Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Explaining the North Dakota State Assessment Results

This week the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction released the results from the new North Dakota State Assessment (NDSA). All public school students are required to take the test in grades three through eight and 11th grade. Students throughout the state took this test last spring and we are just now receiving the results. This is the first measurement of the newly implemented Common Core standards. The new NDSA has been dubbed a next generation test. The test has been developed to measure more than just rote knowledge. It includes performance tasks and is completely online.

Early results from other states showed substantial decreases in performance levels of students. North Dakota scores indicate a decrease as well. On October 27, the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI) released proficiency levels, 46% were proficient in English and 40% were proficient in mathematics. At Rugby Public School District, 44% of our students were proficient in English and 43% were proficient in Math. This year’s scores should be viewed as a baseline set of data.

I have a few concerns with the release of this data. Last year many schools experienced difficulties administering the test. In Rugby, close to half of our fourth grade English data has not been published. During the testing window a few grade levels had to retake the entire test due to errors. We also experienced testing errors throughout the process. It was very clear that the test was not ready to administer last year. Due to the issues mentioned above I personally question the validity of this data. According to the news release from NDDPI not all tests have been scored at this point. It is unclear why NDDPI would rush to release proficiency scores when they could change.

The data from the NDSA are one many components we use to measure our effectiveness. We prefer our own locally developed assessments, the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), and the ACT. Teachers use their collaboration time to develop assessments that provide important data that is used to improve instruction. We continue to administer MAP assessments two times a year and we believe these assessments are much more reliable and easy to administer. The ACT is administered once a year for the junior class and this data is used to measure college and career readiness. I am hopeful that our NDSA testing experience will be better this year and that we don’t panic due to these initial scores.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Vertical alignment ideas

We are using one of our upcoming early out professional learning days for vertical alignment.

On October 28th we will be having crucial conversations about gaps and overlaps that exist between grade levels. We expect authentic honest conversations. This is not about pointing fingers, it's about developing awareness. 

Each PLC group will begin to think about weak areas that may exist that are either identified by data or by teacher perception.  

Each PLC group will be led by a facilitator. The facilitator will take notes or assign someone to take notes. The facilitator will guide the conversation and follow the format below. 

Preschool - Grade 8 will use the following format: 
  • Each PLC group will review and compare their ELA I Can Statements with the rest of the vertical team. 
  • After all grade level teams have presented their ELA I Can Statements. The vertical team will analyze and look for gaps and overlaps that exist between the ELA I Can Statements from grade level to grade level. The vertical team will identify weak areas and discuss solutions within ELA.
  • What is mastery and how is mastery assessed at each grade level? 
  • Develop action steps for the next meeting on November 18th. What will need to happen between the meetings?
Grade 7-12 will focus cross-curricular activities: 
  • Review the data and discuss what we do well and what we need to improve on?
  • How do we do more together?
  • How do we embed more 21st Century Skills like creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration?
  • Develop action steps for next meeting on November 18th. What will need to happen between the meetings?
I think any time when we have conversations about vertical alignment and what kids may be missing it is easy to get defensive. A healthy culture creates opportunities for difficult conversations to occur. 

How have you used vertical teaming to address gaps and overlaps?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

North Dakota's Teacher Shortage

We are experiencing a teacher shortage in North Dakota and across the nation. As of October 5, 2015 there were 89 teacher openings across the state. Keep in mind school started almost two months ago. This means that schools are either increasing class sizes or are going without programs. There are less people going into the education profession, which means we are graduating fewer teachers.

Teacher salaries in North Dakota are near the bottom in comparison to the national average. It is difficult in rural community that is not experiencing substantial growth to remain competitive. The state funding formula favors a growing a district. However, I do believe the issue is more complex than just increasing pay for educators although it would certainly help. The following factors should be considered if we are to fix the teacher shortage issues that currently exist.

Respect for the profession:
Teaching is one of the most demanding professions in the world. Educators in the top performing educational systems around the world are deeply respected. In fact the highest achievers go into the education profession in top education systems. In America, there is the perception that teaching is not difficult and anybody could do it. Being an effective teacher is both art and science. Teaching is difficult yet rewarding and it takes special dedicated individuals to make the profession a career.

Support our beginners:
We have to do more to support our beginning teachers. Many teachers leave the profession after only a few years. This is largely due to the level of support they receive after they begin teaching. At Rugby, we assign mentors, provide orientations, and use our professional learning communities to build their support network. One of our school goals’ is to improve our retention of beginning teachers.

Teacher pipeline issues:
Is higher education responding appropriately to our needs? Is it a teacher shortage problem or a teacher pipeline issue? For years we have seen a plethora of teachers in certain fields like elementary education while other fields experienced shortages. Teacher preparation programs may need to redirect students or place caps on certain education fields.

High stakes accountability:
High stakes testing and punitive punishments beat down educators. Standardized assessments have their place in education and provide us with useful data. We use this data and it helps us set school wide goals. However, this single snapshot in time may not explain the whole picture. Each public school district is required to make annual yearly progress based on these assessments. If we do not meet certain proficiency levels we are placed on program improvement. While on program improvement certain sanctions are placed on the school district. These sanctions can be very frustrating and debilitating. There is no silver bullet to immediately boost scores. Improving student achievement takes time and the gains are incremental. What works for one student will not work for another. Standardized assessments are necessary, but the sanctions imposed due to low scores may cause many young people to choose a different career field.

Grow our own:
Do educators do a good enough job promoting teaching as a career option? We are our own worst enemies at times. We should be pushing our best and brightest into the profession. If we do not promote our profession we will continue to see small applicant pools.  This may impact our ability to fill positions with high quality people.

Teaching cannot be seen as a backup career choice for young people.  We need to sell our profession and talk positively about it!