Let The Games Begin

Spring training has ended, and the regular season has begun for my Colorado Rockies and Kansas City Royals. The games, and the stats, now matter.

In our schools, High Stakes Testing Season has begun, and the results of these assessments tend to matter much more than all the others we have administered during the first 3/4 of the school year.

Schools, like professional sports, are data driven institutions. But as was pointed out in a Wired Magazine article a few years ago, the numbers crunchers don’t always “get it right.”

Why Quants Don’t Know Everything

Schools exist to create successful students, students don’t attend to create successful schools. If all students are successful, it follows that the school will also be see as a “high performing” school. The oxymoron, however, is that high achieving schools are not always filled with a high percentage of successful students. Test scores are neither the only nor the best measures of a successful school, they are just the easiest measure to derive. The growth of individual students cannot be reduced to, or expressed by a single score. Higher test scores alone do not meet the test of continuous improvement.

We tend to work with three types of assessments: comparison; instruction; and evaluation. Comparison assessments look at score-based differences between individual students or among groups of students. This naturally leads to classification. Instructional assessments tell us how well the students are doing so instructional decisions can be made on how to improve instruction.  Evaluative assessments help us answer the question of how well did it work.

Comparison dominates during this season. The results provide few instructional insights and lead to inaccurate evaluations of instructional quality.

I have seen too many schools aggregate the data, then analyze the results. In my elite schools, we analyzed the data, then aggregated. This let us find patterns with individual students rather than find patterns within the groups. Instructional evaluation starts with the individual student, not with the group. This perspective kept us from falling into the trap of seeing the scores of our lowest performing students staying static, scores of the highest performers increasing, deluding us into believing that our test scores were rising. Yet the gains did not happen for all students. In other words, not every boat rose as the level of the water rose.

Ok, Gary, that is clear as mud. What would you look at if you were looking at the performance of my school? How would you determine if we are a successful school for all students, and meeting our stated goal of continuous improvement?

Most of us have swallowed the RTI kool-aid. I would look at:

  • How many students are at the lowest level for multiple years? Which students are at the lowest level for multiple years?
  • How many students drop a level between spring testing one year and fall testing the subsequent year? Is this an acceptable number?
  • What is the correlation between end of year course grades and high stakes assessment scores in the tested subject areas? If the high stakes assessments truly reflect the curriculum being taught, should there be a correlation?
  • Look at scores through the filter of quartile of age. What percentage of the lowest performing groups are also in the youngest quartile at that grade level? Are the low scores a function of age? Particularly important for those of us who screen our entering kindergarten students, is their performance a function of academic preparation, developmental age, or both? How do we know?

Looking beyond the model:

  • How successful are students the next year? Particularly between the transition years – e.g. 5th to 6th between elementary and middle school, 8th to 9th between middle school and high school. Are the high performers in 8th grade still the high performers in 9th? Prepare to be surprised when you dig into this one.
  • In larger schools where multiple teachers teach the same class, compare student performance by teacher. Would a high performing student in Teacher A class also be a high performing student in Teacher B class. Sounds simple, again, prepare to be surprised.
  • Continue to correlate course grades to other assessment scores. At the secondary level, is there a correlation between ACT, SAT, PSAT, and AP scores and course grades in the tested subjects? Should there be?

But Gary, that’s all about test scores, and you certainly don’t believe that test scores alone are the measure of a successful school. What else do we need to look at?

During the 2003-2004 school year, I was the Director of High School Programs at the Central Educational Center in Newnan, Georgia. That year, we were named a National Model High School by the International Center for Leadership in Education, Willard Daggett’s group. Over 300 schools from across the country were nominated, 30 were selected. To quote from the summary report prepared by ICLE, “The 30 high schools included in the Bringing Best Practices to Scale initiative have provided great insight into how American high schools can help all students complete an academically rigorious and relevant curriculum. Especially insightful is the comparison of findings from these 30 high schools to the many good high schools that will need to make some further changes before they can be classified as great in terms of all students’ academic success.”

