Thursday, January 20, 2011

Revisiting the state report card . . .

On the 13th I shared a post on the League of Education Voters report card on public schools in our state. I received one comment from Stacy that I want to pursue. In response to her question asking if I was surprised by the report; no it was not a surprise. What was of more interest to me was the following part of her comment.

Actually, we already know this research, yet we DON'T follow the advice. For years I know primary teachers have been saying to help the kids BEFORE third grade, yet most of the interventions happen AFTER third grade. WHY? Why the "flooding" before the test in 4th grade and then those SAME students are left to flounder on the 5th grade test.

Why? We, like many districts, were influenced by the 4th grade WASL when that was the ONLY public score out there for elementary schools. This influence resulted in the focus on interventions to support more students in meeting standard on that test and it has worked for us. We have not, however, found ways to continue the same level of support that many of these students need in subsequent years. Had the first WASL been at grade 1 we would have seen the interventions at that grade level.

I am seeing a shift in our behavior about this issue though in baby steps. One example is the walk to read program in the early grades at multiple elementary schools. This model is designed to provide more intensive support for struggling readers and the data suggests that it is working. Another example is the use of the small amount of intervention money provided to support interventions no longer being used just for grade 4 students. Perhaps the biggest shift will come with the goal I have for principals and that the board has for me to ensure positive growth on the State Board’s Accountability Index. The focus can no longer be on just those students close to meeting standard because this index demands growth for ALL students.
If you follow my blog, you might know that I don’t do a lot of complaining about money. In this case, however, I must say that to support all students at meeting standard will require more revenue, revenue that we have not had for students in multiple grades and in four schools. For success, we must find ways for intensive support in early grades for struggling students in literacy and math. Though additional revenue is necessary, money alone will not result in success for all students. It will require adaptive solutions to how we structure school for these kids and how adults interact with them. It demands that we examine the beliefs that drive our behavior, because right now as Stacy suggests, our behavior is not aligned with the research.

Thanks Stacy, for pushing me to be more reflective about our current reality as it relates to early learning. Creating adaptive change is difficult. It requires understanding of our current reality, our goals for the students, teachers, administrators, and schools, and a vision based on research of how to close the gap between the current reality and goals. Where will these conversations begin? Where should they begin? Where is the influence for adaptive change? We don’t need money for these conversations, but it will become a significant part of the conversation when we make decisions about our ability to implement any proposed adaptive solutions.


Scott Mitchell said...

One thing that I feel we have figured out the formula for most of students is in reading. I believe that the resources, both people and programs that our district (and state) has funded has proven to be successful in our district in our lower grades. Now we need to find a way to take the successes in reading and maybe think about how do we sustain a math assistance program (MAP) and writing (WAP) My 5th graders can read but when it comes to math and writing, there are many gaps and a much wider range of student success. We have a great teachers and it is now time to find solutions. But how? I am all for having conversations now but as you say, and I agree, funding is going to be a huge piece.

Ethan Smith said...

In your post you write:

Creating adaptive change is difficult. It requires understanding of our current reality, our goals for the students, teachers, administrators, and schools, and a vision based on research of how to close the gap between the current reality and goals. Where will these conversations begin? Where should they begin? Where is the influence for adaptive change?

I have a couple of thoughts to share. I was in classrooms the other day and caught myself in a pattern of thinking that is a major barrier. I was surprised at what some students didn't know. How did they make it this far not knowing how to (fill in the blank)? Surprised? When one is repeatedly surprised by the same input it definitely says something about the quality of one’s, in this case my, thinking. Surprised? What? Did I expect that when students left my classroom they all knew and could do all that they should have? No, I didn’t. Then why would I expect all students to enter my classroom with the same understandings and abilities? I shouldn’t, but we regularly do. We are surprised in part because we don’t have the right data to tell us what current reality is. In the absence of data (granted, and sometimes in spite of it) we fill the void with a made up “reality.”
I’d say the reconfiguring of the Group of 8 into the Team of 12 is a great first step. If that group can sustain in bringing laser-like focus to our goals, demand to be provided with data to support their knowing what current reality is, can focus the work of buildings on the gaps, and can get teams of teachers to make the shift from a focus on average achievement to individual achievement, we’ll get where we want to go. If we don’t make it to that last step, making the shift to taking action on the needs of individuals instead of treating groups of students as homogeneous collectives, we won’t get there.
(As an aside, the Team of 12 will not be able to be effective in their work if the group does not tend, with a deep commitment, structures, and routines, to the way they go about doing work together. While I believe the group’s existence is a great step forward, I think the chances of it being successful are low. Experience would suggest that that group will not take this seriously, will fall into patterns of communication that are not conducive to the group’s success, that the group members will just accept this as the way things are, and that the group will then collapse over time as its members fail to see it achieving anything that would make spending the time participating worthwhile. Remember in that ELT meeting when Dawn asked a simple question, among 20 people no one was answering, and Kristin asked what was up? That should be the norm, not a shocking exception.)
An organization I know of which has done great work at this most difficult of work is the Center for Educational Leadership. That is why I was so excited when I heard that a group in our district was connected with them. Their focus is on helping school systems in coupling the systems and structures in their school system (the work) tightly to their goals. They are systems thinkers. I don’t fully understand what that brought about that connection with CEL, but I’m hoping that a seed was planted that might lead to the blossoming of more work together in future.

Stacy said...

Mike, thanks for listening. After I hit post, I actually thought oh man, am I going to get it....what did I just do? To be honest, that was ten years of frustration coming at you, loud and clear! I love my job, I love when the kids, in their words, "Get it." I am glad to see we can finally talk about what is wrong and what is actually working.
Conversations are going to be difficult and change is hard, but I think most of us really want it. I hope, and for the first time am starting to really believe, that positive changes can occur! I look forward to the discussion. :)