of the District as the sole provider of professional development experiences.

It could be so much better......if only all teachers would own the fact that they have to invest, outside of contracted professional development time, in the learning that will help them survive the change.

This change in mindset is empowering, if teachers will only take the leap of faith to make personal professional development a DAILY PRIORITY.

There is just too much to learn about using data, personalizing instruction, close reading, common core implementation, CCR standards for remediation free learning, changing assessments, educational technology........

Those that survive will be those that become professional learners....ones who don't wait for districts to provide PD, or wait for the summer to read a professional development article/book, or put off PD activities until just before a license renewal is due.

Those that survive will be relentless in their pursuit of understanding the changes, and will continue to read up on the very latest in all of the areas that are shifting simultaneously.

Those that survive will act in spite of, will always look at the glass as half full, and will continue to have faith in the goodness of what educators do on a daily basis, despite the narrative of failure that many want to tell about our schools.

Those that survive will own the data on their kids, and will double down on practices that are designed to promote growth for all students.  (@ChristinaHank, who's blog was part of the inspiration for this post, wrote an excellent blog on this point:

Those that survive will refuse to act like victims, and they will shun those who do.

Never in the history of this planet have there been more tools at educators disposal that allow for meaningful, impactful change for student growth and development.

Making the choice to embrace these tools, to collaborate widely, to share and share alike...these are choices that will equip educators to survive the change.

Will you survive?