State Board Work Session – July 10, 2012

Much is changing for Alabama’s public schools.  Between the implementation of the common core and college- and career-ready standards, the elimination of the high school graduation exam and replacing it with end-of-course tests, the mandated ACT assessment for all Alabama students, the grading system for schools, the differentiation of support for Alabama’s schools and districts…..it promises to be an interesting few years for Alabama’s public education system.

Lots to talk about once again.  Plan 2020 was discussed in more detail.  This is the strategic plan for the Alabama State Department of Education for the next 8 years.  At board member Betty Peters request, Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative (AMSTI) Director Steve Ricks shared a study about the importance of understanding fractions and division predicts high school math achievement.   The ALSDE’s new testing schedule and accountability plan was shared in draft form.  The accountability formula is not yet complete, but when it is complete, it will be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education in September.

This is Big Stuff.  Redesigning the way Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is calculated is Really Big Stuff.  

The Board’s regular meeting was held immediately prior to the Work Session and can be seen here.  I did not attend.  During that meeting, Stephanie Bell was elected Vice President of the State Board of Education and Ella Bell was elected President Pro Tem.  Governor Bentley is officially the President of the school board, but in his absence, Vice President Stephanie Bell will preside over meetings.  Ella Bell will preside in Stephanie Bell’s absence.  All board members were present for the regular meeting.  State law dictates this meeting, where officers are elected, be held on the second Tuesday in July.

The Board’s work session began at 10:35 a.m.  All board members were present except newly-elected President Pro Tem Ella Bell.  It was explained that she had a doctor’s appointment.

Plan 2020

First up was the discussion of the process that was used to create and supports Alabama’s Plan 2020.  Here are the presentation slides.  Dr. Tony Thacker, ALSDE Research and Development, began by stating, “Plan 2020 seeks to improve the learning and by extension the achievement level of all of Alabama’s students by addressing four points of the domain”.

The four “domains” of this plan and their respective goals are:

  1. Learners – Increase College/Career readiness by 2% annually
  2. Support Systems – Increase graduation rate by 3% annually
  3. Professionals – Increase the number of effective teachers and leaders as measured by EDUCATEAlabama, LEADAlabama, and multiple measures of student performance
  4. Schools and Systems – Increase the percentage of schools/systems rated at or above standard on the Revised Alabama Accountability System/Report card

The ALSDE will ensure focus remains on the plan through the systematic and strategic implementation of the plan.  They must keep track of where they stand in relation to this plan, and will do so through appropriate data collection and benchmarks.

Four plans will be presented to the board over the next two months.  The four plans are the four domains mentioned above.

Regarding Learners, the Office of Student Learning made a list of every activity in which they engage and then were asked to narrow the list to about 20-25 activities that were “most impactful”.  Those activities were then put on a 2×2 impact grid to determine the 5 to 7 that will have the most impact.

At that point, the office had to construct a “delivery chain”, meaning how do they get what is done in the ALSDE into the hands of the classroom teachers.

The next step is developing a “trajectory” of how the activity will impact the goal.  This ensures the activity has a high impact on the goal.

Data is then gathered and analyzed to ensure that the activities keep the system moving toward the goal.

Dr. Julie Hannah took over the presentation at this time.  She is the Director of the Office of Student Learning (and a new grandmother, we learned).  The goal her office is addressing is the College/Career Readiness goal for Learners.

She remarked that in her four months at the ALSDE (she had been in Jefferson County schools prior to moving to the ALSDE), she has realized the challenge is for her office is to get the resources they offer into the hands of classroom teachers.

