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88 Articles Categorized in "Assessment"

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Social Issues | March 29, 2014

Washington Education: A bargain, for now...


By Mark

A recent guest piece by Bill Keim in The Seattle Times's Education Lab Blog points out some sobering numbers about education funding in Washington, particularly considering the Supreme Court ruling that the state of Washington is not adequately funding public education.

Keimgraphic-517x620Particularly interesting is the infographic from the Washington Association of School Administrators that compares Washington's per-pupil funding over time as compared to the national average, to Massachusetts (similar in demographic, economy, and education standards), and to Alabama (historically under-funded and under-performing by various measures).

Simply put, our state has been in neutral while Massachusetts, Alabama, and the nation as a whole has been in high gear. 

And here's the problem with that: As of right now, Washington's schools seem to be performing well

This is of course a problem for two reasons. First, it weakens the argument that Washington schools need to be better funded. Second, it runs the risk of leading people to believe that good performance can be sustained without resources.

The last three years in my classroom I have been living the good life. Due to local support, my program received funding that provided me access to desktop computers every day, every period for each my 9th grade English students. Every day, if I want, I can have my students use technology to consume and produce meaningful texts and engage with content in exciting ways. Instead of having to rely upon the (decades old) literature anthology on the shelf, the whole world can be our textbook thanks to the technology--which of course, came with a cost.

Tom | Assessment, Education Policy | March 20, 2014

New Study: Teachers Who Pass ProTeach are better than Those Who Don’t


Cedar leavesBy Tom

A new study commissioned by Washington’s Professional Educator Standards Board shows that ProTeach – our teacher licensing assessment – seems to contribute to an increase in student learning. The study was conducted by UW Bothell’s Center for Education Data and Research (CEDR). It was a complicated study, but essentially they compared teachers who passed ProTeach with those who didn’t by looking at their students’ test scores using Value Added Models (VAM).

The main conclusion reached by CEDR is that teachers who passed ProTeach correlate to higher student test scores, especially in reading. Not so much in math. It's worth noting that this is essentially the same conclusion they drew conducting a similar study on teachers who earned National Board Certification. The study also found the effect was greatest for those teachers who scored high on Entry 2; the one that concerns classroom management and family communication. I found that interesting; it seems more likely that Entry 3 – which is all about teaching and assessment – would be the one more closes associated with higher test scores. I guess that goes to show how important classroom management is. Overall, the results seem to indicate that ProTeach is an effective measurement of teacher quality, which must make the PESB feel relieved.

Of course, we can also look at these results from another direction. Maybe they indicate that VAM is a valid measurement, at least for reading instruction. Personally I found the entire report a little presumptuous; strongly implying that VAM is the gold standard and that teacher performance assessments like ProTeach are valid to the extent they correlate with student performance assessments like VAM. I may be biased (I’ve never been a big fan of VAM), but I place a lot more credence on an evaluation that focuses on what teachers are actually doing when they teach than an evaluation that looks at student performance, which is effected by a myriad of factors that include teacher quality. So perhaps the fact that VAM results and ProTeach results are correlated might show that VAM is legitimate. At least in reading instruction.

In a larger context, it seems to me that if there’s a place for VAM, then this is surely it; used on aggregated data like in this study. Where VAM is not appropriate is when it’s used on individual classrooms and individual teachers. That’s a complete travesty. It’s also a shame, because advanced statistical analyses – like VAM – can be invaluable when it comes to showing which instructional practices are effective and which aren’t. And I’m here to tell you: teachers across the country who are evaluated using VAM hate it with a passion you don’t often see in education. If we manage to steer clear from that mistake in Washington, I can see the day when TPEP reaches maturity and we have a large database of teacher evaluations and researchers like the folks over at CEDR can use metrics like VAM to help us understand which teacher practices are most effective.

But for now, we’ll have to settle for what we have: a somewhat obvious conclusion that tells us that good teachers produce good students. 

Maren Johnson | Assessment, Education Policy, National Board Certification, Science, Teacher Leadership | March 16, 2014

Want innovation in the classroom? Get teachers involved in Policy

image from


by Maren Johnson

I spent the weekend in Washington DC at the Teaching and Learning 2014 Conference. It was dazzling. Famous and thought provoking speakers, incorporation of art and music, huge diversity in education viewpoints and experience.

With all the hubbub over the big names at the conference, what I'm heading home thinking about is a session led by a middle school science teacher from Washington state. From the small town of Cheney, no less.

Teacher Tammie Schrader's session was titled, "Coding in the Classroom." I went into the session expecting to learn a bit about coding itself, and perhaps a bit about how to use coding to teach concepts in life science. I came out of the session thinking about innovation and education policy.

Tammie started out the session by introducing herself and her classroom programs. She has been facilitating student coding in her science classes for several years now. That, itself, is innovative, but not extraordinarily unusual.

Then Tammie started talking about education policy. My ears perked up. What was going to be the tie-in here? I've been to sessions on innnovative instructional methods. I've been to sessions on education policy. I have rarely been to a session incorporating both.

Tammie's point? She wanted to do cutting edge things in her classroom. In order to be free to do these things, she needed to be released from some of the usual considerations of what might be expected in a classroom. There were a few non-negotiables, however. She would still need to assess; she would still need to show student growth. She wanted to assess and show student growth in a way that would fit her classroom. The solution? Get involved in policy. Tammie has done this, in a big way, at state and national levels.

I thought to myself, "This woman's message needs to get out there." So there I was, like the paparazzi, taking photos and tweeting. Not that Tammie isn't already well known in many education circles, but I wanted to do my part!

image from

The policy involvment has allowed Tammie's innovative classroom work to become systemic. Tammie has worked on state assessment committees and on designing frameworks for Career and Technical Education. She helped write the state science test. Because she knows what students are expected to do, she's not ignoring the state science standards or the Next Generation Science Standards. She's not letting all of that go. She's just helping to shape policy and then use it in a way that helps herself and other teachers be innovative in their classrooms.

Tammie has spent time talking to policy makers at all levels. Having a teacher involved in these areas allows education policy to encourage innovation as opposed to stifling it. Want innovation in the classroom? Get teachers involved in policy.

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Games, Life in the Classroom, Literacy, Social Issues | March 3, 2014

HB 2800


boxesBy Mark

I strongly believe that civil consideration of all sides of an issue are important for a literate society.

So let's take the Inslee/Dorn joint venture, House Bill 2800, which adds to RCW 28A.405.100 at section 2(f) a passage that begins on line 31 of page 3:

"Beginning with the 2017-18 school year, when relevant to the teacher and subject matter, student growth data elements must include results from federally mandated statewide student assessments."

This language is also inserted elsewhere in the document where it is relevant to define student growth.

Based on what I am reading, I hesitate to boil this issue down to a simple pro v. con. This issue, as are most, is more complicated that our society's convenient dualistic reduction.

Tom | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education Policy | February 28, 2014

Inslee Fought The Law and The Law Won


DownloadBy Tom

I was at a staff meeting once in which a colleague made a presentation. She wanted us to take on some new initiative. I can’t remember what it was, since we voted not to do it. She came to me afterwards and asked what she did wrong. “You didn’t do anything wrong,” I said. “You were clear and articulate. You explained what the program was about and told us why it was a good idea. Then we thought about it and decided not to do it. That happens sometimes.”

I tell this dull story because it sounds like what happened in Washington D.C. last weekend. Governor Inslee went out there and explained to Education Secretary Arne Duncan why our teacher evaluation system should be good enough to obtain the NCLB waiver, even though it clearly doesn’t require the use of state tests like the feds want. Governor Inslee, I’m sure, was every bit as clear and articulate as my colleague, yet in the end Duncan said no.

That happens sometimes.

So now what? So now Inslee is going to help the legislature pass a bill that will change TPEP in a way that the feds like. And then we’ll get our waiver, which will allow the state more freedom to spend $40 or so million dollars. And we also won’t have to send home letters to our parents telling them that our schools are bad.

And as for us? The teachers in the classroom? We get to use state tests to measure student growth. Of course by “we” I mean the 16% of us who actually teach in state tested grades and subjects. Everyone else gets to use meaningful assessments that reflect what they actually teach every day.

Personally, I’m trying really hard to get upset about this. Really hard. But all I can muster is a sense of disappointed resignation. Sure, our new evaluation system is damaged, but the damage is only to those of us who teach state-tested students, and since the student growth part of our evaluations are supposed to use “multiple measures,” state assessments will only matter to a slight degree to a small number of teachers. And there’s yet another caveat: we’re switching to a new student assessment system. This year is the field test. Next year is the first year; the year we gather base-line data. The year after that is the first year in which we could actually misuse the assessment for teacher evaluations, and since CCSS promises to be the essence of professional development for the foreseeable future, there’s every reason to expect student test scores to rise, at least in the short-term.

While I would like to see a way around using student test scores for teacher evaluation, what I would love to see is a reasonable, rational US Congress completely rewrite ESEA, better known as NCLB. Remember, all the nonsense we’re going through right now is an effort to secure a waiver from the onerous sanctions of that ridiculous law. ESEA, as it was originally conceived decades ago, was designed to provide support for our country’s high-needs students. If Congress could set aside their bickering long enough to write a law that actually did that, we wouldn’t have to worry about all this crap.

