Category Archives: Assessment

Rethinking our Assessment System Statewide

On May 24th, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Chris Reykdal outlined a series of phases that addressed his long term vision for K-12 education in the State of Washington.  Included in
that vision is a differentiated assessment model that allows students pathways to demonstrate proficiency and mastery.  The plan calls for an immediate suspension of all test based graduation requirements for the Classes of 2017, 2018, and 2019, a policy that some legislators can get behind.  (See the June 4, 2017
Seattle Times Op-Ed piece by Rep. Monica Stonier and Rep. Laurie Dolan)  This agenda item isn’t necessarily as visionary as others but is more triage in nature.  Asking for these assessments to be waived now is a pressing concern for our potential graduates waiting in the wings (including the 7 students at my high school who are hoping that the state legislature acts immediately since graduation is on Friday, June 9th).  However, other components of this assessment system provide more opportunity and greater steering towards a student’s plans for high school and beyond.

One of the key takeaways from this plan is the use of assessment data for high school planning.  Superintendent Reykdal proposes that the 8th grade assessment (assuming this will still be mandated by the U.S. Department of Education) be used to determine what courses and in what sequence students need to take.  A 10th grade assessment (the Standards Based Assessment, or SBA, also mandated by the U.S. Department of Education) would further clarify what students need in order to be career and college ready.  That exam, while not necessary as a graduation requirement, would be a baseline for which other decisions would be made. The assessment would help stakeholders update a student’s high school and beyond plan (commonly referred to as a HSBP), either demonstrating that is student is now proficient in the required basic knowledge and skills needed to earn a diploma or highlighting what specific skills students need to further develop in order to achieve proficiency.  The plan suggests that alternatives such as the SAT, ACT, Advanced Placement exams, International Baccalaureate exams, Running Start, College in the High School, and other options be used to demonstrate proficiency.  All students after 10th grade must work towards a pathway that includes immediate entrance into the workforce, technical college, community college, apprenticeships, four year colleges/university, or the military.

This new assessment system may just help us combat the apathy that emerges junior and senior year from students wondering why they are enrolled in certain courses that don’t remotely relate to their post secondary education plans.  Such a plan opens the door to exciting new classes tailored to meet the needs of the 21st century learner on whatever pathway he/she may be on.  High schools will be able to utilize the flexibility and creativity that this system promotes and adjust current course offerings, tapping into the talents and expertise of their staff.  The idea that students can select pathways and prepare for those future careers allows students more buy in on their secondary education, potentially impacting overall attendance, number of failed classes, and eventually graduation rates.  Specific training and coursework geared towards a pathway will indeed result in a better worker or stronger college student thus largely impacting the state’s post secondary education system and the local workforce.  Superintendent Reykdal’s proposal directly impacts students allowing them to tap into their talents and interests at an earlier age so that they may develop as stronger, more effective and more efficient contributors to our communities and overall economy.

Things You Should Know About: The Washington Teacher Advisory Council

Back in 2008 I was honored to be a regional “Teacher of the Year” for ESD 112. I had the chance to sit in a room with “TOYs” from each ESD, and it was humbling, astonishing, and inspiring to hear all the great work we each were championing in our section of the state.

Then, after the interviews and celebrations and receptions, we sped back to our respective classrooms and put our respective noses back to our respective grindstones.

Lyon Terry, 2015 Washington State Teacher of the Year, likely had a similar experience. The difference was what he chose to do next. He saw highly accomplished educators be selected and celebrated each year, and in that he saw an opportunity: While you might teach down the hall from a TOY and never know it (we teachers are often reticent to share our accolades), titles such as “Teacher of the Year” carry potentially powerful ethos when we enter into policy conversations with non-educators.

Lyon formed WATAC, the Washington Teacher Advisory Council, aimed at pulling together the expertise and ethos of alumni regional teachers of the year. Each year, the number of regional TOYs grows by nine (one for each ESD), so though the group may be small, it is certainly mighty.

This last weekend at Cedarbrook was the 2017 WATAC Spring Conference, where alumni of the TOY program gathered to learn about policy, advocacy, and the importance of teachers telling their stories. It was a powerful and inspiring experience, and I now feel like I am part of an even deeper network of teachers likewise committed to improving public education in Washington.

