Monday, January 26, 2015

Beautiful Weather and NCLB

The high pressure ridge over California continues to create beautiful warm daytime weather in January. For most of the United States, the west coast winter weather is postcard perfect. But not in California where fears of continued drought conditions pervade. In the short term, it’s wonderful weather but there is a deep-seated awareness that today’s pleasures will bring tomorrow’s pain. We need rain. Pure and simple.
                  Just as the feel-good weather portends a more serious problem, so does the feeling that the sunsetting of No Child Left Behind will bring relief. There is much talk about reducing or eliminating annual standardized testing as the members of Congress discuss options. While NCLB had many unintended consequences, it clearly gave attention to underperforming student subgroups.
                  California students of poverty scored twenty percentage points below the average of all students in reading literacy by the end of third grade. With all students demonstrating a statewide average of just under 50%, economically disadvantaged and English learners disproportionally bore the brunt of this shortcoming. Issues of truancy, drop-outs, and not being prepared for life after high school reflect the urgency of the situation. State District Attorney Kamala Harris’s office released evidence of the impact of truancy and absenteeism in schools adding to the view that results of undereducating our youth are easily seen.
                  Often with limited political capital, parents of these students rely more so on the schools to effectively educate their children. Challenges associated with poverty and not having English as a first language impact parents options to participate in their children’s schools.
                  Legislation that requires attention to the results of underperforming students serves to level the playing field. The larger perspective of state or federal legislation can set policy that local communities are unable to enact either due to a lack of resources or political resolve.  In the end, the attention given to the education of underperforming students will bring direct results that will improve long term outcomes.
                  NCLB deserves to be retired but not without a plan for supporting out neediest students. In other words, despite the beautiful California winter weather, pay attention to saving water for a lack of good stewardship can bring grave consequences.  

Monday, January 19, 2015

Problems of Practice

                  Interested in pursuing a passion that addresses a nagging challenge? Could you be interested in solutions leading to sustained change? Attending the California League of Schools Technology and Common Core conference, I discovered a set of strategies from Ms. Jennifer Magiera that get to the heart of a problem of practice.
                  Ms. Magiera is a tech coordinator for schools in Chicago and has developed tools and strategies for engaging students using technology.  She accomplished this by establishing steps to address a problem of practice she struggled to address. With consistent focus, Ms. Magiera developed strategies to best engage students by giving them decisions about what they wanted to learn. While this may not be your problem of practice, her strategies for clarifying and addressing a significant challenge can be of help to your productivity.
                  A problem of practice (PoP) is defined as a classroom, school or district-related challenge that generates a passion to address. According to Jennifer, a PoP is a problem that keeps you awake at night. It is that constantly surfacing issue that challenges you. She spoke of identifying it, understanding its impact, and devising steps to address the PoP.
                  PoPs range from involving a single individual to a large group (e.g. elementary reading teachers or students at a school). Coinciding with the amount of people affected, the challenge rates from low to high in its level of frustration.  Starting with the Gripe Jar, Ms. Magiera focused attention on what really bothers us asking us to individually write challenges down on post-it notes. Once issues were surfaced and ranked by degree of frustration and level of impact, the participants do a gallery walk to observe what others did and note those things that resonate with others (and include a comment or two). The process concludes by selecting the problem that you have the power to address and that affects the most people.
                  Once identified, the problem of practice is analyzed. Using specially-shaped paper notes, all facets of a problem are identified and written separately on a note. These notes are then placed according to their interrelatedness. For example, improving access to student results may mean improving the functionality of student management program which means attending trainings to better understand what the system has to offer. These two facets would be related and would share sides of their notes. This creates groupings that expose impacts and factors to be addressed to overcome the problem of practice. In some cases, a connected note may have numerous other notes connecting to it.  The connection of the separate subgroup of notes, or joint, becomes a significant area of focus for addressing the PoP. Finally, the process involves creating a Teacher Individualized Exploration Plan (TIEP), an action plan for addressing the problem of practice.
                  Often we share our frustration, challenges, or annoyances but the feeling is fleeting only to return in the future. The PoP process seeks to identify the critical issues influencing our work and come up with a plan to address it. Its value is quite apparent. The PoP process could be used when future direction is sought or when a situation is stuck and not progressing. For an individual, these steps could be used to establish a personal direction that is more likely to be sustained. Regardless, this problem of practice toolset presents much potential to help leaders move forward in addressing those nagging challenges.  Thank you, Jennifer Magiera.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Are We Failing to Prepare?

This summer, thousands of students will receive results from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test. Students, parents, and educators alike will wonder what the information means. How will schools and districts handle their responses? Will the results generate energy for continued self growth, reactionary responses or be dismissed as irrelevant? 

School districts are challenged to implement the common core state standards (CCSS) in classrooms while preparing for SBAC testing. Understandably, the CCSS are producing the greatest focus. In my district, professional learning and curriculum resources are centered around bringing CCSS instruction to students. At the same time, districts have geared up their technology so that SBAC testing is available online to students this spring. Local districts are utilizing interim assessments that mimic SBAC-type test items for students to experience the new expectations in testing form. Teachers are encouraged to adjust instruction based on interim assessment results.

But much less attention is currently being paid to how the SBAC results will be portrayed, understood, and analyzed. Waiting for the results to arrive will be like awaiting for a hurricane to arrive to decide what to do. It will be too late to begin grasping what the information means and how it was created. Knowing beforehand how the SBAC will formulate outcomes will strategically place districts miles ahead when the results arrive. This advanced knowledge will aid in communicating to parents, students and staff what to expect, how results will be derived, and what to do next.

Having participated in the in-person scale scoring for SBAC, I write with firsthand experience of the value of understanding how this new test will present results.  The new computer assisted technology will adjust test items based on previous responses making percent correct irrelevant and leaving everyone scratching their heads wondering how a scaled score was established. Confusion could lead to circumstances that detract from the test’s intent and lead to calls to reduce or scale back statewide testing. Worst case scenarios include angry parents wanting to know why the SBAC results are poorer than past state test results, teachers feeling demoralized or dismissive of the results and students wrongly drawing conclusions about themselves.

Most importantly, the commitment of resources should lead towards school improvement. The opportunity for this to occur remains. But we must act now to understand how the SBAC results will be created, portrayed, and understood. Join me in participating in this process. Upcoming posts will address these points with the intention of improving our students’ learning.