Friday, December 31, 2010

A great start . . .

Yesterday wasn't the new year, but the Huskies win in the Holiday Bowl was a big surprise.  Now, if the Seahawks can follow suit on Sunday it would be just as big a surprise.

Have a safe and fun evening as we kick in the NEW YEAR!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Do we need value added?

What do you know about “value added” as it relates to teacher evaluation? It is not something on our immediate radar in Washington, but in other parts of the country it has been front page news. I have posted about contracts in Washington D.C., New York and other places that have negotiated agreements using value added modeling as part of their evaluation systems.

In case you have not followed it and are not aware of what it is, below is a Wikipedia definition.

Value-added modeling (also known as value-added analysis and value-added assessment) is a method of teacher evaluation that measures the teacher's contribution in a given year by comparing current school year test scores of their students to the scores of those same students in the previous school year, as well as to the scores of other students in the same grade. In this manner, value-added modeling seeks to isolate the contribution that each teacher makes in a given year, which can be compared to the performance measures of other teachers.[1]

What is beginning to emerge in the field is an understanding of the complexity of teacher evaluation and the need to include multiple criteria before making judgments about teacher effectiveness. This removes the primary focus on using standardized test scores that many policy makers desire, but it does not remove the need to consider these scores in a comprehensive assessment system.

I believe that this will become more of an issue in our state as the evaluation systems that are being piloted begin to form the future parameters for state-mandated evaluation of teachers. In a blog about this pilot they reference a recent report from the National Education Policy Center that cautions against an over reliance on using test scores.

The brief, Getting Teacher Assessment Right: What Policymakers Can Learn from Research notes that most current discussions about improving teacher quality tend to be imbalanced, focusing disproportionately on student test scores. “While there are important questions about what exactly achievement scores can—and cannot—indicate about individual teachers, there is no question that placing extreme emphasis on test scores alone can have unintended and undesirable consequences that undermine the goal of developing an excellent teaching force,” says Hinchey.

The debate is on and you can find reports and individuals that support either position related to the use of test scores. In this New York Times article you can read how eight people feel, four for use and four against use of test scores. I think they capture the essence of how most of us feel.

What are your thoughts about the role of value added in teacher evaluations? Should student achievement growth from year-to-year be used to measure the effectiveness of a teacher? How should measures of teacher effectiveness be used?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

By the way . . .

In case you are not aware, I thought I'd share with you what happened last Wednesday with the Cedar River power problem.  As I shared in Tuesday's post, we rented a generator that did the job for us on Tuesday.  In that post I made the following statement.

Thankfully, we only have one more day before break so there should be no additional disruption for students and staff.

As I reread the post I decided to substitute the word "should" for the original word "won't" that I had used.  Good thing I did this because the generator quit early Wednesday morning.  Three technicians couldn't get it running by 6:00 a.m. so I once again cancelled school.  Not a half hour later a fourth technician showed up and was able to get the generator going, but it did not last.  It turned out to be the right call, but it was once again difficult.  Had we not been on a half day, it would have been easier, but this year I don't think easy is going to be a word we will use to describe weather related decisions.

A little late . . .

I took a few days off from online to focus on family and the holiday, but thought I should get back to it this evening.  It was good to take some time though I can't say it was stress free.  I am a last minute shopper so I am used to being out when it is crowded, but this year I found myself a little forgetful and had to go back out two times to pick things up for Christmas dinner.  Safeway was a zoo, crowded and long check out lines.

Even with the stress it was a great holiday.  The decorations were beautiful, dinner was great, and with grand kids how can it be anything but an enjoyable and rewarding experience.

The one thing I didn't do before shutting down was to wish for you a happy holiday - I hope it was a joyful time with family and friends. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Generating power . . .

We still do not have power through the PSE grid at Cedar River Middle School, but we were able to open school today by renting a very large generator. Thanks to J.R. Electric, a local electrical contractor and our Maintenance Supervisor Yaha Abduraheem, the generator was located and wired early last evening giving time to test it and get the building heated.

As you can see it is very large, but surprisingly very quiet. It will take a few more days to get the necessary parts to fix the transformer and then a couple more to repair the system. Thankfully, we only have one more day before break so there should be no additional disruption for students and staff.

