Jails, computers and standards, oh my!

There have been many things brewing in Unit 4, and this post will only cover a small fraction of them. I believe the topics I have chosen for today are actually all related – let me explain as I go.

Jails

What in the world do jails have to do with a public school district? I am so glad you asked because that means you haven’t turned your brain off. Reading various materials from the CU Cradle2Career, the United Nations criticizing the US about high rates of incarceration, Dr. Wiegand’s own mantra of “reading at third-grade level by third grade” and a myriad of findings via google (I know…), something as simple as reading proficiency in the early years has a high correlation to whether a child will later go to jail or not. That freaks me out. Because if that is true, why the hell don’t we do EVERYTHING humanly possible to make sure that doesn’t happen?!?

Tomorrow a group of folks have provided an opportunity to listen to state representative Carol Ammons and participate in a public forum:

Build Programs, Not Jails is sponsoring a public forum on Thursday, April 30.  Carol Ammons will be the keynote speaker.  The title of her talk will be:

“Envisioning Future Directions for the Criminal Justice System in Champaign County”

Time: 6:15 p.m.

Place: Urbana Civic Center 108 Water St.

Also featuring performances by spoken word artists Klevah Knox and T.R.U.T.H.

Co-sponsors: Champaign County ACLU, Champaign County NAACP, First Followers Re-entry Program, Peace and Service Committee of the Friends.

Light refreshments will be served.

More information is available from the “Nation Inside” website and the News-Gazette (“forum set on criminal justice reform“).

Computers

Yesterday and today various administrators and tech team members are in Saint Louis at a “Future Ready Regional Summit” learning about the effective use of technology. The St. Louis Public Radio offers another take for those who are curious:

http://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/school-superintendents-gather-share-ideas-keeping-pace-digital-changes

Having talked to a few people about technology in the classroom and the trend to go more and more hi-tech, I know there is a wide spectrum of perspectives on this direction. And this is where I can going to make my first connection, between jails and computers; rather, more specifically, it comes down to addressing the achievement gap and issues of equitable access, not just to technology, but skill building and attainment of knowledge. How? Is it possible to go beyond all the buzz and hype and show that all the money we are dumping into technology is actually having a positive impact on some of the deepest and most critical issues of our society?

Allow me to segue to a News-Gazette story in which Dr. Wiegand briefly mentions a desire to expand computation-thinking that is being pioneered at Kenwood. I have written about Kenwood several times, not to mention that they have a pretty public presence on social media if you want to follow them yourself (techtime blog, twitter accounts for Todd Lash and KenwoodStars, Ctrl-Shift’s website, U4Innovate website). Last night I learned that Kenwood and Dr. Wiegand are enthusiastically exploring the Mission Hill School model of a public school (referenced in a previous post).

Forget about the computers for a moment. Forget about all the hype wrapped up around Obama’s push for the reformed NCLB. The point I want to make here is that school can be fun. Or to use a different word, learning can be (and should be) fun. And by “fun” I don’t mean utterly undisciplined free time; I mean to imply something with a very definite structure and purpose, something that nurtures and develops a sense of awe and wonder about the world around us. Peel away the jargon, the buzz words, the fads, and what I want to find is the joint passion shared between teacher and student.

The connection between jails and computers? Give a child a love of learning, a love of books, a love of people, and she will change this world into a better place.

Standards

Dr. George Reese suggested I read Raymond Callahan’s “Education and the Cult of Efficiency“. I actually found the book to be rather depressing since he points such a drab and dire picture of how Education has evolved. Until I got to the last chapter. I do not agree with all of Callahan’s final conclusions about what we can do, but I do believe in what I think his intent was. We have idolized Efficiency; we have been on a quest to ever “do more with less”. There are thousands of examples where this is most likely a good thing. But when it comes to the unique position of a teacher and a child, “efficiency” is the enemy. To be clear, I am referring to the relationship-building aspect, the need for the teacher not just to understand the material, but to understand the child as well. Callahan seems to make an argument for “teacher as social worker”, which I have grown to respect. In the past I have mentioned Lisa Delpit’s “Other people’s children”; recently, I learned about Robert Putnam’s somewhat similar book “Our Kids”. After watching a video of a book discussion, I was reminded of how we too often look to protecting our biological children, and blissfully look the other way when it comes to other children.

