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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Using student data in London

As an addendum to yesterday’s blog post, I wanted to provide some additional examples of places I’ve seen student data used well. Two years ago, I traveled to London for two weeks to learn about the English education system as part of a professional development trip. In every school we visited, I was astounded by the amount of data collected and provided to students. Data was not something that teacher’s collected and analyzed alone, but students had access to that data, developed their own learning goals, and owned their data.

The below four paragraphs are excerpts from a publication by Michigan State University’s Office of K-12 Outreach (which participated in the 2013 trip, and returned again in 2014) describing the type of student data use we saw in London.

Students know their own data and they understand the learning process. They are given, or jointly determine with their teacher, learning targets, and then discuss ways to achieve those targets. Students believe that testing helps them to know where they are. Periodic assessments are used to track progress over the course of the year. These assessments are used to help students answer basic questions about their progress: Where are you now? Where are you going to be in X amount of time? What supports will you need to get from point A to point B? Many schools also require regular “Learning Conversations” between teachers and students to check in on their progress. One school requires one-on-one dialogues to be held every six weeks during the school year. Another school expects students to meet with each content teacher on a regular basis. While these conversations focus on the student’s performance, they also provide an opportunity for students and teachers to discuss any issues or problems with which a student may need support– in school or external to traditional school needs.

Student data is everywhere and is shared throughout the building. Hallways, doors, and classroom walls are filled with student assessment scores and samples of student work. Some classrooms at the lower grades have little note cards taped to each child’s desk that shows that student’s baseline assessment scores and their goal scores. There is a constant reminder that student work is evaluated and growth is expected. The display of student work, with names visible, also allows students the opportunity to see which of their peers can provide them with learning support. Students commented that there is some competition for performing well, but reflected that the level of competition is healthy and useful.

In nearly every school…I was quite stunned to see student names attached to the data right in the hallway for all to see. On every visit I would ask students how they felt about having scores like that on display in the hallway. Without fail, students appeared surprised by my question and they each responded similarly, “We just see it as a way to track our progress and we know the teachers are here to help us get better.”

A recent U.K. study tour participant

Another example of student ownership is the opportunity for students to respond to feedback from teachers. The teachers mark their feedback in green and the students respond to that feedback in red. This creates an ongoing conversation about how to improve, and encourages a cycle of continuous improvement. 

The full document can be accessed here and a full annotation is:

  • Office of K-12 Outreach. (2015). Lessons from London: Successful Education Practices for High-Poverty Schools. College of Education, Michigan State University.

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Snapshot on SIG and data use

As Barack Obama noted in 2009, “There is no silver bullet when it comes turning [underperforming] schools around.” Struggling schools vary drastically in the root causes behind their low performance; while some face challenges due to mobile student populations and low teacher trust, others struggle due to contentious community relationships and ineffective and inconsistent school AND district policies. We have seen that some struggling schools are able to recover and drive gains in student achievement, while many others experience poor outcomes year after year regardless of the support they receive. So, what strategies can we employ to improve failing schools?

The Center on School Turnaround’s recent report “Snapshots of School Turnaround: How Three Schools Used School Improvement Grants to Improve Student Learning Outcomes” documents the strategies employed by three districts to transform three failing schools. The report speaks to the important role that the district and state played in each of the three successful school turnarounds highlighted in this report; the authors highlight that a support system at the state and/or district level that provides both autonomy and ongoing support was critical for each of the three districts that successfully implemented a turnaround. The report also found that non-evaluative supports to teachers (including coaching and targeted, meaningful professional development) improved the school climate and the quality of instruction.Effective use of student data is also cited as a primary driver of school improvement.

At Emerson Elementary School in Kansas City, Kansas, the Assistant Superintendent Marcy Clay discusses how the school discussed assessment data with teachers in grade levels and one-on-one meetings to examine “what their data are saying and what the next steps would be to improve things.” While many schools cite analysis of student-level data as a key driver in school improvement, it’s useful to explore this process on a deeper level – exactly how are schools unpacking student data in a way that clarifies a teacher’s next steps for driving improvement? Recognizing that all students performed poorly on a specific content strand is one thing, but knowing how to assist a teacher as they unpack reasons for poor performance AND help them enact teaching strategies that remedy a learning deficiency takes a certain level of skill that has not yet been touched on sufficiently in the literature. One Gates Foundation resource speaks to how teachers can make meaning and use of student data, but it’s likely that school leaders and teacher coaches need additional supports in how to work with teachers around effective use of data.

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Honoring the experiences of others

This is a great piece and a reminder that none of us can change who we are but we can accept ourselves and honor the backgrounds and experiences of others. This applies to our personal and professional lives. 
I won’t paraphrase the article, because the author is far more articulate than I could be writing about what she said. So, basically, I advise you to read the article and think about how each of our privileges, characteristics and experiences impact our daily lives.

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How do rural schools measure up in college and career readiness?

We talk a lot in the education world about urban schools, but what about rural schools? How do rural schools measure up in college and career readiness?

A report by the Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce projects that by the year 2020, 65 percent of jobs in the United States require some level of postsecondary training. Given projections such as these, it is critical that we as a nation ensure that students have the necessary support to complete both a high school education and postsecondary training.

In the debate about how to improve our nation’s schools and promote postsecondary training, politicians and advocates often focus on the plight of urban schools. It is true that our urban schools struggle to provide quality educational opportunities for all students, but while considering federal policies to improve our nation’s schools, we must also consider that almost a fourth of our students attend rural schools. Graduation rates are higher in rural areas, but rural students are less likely to enroll in two and four year colleges and universities. Why is this case? Could it be that rural high schools offer a less rigorous curriculum that neglects to prepare students for postsecondary education? Could it be that rural students have less geographic access to postsecondary education? Are there other obstacles to postsecondary enrollment that more significantly affect rural students?

In a new report “Big County: How Variations in High School Graduation Plans Impact Rural Students,” education policy experts Jennifer Schiess and Andrew Rotherman ask whether rural high schools graduate a higher proportion of students under less rigorous standards that urban and suburban high schools. They find a both a gap in access to high-level courses (such as algebra II and calculus) between rural and non-rural areas and that rural students taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses were less likely to pass the exams that their non-rural peers. While this final result does not point to a widespread “dumbing down” of curriculum at rural high schools, it does highlight the need to support rural students in enrolling in and successfully completing the high-level high school courses that are predictive of college enrollment and success.

This issue also highlights some potential solutions to a common issue of the need for highly skilled teachers in rural areas. While a high school of 100 or 200 students may not be able to afford teachers that can teach both AP chemistry and AP physics, is there a way that several rural schools in the same area could share these highly specialized teachers between schools and districts? How could virtual learning be used to increase access to highly-skilled teachers? There are many ways that schools and districts in rural areas could better support students, but most of those potential solutions require out of the box thinking and changing the status quo in how things get done.

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