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SLO_pulse
Lessons Learned: Launching a SLO Initiative

By Jo-ne Bourassa

In Georgia, as in many states, approximately 75 percent of teachers teach subjects that are not assessed by state tests—for at least part of the instructional day. To meet the student growth and academic achievement component of Georgia’s Teacher Keys Effectiveness System, teachers of these non-tested subjects must implement student learning objectives (SLOs) to gauge student growth.

As one of the original 26 Race to the Top districts in Georgia, Bibb County School District jumped in early on to launch a SLO initiative. In the first year of the pilot, during 2012-13, the Georgia Department of Education required that 52 SLOs be given. To help districts prepare for this, the DOE provided training in assessment alignment and SLO creation.

In Bibb County, we decided to use a pre-test/post-test format to determine student growth over a semester or school year. Several challenges became apparent during year one.

Year One Challenges

To start, we faced a steep learning curve and a massive amount of work. As part of Georgia’s system, student growth and academic achievement are measured by student growth percentiles in tested subjects, or SLOs in non-tested subjects. Only 25 percent of our courses provide growth percentiles through Georgia’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Testsin grades 4-8, or end-of-course tests in high school. That meant we were now responsible for creating and administering SLO assessments—and arriving at SLO scores—for 75 percent of our courses.

To save time, we initially used public-domain SLO assessments created by other districts. This, unfortunately, meant our teachers felt no ownership of the materials. In addition, the administration and grading of the 52 pre- and post-tests caused almost all other activities to come to a halt. The tests took two to four days to administer. All were done via paper and pencil, which consumed our paper and copying budgets. The student scores (about 52,000 scores) were collected by hand on an Excel spreadsheet and sent to the central office for summarizing.

Mid-Year Changes

By the end of the first semester in year one, it became clear that teachers, students, and parents did not take the SLO assessments seriously. They even joked and complained about students taking “SLOW” tests.

So, in December 2012, we decided to change our SLOs to GLOs — growth learning objectives. We also switched out the labor-intensive assessments for instruments we already had for PreK-3, including AIMSweb for reading and math in grades 1-3; district writing assessments for English language arts in grades 1-3; Gkids portfolio pieces for kindergarten ELA, math, and reading; and Bright from the Startportfolio pieces for PreK literacy and numeracy. We had to live with the assessments in the other grade levels until we could write our own.

Year Two Revisions

For 2013-14, our district was required to have at least one growth measure for every certified teacher from pre-kindergarten through grade 12. This included P.E., fine arts, and career, technical and agriculture education (CTAE) teachers, as well as any class for which a teacher did not have an existing GLO or student growth percentile. This necessitated the creation of 100-plus additional GLO assessments.

We knew this would be a nearly impossible task without technology. So, after issuing an RFP and evaluating several systems, in January 2013 we selected the SLO Module from Performance Matters, along with the company’s assessment and data management system. Then, from February to July, we revised and developed 100-plus GLO assessments in ELA, math, science, social studies, P.E., fine arts, and CTAE.

In June and July 2013, we conducted training on the Performance Matters platform for our administrators and testing coordinators. Then, in August, we administered the GLO pre-tests in all 41 schools via plain paper scanning and online testing. Instead of having to collect the pre-test data on a spreadsheet, the results were automatically available in the company’s system, which also made it easier to send to the DOE. In addition, our teachers could now see the baseline assessment results and growth targets for each student. This allowed them to more easily monitor students’ progress toward the growth target during the school year, and identify what their students needed and which standards they needed to focus on to reach that target.

We went through the same process to administer the post-tests. Even though we were now administering twice as many assessments, we saved a significant amount of time and energy over the previous year, when we had to gather and analyze the data by hand. Our teachers and administrators could now access the target score and the results data from the pre- and post-assessments for each student under each SLO. With the SLO Module’s automatic calculations, teachers could see whether or not each student met the SLO, as well as the overall percentage of students achieving the SLO by class or by course. In addition, school leaders could use the data to group teachers into the appropriate ratings category—exemplary, proficient, needs development, or ineffective—on the SLO portion of their annual evaluations.

Lessons Learned

Here are some key takeaways from our successful launch of an SLO initiative.