And what does this have to do with standards? I am going to submit that we have standardized on the wrong things. Furthermore, who has set these standards? Why is it that the powerful and rich get to determine what is most important? And how has that worked out for us these past 50 years?

I am fully convinced that we do not need to raise academic rigor for the sake of being competitive in the global marketplace. In fact, I would go one further and say that is the absolute wrong direction to focus in. Our enemy is corruption, greed and hate towards our fellow humans. The News-Gazette recently ran a story about the “shooting epidemic” in Champaign. (epidemic: “a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time.”) Did the ISAT help any of the victims?

In all the controversy swirling around PARCC and standardized tests, I am hearing a lot of complaints. But what I do not hear that much of are feasible, practical solutions. To that end, I have some homework for you.

Get off your computer/device/screen. Take a walk outside, or sit in your favorite chair, maybe on the porch, visit a lovely coffee shop, have some comfort food, drop by the local barbershop. And think. Look around you. What are some of the biggest problems in our community today? If you need help to jog your thinking, try visiting the 1000 block of Northwood Drive. Or the Times Center (70 East Washington, Champaign), the Crisis Nursery (1309 West Hill Street, Urbana), or the County Jail (502 S Lierman Ave, Urbana).

What standards do you want our children to focus on in order to make Champaign a better place?

Current thoughts on the PARCC

After my last post, I have had a number of conversations that have made it harder for me to decide where I fall on PARCC testing; so I thought, why not just dump all that into a blog post.

Summary

PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) has a lot of both good and bad things tied up with it. What makes it challenging for me is that there is also a lot of emotion getting thrown into the mix. When I look at where Illinois is headed in terms of assessments, some of my concerns are alleviated but I still have issues with the current implementation. In the end, I have to ask myself “What really is the root concern here?” For me, I would like teachers to know that I support them in their hard work. How can I help?


Just to get my subjectivity (emotion) out in the open and out of the way, let me state that I personally hate the way we do standardized tests; my own experience has taught me that the way we have been doing standardized tests for the past few decades add zero value to the student or the teacher, and creates a strictly synthetic environment that does not reflect real life in the least. But these types of “assessments”, having been around for so long and as ubiquitous across different industries as they are, are not going away any time soon.

During my inquiry of PARCC, I came across some jargon that would be helpful to spell out a little. These are not perfect by any means, so corrections are welcome.

Apparently in the world of Education, there are many different forms of assessment. However the two most common seem to be “formative assessments” and “summative assessments”.

Formative Assessments: this is like checking your compass every once in a while to make sure you are still heading in the right direction; these are typically “low-stakes” (low point value) evaluations to see if the student is progressing along at an expected rate, and if any intervention or augmentation is needed to help realign the student.

Summative Assessments: The “final exam”. Did the student reach the final goal, did the student meet the objectives? Did you do what you said you were going to do? These are typically the “high-stakes” testing (high point values).

Student Learning Objectives (SLO): no clear cut definition, but in general this seems to be a way to measure what a student has learned. According to edGlossary, there are several synonyms: “benchmark, grade-level indicatorlearning target, performance indicator, and learning standard“.

My duality towards PARCC is formed by several different factors. I will start with the negative and end with the positive.

