State Board of Education Work Session and Special Called Meeting – June 28, 2012

You can watch the full video here.

Agenda for Work Session here.  Agenda for Special Called Meeting here.  Special Called Meeting had to do with obtaining approval from the State Board for implementation of the takeover of Birmingham City Schools.

On the Board’s plate for today:  discussion of the Career Tech Commission’s final recommendations, changes to the teacher testing program, the status of the waiver request from the U.S. Department of Education to freeze requirements under No Child Left Behind at 2010-2011 levels, and, in the Special Called meeting, details of the ALSDE’s involvement in the takeover of Birmingham City Schools.

The work session started at 11:30 a.m.  All board members were in attendance with the exception of Stephanie Bell.  State Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice led the work session.

Dialogue began regarding the Career Tech Commission’s final recommendation to strengthen and provide a formalized path for Career Tech in Alabama’s schools, outlined in the presentation notes.  There was little discussion of the final recommendations other than Dr. Philip Cleveland’s comments that all stakeholders with which he has discussed and/or presented the plan have embraced it.

There are some details that are interesting, including replacing the current requirement that high school students take a Computer Application class to require students take a Personal Finance/Financial Literacy class.  The class will count for .5 unit.

Also, there is mention of the confusion that the various endorsements to the diploma cause for students, and the acknowledgement that college admission counselors “do not, for the most part, consider our endorsements but rather the coursework taken”.

Finally, there is a recommendation that the current Comprehensive Guidance and Counseling Plan be “truly implement(ed)….understanding that Guidance is a function not a person and is the responsibility of the entire faculty and the community”.  Nice.

Bice stated that the Board will be asked to approve the Commission’s recommendations at their July 10 meeting (which is a combined work session and meeting of K-12 and Postsecondary).

Bice stated that the Board will be asked to adopt the use of LEADAlabama to evaluate Instructional Leaders (see notes from last month’s work session for more on LEADAlabama).  PEPE will no longer be used to evaluate Instructional Leaders as of the 2012-2013 school year.

Changes to required teacher testing was up next.  This was a bit complicated (and over my head, quite frankly), so I will let the slides speak for themselves for the most part.  Dr. Cory Murphy, Coordinator of Teacher Testing for the ALSDE, led the presentation.

The first big change includes:  renaming the teacher testing program from the “Alabama Prospective Teacher Testing Program” to the “Alabama Educator Certification Testing Program” (AECTP).  This is being done to more accurately reflect the use of the testing, as teachers may be required to take additional tests even after they become teachers, for instance, if they move from teaching K-6 to 7-12.  Additionally, teacher tests will be reviewed every 5 years to determine whether the tests still measure applicable skills and knowledge.

Teachers will be required to take these tests at some point during the certification process (more below) and it is usually a one and done.  If a teacher allows his certification to lapse for longer than 6 months, he will be required to go through testing to achieve certification.  Teachers coming from states where no reciprocity agreement exists (meaning that the ALSDE accepts their teacher prep and/or testing program for teachers) will be required to take these tests as well.

Board member Ella Bell asked if this teacher testing will measure a teacher’s effectiveness, that she wants to know how effective a teacher is.  Murphy stated that no, these tests are not about accountability or performance assessment.  He added that 25 states are looking at adding a component of performance for accountability purposes, but these tests are not for that purpose.

Bell took a moment to share that with her new district (that now includes Mobile), she has been exposed to a whole different way of looking at excellence in elementary education.  She stated she would like to show those high levels of excellence to the rest of her district, as a model for them to follow.

Board member Dr. Charles Elliott stated that what makes an effective teacher is now the question, and Bell agreed, saying “yes, if they’re not effective, they’re not of use to anyone”.

Bice indicated that they will be looking at the effectiveness of teachers and principals, but did not elaborate.

Dr. Jane Meyer, Director of Teaching and Leading for the ALSDE, stated that there will be a new test for leadership.

Board member Mary Scott Hunter asked if the testing process will make it more difficult for non-traditional-path teachers to obtain certification.  Meyer indicated that all teachers must have certain core knowledge in order to teach in Alabama’s classrooms, and that anyone can take any of the tests.

