Curriculum and Instruction

College and Career Ready: Preparing Students With the Skills They Need to Succeed

Guest post by Renee Trotier

One of our recent Rockwood Summit High School (RSHS) graduates came back for a visit after a few months of college. His observation was that the course content was not a problem, but the most important aspect for success in college was actually time management.

The conversation stuck with me because I learned this same lesson the hard way (more…)

Pave the Way for Freshman Success With an After-School Intervention Program

Guest post by Kimie Carroll

I often say to the students that I mentor in our ninth-grade intervention program: “My job is to protect you from yourself.” As anyone who has worked with theses student know, freshmen don’t always make the wisest choices and they need lots of adult support to make positive decisions and pass their classes. To address these problems and reduce the failure rate, Canby High School in 2010 started an after-school intervention program called CATS, (more…)

The Brownsburg Way, Part Two: Supporting Teachers to Succeed

Guest post by Amber Schroering and Jim Snapp

In our post last week, we introduced you to The Brownsburg Way, the approach our district—the Brownsburg Community School Corporation (BCSC) in Central Indiana—uses to deliver consistent and high academic results year after year. We discussed how our narrow teaching and learning focus contributes to our achievement. Of course, curriculum and instructional programing aren’t the only factors. Without our stellar educators, none of our success would be possible. So how do we support our teachers so that they do their very best? (more…)

The Brownsburg Way, Part One: A Narrow Teaching and Learning Focus

Guest post by Amber Schroering and Jim Snapp

The Brownsburg Community School Corporation (BCSC) in Central Indiana has a long history of academic excellence. For many years, BCSC has topped the state rankings for academic excellence in all of the areas of the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress (ISTEP). Dozens of schools and school corporations visit our district each year to learn how “The Brownsburg Way” results in exemplary student achievement. They always ask what we do to get consistently high results.

One of the reasons we are successful is  (more…)

The Multidimensional Impact of School Climate

Guest post by Cheryl Spittler

The passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015 has ushered in a new paradigm for student achievement that now includes nonacademic indictors in addition to measuring proficiency in math, English language arts, and English-language proficiency (for English-language learners), as well as high school graduation rates. These nonacademic indicators are aimed at providing a broader measure of student performance and include:  (more…)

The Real Problem with Teacher Evaluation

by Stuart Singer, author of The Algebra Miracle

The title of a recent post on the Principal Difference site asked “Teacher Evaluations: Are Principals reluctant to issue low ratings?” This question reflects a painful reality. Placing the responsibility for teacher evaluation squarely on the shoulders of a school’s administrative staff frequently results in inaccurate and often incomplete assessments. These shortcomings are not a reflection on the competence of the administrators. Also somewhat irrelevant is whether these appraisals are unrealistically high or low. What is critical is that teacher evaluations too often fail to reflect with precision an educator’s classroom performance.

Ironically, the solution is simple but will require a changing mindset.

The wrong people for the job

The task of running a school is full time and then some. Asking Assistant Principals to be the primary evaluators of teachers is not fair to either party. Here is a question whose answer may explain the dilemma—how many observations and/or follow up meetings have been postponed because of a school emergency? An honest answer reveals the rank of teacher evaluations on the priority lists of the vast majority of school administrators. It is not that there is a lack of appreciation of teacher evaluation. It is simply the fact that a food fight in the cafeteria requires immediate attention and that there are only so many hours even in an extended work day.

It is time for educational assessments to be the purview of professional evaluators. School districts need to hire, train and employ a cadre of carefully selected individuals, whose sole job is observing, assisting and evaluating instructional personnel. They would work in multiple schools, focusing primarily on academic areas in which they are fluent.

The advantages of such an approach would be numerous.

  • A broader viewpoint. Observing Algebra 1 teachers at five different high schools gives a vastly superior sense of overall quality than watching five in the same department who may be sharing instructional materials. As previously mentioned an additional positive of this plan would be that observers would be better equipped to understand the material being taught. This would resolve the problem faced by so many APs—evaluating staff employed in multiple departments.
  • A more impersonal analysis. School personnel whether in the administrative wing or the English hall, develop relationships, good and bad, as a result of constant interactions. People who are not affiliated with a school would avoid such complications.
  • Evaluation is job one. The typical distractions and interruptions of the AP day are eliminated when an individual’s sole responsibility is to assess educators. The finished product would reflect this singular focus.

The best way to ensure that the most productive teachers remain in the classroom is to develop assessments that determine these individuals and help them to refine and improve their skills. The employment of professionals to conduct these evaluations would be the first step in that critical growth.

Teachers are getting more Common Core training, but on 1/4 say students are prepared

According to Catherine Gewertz at Education Week, “teachers are getting an increasing amount of training to prepare for the common core, but that doesn’t always make them feel ready to teach the standards.

 

According to the article, a recently released study, “From Adoption to Practice: Teacher Perspectives on the Common Core,” shows that while far more teachers are attending common-core training, they are giving those sessions low marks for quality.

