State Board of Education Work Session – August 23, 2012

Sorry I’m so late in posting this.  No excuses.  Just busy.  I was unable to actually attend the meeting due to an accident on I-65 not far south from Birmingham, which apparently held up two state board members as well.  By the time I cleared the traffic jam, the meeting had already started and I was still nearly an hour away.  So I turned around and watched the video on UStream. I have transcribed notes from the video.

Here’s a link to the full video.  Here’s the official agenda.

The most important work done at this work session was the presentation of the state’s ESEA Flexibility Waiver Request .  This waiver request will be broken down in the near future on this site, but for now, you need to understand that this is Alabama’s proposal to be released from the accountability requirements under No Child Left Behind. (The Board voted to approve the request at an August 30th special called meeting.)

ESEA Flexibility Waiver Request

Bice stated that this waiver request is very Alabama-specific and is the result of all of the plans the state board has been working on, pulled together in this document.  He stated that it has taken 7 months to put it together.  This plan moves Alabama “away from a federally-set AMO and AYP” and develops a plan that is more meaningful to Alabama that is “rigorous, more rigorous than before,” Bice said.

The plan will also allow the ALSDE to take Title I funds and use them differently than in the past where they would have had to use them in schools that didn’t meet AYP, but that the problem might not be in that school specifically (feeder school, perhaps?).

Bice was following along with the actual waiver request at this point.  The actual items that the state is seeking a waiver from are on pages 5, 6 and 7 of the document (different PDF page numbers).  Here’s a link to the actual waiver.    FAIR WARNING: There is a lot of educational jargon in this waiver.  Read it at your own risk.

Here are some tips to remember while reading through the waiver:

  1. Remember that it isn’t necessary for you to understand every acronym.  Educators and administrators spend a lot of time learning what those acronyms mean, and even they have difficulty keeping them straight.
  2. Pick up on key words in the acronym, for example, SIG is a School Improvement Grant.  So you can logically figure that means extra money for schools deemed to need improvement.
  3. You can Google just about any term to get more information about it.  Here’s what a Google search of “Common Core State Standards” turned up.  You can hit the high points to get a quick grasp of what all of these different acronyms and programs mean.  (Hmmm.  Thinking of a post about the various acronyms contained in Alabama’s waiver request.  Rainy Day Activity, or RDA.  A quick count totaled 35 acronyms in Section 1.B.)
  4. As Bice stated, this is a combination of plans that have been structured, or fit, into the template required by the USDOE (U.S. Department of Education).  That has a bit to do with the round-and-round feeling of the language in the document.
  5. Government agencies (like the USDOE) really like fancy language in their documents.  It helps them feel like they’re doing important things.  (Sorry, I just had to say it.)  This is very important work, and the institutional fancy language helps make the point, I suppose.      

The entire point of the waiver is to allow states to seek relief from the aspects of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) that were deemed insurmountable.  Especially the part about 100% of children being proficient by 2013-2014.  In September 2011, President Obama and Secretary Arne Duncan gave states a way to develop an alternate accountability system, with the details (mostly understandable to the lay person) contained in this document from the USDOE entitled “ESEA Flexibility”.  Secretary Duncan, in his September 23, 2011, letter to states put it this way:  the document entitled ESEA Flexibility, “lays out the principles to which SEAs and LEAs must adhere in order to receive that flexibility.”

Important takeaways from Bice’s rundown of the waivers the ALSDE is seeking include that the “highly qualified” status of a teacher will be traded in for “highly effective”.  Also that they would like to “flex” Title I money to be able to use it where it is needed the most, not just in the schools where at least 40% of the students lived in poverty.  The ALSDE wants to utilize needs-based budgeting of those funds rather than distributing them based on a head count.

Bice ended his portion of the presentation by stating his three reasons why this work is the proper direction in which to move:

  1. AYP puts schools into school improvement for reasons over which they have no control,
  2. The state’s ACT results show clearly that the number of students in Alabama who are ready for college is “lower than what we want it to be”.
  3. Moving to a growth model is necessary to recognize individual children’s success.

Principle 1, College- and Career-Ready Expectations for All Students

Principle 1, College- and Career-Ready Expectations for All Students, in the waiver request was begun by Mrs. Sherrill Parris.   Parris reminded everyone that the college- and career-ready standards (CCRS) in the waiver are a merging standards from the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and Alabama’s Plan 2020.  While states that adopted the CCSS were given an opportunity to decide how to phase the standards into their state curricula, Alabama decided to start with the Math standards, which are being implemented this year.

