SED Still Can’t Get It Right

If you’ve followed by blog at all, actually, if you’ve read two specific previous posts, you will know what this is about. If you haven’t read the two blogs, Double Testing and Double Testing Revisited, this concerns NYS math assessments.

Specifically, NYS has been granted a waiver regarding 7th/8th grade students who take a math Regents and the NYS Common Core math assessment. The idea was that if (in our case) an 8th grade student is enrolled in Regents Algebra, he/she does not have to also take the NYS grade 8 Common Core math assessment. The thought behind this is that Algebra is an accelerated course, so students successfully completing it certainly have the math skills addressed on the grade 8 math assessment. That makes sense.

For a thorough explanation, refer to my blogs, but my concern was that these students would no longer be counted in our school accountability data, which would significantly alter our results and affect teacher’s APPR scores. As an example, if this waiver had been in place last year, our Algebra kids’ assessment scores, they all received a Level IV score, would not have been included in our building’s statistics. This would have dropped our percentage of students earning Level III/IV scores from 55% to 34%! We no longer look like we have the top quality math program that we do, and the apparent strength of our math program is inaccurate.

There’s an easy solution: convert Regents exam scores to equivalent assessment scores. Since this is an accelerated course, Regents scores should translate to proficient scores, for example, a Regents exam score of 65-84 should equal a Level III score and a Regents score of 85-100 should translate to a Level IV score.

The NYSED sent a memo this past February to clarify the scoring. (I swear they read my blog, and my article on the same concern published in the NYS School Boards Association Journal On Board) What they wrote, however, became fodder for my second blog. Their “clarification” was that any student passing a Regents math exam could be exempted from the Common Core assessment and receive “full credit” for the assessment. Well, that would be good if they had defined what “full credit” meant. Of course they did not. So I wrote again about the folly of SED’s thinking and actions.

So now we have yet another clarification from SED, this one in a recently received April memo. We now know what “full credit” means! Yes, they have defined it!! Shouldn’t we all be happy? I know what you’re thinking; if I’m blogging about it again there must be a problem…how right you are!!

So let’s review. The students we’re talking about are taking a Regents exam in an accelerated, high school credit bearing course. The Algebra Regents exam addresses more complex thinking, content and skills than does the grade 8 assessment. A question for you then: let’s say a student aces the Regents, earns a score of 100. Wouldn’t a rational person think that would translate to a Level IV assessment score, the top score on that assessment? I mean, top score on the Algebra Regents, a grade 9 course, should equate to the top score on the grade 8 assessment, shouldn’t it?

But of course not, this is SED we ‘re talking about. Here’s how SED sees the grade conversions:

Regents exam score of 0-64: no credit (they got that piece right!)

Regents exam score of 65-79: Level II

Regents exam score of 80 or higher: Level III score

Are you kidding me? A student who passes the accelerated Algebra Regents exam with a score of 70 earns a failing score on the grade 8 math assessment? Better yet, a student who scores a 92, 96, or even 100 on the accelerated Algebra Regents exam earns a Level III score? In other words, a student taking an accelerated Algebra Regents exam cannot in any way earn a top Level IV score on an assessment based on 8th grade content? Is that rational? Does that make sense? Am I the only one seeing this?

Wow….SED never ceases to amaze, befuddle, disappoint…and that’s not just my perspective.

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GSA Revisited

I recently read an interesting article in the March 26, 2014, issue of Education Week. The item was about Carver Middle School, in Florida, and an attempt to develop a GSA in that school. It seems that in Florida, at least at Carver MS and the Lake County School District, the idea of having a GSA or of the need to have a GSA as a support group for students is seriously lacking. To date they have not been allowed by the school or district to form a GSA. Why are people so opposed to providing needed support to students?

It does the heart good to see the inroads that are being made on normalizing people’s views, attitudes, and actions toward humans who have different perspectives than us. Yet, old ideas and beliefs die hard, and it will continue to take persistence and determination to establish a modern world in backwards locales, like the ‘’south.” Of course there are still government officials in some southern states that believe the confederate flag is a national symbol. It’s easy to just shake your head and say that some people just can’t be taught, but that won’t change the beliefs.