For her office to have the highest impact on the College/Career Readiness goal, they identified six strategies:

  • Differentiated support – meaning that there will no longer be a “one size fits all” approach to the support that the ALSDE offers.  If a district needs help with a science initiative, then the ALSDE will offer that support even if no other district needs that support.
  • College and Career Ready Standards Rollout – her office has developed one process for rolling out new curriculum that should be used “from now until the end of time”.  They are working on the Math and English Language Arts Common Core Standards at this time.
  • Response to Instruction (RtI) – her office is working to embed RtI into the instructional process.
  • Career/Workforce Development
  • Advanced Placement  – her office is working to make AP available to all students who want to participate
  • Aligned Assessments – the focus is shifting to formative assessments for teachers; her office is working to determine what kind of information teachers need to adjust instruction on a daily or weekly basis.  [Formative assessments are taken by students on a frequent basis and teachers are supposed to use those assessments to determine where a student’s deficits are and then adjust their instruction to teach to the child’s deficits.]

More Detail About These Strategies

Differentiated Support.  Regional Planning Teams are composed of representatives from the ALSDE’s sections, 11 Regional Inservice Center Directors, 11 AMSTI Site Directors, and 29 Professors from Institutions of Higher Education, and the Office of School Readiness (the Pre-K folks).  Regional Support Teams are composed of 220 representatives from the ALSDE Office of Teaching and Learning Field Staff which includes Instructional Staff, Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI) Reading Coaches, and AMSTI Coaches.  This is depicted below:

They will partner with Local Education Agencies (LEAs, also known as “school districts”) to deliver the kind of support districts need as opposed to the ALSDE offering support and then those school districts that need it taking advantage of the offering.  It really flips the delivery model of support on its head.

Trajectory Discussion

Take a look at this (the original was in color, but black and white copies were provided, so I have indicated which bar matches which piece of the legend):

This graph generated a good bit of discussion.  It represents the number of Alabama’s high school graduates who are currently prepared as defined by “College and Career Readiness (CCR) Standards” (currently 18% or less than 1 in 5) and what the goal is by 2020 (33.2% or 1 in 3).  It shows the estimated impact of each of the different strategies to increase the percentage of students becoming college and career ready.

Bice explained that the dip for 2014 (a “J-curve” distribution) is because there are students who currently don’t take the ACT (which is the measurement used to determine college and career readiness) because they don’t think they can do it.  In other words, current test takers are those who are attempting to get into college.  When the ACT becomes mandatory for all students, the average is expected to decrease due to the larger number of students taking the test.  Bice further stated that “we’re willing to take that J-curve” because states who have expanded the taking of the ACT have helped students discover that they are college and career ready who might not otherwise have thought they were and that basically opens doors for them they didn’t realize would be open.

College readiness is measured by a  student receiving at least the following score on each of the following areas of the ACT:

  • English Language Arts – 18
  • Math – 22
  • Science – 24
  • Reading – 21

That score shows that you have a 70-80% chance that you’ll be successful in an entry-level class in a technical, two-year or four-year school.  For more on Alabama’s College and Career Readiness Standards, click this link.  I’m unclear about the “Career” readiness and how that measure is currently incorporated into that 18%, but the addition of the ACT WorkKeys test in the 2014-2015 school year should significantly enhance this measurement.  

Board member Dr. Charles Elliott then asked:  so our goal is for one in three of our students to be college and career ready?  Bice said yes and that he knows “that sounds incredibly low”.  [This discussion begins at 29:30 into the video.]  Elliott asked to be reminded what that 18% represents.  Bice stated that of the graduating seniors last year who took the ACT, 18% met the benchmarks for college readiness.  He stated that only 76% of graduating seniors take the ACT.    Further, when the number of students taking the ACT moves to 100%, “not as a graduation requirement, but as something we’re providing to them so they can have more options”,

Elliott continued his questioning, reflecting that “we’re gonna meet the needs of giving every child gets an opportunity to get an excellent education in Alabama, um, I’m trying to think of how I discuss with educators and mommas and daddies and chambers of commerce that we’re really pleased that one in three students is college ready in eight years”.

Bice explained that it is a hard discussion to have but they must own where they are and recognize that moving from 18 to 34% in eight years is where they hope to go.  He stated that they’ve had great discussions with the higher institutes of education and those institutions are so encouraged that they’re moving in this direction.

