Despite being reported in the press on January 5, 2017 the new Texas A – F Grading system is going to be reveled on January 6, 2017. This initial release is not intended to be a label or a “meaningful grade” on Texas schools and districts but instead a “what-if” rating. This is what our grades could look like if they were to be given today.
I am trying to wrap my brain around this new system because I am going to have to help my staff, parents, and community members better understand what all of this really means. Let’s see how I am doing in my processing and understanding…
Has This Been Tried Before?
Based off the reactions that are being made on social media and in the early press reports, the “what-if” grades are not being well received. It seems that we have seen this song and dance before. Remember Florida and their A-F unveiling? Read more about how there were many low scoring districts and the “adjustments” that needed to be made to the A-F grading system by clicking here, here, and here.
My Take So Far…
As a principal of a middle school campus in a successful Texas public school district I find that I have to be able to understand and explain a grading system that is based upon an assessment process that does not reflect best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment. Let’s compare the two really quick…
In my school our classrooms often buzz with the sounds of learning, collaboration between peers, facilitation of learning by our teachers, and checkpoint and mastery checks that often involve technology tools as a part of daily assessments. Those assessments are used to shape future learning and lessons to push students toward mastery of learning. Students are able to move around their classrooms, sit in collaborative groups, use technology tools, lay on the floor, use flexible furniture, with individualism and creativity highly encouraged. Seems like a great way to learn huh?
State assessments are the complete opposite of the day to day learning in our school. Students have to sit in columns and rows, no one can speak, answers are bubbled in circles or written on 26 lines that is graded in 90 seconds or less, and the results of these assessments may or may not be returned for schools to use within the same school year. All students are expected to take the exact same test and give the exact same answers as their peers all across Texas. That is real world right?
So what do you think? Is basing the A-F grading system off state assessments reflective of what we do in schools on a daily basis? Maybe in some schools, but not any school that I want your kids to learn in and be a part of. Not any school that I wish to lead because this is not how students should have to learn, rows and columns, no collaboration, no technology, no feedback.
What are the Domains?
Domain I is said to measure student achievement. This basically looks at how ALL of our students performed on the STAAR test. There is a nice little formula to help calculate the different letter grades for this Domain. Now, let’s not forget that the STAAR test does not actually measure student achievement. It actually measures the averages of students because it is a norm-referenced test designed to rank and order students and schools. Make no mistake, STAAR is not about student achievement but, instead, about student averages. There is a difference.
Domain II is said to measure student progress on the STAAR test from year to year. This would seem to be fairly straight forward. Students either improve their STAAR performance year to year or they don’t, right? The hang up is the STAAR test itself. The passing standards are not determined until AFTER the testing has been conducted, the passing standards are changed year after year, if everyone answers questions correctly then the question could be thrown out, and some content areas are only tested every three years meaning students have to pass three years’ worth of standards in a single test. Do you still think it is straight forward?
Domain III is titled closing the gaps. What you need to know is that this is NOT a measure of the closure of any performance gaps between different student groups. Instead this is a measure of our economically disadvantaged students and how they perform on STAAR. There is not a comparison between “succeeding students” and “struggling students” but instead to an expected passing rate and an actual passing rate that is based only on our low social economic students.
You also need to know that based on the mathematical formula being used for domain III, the more economically disadvantaged students a school and/or district has the lower the expected passing rate is for that school and/or district. This means if your school has fewer poor students those students are expected to pass a higher rate than a school with more poor students. Think about that for a minute.
Domain IV is said to measure post-secondary readiness. This domain is based off attendance rates, drop-out rates, graduation rates, college entrance exam performance, career and technology courses, AP/IB courses, and dual credit courses. Elementary schools only have attendance rates for Domain IV and middle schools have attendance rates and drop-out rates.