I remember a conversation I had with my mom several years ago. My mom has always been an accepting sort, strong religious upbringing and faith, but not one to criticize others. Al Sharpton had said something outrageous; but, that’s the style of anything he utters. My mom commented on how he was divisive, that he shouldn’t be allowed to have such a forum to spread his dogma. I responded that the world needs the Al Sharptons, that it’s the Al Sharptons of the world that help us to clarify our own thoughts. I further said that he gives us ideas to consider, and most likely reject, but ideas we would probably never have on our own. Differences of thought are necessary and can lead to changes in behavior. It would be a dull and dangerous world if we all thought alike. Of course my mom disagreed.

But my point is that when we hear statements or see actions that cause us to flinch, it should galvanize us to solidify our own thoughts and, as appropriate, take appropriate action to counter the misguided Philistines we’ve been exposed to.

At Carver MS, students attempted to form a GSA and were told by school and/or district officials that they couldn’t. That wasn’t an acceptable response, assumedly, and the students countered by filing a lawsuit to be allowed to do so. The article indicated that a Florida Appeals Court had just denied a motion by the District that sought to quash the students’ lawsuit…and this was the second court decision denying the district’s attempts to get the lawsuit tossed! The judge did not go so far as to issue an immediate injunction that would have allowed the GSA to form and meet, but it was a victory nonetheless for the students.

Indeed, these kids, with most likely some very able adult support, are working hard to not let the uninformed prevail. They are taking action to counter the backwards, Neanderthal ideas of ignorant ultraconservatives. They are not accepting what is being preached to them as what has to be. Good for them, and may they be successful quickly! And that’s not just my perspective.

 

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The Melting Pot Luck

I like to eat. Actually… it’s more than that; I love to eat!  I’m a big fan of church dinners, bring a dish to share feasts, Thanksgiving get-togethers where each family brings their favorite food, you name it, if there’s food, I like it.  And I’m not the least picky about the types of food either.  I love Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, French, Tex-Mex, Creole, again, you name it, I’ll enjoy it!

I also believe it’s essential for families to be involved, in some way, with their child(ren)’s school. To have a true home-school connection there have to be opportunities for families, at least for mom and dad, to take part in school events.  This could be watching their daughter perform in our school musical, or attending a science fair to see their son’s project presented, or participate in PTA activities, or chaperone school programs.  As involvement needs to be done for students, good schools provide numerous opportunities for parents to establish a level of involvement with their school as well.

Last Monday evening we had an event that combined these two worlds perfectly. Our foreign language department organized and held their annual International Pot Luck Dinner, a perfect blend of food and parent involvement!  An added bonus, from several different perspectives, was that both our Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction were present!

All students are invited to attend, and of course to include their entire family, and to provide a food item to share that represents their cultural/ethnic heritage. We had over 200 attendees, so I would assume that you can easily imagine what that translates to regarding parent involvement, ethnic/cultural backgrounds, and, ultimately, the food!  We had over 20 different ethnic backgrounds represented and the tables were arranged so that food items from a specific ethnic group were situated together.

Did I mention that I love food? I had foods from India, Pakistan, Spain, Mexico, Italy, China, Korea, and a couple of other countries, unfortunately sometimes I was so focused on the food that I didn’t notice the country of origin.  It was a top notch meal and I received comments from several of the parents indicating their pleasure with the dinner.

This was an event that involved about 250 of our community and staff, with the vast majority from the community, and that involved families as an integral part of the evening. Everyone enjoyed themselves, saw friends and neighbors, made new friends, had an excellent meal, had a chance to chat with teachers, principals, central office administrators, and participated in what can only be categorized as a positive program, and accomplished all of this at school!  At my age I remember having athletic banquets, science fairs, spaghetti (fund raising) dinners, etc. at school.  Being from a small town, the school was the center of most community events that took place.  And being the location used for most community activities, school was looked at a little differently than it seems to be today.  Today there’s often an almost deliberate separation of school and community; a “we’ll do our job, please don’t interfere” mentality, which is unfortunate.

Monday night is an example of an event that bridges our school and our community, a positive program that brought us together, if only for an hour or two. But, we’ll all remember it…and that’s my perspective.

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Opting Out Supported By NYSUT?