He further explained that why we are where we are, “this is not pointing fingers, it’s just a what is”, is that they’ve been “so focused on the Alabama high school graduation exam and meeting that expectation, which is extremely low, to make AYP and No Child Left Behind, that this has occurred.”  Thus it is no surprise that so many students end up in remedial classes when they (the colleges and universities) have been using ACT college-readiness standards and “we’ve been on a different path”.  They’ve not been aligned in the past.

Back to the overall picture, Board member Betty Peters asked if higher ed will get feedback from the data collected in order to adjust their teacher prep programs.  Hannah said that yes, that “one of the most powerful parts of this is that it has put a group together that is truly thinking pre-K through college and career ready”.

Bice added that this is one of the most exciting parts is that the college faculties have asked to be part of this “because they want to be part of the solution.  If you take pre-K, K-12, postsecondary and higher ed working together on this, we could really do something remarkable”.  “It really gives us a common something to discuss for the first time,” he concluded.

Hannah stated that this plan allows them to be accountable to the state Board for what it is they’re doing.  Bice added that with this plan they will be able to report to the state Board periodically on how they’re progressing toward these goals.  “We report all the time how our schools are doing; we need to report on how the State Department of Education is doing,” Bice added.  He said that with this comes the ability to determine if these strategies are working and making proper adjustments if needed.

Board member Mary Scott Hunter asked for clarification in that she, in talking with her constituents, should not be focused on the 33.2% (of students projected to be CCR by 2020) but rather on how the ALSDE helps to get them there.  Bice responded by saying, “We have focused for 10 years on the students’ performance.  The only way for student’s performance to move forward is for the adults’ performance to move forward, so this shifts the focus to the function of the grown people and not so much on the backs of the children.”

Profound words from our state superintendent.

Impact of Fractions and Division on High School Mathematics Achievement

Complete presentation slides here.

Steve Ricks and Todd Beers from AMSTI presented.  Ricks was up first.  He stated that rightful emphasis is placed on developing early reading skills, but that  a 2007 meta-study found that “early math skills predict future reading skills even better  than early reading skills”.

Board member Betty Peters shared a study with Bice and asked for further information on how it correlates with what Alabama does.  Ricks stated that the study had been published in June 2012 [review and more info at the link].  This study points out that teachers need a better understanding of fractions and why arithmatic procedures work.  Siegler gives the following example:  when a student asks a teacher, “Why do you have to invert and multiply when dividing fractions?” that American teachers will say “well, we don’t really know”.  But if you ask East Asian teachers, where students are scoring very highly, the same question, they can give two or three reasons why.  American teachers should be able to do this.

Seigler also points out that teachers and students “have a lot of difficulty remembering rote information that they don’t understand”.

Ricks stated that the ALSDE is very well poised to address Seigler’s suggestions, which include developing better means of teaching understanding of fractions and division, and to help teachers develop a better understanding of the concepts and principles underlying fractions.

Beers then began presenting where fractions and division are studied within the 2010 Alabama Course of Study (COS) in Mathematics (which will be fully implemented during the 2012-2013 school year).

Here is a look at where Fractions are within the COS.

Here’s where Division is:

At this point, Board member Betty Peters asked Beers where do Alabama’s children learn multiples of the numbers 7 and 9?  All numbers except 7 and 9 are mentioned.  Beers explained that it is not specified within the COS, and that he will have to go back and look exactly where and will provide her with that information.

The Alabama Insight Tool is an online tool that has been developed to allow teachers to search for a CCR standard and view what student mastery looks like.  [I searched for it online but was unable to find it just yet.  The presentation slides show a clear example.]  It appears that the ALSDE has purchased a package from CESA 7 Solutions, but I have not verified that.  The information shown in the ALSDE presentation is very similar to that shown in this CESA 7 video and in this brochure.  I hope to find the Alabama tool and post it online soon.