In case you are wondering what happens when the district is open, but one or more schools are closed, there is an emergency appeal made to OSPI. In these cases a district is asking the state to excuse operations for the day due to unforeseen circumstances. This can be done for no more than two days per occurrence and no more than three total days in a school year for an individual school. Going beyond these limits would require making up the days. That is one more reason why I am so thankful for the temporary fix to this problem.

As I get ready to call it a day, the winds are once again picking up here in the Cascade foothills.  I hope they don't mean another early phone call.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Another closure . . .

We start another week with at least one school closed.  Cedar River will be closed tomorrow with no power.  The wind storm resulted in the loss of a transformer on our end.  We are hoping that it will be fixed sometime tomorrow.

This makes two schools closed because of wind in less than one week.  This follows the loss of a day due to wind earlier this month, or at least I think it was this month.  At home, we were without power for 24+ hours this time, enough to get the generator going as it was pretty cold in Ravensdale.  We actually had about a quarter inch of snow last night that froze resulting in icy conditions this morning.

The snow I understand at this time of year, though I can do without it at least until a break.  The wind, however, is not something I ever get used to.  The wind storm that started late Friday seemed to go on much longer than what I recall as normal for us.  Strong gusts through the night and into the early morning hours was causing me anxiety and raw nerves.  Thank goodness it was a weekend and I didn't need to consider whether we would have school the next day.  Had it been a weekday, we would have lost another one to the weather.

Could just be me, but I think something is not normal with the weather this winter.  Though it is nerve wracking, we have it easy compared to other parts of the country experiencing extreme cold, ice, and snow.  Just seems different.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

State budget struggles . . .

With the words, “I hate my budget,” Governor Gregoire paints the gloomy picture of the state budget for the next biennium. She is honoring what she sees as the voter mandate by cutting instead of raising revenue to maintain programs.

Public schools will not be immune from these cuts. Already in this year’s budget, we are looking at cuts to levy equalization and K-4 supplemental funding. For K-4 staffing this means a reduction in staffing support from a level of 53.2 per 1000 in grades K-3 and 47.43 per 1000 in grade 4 to 49 per 1000 in grades K-3 and 46 per thousand in grade 4. Using the November enrollment count, for us it is the equivalent of about 8.5 teaching positions. In addition to these cuts effective February 1, 2011, the federal stimulus dollars allocated for each district in the Education Jobs Federal Grant, will be deducted from the district’s apportionment payments. Fortunately, we had made the decision to not include this as revenue in our budget as we anticipated that this would happen.

In the Governor’s proposed budget for the next biennium these same cuts would be carried over for the next two years as well as continued suspension of I-732, the cost of living adjustment. In addition to these changes she has also proposed many other cuts to education and other services that can be found in this Seattle Times article. One of particular interest to us and to teachers is the proposal to save money by freezing steps on the K–12 salary schedule at levels provided for in the 2010–11 school year. In calculating certificated instructional staff salaries for the 2011–12 and 2012–13 school years, educational service districts will exclude any educational credits or years of service earned after August 31, 2010 thus freezing salary schedule placement for the next two years. In this proposal as in many others, there is still much to be decided and negotiations to be done as the house and senate craft their budget proposals.

We are closely monitoring the budget discussions and decisions and will be sharing our findings with the school board next week. Once the session begins in January, we should begin to better understand how the cuts will be implemented and the impact of each on our district, information necessary to develop the 2011-12 budget

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Disagreements with study interpretatation . . .

Well, there has certainly been follow-up in the blog world over the release of the Gate’s funded study onto value added and student survey responses that I blogged about on Sunday. In this Education Next post by Jay P. Greene, he refutes the claim made in the New York Times article about the correlation between teachers who drill for standardized tests and their value added scores.

One notable early finding, Ms. Phillips said, is that teachers who incessantly drill their students to prepare for standardized tests tend to have lower value-added learning gains than those who simply work their way methodically through the key concepts of literacy and mathematics. (emphasis added)

I looked through the report for evidence that supported this claim and could not find it. Instead, the report actually shows a positive correlation between student reports of “test prep” and value added on standardized tests, not a negative correlation as the statement above suggests. (See for example Appendix 1 on p. 34.)

The statement “We spend a lot of time in this class practicing for [the state test]” has a correlation of 0.195 with the value added math results. That is about the same relationship as “My teacher asks questions to be sure we are following along when s/he is teaching,” which is 0.198. And both are positive.