It should be noted here that the Math standards are being implemented in accordance with Plan 2020, and are not dependent upon whether the USDOE grants the waiver request.  Read page 22 of the waiver request for specifics on how the transition is happening as we speak.

“What do you need?  What does your data say you need? And how can we help?” were the three questions that Ms. Freeman (sorry if I didn’t get the right name….her introduction was difficult to decipher) said would be asked by the ALSDE to the local districts when helping them implement the new CCRS.  The ALSDE recognizes that some districts will not need much help while others will “need all the help we have to offer”.

English Language Arts (ELA) CCRS will be implemented during the 2013-2014 school year.  Districts are undergoing training at this time.

Each district has been asked to develop a College- and Career-Ready Standard Implementation Team that will meet with the ALSDE four times a year.  Personnel from the district include:  4 Central Office personnel, 4 Math personnel, 4 English personnel, a Science and a Social Studies teacher because they will be required to implement the literacy standards from the ELA CCRS.  The purpose of these teams is to ensure that everyone is on the same page, as some districts are better at forwarding information from the ALSDE than others.

Bice added that the ability for the ALSDE to differentiate the support that they offer to the now-134 school systems is very different from how they have operated in the past.  Previously, they offered the same support to all school districts, even if those districts didn’t need the support.

“Partnering Organizations” was discussed next.  The kind woman speaking was not introduced, so forgive me for not naming her.  The organizations that were mentioned are Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools (CLAS), School Superintendents of Alabama (SSA), A+ Education Partnership’s Best Practices Center, the Alabama Education Association (AEA) and others such as Institutes of Higher Education (IHE).  (Learning those acronyms, yet?)

Communicating with stakeholders was discussed. While this was not discussed in detail (but is in the plan on page 29), it appears that a coordinated communication plan will be implemented by each district’s Public Information Officer (PIO) to share information about the CCRS.  The plan states that an “interactive blog accessible on the main ALSDE Web site” will be available to the public as well where the public can “get personal responses from an ALSDE official”.  Florida recently implemented a similar model.  When I pressed for a timeline for this to be implemented, I was told that it would happen when the new ALSDE web site was unveiled, tentatively in January 2013.

How Assessments Are Being Aligned

Principle 1.C, “Develop and administer annul, statewide, aligned, high-quality assessments that measure student growth” was next up.  Again, no introductions of who was speaking, but I believe that was Dr. Julie Hannah.  My apologies if I am incorrect.

Hannah stated that the capstone (or end that they’re shooting for) is a top score on the ACT.  All of the testing is aligned to get students ready for the ACT.  Here’s an image from the request of the implementation timeline:

As you can see, the end-of-course tests will be administered during the current school year.  Remember, all of the things that have been presented so far (standards and assessments) are going to happen with or without the granting of the waiver.  If the waiver request is not granted in one area or the other, the plan may be modified, but all of these things are within current USDOE guidelines.

Formative assessments (ongoing throughout the year) will be utilized for the first time statewide this year.  The ALSDE contracted with GlobalScholar to be able to provide formative assessments (think of them as smaller tests that gauge where the student’s learning is at any particular point) for school districts to use, free of charge to the school districts.  Some school districts had already put in place different types of formative assessments and will not use GlobalScholar.  Board member Betty Peters asked about the cost, and Dr. Pouncey indicated the cost was about $4 per student, or nearly $3 million, if the number of students used was 740,000.

End of course (EOC) tests will not be used for state accountability measures (think “not going to be in AYP calculations”).  Rather teachers will use the EOC tests as tools to ensure students are on course to succeed on the ACT.

There was enthusiasm for using the ACT as the defining test for students, which includes the WorkKeys that help with career-readiness.

There was a careful distinction between testing for state accountability (think “AYP”) and testing to “inform instruction”.  Hannah was excited that testing would be used to inform instruction as opposed to being used only for state accountability purposes.

Attachment 19 shows a five-year timeline of all assessments and how they relate to accountability measures.  Here it is:

Board member Mrs. Ella Bell brought up the Torchbearer Schools.   She stated that no one can ever tell her that poor children cannot learn due to the example of these Torchbearer Schools.  She used George Hall Elementary School as the example and talked about the exciting things that the students there were doing.  Ella Bell has talked a lot about the Torchbearer model and how their existence and success has proven that there are no more excuses for why poor children cannot learn or that poverty is a reason for children not to learn.