Domain V will be community based accountability. This domain will allow school districts the opportunity to rate theselves on different areas other that STAAR (state assessment). Please click here for an excellent example of my district's community based accountibility. For the release of the "what-if" scores Domain V was not mentioned due to a "lack of data". I feel that our district has plenty of data with our community based accountibility assessment to hold us accountable to our students, parents, and community on what is most important to us as a community.
How will the single A-F grade be determined?
In the actual grade all 5 of the domains will be averaged into a single grade for the campus and district. Does that make sense to you? It does not make sense to me because this means that everything we do comes down to a single grade that labels our schools, our students, our teachers. There are so many of these items that are out of the control of schools but the legislature feels that a single letter grade will tell the story of a school. What do you think?
So now what?
So as you look at your school and district “What-If” A-F grades ask yourself this question: Are the experiences that you and your child are having in that school reflective of the grades that are being placed upon the school?
Take these “what-if” grades with a grain of salt because they are going to change. All we have to do is look at other states that have decided to use this approach to rate their schools and we will see that grades will be adjusted with the political winds that blow the strongest.
Over the last few years there has been a challenge in the Twitter world to think of #oneword to describe the coming year. If you think about it, choosing one word to encapsulate an entire year is not an easy task. After much thought and contemplation one word continues to surface over and over again. Mindset.
Mindset is important to me because I believe that your mindset really shapes your world. Think about that for a minute. You see what you look for. There is good and bad, right and wrong, struggles and success in every situation. You choose where to place your focus.
Of course there has been a lot of talk, discussion, and literature about growth mindset and fixed mindset. I am not thinking of mindset in those terms right now. I am thinking of mindset more in relation to your perspective, your focus, your viewpoint, your attitude. All of these influence your mindset in any given situation.
As educators our mindset determines how we work with the people we encounter each and every day. If we have a mindset of wanting to work with students, parents, peers, and community members to meet them where they are and help get them to where they need to be we are more likely to achieve success in our efforts. If we have the mindset that we have to work with students, parents, peers, and community members but we don’t take into consideration of where they are when they come to us (because they should already know this stuff) then we will not be successful in getting them where they need to be. It all begins with ourselves and how we choose to approach each day.
I wish you all the greatest successes in 2017. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.” To me, this demonstrates the correct mindset in our line of work. You cannot wait for everything to be just right before taking action. Do what you know to be right. Perfection often paralyzes the well-intended; do not wait for everything to be perfect because you may never get started. With the right mindset you will achieve success, even through failure.
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
I did not realize just how important perspective was until becoming a school administrator. Over the past several months I have been reminded of the importance of perspective in life. As a public school administrator I am constantly having to look at situations from the perspectives of others. Why? Because I need to understand the importance of the decisions I make.
Working in public schools means that you must serve all points of view and all perspectives. Those points of view and those perspectives are not always going to see eye to eye. Sometimes those points of view and perspective challenge your own thinking. How do you handle those differences in your school? In your classroom? In your decision making processes?
We all come with our own set of experiences that shape our thinking and our perspectives. Some of us are more experienced than others but that does not mean we cannot take the time to see the views of others. In fact, we must take the time to see the views of others because that is the only way we can really understand each other. As educators, we also must help our students learn to see the views of others. This is important to grow and develop a civilized society that can respect the perspectives of others, even when we disagree.
Sometimes I think we have lost sight of the importance of perspective in our culture. The need to be right. The desire to be the one to share the news first. The feeling we get when we think we know better than someone else. All of these situations occur when we do not see other’s perspectives.
Shortly before retiring from public school work Dr. Eddie Coulson said that if he learned one thing in his time as a superintendent, it was the need to listen. Listen to the point of view of others. Seek to understand where others are coming from. Don’t be quick to make decisions. Be quick to listen.
His advice was simple but extremely powerful.
Recently there have been issues come across my desk or in my email inbox that have required me to make a choice. My choice was to make a decision based off the limited information available to me or to take the time to gather more information, have conversations to gain more perspective, and then make a decision. I have learned that if I do not seek other perspectives, then I am failing to understand before working to be understood.
