PBL as Turnaround Strategy

One elementary school in Lexington is using Project-Based Learning to turnaround its performance. An article detailing the approach also notes it is a multi-year commitment focused on success, not immediate results.

I previously wrote about Danville’s use of PBL as a hopeful experiment and an interesting reconnection to Kentucky’s KERA reforms of the 1990s.

Now, it seems Mary Todd Elementary in Lexington is embracing the approach as a way to improve results for the school. Interestingly, the emphasis on hands-on learning means field trips and technology are needed — that is, more investment in the school.

From the story:

The school in north Lexington is trying to transform student achievement with a concept called project-based learning. It is a system in which students learn classroom subjects by doing meaningful projects that relate to real situations in the community. The concept prepares students for college and careers, Kirchner said.
It is a three-to five-year process, “not a quick fix,” she said.

First- and third-graders are trying the method first, and Kirchner hopes to implement it schoolwide by 2017.
 
The transformation is needed in part because Mary Todd is considered a low-performing school. It had a score of 52.9 out of 100 in Kentucky’s testing and accountability program in 2013-14. Mary Todd is classified by the state as “needs improvement/progressing” as opposed to “proficient” or “distinguished.”
The story is an interesting one because of the approach — using more field trips, hands-on experiences, and projects to promote the learning students need to excel.
Rather than attempting to improve test scores by endless drilling, this approach focuses on providing education that illuminates concepts through experience.
And the school’s principal notes the effort doesn’t come without a cost:
The achievement gap between poor, disabled and minority students and other students is not going to close immediately, Kirchner said.

 
“Nor is it going to close based on the budget and staffing that we are given by the school district,” she said.
To do PBL well, it takes a commitment of time and an investment of resources.
For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

 

 

Why is Kentucky Losing New Teachers?

The Prichard Blog poses this question in light of some startling data from the Kentucky Board of Education:

For every 100 teachers who were new hires of the 2009-10 school year:

  • 18 were out of Kentucky teaching by the next year
  • 12 more were gone by the year after that
  • 7  were teaching in a different district by their second year
  • 7  were in the same district, but at a different school
  • 56 were still at their original schools

That means after two years, 30% of teachers who start teaching in Kentucky no longer teach in Kentucky. Perhaps they leave teaching altogether or perhaps they just move out of state. It also shows that after two years, only 1 out of 2 new teachers hired are still teaching at the same school.

As Prichard notes, this raises some important questions. Certainly, this type of turnover is both expensive and challenging for school districts.

But, what can be done?

One possible solution is a new teacher mentoring program. Yes, Kentucky has KTIP, but perhaps a program that goes deeper and does more to support new teachers is in order. Investing in early career teaching matters:

It is absolutely imperative that early career teachers receive adequate support and assistance so they develop into excellent teachers.  It’s also critical that those teachers are encouraged to stay in the field.  High teacher turnover costs districts (and taxpayers) money and deprives students of the valuable benefits of strong, stable teachers.  One proven method of retaining new teachers that also results in improved student learning is early career mentoring.  Research at the New Teacher Center suggests that placing a trained mentor with a new teacher in the first two years of teaching both improves teacher retention and shows a positive impact on student learning.

Additionally, adopting a more comprehensive support system — perhaps within the PGES framework, could help. Combining the new evaluation system with a Peer Assistance and Review program could also bolster the support new teachers receive in their early career development:

This Harvard Guide looks at seven PAR programs and discusses their impact. The bottom line is that the programs are generally well-received by both teachers and administrators and demonstrate a level of effectiveness at both preparing new teachers and improving veteran teachers.

Here are a few key takeaways:

Districts with PAR programs say that, although the program can be expensive, it has many important benefits. PAR’s mentoring component helps beginning teachers succeed and, thus, increases retention. PAR also makes it possible to help ineffective tenured teachers improve or to dismiss them without undue delay and cost because of the program’s clear assessment process and the labor-management collaboration that underpins it. This process of selective retention can lead to a stronger teaching force and promote an organizational culture focused on sound teaching practice. Union leaders say that the program professionalizes teaching by making teachers responsible for mentoring and evaluating their peers. With its specialized roles for Consulting Teachers (CTs), PAR also has the potential to differentiate the work and career opportunities of teachers.

When nearly one out of every three new teachers hired in Kentucky leaves the profession after two years, something needs to be done. Certainly, no one wants to keep people in a profession for which they are not well-suited. But high turnover is not desirable for districts, for students, and for taxpayers. Certainly, many of those who chose teaching sincerely want to do the job and have the ability to do it well.