Bell offered Bice a compliment by stating that someone stated that “y’all hit a home run with Dr. Bice” and went on to say how confident she is that Alabama is changing the way children will be taught and how they will learn.  Her comments begin at 41:41 if you’d like to hear them yourself.

Board member Gary Warren described how Alabama has tracked students for many years.  Students were “tracked into 4-year colleges, and if they fell off the train, they fell off the train”. He believes that the EXPLORE and PLAN tests give students an opportunity to consider their options in the career world.

Principle 2, State-Developed Differentiated Recognition, Accountability, and Support

Dr. Melinda Maddox began a discussion of Principle 2, State-Developed Differentiated Recognition, Accountability, and Support, in the waiver.

The Accountability system includes the School/District Performance Index, and that will trigger the levels of recognition or support that is needed for schools.  As part of that Index, the ALSDE will incorporate Act 2012-402, passed by the Alabama legislature, which requires the ALSDE to develop a grading system and implement a reward system for schools who are achieving success with their students.  The details of that Act are in this post.   The grading system is to be completed by December 31, 2012, and those details will be presented to the state board in the future.

Here’s the 10,000-foot view of the various components that will go into the School/District Performance Index: 

Here’s the 5,000-foot view: 

And here’s how the Learners (students) will be measured and what components will be a part of their particular calculation, still at about a 5,000-foot view:

Maddox next mentions that the n-count has been lowered from 40 to 20, which has pleased special education advocates.  The n-count is the minimum number of students that must be in a subgroup before accountability provisions would kick in.  Under the old system, if there were less than 40 students in a subgroup, the school was not held accountable for their progress or lack thereof.  She reminded the board that there won’t be “red cells” related to n-count as they have under current AYP calculations (the red/green, fail/pass reports will no longer exist).

Bice next explained that students will no longer be duplicated among subgroups when calculating the “gap” indicator.  For instance, under the current system, if a student is White, in Special Education, and receives a Free lunch, that student counts 3 times, once in each subgroup.  That will no longer be the case under the proposed system.

Maddox then stated that every student will be used in the calculation of the gap, even in cases where the n-count is less than 20.  The gap will only be reported for a specific subgroup if the n-count is greater than 20, but the calculation will be contained within the overall school performance index, making the achievement of every child count.

The phase-in is over the next few years, as two years of data are needed prior to being able to implement accountability measures, and because assessments are changing, new data will need to be calculated.

Maddox mentioned the District Performance Index and how that will differ from the School Performance Index in one important way:  the ability for the local districts to include one measure of their choice to their overall performance index.  Bice stated that this is what makes Alabama’s waiver request unique.  He said that every district is different, and each district’s local community may have a different focus, such as Career Tech or the arts, or some other local focus.  Allowing the district to choose a measure of its own fosters creativity and innovation and creates buy-in for the district into the overall accountability plan.

Bice stated they ran a test run of sorts on the way they would look at school data under the proposed system versus how they look at it now, and he said that schools that “have been hammered” under the current system are not the ones that will be “hammered” under the new system based on growth.  There are a few “people that really need a wake up call”, according to Bice.

Board member Mary Scott Hunter expressed her desire to work with the Alabama legislature in the future to work more cohesively on a vision for the education of children in Alabama.  Bice stated that he and Mrs. Stephanie Bell plan to meet with the legislature to share the board’s vision prior to the start of the legislative session.

Mrs. Stephanie Bell asked for input from the board and stated that all board members who want to be at the table with the legislature should be, that she wants to build a partnership with the legislature.

Mrs. Ella Bell stated “it is truly past time” to build that partnership with the legislature.  It was unclear how long a time period to which she was referring.

The Public Reporting of the Accountability data begins on page 49 of the document but was not discussed in the work session.

Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs)

Setting Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs) was next up.  Principle 2.B states that states will “set ambitious but achievable annual measurable objectives” (see page 55).  Every single school and district will have their own benchmark data.  Schools will be setting a goal for themselves over a six-year period to cut in half the number of students that are not proficient.  Schools and districts will measure themselves against that benchmark as well as be measured/compared against the state’s benchmarks.

While it was not mentioned during the work session, it is important to note that AMOs are being set according to subgroup under the proposal, as opposed to having one AMO for all students.

Reward, Priority and Focus Schools and Districts

Reward schools, Principle 2.C, beginning on page 57,  include those that are not only high-achievers, but those who make significant gains.  From the document:  “High Performing Schools will be identified in Year One of Phase II of the accountability system.  The scores will be rank-ordered from top to bottom.”  (Can you imagine the competition that will begin among the high-performing schools to be ranked at the top of the list?)  The rewards have yet to be worked out, according to the waiver request.