Dream on, Tom.

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Games, Social Issues | February 27, 2014

Inslee and Dorn: "Can," "Must," and "Will Not."


George is watchingBy Mark

I'm not sure I understand. 

Did Jay Inslee travel to Washington, D.C., solely to tell Arne Duncan that our Washington will do whatever the USDE wants? And this was initially heralded as "progress"?

The Governor's office has issued this press release, which is thin on details and basically says a bill will be proposed soon by Dorn and Inslee that will include requirements for statewide assessments in 2017-18 (which I thought was already the works) and a recommendation from the TPEP steering committee (about what, it is unclear) by 2016-17. The media seems to interpret this is as a victory for "must" over "can" which, as I've already pointed out, does NOTHING to actually make our teacher evaluation system better for kids, nor does it make teachers more accountable."Must" over "can" only means we have to budget to spend more money on standardized testing instead of more money on making student learning happen. My weak metaphor, considering my goals to get healthy this year: we're buying a very, very expensive scale (and an invalid and inaccurate one at that) instead of investing in healthier lifestyle.

As of my groggy pre-workout-and-coffee reading this morning, the Dorn-Inslee bill doesn't appear to have been released for me to examine the text. If the bill holds back on changing the law, and the waiver is granted pending the TPEP steering committee recommendations in 2016-17 (a.k.a. kicking the can down the road), then I suppose I'm satisfied--I just hope the steering committee has the guts to do and say what Inslee apparently didn't. If the bill proposes the same word change as the bills that already died in the legislature, then the fight picks up again. But seriously, everyone: Stop playing games and give us the waiver. We're doing the right thing. 

With renewed focus on "can" and "must," I guess I'll repeat: Our teacher evaluation system may not be perfect (though I think the strengths far outweigh the weaknesses), but including a "must" around test scores will not hold more teachers accountable, will not impact student learning, and will not improve the profession.

Tom | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Professional Development | February 23, 2014

NEA President is Concerned about Common Core Implementation


070309 Petco 2By Tom

As you may have heard, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel had some sharp words to say about the rollout of the CCSS. He called the implementation “completely botched.” His assessment is apparently based on feedback he’s received from NEA members over the past year. There’s no way to interpret this as anything other than a major blow to proponents of the Common Core. The NEA – our nation’s biggest teacher organization – has been one of the strongest supporters of nation-wide standards and has consistently pledged to use classroom teachers as “ambassadors” to spread support for CCSS.

I certainly can’t speak for all NEA members, but I can speak for myself. When I first started teaching, thirty years ago, standards were effectively hidden; curriculum companies seemed to know what students should know and be able to do at each grade level and they used that information to write and publish textbooks. Teachers were simply consumers; we used what they wrote and didn’t ask too many questions.

There was an attempt in the early 90s to create a common national set of standards, but it was defeated by conservatives who argued for local control over education. Each state subsequently began to write and implement its own educational standards.

Then came 2001. With NCLB, our lawmakers decided that every school had to get every kid “up to standard” within twelve years, something not even Finland could ever achieve. Making it even more ridiculous was the fact that by that time every state had its own standards and assessments. Actually, some states didn’t even have standardized assessments.  

As the sanctions required by NCLB began to loom large, Obama became president. He decided to use the threat of those sanctions as leverage for his own reform agenda, which included the Common Core. Not surprisingly, 45 states and DC signed on, partly because they liked the standards, but partly because they wanted a waiver from NCLB sanctions.

As a teacher, I embrace the standards from an instructional perspective. The standards themselves make sense; they’re narrower and deeper and for the most part seem developmentally appropriate, at least from my perspective. But what really appeals to me is the fact that they’re (mostly) national standards. Not only will curriculum publishers have more consistent targets, but it opens the door for collaborating at a scale never imagined before.  

But with the standards came the assessments. When I first started scrolling through the fourth grade SBAC language arts assessment, I remember thinking, “Wow, this will be challenging for my students. But I’m sure there will be support and with that support I’ll be able to get my kids to achieve something remarkable.” And in my state and my district, that support has started to materialize. We’re focusing on CCSS-related instruction in district professional development time, and I hooked up with an awesome training in an instructional model called Literacy Design Collaborative.

But there’s a problem. The implementation of Common Core and its attendant assessments are unfortunately occurring while teacher evaluation is undergoing a major shift. Teachers are, for the first time, being assessed in part on the basis of student growth; student growth which is – or soon will be – measured by brand-new assessments based on a brand-new set of standards.

Teachers are, quite predictably, freaking out over all this. It’s one thing to change the standards and the tests used to measure those standards. It’s another thing altogether to use those tests for teacher evaluations before teachers have a chance to fully delve into those standards and understand what the assessments are actually demanding from our students.

That’s exactly why Dennis Van Roekel is calling for a “course correction.” It’s a simple request to slow things down to a manageable pace. Let us get to know the standards. Let us understand the tests. And then, down the road, maybe we can use those tests as part of teacher evaluation. Or maybe not. But to press on both fronts right now is counter-productive. The only way to ever successfully implement the Common Core is to get teacher buy-in.

And the only way to insure that the Common Core is not successfully implemented is to alienate those same teachers. And that seems to be what’s happening. 

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Social Issues | February 21, 2014

Inslee and Arne: If I Wrote the Governor's Talking Points


500px-Seal_of_Washington.svgBy Mark

Now that fear-inspired changes to teacher evaluation law (to include "must include state tests" rather than "can include state tests" under the ominous threat of losing our NCLB waiver) are effectively "dead" in our state legislature, Governor Inslee will be meeting with Arne Duncan in D.C. this Monday, February 24th, to seek some sort of agreement that keeps the two Washingtons copacetic.

Regarding our teacher evaluation law, this is what I hope Governor Inslee communicates to Secretary Duncan:

1. Our current teacher evaluation law, though it does not require state test scores, does something better: as written it holds every single teacher in the state of Washington accountable for demonstrating student growth. State test scores, at the very best, could "hold accountable" roughly 16% of teachers. The current law sets a higher bar.

2. Our current teacher evaluation law recognizes the reality of the learning process, and thus requires that teachers do not simply demonstrate student achievement, but instead must demonstrate a change in student achievement between two points in time; change that must be based on multiple measures (RCW 28a.405.100:2f). The current law demands more from our teachers.

3. Our current teacher evaluation law includes language that requires that student growth data not simply be used for data's sake--student achievement data must be "relevant to the teacher and subject matter" which helps ensure that data used to evaluate teachers is actually reflective of that teacher's impact on student learning; this is unlike other states where, say, the PE teacher's evaluation is based on the building's state reading test scores. Washington's current law holds teachers accountable for what they are actually charged to teach.

The simple conclusion: We deserve the waiver.

Tom | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Elementary | February 18, 2014

Randy Dorn Favors Using Achievement Tests on Teacher Evaluations


20110830-203622-pic-719702789By Tom

In a recent guest editorial in the Seattle Times, Washington State School Superintendent Randy Dorn spoke in favor of using student achievement tests on teacher evaluations. Basically his rationale boils down to two reasons:

1. The state’s NCLB waiver is at risk. The Department of Education granted us a waiver from the onerous requirements of NCLB, but takes a dim view of our teacher evaluation system’s provision that student test scores can be used for evaluative purposes, instead of mandating that they must.

2. Using student test scores will make teacher evaluations more consistent, since these are tests all students must take, as opposed to district-based tests, which vary from district to district.

Let me respond to his second reason first, since it’s the weakest. As we’ve reported time and again on this blog, a main argument against using student test scores is that they aren’t consistent. The fact is, only a small minority of teachers teach in “tested” grades or subjects. Consider my school, which has 34 certificated employees. These include four music teachers, one PE teacher, one librarian, six special education teachers and one counselor. We also have three kindergarten teachers, four first grade teachers, three second grade teachers, and three third grade teachers.

None of these people teach grades or subjects for which state achievement tests could be used for their evaluations.

We also have three fourth grade teachers, three fifth grade teachers and two sixth grade teachers. That’s only eight teachers. Eight out of 34 teachers – less than 24% – for whom state tests could be used. The rest of our faculty would have to use district or classroom based tests. Yet Mr. Dorn argues that using state tests would be more consistent? How?

On the other hand, his other argument – the risk of losing the waiver – does make sense. I have to assume that Randy Dorn, Governor Inslee, or both of them have asked Washington’s congressional delegation to press Department of Education officials about the true risk to Washington’s waiver. And the fact that Mr. Dorn is still arguing in favor of capitulating to the DOE’s demands means he doesn’t think they’re bluffing. Either that or he just doesn’t want to take the chance that they aren’t.

And that’s where he and I agree. Like Dorn, I’m not willing to gamble that much money ($38 million) for the sake of fairer evaluations for teachers like me. Put another way, I’m willing to use state achievement tests instead of more meaningful district or classroom based tests as part of my evaluation if it means ensuring our NCLB waiver.