When I do not take the time to learn the perspectives of others am I really serving the interest of all of those that I serve?
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
Take a couple of minutes to read the paragraphs above that came from this article in the Atlantic. The article is about a Finnish teacher that experiences what it is like to be a teacher in America.
Now take several minutes to think about what you just read. How does it make you feel? What are your thoughts about that? Did you realize this is even a problem in our schools?
Teachers are so rushed and so busy during their day that they do not have time to sit, think, process, and be creative in their own profession during working hours. We expect teachers to do that outside of the working day. On their own time. What other profession is purposfully structured this way -- having professionsals work outside of the work day to be prepared for the coming work day?
It is true in most schools in America. We wonder why teacher burnout it such an issue.
“If you asked me now, my answer would be that most likely I would not continue in this career.”
There are many reasons that we have arrived at this point in our schools today. Federal accountability, state accountability, budget constraints, funding shortages, teacher shortages, politics, policies based upon local concerns and so on. These are valid reasons and issues.
Issues such as these have caused districts and schools to reduce planning periods to one period a day. Most of the issues causing the reduction in planning is related to funding shortages and testing accountability. It costs money to have planning periods. Kids have to be in a classroom, somewhere on the campus, each period. If teachers are scheduled to not have students then there has to be a place for students to go where there are adults. That master scheduling 101.
Accountability pressures on schools have made it a bad thing to have teachers "not doing anything" during the day. That is what some people think teachers are doing during their conference period... nothing. Well, nothing could be further from the truth.
The business approach to running schools is that we must have teachers in classrooms all day long, teaching kids. That is what they are supposed to do right? Teach? Of course it is! But they also need time to plan, collaborate, create, observe, and prepare their lessons.
Yes, teachers have a conference period but often they are filled with mandatory meeting that are either federal, state, or local requirements or they have legal paperwork that needs to be completed or they have to contact parents about issues and concerns related to schools... and the list could go on.
It is what it is. We are here.
The great news is we do not have to stay here.
I am a realist. I understand the current situations of education in my school, district, state, and at varying levels, the nation. I understand that the issues listed above are real and are not going away anytime soon. But I also know that we have so much room to operate within the constraints that exist in our schools.
We have to be willing to look and see what we can change within the current system and the actually make those changes. I expect that from my teachers. I think that it is time that we all expect that from our school systems as a whole.
What are we waiting for? The status quo to change? We are the status quo. We must make the changes necessary to help our teachers.
We owe it to our students. We owe it to our teachers. We owe it to our communities.
What are you willing to change within your current constraints?
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
We recently read Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire as a part of our doctoral program. This book was utilized by the professor to help us to better understand the role of social justice in schools. I must admit that when I first read the title I was skeptical about what I was going to learn from the book. I had not really thought of schools being a place that oppressed students. I mean, we are trying to teach students and give them knowledge to help their future. How are we oppressing them? After reading the book he wrote in 1968, I have changed my thinking. It is still relevant in 2016.
I am not going to recap the book here for you, but I do encourage you to read it for yourself. You just may be surprised at what you read. I am going to share with you one aspect of Freire’s argument that is still relevant in schools almost 50 years later. Freire calls it “Banking Education” and today we would call it “Sit and Get Lecture”. The basic premise about banking education is that the teacher is the keeper of all of the knowledge, ready to deposit this knowledge into the receptacle that is known as the student. Sound familiar?
Freire viewed this teaching approach as oppressive to students because it does not allow students to seek out their own knowledge, participate in meaningful dialogue with the teacher or their peers, research their own learning with the help of their teacher or solve their own problems. In the banking model the teacher is in full control of the learning and students are merely supposed to absorb the information that is presented and regurgitate that information back to the teacher upon request. This process is supposed to demonstrate students’ ownership of the knowledge that has been deposited within them by the teacher. Do you feel that this is true?
Do you know of anyone that teaches this way? How is the learning engagement in their classroom? What skills are these students developing that will help them outside of the classroom? These are the questions that I ask when I see sit and get lecture used as the primary means of instruction.