After we were notified that we had been nominated by our State Superintendent, we had some work to do in compiling data to submit to ICLE as part of their evaluation of our performance. Interestingly, SAT/ACT participation rates and results on prior year state exam results were the only “test score” data points on a very extensive list.

So in addition to the basic demographic data of student enrollment, student racial/ethnic origin, free/reduced lunch count, ELL learners, students with disabilities, per pupil expenditures and staffing, here is the “what else” I would look at:

  • Analysis of curriculum using the Rigor/Relevance Framework
  • Evidence that all students have access to a challenging curriculum
  • Degree of focus and connection of curriculum to real-world requirements and performance levels
  • Evidence that assessment practices are varied, collaborative and shared within the school
  • Instructional practices/strategies
  • Literacy development, which is very different than looking at reading scores or grades in English classes
  • Evidence of instruction driving the schedule, organization of teachers, class assignments of students, and professional development activities
  • Evidence of clear expectations and accountability
  • Internships
  • Community service
  • Availability, training in, and use of technology in the school. Selling out to Google, chromebooks, apps and google docs doesn’t work for this one.
  • Use of data
  • Professional development
  • Extent of professional collaboration focused on student learning
  • Extent the ongoing development of the school is sustained
  • Evidence of a clear, focused, well articulated vision and mission
  • Evidence of high expectations for achievement of all students
  • School policies that relate to student performance
  • Evidence of sustained student relationships with adults
  • Evidence that students are supported to achieve at high levels
  • Evidence that the environment is authorities, safe, ethical, and studious. The staff teaches, models, and expects  responsible behavior; relationships are based on mutual respect
  • Evidence of meaningful opportunites for all members of the school to demonstrate leadership
  • Evidence that leadership encourages the sharing of knowledge, and the development of new knowledge, within and among learning community members
  • Evidence that’s the principal seeks, shares, and promotes leadership among staff members in the quest for continual improvement in School effectiveness
  • Evidence that acquiring and developing a high-quality staff is considered a high priority
  • Types and extent of parent and community partnerships

Quite a laundry list to look at. Data was collected during the site visit through up to 15 classroom observations, interviews, and a review of curriculum and student work. The review team then completed a rubric based on 10 key components fundamental to school improvement.

Obviously, we “made the team.”

We were a public charter high school with an enrollment at that time of  1,123 students, 14 certificate programs, 18 industry mentors, and a 5 year average graduation rate of 98%. We also “guaranteed” our graduates to post-secondary programs and industry, but that is another story for another day.

We all pay lip service to continuous improvement, yet look only to measures of student growth based on test scores to measure our progress. It is more complex than a single set of numbers can measure. Let’s spend more time looking at individual student performance in all the skills and competencies required for high performance once they leave us and become employees rather than just a snapshot taken over a few days of testing. We owe it to our kids.

And so it goes…

What’s Your Walk Up Song

Thanks to Jonathon Wennstrom for suggesting this topic a while back!

Baseball season, and therefore summer, are almost upon us. For some of us, things like the equinox don’t determine the seasons, baseball does. “If you build it they will come” was written about a ballfield, not a school. But that is a story for another day.

A ballplayers walk up song, whether he is walking up to the plate or in from the bullpen, can tell a lot about the player. It can pump up and motivate the player and the fans, and in some cases, intimidate the opponents. In nearly every case, it is an extension of the player’s personality. It fires up the athlete to do his/her job.

As an undergraduate music major, and still an occasional trumpet player, there has always been a song in my heart. As an educational innovator, a couple have always been there, and will always be.

I crossed my personal Rubicon in a class leading toward my Superintendent of Schools endorsement in the summer of 1993. Excerpted from a reaction paper that term, “where I have found myself professionally is very much at odds with the general system of public education in which I work…there are inherent constraints within the system which make it difficult to effect significant, positive change.”