It’s true that the correlation for “Getting ready for [the state test] takes a lot of time in our class” is weaker (0.103) than other items, but it is still positive. That just means that test prep may contribute less to value added than other practices, but it does not support the claim that ”teachers who incessantly drill their students to prepare for standardized tests tend to have lower value-added learning gains…”

I won’t copy the whole article, but I wanted you to see what he found in his analysis. Silly me, I took what the paper reported as factual though I was more interested in how the students answered the survey questions than in how drilling influenced the value added scores. He also claims that the same information is misinterpreted in the LA Times article that came out over the weekend.

Andy Russo in This Week in Education post also takes exception with the report in the LA Times, but does agree with the New York focus on the influence of student answers on learning gains. If you have the time and are interested, you can read the initial findings of the report here.

What did I learn? To be more skeptical about how reporters are interpreting the findings of education studies. To wonder what the communication was between the Gate’s people and the newspaper people that lead to the conclusions that may not be supported by the study’s findings. To wait for the reaction to the study by those that actually read it before sharing in a post, or at least acknowledge that there will be one. It will be interesting to see how the reporters and Foundation staff respond to these critiques of the articles or if they even do.

There are too many people looking for easy answers to what is wrong in our profession. The issue is complex and the answers will not all be found in our classrooms. Yes, we can and must do better at ensuring that all students experience success. And yes, there will be information from this study that we can learn from. We can do this, however, without the misinterpretation and finger pointing that normally accompanies a $45 million study.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Another loss . . .

I haven't said much about football and probably shouldn't after today's loss at San Francisco.  Two minutes left and they are losing 40 to 14 though they may score after the two minute warning.  I can't believe how much I watched of this game.  Turnovers and poor play over and over again this year.  If it was a home game I would have left by now. 

Well, they did score to make it 40-21, but now another injury to a wide receiver doesn't bode well for next week.  Bad team, terrible conference, and I just bought my playoff tickets.  Difficult to believe after today that the Seahawks could be a division winner.  Could they win with a less than .500 year?

What students can teach us . . .

This New York Times article shares findings from a Gate's Foundation study about teacher evaluation systems.  This part of the study is focused on learning what good teachers do by asking students.  Teachers in the study are ranked using a value added statistical method and student learning is measured year-to-year on changes in test scores.

Positive correlations that have emerged thus far include the following.
  • "Our class stays busy and doesn’t waste time,” tended to be led by teachers with high value-added scores.
  • The same was true for students who ranked the following statement high,  “In this class, we learn to correct our mistakes.”
  •  “My teacher has several good ways to explain each topic that we cover in this class,”  also had a high correlation.
A finding that some may find interesting is the negative effect of learning in classrooms where teachers spend considerable time drilling and preparing for state tests.
  • Teachers whose students agreed with the statement, “We spend a lot of time in this class practicing for the state test,” tended to make smaller gains on those exams than other teachers.
In this post from March I shared what we learned from our students about what teachers motivate them to do their best.  Instead of asking them questions we had a conversation.  I am thinking that there is more that we can and should learn by asking them questions.  The summary of our findings is shown below where relationship is a significant contributor.

What questions should we be asking our students to learn what they see as teacher behaviors that influence their learning?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A different voice . . .

I found the link to this article in the Boston Globe from a retired Boston teacher at Russo’s This Week in Education. She writes . . .

Blaming us, the teachers, absolves all others of their complicity in the failure to educate our students and relieves them of all responsibility for solving the problem. It’s expedient. Yet until we accept collective responsibility for the problem and for finding a permanent solution, progress will remain an elusive phantom.

It is a short article and worth the read as she shares her thinking on what must happen if we are to truly change public education. In response to the cries to emulate Japan, Finland, Korea, and now I would add China, she cites the work of Pedro Noguera into the culture of those countries and the mental models people have of the importance of education compared to our country.

We need to hear more of these voices.

I can't believe it!

Yes, I can’t believe yet another message about a Sputnik moment; this time in reference to the “poor” showing of U.S. students on the 2009 PISA assessments in combined literacy, mathematics, and science. This is an international comparison of how 15 year olds did on these three tests. For reference, 5,233 students from 165 public and private schools randomly selected to represent the United States.