  • Develop clear and concise test administration instructions to guide school testing coordinators and teachers through the pre- and post-test process.
    We created a spreadsheet with “administration notes” for each course. These notes instruct testing coordinators and teachers how to administer and score each test, which eliminates confusion and ensures consistency in each course.
  • Form two teams of teachers to develop SLO assessments—a team of writers and a team of reviewers.
    Having a team of writers and a separate team of reviewers not only improves the quality of the assessments, but it also encourages teacher buy-in since they are actively involved in the test-creation process.
  • Train teachers on test development and assessment alignment.
    Within each course, teachers should be able to determine which standards are most important for students to master the course and prepare for the next grade level. They should be able to plan what percentage of course time should be spent on each of these “power standards,” taking into consideration the percentage of the test that will cover the standard. They should be able to dissect each standard and identify exactly what students must be able to know, understand, and do to demonstrate mastery. They should also be able to articulate the depth of knowledge of each standard, so the assessment item can match that level of cognitive complexity.
  • Allow at least six months—and a large team of teachers — for the development, review, and input of the SLO assessments.
    It is also important to gather input from teachers of English-language learners and students with disabilities who can provide insight into what, if any, modifications might be required to meet specific needs or individualized education plans.
  • Create an item template to ensure consistency.
    Instead of purchasing an item bank, we collected items from a variety of sources, including state-released tests, or we developed our own. Each item was created using a template, which included the following fill-in-the-blank components: question number, DOK level (1-4), curriculum code, question stem, answer choices A-D, and correct answer. Having this template made it much easier to review and vet the items, before we put them into the assessment and data management system.

When we launched our GLO initiative more than two years ago, we had no idea how much work it would be to create and administer the assessments, and then crunch the data for each GLO to determine if students achieved the academic goals set at the beginning of each course. The use of technology has allowed us to automate and streamline the GLO process and ensure more accurate calculations for effectiveness ratings for our teachers. It also gives our teachers easier access to the data they need to inform their instruction, so they can meet the primary purpose of the SLOs — to improve student learning in the classroom.

Dr. Jo-ne Bourassa is the Race to the Top coordinator for the Bibb County School District in Macon, Georgia.

Image: credit: Zero Creatives/Media Bakery

Black-teachers

The Keys for Empowering Black Male Learners

How to make the best use of the federal My Brother’s Keeper initiative.

 By Baruti Kafele

Whatever other gains have been made in American education in the past decade or two, there is a continuing crisis when it comes to young black males, who graduate at a rate of just 47 percent. I believe the biggest challenge for American education is motivating and inspiring black males to strive for academic excellence. I also believe this is attainable, and the federal My Brother’s Keeper initiative is one step toward this vision. Below, I’ll outline how a Young Men’s Empowerment Program, such as ones I’ve created in previous schools, must be a key component of My Brother’s Keeper initiatives.

For readers unfamiliar with My Brother’s Keeper, it is a White House initiative to “address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential.” The President’s Task Force is working to identify programs and policies that work in our communities to help young people reach the following six milestones:

  • Entering school ready to learn
  • Reading at grade level by third grade
  • Graduating from high school ready for college or career
  • Completing post-secondary education or training
  • Entering the workforce
  • Reducing violence and providing a second chance

The reality is that in the academic realm, we typically discuss the plight of black males within the context of the overall achievement gap. In doing so, we’re addressing this as an academic problem, which it is not. When we analyze the national achievement data of black males, it becomes glaringly clear that this gap in achievement occurs in virtually every district in the country and across rural, suburban, and urban areas. There are deeper issues that often go unaddressed in schools.

Peer pressure and gangs are the two biggest challenges I’ve witnessed affecting my students (and these are by no means unique to the communities I’ve served). The feeling among so many black males is that it is uncool to be smart and that succeeding in school means they’re “acting white.” This results in black males coming to school wearing invisible masks and thereby adhering to this black male code of conduct, academically speaking. Teachers all too often attempt to teach to the mask rather than the student because they do not realize that he is wearing a mask.

I have contended for many years, based on national data that shows upwards of 70 percent of black children are born into a household where there is no father present, that this is a crisis. We are asking black males to perform proficiently in the classroom when far too many of them are struggling with home issues that start them off on unequal footing. Due to the lack of male role models in their homes, schools, communities, and even the media, they are confused about their roles as young men.

To address the challenges that arise from a lack of black male role models and to help young black males gain an understanding of who they are, I launched the Young Men’s Empowerment Program in a middle school where I was principal, and then brought it with me to Newark Tech High School when I became principal there.