A big take-away and a good reminder: Everything we do as teachers is somehow impacted by a policy that someone, somewhere has written. Whether it is law from the legislature or rules put forth by a state-level group like the Board of Ed, Standards Board, or innumerable others, people are making decisions that directly impact every move we make as a teacher. Simply put: the people making those decisions ought to be teachers themselves. That’s one mission of WATAC (and CSTP, for that matter), that teachers are not just present at the policy table, but that they are the ones whose hands, hearts, and minds are creating the policy.

For more information about WATAC, here is the website and here is the overview of the program on OSPI’s homepage.

Goals for a New School Year: #ObserveMe

I first spotted the #ObserveMe hashtag on a leisurely scroll through my Twitter feed. This piqued my curiosity. Who’s observing me? What are they observing? As I spiraled down the internet, I found that Math teacher, Robert Kaplinsky, is challenging educators to rethink the way we pursue feedback by making it easy and immediately obtainable. It’s simple. Make a form that says something like “Hi I’m ____. I would like feedback on the following goals:_____”. There is no right way to set up your #ObserveMe sign. Then, adjacent to this invite place a reflection tool. From reflection half-sheets to QR codes connected to google spreadsheets, a teacher can embrace any way that is easy (and I’d argue most meaningful) for them to receive this feedback.

I discovered that while #ObserveMe isn’t quite trending yet, it’s catching fire even at the university level. In teacher prep, some professors are using it as a way to model to preservice teachers the need for a clean feedback loop. Today’s teachers are constantly working to fight the isolation that can happen in this profession. We are also always looking for ways to improve and receiving meaningful feedback on our instructional moves is hard to find. Here’s what I like about Kaplinsky’s challenge to teachers.

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It increases the frequency of feedback. With #ObserveMe, I don’t need to wait for my administrator’s scheduled visit. I don’t need to wait for end of unit or end of course student reflections. I don’t need to wait for my instructional coach to find time to come into my classroom. I don’t need to wait for a colleague to get a sub so they can meet with me about student learning. In fact, this has the potential to give me more, real, immediate feedback from a variety of perspectives than anything I’ve seen this far in my eleven years of teaching.

ObserveMe-5-300x232It forces me to have a growth mindset. If this sign is on my door, I am telling the world that I want to grow. I am inviting anyone to come in and comment on my instruct. Yeah, that’s a little scary. But it’s a healthy risk that models vulnerability and openness to others. Who could pop in? A visitor. A parent. The librarian. Another teacher on planning period. I’m both thrilled and terrified at the possibilities. The #ObserveMe challenge reminds us that teaching is relational and we need all types of perspectives to help us grow. This model is based on trust. By opening myself up to the community, I am making them a part of my learning process and saying that I value their voice in my growth.Alissa

It will definitely impact students. If we begin the year with this signage, we are modeling the culture of learning we are trying to cultivate in students. We should be getting feedback that we can implement the next day. I will have concrete date for how I implemented my feedback and can brag about that to my administrator at my evaluation (wink, wink). This has the possibility of transforming my instruction and hopefully inspiring the observer to work on something in their classroom.

 

So far, a handful of teachers in my school are ready with their signs (they gave me permission to include below). I’m hoping our vulnerability will encourage others in the school to jump on board, foster deeper conversations about goal setting, and improve our practice.

Nate

 

Anyone else up for the challenge?

If you’re on Twitter, post a picture and use the hashtag

#ObserveMe

The Ponytailed Principal

I ran into my principal in the hall recently. She made a comment about her hair being pulled back into a ponytail again. “It’s my go-to hairstyle when I’ve had two hours of sleep,” she quipped.

I replied that I hadn’t seen her with a different hairstyle for weeks.

“That’s because I’m writing up my T-PEP evaluations. I don’t have any time to sleep.”

After we lost our great principal last year, we looked for an awesome replacement. And we got one. Our new principal is a first-year principal, but she is far from inexperienced. She was the math instructional coach for our district for years. She knows how to use data to drive instruction, how to coach teachers in using effective strategies, how to help teams implement new curriculum materials.

