State Board of Education Work Session – April 26, 2012

Here is the entire work session on video via the Alabama State Department of Education’s UStream channel.  They are videoing with multiple cameras now, which give it a much better flow.  Thanks, ALSDE!

The big focus of this work session was the new Accountability system that State Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice unveiled publicly to the board for the first time.  The state board approved the formation of the Assessment and Accountability Task Force last July.  Five members of the task force (I never could discern if there were others that were a part of the task force or if these were the only five members) presented their recommendations.  Sherrill Parris, Deputy Superintendent of Teaching/Learning, stated that the group worked in the fall and winter of last year on this task.

Bice stated the purpose of the task force was to look at “what was ahead” in terms of assessments and that they all agreed that they wanted Alabama’s students to “aspire to something greater than AYP [Adequate Yearly Progress, the primary accountability measure under No Child Left Behind]”.  The presentation has not yet been posted to the ALSDE web site, so  click here to download a PDF of the presentation.

The work session started promptly at 10:30 a.m.  All board members were present except Mrs. Betty Peters.

First up was the United States Department of Education (USDOE) Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs) Freeze Request.  Bice plans to ask the USDOE to freeze AMOs at the 2010-2011 level for Alabama’s students.  This is allowable for states seeking flexibility under guidelines established last September by President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

A little background on flexibility waivers:  Obama and Duncan gave states the opportunity to request flexibility from the strict use of current measures of AYP and the 100% proficiency provision by 2013-2014.  Here’s a quick fact sheet stating what Duncan hoped to accomplish by doing this.  Here’s a quick look at reactions to Obama’s side-stepping Congress to overhaul NCLB. [Obama admitted this when he said, “So, given that Congress cannot act, I am acting.”]

States have to have their alternate accountability plans approved by the USDOE in order to be released from current AYP usage.  Alabama has so far chosen not to request flexibility.  Many states have submitted their plans, and 11 states have already been approved, including Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee.

The third and last opportunity to submit a request for flexibility waiver request is September 6 of this year.  Bice’s plan is on track to be ready for submission at that time.

Dr. Melinda Maddox, Jerome Browning and Shanthia Washington presented the details of the request for a one-year freeze of the AMOs for Alabama’s students.  AMOs are the percentage of students that must be proficient in a given grade level and subject (reading or math).  Proficient in Alabama means scoring at least at a Level III on the Alabama Reading and Mathematics Test (ARMT).  A 2006 Southern Regional Education Board report criticized Alabama for setting the proficiency bar too low.

The one-year freeze is allowable as long as the state submitting the request assures the following will be done:

  • Adopt college- and career-ready standards
  • Provide student growth data to teachers
  • Identify achievement and graduation rate gaps

Alabama has all of these in place already.

Local education agencies (LEAs, or school systems as we usually call them) were to be notified yesterday of the intent to make the request to freeze AMOs.  They will have until May 3 to comment.  The public will then be notified on May 4.  The Board meets on May 10 and if they approve the request, it will be sent to the USDOE for approval.

Yes, this means that the testing that was done earlier this month will be measured by last year’s AMOs.

Next up, the recommendations of the Assessment and Accountability Task Force.  Members of the task force included:  Dr. Gloria Turner (ALSDE Assessment), Dr. Maurine Black (principal of Hoover’s Greystone Elementary School), Mrs. Maria Johnson (reading coach at Beverlye Middle in Dothan), Sherrill Parris (Deputy Superintendent, Teaching/Learning), and Mrs. Leta Head (parent from Vestavia City Schools).  I was very encouraged to see a parent at the table.

Parris began presenting what they called a “Balanced Assessment System”.  It includes Formative Data (meaning observations by teachers, portfolios, journals, running records), Benchmark Data (pre-tests, screening tests, progress reports, post-tests), and Summative Data (ARMT, Stanford Achievement Tests, AP exams, end-of-course tests, end-of-semester grades, AYP reports).  Parris said that up until now, we’ve really only used Summative Data.