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom | February 15, 2014

Squeezing the Joy out of Teaching


Red_geranium_largeBy Mark

Common Core State Standards, TPEP, data-collection, student growth. These have all been the culprit in many conversations with teachers wherein they, with understandable sadness, talk of how all of these new initiatives and expectations are squeezing the creativity and joy out of teaching. I empathize with where these teachers are; I even wrote here a while back about the sense of mourning I felt as I began to align my course content to the Common Core.

When I was in the ninth grade, we found out that my mother had breast cancer. As a family before and even during this, we experienced little strife--I had it quite good on our little farm in the middle of a blank spot on the map of Oregon--but we were not particularly emotional, super touchy-huggy, or all that. (When we were first together, my wife, lovingly, equated my family's mealtimes to a board meeting.) After the cancer diagnosis, I'm sure the experience for my mother and father was very different, but I remember only the simple resolve with which my parents approached her cancer as a task to be taken care of--it is what it is and now we need to do something about it. Surgery and a slew of pills took care of the first round of cancer. It returned again a couple of years later, and surgery again was, thankfully, enough. My mother has been cancer-free since.

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Social Issues | February 13, 2014

The Simple Solution: TIME.


File52fd6410c3384By Mark

My six-year old son sometimes gets frustrated that there are certain privileges I enjoy as a grown-up that he cannot due to his age and size. Recently, as we built his car for his school's pinecar derby, he just didn't want to accept that we was neither allowed to use the radial arm saw nor the set of carving chisels I have in the garage. I tried to explain to him how hard it is to reattach fingers, but he wasn't having it.

"When do I get to?"

"Not yet," I explained, as I handed him a rasp and some sandpaper and readied the plastic miter box and back saw he could use to angle the nose of his car. Time, practice, growth... that's all he needs. He's a hands-on boy and I have no doubt his skills can soon surpass mine tinkering with scraps of wood in the garage.

I mentioned in comments earlier on this blog that I recently had the opportunity to host two legislators in my classroom. The discussions were wonderful, and one exchange in particular stands out: when asked how long policymakers should expect for changes in education to show real fruit, I replied "twelve years." For change to take root, it takes time. Our state education system includes something like 295 individual school districts, 60,000 teachers, and around a million students. You cannot expect to see the "change" as the result of policy changes even within the term of a single elected official. My guests admitted that they had never really thought about an implementation timeline like that.

Just like my son working his way from a rasp, sandpaper, and plastic miter box up to carving chisels and power saws, seeing the desired outcome will take time. If I rush my son into it... I give him a crash course in powertool safety and toss him a pile of wood... the likelihood that he will fail (in limb-threatening ways) is incredibly high. What we need time for if we are going to do it right:

Tom | Assessment, Education, Education Policy, Elementary | January 13, 2014

At least there's one school that won't be wasting time on test-prep this year


Wasting-timeBy Tom

In years past, February marks the beginning of “Test-Prep Season” in my classroom. It isn’t all we do, of course, but I try to weave activities and practice assessments into my plans, gradually increasing the intensity throughout the late winter and early spring until mid-April, when it’s basically an all-out siege.

But not this year.

This year I’m not doing of that. This year I’m teaching, and my students are learning, all year long; including the second half of April.

And here’s why: this year our school board decided that each school in our district (Edmonds) could decide how they wanted to transition from the MSP to the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Option one was to take both. Option two was to take only the MSP. Option three was to field test the SBA and not take the MSP. We chose option three, in the most lopsided vote we’ve ever had, even though the results of the SBA would not be released.

I voted with the majority on this one; in fact I was a leading voice in the discussion that preceded the vote. Option one, taking both tests, seemed ridiculous. Our faculty is trying to become familiar with the CCSS, and that takes time. Getting the students ramped up for another round of MSPs also takes time, and time is the scarcest resource we have. It also takes time for students to become familiar with the new standards, which is what they’re doing this year. Taking two tests on two different sets of standards seemed like a bad idea.

Option two, taking only the MSP, was another non-starter. In order for our students and staff to get a handle on the new standards, it seemed imperative that we get a chance to see the new assessment this year. Besides that, the new tests are all on-line, and piloting the tests will give us a chance to see if our technology can handle the demand. Furthermore, we wanted to have our students’ scores become part of the pilot pool. We have a relatively high-need population; when it comes time to set the benchmarks, it’s good to have a broad student base.

But the most important reason for me was the simplest one. I love to teach and I love to watch my students learn. Test-prep is not teaching and taking practice tests is not really learning. And when you’re in a classroom and you’re not teaching or you’re not learning, you’re wasting your time.

I hate wasting time.

Maren Johnson | Assessment, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Science | January 11, 2014

Speed Dating and Student Work: Half Days and a Senate Bill


Stopwatchby Maren Johnson

We sat down at a table in the science classroom at 2:30, just 10 minutes after the bell rang at the end of the school day.  We were ready to go: three teachers looking at student work.  Oh wait, there’s a student at the door who needs an assignment—one of us went to help him, the rest continued on.  What were we up to?  We were trying to collaborate, and we only had twenty minutes.  One of our members had volunteered to facilitate, and we even had an informal agenda: 5 minutes—introduce the lesson and provide background.  10 minutes—follow a simplified high-medium-low protocol for finding characteristics of the student work.  5 minutes—debrief.  

Partway through the high-medium-low protocol, a recently graduated student appeared at the door with a big grin, coming back to our high school to say hello.  We were happy to see him (he was a very jolly student)—we wished him well and sent him on to visit the math teacher.  Then we continued looking at the student work!  2:50 rolled around—we got up and left the room.  None of us usually leave the school at 2:50, the end of the contracted day, but on that day, I had another appointment, and needed to go, meaning that our collaboration time truly was limited to twenty minutes.  Twenty minutes is the length of time collaboration would have to be if it were to fit within the normal school day, with no early release, late start, or other modified schedule.

Maren Johnson | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy | December 27, 2013

Student Growth Percentiles and Teacher Evaluation: More Questions than Answers


by Maren Johnson 

Just this month, OSPI released a new kind of data: Student Growth Percentiles (SGP).  What are student growth percentiles?  In short, SGPs describe a student’s growth in state test scores as compared to other students with similar prior test scores.  Here’s a five minute video:


You can find Student Growth Percentiles for your specific school or district here: 

What are student growth percentiles for?  Teacher evaluation is one potential use, and will be an issue in the upcoming legislative session.  Washington state recently received a high risk warning from the federal government regarding teacher evaluation.  The issue?  Whether state test scores “can” or “must” be used in teacher evaluation—the U.S. Department of Education is saying that state test scores must be used in order for Washington state to continue to receive a NCLB waiver.  We’ve written extensively about this waiver on our blog—see posts from Mark, Kristin, Tom, and myself.

One issue with including state test scores in teacher evaluations?  Very few teachers in Washington state even teach classes associated with a state test!  The number of teachers with state test data has been estimated at 16% at the most by OSPI—see the chart. Student growth measures

How do you evaluate teachers with state tests when these teachers don’t even teach courses that are tested?  In Tennessee, teachers without test scores were able to choose a test for their evaluation, leading to some unusual conversations, “The P. E. teacher got information that the writing score was the best to pick,” said the art teacher. “He informed the home ec teacher, who passed it on to me, and I told the career development teacher. It’s a bit like Vegas, and if you pick the wrong academic subject, you lose and get a bad evaluation.”   In Florida, teachers have been evaluated using school wide test averages, meaning that some teachers are evaluated based on test scores from students they have never taught.  North Carolina attempted to test students of all teachers in all subject areas with 52 different standardized tests.  All these approaches have proved problematic.

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Literacy, Professional Development, Social Issues | December 19, 2013

Common Core: Irony, Commerce and the Clock


File52a4a9f585e15By Mark

For English Language Arts 9-10, Common Core standard #8 for Informational Text is this:

Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.

I thought of this when I read a rant recently about how Common Core required education about safe sex rather than abstinence. This was the same week I read two different assertions: one claiming that Common Core specifically outlawed the teaching of cursive, the other claiming that cursive was now required. A few weeks ago I was lectured by a parent about how Common Core was forcing kids to just memorize a list of facts and spit them back on a test. My school year this year started with a colleague upset at the required reading list identified by the Common Core State Standards for high school English.

A seven-second Google search enabled me to "evaluate the argument and specific claims... assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient" and "identify false statements." 

1. Common Core does not address issues of sex education...

2. Common Core does not address handwriting or cursive in the standards...

CSTP--Staff | Assessment, Education, Education Policy, Elementary, Life in the Classroom, Literacy, Social Issues | December 11, 2013

Teacher of the Year is Dyslexic


Jeff Dunn 1

Our guest blogger, Jeffrey Dunn is 2014 Regional Teacher of the year from ESD 101. Jeffrey is an educator, cultural critic, & backwoods modernist currently teaching in Deer Park, Washington. He invites others to read bell hooks, Paulo Freire, and Richard Brautigan.


Try and imagine the impact this fact has on my students. No longer am I a model of all that is correct. No longer am I the authority on all that is academic. In this case, I am learning disabled as defined in Washington State law (WAC 392-172A-03055). This law reads that learning disabilities may include “conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.” In short, I am not the model of perfection students are led to believe all we teachers are.  