As we worked our magic, my district understood that we had to operate as a business. Our customers were just like every other business, they were the people who walked through the doors every day. We had a special name for them – students. As for product, we had dreams for sale. Their dreams, not ours. We wanted to empower our students to become the architects of their futures rather than the victims of fate.

My first walk up song was from the Man of LaMancha-“The Impossible Dream.” We used a rainbow to personify the dream, and we followed every rainbow until we found our dream.

The song that still plays today is “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield. The tune was written to protest a curfew imposed on the Sunset Strip in 1966. It evolved into an anthem protesting the war in Viet Nam. I adopted it as we worked to see our schools through the eyes of our customers, adapting our practices to what the world might be like when they became our age, instead of what it was like when we were their age.

From the lyrics, and my thoughts:

“There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.” Things are changing in the world, and we must change with them.

“There’s a man with a gun over there, telling me I got to beware.” The guardians and gatekeepers of the status quo are waiting to throw water on our passion fires with their rules, regulations, and resistance to change.

“I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound, everybody look what’s going down.” Let’s all take a step back to see what is happening, and why we are here.

“There’s battle lines being drawn. Nobody’s right, if everybody’s wrong.” We are choosing a path, and we aren’t sure if we have chosen the correct one.

“Young people speaking their minds. Getting so much resistance from the behind.” Our customers want, and need something different,and like all adolescents, patience is not a virtue. It isn’t happening fast enough for them, they do not feel their voices are being heard.

“What a field day for the heat. A thousand people in the street. Singing songs and carrying signs, mostly say hurray for our side.” Listen to the policy debates in our local Board of Education meetings, State Legislatures and State Departments of Education, Congress, and the good people in the Lyndon Johnson building in Washington, DC. Lots of words, not much action.

“Paranoia strikes deep. Into your life it will creep. It starts when you’re always afraid. You step out of line, the Man come and take you away.” A key function of any bureaucracy is to protect itself, and the first response to a significant change is to resist. Particularly when the gatekeepers do not fully understand either the implications or long-term consequences of the change.

Lessons learned from helping write legislation that challenged the status quo, and changed it:

  • There are 2 types of people, those who fear the future, and those who embrace it.
  • A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships were built for.
  • First, break all the rules.
  • If it ain’t broke, break it.
  • Sacred Cows make the best burgers
  • Expect the unexpected or you won’t find it.
  • From Marjory Stoneman Douglas – “Be a nuisance where it counts; Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action. Be depressed, discouraged, and disappointed at failure and the disheartening effects of ignorance, greed, corruption and bad politics – but never give up.”
  • Jim Valvano – “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”

That’s my walk up song, for this and every season. Let your music ring!

And so it goes…

 

Prove It

A report aired on Colorado Public Radio on March 15 about an elementary school in Colorado Springs that is part of the Next Generation Schools. The goal of the project is to creat more relevant, authentic learning experiences.

Parents at the school know that grades and test scores are part of the system students use to move on after high school. Scott Fuller, the Next Generation Coordinator for the district, hit the nail squarely on the head when he said that the system is changing, mostly because future employers don’t equate grades and test scores with success anymore. “Colleges are starting to shift what they equate with success, and are moving more towards ‘prove it to me. Prove to me that you know that. Portfolios, interviews, what have you done with this to apply it.'”

All of our students will eventually become employees, hopefully in a career rather than a job. That may happen directly out of high school, after a credentialing/certification program, a two-year course of study, or a baccalaureate/graduate program.

So in my perfect world, our assessments would no longer rate students as “novice,” “nearing proficient,” “proficient,” or “advanced.” They would describe student work as “competent,” “proficient,” or “mastery.”

Competent – having the necessary ability, knowledge, or skill to do something successfully.

Proficient – competent or skilled in doing or using something.

Mastery – comprehensive knowledge or skill in a subject or accomplishment.

In other words, it isn’t about how well you know something, it’s all about how well you can do something.