From this FLYPAPER post from Chester Finn we read about the reference.

Fifty-three years after Sputnik caused an earthquake in American education by giving us reason to believe that the Soviet Union had surpassed us, China has delivered another shock. On math, reading and science tests given to 15-year-olds in sixty-five countries last year, Shanghai’s teenagers topped every other jurisdiction in all three subjects. Hong Kong also ranked in the top four on all three assessments.

The results of this assessment produced immediate reaction from our Secretary Duncan and many others in the blogosphere. It has been a hot topic the last two days.

"For me, it's a massive wake-up call," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Monday. "Have we ever been satisfied as Americans being average in anything? Is that our aspiration? Our goal should be absolutely to lead the world in education."

The surprising news was that Shanghai replaced Finland at the top of the rankings. Our students scored around the average on all three tests resulting in a ranking of 23rd out of the 65 participating countries and education systems in science, 31st in math, and 17th in literacy. This average ranking is what has given rise to all the media hype. You can find articles in the Washington Post here, in the New York Times here, the Seattle Times, and a CNN article that gives reasons why we must start learning from Asia.

This short Washington Post article raises one of the questions going through my mind; given these results, has the NCLB focus on testing been successful? There are also the questions about education in Shanghai not being representative of that in China, that Hong Kong, another high scoring country, is not governed by China, the issue of one test for comparisons, universal education, the cultural differences, and . . .

This is one more opportunity for center stage about how poorly we are doing. I’m not familiar with the content of the assessments, but it would be interesting to see how our young people would do compared to the U.S. average and to those from the other countries. If one of you is a statistician, 5,233 students would be a representative random sample for what n? I don’t know how many 15 year olds in our country, but it seems like a small number. Probably just reaching when I need to accept the data and see what we might learn from it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Another Sputnik moment . . .

On November 29th I blogged about Energy Secretary Chu’s comment of this being a “Sputnik Moment” for our country related to China’s work on renewable energy. Now, today I read about President Obama’s speech where he says that we are facing a “Sputnik moment” related to our nation falling behind others in the future.

But as it stands right now, the hard truth is this: In the race for the future, America is in danger of falling behind. That's just the truth. And when -- if you hear a politician say it’s not, they’re not paying attention. In a generation we have fallen from 1st place to 9th place in the proportion of young people with college degrees. When it comes to high school graduation rates, we’re ranked 18th out of 24 industrialized nations -- 18th. We’re 27th in the proportion of science and engineering degrees we hand out. We lag behind other nations in the quality of our math and science education.

I wonder if this Sputnik moment thing is something that we will be hearing about from other federal agencies. Maybe it’s a planned strategy or maybe the President read about Secretary Hu’s comments. In either case, how many of these fundamental shifts in doing business can we afford at one time given the current economic situation? I applaud his comments about the need for more spending, but do not agree that the reforms and initiatives from the education department are necessarily going to achieve his goal.

We’re reforming K-12 education –- not from the top down, but from the bottom up. Instead of indiscriminately pouring money into a system that’s not working, we’re challenging schools and states to compete with each other –- to see who can come up with reforms that raise standards, and recruit and retain good teachers, raise student achievement, especially in math and science. We call it Race to the Top -- (applause) -- where you get more funding if you show more results -- because part of the argument here is, is that if we’re going to have a government that's smart and helping people compete in this new global economy, then we’ve got to spend our money wisely. And that means we want to invest in things that are working, not in things that aren’t working just because that's how things have always been done.

Race to the Top was not about more funding if you show results. It was about what states lined up the best to meet the parameters established by the federal education department. It was about forming partnerships with groups like the Gate’s Foundation for grant writing and other support purposes. The RttT winners haven’t shown better results they simply achieved the highest scores on the rubric designed to separate winners from losers. Yes, competition is alive and gathering more momentum in the department and being supported by the President given the above comments. Over time I hope that the “reforms” embedded in the winning proposals prove effective so that we can learn from them. I remain skeptical and we don’t have the time to wait before moving forward without the support of additional funding.

In his speech the President also said that we shouldn’t be cutting funding to education and innovation.

So we can’t stop making those investments. The best antidote to a growing deficit, by the way, is a growing economy. To borrow an analogy, cutting the deficit by cutting investments in areas like education, areas like innovation -- that's like trying to reduce the weight of an overloaded aircraft by removing its engine. It’s not a good idea. There may be some things you need to get rid of, but you got to keep the engine.