Researchers from the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity's Sally Shaywitz (Overcoming Dyslexia) and the College de France and  Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale'sStanislas Dehaene (Reading in the Brain) estimate that between 10-20% (call it the midpoint, 15%) of all human populations are dyslexic (variation  is a result of definition and assessment practice). Think of it, in any class of 25, we should expect 4 of our students to be dyslexic. My thirty-six years of teaching experience has proven this statistic to be true.

Tom | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Elementary | December 8, 2013

Let's Build a Waiver Loophole


LoopholeBy Tom

Twelve years ago, George Bush signed “No Child Left Behind” into law. Among other things, the law requires that by the end of this school year every student in America has to meet standard. That level of success will never happen, of course, not even in Finland, but no one has bothered to change that part of the law. Instead, the Obama Administration has used that law as leverage to advance their own educational agenda, which includes expanded school choice, adoption of the Common Core State Standards and tougher teacher evaluation laws. They’ve done this by granting waivers from the law's punitive aspects to states that adopt certain policies.

Washington State received one of those waivers, along with 31 other states. And for the most part, we’ve toed the line. We now allow charter schools, we’re transitioning to the CCSS, and we have a brand-new Teacher and Principal Evaluation Project. (TPEP)

But there’s a problem. As written, TPEP allows state assessment scores to be used for teacher evaluation. The feds want TPEP to require that they be used. The feds have recently notified our state, warning us that we risk losing our waiver unless TPEP is changed so that it mandates the use of state assessment data. 

As a teacher, I can see no possible way in which state test scores can be used as a valid basis for my evaluation. I teach fourth grade; my students took a state test last year and they’ll take another one this year. But it’s not the same test. Last year they took a third grade test and this year they’ll take a fourth grade test. The smart kids in my class passed their test last year and they’ll probably pass their test this year. The kids who are struggling this year didn’t pass their test last year and they’ll have a tough time passing this year’s test.

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Literacy | December 7, 2013

More on Coverage vs. Learning: Student Growth


220px-Johann_Heinrich_Füssli_054By Mark

Last month I shared my thoughts about how "coverage pressure" nearly led me to move on before my students were ready. My decision to slow down and focus on my students' skills rather than simply plow forward resulted in far better student performance both on that essay as well as the next essay they are currently writing for me. I have had several students voluntarily tell me that they understand what to do far better now because we slowed down and spent more time digging deeper.

The new evaluation law requires that all teachers be able to demonstrate how their planning and implementation results in student growth toward an important content standard or goal. As I wrote that piece linked above, a minor epiphany occurred to me: coverage of content and student growth are not the same thing.

Maren Johnson | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy | December 3, 2013

Using Teacher Evaluations for Human Resource Decisions: Unintended Consequences?

image from

by Maren Johnson

Earlier this year, Washington state received a high risk warning from the federal government regarding its teacher evaluation system. One issue: whether state test results can be used in teacher evaluation, or whether they must be used. Randy Dorn has requested that the state legislature address this issue in the upcoming session.

The high risk warning letter concerns one of the "inputs" of teacher evaluation--the potential use of state tests. Yesterday, OSPI issued a report concerning one of the "outputs" of our evaluation system--human resource decisions. The report, "Using Teacher and Principal Evaluations to Inform Human Resource Decisions," was put together by OSPI and the education research organization American Institute for Research (AIR). They surveyed and conducted forums with Washington stake holders and looked at national trends. It includes interesting data about teacher and administrator views--see the graph up to the left.

Clearly, evaluation results can already be used in human resource decisions such as non-renewal. Recent changes to the law mean that by 2015-2016, evaluation results will also be included in human resource decisions such as layoffs, RIFs, transfers, and moving from provisional to continuing contract status. Some districts are using evaluation results for decisions on leadership opportunities and professional development. This affects a lot of people--we need to have a good system here. 

An interesting section of the report talks about some of the unintended consequences of using evaluations in human resource decisions. A few quotes:

"Teachers expressed a desire to use their focused evaluations as an opportunity to try new strategies that might not result in a Proficient rating. Some teachers would be deterred from trying new approaches if employment decisions would be based on those results."

"By using teacher evaluation data in HR decisions, particularly employment decisions, participants worried that teachers would begin to compete with each other rather than cooperate to improve student learning."

One striking trend that emerged in the report was time.  This is the first year that ALL school districts in the state of Washington are using TPEP evaluation.  Educators wanted time to ensure that both evaluators and those being evaluated received appropriate training, and also wanted time to test out the new system itself.

The report states (p. 13) that in the upcoming legislative session, OSPI is pursuing a change to current state law that would delay the use of evaluations in human resource decisions until the 2016-17 school year. A delay like this is a good idea: let's try our new system out before increasing the high stakes consequences attached to it! We need to get this right.


Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy | November 18, 2013

Student Growth and State Testing: "Can" versus "Must"


120px-Canofworms1By Mark

The current law regarding teacher evaluation states that all teachers must demonstrate impact on student growth as part of their evaluation. Growth (in RCW 28A.405.100 2f) is defined as the change in student achievement between two points in time, and presently states that assessment data for determining growth can be drawn from classroom, school, district, or state based tools.

This terminology did not sit well with the USDE, who labeled Washington's NCLB waiver status to "conditional" last August. Last week (November 12, 2013), OSPI issued a press release that included the following (bold emphasis mine):

Dorn’s second major request involves a change in state law. Paragraph 2(f) of Revised Code of Washington 28A.405.100 states, in part:

“Student growth data … must be based on multiple measures that can include classroom-based, school-based, district-based, and state-based tools.”

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction secured a waiver from some requirements of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act in August. But the Department of Education termed the waiver “conditional” because it objected to the word “can” in 28A.405.100.

“When the Legislature was debating this back in 2010, I said the language didn’t go far enough,” Dorn said. “The Department of Education wants state-based tests to be a required measure, not a voluntary one. I’m introducing legislation that will basically replace the word ‘can’ with ‘must.’ Test scores should not be the sole measure used to evaluate teachers, but they must be one of the tools we use in our new accountability system.”

This is not a simple syntactical switch. 

What complications do you foresee from a "can" to "must" switcheroo? Or is it the right path to take?

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Education, Life in the Classroom, Literacy | November 10, 2013

What They Learn vs. What I Cover


File527fbcb709896By Mark

I had big plans for this three day weekend. 

Like many of my colleagues, when I look at the calendar and see three or four day weekends (or five-day, in the case of Thanksgiving), I don't think necessarily about all the relaxation I can achieve. Instead, I wonder if I could get a few class sets of essays turned around in that extended weekend. Those big writing assignments take time to provide useful feedback upon. For me, that means 15 or 20 minutes per paper to provide critical, focused feedback for improvement.

My kids submit their writing via Google Drive, so I can add margin comments (and cut-and-paste the comments I find myself adding frequently). When I reviewed their papers Friday after school, I knew I had screwed up.

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Mentoring, Teacher Leadership | September 23, 2013

Finally: Growing our Newest Teachers and Leaders


File523f26e8d88c7By Mark

I had an amazing mentor my first year of teaching. Fresh out of my M.A.T. program and almost three hundred miles away from my small-town home, she was exactly what I needed. 

A great start makes all the difference.

Any investment we can make in a great beginning is a worthy investment, whether for our pre-K kids, our own new students in September, or for those teachers just starting their careers. Of course, resources are sometimes the stumbling block. However, the Beginning Educator Support Program is a way to provide opportunities for early-service teachers. Grant applications are due October 4th... so get those ducks and row them up. Here is the text of a recent email from CSTP about this work:

Districts or consortia of districts may apply now for grants from the Beginning Educator Support (BEST) Program, administered by OSPI and funded by the legislature. BEST provides competitive grants for districts to create comprehensive support for early-career teachers. Specifically, BEST grants provide $2500 per first year teacher, $2000 per second year teacher and $500 for other provisional-status teachers who change assignments. Districts agree to provide a paid orientation for new teachers, well-trained mentors, professional learning for both new teachers and mentors, and release time for mentors and mentees to observe others. 

Applications are due to OSPI by 5 pm on Monday, Oct. 4. You can find the application and more information about BEST here -

To read the State's Induction Standards go to CSTP's website -


As exciting is the recent news that the state of Washington has been selected to part of a $15 million, three-year grant program from the U.S. Department of Education via the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and which will be collaboratively administered by the powerful trifecta of WEA, OSPI and CSTP in the coming school years. These grants are in part aimed at cultivating teacher capacity as instructional leaders. The name of the program, SEED (which stands for Supporting Effective Educator Development), says it all.

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | September 20, 2013

Growth, Part Three: Growing Others


File5234868add499By Mark

One drum I beat constantly is that if we want education reform to work, teachers must be the ones empowered to not only implement the change, but to be the ones who design it.

I often hear about "layers of bureaucracy and waste" in school districts. The comments under the news website articles about education tout the inefficiency and top-heaviness of school systems. That is perhaps the case in some places. Over the last few decades, instructional coaching has been in fashion as a layer somewhere in limbo between classroom teacher and building administrator. In tight budgets, these positions are often the first to go, since their impact on students is not always so obvious and traceable.