While I was working in the career-tech world, we learned about the differences between apprentices, journeymen, and masters. A master electrician/plumber/mechanic/carpenter certainly earned more than the apprentices and journeymen. Companies hired employees with the expectation that while they started at the apprentice level, they could “learn how to learn” in order to become masters, thereby earning both themselves and their companies higher incomes.

In other words, companies hired mastery, not competency or proficiency.

Put another way, do you want your surgeon to be a master, or will you settle for competent or proficient?

Thankfully, there are people creating a process that will work in my world. Two amazing educators in New Mexico, Ferdi Serim and Mike Archibeque, have created LEVERS, LEarner Validated Educational Resources and Strategies. It is a system that creates learners who can demonstrate they have learned how to learn, who can plan and manage their own work, and can make high quality products in a team.

I was blown away by their presentation at the recent ILC conference in Denver. They have captured how to develop future “employees”, learners who have exactly the skills that employers are looking for. Not just kids who possess high levels of knowledge, but who also have the abilities to apply what they know in real world situations.

Read more about it at levers4learning.com

They, Scott Fuller, and many others like them are creating systems so our kids can Prove It. We need to listen to them, and follow their lead.

And so it goes…

Lead, Follow, Or Get Out of the Way

I came across a Simon Sinek quote earlier today, “When we tell people to do their jobs, we get workers. When we trust people to get the job done, we get leaders.”

Some school people I know need to take this to heart…we need to empower teachers and students, not engage them in what the “leadership” thinks they should be doing. As I wrote a long time ago, tell people what you want done, get out of their way, and let them amaze you with their creativity in getting it accomplished.

And so it goes…

Am I My Resume

A long time ago, in a workshop far, far away, the opening icebreaker was something along the lines of “turn to the person next to you, and talk about how you would like to be remembered after you have passed away. What would you like your legacy to be?” The responses were typical of passionate educators: “I touched the future.” “I made a difference in the lives of children.” “I instilled a love of learning.” Except mine. Think I upset the guy I was paired  with when all I told him I wanted my legacy to be, “Damn, he was OLD!”

But I was very serious. And I still work hard to never confuse who I am with what I do.

Note to presenters – most of us in the audience detest the icebreakers. At the beginning of the workshop, we are usually energized and ready to go to work. The icebreaker really serves no useful purpose except to take the air and energy out of the room. Unless you are planning on using the information gained in some useful way later in the day, please don’t waste our time with the icebreaker/warmup. As one who spent several years training teachers for over 40 weeks a year, nobody ever complained when I explained that there would be no introductory activity. Trust me!!!

This topic reminded me of a TED talk by David Brooks in 2014. He talked about the differences between resume virtues and eulogy virtues. Your resume virtues are the skills you bring to your job, and what is accomplished while you are there. Your eulogy virtues are deeper: who are you, what is the nature of your relationships, are you bold, loving, dependable, consistent? Most of us would agree that the eulogy virtues are the most important. But are they the ones we think about the most?

In our resume world, we are worldly and ambitious. We want to build, create, innovate. In our eulogy world, we want not only to do good, but also be good. We are constantly trying to balance external success with internal peace and value. And we often confuse who we are with what we do.

All of us wear many hats simultaneously. I am a husband, father, grandfather, uncle, brother, friend, neighbor, musician, golfer, educator, mentor, among other things. All are important in my life. That’s a lot of balls to continually juggle.

A lesson learned from a short, but powerful speech from Bryan Dyson when he was CEO of Coca-Cola was that we all have five balls to keep airborne. They are Work, Family, Health, Friends and Spirit. Work is a rubber ball, if you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four are made of glass. If one of these is dropped, it will be irrecoverably damaged, or shattered. It will never be the same. Work hard during the school day, but leave on time. Give yourself, your family and your friends the time they require. You will be replaced as soon as you leave your job, and someone else will do the work. You cannot be replaced elsewhere.