Kentucky would do well to find a way to better support early career teachers and improve their development as professionals.

For more on education policy and politics in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

 

Accountability Changes

Susan Weston has a report over at the Prichard Blog that details recent actions taken by the State Board of Education that will change (and tighten) accountability standards for Kentucky schools.

The changes include additional gap reporting, tightening the monitoring of focus schools relative to graduation rates, strengthening the requirements for AMOs, and an additional reporting element in growth results.

It seems to be a step forward, in that it strengthens existing requirements, keeps some reporting, and adds some higher standards.

The full report and the documents can be found in Susan’s blog.

For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

 

Professional Development: Accepted and Expected

This article was submitted by Hope Street Group Fellows Kip Hottman and Angela Baker. Baker teaches English/Language Arts and Journalism in Berea Community Schools. Read her full bio. Hottman is a Spanish teacher at Oldham County High School. Read his full bio.

Kentucky Education Report continues to seek submissions from teachers who wish to comment on education policy in Kentucky.

This year Kentucky joined many states throughout the U.S. in implementing a more comprehensive teacher evaluation program. Kentucky teachers have been piloting the new Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES) for the last two years, but this year full implementation is occurring, with full accountability being postponed until the 2015-2016 school year.

Across the nation many teachers are taking part in initiatives that integrate and embed professional learning within the teacher evaluation. While professional development has been part of teachers’ ongoing training throughout schools for years, school administrators and local decision making councils are currently looking at how to improve individual teacher’s skills. PGES will allow individual teachers to tailor their professional learning to their needs rather than enduring school-wide professional development that most likely does not match their individual areas of improvement. At the heart of the decision making about a teacher’s effectiveness is data; data about his or her students (such as summative test scores and daily, formative academic gains), classroom observations and teacher reflection. With information from multiple measures, teachers, through collaboration with the administrator, are able to create student-centered goals and increasingly intentional plans to improve their effectiveness.

In October of 2013 Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, visited Williamsburg, Kentucky to encourage and acknowledge the state’s efforts within Early Childhood Development. At the town hall convening, Secretary Duncan was asked to provide a specific example of a teacher evaluation system in the United States that is successful. He immediately responded with Montgomery County, Maryland, and their use of a program called Peer Assistance and Review (PAR – http://www.gse.harvard.edu/~ngt/par/)

The purpose of the PAR program is to assist all teachers to meet standards for proficient teaching. It is a program that has been instituted to truly help teachers be as successful as possible, continue to learn and continue to grow as an educator. The system was instituted in the early 2000’s and uses multiple measures to determine a teacher’s professional development (PD) needs. The multiple measures are as follows:

  • Formal and informal observations by school administration or a consulting teacher
  • Student achievement data
  • Non-evaluative observations by a staff development teacher, reading specialist, math specialist or math content coach
  • Student learning objective data
  • Peer walk-throughs
  • Formative assessment data and marking period data

When Assistant Principal Greg Mullenholz of Maryvale Elementary School in Montgomery County, Maryland was asked about strengths and weaknesses of the PAR program, he said, “The evaluation has an outcome that is rooted in Professional Development. Meaning, the observation of the teacher is used to analyze the effectiveness of their practice. A problem that could arise if the observation isn’t solid because the goal will be misaligned to the actual need of the teacher. The support structure also has to be in place so the Professional Development will be available once a goal is defined.”

In the past, growth was viewed as a common thread amongst departments in schools, and most teachers focused on the same goal as their peers. The PAR program is groundbreaking because it is teacher-centered as they have the opportunity to create their own professional growth goal. The teacher is held accountable for his or her goal and provides evidence of change in student achievement through their adopted changes in practice.

Mr. Mullenholz also discussed his personal opinion of PAR and its effect on growing teachers professionally through collaboration: “Since its implementation over a decade ago, PAR has been a strong model. I love that it was collaboratively developed and that the school system and the union are both architects. The “peer” part is critical as the evaluation or observation must have an expectation for improvement in the teacher’s practice, or there is no set-up for success.”

While Montgomery County School district implemented an evaluation system with an eye toward teacher development, others took this one step further and created incentives for improved performance. One example of this is the Vaughn Next Century Learning Center in San Fernando, California.

The Vaughn Next Century Learning Center has a history of offering high quality professional development integrated with teacher evaluation for performance pay over an interval of several years. They also use the PAR program and, like other teacher evaluation systems, professional development needs are determined by a combination of test scores and areas of need identified through observations by both lead teachers and administrators. As an independent charter school, the curriculum committee looks at the needs of the entire school and plans professional development based on numerous local factors.