I just read in the April 7th issue of The Albany Times Union an article about the recent NYSUT elections.  It seems that there was some discontent with the just defeated president of that organization, Dick Iannuzzi.  He’d been president since 2005 it says and it hints that he was making quite a salary; it doesn’t say exactly how much, but I’ve read before that it’s well north of $200K, close to $300K.  His salary aside, the article indicates that there was an uprising of members who thought he hadn’t gone far enough working to defeat the implementation of the Common Core standards and, most importantly I would think, the recently adopted teacher evaluation system, APPR.

The upstart who defeated him, one Karen Magee from Harrison, NY, was running on a platform with the catchy slogan “Revive NYSUT.” It appears that a majority of the members must have felt that NYSUT needed to be revived.

I can only quote from the article, I have no official documents from the association, but it provides a recap regarding an action that the NYSUT Assembly (the voting body for the group) adopted and that caused great concern for me. The article states that the Assembly “…supported the rights of parents and guardians to opt their children out of high-stakes tests.” What?!?

An organization that says it supports education, often using the catchphrase “doing what is best for children” is now stating that parents don’t have to let their kids take the state assessments? They support parents opting their kids out of these tests?  That doesn’t make sense; it seems directly contrary to what educators do support, namely teaching and assessing.  Tests are part of who we are and how we assess teaching and learning, now they’re saying kids don’t have to take assessments if their parents don’t want them to?  How would any teacher member of NYSUT feel if they were contacted by a parent who requested their child be opted out of that teacher’s tests?  Testing, even state required testing, is part of education, has always been, and will continue to be.  Isn’t NYSUT’s support of this action going to serve to spur the opting out movement on, to give it a boost?  Can it be that’s what they want?

Oh wait, I get it. This isn’t about what’s best for kids at all, it’s about what’s best for teachers.  The evaluation (which is tied to state assessments) is the issue.  My first thought was that NYSUT was taking a stand on a practice that was in kids’ best interests?  Shame on me!

It makes sense that NYSUT would support parents opting their kids out of the state testing because that way the testing has a chance of being undermined and, ergo, the results can’t be used for teacher evaluations. The tests will become a joke, they’ll be invalid and unreliable, and thus unusable.

Instead of addressing the issue head on, which Iannuzzi and NYSUT attempted to do but lost, the new leadership wants to use kids (and parents) to get their way. It’s like the new leaders are saying that if we can’t get it through legal channels, we’ll sneak around the issue and erode the base.  This is how NYSUT wants to be “revived?”  Amazing!  What’s next, endorsing parents opting their kids out of Regents exams?  What’s the difference?  What I do know… this is just my perspective.

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Consorting With The Enemy

“Us versus Them”. I’ve written before about how it’s an almost unavoidable perspective to have, and unfortunately that’s a common attitude that’s all too prevalent in schools. Teachers and administrators, two opposite sides of the coin that is education. (Yet another of my pet peeves, when teachers make reference to “Administration”, like we’re not separate people, we should all be lumped together.  Even saying “administrators” is better in my mind.)  If pondered, however, we really do have mostly the same goals, objectives, and values.  In fact, I would say that in any school teachers and administrators have more in common than not.

I have to share that I was guilty of this thinking when I started at Shaker JHS.  That surprises me when I think back because I didn’t even know anyone here, knew little of substance about the school, and absolutely nothing about the relationship that existed between the teachers association and the administrators.  Yet I harbored this idea that we were not on the same side.  (This line of thinking has nothing to do with the problems that certain experienced teachers were trying to create for me.  Their actions were not union-sponsored and not even arising from union discussions that I was aware of.)

Experience has taught me a different perspective. You can’t beat experience, if you think about your experiences rationally and view them as learning opportunities.

Bill McAuliffe was a 7th grade social studies teacher at SJHS when I began here, and he remained as such until his retirement a few years ago.  He stays in touch, although his grandkids are requiring more and more of his time, so he has less to share with us.  Bill was the unofficial leader of the NCTA, our teachers’ professional association, throughout his time here.  He was officially the chief negotiator for the union and was also their resident expert on just about anything having to do with the contract, including working conditions, teacher issues, you name it.  Every organization has its official leaders, and just as obviously its unofficial leaders.  I don’t think anyone who worked during that time frame would dispute the impact that Bill had on just about everything.