The opening number of “A Chorus Line” introduces the audience to a group of dancers auditioning for a show. The chorus line is the bottom rung of the performers ladder, no names in lights or in the credits. One of the characters makes the first cut and is asked to give his resume and photo to the director’s assistant. As he is looking at his professional life, he sings: “Who am I anyway? Am I my resume? That is a picture of a person I don’t know. What does he want from me? What should I try to be? So many faces all around, and here we go.” Pretty much captures how most of us feel at various times during our work days.

Through my career, I had the opportunity to be in the room with some recognizable stars and CEO’s. The stars didn’t have perfect hair without the help of make-up assistants. None of the CEO’s ever had a glitch-free project and clean sailing that the books and articles would lead us to believe. Nobody at my gym is cover material for a workout magazine.

Role models are fine, but not when they get in the way of embracing our reality. The reality of not enough time, not enough information, not enough resources, the reality of imperfection and vulnerability. Young people grow old quickly in this job.

Do you want to be remembered for what is in your legacy, or what is in your eulogy?

And so it goes…

We Just Want To Be Safe

Time has passed, and I’ve worked through my stages of grief after yet another school shooting.

Schools must be safe places, places where students feel safe to be themselves, to try and fail, to learn and grow. Students should not be afraid to show up.

But recent events say otherwise. From the tragedies to the threats intended as jokes, students are not feeling safe.

Listen to their voices.

It is not just a political problem. It is not just a mental health crisis. To cast the problem off in that light places blame. It is not my intent to point fingers at any individuals or groups. We will find a solution only when we look forward rather than look back. We must work together and stop pointing the fingers of blame.

Reality Checks:

1. Nothing we will do will prevent every school shooting. Strict DUI laws do not prevent some people from drinking and driving. But they prevent many, and they save lives.

2. Solutions take time. Let’s agree to give ourselves the gift of time.

3. We won’t get it “right” the first time, or the second. But we must do something. Then fix it, and fix it again. To do nothing out of feeling that nothing we do will solve the problem is no longer acceptable.

4. We are dealing with a paradox. Factors leading to the incidents are both simple and complex. The solutions must be also.

5. Nobody is coming to knock on your doors and take your guns away. But if you are more worried about losing your gun as a result of a mass shooting than you are about the loss of innocent lives…

Background

In Winter, 2000, I was working for the Department of Defense Education Activity, assigned to the school district at Fort Knox, Kentucky. My primary assignment was in Curriculum and Staff Development. But I also wore the hat of “Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection Officer” for the base school system. That role required a security clearance and a lot of training that wasn’t part of my administration preparation program. Because of the nature of our system, it is safe to assume that we had some plans and procedures in place besides the fire drills, etc that every school had at that time.

I was part of the planning team for a post-wide anti-terrorism exercise that would take place in Summer, 2001. It was loosely based on the Columbine shooting. Our team spent 6 months studying the events that led up to that morning, what happened that day, and the months that followed. We were able to examine the shooters school lives, we watched the video from inside and outside the building, listened to the 911 calls, news footage shot that day, law enforcement communications and response. The after-action report was almost as long as War and Peace.

I was still in that role on September 11, 2001. Between the time of the 2nd tower crash and the crash into the Pentagon, the threat level on post jumped from the lowest level to the highest. Fort Knox was under credible threat of an imminent attack. Part of the response protocol at the highest level was the placement of armed soldiers inside each school building, and patrolling outside on each campus.

We were reacting to events, and secure in our confidence that we were as prepared as possible. Procedures were in place, and everyone was implementing our plans.

While we felt secure, we did not feel safe.  No amount of practice can replicate the emotions and adrenaline rush of an actual event. Trust me, been there, done that.

So what are your solutions, Gary? Seems like you have a bit of first hand experiences to draw from that most of us, fortunately, don’t.

This may fly in the face of conventional wisdom and/or popular opinion. So be it.

