New! Tactical Guide for Needs Assessments

This tactical guide recently produced by the Center on School Turnaround and the Council of Chief State School Officers describes the core components for developing and administering needs assessments for improvement. Worksheets are included to aid users in designing and developing needs assessments for schools and/or districts. A companion document includes the worksheets in a format that can be completed (forthcoming).

The guide includes, for example, specific guidance and questions for SEAs and LEAs to consider as they develop an needs assessment or hire an external provider to complete one, and then utilize its results as part of their planning, implementation, and monitoring processes.

The guide also includes information on ESSA requirements, planning a needs assessment, designing a needs assessment, how a needs assessment is part of the improvement process, and key decision points.

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The Illusive 5th or “Other” Indicator

Under ESSA, states are required to have a 5th school quality or student success indicator. While many rejoiced in this requirement initially, it quickly became a challenge to figure out what type of indicators meet the proposed federal regulations, what type of indicator actually demonstrates school quality or success, and what data states already collect that could be used. One of the most challenging requirements is that the indicator must be able to be disaggregated by subgroups of students – so while teacher effectiveness might be a useful indicator, it would be difficult to disaggregate a teacher’s effectiveness by subgroup for middle or high schools – since students attend many different classrooms with different teachers each day. Such an indicator could be used for elementary school grades, since students often stay with one teacher for most of the day. The proposed regulations do allow different indicators to be selected for different grade levels – as long as it’s consistent across the state. The other major issue that states are running into is what data do they already have? And, is that data reliable and indicative of school quality or student success? Many districts collect additional data, but the same data may not be collected in the same way across the state.

This recent EdWeek article explains some of these issues, while also providing some initial thinking from a few states as they think through the implications of this 5th or “other” indicator. An important note is that states must use at least one “other” indicator, but they may use more than one as well. From what I’ve heard from states, many are leaning towards including chronic absenteeism, college or career readiness, and other school climate indicators as their “other” indicators. While states think through this new data source, it’s also uncertain if the Department of Education will make any modifications to the proposed rules/regulations. The final rules should be released in late August or September.

This 5th or “other” provides states an amazing opportunity to redefine what a successful school is, but the implementation requirements may make it difficult to actually implement the intention in the timeframe states have to do so.

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Usefullness of Classroom Walkthroughs

Classroom walkthroughs are a crucial tool for school leaders to get a gage learning in their school and for teachers to get some immediate feedback on areas that they might not normally be able to see alone. But, classroom walkthroughs can be done well or poorly. Some useful tips that I’ve picked up from school and district leaders over the years:

  • DO provide same day feedback for every walkthrough – either via email if using an ipad to monitor, or via a small slip of paper in the teacher’s mailbox)
  • Do Focus on a few key areas – a walkthrough is very different than a full classroom observation. It’s impossible to see everything in 3-6 minutes, so identify a few areas to focus on and DON’T provide negative feedback to a teacher if you didn’t see something (i.e. group work) if you only saw part of a class. You may have missed the group work section.
  • DO look for real learning – what level questions is the teacher asking? What type of thinking do the assignments require?
  • DO look for classroom management techniques and positive teacher-student relationships – these should be apparent in a classroom in 1 minute or 1 hour. They can make or break learning from occurring, so always keep an eye on it.
  • DO walkthroughs regularly – their benefit is their frequency
  • DO encourage others to do walkthroughs in the school (i.e. other district administrators or fellow teachers). But, if this is done, ensure that all observers understand appropriate protocol (i.e. being a fly on the wall, not distracting students, also providing feedback, etc)
  • DO use the results of many walkthroughs to inform school-wide professional development needs.

Some additional thoughts about walkthroughs are found in this EdWeek story.

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Discriminatory suspension data

During the 2011-12 school year, black/African American children accounted for 16% of the United States student population, yet accounted for 32% of students suspended and 42% of those expelled (according to DOE data). With a stagnant white-black achievement gap that has not budged since the 1960s, what’s the impact of these suspension rates on performance? Bottom line: Kids who aren’t in the classroom aren’t learning.

A study published in the journal Social Problems by University of Kentucky sociologist Edward Morris and Indiana University sociologist Brea Perry concludes that school suspensions account for roughly one-fifth of the white-black achievement gap. This study controlled for many of the factors that some argue contribute to this discipline gap – such as income, gender, and participation in special education – and found that black students were suspended at three times the rate as their white peers.