When I first started I remember him stopping by my office one day and us chatting. I don’t remember the topic, but I do remember him inviting me to chat with him regularly, whenever I had questions, concerns, etc.  He was clear that I could share with him concerns I was having about specific teachers, or practices, anything related to the interactions with the teaching staff.

“Why would I ever want to do that?” I remember asking myself. He didn’t want to work collegially on anything, he was interested in gaining access to my thinking, my ideas, my plans.  I believed that he wanted to pose as a colleague and help me when what he really wanted was to use my knowledge and ideas for “the other side.”  He mentioned this to me a couple of other times as the months wore on; my hidden reaction was always the same.

Well, I was wrong; wrong about Bill and his intentions and wrong about what constitutes a healthy working relationship between “us and them”. With time Bill and I started having conversations with substance.  I came to realize that giving him a head’s up about an issue that was brewing with a teacher was helpful.  Often the issue never turned into a problem, and I know that Bill intervened.  Concerns that were surfacing in the teachers’ ranks could be headed off via our discussions and by putting our heads together to address common interests.  I grew to respect Bill’s perspective and the relationship that developed.  My thinking matured.  I came to understand that the NCTA was not the enemy, that we truly had more in common than not.  It took some time to get there, old ideas die hard sometimes.

I appreciate the relationship that now exists between me and the NCTA reps in our school. It’s become the norm that we talk; doesn’t seem earth shattering, does it?  I let the leadership know if concerns are developing, give them our perspective on what the issue is.  They do the same, keeping me well aware of potential problems.  We work collaboratively to address our common interests.  Don’t get me wrong; sometimes we are not on the same page, but we still listen to each other, attempt to work it out, and know that we’ll keep talking.  It works.  And, bottom line, the relationship benefits our school.  And that’s a common interest…as well as my perspective.

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The Need To Listen

Most administrators are good at telling. I don’t think any administrative coursework needs to spend any time on that “skill.”  Where time is needed and attention paid, however, is on the listening end.  What is it that makes many administrators begin telling people so much once they put on the administrative hat?

I’ll use my own experience as an example.  I was a math teacher for 10 years, took coursework for my administrative certification the last couple of those years, and then I was appointed to an assistant principal position in the same school.  Did I change from one day being a teacher to the next being an administrator?  Did my colleagues change?  I fully realize that becoming an administrator carries with it different responsibilities, tasks, and authority, but my colleagues were just as competent as they were when I was one of them.  They had just as much to say, just as much expertise to draw on, and just as much perspective.  Why would I look at them differently and consider their ideas and thoughts in a new light?  I shouldn’t have, but I know now, looking back, that I did.

I have to say I believe that my teaching colleagues looked at me differently when I moved into the administrative ranks, but that’s a different topic for another post.

It took me awhile to realize the resource that teachers are and need to be. In essence, I needed to learn to really hear and to trust what teachers were saying.  Admittedly, my early years at Shaker JHS did little to help me establish this trust, dealing with the untrustworthy minority of teachers who were trying to make my life difficult.  But even through those trials there existed a cadre of professionals who I did listen to, in fact who I depended on, to help steer the boat.

My thoughts turned to listening while reading an article recently in the November 2013 issue of Educational Leadership.  The article was entitled “Can You Listen Too Well?” and was written by Thomas Hoerr, a principal somewhere in Missouri.  He writes that you can indeed listen too well to staff members, including making points such as:

-care needs to be given to not putting too much weight on the words of a vocal minority

-you can’t waste time waiting for everyone to be on board or to share thoughts

-if care is not given, good listening can be misinterpreted as agreement

-being overly receptive opens you up for constant venting and complaining, which will harm the psyche.

Hmm, while I understand the points he is trying to make, I disagree with his conclusions drawn on the statements. I find the first two to be contrary; if only a vocal minority is speaking, then you need to provide “wait time” for others to share their perspective.  Otherwise you would just be discounting the minority (because you disagree with it?) due to them being a minority?  The upfront minority may, in fact, be expressing a thought that, with time, will demonstrate itself to be a majority opinion.  If people are reluctant to express themselves in a public forum, then you need to “listen” in smaller settings.  You don’t sit and wait, you work proactively to solicit feedback and ideas.

His third point speaks for itself; you need to be clear that listening to an idea or suggestion does NOT mean you agree. But, again, the alternative can’t be to stifle or to cut people off from sharing their thoughts.  I truly don’t see this point as a concern.  Listening is just that, listening.