Bice added that providing this online tool is the first time the ALSDE has ever done anything like this for teachers and that teachers are elated.  He said this is a huge step forward for us here in Alabama and complimented his team on getting it put together.  There is no charge to school districts for the use of this tool.

Beers explained that AMSTI uses a balanced approach to math and described it as two sides of the coin:  that you need to understand the procedures in order to understand the content.  AMSTI personnel have been trained on the ALSDE’s CCR math standards and are available to help school districts become aware of the new standards, along with offering specific resources such as grade-specific exploration materials and the Alabama Insight tool.  AMSTI creates presenter guides and supports professional learning communities (PLCs).  OGAP is the ongoing assessment project that uses real-time formative assessment that allows teachers to adjust their lessons.

Ricks stated that while AMSTI is working with teachers who are currently teaching in Alabama’s classrooms, they now work with 20 universities to teach in a pre-service capacity so that teachers are prepared to teach in Alabama’s schools upon graduation.

Bice concluded this portion by acknowledging the “new partnership” with institutes of higher learning that allows for them to adjust their teacher prep programs based on sharing knowledge in these capacities.

Board member Mary Scott Hunter asked Ricks if he is seeing teachers graduate from teacher prep programs better prepared than in previous years.  Ricks answered yes that some are better prepared.

Hunter stated that she wished there was a way to better identify those teacher prep programs who were graduating teachers who were not well-prepared to do their jobs upon graduation because that “doesn’t do anybody a service.  It’s a discredit to the institution, it’s a discredit to the classroom. It’s a discredit to the students.  It’s embarrassing to the teacher.”  She went on to say that she doesn’t want it to be “heavy-handed” or embarrassing to the institution, but that there needs to be a way to shore up those teacher prep programs that are producing subpar graduates.

Bice stated that while the ALSDE currently has a “higher education report card”, they are currently revamping it and that the deans of education schools want that information.  He said the current report card focuses on “inputs” and that was useful at the time, but now we need to focus on “outputs”.  We need to be able to identify where the deficits are in the school’s graduates and offer to work with the institution to help them improve.

Hunter stated that although the institutes of higher ed can be political, it is imperative to get at the problem because “our students deserve better and their students deserve better”.  Bice concluded by saying that the deans of the education schools want to be part of the solution.

Board member Dr. Yvette Richardson stated that the ALSDE’s Dr. Murphy (who works with teacher testing) has been visiting universities sharing the PRAXIS results (the PRAXIS is the test teachers take) to allow universities to identify areas in which they need to improve.  She stated it has been very helpful to that university and they are using the information to improve their teacher prep programs.

Bice stated that we are now moving away from being data-driven to be data-informed.  He said they have been “driven to death” and now they are using it to be informed.

Assessment and Accountability Update

Full presentation here.

On June 21, 2012, the U.S. Department of Education approved the ALSDE’s request to freeze Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs) at the 2010-2011 level.  It allows Alabama to use those 2010-2011 AMOs for the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 school years.

Bice stated that he has discussed this at the School Superintendents of Alabama (SSA) conference, the Alabama Association of School Boards (AASB) conference and the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools (CLAS) conference (all held within the last couple of weeks) and that the overwhelming response was that it felt like “Christmas”. [Note:  I do wonder how much taxpayer money was spent on those conferences….]

Bice stated that No Child Left Behind was absolutely what was needed at the time, but that focus needs to shift to something far more meaningful in terms of accountability instead of “one test in the spring”.

Bice stated that the new accountability system will be Alabama-specific and does not represent a “sell-out” to the federal government.

Sherrill Parris, Deputy Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, stated that this is the most exciting work that she believes the ALSDE has done in the 13 years she’s been at the ALSDE.  She stated that for example, in the past, AMSTI coaches only worked with AMSTI schools but now will be working also with non-AMSTI schools.

This plan is not yet finalized.  It will be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education in September for consideration under the ESEA Flexibility Waiver.