The answer is not to just simply stop suspending students; rather, future work should consider the contributing factors to discrepancies in black and white suspension rates and should help to identify ways to introduce revised disciplinary policies into school environments, while maintaining or improving the educational environment for all students. Some schools and districts have implemented restorative justice programs to offer an alternative to suspension – these programs focus on rehabilitation of the offenders through reconciliation with victims and the school community. Yet as Ilana Zafran, COO of Umoja Student Development Corporation notes, the biggest problem is patience – people want immediate results but changing a culture and restorative justice takes time. I also recently met with school staff in Ann Arbor Michigan where the principals come to classrooms to address behavior and discipline issues – as opposed to sending the students to the principal’s office. Given these research findings, it is imperative that we find alternatives to suspension and better monitor (and adjust) the equity of discipline referrals, as  key components to closing achievement gaps.

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Updated ESSA Highlights

Here’s an updated overview of ESSA highlights from EdWeek.

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The Washington Post recently posted an article describing the work of a small Missouri district (3,000 students) principal who was determined to change the school system to meet the needs of her kids. I highly recommend reading the entire article, but below I note some of the key decisions/actions the district implemented.

  • Superintendent Anderson regularly visits classrooms. While a small district makes this logistically feasible, larger districts could have district office staff visiting classrooms on a more frequent basis. It not only increases teacher accountability, but it connects central office staff to the kids they serve every day (but never see).
  • Inclusion of wraparound support services – including a home for homeless students, food banks for students and their families, access to doctors and dentists, and access to washers/dryers for clean clothes.
  • The district hired back recent graduates who weren’t able to get jobs after graduation.
  • Saturday academies and other programs to catch up off track students are offered.
  • Students can earn an associate’s degree while in high school.
  • The district restored access to music, dance, art and other non-core curricular programs.
  • The budget was balanced, deficit improved, and additional philanthropic funds granted.
  • Teachers use weekly assessments to check for progress.
  • New teaching staff have one semester to one year to team teach with a more experienced staff member.
  • Prospective hires must pass a 10-question quiz, with content two years higher than they’re applying to teach. The article notes that most applicants don’t pass the quiz.
  • The Superintendent believes in the district and its students. She’s willing to do a variety of jobs – including acting as a crossing guard.

One note, while the graduation rate has increased (which is great), the level of college and career readiness should be questioned. (This is an issue that expands far beyond this district.) Graduating high school is definitely an achievement and should be celebrated, but if a student has a diploma and is unprepared for work or college – what value is that diploma?

This is a superintendent willing to change the systems and structures to meet students where they are, who’s willing to push staff to work harder and positively impact students, and is willing to do the heavy lifting when needed. While this type of superintendent is hard to find, she’s created a great road map for others to adapt and bring to their own districts.

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Guidance from ED on ESSA

Just before the Christmas holiday, ED released some initial guidance on how ESSA will be implemented. The guidance can be found here.

Some notable pieces:

  • Waivers granted through ESEA flexibility remain effective through August 1, 2016.
  • Because ESEA flexibility terminates on August 1, 2016, a State will no longer be required to submit follow-up responses to ED related to areas of ESEA flexibility that are not required under both the ESEA and ESSA.
  • ED will not require States to submit AMOs (for school years 2014–2015 or 2015–2016) in January 2016 for ED’s review and approval, nor will ED require States to report performance against AMOs for the 2014–2015 or 2015– 2016 school years.
  • All States and districts must continue to publish report cards, including report cards for the 2014–2015 school year (if those report cards have not yet been published), for the 2015– 2016 school year, and beyond.
    • Report cards must continue to include information that shows how a district’s student achievement on the State assessments compares to students and subgroups of students in the State as a whole.
    • At the school level, the district must include information that shows how a school’s student achievement on the State assessments compares to students and subgroups of students in the district and in the State as a whole.
  • Priority and focus school lists- states (with waivers) must select one of the following two options:
    • A – Do not exit schools and maintain current identification, i.e. freeze any additional identification. These schools would continue to implement their approved interventions through the 2015–2016 and 2016–2017 school years. The State would not be able to exit schools from the current lists until after the 2016–2017 school year.
    • B – Exit schools and identify new priority and focus schools. A State may exit priority and focus schools that meet the State’s approved exit criteria and identify new priority (at least 5 percent of Title I schools) and focus (at least 10 percent of Title I schools) schools based on more recent data. Newly identified schools, as well as those that remain on these lists because they did not meet the State’s exit criteria, would implement their approved interventions through the 2016–2017 school year. A State selecting this option must provide updated lists of priority and focus schools to ED by Monday, March 1, 2016.

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