I am not saying that lecture does not have a place in education but I am saying that it cannot be the go to method of instruction. This passive learning environment does not promote the profound learning that we all want and need for our students. Instead, it creates students that can sit, listen, try to stay focused for long periods of time, take notes, and then repeat the information back to the teacher during an exam.
I am also not saying that every teacher teaches this way but I am going to say that lecture is still a primary method of delivery for most teachers today. Why? Because it is easy and safe. There is much less upfront work needed to prepare for a lecture when compared to a station rotation session, or a PBL unit, or a flipped unit. It is safe because the teacher is in the driver’s seat the entire time and does not have to turn over control of the learning to the students.
Turning over control is a scary thing. I get that. I also get that students cannot ever fully learn if they do not have control over their own learning. As a principal I would argue the same for my teachers and their own learning.
Is the passive learning environment the best for student learning? No. It is best for student compliance but not for learning. Why? Because the students are not doing anything with the knowledge and information. Students need to manipulate the knowledge, explore as a part of their learning, have conversations about what they have learned, collaborate with their peers, and apply their learning in multiple settings and activities. Students need time to develop ownership over their learning. They cannot do this sitting quietly at their desk day after day.
Teachers need to facilitate learning and create learning environments that allow for active student learning. We need more facilitators of learning and not educational bankers. Which are you? What is holding you back?
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
As I am in the middle of Thanksgiving Break I am reflecting upon what is most important to me. At the top of that list is time.
At first glance it would seem that we would have enough time. After all, the sun rises and sits each day. We have the same 86,400 seconds with each passing day. We can accomplish so much in this amount of time yet we all complain that we do not have enough time. Why is that? Have you ever wondered where it all goes? I do.
The ignorance of youth tricks us into thinking there is plenty of time but the reality is that time is finite.
Yes, the sun will continue to rise and set in a predictable manner as it has done since the beginning of time. What makes it finite is in how we utilize our time. What do we spend it on each and every day. Do we spend our time on the things that really matter? Do you know what really matters to you? Do you build your days around what really matters to you? Those are hard questions to answer and I encourage you to really reflect upon them.
In education we are guilty of spending our time focusing on the things that may not matter much at all. If you do not believe me, just check out John Hattie’s visible learning research. As you look over the list what surprises you? Where do you spend most of your time? What is most important to you as an educator? How can other see what is most important to you?
How can others see what is important to you?
As Americans we are guilty of spending our time focusing on work. It is a part of our American culture. We work more than anyone else in the industrialized world. I am not saying that work isn’t important. I am as guilty as the next guy or gal about spending too much time working. What I want you to think about is: how is the work – life balance in your life? Are you making time for what is most important to you? How can others see what is most important to you?
As you push through the remainder of the calendar year and close out the fall semester think about how you are spending your time in your classrooms. Are you engaging kids in learning experiences that are meaningful to them or are you wasting their time?
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
This weekend my wife, father in law, and I ran in the Marathon 2 Marathon (M2M) out in Marathon, TX. There are many reasons why I run but until this race experience my reasons have been geared toward me. My newest reason for running is related to building community.
If you do not know, Marathon is located in deep West Texas, north of the big bend region. With a population of just over 400 people you could call this a sleepy little West Texas town. This past weekend, Marathon was anything but sleepy. There were more than 500 runners that had descended upon the small town and the residents welcomed us all with open arms.
The race director, Marci Roberts, really welcomed all of the runners and showed her human side when she spoke about her why behind all of the work she puts in to the M2M. All of the money raised by the marathon, half marathon, 10k, and 5k is spread across the community to keep the community going. She became emotional while addressing the crowd of runners gathered for the outstanding post-race BBQ meal prepared by the Marathon Volunteer Fire Department and the award ceremony that followed.