To some, coaching or being a TOSA (like I am for .4 of my day) is a stepping stone out of the classroom into administration. That's fine, but I believe that for most of us in that role, it isn't a means to some personal ladder-climbing end. For me, having no aspirations to be in administrative leadership, coaching or TOSA-ing is about supporting classroom instruction.

Logic and research both prove that of all the factors within the control of a school, the one with the greatest impact on student learning is teacher pedagogical skill. If this is the case, the potential power of teacher-leaders in coaching or TOSA roles cannot be understated. With so many demands on building administrators for everything from student discipline to recess duty to teacher evaluation, it is very easy for the difficult and time-consuming work of improving instruction to get unintentional short shrift. In too many cases, efforts to improve instruction manifest as hastily assembled sit-and-get powerpoint assaults or the spending of inordinate amounts of money to fly in some expert to talk at teachers for a day or two about decontextualized theory and the next new curriculum to buy. Missing are the intense and reflective one-on-one probing conversations that demand not only time but strong relationships that likewise require time to develop.

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Books, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development | September 17, 2013

Growth, Part Two: Open to Learning


By Mark

About a year ago I was sitting in a training, titled "Common Assessments, blah, blah, blah" (I can't remember the title).

But it was in that session that I remember, for probably the first time if not in my career then in a long time, actually learning something I thought I could use. Hence, this facebook status update:

Esd training

I had just finished my tenth year of teaching, and was about to embark on my eleventh and begin referring to myself as "mid-career."

In reflection, it obviously wasn't that I had never been exposed to quality professional development. (Well, maybe...) The change, though, happened in my head. Suddenly, I was at a point in my career where I was mentally ready to learn. Seeing a new strategy was no longer a threat meaning that "the way I teach is wrong." Rather than feel obligated to accept and apply everything the trainer offered, I realized that even walking away with the tiniest applicable nugget was a success.

It was really at that moment that I finally began to grow as a teacher. It started by simply becoming open to learning that challenged me, rather than only being open to learning that already fit into my current view of myself and my practice.

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Professional Development | September 14, 2013

Growth, Part One


File523486ab2d024By Mark

If you say the word too many times, it starts to sound funny (like if you say "moist" or "pancake" too many times and they start to sound strange...maybe that's just me). It seems like every sentence in my professional life includes that word "growth" in one context or another. Student growth scores, Professional Growth Planning, proficiency growth scales...

I like it. It does something more than grades or labels once did: talking grades and labels felt so static and permanent, talking growth is talking movement. Where I used to talk to kids about "bringing a grade up" (in other words, struggling to move something beyond themselves) now I find myself talking to students about developing their skills and growing toward proficiency. There is a real difference. 

I attribute this directly to my professional and personal learning about the new teacher evaluation system. 

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | August 21, 2013

Test Scores and Teacher Evaluation: Now What?


File521431c138930There are few things worse than being fired up and not knowing what to do next.

That is where I find myself with the recent discussion about student growth, teacher evaluation, and the federal government. (Chances are you've already read a little about this from me, Tom, Maren and Kristin.)

But here's where I get stuck. It is easy for me to sit here at my desktop and engage in discourse with my peers about how misguided is the federal position on using one-shot test scores to evaluate teachers. In discussion here, on facebook, on other blogs, and even in old-fashioned face-to-face conversation, I've discovered that there are a lot of very intelligent people talking about this issue. (CSTP even noted that the traffic on this blog has spiked by a couple thousand pageviews in the last few days alone.)

For other issues, I've known to whom to go: my local leadership, state legislators, and so on. With this one, though, I truly don't know what to do next. Conversation needs to continue, for sure. At some point it needs to translate to action, or else this is all just a bunch of cached webpages.

Brainstorm with me, if you will: What can you and I do next? Who do we talk to? Is there hope? And what do we do once we've ignored the people who answer "no" to that last question?

If nothing else, let's keep the conversation going--and invite others to join in.

Maren Johnson | Assessment, Education Policy | August 17, 2013

Washington State Teacher Evaluation: At High Risk?


by Maren Johnson

So educators don't get the summer off. Yes, it can be a time of rest and relaxation, but it's also a time for preparation, training, and study. This summer, in particular, educators around our state have been getting ready to implement our new teacher evaluation system, with framework instruction, calibration trainings, and local bargaining.

After all this, what sort of news do we get, now, at the end of the summer? Well, we're at risk. The Department of Education sent our state a warning letter saying that our state teacher evaluation system does not comply with the waiver requirements for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA or No Child Left Behind)--our state has been placed on "high-risk" status.

So what's the problem? Well, the U.S. Department of Education is not satisfied with the way Washington state law ties teacher evaluation to state tests. Current state law (5895) reads as follows: “Student growth data…must be based on multiple measures that can include classroom-based, school-based, district-based, and state-based tools.”

The issue? The word "can" as it relates to the state-based tools. Instead of "can include" state tests, this warning letter is looking for something more along the lines of "must include" state tests.

How could our state address this?

If state tests were required for evaluation, one possibility is that we could end up with two separate teacher evaluation systems in Washington state, one system for teachers with state tests, one system for teachers without them. I teach tenth grade biology. I don't know how student growth could be measured by the Biology End of Course Exam, since it is only given once at the end of the year, but if it were, that could mean that my teacher evaluation score would depend on state tests while the history teacher's evaluation, just next door, would not, as there is no state test in history. The possibility exists that a value added measure could be attached to end of course exams through a multivariate model—this is a controversial idea.

Another alternative? Evaluate teachers in teams. What's this all about? Here's the language from the high-risk warning letter:

"Since under Washington state law student growth data elements may include the teacher's performance as a member of a grade level, subject matter, or other instructional team within a school, along with the amended request, Washington must provide business rules defining these teams of teachers and explaining how student growth is calculated for a team. Washington must also provide data to demonstrate that Washington's use of shared attribution of student growth does not mask high or low performance of educators."

Again, our state assessment system just won't work for this. Should the physical science teachers in my school be evaluated based on my biology students' test scores? What about the PE and band teachers? Should they be evaluated based on overall school or grade level student scores on state tests? This has actually happened in other states, and it makes little sense!

Requiring teacher evaluation to be tied to student sores on state tests is not a system that will work well in Washington state (or probably any state for that matter!). Our state student assessment system just doesn't fit with our state teacher evaluation program, nor should it. Forcing an alignment between the two will neither improve state education nor result in an increase in student learning.


Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom | August 16, 2013

Ignore the Feds on Student Growth


File520e39cc23477By Mark

So, we got a warning.

The Feds have sent a letter to the state of Washington indicating that we aren't quite doing what they want when it comes to teacher and principal evaluation. Aside from our crazy approach of taking time to learn, train teachers and administrators, and implement the system thoughtfully rather than quickly, one sticking point appears to be that we are a little too willing to differentiate when it comes to how student data is used to evaluate teachers.

In my opinion, we're right, they're wrong. As it stands, the state law...

  1. Does not require districts to use state test scores in teacher evaluation; this option is a district choice. (In most districts, only about 12-15% of teachers actually teach tested grade levels and content... oh, also see #2 and #3 below that clarify the limits of state assessments.)
  2. Emphasizes evaluating the teacher's professional ability to choose the right assessment sequence to determine student growth, and then set meaningful growth goals for classes and subsets of students based on student needs, entry skills, as well as appropriate content standards. (This is actually weighted more heavily than whether "all the kids pass" the assessments.)
  3. Requires multiple points of data all aligned to the same learning or skill standard, rather than a single snapshot assessment. (Multiple points show a trajectory, whereas a single point captures a moment.)

Like too much policy, the further the "deciders" are away from the classroom, the more out-of-touch the policy is and the more focused it becomes on what is easiest to administer. Which is easier... looking a a once-a-year matrix of test data OR tracking each individual student using targeted skills assessments over the course of time? Duh.

But the right question is which is better?

That, to me, is just as obvious.

Washington: we're doing the right thing. It may not be perfect, but it is better for kids, teachers, schools and communities than hinging everything on a single moment in time.

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Literacy, Mathematics, Social Issues | July 14, 2013

Are Schools Really Failing?


CompassesSome "discourse" about all the failing seniors in Washington State wants us to believe (using Washington as a proxy) that schools are continuing to fail.

This Reuters article seems to suggest they aren't, at least in terms of "closing the achievement gap." (Here is the link to the source data.) In the Reuters digestion, though, one key passage stood out:

The only scores to stagnate were the overall averages for 17-year-olds. While black and Hispanic students improved quite dramatically, the overall averages for the age group barely budged in either reading or math.

Peggy Carr, a federal education analyst, said the flat trendline among older students was actually good news.

More 17-year-olds with shaky academic records are staying in school rather than dropping out, which makes them eligible to take the NAEP exams, she said.

Even though some groups showed significant gains, the overall average was the same. My math knowledge tells me that if gains happened somewhere and the average stayed the same, some group's performance decreased. That decrease is being explained as a change in the survey sample--kids who otherwise would have dropped out are now part of the pool. Makes sense. That might figure in to the "high" number of "failing" seniors on Washington State math assessments. In that first article linked above, Randy Dorn even alludes to the fact that a priority in schools today is to keep kids from dropping out: keeping them in the system longer. This is a good thing, but does have an affect on our "data."