  • Professional Development and Training. In last year’s report, 71 percent of teachers said they had attended professional development or training for the common core. This year, that figure rose to 87 percent.
  • Teachers were far more critical of their training sessions in 2013 than they were in 2012, however. Two-thirds felt they were of high quality in 2012, but barely half said so in 2013.
  • Only 23 percent reported that the assessments had been a topic of professional development.
  • Far more common is training on the English/language arts standards; training on the math standards runs a distant second.
  • Their sense of preparedness, ranked on a scale from 1 (“not at all prepared”) to 5 (“very prepared”), was about the same in this year’s report as it was the previous year: just under half gave themselves 4s or 5s on that preparedness scale.
  • Only one-quarter said in this year’s report that their students were well prepared to master the standards, and 14 percent said their students were well prepared for the tests.
  • Teachers are unhappy with the lack of alignment between their instructional materials and the common core, a situation that’s stubbornly unchanged from the year before. Nearly six in 10 said their main curricular materials were not aligned to the new standards.
  • Teachers are pretty cynical about publishers’ claims that their materials are “common-core-aligned.” Fewer than four in 10 said they’d trust curriculum providers’ claims of alignment.
  • Only 18 percent classified themselves as “very familiar” with the math standards in the fall of 2012, but that number rose to 31 percent in the fall 2013 survey.

Source: blogs.edweek.org

Why was there “far more training on the English/language arts standards; training on the math standards runs a distant second?”

 

Literacy is now a “shared responsibility” across all content areas. This means that all secondary teachers are expected to integrate purposeful reading, writing, and discussion of complex text into their lessons. In reality, few teachers have received the training or support to carry out this formidable task, which will take several years of focused practice to reach an acceptable level of proficiency.

Although elementary teachers are much better prepared to teach literacy skills, they must increase the amount of informational text and do more argumentative/persuasive writing, which are significant changes.

Upping the Price of Teacher Absenteeism

By Stuart A. Singer, Author of The Algebra Miracle

In a recent post, Mel Riddile explained in great detail one of the primary reasons for the academic success of the students at our school—low teacher absenteeism. The conclusion of his post accurately summarized the overall plan:

“We trusted our teachers and treated them like the professionals they were. They trusted us and cared about their students and fellow teachers. They took ownership of the problem and the solution. Our teachers didn’t feel as though they needed to sneak around or feel guilty because they were absent. Many of the substitutes developed a loyalty to the school and would only sub for us. They felt wanted and appreciated. In this scenario everyone wins. We had the lowest teacher absence rate and the highest percentage of class coverage by substitutes and the best pool of quality substitute teachers in our entire school district. Most importantly, we faced a challenge together and we solved another problem by trusting each other and working together.”

The problems inherent in teacher absenteeism are obvious. It is common knowledge that any time a student misses a class it has a highly negative impact on their academic progress. A classroom without its regular teacher is the equivalent of twenty-five students losing a day of instruction multiplied by every period in that day. In addition, as Dr. Riddle points out, the costs in teacher coverage and potential additional administrative discipline issues increases the price exponentially.

The view from the classroom

In his post Dr. Riddile listed a number of important steps that resulted in lowering teacher absenteeism. But there was one that was the most important from the perspective of the classroom instructor: (more…)

Teacher Attendance and School Culture – Revisited

Note: This is an update of an article originally posted on June 3, 2014

“Culture eats strategies for breakfast.”–Peter Drucker

Great schools can be average in some areas, but great schools cannot have a glaring weakness and be considered great. Great schools find a way to solve the problems that stifle or debilitate good schools.

Increased accountability coupled with new, more rigorous standards and more challenging assessments place increased pressure on principals to improve classroom instruction. Maximizing instructional time is a key way to raise student achievement. Teacher absenteeism and the use of substitute teachers, which reduce instructional time, have long been problems faced by every school. Faced with budget shortfalls, many districts have resorted to removing teachers from classrooms during the school day in order to attend professional development sessions. Labor agreements have been structured in a way that encourages teacher absence. States have reduced the number of school days in a school year.

While principals often face district and state policies that actually encourage teacher absenteeism, principals can impact teacher attendance. Like every school problem, the long-term solution lies in the culture—attitudes, beliefs, mindsets, expectations, and relationships—of the school.

In Teacher Absence, Leading Indicators, and Trust, Raegen Miller made some important points regarding teacher attendance pointing to the need to look more closely at school culture:

  • If teachers’ presence in the classroom matters so much, shouldn’t we pay more attention to teachers’ absences?
  • Professional culture in a school can exert a strong influence over the leave-taking behavior of its teachers
  • Forty-five percent of the variation in teacher absence is between schools working under the same district and state parameters.
  • Paying attention to teacher absence gets at the professional culture in schools through the notion of trust, a universal human tension if ever there was one. In particular, theory and evidence point to trust between teachers and management as a moderator of teacher absences.