Marci has been successful in uniting a community behind a wonderful event that unites a small town in the middle of the West Texas desert. She has recruited the help of high school students through the ROTC program to man the water stations and many local residents to provide a wonderful atmosphere for runners. Shops welcomed runners into their stores. The volunteer fire department cooked for the runners. Law enforcement, EMS, and local residents patrolled the course to assist runners over 26.2 miles (or less). School buses shuttled runners to the start areas. Everyone in Marathon was so thankful and appreciative to host us for a few short hours while we pushed ourselves as runners and as people. It was a community effort to make this a wonderful day!
I have been fortunate to call myself a runner for the last 10 years of my life. In those 10 years I have really learned just how welcoming and inclusive the running community is to all runners. Having run races in Dallas, Houston, New York, San Angelo, Pagosa Springs, Bryan, College Station, Nacogdoches, Marathon and traveling to the Boston Marathon twice to watch my father in law run I have witnessed the inclusiveness regardless of the location. Each race has one thing in common, support, encouragement, perseverance, and happiness. Building community through charities and worthy causes as a result of runners willing to support and participate is extremely common for most running events.
Marathon 2 Marathon was slightly different. The money raised impacted the entire community because it was shared throughout the entire community. The impact the small community of Marathon, TX has felt because of the M2M is enormous. It is more than a “shot in the arm” as Marci so emotionally described before the awards ceremony.
This weekend was the example of building community. Everyone came together and did what was needed to provide a great experience. Community is all about teamwork and collaboration. They have accomplished that in Marathon, TX. I am happy and fortunate to have been able to observe it in action.
This is why I run.
I have been listening to a lot of podcasts lately. I really did not realize just how much excellent learning could be had from this type of media but there is so much. While my wife and I were traveling in West Texas we were on short supply of radio stations so we brought up the podcasts on the phone. We came across this one The Meaning of Work – TED Hour Podcast -- You should give it a listen and see what you think.
As a public school principal I am always reading and listening to what the business industry says they need in their employees since we are educating the future. I am always looking to see how we can better engage students and teachers in the learning process. This podcast started me thinking about the role that we, as school systems, play in the problem being discussed in “The Meaning of Work” podcast. I decided to watch the TED Talk that inspired this podcast.
Take about 15 minutes to watch it and see what you think.
The research of the regular chickens and the super chickens is humorous at first but as Margaret continues to tell the story and then continues on about her work, experiences, and thinking related to the research there was less humor for me.
Think back to your childhood. Most of us are told all our lives we have to compete. Often is begins at home and it continues in school. We have to be better than the students next to us. Parents and schools place us in competition with each other over class rank, GPA, Top 10%, etc. We are ranked, ordered, and classified based off how we perform on tests. We have to beat everyone in everything that we do.
Now, please know that I think competition is a good thing and there is not anything wrong with healthy competition. When we compete to push ourselves, work hard for achievement, and learn from the results of our competition, we grow.
Is the high stakes environment we have created in schools really going to promote growth? Is ranking and ordering students from best to worst the best answer to how to solve the world’s issues and problems? Is this the type of healthy competition that promotes real growth in students? Not according to Margaret Heffernan.
Social capital and social connectedness is the key to success in the world. Have you ever heard the saying that is it is not what you know as much as who you know? Why do you think that is true? Margaret discusses how companies are redesigning their structures to place the emphasis on collaboration and teamwork. Shouldn’t we do the same in schools?
Are we really in the business of creating “super chickens” that will end up pecking each other to death? Shouldn’t we focus more on the teamwork and collaboration and teach students how to work together to achieve success? That seems to be the way business is moving. If we do not teach children to work together and to collaborate effectively then why do we think they will be able to do so as adults?
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
Last year my ELA teachers and I traveled to Katy, TX to watch and learn from the ELA teachers at Morton Ranch Jr High. We were interested in how they utilized the Readers and Writers Workshop model in 45 minutes in a middle school setting. I wrote about our experience in this blog post here. Today was an opportunity for our school to return the favor.