So, wait a minute. Where else might this matter?

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom | May 17, 2013

The Problem


AbaacusBy Mark

I've been having a bit of a problem lately in my classes. 

My students were tasked to create a visual metaphor of the allegory represented in George Orwell's Animal Farm, do research about the "factual" side of their allegorical connection, and assemble this all into an end product that showed their skills at a whole slew of the Common Core State Standards in ELA-Reading-Lit and ELA-Reading-Informational Texts, with each standard accompanied by a proficiency level scale that clearly defined what achievement of the standard would look like.

My problem is that too many of them are earning A's. Even the kids who aren't supposed to. 

Maren Johnson | Assessment, Education Policy, Science | March 6, 2013

Let’s Hijack that Spaceship: The Next Generation Science Standards


Mars Roverby Maren Johnson

The Next Generation Science Standards, like the Mars Rover or even some new and strange space ship hovering above a farmer’s cornfield, are about to land here in Washington and in many states across our country.  Our job as educators? Let’s hijack that spaceship. I mean that in a positive way: let’s grab those standards, make them our own, and use them to improve student learning and our science education system.

The final version of the standards will likely be released this month, and probably be adopted soon thereafter by our state.  Some changes from the earlier drafts many are hoping to see? Hopefully, some increased clarity in language and a reduction in the overall scope of the standards, avoiding the “mile-wide and inch-deep” problem.  As one reviewer said, “We're here to produce learners, not people who have been exposed to a lot of content."  Possible opposition to reduced scope in standards? One person mentioned the “Julie Andrews” curriculum problem: what does an individual want to include? “These are a few of my favorite things”—and it is not possible to include everyone’s favorite things.

Why do I say the Next Generation Science Standards resemble a new and strange spaceship?

Maren Johnson | Assessment, Life in the Classroom, Science | February 11, 2013

Double your fun with dual credit! Your Brain on Drugs

Photo Feb 9, 2013, 10:42 AM
by Maren Johnson


I'm excited about a new class I'm teaching next year. Yes, it's the honeymoon period--I haven't started teaching the class yet, so I'm still in the thinking, dreaming, imagining period--but hey, it's a good place to be--I'm going to enjoy it while I can.

The new class? It's a "college in the high school" biology class--a partnership between my high school and a state university to offer students dual credit. Students will be able to earn both high school and college credit while taking a class right here in their own school.

The class itself is fascinating. We are going to study the fundamentals of biology while looking through the lens of addiction, psychoactive drugs, and the human brain. We're going to do a series of cool labs, there's an online component, and even an interesting text. The biology of cells, organs, systems, and behavior--it's all there, we're just using a specific, high interest focus--the brain and addiction--to study it.

And why do I have time to think, dream, imagine about a new class? It's because I have a student teacher.

Maren Johnson | Assessment, Education Policy, Science | January 17, 2013

The Kids want to Learn about Ducks! Time to review the Next Generation Science Standards


Duckby Maren Johnson

You've never seen science standards like these before. There's a big change coming to science education in Washington state and in much of the rest of the country, and if you want to have a say in it, the time is now. The final public draft of the Next Generation Science Standards is now open for review and will close on January 29, so give those standards a glance! Read as much or as little of it as you want--all feedback welcome. With a strong integration of science and engineering practices with traditional science content, these new standards are challenging and thought provoking. Washington state is very likely to adopt these later this spring, possibly in March, so now's your chance to weigh in.

I've had a few different opportunities to discuss this draft of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS): once in a charming rural cafe with a group composed mainly of local science teachers; once in an urban conference room with science education professionals who were primarily not teachers; and on Twitter at #NGSS and #NGSSchat--check out those hashtags!

So what did people have to say about these standards which are radically different from what we have now in both form and content?

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Literacy, Professional Development | January 12, 2013

Reading, Thinking, the Media and the Truth


I teach 9th grade English so one of my Common Core State Standards reads like this: 

Informational Texts: Delineate and evaluate argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.

I usually focus most on this standard when examining logical fallacies portrayed in advertising as part of my propaganda unit during the teaching of Animal Farm. The kids quickly see the illogical and unsupported claims about toothpastes, beauty products, diet pills and any number of other too-good-to-be-true product pitches. When the validity of the reasoning only takes a moment of critical thought to deconstruct, they get good at it. When claims are presented that "seem" valid on first blush, though, the kids have a hard time decoding the nuance of falsehood behind the presumptive truth.

The route information takes nowadays is more like the game of telephone than ever before, with information being stripped, twisted and de-contextualized until it emerges at the end of the line as a statement whose meaning is a completely different message than the original referent. Thus, our challenge is not to help students spot the obviously fallacious reasoning, but to have their radar on for the subtle (and I believe, often intentionally manipulative) misinformation, misguidance, incompleteness, or writerly interpretation that portrays itself as truth and fact.

This was already in my mind when I read this seemingly innocuous passage in an article about teachers:

Maren Johnson | Assessment, Education Policy, Science | January 2, 2013

A New Proposal

Photo Dec 30, 2012, 9:54 PM

By Maren Johnson

A press release, an op-ed, and a television interview—what’s up with all the media on Washington state assessment? Our Superintendent of Public Instruction just released a new proposal: reduce the number of exit exams required for high school graduation from five to three. This proposal shows concern for mitigating some of the negative effects of large amounts of testing on the Class of 2015, sophomores I currently have as students. Specifically, the number of math exams would be reduced from two to one, and reading and writing would be combined into a single exam. In science, however, the proposal would still move forward with a brand new graduation requirement this year focusing on biology. This means that not only will our state’s sole high school science exam be in biology, but the emphasis on biology will also be increased by making that exam high stakes.

Randy Dorn cited some excellent reasons for the overall reduction in assessments, saying “too much classroom time is devoted to preparing for tests, taking tests and preparing to retake tests.” He also noted the high cost of Washington’s assessment system.

However, there is another factor besides cost and time that comes into play here: assessment drives instruction. When there is a single high stakes science assessment, and that assessment is in biology, then chemistry, physics, and earth science will be neglected. An alternate idea: we could keep administering our existing biology EOC, which would satisfy federal requirements, but delink the biology EOC from graduation. Eliminating the graduation requirement would relieve the current pressure on schools, which, in many cases, is distorting high school science education to emphasize biology. Delinking the biology exam from graduation would also save a considerable amount of money in remediation, retakes, and rescoring. Most expenditures in education hold out some promise of benefit: this expenditure is actually detrimental to science education in our state by marginalizing chemistry, physics, earth science, and STEM.

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, National Board Certification, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | December 9, 2012

The Time to Do the Right Work


Ship in a bottleAs a writing teacher, one of my greatest struggles involves getting kids to understand the writing process. Writing can be frustrating, arduous work. Understandably, then, when a kid puts the last period on the last sentence in the last paragraph, the impulse then is to put down the pen or click "print" and pass that piece on to the teacher.

As adults, we know that the last period is not the finish line, and that often the toughest work begins when the writing is "finished." The act of meaningful revision--the analysis of effectiveness, the cutting and splicing of sentences, the refining of vivid vocabulary--that formidable work often makes the first stages of writing seem simple. We know, though, that the difference between mediocre and exceptional comes with the time invested in revising, polishing, and refining. It is hard work. It is the right work to do, and it takes time. If that work is skimped upon or shirked, the end product will not have achieved its full potential.

When I had the opportunity to present to the Gates Foundation last week, the other presenters and I never met ahead of time to coordinate our message--yet the same point resonated loud and clear: the new evaluation system is the right work to do to improve teaching, schools, and student learning. 

And the corollary to that point: doing this work will take time.

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, National Board Certification, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | December 8, 2012

The Right Work


As some of you might have seen on Facebook, this past Thursday, December 6th, I had the privilege and opportunity to offer a short presentation and serve on a discussion panel for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Education Pathways meeting.

IMG_1558In the audience were names attached to some of most important and influential groups in public education in the state of Washington--and beyond, since also present were Ron Thorpe, President and CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and Washington's own Andy Coons, who serves as the Chief Operating Officer of NBTPS. Walking into a room with leadership from OSPI, the Gates Foundation, the Association of Washington School Principals, CSTP, and numerous other organizations, I was quick to feel intimidated. After all, my main thought during my drive to Seattle was about whether my ninth graders were behaving for the sub--nothing quite so heady as the future of statewide policy.

My comfort zone is much more intimate with much clearer roles: When I walk into my own classroom, I am the expert, I am the authority. It's not that I wield power like a tyrant over my domain, but to those fourteen- and fifteen-year olds, I am the voice they are to listen to, heed, seek for advice, and learn from. I am the teacher: what I have to say matters.

In my eleven years of teaching, as I've ventured little by little into the world of education policy, there are many times when I find myself in a room filled with nicely pressed suits (and me wearing my one pair of decent slacks) feeling just the opposite way as I do in front of my classroom. I think to myself: I am just a teacher. Will what I say matter?