Bell asked whether Teach for America (TFA) teachers will be tested.  Meyer indicated that they are employed through the alternate route of certification, but that right now, to get the first in the series of certificates, TFA teachers must take the test.

An interesting line of questioning ensued, with Bell asking Meyer rather specific questions about whether a teacher who came from the business world would be allowed to teach special education in an elementary school.  Meyer stated the teacher would have to pass the elementary test in order to obtain certification, but could teach under an emergency certification for up to one school year, and the emergency certification is nonrenewable.

Bell asked what if qualified candidates were available but the teacher without credentials was hired…was that okay.  Meyer indicated that in order to obtain the emergency certification, the superintendent (not the principal) would have to sign a statement certifying that no qualified candidates were available.  End of discussion.

The second recommendation was to increase passing scores for the Basic Skills component from Level 4 to Level 5 for the Reading for Information subtest and to discontinue the Writing subtest and replace it with the Business Writing subtest, and the passing score for the Business Writing subtest will be Level 3.

Both of those changes are set to take effect September 1, 2012.

Then, as of September 1, 2013, the Basic Skills test will be deleted as a precondition of educator certification by the ALSDE and instead will be administered by the teacher prep programs in the state of Alabama.  Students must achieve passing scores on each subtest of the Basic Skills components as one of multiple criteria to be met for admission to programs leading to initial certification.    

Elementary teachers will be required to pass subtests for:  Reading/Language Arts, Mathematics, Social Studies, and Science.  In years past, elementary school teachers might be strong in one area, but weak in another, and the weakness could be masked by a strength in another area of the test.  Breaking the test into subject areas will require teachers be strong in each area.

Discussion began as the Board began to dissect “cut scores” for those Basic Skills subtests.  The “cut scores” are as follows:

  • Reading/Language Arts:  165
  • Mathematics:  157
  • Social Studies:  142
  • Science:  144

We were all cautioned not to look at those scores comparatively, meaning that the scores don’t necessarily reflect that reading is more important than math, nor social studies less important than the other three subjects.  Instead, each of those scores is reflective of the statistical calculation of the cut score needed within each of the subject areas.  Got it?

Murphy stated that new tests have been added:  “Principles of Learning and Teaching (K-6)” and “Principles of Learning and Teaching (7-12)”.  These tests will help ensure that classroom teachers have more than just content knowledge, and know the methods through which to teach the content.

Hunter stated she would like the ALSDE to watch how they are affecting the non-traditionals.  Meyer stated the ALSDE has an obligation to know that a classroom teacher has basic content knowledge regardless the path the teacher took.

Next up:  the Annual Measurable Objectives (AMO) freeze request.  Bice indicated that the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) has granted Alabama’s request to freeze AMOs at the 2010-2011 level for both the 2011-2012 school year’s test results (from tests taken last spring, results to be released in August 2012) and for the 2012-2013 school year’s tests.  This gives the ALSDE time to “take a breath” and develop a plan for assessments as part of an entire accountability package.  He stated that at the July 10 meeting, they will get an update on the state of the new assessment/accountability package they’ve been working on.  He stated it will be “Alabama-specific”.

Bice stated that by getting this waiver, it allows them to “rethink how we want to use assessment to drive instruction, not accountability”, and that accountability will encompass assessment but will have other components as well.

Board member Betty Peters asked about the letter the board received from the USDOE regarding the Alabama Occupational Diploma (AOD) recipients not counting as graduates.  Bice stated that they are looking at ways to change the AOD, but that it will be transitional.  [The AOD is given as an alternative diploma for students with cognitive difficulties that make a traditional diploma difficult for them to obtain.]

Elliott asked for clarification of the requirements under HB165, known as the Alabama Ahead Act.  Elliott indicated that superintendents in his district were “scrambling” to comply with the provisions.  Bice stated that the Act required the ALSDE to set up a task force to study how best to implement the Act but does not require any action on the part of school districts right now.  He said he struggled with the requirement to use “pen-enabled tablets” as he believed that should be a local decision made based on the local population.  He reiterated that no action is required by local school districts at this time.