My friend and fellow principal from Katy ISD, Dr. Sanee Bell contacted me and said that she wanted to bring her math team to AMCMS and observe how we teach math. Sanee and I first met through the Texas Principals’ Vision Institute through N2Learning where we really learned the value of making connections between campuses. Today’s visit was just as valuable for me and my teachers as it was for her and her teachers.
When you know that you are going to have visitors and you will be questioned about what you are doing, you are going to be engaged in your work. This is the power of peer observations. Whether your peers are from across the hall or from across the state, it does not matter, the accountability to each other is still the same. You want them to observe something they can take away and put into place in their daily work.
As an administrator I challenge you to develop these types of relationships with your fellow principals. In district our out of district, it does not matter. Your teachers and students benefit from these relationships. Go visit another school and see what you can learn from them. Allow others to visit you and see what they can learn from you. What you will find out is you will learn from each other.
The observations are conversation starters for you and your team of teachers. Take what you observed and learned, apply it to your current reality and make it your own. Don’t wait for perfection because you will never get started.
As a classroom teacher I challenge you to be open to being observed. If your principal has invited others to come in and observe you it is because your principal thinks you have something worth learning from going on in your room. Is it nerve wracking to have guests? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes! Why? Because you are refining your craft and pushing yourself to be your best.
If you are asked to go and watch a peer teach, go in with an open mind and an eye for something new or different. Take pictures of what you like, notes of what is working and what you want to implement in your classroom. Leave them a positive note to share what you noticed and what you appreciated about their work.
In the end, everyone grows professionally. That is the power in this type of learning.
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
This past week in my doctoral course work we have been studying the differences between quantitative and qualitative research. Sounds exciting huh?! Actually, it really has generated some great thinking and online discussions (it’s a blended program).
Now, I know what you are thinking… or at least what I was thinking when I realized we were learning about quantitative and qualitative research, “Why do we need to study this? Let me save you the mystery, one uses numbers and one uses observations as the basis of research.” Sound about right? Technically it is correct, but why does the difference between the two matter? That is the question to ask, why does the difference matter.
Think about this. Can you tell all that you need to tell from numbers? Do data points tell you all that you need to know about a student? How about groups of students? Or better yet how about an entire school? If you just look at the numbers, you are not going to know the story behind the numbers. No wait…
You are not going to know the humans behind the numbers if you just look at the numbers. You are not going to know the stories of struggle and success when you just look at numbers. There is a face associated with each point of data and each score.
This makes me sad because in public schools we are not dealing in numbers, we are dealing with people and their education. We are shaping their future and their lives each day. What do the numbers for that look like?
Now let’s look at our “accountability” system in schools. How is the “accountability” structure set up? This sums it up:
This is best instructional practice, right? This is how research says we should assess student learning, correct? Parents would be 100% satisfied with our teachers if this was our approach to teaching wouldn’t they? I don’t think so. I would not allow this to occur and neither would my parents, but yet we allow politicians to do this to our schools and to our students.
Why? Why do we allow this from our elected officials?
How about the students? Is it fair that all of their learning come down to a single test taken on a day chosen by someone that does not even know the education level and abilities of the student? Did their parents just get a divorce? Are they dealing with an unknown illness? Were they up all night because their family was just evicted from their apartment because their landlord sold out to a developer? What happens as adults when we experience this? We usually take a day off work. Can kids do this on state testing days? Don't forget the school is rated on participation rates of state testing too.
When a student is told they must pass a test or they could be held back from their peers or not allowed to graduate, that’s fair huh? Does this increase their stress and anxiety? You better believe it does.
All of this from comparing qualitative vs quantitative research. I told you we had great thinking and conversations.
Here is my thinking about the difference between the two: You cannot just look at the data. You must take the data and then learn about the people behind the data to understand “the why” with the data. When you just look at numbers you just don’t get it. We do not live in a black and white world no matter what the data says.
Think. Achieve. Succeed.
7th & 8th Grade
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are
Images & Quotes that Inspire