The purpose of the YMEP is to teach my male students about both manhood and their history. The overall development and leadership of the program was, and is, a sustained collaboration between my staff, community partners, and me. The community partners contributed greatly to the overall climate and culture of the school and to the academic, social, and emotional growth and development of not only my black male students but to all of my male students. The YMEP components include:

  • All-male empowerment assemblies/meetings with black guest speakers (Power Mondays)
  • All-male empowerment classroom meetings with black guest speakers
  • Small-group and one-on-one mentoring sessions led by men of color
  • Opportunities to meet and spend time with black male college students, successful black males in their work environments, and men of color in political leadership roles
  • Dress for Success days
  • Father-son programs
  • Positive Rites of Passage programs

School counselors play a crucial role in making this program work. They identify and locate the role models who come to the school to work with students. Staff members can reach out to local organizations, neighborhood associations, religious institutions, and even individual community members—we have found that there are many men who would love to come into their local schools to speak to or mentor students but have never been approached. Before this occurs, however, a committee of staff members should conduct a needs assessment of their male population. The following questions should be raised:

  • How will we go about bringing men into our school to speak at our empowerment meetings?
  • What kind of follow-up will we have for the speakers to engage in?
  • Will the meetings be comprised of single grade levels or will grade levels be combined?
  • How frequently will the meetings occur, during what time of day, and how long will they last?
  • What do the girls do during the male empowerment meetings?
  • Which staff members should be involved?
  • What topics will be discussed and what activities will we engage students in?
  • What are the goals of the male empowerment meetings?
  • How will we measure the success of the program?
  • What are the possibilities of partnering with corporations, businesses, and other agencies?

Our YMEP was rooted in what we coined “Power Monday”—a day to focus on empowerment. All male students were required to wear a shirt, tie, slacks, shoes, and a belt. The intent was for them to look empowered and ultimately to feel empowered. For the actual empowerment program, we had a meeting with one grade level on the morning of each Power Monday. These meetings typically lasted for two hours. I, along with other male staff members and men from the community, would engage the students in a wide variety of discussions pertaining to the many facets of manhood. I wanted the students to be exposed to men from all walks of life, so I went into the community and literally recruited men to be a part of what we wanted to accomplish with our male students.  

As our test scores began to rise to a level of national recognition over the six years that I was principal of Newark Tech, it was clear and evident that our YMEP, with a concentration on Power Monday, was making a tremendous difference in the lives of our young men. If similar programs become a part of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative across the nation, more schools can experience this success.

For more information on the public and private sector groups that have pledged time and money to recruit mentors, share information, and more, look at the My Brother’s Keeper Fact Sheet. To find out more about becoming a mentor and bringing change to your community, check out serve.org.

Baruti Kafele is an award-winning educator and best-selling author of Closing the Attitude Gap: How to Fire Up Your Students to Strive for Success (ASCD, 2013) and Motivating Black Males to Achieve in School and in Life (ASCD, 2009). Under his leadership, Newark Tech High School in New Jersey went from a low-performing school in need of improvement to being recognized as one of America's best high schools in U.S. News & World Report.

On this new episode of ASCD’s Whole Child Podcast, Baruti Kafele and ASCD’s Sean Slade discuss how knowing your students, intentionally creating a positive school climate and culture, and making learning relevant set the stage for student motivation and achievement. They’ll pay attention to how making meaning for students is an underutilized, but effective, strategy.

Listen to the episode:

 

Image: Blend/ MediaBakery

Top Stories for Wednesday 10/1

US College Enrollment Down

Second year in a row, student enrollment is decreasing. EdNews

Apps Created for Ed. Data Mining

Apps being developed to explore electronic ed. data. HechReport

UMUC Wins Intl Cybersecurity Competition

The UMUC Cyber Padawans hack their way to a win. WashPost

“Deeper Learning” Schools Excel

A study shows students have better test scores and people skills. EdWeek

DOE Creating Level Playing Field for Students

New education guidelines work to end racial inequalities. NYT

Top Stories for Thursday 9/25

Students Coding for a Purpose

HFOSS project creates “software for humanity”. HechReport

Nashville Parents Fight School Closings

PAC pushes back on Dir. of Schools. EdNews

Teaching with Banned Books

Teachers demonstrate the value of banned books. HuffPost

Lessen Standardized Testing?

US Rep and supts. drive to reduce standardized testing. PBS

Clinton Voices Opinion on Charter Schools

Former Pres. Bill Clinton advises charter schools to step up. HuffPost

Broad prize pulse

Broad Prize: Two for One

A pair of finalists take home foundation’s top prize.
By Wayne D'Orio

When the finalists were announced for this year’s Broad Prize, it was somewhat of a letdown. Instead of the typical four or five districts battling for the unofficial title of best urban district, there were only two: Gwinnett County Public Schools in Georgia and Orange County Public Schools in Florida.

That mood shifted when Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made the announcement in New York Monday, saying, “I feel like Santa Claus. We have two winners.”

The tie was a first in the foundation’s 13-year history; the two districts will split the $1 million award. And it was Gwinnett’s second victory, newly eligible again after winning the prize in 2010.