Cons

It is easy to get sucked into the emotional vortex of other people’s opinions; not to disregard any of these parents and adults, for they have very passionate and strong beliefs for their point of view. If you want to, there are plenty of recorded board meetings where parents and teachers address administrative bodies around the country. Finding that here in Champaign is a bit trickier. *grin*

For my own “ground-level” perspective, I had the opportunity to sit in a real class for a “practice” test. To paint a little historical picture, keep in mind that this school year is the first year any school will be administering the PARCC, which replaces the ISAT tests a bulk majority of us are familiar with. I am told that teachers in Champaign did not receive training on PARCC until after December 15th, 2014. That was just two months ago. In addition to a totally new test, PARCC is now online and the software takes a bit getting used to. In a sense, the teachers are forced to teach students how to use the software. From my own observation, there was a wide range of ability to grasp and navigate the interface; yet even the “fastest” students were not halfway through after 40 minutes, and few of them were utilizing the “extra features” included in the software.

I also took the sample ELA test. You can read that blog post if you like, but in general I was quite agitated – the software itself makes the test more challenging despite the content.

This leads me to conclude that if all schools started with the paper-and-pencil test this year, the transition might have been a lot smoother. But we didn’t.

There is also the threat that high-stakes testing (like PARCC) will be used in the future as a primary tool to evaluate teachers. I will cover this in the “Pros” section below as well- Brian Minsker gives a good example of how this could be abused. Or rather, how such testing offers an incomplete evaluation of what a teacher has accomplished.

In passing I will say that I have heard others say that PARCC is harder or better than the ISATs. I can’t really say for sure; I have not found a sample ISAT from 2014 to make a good comparison.

Pros

A few weeks ago, I had an excellent conversation with some fine folks over at ISBE (you can read about it, if you have the time). I asked Ms. Chamness for a follow-up conversation, and invited Dr. George Reese to join us. He also happened to bring along Dr. Kathleen Smith, so it was a rather impressive group. 🙂 Additionally, I had a very enlightening exchange on the PTA Council email list in which Brian Minsker provided a bit of background information and broader perspective (you can find a copy of our discussion on the PTA Council listserve public archive).

I am going to glob much of what I learned under this “Pro” section because they do a good job at diffusing much of the drama sprouting up around PARCC.

For better or worse, we live under the law of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). According to the government’s website, Champaign Unit 4 receives a little over $1.2 million in Title 1 funds (where “Title 1” is directly from the ESEA). According to that same law, all schools that receive Title 1 funding must meet a 95% participation rate in standardized testing, with the threat of possible sanctions should that participation rate not be met. Ms. Chamness explained that the rate applies at all levels; state, district and even the school. She also explained that there are many codes used to demark non-participation (ie, sick, snow day, death, etc).

Another point that Ms. Chamness made is seeded in the quirky “Race to the Top” waivers many states have been applying for. According to Ms. Chamness, one of the reasons why Illinois has not yet been granted a waiver is that Illinois is unique in specifying that high-stakes testing NOT be used as a significant basis for teacher evaluations; instead, ISBE is pushing for the involvement of local bargaining units (ie, teacher unions) to come up with measurements of student growth. I will quote Brian Minsker’s synopsis. “What that means is that students who come into 4th grade reading at a 2nd grade level, for example, but leave 4th grade reading at a mid-3rd grade level would be recognized for their improvement (1.5 years of reading skills in a single year) rather than their failure to meet the 4th grade reading standard. Labeling students showing such tremendous growth and hard work as ‘failing’ is a disservice both the them and the teachers who achieve those results.”

Dr. Kathleen Smith asked Ms. Chamness if ISBE and Pearson will release data such that schools and teachers can perform formative assessments. Ms. Chamness replied that this is in fact part of their agreement with Pearson, but not much has been done about it, yet.

Conclusion

Everyone I have talked to so far agrees that assessments are necessary. There are a lot of good intentions at play, and also a significant amount of change; the latter sometimes makes the former harder to see. But I think it is important to realize that change in and of itself is not necessarily “good” or “bad”. And there is most likely going to be both involved. 🙂

I have expressed to Ms. Chamness that an easy-to-read overview of why we have PARCC would be very helpful. I hope to provide a link to that in the near future.

