New Brief! Targeting subgroup achievement gaps – lessons from Ann Arbor, MI

At one time, over 90% of Ann Arbor’s schools were identified for performance issues due to large achievement gaps between the lowest performing and the highest performing. Within a few short years, the district exited the vast majority of those schools from status and demonstrated improvement in a number of school indicators (enrollment, discipline, academic performance, etc). This document, released by the Center on School Turnaround at WestEd, profiles the steps the district implemented to change how the adults act and better support the students. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Focusing on Achievement Gaps

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New Resources! Integrating Resources to Implement School and District Improvement Cycles

This set of resources, released by the Council of Chief State School Officers, is designed to help SEAs, LEAs, and schools through the school and district improvement cycle. The resources braid together some of the latest thinking on the improvement cycle, Strategic Performance Management, and needs assessments. The overview of the cycle includes a description of each step, coaching tips, and suggestions of tools that could be useful. The work was started by the state members at a School and District Improvement collaborative meeting, sponsored by CCSSO, in June 2017 (SDI SCASS). The resource was released by CCSSO, and staff/consultants from the Center on School Turnaround at WestEd, the Building State Capacity and Productivity Center, and several SEAs contributed to the final resources. The main document is a PDF, and 3 of the 4 tools are available as Word documents that can be downloaded and adapted by users.

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Cause and effect of principals rating teachers accurately

Despite years of SEAs encouraging/requiring/begging districts and school principals to rate teachers more accurately, two recent studies (here and here) highlighted in an EdWeek article show that there has been little improvement in this area. One of the pullout quotes in the article is from a principal in Delaware. She states, “Somebody’s job is in your hands.” This statement is accurate and teacher evaluations should be taken very seriously, but as a principal, the futures of hundreds of students are in your hands every day. While a low rating could potentially cost an educator his/her job, the system should be designed to support that person improve over a specified time period. But, we must get back to the impact on the students.

Not accurately rating a teacher for ineffective performance (if warranted) makes it more difficult 1) for subsequent principals to provide accurate ratings (i.e. “I’ve never been rated poorly, this isn’t accurate!”) 2) to obtain the professional development that may be needed for that teacher, 3) to remove that teacher if performance doesn’t improve, and 4) most importantly, an inaccurate rating could harm classrooms of students for years. Based on these reports (in addition to the original TNTP report), as well as working schools and districts identified for performance issues, it it clear that simply requiring principals to rate teachers more effectively isn’t the solution.

This is a multifaceted issue and requires deep analysis and a number of solutions. Some of the areas that must be examined for root cause and possible solutions include: providing appropriate training for principals on both assessing the quality of instruction AND providing constructive feedback to staff, streamlining paperwork burdens (so that it is easier for principals to rate teachers ineffectively and provide them services), supporting principals with PD provision for the lower rated staff, providing high quality professional development to support staff that are rated ineffective (so that they can improve in a reasonable time frame), providing additional instructional support to the students in classrooms with teachers rated ineffective (so that they continue learning), and increasing the teacher pipeline (so that if ineffective teachers choose to leave or are removed, that there are people to replace them).

Some educators that I’ve met with over the years have also proposed tying a principal’s evaluation to the effectiveness of their teachers (i.e. Are the teachers improving their proficiency and effectiveness? Do the teacher ratings correlate with the performance/trajectory of the student body?). I fully agree that teachers should not solely be accountable for student performance. All of the adults in the education system play a critical role and should be accountable for how their actions impact student learning.

These areas can be complicated, filled with additional barriers, and are not easy or quick wins. But, putting the most effective teachers in front of our students should be an absolute priority in every single classroom across the country.

Ann Arbor, Michigan and New Haven, CT also recently revamped their teacher evaluation policies and interviews with staff from both of those cities demonstrated promising results.

 

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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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