The work session ended at 12:35 p.m.

At that time, the Special Called Meeting was called to order.  This resolution was passed to the audience as Bice began to speak.  Bice stated that Dr. Ed Richardson, who has been leading the investigation into Birmingham City Schools, has been appointed Chief Financial Officer (CFO).  As CFO, Richardson reports directly to Bice.

Bice stated that “this can be as collaborative as we want it to be” and that at some point, somebody has to make a decision and he is prepared to make those decisions.

Bell asked if a CEO had been appointed.  Bice stated he has great faith in current Birmingham superintendent Dr. Craig Witherspoon and the ALSDE will work with and through him.

Board member Dr. Yvette Richardson (whose district includes Birmingham City Schools) asked what the local board’s responsibility is at this point.  Bice said that the local board will be involved but that ultimately he has the authority to override their decisions if need be.

Bice reminded the Board of two things:  (1)  Birmingham’s student population has dropped by 800 students from last year to this year, which means they do not need as many employees.  He said that those employees might be great employees, but they are no longer needed due to the decline in student population.  (2)  The number of students served by supervisors, directors, and managers is calculated at 20 to 1.

Bell stated that since the population has gone down further, those numbers look even worse now.  She held up the chart comparing Birmingham’s ratio of supervisors, directors and managers with other school districts of their size and said, “This is the most embarrassing thing I have ever seen.”  And added that the state Board needs to put policies and rules in place to ensure that never happens again.  Her comment garnered agreement among the Board.

Bice stated he wanted to clear up some confusion.  He said that some believed that no Central Office administrators were losing their jobs in the first round of cuts, and that was untrue:  57 jobs at the Central Office were cut, with 42 of those people being sent back to schools to serve in whatever capacity they were working prior to moving to the Central Office.

Bice added that in a policy that is unique to Birmingham, unlike any other school system in the state, that those who are, in effect, demoted, are allowed to retain their current pay for one year.  This means that any cost savings that would be effected from eliminating their jobs at the Central Office will not be realized for 2 years.

Bice stated that Birmingham City Schools’ “rollback” policy has also complicated this process.  The rollback policy allows those who currently hold positions that are being eliminated to, basically, get their old jobs back, which “bumps” others out of their job.

Bell asked what “adverse impact” there might be on the students by moving 42 of the employees back into the schools.  Bice did not acknowledge any adverse classroom impact, but did say that the parents in Birmingham City Schools should urge their Board of Education to get rid of that policy.

Peters asked what would happen if the person whose job was eliminated did not have proper certification to return to the position they previously held.  Bice indicated the person would still be required to have certification.

Elliott stated that they “need to get the Birmingham Board of Education to form policies about the children, not the adults”.  Lots of heads were nodding.  Across the board and the audience.

Bice stated he hoped the effort would be a collaborative one among the ALSDE and the Birmingham City School system and read an e-mail from a board member in Midfield City Schools, in which the ALSDE intervened earlier this year.  In the e-mail, the board member stated that the state’s intervention in Midfield City Schools allowed them to accomplish in 6 months what might have taken 2 years.  He stated that he wished his “counterparts in Birmingham” would cooperate with the ALSDE as it has been most helpful for their school system.

Bice reiterated that the effort to aid Birmingham City Schools through the takeover could be as collaborative as they (the local board) wanted it to be.

Dr. Yvette Richardson stated that while at the Alabama Association of School Boards’ conference earlier in the week, she had determined that the four Birmingham board members who were for the takeover indicated they had seen the good that had come out of the ALSDE’s takeovers of Jefferson County and Midfield City Schools.  She added, “if we don’t do what’s right for students, why do we have a district?”

Bell asked if the ALSDE has the support of the Birmingham mayor.  Bice answered, “Yes”.

Peters indicated that with everything Bice has on his plate, he should know that the state Board truly appreciates his taking this effort on and that the Board recognizes the additional work that has created for him and his staff.

The vote was unanimously in favor of the ALSDE’s plan for implementation.

The meeting adjourned at 1:50 p.m.

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