Maren Johnson | Assessment, Books, Current Affairs, Education Policy, Science, Travel | November 15, 2012

What’s that standard? Excellence in Washington State and Finland


by Maren Johnson

Pasi Sahlberg 1I attended an amazing conference in Seattle this week, Excellence in Education: Washington State and Finland. We learned about some great things going on in Finland, we learned about some great things going on in Washington, and I experienced some culture shock.  Was it the differences between Finland and the United States that struck me?  Well yes, there was that, and that is what got me started thinking about culture.  However, instead of international differences, I was thinking about some of the cultural as well as philosophical differences between education groups in our own Washington state: differences between people who are in the classroom and those making policy decisions guiding classroom work; differences between policy makers and those doing education research. How to overcome those differences and build on them?  Keynote speaker Pasi Sahlberg, Director General of Finland’s Education Ministry, said, “So much of what we do in Finland, we have learned from American researchers and educators.”  He then very provocatively said the difference is that in Finland, they actually implement that research!  Here in Washington, we need to get those research<—>policy<—> implementation links tightened up, and yes, those are double-headed arrows: information needs to flow each way!

There are some vast historical and social differences between Finland and Washington—an education system cannot just be transplanted.  However, Finland has not always been an education high performer—it languished in the mid twentieth century—but over the past several decades, as Pasi Sahlberg said, “Finland has improved a lot, while the rest of the world has improved a little bit.”  This improvement can be traced to policy decisions.  What are a few of the Finnish Lessons we might learn?

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development | November 11, 2012

What I need to change


SharpenerWe are in transition.

As a "Marzano" district piloting forward toward implementation of the new teacher evaluation system, I am coming face to face with the kinds of expectations that are going to rattle my paradigm. The instructional frameworks OSPI allowed us to choose from do not represent dramatically different approaches to teaching or schools of thought about how teaching and learning should take place. What the frameworks do establish, though, are specific "research-based" teaching strategies that emerge as valued and therefore expected, since they are named in the evaluation scales against which I will be measured. In Marzano, a few stand out to me: learning targets, performance scales (rubrics), and students tracking their own growth against those scales.

I agree that these are solid instructional strategies: they just haven't always been a consistent and practiced part of my repertoire. 

Now they are going to be--or else.

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Books, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | October 20, 2012

The Mindsets


FWhen I was an undergraduate, I loved having the opportunity to choose whichever courses interested me. Outside of my major, I took everything from calculus to photography to sociology. I also took advantage of another benefit offered: the option to take courses "pass/fail." I engaged this option whenever there was the chance that I would earn less than an "A."

At the time, I justified it from a financial standpoint. I had tuition and housing scholarships which required a certain GPA: a "C" would harm my GPA, but a "P" had no effect on it and I'd still earn the credit. However, in hindsight, I see that this behavior was a sign of something I'm only now starting to understand: my transcript was my identity.

Recently at an after-school meeting, one of our building associate principals shared an article summarizing the work done by Carol Dweck of the Stanford University School of Psychology. The gist: while it is not absolute, there are generally two "mindsets" into which people can be classified--the "fixed" mindset and the "growth" mindset. 

A person whose disposition is in the "growth" mindset will relish challenge, recover from failure having learned and applied critical lessons, and "end up" in a different and usually better place from where they "start out."

In college, I was clearly of the "fixed" mindset.

Janette MacKay | Assessment, Education, Elementary, Professional Development, Social Issues | October 3, 2012

Teacher Fever



I woke up in the middle of the night, and knew something was wrong. I was cold, hot, shaking, queasy, everything ached. I stumbled into the bathroom to find a thermometer and wait…


yup. A fever. Now it’s definitive. I’m sick.

Like somehow I didn’t know that until after the little number popped up on the thermometer.

Well, it’s probably just a little virus, or something I ate. Uncomfortable, unpleasant, but not serious I consoled myself as I curled up on the floor by the toilet where I would be spending the next few hours.

A temperature tells us our immune system is working. It’s fighting off the weakness in the body and in a day or two, we will be well again. Most fevers don’t send us running off to the doctor. Unless they persist…

A fever tells us something is wrong. But by itself, it doesn’t tell us what is wrong or how serious it might be. It takes a while to figure out if you need to call in sick, or check into the hospital.  Just get some rest, or run expensive tests using big humming medical equipment. These are the thoughts running through my head at 2am on the floor of the bathroom.

What does any of this have to do with teaching? Well, since I’m home sick today, I’m sitting here looking at my school’s MSP scores from this past year. We, like many schools, seem to have a bit of a fever. Our scores aren’t where we’d like them to be. They certainly aren’t terrible, but they’ve declined two years in a row. I guess you would call that a fever in reverse.  Anyway, it appears that we’re a bit under the weather. However, the numbers that I’m looking at don’t tell the whole story. It’s a small school. A few kids having a bad day are enough to change our scores from one year to the next. Listen to the staff conversations about this, and we all have an idea what caused the trouble. But what we don’t have is expensive medical equipment that can give us a definitive diagnosis. All we have is the number on the thermometer.

Do we need more professional development to help improve our instruction?

Or new curriculum?

Or a new intervention program?

Or new technology?

Or stronger anti-poverty initiatives?

Or maybe a better thermometer?

Maybe the one we have is broken.

After all, in the past few years we’ve changed our test from the WASL to the MSP, and then changed the administration of that test from paper and pencil to computer based. It’s hard to compare year to year using an inconsistent tool. Looking at National Assessment (NAEP) scores from the past ten years, our 4th grade state scores have remained relatively unchanged.  It doesn’t seem to matter what we do: which curriculum we adopt, which diagnostic test we administer, which RtI model we embrace. The scores have not wavered in the past decade.

According to the Flynn Effect, we are getting more intelligent over time. If that’s true, then seriously, why aren’t our test scores rising?

I’m not saying we can’t or shouldn’t do anything to try and raise student achievement. On the contrary, I think we need to do even more…way more…to figure out how to level the playing field, provide meaningful, appropriate instruction, and assess it in ways that aren’t skewed by politics. If after a decade this fever has persisted, it seems like it’s time to do more than just keep taking our temperature over and over.

Maren Johnson | Assessment, Education Policy, Science | August 15, 2012

Accountability at What Cost? The Biology End of Course exam


Focus on BiologyIt's a new school year.  I'm teaching biology and chemistry, classes I have taught for years.  This year, however, there is something new--this year, for the first time, my tenth graders are required to pass the Washington state biology end-of-course exam in order to graduate.

My concern is that a high stakes exam that focuses only on biology narrows the curriculum to the detriment of chemistry, physics, and earth science.  The problem? 

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Literacy, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | July 30, 2012

Realigning to Common Core


File7011343695826By Mark

This summer, I've been participating in a book study about challenges in implementing Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts. In that spirit, I sat down today to look at my scope and sequence for the classes I teach (Freshman English Lit and Comp). All along I've been saying to myself and others that this whole Common Core Standards shifting is no big deal: we're already doing that work, it's just a matter of identifying in those standards all the things we already do--we won't really have to do much that is "new."

As it turns out, this whole process really made me rethink what I teach and how I teach. I found that there were many standards which were addressed, reinforced, and assessed in basically every single unit of the sequence. I also found a few standards which never appeared more than once, buried as a footnote in some broader unit. More concerning: some of the projects and assessments that I and my students enjoy the most were supported by only tenuous connections (at best) to the standards. 

This coming school year, I anticipate that many of my posts will reflect my process with the Common Core. Interestingly, when I try to characterize my feelings, the first word that pops into my head (however irrational this may be) is the word mourning. Some of those projects that kids seem to connect with so well lack strong connection to Common Core, even if they are the tasks that former students still recall to me ten years later. No matter how much I, or they, love the experience, these are the things I really need to examine and honestly assess whether they belong in my classroom under my new expectations.

As I try to help other teachers make this transition to the new standards, I need to remember that word that popped into my head. As I encounter resistance, I need to remember that isn't just about being "opposed to change." I need to remember that the first reaction when you are told to do something new might not actually be a reaction to that which is new, but rather a quick and confusing pang of loss for something deeply enjoyed that no longer seems to fit. 

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Literacy, Mathematics | April 30, 2012

The English Problem


File3561335707875By Mark

For several years, my building has been identifying and aligning curriculum to standards--first state standards and now Common Core Standards--with part of this process being the identification of the Power Standards! each unit of instruction is to focus upon.

Simultaneously, we are gearing up for a new teacher evaluation system which figures heavily on a teacher's ability to define what his/her students' learning targets are and assess and document student progress toward those targets.

To an extent, both have been an uneasy fit for me as a high school English teacher. It is not so much in the philosophies underpinning these movements. It is that no one that I talk to seems to understand what I've started calling "The English Problem."

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education | April 14, 2012

Staying Informed about a Moving Target


File7021334426465By Mark

I do not envy my colleagues who teach high school math.

In the few years I've been teaching, I've watched the mad dash and scramble to react to the nearly annual changes in statewide math assessment. At this point in our building (as I'm sure is the same in every high school), students are working toward three different sets of graduation requirements related to math credit and assessment requirements. From WASL to HSPE to EOC. If only it were just a name change...

As a language arts teacher, I have witnessed relatively little change in terms of the content and skills demanded of my students in our high school statewide assessment. Our HSPE is essentially the WASL. I still feel that the test assesses the basic skills that ought to be expected for a student to earn a diploma that has any value.