As she made the transition to administration, she became the TPEP coach for the district. She is the TPEP queen. She can observe me teaching for ten minutes, walk out of my room, and rattle off a dozen Marzano strategies—by name and number—that I’ve nailed in that brief period. I couldn’t possibly identify all the things I did in that snippet! And I certainly wouldn’t know the numbers without looking. She’s a phenomena.

Our school, though, gives her little time for coaching. For instructional leadership. For any of the cool things that T-PEP is supposed to bring.

Our school is a high-poverty school. We have many students with high social and emotional needs. We have many Tier III behavior issues. The last couple of years have been especially difficult. Far worse than in the past, even with the same population. We haven’t been able to figure out why.

In my continuing study of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), I read a recent comment. Children who were born the year the economy tanked in 2008 are now in second grade. So last year they were in first grade, and the year before in kindergarten. The year before last is when our school’s disciple problems started to skyrocket—specifically in kindergarten. And the issues began in preschool.

Consider the trauma so many parents were going through in 2008. How many of those children had to deal with common ACEs: divorce, abuse or neglect, parents who were addicted or imprisoned?

When I talked about this correlation with my husband, he was fascinated and wondered if there were similar results during the Great Depression. I said, “During the Great Depression, a lot of those children were feral. They were running wild in the streets. The difference now is that we are requiring those children to go to school.”

So here is a typical week for my principal. She deals with discipline issues all day, trying to build positive relationships and positive systems as much as she can but also, of course, being the court of last resort for the Tier III kids all day every day.

She answers emails and calls parents—positive and not so fun calls—until 7:30 every night. Then she goes home to her family. Yes, as a matter of fact, she actually has a family!

Into the wee hours of the morning and on weekends she works on T-PEP. We all know this because we get the emails from her with the time stamp of 1:42 am or 3:56 am or Sunday morning at 7:14.

I was on focused T-PEP this year. My principal was in my room for several observations and walk-throughs—not as many as she wanted. We met formally at fall, winter, and spring conferences—not as often as she would have liked—and informally throughout the year to see how I was meeting my goals. Once in a while I got to talk more in depth with her after school when we both stayed late, at 7:30 or so. She did a fantastic job on my written evaluation. But the truth is I could have learned more from her—of course!—if she could have devoted more time to instructional leadership, which is her passion.

I asked her last week how much time T-PEP takes. Remember, she can pull Marzano chapter and verse out of her head like Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation. So she’s no slowpoke. She figured that,

  • the time for each comprehensive T-PEP averaged 10 hours per person
  • the time for each focused T-PEP averaged 5 hours per person

Say eight full eight-hour days this year at home or on the weekends doing comprehensive T-PEP work that isn’t done at school—not the observations or meetings. Another seven days full eight-hour days doing focused.

In addition she has to do classified evaluations. I do wonder if we have more classified staff because we are a high poverty school and if that adds to her T-PEP work load even more. Figure another couple of eight-hour days devoted to those.

I figure 17 days beyond her more than full-time work as a principal in a high-needs school. Granted, she gets the big bucks for this work, right? Actually, for her extra work doing those 17 days off the clock, she gets a whopping stipend of $750.

This spring she got headhunted. She was offered a job in a different district. And she’ll be gone in a couple of weeks.

This is the second year in a row that we have lost a fabulous principal. We don’t blame our principals. We have seen their health fail. We have seen them beaten down. We know the hours and the stress of the job are more than one person can handle.

Both of them loved working at our school. However, the additional hours required by T-PEP—beyond an already very extended school day—made the principal job wholly unreasonable.

I know there are people who are enthusiastic supporters of T-PEP. Maybe conditions are different at their school. Maybe discipline isn’t such an overwhelming part of their principal’s day. Or maybe they have an assistant principal.

But I’ve had two principals I admire greatly and care about deeply who were crushed by T-PEP. It ate them alive. I can’t be so enthusiastic.

