Monday, October 14, 2013

Performance Policy

Claudinette (Didi) Schwartz, CPS Director of Assessment, also spoke to the PTA Advisory Council last week about her department's work. Her office sits within the CPS Office of Accountability under John Barker. 

Her introduction, like most of her remarks, were heavy on the education version of corporate speak: Assessments are a reflection of learning expectations. Assessment is a constant process, not an end-game. It happens every day, in every classroom, with every student. At least in theory it does.

Like Annette Gurley, she was short on time and most of her talk took the form of a Q&A session, which I've transcribed from my notes below:

Q. Explain the reduction in number of assessments for this AC2013-2014 versus AC2012-2013.

A. We reduced the number of assessments because 
(a) we wanted to increase instructional time   
(b) we wanted to emphasize that we assess students not on one measure

Looking at data points are equally important. District eliminated fall NWEA tests except for those students who didn't take the spring test and tehrefore didn't have a baseline test. The NWEA baseline allowed us to diagnose interventions and ways to work on them. 

Q. Can networks administer NWEA this fall anyway?

A. No. The NWEA is not available except for students in the primary grades who didn't have a baseline test from last year. Schools do not have to use NWEA as a fall baseline assessment they can also use DIBELS or another assessment tool. Testing in January is optional, although schools determine whether or not to give the mid-year NWEA assessment which measures a midpoint progress of skills. The end-of-year NWEA assessments is given to all 2nd-8th graders in late spring. 

Q. Is there NWEA training in place for parents?

A. No. The District doesn't have training for parents on how the assessments work and/or how they can help their kids through the assessment. We do have parent reports and strongly encourage teachers to print out these reports and share/explain them to parents. Assessment is not available at home. It asks skills-based questions, but those skills can be developed and practiced anywhere--not just on a PC. 

NWEA is a multiple choice test, starts at grade level and then gets easier or harder depending on how a student answers. Multiple choice in itself a bad thing. ACT is multiple choice and has been for 70 years, but when students can answer complex questions in this way, it can be a valid assessment tool. The NWEA asks a balance of questions between basic and stretch or complex questions.

PARCC will have multiple choice and construction response questions. Multiple choice may have multiple right answers or a matching activity. Constructive response is another term for "performance-based response." The District is looking at making the same components in a paper-based test in the lower grades. The PARCC is not a traditional timed test. It is an assessment meant to feel more like classroom work with the results given to teachers for help in developing tasks and interventions.

Q. Are there accommodations for students with IEPs?

A. There is so much we can do to accommodated IEP modifications with the PARCC. We can do more with font, size, color, and contrast. We can add a line reader. Some modifications, such as magnification, will be available to all students, while other modifications are set by the teacher.

The District is still determining what kind of read-aloud accommodations/modifications will be made for ELL students. It is a matter of determining whether the District is measuring English language or comprehension? 

Q. Are any Illinois programs based on Massachusetts's protocols? 

A. Yes. CCSS was developed by a coalition of states. Looked at what college students need, and what industry needs. Looked at the standards and then unpacked backwards down to K. 

Q. Can you share the new CPS Performance Policy?

A. Ryan Crosby, who manages the relationship with ISBE, also owns the performance policy. 

Q. Can you explain the changes to the ISAT and the way that was communicated to parents? 

A.  CPS sent letters home to parents announcing the difference in ISAT cut scores. The bar is still higher and test content is still changing. Communications are coming. Schools' accountability based on NWEA--not ISAT--in FY2014-2015. In the first year of anything, there are challenges. The transition from ISAT to PARCC for accountability purposes won't begin until FY2015-2016

Q. Are there sample questions from the NWEA?

A. Yes. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Teaching and Learning

Yesterday's PTA Advisory Council meeting was a bit disappointing. Our speakers, Annette Gurley and Claudinette Schwarz, each spent what felt like very short periods of time with us. It gave us just enough time for an overview, but not for the rigorous, deep dive discussion that I've come to expect from the monthly PTA Advisory meeting. 

Annette Gurley introduced herself by saying that the title of her office (Office of Teaching and Learning) is actually quite descriptive and accurate of the work done by the office. What her office does is to enhance teaching to provide better learning for the students within the system, she said. 

All this talk of Common Core and emphasis on college, career, and life success is actually important. The rigor of teaching in the 21st century focuses on teaching students to think critically and solve problems--the kinds of tasks they'll need to perform daily in our post-modern, meta-data, information-obsessed economy.  In other words, the very opposite of what Esmee Greenfeld is apparently doing at the NYC Lab Middle School for Collaborative Studies. Rote memorization--the kind of kill-and-drill learning environment that many of us grew up in--is no longer relevant, Gurley said. 

This departure from the teaching methods that brought us through an industrial age is a game changer for everyone--from teachers to students to their parents. There is a renewed emphasis on experiential learning. Gurley quoted Richard Elmore's "task predicts performance" philosophy, saying that the professional development sessions her office are conducting focus on helping teachers to design tasks that help students think critically. (I've since read a bit on Richard Elmore, and it's nice to see a CPS Central Officer quote someone who actually makes sense. )

Gurley also acknowledged that the current academic year is a huge transition year for her office. She suggested that parents take time regularly to learn more about Common Core and its ongoing implications for children and families. 

She spoke about the changes in cut scores for the ISAT, a state decision to mitigate the collective shock we'll all feel when the District switches to the PARCC assessment next year. I prefer to think of the PARCC assessment as a way to make sure our schools are teaching our children what they need to know--not as an opportunity to trip them up and spit them out. I suspect Dr. Gurley has a similar philosophy. She told us that she doesn't want children to get to the PARCC and then not be able to complete it.

She told us that a sample 5th grade question on the PARCC tripped her up, and that her office has found the rigor expected of the PARCC to be "an eye-opener." 

In addition to preparedness for PARCC, Gurley reviewed the emphasis on the NWEA assessments, saying that these tests are diagnostic in nature and the baseline tests from last year are being used to develop Learning Maps that are aligned to each individual's learning growth targets. Only children who didn't take the NWEA in the spring last year had to take it this year, Gurley said. These Learning Maps allow a teacher to customize learning experiences to each child, providing time for acceleration or intervention (remediation) during times built into the school day for such work.

Gurley told us that CPS typically categorize learners into three tiers: ones get the lesson 80 percent of the time; twos need a little extra support to get the lesson 15 percent of the time; and threes still don't get it even with extra support. Gurley estimates that there are 3 "threes" in every classroom in CPS. Oy. The recommended intervention for those threes are 3x45-minute sessions each week. Although Gurley noted that good teachers differentiate anyway, I can't help but to wonder how any teacher with 37 kids in his/her classroom has the physical space or the head space to devote to 8% of the class, 5% of the time.  

With Greenfeld's article fresh in my mind, I asked Dr. Gurley about homework. She told me that the individual learning can take place in the classroom, but that it doesn't have to. Sometimes it takes place in a pull-out class, but sometimes it takes place at home via homework. What she said about homework is fuzzy within my notes, but I was left with the impression that the new Teaching and Learning paradigm is going to drag me into the role of after-school/homework tutor. Homework is an opportunity for students to reinforce and practice what they've learned at school, and for parents to preview and understand the concepts their children are in the process of acquiring. If I look at the bright side, it's possible that I may finally learn higher-level math.