1. We do not need school staff to be armed. The worst kept secret in a school will be which staff are the winners in the “concealed carry lottery.” They will likely become the first targets of a planned event. Responders to an active shooter incident will not know who they are, and, as many have told me during trainings, “When we enter a building in search of an active shooter, anyone with a gun is going down.” They are highly trained to respond to these types of events, they don’t need marginally trained amateurs roaming the halls with a weapon. Run, lock, fight is fantastic. Don’t expect educators to become first responders in the heat of the moment.

One lesson learned in trainings with the DOD was about the physiological effects that occur in live fire scenarios. Adrenaline surges, blood pressure escalates at a rapid rate and breathing become very erratic. In times of chaos, it takes a tremendous amount of focus to just breathe. Erratic breathing leads to erratic shooting. Missing your target by an inch or two in a crowded setting can have a devastating and deadly effect. What I have seen thus far about arming teachers is that they would get minimal training and be required to certify on a target range once or twice a year by putting a few rounds into a silhouette target. Not too tough. The target isn’t moving, it isn’t threatening to shoot back, hearing protection is being worn, breathing and heart rates are normal, all focus is on the task. Staff would certify with hand guns.

The reality of  an active shooter situations is very different. The target will be moving, shooting back, and most likely will have a more powerful weapon than the handgun. The likelyhood of casualties due to friendly fire is extremely high.

We can do better.

Put another way, every school has rules prohibiting throwing rocks on the playground. Yet, in every school, there are still a few kids who throw rocks on the playground. The solution is not to give all the other kids a rock to throw back. Hence the paradox, complex yet simple…

2. Reasonable gun control legislation, including banning devices that can transform a legal weapon into a weapon of mass destruction, must be enacted and strenuously enforced. I am not going to enter into any discussion about the definition of an assault rifle, it serves no purpose. When it is your child’s school which is being attacked, and you cannot reach your child because their cell phone was left in a classroom or locker during an evacuation; when you are sitting in your office or classroom and hear the sound of rapid gunshots and the cries of victims; when you are called to the scene to help with identifying the deceased victims, the parsing of language is meaningless. The membership of the NRA is overwhelmingly in favor of reasonable gun control laws leading to gun safety. In my peronal opinion, it is the leadership of the NRA who need to listen to the voices of their members, to the majority of the American people, and the cries of those who can no longer speak for themselves.

3. Enforce existing laws. Many mechanisms and procedures are already in place, if only all of us would follow them. Hindsight is is always 20-20. Let’s all learn from the past, heed the warning signs, and act both proactively and responsibly in the future. The video really captures how the system should work, hopefully, in the future, it will.

4. The world has changed since we were the ages of our students. As I have written before, we are no longer responsible for only teaching them, we are now, in many cases, raising them. Our roles, as must the roles of others in our communities, must change to meet the changing needs. We need school counselors who spend less time building schedules and checking off boxes on college admissions forms and more time with students who need their particular expertise. Given the capabilities of our LMS, scheduling has become a clerical task, it doesn’t require an advanced degree. Every teacher at the secondary level can work with their students on the post-secondary stuff. The models are there, I was principal of one school where we pulled it off. And let’s face it, given the student/counselor ratios in most of our schools, the teachers know the kids, and their dreams, better than the the counselors ever can. We need school psychologists who spend less time testing kids, and in meetings explaining the testing, and more time with kids who are screaming for their unique expertise. We need social workers in every school who can address student and family issues rather than armed guards patrolling the hallways. We need to find ways for teachers to spend more time building relationships, teaching and guiding learning.

Mostly, we need communities to trust the decisions of those to whom they send their most valuable possessions, their children. Things must change. Life is not worth living if we have to live with the fear of what may happen simply because the kids go to school, tomorrow.

And so it goes…

Bulletin Board Material

Back when I was smart, got to hang around with the good people at Microsoft every once in a while, including Bill. Had their ad slogan posted on my office whiteboard as a reminder of what we were about in our school: “What have you done to change the world today.”

We have the opportunity to do that, every day.

Today, I would have something else on my whiteboard.

“Let’s make a memory today.”

Will will do that, every day.

Just make sure it is a positive one.

And so it goes..