It makes sense to me when I hear people say that PARCC is being rolled out way too fast – this is apparent when I read about the technical issues and how Pearson is responding, not to mention the obvious shortcomings in the software itself. However, it also seems to me that people are afraid of the changes.

So here is a news flash – I am not a certified teacher. I have never taken any class in how to be a teacher. This means I don’t know all the theory about teaching, nor do I know what works best in a classroom. But I want to invest in and support the teachers in our school district. Our teachers are going to have to speak up and say what they think about the PARCC (and TestNav and Common Core, etc). In the end, I want to make sure that public education is fulfilling its moral obligation to crank out successful and engaged members of society. What would a formative assessment of “public education” look like?

PS – Ms. Kelly Youngblood is working on a chambanamoms.com story regarding PARCC and has asked me a few questions. When her story is published, I will provide a link to it.

UPDATE

Here is Ms. Youngblood’s Chambanamoms well written article – I encourage you to read it:

http://www.chambanamoms.com/2015/02/22/parcctestingchampaignurbana/

 

UPDATE 2

Mr. Nate Rodgers of WICD reported on parents opting out tonight (Feb 25th):

http://www.wicd15.com/news/top-stories/stories/parents-opting-out-parcc-test-11817.shtml

My child has opted out of PARCC testing

This morning, I sent the following email to my child’s teacher and principal:


Good morning,

[my child] and I had a discussion about the PARCC test (and associated prep), and we have come to the conclusion that she will not be participating in the PARCC. I gave [my child] the choice, as is my right as a parent and protected under the Constitution, but I did not want to force my desires on her choice; I am merely supporting her choice. Of course, if she should decide to take the PARCC, that is her choice, but I will not suffer being bullied into that choice; I say that more to ISBE and the federal government, NOT to anyone in Unit 4, because I do not believe Unit 4 will bully my child in any way.

Please note, this is nothing against [my child’s teacher], [my child’s principal], [my child’s school], or Unit 4; I personally think the implementation of the test, particularly the interface, totally sucks. [my child’s teacher] already has superior methods of assessing my child, and the PARCC does not add any value to my child’s education.

Also note that I will be informing other parents they have a right to make this choice as well. [my child] was worried that there would be negative repercussions to not taking the test, and I have convinced her that there will be none.

[my child] and I also talked about what she could do while “not taking the test”, and I reminded her that she will have a chromebook (or at least a netbook) and can work quietly on normal school work, like Scratch, eToys, code.org, etc.

You know me, I am always up for further discussion if you want to talk more. *grin* Having said that, I do not hold any obligation over you (plural, including the entire school and the school district) to respond – no response necessary. But certainly welcome. *grin*


I followed up with a link to a document I used as legal reference:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1RDSfPJEo9HUnlKIA_jdy0Oy5JU5T_–_pDKRgGI_zrw/mobilebasic?pli=1

 

Since sending that email and forwarding it to various individuals (PTA, friends, etc), I have had some interesting feedback. Some are concerned about whether this will hurt the school or the school district. It is my understanding, as the document above mentions, that school districts have a mandate to offer the test, but there is no mandate that a child must take the test. Splitting hairs? Maybe. But a quick google search will show you plenty of folks up in arms about PARCC. Others have chimed in with their own apprehensions.

 

Finally, I also have submitted a over-simplified question to the school district administration and board of education – still waiting for an answer:

“Do parents have the right to opt their child out of PARCC testing?”

 

Obviously, I believe the answer is “yes”. However I would like the district to have a formal response in black and white.

Posted in Community. Tags: , . 9 Comments »

#ctrl-shift: small recap of 17-Feb gathering

This post is an attempt to summarize some of the discussions held over drinks at the Blind Pig on Tuesday evening, 17-Feb. I will only scratch the surface, so I ask that others who attended fill in the many blank spots.