Teacher Attendance and Student Achievement

Here is the reality. When teachers are absent, students lose valuable instructional time. No matter how qualified they are, substitute teachers do not improve student achievement. “When I was absent I knew that my classes would regress no matter who was the substitute or how well I planned.” – Stuart A. Singer, Author of The Algebra Miracle

A recent study indicates that teacher attendance is an overlooked factor in improving student achievement. “Given the time and attention spent on school programs, new curriculum and strategies to strengthen teacher quality,” the report’s authors wrote, “we may be overlooking one of the most basic, solvable and cost effective reasons why schools may fail to make education progress.”

The study goes on to point out the following:

  • One in six teachers in some of the country’s largest public school districts are out of the classroom at least 18 days, or more than 10 percent of the time, for illness, personal reasons and professional development.
  • Overall teacher attendance rate is 94 percent.
  • Districts spend an average of $1,800 per teacher to cover absences each year.
  • No measurable relationship between teacher absence and the poverty levels of a school’s students
  • No difference in absentee rates among districts with policies meant to encourage attendance, such as paying teachers for unused sick time, and districts without those incentives.

A study by the Columbia University School of Business offers some interesting findings:

  • Substitutes are worse than the regular teacher. “In teaching, the person with whom an absent teacher is replaced is clearly worse in a substantial way. Substitute teachers are less likely to be highly skilled, since otherwise the chances are she would already have found a full-time teaching job. Even if a substitute is highly skilled, there is a start-up cost: just because someone has a degree in math doesn’t mean she can hop in and be a great sixth-grade math teacher.”
  • Students do worse in years when their teacher takes more time off.
  • “When a teacher takes an extended medical leave, it causes a drop in math and English test scores on par with putting a rookie teacher in the place of a teacher with four years of experience for an entire year.”
  • Shorter absences are more detrimental than longer ones. Ten one-day absences over the course of a year were found to lower student scores more than when a teacher missed two consecutive weeks.
  • Incentives for teachers to not be absent don’t work.

A Short Success Story

I received a call from the district’s Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources. He was calling to arrange a time for his staff to visit our high school. Unbeknownst to me, our school had the highest rate of substitute coverage for absent teachers in a district of approximately 270 schools.

In our school, when a teacher was absent, we had substitute coverage approximately 96% of the time. I was shocked to learn that other high schools averaged 65% coverage. In addition, our school had the highest teacher attendance among the almost 30 high schools in the district.

This came as a shock to the district staff because (more…)

Be Careful How You Imitate

By Stuart A. Singer, author of The Algebra Miracle and a forty-year veteran math teacher.

We are a culture of copycats. If a new offensive scheme works in the National Football League, one year later ten other teams are using it with wildly varying degrees of success. When ridiculously low-slung pants became fashionable, too many folks with the entirely wrong physical silhouette grabbed a pair. Madonna gave us Lady Gaga who lead to Molly Cyrus. No further explanation is necessary.

A tale of two double-blocks

Such blind imitation in math education can be equally perilous.

Mel Riddile recently sent me two articles discussing the success and failure of double-block math programs. The first told of research which demonstrated the profoundly positive effects of having ninth graders utilize two periods for the study of Algebra 1. This is, of course, no surprise to me since I have written a book documenting a decade of improved student academic performance based on the utilization of that course.

The second post was considerably more disturbing. It chronicled a school district’s implementation of a double-block sixth grade math program. The thrust of the article was that such a plan was a waste of a student’s valuable class time.

“Doubling up on math classes for a year may help middle school students in the short term, but the benefits of doing so depreciate over time—and are likely not worth the price of missing out on instruction in other subjects, according to a new study published by Stanford University’s Center for Education Policy Analysis.

“At the end of the year, students with double math scored substantially higher than their peers who took just one math class. However, a year after returning to the traditional schedule with one math class, those gains were about half as large. Two years into a regular schedule, that difference was down to about one-third of the original gain.

“And when those students reached high school, the gains all but diminished completely.”

The problem with this program (and the Stanford analysis) is that it is predicated on the notion that a single inoculation of a double-block course can fix all of a student’s difficulties in mathematics. If only it were that simple.

Some problems require long-term fixes

The mistake inherent in this sixth-grade approach is not in the formulation of the double-block class. As demonstrated by the Stanford research, the problem was in the subsequent classes. These previously low performing students were demonstrating significant gains for one year and moderately good improvement for two. But after three years back in the regular program these gains had been lost. Such a regression should not have been surprising. And sadly, it was avoidable.

A one-year double-block “Band-Aid” can be highly effective for some students but definitely not for all. Successful math achievement for at-risk students requires constant monitoring and adjustments.

Our program consisted of far more than a single ninth-grade course. It was based on careful study of statistics and teacher input. As a result of those factors a portion of the double-block Algebra 1 students did move comfortably into regular Geometry and Algebra 2 classes. However, many did not. For those individuals more time was required and a double-block Algebra 2 class was created. Several years of data collection clearly indicated the wisdom of this adjustment. In an interesting twist, a two-year Geometry program was determined to be of little value and was quickly eliminated.

The bottom line in such a discussion is this: the development of a math program requires careful consideration of adjustments at all levels. An isolated year of remediation is often inadequate for many students.