Surprised by your summative TPEP score? You shouldn’t be…

It’s that time of year again when school comes to a close and seniors are waiting for graduation. As I think about that final report card, I know that the grades that my students will see will be of little surprise to them. We’ve been communicating all semester long about their progress towards the learning goals and standards. They’ve been assessed throughout the semester and I’ve offered significant feedback to them about their work and skill development. I’ve met with students routinely throughout the year to discuss learning strategies and how to overcome their perceived weaknesses. Now, as the year culminates, students should be pretty clear as to where they stand academically in my class.

So as teachers come to the end of this year’s TPEP (Teacher/Principal Evaluation Project) cycle, do all teachers know how they’ve been assessed? Have they had the opportunity to receive feedback about their teaching throughout the year? Will they be surprised when they see that summative TPEP score on their final evaluation?

For the past three months I’ve been engaged in pre-bargaining contract language to formally transition TPEP from a LOA (Letter of Agreement) into a more permanent place in our CBA (collective bargaining agreement). Part of the pre-bargaining process includes research. I’ve spent quite a bit of time talking to teachers from other districts and looking over contracts from districts across the state. What I’ve learned is that TPEP implementation and annual process operates different depending on where a teacher works. My biggest take away: teachers and evaluators might be meeting routinely, but districts have distinct operating definitions of what “routine” looks like.

TPEP has been part of our state for the past six years. My district began implementation of the project during the 2013-2014 school year. Our implementation was fairly democratic. A committee of teachers and administrators selected the Danielson Framework. Core principles and beliefs were drafted and a game plan was put into place. At the core of our work was a belief that TPEP was to be a growth model for our teachers; a process by which teachers and administrators are constantly working to refine teaching and learning in and out of the classroom.

As implementation began, we (both teachers and evaluators) quickly found that the Comprehensive model was cumbersome if we wanted to be good stewards of our core beliefs and principles. Because our local union and administration agreed to meet once a month to discuss TPEP related issues/concerns, teachers asked to make a change to the district TPEP procedure. Beginning in November 2013, teachers on TPEP began meeting once every two weeks with their evaluators. The meetings became a time where teachers could present artifacts and materials to evidence evaluative criteria. Because I chose to be an early adopter, I met with my evaluators once every two weeks from November until April. During that time I was truly challenged. I don’t mean this negatively, whatsoever. I was the one who decided what evidence would be examined and I was the one who began the conversation about how I wanted the evidence scored. This did not mean that I always got my way or that my administrators were push overs. Instead, I was asked questions and given feedback about my practice in a way that I had not received in the past. If I disagreed with the score, I had an opportunity two weeks later to offer additional evidence. I was able to refine my student growth goals, carefully analyze student success towards those goals, and discuss that success or lack thereof, with my evaluators. That format, adopted nearly three years, with some minimal adjustments, remains in place today. It provides teachers with constant feedback. As a result, teachers are encouraged to think differently about their practice. Teachers are now taking risks in engaging learners with new techniques and strategies and seeking assistance from their coach (that’s me!).

Now we are wrapping up our third year on the cycle and transitioning TPEP into our contract. All of our veteran teachers (as well as new teachers) have completed Comprehensive. Although it is no longer feasible for our evaluators to meet once every two weeks with every teacher on Comprehensive, both evaluators in my building set a goal to meet once every three weeks. It doesn’t always happen– after all parent meetings come up, teachers or administrators are sick, but I hold firm in my belief that meeting routinely, throughout the school year, is the best way for an evaluator and a teacher to manage this process. Routine meetings offer the opportunity for teachers to talk about their work, show off when things are going well, and ask for help when they aren’t. When the meetings are routine, they become low risk and less stressful, thus leading to genuine conversations about teaching and learning. When the meetings are routine, the final summative assessment at the end of the year isn’t a surprise, instead it’s confirmation.

But here’s the problem. This isn’t happening everywhere. Teachers in districts across the state tell me that they rarely meet with their evaluator to discuss their practice. Teachers aren’t given the opportunity to routinely reflect and gather feedback about their practice. Danielson (whose model is one of the three approved in the state) points to the fact that routine meetings need to take place in order to see real growth in teaching (Educational Leadership, Vol. 68, No. 4). Many teachers have no idea what final score they will receive until they attend the year end summative meeting. Qutie frankly, this is unacceptable. It is time for teachers to question what “routine” meetings are and to ask that language and practice match intent and goals. A teacher’s summative score should not be a surprise. When teachers feel disconnected to the process and administrators don’t meet with teachers regularly to discuss progress, the entire evaluation process invalidates and undermines the growth model mindset. What could teaching and learning look like if all teachers benefited from this regular, intentional feedback?

