Saturday, August 31, 2013

API Scores and Student Testing,

This week the State of California released API scores.  This annual rite has dominated focus on school performance for the past decade, with parents and homeowners looking to see how the local schools have performed, and how they stack up against surrounding districts.  LASD has fared very well in this annual "keeping up with the Joneses" race- we post some of the highest API scores in the State, and we have managed to do what some would deem unachievable- our program is consistently strong across every single school we operate.  Our community has taken great pride in this for many years.

The bar is shifting, though, and I am hopeful that it will be an improvement.  I see two problems with the current API-based system:
  1. We are already at the top of the scale, so the measures don't tell us much at an aggregate level.  Anyone with a background in statistics can tell you that the difference between 984 and 988 is insignificant.  That is where we are in the current testing process.
  2. The scores are a narrow measure of success.  The current tests measure memorization more than comprehension, and simple fact regurgitation over intellectual curiosity.  We demand much more for our kids, so it would seem logical then that we embrace a way to measure whether we are achieving that.
So, how do we make it better?  There are a few changes coming, driven at the national, state and local levels.

Most folks are aware of the roll-out of Common Core standards.  Along with most of the rest of the country, California is adopting a new set of standards for how children need to learn and what we need to teach them.  Common Core emphasizes comprehension and skills over specific memorization. The measures are geared towards ensuring students have the skills necessary to thrive in a knowledge economy.  That seems so obvious here in the Silicon Valley, but in other parts of the country, it's been a huge debate.  As an example, Common Core focuses on having students design an experiment in science over just repeating steps laid out in a text book.  This type of shift is valuable for all students, and it's something we've been focusing on at LASD for quite a while. 

At the state level, there are funding changes coming in the form of the Local Control Funding Formula.  This new bill is designed to shift the way that funds are allocated to school districts while not penalizing existing districts.  LASD will come out pretty much the same on the funding side.  However, this bill also decreases the weighting of API scores and starts to emphasize other measures that are also important indicators of success, like parental involvement and communications to the community.  Close followers of LASD will recognize many of these components from our Blueprint Process.  The District often talks about being a leader in revolutionizing learning- this is a great example.  Most of the things the state has added to the measurement system are things we specifically called out in the blueprint process several years ago.  We are, once again, leading the pack.

For those who want to go deeper on this, there's a good article in EdSource that talks about these measures in more detail.  I particularly liked their infographic:

At the local level, though, we're not content with this.  We continue to work on improved measurements.  The District has a Blueprint goal this year of identifying the next wave of measurements we want to track.  We may work with other high-achieving districts, or we may forge ahead and blaze the trail once again.  The key takeaway, though, is that we want to constantly improve our program for our students.  To do so means finding accurate ways of assessing our position, then making changes to enhance the program to continually deliver better results.

You don't get to be #1 by being satisfied with where you are.  You don't stay #1 by resting on your accomplishments.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Professionals, through and through

"You Play Like You Practice."  

 It's an old saying from sports, and anyone who has played a sport has probably heard the coach say that a few times to inspire hard work during a long string of practices.

So, how do our teachers "practice"?  Most folks, when they think of teacher professional development, think of a couple of in-service days during the school year.  Maybe you even know when they fall in the calendar.  It looks something like this:

Many folks would look at that and not think much of it- and I admit, I wouldn't be impressed either, unless you really know what our teachers are doing.  On Monday this week, Nancy Davis (former Almond Principal and our new Asst. Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction) presented to the Board on the training plan for this fall.  Here is just one part of the plan:

Holy cow!  Take a look at those dates!  Literally, our teachers are engaged in continued professional development on a near continual basis!  Throughout the fall, sometimes several meetings within the same week, LASD teachers gather and hone their craft -- all in the name of improving the student experience.

It's worth pointing out that while the formal professional development days on the calendar are paid events, the iLearn academy is not.  These after-school classes are completely voluntary.  Yet last year we offered more than 80 hours of development courses, and nearly half of our staff attended (attendance ramped up over the year, as word got out how great the courses really are). We expect to build on that trend again this year, and we're already planning a conference- open to educators from all over- for next summer.

If you're interested in the full presentation we saw this week, you can find it here:
(pdf presentation)

Nancy's actual presentation to the board will be posted here, along with the archive of all of our recent board meetings.  (video archive)

I'm incredibly proud of our staff for their hard work and their desire to constantly improve their tradecraft.  It takes amazing dedication to our students to stay committed to this type of training while still ensuring that each child in your classroom is getting the personalized education they deserve.  Well done, LASD teachers!

It's a nice footnote that we are investigating putting these courses online/video so that teachers in other districts can also benefit.  Being leaders in revolutionizing learning isn't just about teaching our own kids- it's about figuring out what works well, and sharing those practices with others.