I’m stuck tonight unable to sleep. It seems dumb, but I cannot stop thinking about those HB555 changes. I’ve got this image in my head of what the end of the 2014-2015 school year will look like in Ohio, and it’s a little something like this:
- We’re a year into holding kids back in third grade for the Third Grade Reading Guarantee. Elementary schools across the state are scrambling to find highly qualified reading teachers; principals are struggling to figure out the scheduling issues that go along with promoting students in some areas while retaining them in reading; teachers are still trying to figure out how to create effective RIMPs (once they’ve finally figured out what the hell that abbreviation stands for–“Reading Improvement and Monitoring Plan,” if you’re curious) and implement them and monitor them; we’re a year into the new tests, which extend all the way down to this already-clustered third grade level and the data from those tests are skewing (?), replacing (?), calling into question (?) the data from whatever diagnostic tests the school has been using for two years of 3GRG implementation.
- We’re one year in to the new assessments. At the elementary levels, we’ve got teachers trying to teach advanced technology to kids because there hasn’t been enough guidance from testing companies in the previous two years to show teachers what technology skills the little ones should be developing. It isn’t until that first fall diagnostic assessment when the student sits down and pushes the “on” button that teachers across the state realize they should’ve been teaching advanced computer programming to 7-year-olds since 2012 at least. At the secondary levels, teachers have had a couple years to practice with the new standards, but haven’t had adequate time to make sure they are meeting rigorousness of the tests–they’re administering tests (whatever “administering” looks like in two years) and crossing their fingers that either the student scores high enough on the end of course test (given that end of course tests will account for some percentage of the course grade) or scored high enough on the rest of the coursework to manage to pass the class.
- Everyone, K-12, statewide and beyond, is waiting to see this epic academic cliff. Some…are waiting to say, “I told you so! Our schools are awful!!!” Some…are waiting to say, “If we had adequate funding this wouldn’t have happened.” Some…are waiting to say, “It’s these standards, they’re terrible.” Some…are waiting to blame. Some…are going to use it as an opportunity to retire. Some (I’d say the minimal few)…are just waiting to see where to start picking up the pieces and moving forward. No matter the camp, everyone is anxious.
- Evaluations (well, 50% of everyone’s evaluations statewide) are plummeting in response to the epic academic cliff. Why? Because HB555 set it up that way. Why not? Given this incredible storm of chaos, it’s the perfect time to base 50% of an educator’s evaluation on new, unknown, inadequately-planned-for tests….especially if you want to be able to say I told you so…or Our schools are awful.
- Resident Educators, in only their 4th years of teaching if they started in year one of the program, fall right into this wonderful trap. Their scores on these new tests are low, they’re submitting giant assessment projects in the midst of the storm while their evaluations are affected by these tests. Again, what better time than this to say that our teacher preparation programs are creating poor teachers? What better time than an epic academic cliff, new evaluations, and a sizeable retained 3rd grade student population to say our teachers aren’t prepared? In droves….I see new teachers leaving in droves….unwilling/able to cope with this unbelievable anxiety caused by their true inherent desire to fulfill a calling and a system dumping more and more on them until they can’t swim out.
It’s bleak. I look forward and I don’t just see a “perfect storm”; I see one of those “hunker down all winter and stockpile the pantry with canned goods” kinds of storms that take a long time to thaw.
I’m not becoming negative or pessimistic. That’s not what I do. I see things for what they are, and I try my best to find ways to prepare–if you’re telling me there’s an ice storm coming, I’m buying salt for the driveway; if you’re warning me I’m going to be miserable stuck indoors, I’m jazzing up my queue on Netflix. I’m prepared.
So when the system strikes, when we can foresee what may come as a result of what is happening, it may not do us any good to scream and yell, but it will do us wonders to pull ourselves together in an effort to refute, rebut, and contradict what the system says. Here are the ideas I’m tossing around…
- I go back to that clear communication post I posted recently. Communicate. Clearly. Frequently. Through many channels. Keep the message positive and simplistic: “Changes are coming. We are preparing. Understand what the data means.”
- Make sure the screeners, diagnostics, progress monitoring tools, etc. your district is using are research-based, quality tools. Whether or not legislation is going to allow us to include this data on any formal level doesn’t matter–we have data that shows children are learning REGARDLESS of what the unknown new tests say. Make sure that data is good, reliable, and valid. Let those numbers speak in your district as strongly as these state- and national-level numbers do.
- Use the “Uniform Standards for Remediation-Free Status” report produced by the Ohio Board of Regents last week to your advantage. Start gathering your ACT and SAT scores from the last several years and compare them to the remediation-free ACT and SAT scores on this report. When the new tests say students are below proficient, produce your storehouse of data showing what percentage of students over several years meet these remediation-free numbers. Trust the data that has stood over time, and publicize that information alongside your new test scores.
- Work with the willing. Focus on those who are on board.
- Create a list of district-wide best teaching practices, preferably brainstormed, compiled, internalized by teachers, and communicate these outward. What is good teaching? What does it look like? Don’t focus on the buzzwords–we can all list differentiation, scaffolding, KWL charts, etc–focus on what it really looks like. How does a parent or community member know when they walk into a classroom if good teaching is happening? Then post these practices everywhere–posters in the school buildings, posters in offices, send a letter to the local paper, beg/plead for articles to be written about awesome teaching.
- Recognize the accomplishments of the teaching staff and students on a constant basis. Perception in 2014-2015 is key, the perception will be that our schools are failing, so take that perception head-on and stop it before it can begin. Make sure the board, community, parents, and business leaders know just how successful and talented your staff and students are.
There is still time. We cannot accomplish everything that needs to be done academically before 14-15, but we can begin to counter whatever negative images will result from uncontrollable factors of legislation and assessments that year.
We are in a state of asking our teachers for evidence (OTES/OPES), How do you know students are learning? we ask them, and we want to see proof–work samples, observation notes, effective feedback. In two years, people state- and nationwide are going to ask us, How do you know students are learning? and we can either respond with uncontrollably abysmal test scores from new assessments that don’t adequately represent us because of their newness, or we can respond with a multitude of data from several years that prove what we know to be true.