The Task Force recommends the use of the following assessment tools:

  • Universal screeners, for grades K-2 to determine whether deficiencies are developmental issues or if indicators show a child is at risk for learning disability; details as to which screeners will be used have not been worked out.
  • Summative assessments, similar to the ones we use now (ARMT)
  • Formative, Benchmark and/or Interim Assessment Repository, grades 3-12, which would be available to teachers, schools and systems to be used to “inform instructional practice”.
  • Project-based assessments, grades 6-12.  More on this below.
  • Career Interest/Career Aptitude Assessments, grades 6-12

Back to the project-based assessments for a moment.  Mrs. Johnson, a reading coach from Beverlye Middle School in Dothan, gave a wonderful example of the project that her 6th grade implemented this year:  create a game for Field Day.  I won’t go into the details here, but if you’re interested, the discussion begins at 22 minutes, 13 seconds into the video (keep watching even after they move forward to the Career Interest/Career Aptitude slide, as Board member Dr. Charles Elliott asked them to return to the project topic, which generated much more discussion).

Johnson was a fabulous ambassador for using cross-curricular projects to engage students in their learning.  Johnson said over and over that proper training of teachers was the key to ensuring project-based learning was implemented successfully.  She stated candidly that the teachers in her school were hesitant, even afraid, to implement project-based learning, but that it has been one of the best experiences of their careers.

Board members questioned Johnson about how teachers ensure that “slackers” and those who do not contribute to the project don’t get free rides from those students who are highly  motivated.  Johnson stated that individual or “mini” assessments are given all along the way to ensure that all of the students are learning the pieces, the “mini-lessons”, that make up the final project.

Johnson stated repeatedly that proper training of teachers, and taking the time to plan the pieces of the project far in advance were the key to successful implementation with students.  The Southern Regional Education Board trained teachers at her school in project-based learning.

Career Interest/Career Aptitude Assessments will begin in middle school under the new plan.  Sherrill Parris stated that the typical “one and done” plan in the 9th grade needs to be kept current and will be under this plan.  Board member Mrs. Stephanie Bell expressed her concern about the validity of a test like EXPLORE and stated the need for guidance after the initial testing is completed.

The full listing of Alabama’s College- and Career-Ready Assessment System was proposed next.  It looks like this (click on it to see it larger):

You’ll see the annual test plan on the left (ARMT+, EXPLORE, etc.).  The middle column shows the end-of-course tests planned for high school subjects.  Notice the Stanford Achievement Test will no longer be a part of grades 3 through 8 testing.  Eighth graders will no longer take the ARMT.  The ADAW goes away, too.  Also, the Alabama High School Graduation Exam (AHSGE) will no longer be a part of required testing.  The end-of-course exams will take their place.

The ARMT+ (as opposed to the ARMT, no plus) will eventually be aligned to the Common Core State Standards that Alabama adopted last year.  Currently 45 states have adopted the standards.

The question of “how do we get test scores back quicker” came up.  Dr. Turner indicated that because the possibility exists to do some of the AYP-component testing online, test data could be turned around quicker, enabling school districts to use it in a more timely manner, making decisions about professional development, for instance.

Bice made some comments about this accountability system ensuring that the “whole herd continues to move north and northeast”, meaning that currently if children are receiving less focus because they already pass the “cut score”, this system will ensure that all students continue to grow whether they’re achieving at a high level or not in school.  He said that the focus under this plan will not only be on those who need to score well enough to contribute positively to a school’s AYP.

Dr. Maurine Black, principal at Greystone Elementary in Hoover City Schools, then shared a new reporting system that her third grade teachers are using to let parents know if children have mastered math skills or not.  She said it is an addendum to the report card (which enabled them to add the new information without requiring district approval) that not only shows the letter grade that a student has earned, but whether the child has mastered a skill taught in the third grade or whether they need more work on that skill.  She said her students’ parents were questioning what their children actually knew, as opposed to what they were doing in school.  This addendum to the report card helps parents understand where their children are in terms of mastery of required skills.