That’s why even as we scour the budget for cuts and savings in the months ahead, I will continue to fight for those investments that will help America win the race for the jobs and industries of the future -– and that means investments in education and innovation and infrastructure. I will be fighting for that.

I for one do not want to see any cuts to federal support for public schools so calling for more just might be an effective strategy in at least keeping it at current levels. Given the changed makeup of the House and Senate, maintaining current levels would be a victory as I don’t believe that many of the new members are going to be supportive of “new” money going to public education.

I wonder how the talks on ESEA and replacing NCLB are progressing. Does anyone know or care?

Sunday, December 5, 2010


One of the blogs I follow is the Cliff Mass Weather Blog.  Last Friday his post was titled, Climatologically, The Worst Is Over.  I got excited after reading the first couple paragraphs that maybe the nightmare winter will not be a reality.  Please know that I don't understand many of the charts that he uses to explain the weather, but things looked good until I got to this part.

If we looked at surface winds, a similar story would be evident..the end of November is ground zero for rainy, stormy weather and the situation improves in December.

And certainly the first week of December this year is going to seem like a walk in the park compared to what we had at the end of November.

But the worst is yet to come for one parameter...snow. As shown below for Sea-Tac, January is the snowiest month in our area.

Just what I didn't want to know, especially since I think that February is historically as bad as January.  See what I mean about titles being misleading. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Like kicking a beehive . . .

A couple weeks ago Secretary Duncan and Bill Gates made the news by supporting economists calling for the end to teacher bonuses for master degrees. The claim is that research has shown over time that there is no connection between the master degree and increased student achievement.

In an article in the Huffington Post we hear from Gates and Duncan.

Duncan told the American Enterprise Institute on Wednesday that master's degree bonuses are an example of spending money on something that doesn't work.

On Friday, billionaire Bill Gates took aim at school budgets and the master's degree bonus.

"My own state of Washington has an average salary bump of nearly $11,000 for a master's degree – and more than half of our teachers get it. That's more than $300 million every year that doesn't help kids," he said.

"And that's one state," said Gates, the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, at a speech Friday in Louisville to the Council of Chief State School Officers. Gates also took aim at pensions and seniority.

"Of course, restructuring pay systems is like kicking a beehive," he acknowledged.

From the article, we also learn that in a study of fifteen states coming out of the University of Washington, master’s degree bonuses amounted to between 2% and 3% of total education spending. Given this, doing away with the bonus will not have a significant impact on education spending; something the economists and Duncan suggest is necessary and possible given the current economic situation of most states.

So, what do we do with this information? It is clear that successful systems use research and data to inform their decisions and that they are focused with a laser like beam on instruction for increased student achievement. If there is no connection between the bonus and student achievement, should we continue to operate as Juke’s would suggest ttwwadi (that’s the way we always did it) or should we be exploring other options? When and how do we pick and choose what research will influence our work and the decisions that we make to support success for all young people?

There is certainly much turmoil and uncertainty in the current education environment and this just adds to those finding fault. Research reports, articles, and influential people continue to suggest that public schools are not preparing young people for the future and that we need charters and more competition to force us to change. I don’t believe this to be true or necessary given our current reality, but it does concern me that there is data such as the master’s findings that we don’t consider as we continue our journey.

Might there be a better way to use this compensation that research would show does support increased achievement? I don’t see the motivation for change being a cost saving measure; it would be more of aligning salary with learning and increased knowledge and skill that is directly linked with achievement, the major component of our purpose for being. Remember, we still have the capacity at the local level to determine what success is, how it is measured, and how we use the data.  The external measures forced on our students should be a byproduct of the work that we do, not the driver for all that we do. 

So many opportunities for study and so much information to influence our choices.  Finding the leverage to maximize the use of our resources to increase student achievement should be driven by research.  Is the master degree issue leverage for us at this time?  No, I don't believe that it is, though it would be interesting to pursue as a topic for future consideration.  Leverage for us is implementing research based practices and learning from them in our school environments something that we are doing as we focus on three of the Classroom 10 characteristics; making key content visual, active learning, and checks for understanding.  Collecting data to determine the impacts on achievement is a necessary component of this work.

More on this topic to come in future posts.