 

First, the CTRL-Shift email list now has a public archive (woot!!):

https://lists.mste.illinois.edu/pipermail/ctrl-shift/

For those not familiar with the pipermail interface, I recommend you start with picking the latest month (in the second row, eg, February) and choosing the “Date” format (last option in the second column). You can play with different formats as you wish. Basically, this is an archive of all emails sent to the CTRL-Shift email list. If you hunt around, you can even find a list of all email recipients.

 

Also, for record, here is the CTRL-Shift website:

http://ctrlshift.mste.illinois.edu/

 

The first major discussion, a topic we would return to many times last night, was about the PARCC test (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers). It seems the general consensus is that Common Core itself is a good thing, but PARCC is not serving our students, teachers or parents well. One person did raise the point that PARCC might actually be reinforcing the “good feelings” and confidence of those who take tests well in the first place, and for them PARCC might have some glimmer of benefit. But for everyone else, PARCC seems to do more harm than good. As tossed around in CTRL-Shift emails (for example), there is a fair amount of controversy surrounding the rapid Pearson-based implementation of PARCC, and so far we have not heard anyone who is really gung-ho for it. It is telling that so many states that initially supported the PARCC project have dropped out.

 

One of the many tangents/sidebars we explored was that of school board candidates and the leadership’s support of CTRL-Shift’s work at Kenwood. Obviously, those heavily involved in the programs at Kenwood are quite invested and want to see the fruit of their labor be sustainable going forward. There was talk of what various board candidates support, including the upcoming forums as an opportunity to learn more about the various platforms of each candidate.

 

Another related topic dealt with the work of curriculum development. As a parent and observer, I don’t really have any direct experience with such work, but one thing that was repeated is that this is very difficult, on top of the fact that there is no panacea, no “one-stop-shop”, no short-cuts to producing a curriculum; moreover, it is a process, as opposed to a product. Thus what CTRL-Shift is is not so much measured in physical output, but rather in how mindsets and learning environments are altered. Don’t be misled into thinking there is no output – check out the amazing TechTime @Kenwood blog to see what students are actually doing:

http://kenwoodtechtime.blogspot.com/

 

One very exciting report was that 15 Kenwood students are going to a SIT conference this weekend; what I personally find amazing about this whole experience is that, first, it is very project-based (which I absolutely LOVE), and second, to hear how students encounter and overcome challenges implicit in this endeavor; they have to not only come up with a topic, but figure out how to make it work and how to present it. From what I have heard, the actual presentation is just a small side-show compared to the bulk of the work these students and staff have been throwing themselves into at many after-school bi-weekly sessions.

 

Hopefully that gets your appetite going for what school can be. 🙂 It certainly made me want more.

 

I’m looking at you others that attended last night to fill in more details in the comments below.

Teardown of PARCC via TestNav

I recently had an opportunity to watch a class of 4th graders attempt to take a PARCC test via the TestNav website. I was disappointed by the interface, let alone how the content failed to keep some students on task. Later I googled a sample test to try it out for myself, and was absolutely HORRIFIED at what I was witnessing. Following is a page-by-page report of the TestNav PARCC test, specifically 4th grade ELA (English Language Arts).

tl;dr – TestNav sucks

Starting point: http://parcc.pearson.com/practice-tests/english/

The very fact that Pearson is behind this raises serious red flags for me. My professional experience with Pearson is that they are in it solely to make money. They don’t give a crap about content and/or actual assessments. Again, this is my own take, others may differ.

pearson_testnav_page1

Page (or screen) 1. The very first sentence does a great job at setting the scene and describing the overall objective of this test. So I read the story and moved on to the question. Or thought I had read the story. Paragraph 18? I only see three paragraphs. Oh, there are 22 “paragraphs” altogether, wow! A bit more reading to do. This is problem #1. How is a child supposed to know there is more to read “below the fold”? There are no instructions to scroll down, and the interface blankly assumes that the user inherently knows how to interpret the scrollbar near the text. Minus one point for Pearson. Problem number two; I spent about 5 minutes or so reading through this story, and this first page is asking two questions about a single word in the entire thing. So now my mind is all caught up about the definition of a single word, and the rest of the story gets flushed out of my short term memory.