If we ask our students to engage in learning with a growth mindset and we use regular feedback to build reflection for our students, shouldn’t our teacher evaluation system mirror that same practice? I completely understand that TPEP is a lot of work for teachers and evaluators. It’s supposed to be. Accomplished teaching requires constant reflection based on feedback and assessment in order to refine goals and practice. If we expect our teachers to provide feedback to students, shouldn’t we ask the same of our teacher evaluators?

How Teacher Evaluation Could (Should?) Evolve

When the new teacher evaluation model, aka “TPEP,” rolled on down from Olympia, I was as skeptical as anyone. When will we have time for this? Why should I spend my time having to prove that I’m doing my job…I don’t even have enough time to do my job!

I’m a convert, though. I like the model of teacher evaluation that has been put into law. I believe that if implemented with the right mindset and agreements from all sides, it can, and does, focus on fostering conversations about improving practice to impact student learning. I’ve seen it in my own practice and heard of it from teachers and principals throughout my district.

We’re now completing the first “live” year of legal implementation, and I have a few ideas about how I’d like to see our system continue to improve. No one has enough time to accomplish everything that is expected of us. Teachers don’t, principals don’t, even students don’t. We do have choices, though, and I think that accomplishing the aims of our evaluation system can be addressed at the policy level as well as the practice level.

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Making Student Growth Matter

I am no fan of standardized testing, so one of the greatest strengths of our teacher evaluation system in Washington state is that it empowers teachers to use classroom-based assessments (and data) to illustrate how they are fostering growth in students’ knowledge and skills. Closer to the kid always is the way to go, so using an assessment I designed or chose with my learners in mind will always (for me) trump using a corporate product, no matter how “standards aligned” it might claim to be.

One problem that I am seeing throughout my district and in other districts whose staff I support through WEA is that with all the many moving parts of teaching, student growth examination often ends of falling into the realm of “whatever is easiest to count.” Further, as I engage in deeper conversations with teachers who go this route, the whole student growth process becomes an exercise in compliance and thus a box to be checked.

When this occurs, we’re letting ourselves choose to waste our own time.

I have worked with teachers for several years now to design and implement student growth goals, and some patterns are starting to emerge:

What teachers are doing that works: Continue reading

Classroom Management and the Teacher Shortage

Of the lessons I learned about classroom behavior management over the years, the one that has had the greatest payoff is my realization that the behavior a student presents is less important to address than the conditions which precipitate that behavior.

In other words, if Johnny is acting out in class all the time, I could perpetually redirect him, eventually punish him, and finally succeed in getting him to be quiet. A better approach, however, would be to deeply consider what conditions are causing Johnny to act out all the time, and then address those conditions, or help Johnny be better at coping with those conditions.

Treating the action has the potential to shut Johnny down (which in the moment, may appear to be the goal). Treating the conditions helps create the new conditions wherein Johnny might succeed.

When I read recently that during a work session our legislature had been briefed on the growing teacher shortage state- and nation-wide, which included discussion about promising practices in recruiting and training new teachers, I immediately thought of classroom management.

Disturbingly, this discussion referenced ways to “make it easier” for people to get on the pathway toward becoming a teacher. (Seriously, it is not that hard to become a teacher when we think of “become” as “get a job as.” It’s just that no one in their right mind wants to do it anymore. Let’s pause and think about the consequences of easier paths to teaching for a second: If we draw a pool of applicants who make their decision to become teachers because it was easy to become a teacher, what will happen when they face the incredibly hard work of actual teaching?)

Making it easier for people to become teachers doesn’t solve the problem.

Providing alternative pathways to certification doesn’t solve the problem.

Districts actively recruiting undergrads or setting up university partnerships doesn’t solve the problem.