His last point, I believe, comes with the job. I need to be accessible, and that means I hear a lot of good discussion, sharing of ideas, colleagues making suggestions, etc. and I get people’s complaints.  I don’t find it difficult in the least to be a good listener, to validate someone’s concerns, and to move on.  If the person wishes me to assist with the concern, I need to hear that.  I can then make a decision whether or not that’s something I need to do.  Many people share concerns because they need to vent, and I’ve never minded being the receptor of that venting.  Really, it’s part of who I want to be for my staff.  At least that’s my perspective.

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Teaching Students Life Skills, DASA Notwithstanding

The priority for schools always has to be education, that’s the main reason we exist. We are tasked with providing all of our students with the content knowledge and skills that will assist each in becoming a productive member of society.  That sounds quite noble, doesn’t it?  Of course, being involved with education means you keep the long term goal, productive member of society, in the back of your mind and the short term goal, preparing students for today, tomorrow, or next year, in the front of your mind.

But schools are responsible for much more than just the content and related skill acquisition of students. If we want to be effective with all of our students, we need to attend to the many impediments to learning, the roadblocks that prevent us from accomplishing the short and long term goals of education.  A hungry child has great difficulty learning; so we provide breakfast.  Some students need additional time to master content and skills; so we provide late buses for after school support and summer school for those empty weeks.  A child upset over relationships with peers has difficulty concentrating; so we have counselors and talented teachers who help students develop coping mechanisms.  We address a lot of “non-educational” issues to put students in the best position to learn.

And then you get non-educators making decisions, about an environment they know little about, that adversely affect what and how you need to teach children.

The NYS Legislature enacted the Dignity for All Students Act, DASA, in 2010. I believe the legislation was well intentioned, but as is always the case with our State Legislature, the practicality of implementation and the specifics of the law create much more than “dignity for all students.”  As with much that comes out of our Legislature, on the surface DASA makes sense.  After all, the intent of the legislation was “…to afford all students in schools an environment free of discrimination and harassment.  The purpose…is to foster civility in public schools and to prevent and prohibit conduct which is inconsistent with a school’s educational mission.”

Noble intent and purpose indeed. But the very act of enacting such legislation directly implies that schools don’t do this.  We have a lot of rules for kids; do legislators actually think that we don’t, and that they need to put in place an act to make discrimination and harassment inappropriate behaviors?  I would state without reservation that every school had rules and regulations on the books that explicitly detail both of these as unacceptable and punishable behaviors.  So why the legislation?  Ah, the details, that’s always where the devil resides.

Let me be clear, no one, me included, believe that kids should be subjected to harassment, bullying or discrimination, and I don’t need the legislature telling me that. Does it happen?  Unfortunately, yes it does.  That’s where the details from this legislation become problematic.  A necessary part of working with all kids is teaching them what harassment is and what it isn’t; teaching them what bullying is and what it isn’t; the same for discrimination.  And we also work to enable kids to recognize it, address it and seek help when needed.  That’s an essential skill for anyone to possess, as you’ll be able to use that skill throughout life.

But this legislation makes learning that skill unnecessary. Anyone can report behavior that they don’t like, whether the behavior even fits a basic definition of the term, and we have to affirmatively act on it.  The reporting can be done anonymously, and we need to have a vehicle for such reporting readily available for our public.  We are required to have reporting forms easily accessible for students to report any incident they deem reportable.

Shouldn’t students be able to seek help if needed? Absolutely, but the legislation has set up a system which removes the student entirely from the solution.  Kids don’t have to develop skills to counter a bully, they can just report it.  Someone bothering a student?  No problem, the student doesn’t have to do a thing, just complete a report form and it will be addressed for him/her.  A student sees something being done to another student?  Don’t feel obligated to intervene, just report it…anonymously if you prefer!

I will reiterate, students should not have to “put up with” bullying or harassment, but they should feel a tendency, and be enabled, to take appropriate action of their own. They’re not obligated to, for sure, but there should be a sense of doing the right thing and standing up against such behaviors.  Bullies will bully someone until the someone stands up to the bully.  Having “mom” take care of the bully just doesn’t have the same impact or result.  Our legislators have stripped that needed sense from our young citizens, at least that’s my perspective.

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