Priority schools are those that either have a graduation rate below 60%, are ranked in the bottom lowest percentage of the overall index, is a Tier I or Tier II school improvement grant (SIG) school as of September 30, 2012, or have a participation rate of less than 95% for two or more years (page 58 of the waiver request).

There will be priority districts as well, but this was not discussed at the session in any detail.

Focus schools are those schools that “have issues with gap”.  This is something completely new to Alabama.  The details begin on page 62 of the waiver request.  There will be focus districts as well.

Principle 3, Supporting Effective Instruction and Leadership

Dr. Jayne Meyer and Dr. John Bell presented Principle 3, Supporting Effective Instruction and Leadership.

Dr. Meyer reminded the board that this is not something that was “conjured up” for the waiver, rather all of the elements have been approved by the board prior to now.  Bell stated they are “catapulting” LEADAlabama, which is the evaluation system for principals and instructional leaders, this year.   Here’s a discussion from the May work session where LEADAlabama was discussed.  The idea behind LEADAlabama and EDUCATEAlabama (the teacher evaluation) is to hand the practice of teaching and leading back to those who are teaching and leading.

Formative assessments have become a big piece of evaluation in Alabama.  Student growth will become a component of the evaluation.  Not to say whether the teacher is a good teacher (or not), but where the teacher may need professional development.  Student achievement is projected to be one of the elements of forming strong teachers and leaders as well.  It will be used to determine areas of needed professional development.

The principal is responsible for growth of all of the teachers in the school.  Did the principal ensure a Professional Learning Plan (PLP, part of the EDUCATEAlabama teacher evaluation system) was put in place for each teacher?  Was professional development used to address the identified needs in the PLP?

Each school board member was provided with EDUCATEAlabama data for their school board district during the work session.  The data was not discussed, but it was stated that each board member would be given more information “after the interviews”.  (Not sure what “the interviews” were.  Out of the loop on that one.)

The ALSDE will be using the Vanderbilt VAL-ED survey piece to compare principals with other states and their principals (see page 73 for more information).  The VAL-ED assessment asks teachers to assess the principal in various leadership capacities.  It will be done every three years, and is only reliable if the principal is in the building for three years.

There is a piece, referred to as “360-degree Feedback”,  that would allow students and parents to be surveyed on the leadership in the school as well.  There has been no commitment to use that piece just yet, but it is mentioned in the waiver request.

The summative data (the final data showing growth, etc.) from LEADAlabama will enable the ALSDE to say to principals and other school leaders when children or groups of children are not learning that there is data to say that “we really can’t allow these things to continue” under the principal’s leadership.  This is not meant to be an evaluation system that is used to push leaders out of schools, but rather to help leaders further develop into better leaders.  The data will be shared with the universities who prepare instructional leaders to be able to point to deficiencies in their preparation programs.

Bice stated that Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools (CLAS), School Superintendents of Alabama (SSA) and the Alabama Education Association (AEA) are all part of the evaluative efforts.

Office of Learning Support Delivery Plan

The second agenda item, “Office of Learning Support Delivery Plan”, was postponed until the next work session due to a lack of time.

Changes to the Alabama Administrative Code

Dr. Craig Pouncey, Chief of Staff, mentioned two changes necessary to the Alabama Administrative Code:  one meant to encourage proper usage of state-allotted teacher units toward College- and Career-Ready Standards, and the other was to allow for school districts who chose not to utilize 180 days for the school year, but rather went with the hourly equivalent as allowed under the Flexible School Calendar Act (fondly referred to as the School Start Date Act).

The audio was going bad on the video, but it sounded like 32 of Alabama’s 134 school districts chose to utilize a longer school day (the hourly equivalent) rather than sticking with 180 instructional days this year.  Board member Randy McKinney stated that he did not like the longer school day, and there was a bit of discussion among board members that they agreed it was difficult for younger students.  McKinney asked if the board could pass some kind of resolution to that effect, and Pouncey suggested that their input be shared with the Governor prior to the legislative session.

The actual changes to the Code will be voted on at the next board meeting.

Bice stated that September is Alabama Workforce Development Month.  The meeting adjourned after 1 hour and 40 minutes.

The board has its regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday, September 13, 2012 at 8:00 a.m.  It will be broadcast on the ALSDE’s UStream channel.

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