I've tried to stay informed about the current state of assessment in Washington, but as it is an ever-moving target--with many moving parts--it is easy to miss something. And I missed something that I think is rather significant. I feel kinda dumb for having missed it. I'm sure somewhere along the line it was announced in a staff meeting or mentioned in an email, but the fact is, I missed it.

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Education Policy | February 15, 2012

SB 5895: The D-Word


Z1DGoNBy Mark

Teacher evaluation is back on the radar. Senate Bill 5895 is due to be heard by the House Education Committee on February 16th (CSTP has produced a summary for quick review, but the whole bill is linked above).

One of the sticking points for me--of which there often many in any policy--has to do with the provision that at least three of the eight dimensions on which I am to be evaluated must be supported with student growth data.

There's that d-word again. 

Luckily, I found language in the bill clarifying "student growth data":

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Games, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development, Social Issues, Teacher Leadership | December 6, 2011

The Four Point Scale.... again.


Elephant-clockBy Mark

I sat at a table with two other teachers, two building administrators, and the top two admin from the district office. We'd spent the better part of an hour sorting through the assessment rubrics and frameworks associated with the new teacher evaluation system mandated through legislative action in Senate Bill 6696

Silence settled on us all at once. The weight of what we were examining suddenly became overwhelming. 

Like so many things in education, the ideas and philosophies behind this new evaluation system (in brief: a shift from the binary satisfactory/unsatisfactory on a menu of teacher behaviors to a four-point continuum of evaluation using as many as sixty individual descriptors of teacher practice) we could all agree were sound, necessary, and powerful both in terms of evaluation and potential professional development.

But as we began to picture how it all could transition from philosophy to action, the beast began to be revealed.

Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | November 11, 2011

The Four Point Scale


CRW_3531By Mark

Senate Bill 6696 has put into motion changes in the way teachers are evaluated.

First... the relevant language of the bill (from the link above):

Evaluations. Each school district must establish performance criteria and an evaluation process for all staff and establish a four-level rating system for evaluating classroom teachers and principals with revised evaluation criteria. Minimum criteria is specified. The new rating system must describe performance on a continuum that indicates the extent the criteria have been met or exceeded. When student growth data (showing a change in student achievement between two points in time) is available for principals and available and relevant to the teacher and subject matter it must be based on multiple measures if referenced in the evaluation.

Classroom Teachers. The revised evaluation criteria must include: centering instruction on high expectations for student achievement; demonstrating effective teaching practices; recognizing individual student learning needs, and developing strategies to address those needs; providing clear and intentional focus on subject matter content and curriculum; fostering and managing a safe, positive learning environment; using multiple student data elements to modify instruction and improve student learning; communicating and collaborating with parents and the school community; and exhibiting collaborative and collegial practices focused on improving instructional practice and student learning. The locally bargained short-form may also be used for certificated support staff or for teachers who have received one of the top two ratings for four years. The short-form evaluations must be specifically linked to one or more of the evaluation criteria.

Here in southwest Washington, ESD 112 is leading a group of districts who are beginning the process of adapting and implementing the evaluation procedures described in this bill. Of course, the first step is a careful reading of relevant parts of SB 6696. 

There are two elements of the language above that I like in particular. To begin, there's this:

Rob | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Elementary, Literacy, Mathematics | October 30, 2011

NCLB 2.012


By Rob

In a comment on my recent blog post Tom asks: "How can we rewrite the federal education bill so that it actually helps student learn?" This is a huge question. The difficult issues of funding, evaluation, accountability, standards, and testing must be addressed in a politically feasible manner. I don’t know what is feasible but I'd advocate for these ideas-

Standards: I support national standards. As a population we are more mobile than ever and there should not be a drastic difference in the curricular content among states. This requires a level of monitoring and evaluation of states and educational systems. Currently this evaluation and monitoring is done by comparing the separate standardized tests in each state. Although these tests are given to every student multiple times throughout their schooling it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions since these tests vary in rigor and content. Our testing system needs reform.

Testing: Evaluation and monitoring of education systems is necessary for oversight and informed policy decisions. However this does not require the current two week assessment window, every child tested, a huge financial cost, lost instructional time, and enormous pressure on educators and students. Instead this should be done with a smaller randomized sample of students and less impact and intrusion on instruction.

Summative tests, currently the HSPE and MSP (sort of), are assessments of learning given at the end of a particular educational stage. Passing these tests is necessary for students to receive credits or in some cases progress to the next grade. Presently these are a part of a broken testing system. With rare exception, the students who come into the tenth grade performing far below grade level are the ones who are not going to pass the High School Proficiency Exam.

This idea isn’t new but I support summative tests at grade 3, 5, 8, 10, and 12. Students should not exit that grade until they are proficient. How can a fifth grade teacher instruct a student on comparing and contrasting an author’s inferred message when the student is struggling to sound out every third word? How can an eighth grade math teacher approach the Pythagorean Theorem with a student who struggles to multiply?

I’ve heard teachers say (myself included) I could teach 35 students if they came to me proficient in the previous year’s content. Let’s go with this idea-

It begins with half day Pre-K for all students and full day kindergarten. Before they leave kindergarten they need to know their letter sounds, numbers, reading behaviors, and should be able to read and discuss the events in a predictable text. Those who are proficient enter a first grade class capped at 24 students (35 is too many first graders for any teacher no matter how academically proficient the kids are). Those who are approaching proficiency enter a first grade class capped at 16. Those far below proficiency enroll in a class capped at 12.

Schools would use their ongoing formative assessment in grades 1,2,4,6,7,9, and 11 to reconfigure classes and to carry the model forward. The student who enters second approaching standard but exits meeting standard would enroll in the third grade class with the highest student-teacher ratio.

This model has imbedded funding implications. The schools with the highest performing students would have higher class sizes and would be cheaper to staff as long as they continued to maintain high student performance. The schools with lower performing students, ostensibly with underserved populations, would have a lower teacher-pupil ratio and would receive more funding.

This model is not without its challenges. Schools would need to take great care not to track students by providing some students with continual remediation while others engage in higher order thinking. I believe smaller numbers of students is important when serving struggling students in reading and math it is also important for students not to be ability grouped for other content areas.

Can somebody tell me why this wouldn't be an improvement? Maybe this idea isn’t ready to be written into law but couldn’t congress earmark some funding so some districts could try it?


Rob | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Elementary, Life in the Classroom, Literacy, Teacher Leadership | October 26, 2011

Corrective Action


Graph Down Arrow

By Rob

My school is in the third round of No Child Left Behind sanctions.  Among other procedures these sanctions call for ‘corrective action’ to be taken. 

Arriving at this point wasn’t a surprise.  It’s taken many years to get here.  Our school has been labeled ‘failing’ for a while but only after seeing last year’s test results do I feel like we’ve failed.  No teacher at our school wanted to enter the third round of NCLB sanctions.  Round 2, Schools of Choice, was embarrassing enough. 

There was pressure to improve our school’s test results.  I sensed a change in the tone of my evaluations.  Many new teachers were not hired for year two.  A veteran teacher was removed.  It seemed to me that the pressure was high and morale was low.

Perhaps other teachers felt this pressure more acutely than I.  Last year many of them have transferred elsewhere.  Of 23 classroom teachers 11 are novice (in their first or second year).  In my tenth year teaching I’m the second most experienced teacher at our school.

I’ve wondered how we’ve arrived at this unfortunate point.  Each fall we receive our state’s standardized test scores.  Teachers, energized and committed, face the challenge.  We’ve created systems for tracking student progress, providing extra support, engaging families, growing professionally, and improving instruction.  I believe some of these systems have been of great benefit to students.

While I thought these systems were beneficial our data never really showed it.  Here’s what it shows: (click the picture for a clearer view) 

In 2011 our scores dropped 30% to under 40% of students passing the 4th grade reading MSP.  The year before 71.4% of students passed the 3rd grade reading MSP.  The test didn’t get harder.  The state average pass rate remained flat.  This isn’t isolated to one grade.  Our 3rd grade reading pass rate fell 13.1% from the previous year.  Our 5th grade reading pass rate fell 32.8% from the previous year.

This drop in performance is startling.  So what happened?  Who knows?  I wish I had more answers and fewer questions.

Did the students consistently miss a particular type of reading comprehension question?  That could be addressed with an adjustment to the curriculum.

With a 37% mobility rate could the students who left be the ones who passed in 2010.  Might they have been replaced with students who didn't pass?  How about the families who left because of school choice (a NCLB sanction for schools in step 2 of improvement)?  Did the student population change significantly?  Are we comparing the same students from year to year?

Did students who narrowly passed the MSP in 2010 narrowly miss passing in 2011?  Did a slight drop in performance signify a drastic drop in the percent of students meeting standard?

Did significant numbers of non passing students come from specific classrooms?

Could school community, teacher morale, and the shame & blame policies of NCLB account, at least in part, for a dramatic drop in student performance?

Answers to these questions are important as a school undergoes “corrective action.”  I don’t know if anybody is asking these questions.  I don’t know if answers are available.  But I’d like to know exactly what problem I’m correcting and we all deserve a clearer answer than ‘you didn’t meet adequate yearly progress again.’