Nicole Mohr, teacher and Curriculum committee Chair to the Board of Directors at the Vaughn Center stated, “It is an ever growing, ever changing process. Teachers who are on the performance assistance and review team meet regularly, several times a year and each summer to discuss how the program is meeting the needs of the school.” Most schools meet regularly to desegregate data from state tests, other assessments and even non-cognitive data to make plans to improve the school.

Teachers receive pay incentives based on numerous areas: their skills/knowledge base (Designing Coherent Instruction, Managing Classroom Procedures, Managing Student Behavior, Engaging Students in Learning, Reflecting on Teaching, and Showing Professionalism) evaluated during observations, contingency base (student attendance), outcomes base (graduation rate and Average Percentage Increased), expertise base (department chair, coach, mentor, tutor, etc) and measurable student growth.

Ms. Mohr cautioned that the downside of incentives or merit pay is “[teachers] may look for ways to prove [they] are meeting the requirements rather than looking for ways to improve [instructional practices]”. Authentically excellent teachers usually do have the evidence to prove they are meeting expectations, which shows the overall importance and benefit of accountability.” While accountability may mean merit pay for some, for most schools evaluation is used to make decisions about retention.

Mella Baxter, English and reading teacher in Flagler County Schools in Florida is at a school that does not use PAR but is integrating professional development with teacher evaluation. Ms. Baxter stated, “[Professional Development] is not differentiated by individual teacher needs, but rather each Professional Learning Community (PLC) meeting focuses on how to get highly effective in one of the indicators on the evaluation tool. Then the rest of the PLC teachers work together to create lessons, assessment, etc. based on student data designed to get students to the level they need to be for teachers to get a highly effective rating.”

Aligning the professional development to the evaluation tool that is then linked to best practices seems to be a simple and effective idea. Ms. Baxter, who is also a Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow, is designing a space on the Virtual Engagement Platform for Hope Street Group that will list indicators for Florida’s teacher evaluation tool and link each one to resources that will help teachers achieve a highly effective rating in that category. Her plan is to allow teachers to “further individually tailor their PD.” Once completed it will allow features such as uploading videos of teachers as exemplars or to attain feedback.

Teachers are more than capable of designing evaluative tools that encompass the complexity of the teaching profession. The most effective teachers are life-long learners. Professional development ought not to be a matter of compliance; it ought to be a tool for satisfying a teacher’s quest for daily improvement of practice. Being treated like a professional is a first step toward redesigning a career ladder that will keep the best teachers in the classroom and proud to be there helping American students.

More on Career Pathways for Teachers

More on Peer Assistance and Review (PAR)

For more on education policy and politics in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

 

The Danger of Achievement

Drew Perkins of Perkins Ed Consulting writes about the Culture of Achievement and how it can be harmful to students.

Perkins specializes in professional development related to Project-based learning, a topic I’ve written about before.

This column originally appeared on his blog, and is republished here with the author’s permission.

Achievement sounds great doesn’t it? What parent doesn’t want their child to achieve? What teacher doesn’t hope their students achieve at a high level? Of course achievement in general is a good thing but the Culture of Achievement created by high stakes accountability measures is having a dangerous effect on education.