Look at the following document (click to make it larger):

The top left (northwest) corner of the document represents where the student sits.  All of Alabama’s assessment and accountability focus has been in the bottom right corner to date.  Parris stated that “left many gaps across the chart” of balanced assessment.  She said that only a few systems in the state that were well-funded locally and very aggressive and creative in their thinking utilized the other forms of assessment.  Struggling schools had nothing provided to them.

Now the ALSDE is offering formative assessments K-12 to all 1500 schools in order for them to make adjustments in their instruction on a daily basis if necessary.  Some districts will continue to utilize their own formative assessments.  While the use of formative assessments is not mandated, it is being provided to schools at no charge.

The system will allow formative and benchmark assessments to be administered to students as often as a teacher and a school want them to be in order to ensure their students’ success.  It can be aligned with a district’s pacing chart (the outline of what is being taught when) to allow them to pull items from their own bank to use in the assessments.

Project-based assessments are currently being used in many Alabama schools.

Here’s what the full assessment system will eventually look like (timeline after this slide):

Here’s the Timeline for Implementation:

Formative assessments will be available to all school systems in August 2012.

The ARMT+ will be given in 2012-2013 for grades 3 through 8, but will change to a new assessment for the 2013-2014 school year and beyond.  No details were discussed about the new assessment.

The End-of-Course tests will be from ACT, according to Parris.

The Alabama High School Graduation Exam (AHSGE) will still be given for grades 11 and 12.  The AHSGE will be given only to 12th graders for the 2013-2014 school year and will be completely phased out by the end of the 2014 school year.

A woman referred to as “Melinda” then stepped to the podium, and I am guessing she was Melinda Maddox, Assistant Superintendent, Research, Accountability and Data Services.  She indicated she and Bice had traveled the state discussing what a new accountability system might look like.  School districts are excited that multiple measures will be used rather than just one test.  The different domains may be worth points instead of percentages and achievement may be worth a smaller number than other areas, which the school districts were pleased with.

The first two columns are part of Phase I.  The second two columns are part of Phase II.

She stated that growth will be a big factor in accountability.  Bice stated that if you look at the current accountability system, the subgroup that caused most of our school systems to go into school improvement was special education.  But if you look at growth, “that subgroup had probably some of the greatest growth” but because they didn’t meet the AMO, “they, nor their school nor their teacher got any recognition”.

Bice went on to say that if you look at students that started seven years ago far above the “cut score” (meaning the AMO), they “saw their achievement potential digress” (and he made a decline motion with his arms at that point, not represented on the video).  So in a growth model, this “will require us to keep…the entire herd moving northeast rather than just the people below the cut score.  Growth sets up whole new expectations that we keep all students moving forward”.

Board member Mary Scott Hunter then shared that the children in special education know that they are the ones whose scores caused the school to go into school improvement.  She is concerned about how that makes the children feel and believes it is the current system’s fault and considers that “horrible”.

Board member Dr. Charles Elliott stated that he believed that sometimes we expect too little of schools that “should be blowing the tops off of these test scores” but instead they are allowed to “coast”.  He wants us to continue to expect more of those schools.

Bice stated that under the current model, those schools can actually experience a decrease from year to year and still make AYP.  The growth model “takes that ability away”.  Growth must be maintained.

Parris stated that they will use all of these factors to give a school an Index score.

Bice stated that one of the things that will make this plan unlike any other plan in the country is represented in column 4, the “local indicator from School/System Improvement Plan”.  That might be a fine arts, or a career-technical component, or an AP goal.  It is representative of what is important to their local community.

He said that teachers have told him that up until now, all of the accountability measures have been externally applied and this gives them the opportunity to get buy-in due to the local component.

The last slide puts all of this together.  Here is the 5-year program implementation timeline (click to view larger):

Note that the last row has to do with the Grading system that was passed by the Alabama Legislature this year.

The next board meeting will be held on August 9, 2012.  The next work session is August 23, 2012.

The work session ended at 12:05 p.m.

 

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