Final problem; so I answer two questions. What next. Ahh, yes, the right arrow button, like a web browser. Good thing there are instructions for that (/sarcasm).

 

Read on to see the other 22 pages and my conclusion…

Read the rest of this entry »

updates

Aside from all the media attention on the Central Highschool site, there has been little else abuzz.

 

The first 40 minutes of the May 12 BOE meeting was devoted to “Recognitions”; much of that time was spent honoring art work from children of most the schools. Art teachers introduced the students who then shook everyone’s hand. After that, service awards were handed out for teachers, wrapping up with National Board Certified teachers (one newly certified, one recertified).

 

For public comment, the owner of Domino’s Pizza stood up to thank the district for their patronage.

 

About the next 40 minutes were given to a presentation about ALICE crisis response procedures and to pitch ALICE response training. Total cost will be about $2000 for two people, I believe.

 

Some policy changes were then discussed, and then Mr. David Hohman gave a short update on PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career). He stressed the thought that we are going more computer centric and how we are working towards a 4:1 device/student ratio to support PBA (Performance Based Assessments).

 

The DLR Group presented next. Not seeing the presentation online at all, I asked for the URL and Unit 4 posted it here:

http://www.champaignschools.org/sites/default/files/Unit%204%20BOE%20Update%2014_0514.pdf

 

I am hoping the presentations from the April 28th BOE meeting will be made available soon.

 

Additionally, Stephanie Stuart has posted a few items out for the community:

 

During Board Comment, Jamar Brown talked about and showed a teaser for Javae Wright’s “Purposed Lives“. There is an awesome event coming up this weekend:

WHAT:  Javae’ Wright’s Purposed Life!  Motivational Concert

WHEN:  Saturday, May 17, 2014  ~  6:00pm

WHERE:  First Christian Church at the Oasis, 3601 Staley Road, Champaign

 

FREE FOOD

FREE CONCERT

WALK-A-THON FOR CHARITY

 

For more information, please click:  http://youtu.be/PfCHAZlgfCY

Please RSVP your attendance so there is enough food and seats:  www.innerseedmedia.com

 

Another event coming up is the Garden Hills Resource Day:

  • Community Resource & Spring Fling Fair at Garden Hills Park & Garden Hills Elementary School on Monday, May 19 from 5-7 p.m.
  • Featuring free pizza, live entertainment, games & face painting!
  • The event is free and open to the public.

Answering questions about the Feb 25th Special Board Meeting

Over the weekend, I posted a series of questions about the Feb 25th BOE meeting (tonight). Dr. Wiegand was kind enough to respond (and with comprehensive answers at that) and has given me permission to post her reply. The following has only been formatted so it looks better on this blog (a la “the following movie has been formatted to fit your screen”).


q For Paul Fallon: how many of the 216 people who responded favorably to 19A make up the 170 people who said they were less likely to vote for it in question 19B? Similar question for question 20A and 20B.
a (from Paul Fallon) Judy, I will have to get that data file from my office, so I will try to send it to you tomorrow or Wednesday. Thanks, Paul
q How long as the Teacher Evaluation Committee been in place?
a The Committee was established at the end of last school year to address the need for a teacher evaluation system that would meet the requirements of PERA (Performance Evaluation Reform Act).  The committee began working this school year during first semester to collaboratively develop an evaluation document and process.  In previous years this was not done in a collaborative manner.  The Administration would develop a document and then present to the CFT for feedback. This is the first time a process was used that had both Administration and Teachers at the same starting point.
q Where are the meeting minutes?
a The work done during each session was documented by Pam Rosa from CEC.  Committee members were then charged with sharing this with the groups they represent to obtain feedback.  Since this work was ongoing and part of an internal committee, minutes were not posted publicly.
q Does the board agree with premises put forth by the Consortium for Educational Change? Read the rest of this entry »