Interestingly, while the districts have similar profiles, they took different paths to success.

Gwinnett has some of the most stable leadership in the country. Not only has superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks led the district for 18 years, but the most junior member on the district’s five-person board has nine years experience. The tenure of the longest-serving board member even predates Wilbanks, stretching back to the 1970s. The district’s steady progress netted it the highest SAT participation rate among the 75 Broad Prize-eligible districts, and its students had one of the top AP participation rates.

Orange County’s progress has been more dramatic. The district’s low-income middle school students showed improvement in reaching the highest achievement levels in state tests. In reading, student scores rose 6 percentage points at the highest levels, compared to 1 percentage point of growth for the rest of the state. The district also narrowed the achievement gap between Hispanic students and white students in elementary, middle, and high schools in both math and science.

“We wrestled with performance versus improvement,” said former Pennsylvania governor Edward Rendell, a member of the prize’s selection jury. “We were impressed with Gwinnett County’s steady, sustainable gains and with Orange County’s urgency and commitment to improve student achievement quickly.”

Gwinnett has about 170,000 students and spends $7,548 per pupil. The district has 55 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, and 16 percent English language learners. Orange County has 187,000 students and spends $7,965 per student. Sixty percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, while 13 percent are designated as English language learners.

Advice from Tony Blair, Arne Duncan

Held at Time Warner in New York’s Columbus Circle, the Broad Prize event drew a large crowd of top education leaders, including former education secretary Rod Paige, Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho, Philadelphia superintendent William Hite, and Teach For America’s Wendy Kopp.

Former UK prime minister Tony Blair kicked off the event by remembering the struggles he faced when he started to reform Britain’s worst-performing schools. “I think the toughest thing you can do in life is to take a system in the public sector and make the changes and improve it.”

“When you first propose change, people resist it,” he said. “When you are doing it, it's hell, and when you are through doing it, you wish you did more of it.”

Blair joked that Britain and the United States had “a disagreement a couple of hundred of years ago,” but added that both countries “learn best when we learn from each other.”

Duncan spoke next, and he recounted vignettes from his recent three-day bus tour through the South. The secretary marveled at the hardships some children overcome to continue their education. He spoke of children fighting to be the first in their family to graduate high school. “They have amazing potential to do well if we meet them halfway,” Duncan said, praising the teachers, principals, and counselors he has met.

“I’m hopeful about where we are going. Graduation rates are at an all-time high, half a million more African-Americans are in college—we’ve made huge amounts of progress. Yet we come to work every single day because we are not getting good enough fast enough.”

Publicly available data from 2009 to 2013 was used to screen districts this year. Districts can’t apply or be nominated for the award; the 75 largest districts that serve significant percentages of low-income students are automatically considered.

Photos (from left): Invision for The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation/AP Images; John Raoux/AP Photo

Top Stories for Wednesday 9/24

Denver Students Walkout to Protest Curriculum Changes
Resistance builds to reviewing AP History course. Chalkbeat

Hillary Backs Girls Ed Worldwide
New initiative will earmark $600M for 14M girls in next 5 years. Time

Did AYP Actually Improve Results?
Study attributes better scores to NCLB accountability. EdWeek

Beating Back Poverty
New book highlights Cristo Rey Network's success. Forbes

Wealthy Kids Smarter Web Surfers?
New report says so, but finds all students lack online literacy. NYTimes

Top_PD mistakes

PD Mistakes to Avoid in the New School Year

By Alvin Crawford

This summer at the NEA Representative Assembly in Denver, we met a lot of teachers—representing the 3 million educators nationwide. We asked them, “How many hours of professional development does it take to change your practice?” Staying true to the rampant culture of testing we live in, we offered multiple-choice answers:

a. 1 hour
b. 8 hours
c. 50 hours

Among the responses: “If it’s good PD, one hour.” Or, “I’m guessing eight hours.” 

Quite a few of the more experienced teachers nodded and said, “Of course, 50 hours.” They’re right; according to the research it takes 50 hours of PD to change practice. And, according to Teaching the Teachers from the Center for Public Education, it takes, on average, “twenty…separate instances of practice for a teacher to master a new skill, and this number may increase if a skill is exceptionally complex.”

College- and career-ready standards, like the Common Core, are challenging the status quo in the U.S. We hear the frustration of parents who struggle to help their second graders with math homework. We hear from teachers about the lack of training they’ve received on implementing these standards. Now more than ever, professional development is critical to achieve a transformation in teaching and learning.

How do we make the seismic shift needed for change when teachers feel the intense pressure in this era of accountability and testing? 