[The use of standards-based report cards is growing.  Having had a child whose school used a standards-based report card, I can attest to the positive aspects of knowing where your child’s learning stands in relation to what he is supposed to know at the end of a school year.]

Board member Dr. Yvette Richardson questioned what would happen to the Alabama Direct Assessment of Writing (ADAW) and when writing would be assessed.  Writing will be a part of the ARMT+ in grades 3 through 7 and again in the 11th grade.  Writing will be part of formative assessments throughout a child’s school career.

The timeline for implementation was up next.

Look back at the presentation, page 23 of the PDF.  Phase I has to do with Learners and Support Systems.  Phase II:  Professionals and Schools and Systems.

The accountability piece for Learners include Achievement, Growth, Gap, and College- and Career-Readiness.

Bice speaks to the growth measurement beginning at 1 hour, 25 minutes in the video.  He said it is the “most exciting piece” for him.  He used the example of children in special education, who often show growth, but because they do not meet AMOs, they are often the population that does not make AYP within a school and/or district.  The growth component will give a better indication of that subgroup’s improvement from year to year.

Bice reiterated that using growth can ensure that all children at all achievement levels continue to move forward in their education.

Bice mentioned that under “Other Measures” for Support Systems, he wants to use this to allow local systems to buy in to their own accountability measures.  For example, if the local school system decides to focus on an agricultural component or a particular industry, the district can add an accountability measure to go along with that goal.  This is similar to allowances under Innovation School Systems agreements.

Vestavia Hills parent and Task Force member Mrs. Head stated that she wanted to acknowledge the lack of discussion or a plan to identify gifted students in the accountability plan that they are recommending.

There was an interesting discussion among Board member Mrs. Ella Bell, Head, and Bice about what kind of support teachers need to be effective.  That discussion begins at 1 hour, 45 minutes into the video.  It got a bit off course, and Board member Randy McKinney asked all to refocus on the discussion at hand.

Mrs. Head spoke candidly about her concerns as a parent throughout the discussion, and I, for one, truly appreciate her willingness to step up and be forthcoming about concerns that parents have.  In my opinion, she represented parents’ concerns very well on the Task Force.  Thank you, Mrs. Head.  I hope that her participation at this level is a sign of more meaningful parent and family engagement at the policymaking level.

So when will all of this happen?  Here’s the proposed timeline (click it to make it bigger):

So all of the new tests and such won’t be a part of the AYP calculation until the 2014-2015 school year. But the AMO freeze will start immediately if the USDOE approves the request.

Considering that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also referred to as “No Child Left Behind”, was due for reauthorization in 2007, but the U.S. Congress has not yet reauthorized it, Alabama will be taking a leap of faith that any reauthorization would embrace flexibility for states.  But that’s a discussion for another post.

Board member Mary Scott Hunter questioned Bice about teacher preparation program expectations.  Bice state that he had met just last Monday with all of the deans of the colleges of education.  He indicated that “if we want well-prepared, well-resourced teachers, it starts with their [the deans’] work”.  He said that as a group, they are considering “what it means to be a teacher, what it means to be admitted to an education program and what it means to get out of that program and have the honor to stand in front of a classroom and teach”.

Board member Stephanie Bell asked if the task force modeled their recommendations after any particular state.  Bice said no, that this is uniquely Alabama’s.  The Task Force did look at Kentucky’s system due to similarities in student populations and demographics, but their recommendations are not modeled after Kentucky’s accountability system.

Next, Bice went over the resolutions they will be voting on at the May 10 board meeting.

The state board was then given their iPads.  The board’s use of iPads was discussed at the March work session.  The meeting adjourned at that time to give board members an opportunity to work with the state’s technical people to get their iPads set up properly.

If you have comments or concerns about the recommendations from the Task Force, please take the time to share them with Bice or your state board member.  We will all have to abide by and participate in whatever accountability system is put in place.  It is best if we all have buy-in and acceptance.


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