A culture of achievement places it’s focus on the most easily quantifiable and measurable results, test scores. As superintendents and building administrators work to keep their jobs and show they are successful it’s somewhat understandable (if not short-sighted) that this would be a focus. Test scores are the currency in which the general public uses to judge schools. Want to know which schools are the best just ask Google and the top results show rankings like US News & World Report and SchoolDigger.com who state very clearly that test scores are a major factor in their ratings system. For example, US News & World Report explain they begin their rating of schools by “…using performance on state proficiency tests as the benchmarks.” The unfortunate truth is that these tests are not measuring things important to creating the type of graduates society needs and is longing for. Most standardized tests attempt to measure content knowledge and understanding and not skills or thinking you would find on the upper parts of Bloom’s taxonomy. What this often creates then is an approach by administrators that demands a focus on identifying exactly what parts of the test students are not performing well (disaggregating the data) and pulling those students for intentional work on shoring up those specific shortcomings. Sometimes these are called RTI classes and other times teachers are just asked to analyze student data in their PLC’s and reteach or somehow get these students to “achieve” so they can compete with other students and schools.
This detachment from the purpose of school and learning creates a level of frustration, anxiety and burnout that I experienced first-hand as a teacher and from students who have little to no interest in playing school. The misplaced focus of a Culture of Achievement manifests itself in ways that include test prep, students working on and celebrating closing of achievement score gaps, emphasis on coverage of content and almost always an unacceptable level of anxiety & burnout. Perhaps the most saddening part of a Culture of Achievement is it’s low ceiling. While it may be politically and strategically smart to pursue the quick hits of raising test scores it’s a fool’s bargain that limits the potential of our students in a myriad of ways.
What if we pursued a Culture of Teaching and Learning? One that placed an emphasis on things like deep, rich inquiry and craftsmanship? What if the learning had no ceiling and students were authentically assessed and did real-world work where they uncovered and discovered content? What if instead of disaggregating data our teachers engaged in quality professional discourse about their work in ways that excited them and their students? A Culture of Teaching and Learning often produces great (test scores) achievement but a Culture of Achievement rarely results in great teaching and learning. A Culture of Teaching and Learning rewards and professionalizes teaching and helps create students who are empowered by their possibilities and less than concerned with test performance.
If your school is looking to create great thinkers and learners and not just students stuffed full of content take a look at your culture. If your school is wishing your students were excited to be there instead of feeling the tension of just trying to attend and endure take a look at your culture. Is your focus on test scores and “achievement” or do your teachers and students engage in ways that allow them to grow and make meaning out of their learning in ways that tests don’t measure and quantify? Is the purpose of your school to produce great test scores or students capable of thinking creatively and critically about things that matter?
Are you interested in improving your Culture of Teaching and Learning?
For more on moving toward a Culture of Teaching and Learning, visit Drew’s site.
For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

Pension Reform in 2015?

Kentucky legislators will consider a number of plans designed to reform the state’s pension plan for teachers, the Courier-Journal reports.

The Kentucky General Assembly has been tinkering with the pension plan in recent years in an attempt to shore up unfunded liabilities.

Proposals this year would seek to adjust future benefit payments and decrease cost-of-living increases.

The shortfall is a result of lack of proper funding over time by the General Assembly.

Some proposals would continue the practice of using borrowing through bonds to fund pension obligations, but it is likely that changes to benefits will also be required.

According to the report, a number of lawmakers oppose additional bonds to fund the system and are looking at more significant reform.

From the story:

So far, legislators have pre-filed at least four bills that would alter some aspect of teacher pensions, and leaders from both the House and Senate say any bonding needs to be paired with reforms.

“There is not a lot of enthusiasm for borrowing more money to pay off the KTRS debt without structural changes accompanying that effort,” said Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown.

 

For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

Career Pathways for Kentucky Teachers

Brian Bishop of Hope Street Group offers his thoughts on moving beyond the one-lane dirt road that currently makes up the career pathway for teachers.

Bishop notes:

As my time with teachers has evolved, I have learned one very disturbing fact about the current design of our education system: Teachers are limited in how they can further their career. When a teacher starts to teach, professional advancement is really limited. A teacher can attain their master’s degree and get a small pay bump, or a teacher can become a National Board Certified Teacher and get another small incremental pay raise. Short of these methods, there is no other real systemic opportunity that allows the teacher to do what they love to do and advance their career while remaining in the classroom a the same time.

Bishop outlines the problem, notes there are solutions, and says it is now time to move beyond talking and start acting on improving career pathways for teachers.

Read it all here.

For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

Building Partnerships for School Readiness

OVEC CEO Dr. Leon Mooneyhan has some thoughts on building partnerships for school readiness over at the Prichard Blog.

Here are some highlights:

Research by Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman  shows that quality preschool experiences impact character development that leads to increases in monthly income and the probability of employment and decreases in lifetime arrests, felony arrests, violent crimes, teen pregnancy and tobacco use.

Keeping Heckman’s research in mind, the Hardin County Schools begin their work at birth. The district’s “Books for Babies” project provides every baby born at Hardin Memorial Hospital a copy of “Read to Your Bunny” by Rosemary Wells

Mooneyhan notes that the partnerships involve the entire community, including childcare providers, medical providers, and educators.  It’s a team effort to get kids off to the right start.  And in Hardin County, Kentucky it’s making a difference.

Read more

 

Beyond the Test: A Kentucky Experiment

Over at Tennessee Education Report there’s an article featuring highlights from a piece written by teacher Ezra Howard in Bluff City Ed. Howard notes that the current model of testing doesn’t work well for many students and argues for a move to a portfolio-based model of assessment.

Now, there’s this piece at NPR noting that in one school district in Kentucky, schools are moving toward a form of portfolio assessment.  Early results show this method of assessment holds some promise.