We need to directly and boldly address the conditions that have created turnover and the teacher shortage. If we do not, the problem will not go away: Instead, we will perpetually rotate through failed solutions, always blaming the solution for being the wrong answer when in reality we’re answering the wrong question.

Here is what I believe has created the teacher turnover and teacher shortage problem. Unless these get fixed, it won’t matter how we recruit, how easy we make it to get a teaching license, or what partnerships schools and universities try to cultivate.

Our real problems: Continue reading

ESSA and Teacher Evaluation

1276-essaBy Tom White

There’s a kid in my class who I’ll call Lee because that’s not his name. Lee comes to me from a household that can generously be described as “disorganized.” He consistently arrives hungry, tired and edgy. His study habits are non-existent and he lacks every social skill you can imagine. Nevertheless, I like Lee and I enjoy the challenge of working with him. He’s the first student I think about in the morning and the last one I worry about at night.

But there’s one thing about Lee that I can’t stand: he puts absolutely no effort into any assessment. He knows that tests are completely independent activities; I won’t help him or interfere with his lack of motivation. So he writes random answers without thinking and finishes as his classmates are just getting started.

It’s frustrating.

As you might imagine, Lee’s SBA results from last year were as low as possible. And unless something unexpected happens, I’m predicting more of the same this year.

Last week Mark wrote a brilliant post summarizing the reauthorization of ESEA. No Child Left Behind is no more; in its place we have the “Every Child Succeeds Act,” or ESSA.

Thank God. Because one of the changes concerns the use of standardized test scores in teacher evaluation. To be clear, NCLB didn’t require their use per se, but the Obama Administration granted waivers from the impossible mandates of NCLB to those states that cooperated with their education agenda. And a big part of that agenda was evaluating teachers based partly on their students standardized test scores. Washington State alone refused to do so and paid dearly. We didn’t get the waiver. Consequently, most of our schools are labeled “failing,” including mine.

Under ESSA, individual states regain the authority to figure out how to evaluate teachers. Here in Washington, we use TPEP, which does include a “Student Growth” component, but teachers and administrators are directed to figure out the most appropriate assessments from which to gauge that growth. And since those administrators work in the same buildings as the teachers they evaluate, they’re aware of the children behind those test scores, which is important, especially with children like Lee.

That’s as it should be. I like working with students like Lee. And I have no problem having someone watch how I work with him and evaluate my performance based on that observation. Better yet, watch me and tell me how I can do it better. But using his standardized test scores to evaluate my work is utterly unfair.

So I welcome ESSA. As Mark pointed out, it’s a vast improvement over NCLB, as well as the waiver system that exempted most states from the ridiculousness of NCLB. Especially in the area of teacher evaluation.

Understanding the “Every Student Succeeds Act”

Congress appears to be poised to pass an overhaul of NCLB, and in a convenient move have maintained the four-letter acronym standard. While time shall tell if “Ess-Uh” will have more staying power than “Nickle-Bee,” there are probably more pertinent issues to consider. Before doing so, however, it is worth noting as a good lesson in civics that buried at around page 914 (of 1061) of the Every Student Succeeds Act is a posthumous pardon of a early 20th-century heavyweight boxer convicted on racially motivated and thus baseless charges. But I digress (as does the bill, clearly).

The things to consider paying attention to…with citations to the page number of this document, the published text of ESSA, as relevant to the topic:

Testing
Not gone. In fact, not changed all that much. The federal government will still require testing at the same grade levels it currently does (page 54), but what will be different (to an extent) appears to be how these results will be used. Rather than nationwide, uniform and unrealistic goals (100% proficiency by a year ago), states will have the power to establish appropriate goals, have these goals reviewed though some as-yet-to-be-determined process, after which they would be submitted to the federal level (starts on page 80). If the assessment and accountability plans designed at the state level are rejected at the federal level, states are guaranteed a hearing.

Significantly, standardized test scores are no longer the main means of judging a school’s effectiveness. Rather, a combination of factors must be considered, with test scores being part rather than all (page 85).

Interestingly for those of us at the secondary level, the bill also appears to open the door to use of tests such as the ACT and SAT as the high school standardized test (source).

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