To start, there are a few PD mistakes we can avoid going into this school year:

  1. Reconsider the One- to Two-Day Workshop: These workshops are easy to plan and great for filling seats during in-service days, but PD experts suggest they have little to no impact on teacher practice. Think about ways to engage teachers in more active, collegial learning that goes deeper than traditional butts-in-seats practice.

    Solution: Think about approaches like lesson study or intensive PD initiatives supported by ongoing coaching.

  2. Reset Your PD Approach and Go Deep: As referenced in Elizabeth Green’s New York Times Magazine article “Why Do Americans Stink at Math?,” we have a habit of not prioritizing PD time. Research says it takes 50 hours or more on a specific content or pedagogy to change teacher practice, so we actually need to plan to respect and value time for ongoing PD. This is critical if we are to see students succeed.

    Solution: Allocate time each week for ongoing professional learning for your teachers. Get creative with how you do it—lesson study meets virtual community of practice meets online courses; 1:1 coaching over extended periods of time.

  3. Scale Your Initiatives for Impact: Districts struggle with scaling professional development for big initiatives. If you do only face-to-face PD, think about how long it will take to establish a common language and understanding for all the teachers in your district. This poses a challenge for ensuring every child is getting the same quality of education.

    Solution: Consider online and blended PD and virtual communities of practice to scale PD district-wide. If other industries can do it, so can we.

  4. Create Real PLCs: If you have professional learning communities in your district—congratulations! This is a major step toward a change in practice. Unfortunately, many districts don’t, or they have a PLC in name only. Train your principals and coaches how to lead PLCs and get started immediately. It’s important that teachers engage in ongoing, collaborative professional learning that creates meaningful approaches to solving the needs of each school.

    Solution: Empower your teachers to learn from one another. They are your greatest resource, your most valued asset.

  5. Avoid Test Prep: We focus too much on evaluation and accountability in the U.S. with very little actual support for teachers. In our culture of testing, we tend to put an emphasis on test prep, rather than on developing teachers for teaching more effectively.

    Solution: Rethink the goal of this year’s assessment results. In light of transition to college and career standards, like the Common Core, use this year’s results as a benchmark for your PD efforts, rather than as solely an evaluative measure of your teachers. This will take the pressure off teachers when it comes to test results and will allow them to focus on how to more effectively support student learning—and that’s something we can all get behind.

Alvin Crawford is president and CEO of Knowledge Delivery Systems (KDS), a leading provider of blended and online professional learning solutions for K–12 school districts and educators. With more than 20 years of experience in education and media, he is dedicated to building innovative, transformative professional development solutions that support teachers and districts.

Creating On Demand PD

One of the biggest trends in education the last few years has been the push to differentiate learning for the various students in each classroom. With technology’s help, teachers are now able to more easily assign tasks that challenge each student to do his or her best, no matter the student’s level of proficiency. School Improvement Network thought so much of this trend that it is trying to bring it to teachers’ professional learning.

SIN’s new service, Edivation, includes videos, courses, and lesson plans that teachers or administrators can review on their own, creating personal learning plans that cater to specific skills. Educators can access content from any computer or mobile device.

“Since launching on-demand video resources in 2007, our offerings have expanded to include management tools, online groups and communities, lesson plans and comprehensive implementation support,” says Chet D. Linton, CEO and president of School Improvement Network. “Edivation was created as a new technology platform to support these resources and to help educators become as effective as possible.”

The service is available for $4,995 for one year, or for $3,995 per year with a five-year contract.

 

-Kim Greene

Top Stories for Tuesday 2/25

Is Your Data Protected?
Group works to establish best practices for student data. Hechinger Report

Why One Mother Took the SAT 7 Times
What does it take to get a perfect score—and is it worth it? The Atlantic

Should Elementary School Teachers Specialize?
Departmentalization on the rise in younger grades. Education Week

Minnesota Takes on the Achievement Gap
The surprising ways the state is using their NCLB waiver. Education Week

 

Top Stories for Tuesday 1/14

Congress to Lose Major Education Reform Advocate
Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) to retire. Education Week

School Violence Lands More Than 90,000 a Year in the ER
Study unveils continued school safety issues. NBC News

Judge Approves End of Arkansas Desegregation Funds
Payments will continue through the 2017-18 school year. The New York Times

What Will Universal PreK Look Like in New York?
Ambitious—but ambiguous—plans from de Blasio and Cuomo. Hechinger Report

Jay Mathews Takes on Diane Ravitch
Disagree, maybe. Listen? Absolutely. The Washington Post

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in edu Pulse are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.