Here are the highlights from the NPR story:

Kentucky was the first state in the nation to adopt the Common Core and the tests that align with it. This spring, the 1,700-student Danville district thinks it’s found a better way to teach the Core.

Danville has moved to performance-based assessments.  And at one middle school, here’s what that looks like:

The entire curriculum at this school has been redesigned around interdisciplinary projects, which take several weeks to complete. The English and social studies seventh-grade PBATs were group projects that took place in the fall.

One by one, the students stand and give a 20-minute solo presentation with a PowerPoint or video. Separately, they’ve handed in 15-page research papers. They’re giving these presentations to panels of judges made up of teachers from other grades or the high school, officials from a neighboring district, education students from the University of Kentucky, and fellow students.

I watch as student after student confidently answers questions about the steps of the scientific method, experimental design, math concepts like mean and median, and, most impressively, how the project relates to his or her life. And they listen respectfully to each other, giving helpful feedback.

Most projects are graded “outstanding” or “competent.” A few are judged “needs revision,” which means the students will keep working on them until they pass muster.

Better than the PARCC?

What makes the Danville experiment particularly noteworthy is that Kentucky was out ahead of the nation on adoption of the Common Core State Standards for English and math. Swann believes the standards are worthwhile, but thinks schools can do better than the tests that go with them. Though the new Common Core tests have been touted as improvements over what they replaced, she says they are really “the same old multiple choice,” and adds, “I feel like on a standardized test you’re really showing what kids don’t know.”

If performance-based assessment is so good, why keep standardized tests?

Of course, there are reasons U.S. schools have gravitated toward standardized tests instead. They’re (relatively) cheap, easily administered, and they carry the promise of some kind of “objective” measure. In other words, they’re “standardized.”

Growing Support?

The chief state school officers in Kentucky and eight other states have formed a group known as the Innovation Lab Network. These states have adopted performance-based learning as one of their “critical attributes” for a successful school. (The other states are California, Iowa, Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, West Virginia and Wisconsin.)

Several of these states are moving to include a performance-assessment option in public schools. Vermont is taking similar steps, and there is a New England Secondary School Consortium of 400 high schools using it as well.

In other words, a state can have both Common Core State Standards AND “authentic assessment.”

And while for now, the kids in Danville still use the state test as well, there’s a move in the legislature to allow exemptions for districts that implement performance-based testing.

Moving toward a hybrid model, where performance-based assessment becomes the primary means of assessment and standardized tests are used at key checkpoints in a child’s educational career, could be the educational wave of the future.

Yes, there are costs associated with administering and grading these assessments.  And they don’t easily fit into existing statistical “growth models” for teacher evaluation. But, shifting toward performance-based testing could facilitate a shift in the way teachers are evaluated — where teachers are assessed based on the actual, demonstrated growth of the students they actually teach.

Much is said in the world of education policy about the importance of putting students first and not doing what is convenient or expedient for adults. Performance-based assessment is student-focused and sets a high standard for teachers and school leaders. As Kentucky continues its exploration of this model, surely there are lessons that can be applied across the country.

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow @KYEdReport

Teacher Preparation Changes in Kentucky

Dr. Ann Elisabeth Larson, Vice Dean and Professor, Dean-elect of the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Louisville, offers some insight on how teacher preparation is changing over at the Prichard Blog.

The bottom line: MORE classroom time for aspiring educators and stronger partnerships between universities training new teachers and the school districts hiring those teachers.

Some key takeaways:

New standards, priorities and reform in policy and practice will shape and be shaped by clinically rich, effective forms of teacher preparation programs. Dr. James Cibulka, president of the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), reflected on the transformation of teacher education: “One of the major themes of NCATE’s Blue Ribbon Panel Report, Transforming Teacher Education: A National Strategy for Preparing Effective Teachers, is the need for new types of partnerships between higher education and P-12 in the service of P-12 student learning (Cibulka, 2010).”

KACTE recognizes that by bringing together theory, practice, preparation and application in the clinical setting of a P-12 school, all stakeholders gain new knowledge and skills aimed at improved P-12 student learning. Teacher candidates have authentic teaching opportunities with excellent and dedicated teachers; teachers have professional development opportunities to develop innovative “best practice” teaching strategies; and inquiry and data based decision-making guide instructional and program improvement in both the school and university settings. The need for new types of partnerships between higher education and P-12 schools to educate teachers in the service of P-12 student learning has never been more compelling.

Essentially, lots more focus on actual classroom experience and feedback to adequately prepare teachers for the career they will enter.  And a stronger focus from colleges on providing the supply of teachers school districts need.

Read all of Dr. Larson’s piece.

For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport