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166 Articles Categorized in "Education Policy"

Mark Gardner | Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Teacher Leadership | April 16, 2014

Leadership, Implementation, and Puppetry


Picture0017 copyBy Mark

Education Secretrary Arne Duncan recently shared his "Teach to Lead" initiative, which has sparked some interesting responses, including this one on Education Week which discusses a couple of perspectives on the issue. (Duncan has partnered with Ron Thorpe and NBPTS to focus on "raising the visibility" of teacher leadership.)

I believe, like many others do, that teachers and teacher leadership are essential to the success of our public education system. There is a difference, though, between leadership and implementation. Rick Hess in the Education Week post linked above takes the position that Duncan's call for leadership is "a call for teachers to help promote the Obama agenda--to shill for the Common Core, celebrate new teacher evaluation systems, and be excited that the feds are here to help." My gut makes me tend to agree with Hess's interpretation of Duncan's call--something tells me that the USDE would not be thrilled with teacher-leaders who design and advocate for alternatives to the Common Core. 

Should teachers be driving the implementation of Common Core, new teacher evaluations, and all the other changes? Absolutely. However, that's driving a vehicle that someone else designed, bought, and parked in our parking lot. 

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.

Maren Johnson | Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Mathematics | February 16, 2014

Adjunct Math Instructor right after College: What was that like?


Community collegeBy Maren Johnson

I had just graduated from college and I wasn't sure what I was going to do next: Graduate school? Peace Corps? I didn't know, and I needed an interim job while I figured it out.

I answered an ad in the local paper to be a math tutor for a nearby community college. I got a call-back after the interview—they didn’t need me for a tutor, but there were two math classes starting the following week—would I be willing to teach them? I was very surprised by the offer, but I thought, “What an opportunity!” and said yes almost right away.

And why was this community college willing to hire a 22 year old biology and French major, who had graduated just 4 days previously, to be their new math instructor? I perhaps should have done more inquiring--I knew nothing at that point about the ins and outs of education employment, and the world of being an adjunct instructor.

The job paid very little, but by living in the bedroom of a house I shared with some college friends, I was able to make it work, at least for the short term. I taught evening classes which ended at 9:00 pm, and then had to drive home across town afterwards.

With no office or regular classroom, I held “office hours” on some chairs near the building entry way, providing assistance to students with their math as crowds strolled by.

The perks of the job? I had interesting colleagues, and I did help a lot of students learn some important math.

This turned out not to be enough as I could not support myself. After two quarters as an adjunct instructor, I ended up joining the Peace Corps. At least as a Peace Corps Volunteer I would have health insurance. I taught math while I was in the Peace Corps, and then became a high school science teacher.

Why am I writing about this now? The adjunct issue has recently seen some federal interest. With a surprisingly humorous title for a congressional paper, the Just-in-Time Professor report, authored by staff of the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce, notes that 50% of all higher education faculty are now adjuncts. Other estimates put the figure at 60%.  The report states that these contingent or adjunct instructors have “no job security from one quarter to the next, work at a piece rate with few or no benefits across multiple workplaces, and far too often struggle to make ends meet.” I’m here to tell you from personal experience that is no exaggeration.

A full time adjunct might make only $21,000 a year, according to a recently posted article about the issue. The work performed by adjunct instructors is critical to our education system—they provide a foundation in basic skills to students who are pursuing two and four year degrees. Adjunct instructors deserve a living wage. It is shocking they do not receive one.

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 | Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy | February 8, 2014

Enough is Enough: Fund the COLA


ColaBy Tom

For the past six years, educators in Washington State have gone without a cost of living adjustment to their salary. In two of those years, 2011 and 2012, teacher salaries actually went down. All of this despite the fact that back in 2000 the state voted two-to-one in favor of Initiative 732, which provided an automatic, annual COLA.

Although many legislators oppose it, Governor Inslee has proposed reinstating the COLA for several reasons. He thinks it’s fair, he thinks we can afford it and he thinks the State Supreme Court has essentially mandated it, by insisting that the state spend more on education.

I agree. Since 2006 teachers have lost 16% of their purchasing power. Housing, groceries, fuel and college prices have gone up, while our salaries have either gone down or stagnated. A COLA, by definition, is not a salary increase. It is a salary adjustment; a device meant to keep salaries parallel to the cost of those goods and services that we use our salaries to purchase. The absence of a COLA, also by definition, is a salary decrease; there’s no other way to conceptualize it.

When voters passed I-732 fourteen years ago, critics were complaining that we were passing a spending bill without a corresponding mechanism to pay for it. Maybe not, but consider this: in a state that’s essentially financed by sales tax revenue, the sales tax is effectively that mechanism. As the cost of goods and services rises, so too does the sales tax. Since teacher salaries are financed by sales tax, increased revenue should correspond to increased expenditure.

Another point that bears mentioning is that the workload of teachers in recent years has greatly increased coincidental to an actual decrease in salary. We’re doing more work for less money. The new teacher evaluation system requires, in my estimation, at least 40 hours per year of hard, thoughtful work by every teacher in the state. Although some of this work has been incorporated into our in-service calendar, not all of it has, and even those hours that are part of our paid time have effectively displaced other, necessary tasks, so that the net result has been an additional 40 hours of work time.

In addition to the increased workload resulting from the new evaluation system, our class sizes have also gone up. Fifteen years ago I was used to classes to 23 or 24. Now it’s more like 28 to 30. Every new kid in my room means more time planning lessons and more time evaluating and scoring student work. As a fourth grade teacher, I can feel the difference in my workload when my class size goes up by five percent; I can only imagine what it’s like for my high school colleagues, especially those charged with reading and grading extended student writing samples.

I sympathize with our lawmakers. They’re on the hot seat. They have a lot of programs to fund and not enough money to fund them. That’s a tough job. But remember, that’s the job they were begging us for. Remember all those yards signs and TV ads? Our legislators not only knew what they were getting into, they couldn’t wait to start doing it. So do it. Teachers have gone too long without a COLA. That has to end.

More work for less money isn’t fair.

Mark Gardner | Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Elementary, Games, Life in the Classroom, Parent Involvment, Social Issues | February 2, 2014

Playgrounds and Education Policy


File52eec04d490efBy Mark

This story was circulating on social media recently, and despite my initial reactions, it appears to be true.

A primary school in New Zealand has changed rules around recess as a result of research conducted at local universities. The essential finding: fewer rules on the playground resulted in "a drop in bullying, serious injuries and vandalism, while concentration levels in class are increasing" (from the article linked above).

At my own son's elementary school, students are apparently not permitted to run during recess. That's right, no running during outdoor recess. Only brisk walking. And forget about tag, let alone touch football. I am not an elementary school teacher or staff member, so sure I can sit over here and judge, but the findings from this (albeit small) research project where children were allowed to be children during recess seems to me yet another indicator of how our drive to protect children from harm actually harms them more than the bumps, bruises and grass-stained knees we want to spare.

Sadly, this article above also makes this statement:

[M]any American school administrators do not feel they have the freedom to eliminate playtime rules the way Swanson [the primary school in New Zealand] did. And they certainly don’t see it as a zero-cost game. Parents drive our nation’s tendency toward more restrictive playground rules because parents are the ones who sue schools when their children get hurt.

It is all very interesting to me both as a parent and as an educator.

I wonder: what if a whole education system had no externally ascribed rules? Would the flaws we are trying to eliminate with laws, rules, and policies diminish (and achievement increase) as analogous to the positive changes witnessed on that playground in New Zealand? 

Maren Johnson | Current Affairs, Education Policy | January 30, 2014

What box do I check? Time for a COLA


Photo (5)

by Maren Johnson

My school district sent out a new survey this past week. They were trying to do some planning, and for informational reasons, they were hoping that certified staff would be willing to answer.

I had my choice of three boxes to check on the school district survey:

To help us in planning for next school year we would like to know if you have
plans to earn credits that would change your placement on the salary schedule:

    • Yes, I anticipate earning ______ credits which would advance my placement on the salary schedule.
    • Yes, I anticipate earning my Masters degree.
    • No, I do not anticipate earning credits that would change my current salary schedule placement other than the experience step.

So what box do I check?  None of them quite fit. Yes, I anticipate earning quite a few clock hours/credits this year, but no, this won’t get me anywhere on the salary schedule, and I won't be getting the "experience step" the third box in the survey mentions. I finally hit it this year, that lower right hand corner of the salary schedule. 

At this point, there is nothing I can do to move forward any steps on the salary schedule—no clock hours, no years of experience, no certifications, not even performing hand stands in the middle of the high school commons.

Tom | Education, Education Policy, Elementary | January 25, 2014

Why I support SB 6082


ImagesBy Tom

One of the ironies of my job is how lonely it sometimes feels. I’m surrounded by kids all day long, yet I seldom get to talk to the teacher who works right next to me in the hallway. That irony was brought home last week when I noticed some of her kids working in the hall on a social studies project involving Native Americans. As it happened, my class was also studying Northwest Tribes, and both classes would have undoubtedly benefitted had the two of us planned that unit together, instead of in total isolation.

But unless Olympia does something, it’s only going to get worse.

Currently, students have to receive 1000 hours of instruction per year. But this only has to be a district average, which means some kids have more than a thousand, some less. According to legislation passed last year, next year’s students are supposed to have six hours of instruction per day, 180 days per year. That works out to 1080 hours. That’s for secondary students; for elementary students the total has to be 1000 hours.

Teachers, for the most part, will probably not notice the increase in hours. What they will notice, however, is the DECREASE in collaborative time. Take my district, for example. We have a waiver from the state to convert five of those 180 days into professional development days, which are divided into district-wide PD, building time, collaborative time and individual time. The thinking is that the decrease in instructional time is offset by the benefits gained through the professional development of the teachers. Up until now, the state has agreed with that thinking and granted our district a waiver, year in and year out.

Last year the Legislature changed the law. But this is the same Legislature that passed TPEP, which includes a mandate for teachers to collaborate. Districts like mine, therefore, are stuck in the position of mandating that teachers work together, yet will be unable to provide time for that to happen.

Enter SB 6082, sponsored by Senators McAuliffe and McCoy. This bill simply includes language that allows teacher collaboration to count as part of those 1000 or 1080 hours. (By the way; recess, passing time and parent-teacher conferences are already counted.) This doesn’t address the issue of district time, building time and individual time, but it does allow teachers to work collaboratively.

There are other ways to increase collaborative time, of course, but they involve money. And it’s looking more and more like the Legislature is holding tight to the purse-strings. Which is why SB 6082 was introduced.

It makes total sense. If we value teacher collaboration – and we apparently do, since it’s mandated by law – then we should include it in the school day.

And maybe I’ll be a little less lonely.

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.

Mark Gardner | Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom | January 10, 2014

Growth, and then...


Rock and rollBy Mark

Two steps forward, one step back. Climbing a hill of sand. Sisyphus without the deceitfulness.

Or, January in my classroom.

For the three weeks prior to winter break, we all worked very hard in room 116. By the time the quiz rolled around, we'd practiced, reviewed, self-assessed, strategized, tried new approaches, and for the most part, achieved the goal. On my proficiency level scale for identification and analysis of figurative language, the data was finally--finally--showing not just growth, but mastery.

Interpreting abstract figurative language is difficult enough for grown ups, let alone for adolescents who struggle to even understand overtly stated concrete concepts. Add to that the fact that interpretation of figurative language hinges tremendously on a reader's prior schema and life experiences upon which to draw and adolescents are set up to struggle. Nonetheless, through practice, diverse examples, more practice, and trial and error, growth happened by December 20th.

And then it went away.

Tom | Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Elementary, Parent Involvment, Social Issues | January 1, 2014

Thirty Million Words


LogoBy Tom

There’s a kid in my class who I’ll call Arthur. Although he’s in fourth grade, he started the year reading at about the first grade level and his math skills were even lower. He wrote nothing. When we discussed his situation during a September Child Study meeting we decided to “pull out all the stops.” And so we did. Arthur gets pulled out for one-on-one phonics lessons every day from 9:30 to 10:00. He goes directly from there to his small-group reading lesson with our special ed teacher. From 11:30 to noon he receives in-class support for writing and organization skills. At 2:15 he gets an hour of math support.

That’s pretty much “all the stops.” Fortunately, he has started to making progress; if you were to draw a line representing his academic growth since September, it would have an upwards trajectory. But if that line were a ski slope, you would not tremble at the top. And as far behind as he was four months ago, he is even farther behind now; his classmates, after all, have also made progress, but at a faster rate.

It didn’t have to come to this. A famous study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley resulted in the Thirty Million Words Initiative. Simply put, they found that parent-child communication has an enormous impact on a child’s development and academic success. The name of the initiative reflects the optimal number of words a child should hear from his parents before entering school.

I have never met Arthur’s dad, and apparently neither has he. I have met his mother, though, on several occasions. She is very quiet, somewhat sullen, with the air of a person who looked at the low hand she was dealt and folded pretty early in the game. Which was about when Arthur was born.

Arthur is exactly the kind of student that TMW wants to prevent. Had his mother known how important it was to simply talk to her child, perhaps he wouldn’t be in his current circumstances. Perhaps I’d feel a little more certain that he’ll be in fifth grade next year. Perhaps his ski slope would be a little scarier.

We’ll never know. But I do know this: The most important thing non-teaching education stakeholders can do to support education in this country is to help parents help their children. And Thirty Million Words is an example of how simple that support can be. Talk, after all, is cheap. But apparently it’s pretty important, especially early in a child’s life.

Because sadly, fourth grade is a little bit too late.

Kristin | Education, Education Policy | December 30, 2013

Washington Teachers Still Sacrificing COLA


20131230_153121By Kristin

Mr. Ungritch, my tenth grade geometry teacher, was a superstar.  He gave each of us nicknames, made us do push ups for goofing off, and allowed us to throw the whole year's work out the window in exchange for whatever score we earned on one final proof, drawn out of a hat and done on the board.  We loved him.  He was a superstar in another way, too - he never complained about being a teacher.  He didn't complain about the work load, the pay, or the parents.  He once said, "Teachers actually get paid really well, if you know how to live right." 

I have always remembered what a rare gift it was to have a teacher who was so content, and I've tried to follow his example.  I love my job.  I love my students and their parents.  I feel blessed to have great benefits, time off with my daughters, and a reliable paycheck.  I'm grateful to taxpayers, and I want to be worth my pay.

On the other hand, it has been a long time since voters approved a cost of living allowance, or COLA, for teachers with Initiative 732.  Over 60 percent of Washington voters said "yes" to giving educators in public k-12 schools, community colleges, and technical colleges a cost of living adjustment.  It was suspended in 2008 because there wasn't enough money.  Teachers didn't like that, but we are nothing if not public servants, so we accepted it.  We're still accepting it. 


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?

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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.


Rob | Education, Education Policy, Mentoring, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | November 27, 2013

Beginning Educator Support


By Rob

The top priority of the Quality Education Council Report is to “Make Progress Toward Ample Funding for Basic Education.”  The QEC recognizes many “non—basic education programs to be essential for providing critical services for students” – including funds for professional development.  A little further down the list of priorities is support for the recruitment, development, placement, and retention of educators who are culturally competent and possess skills and competencies in language acquisition.

That’s what I do.  I am part of a team of six Instructional Mentors who oversee the novice teacher induction program.  But funding for our position does not come from the state.  


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?

Maren Johnson | Books, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom | November 13, 2013

Class Size and Deathless Prose: Clamor in the Classroom!

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by Maren Johnson

When you teach five high school classes a day, five days a week, you're not inclined to go home to clear your head and fashion deathless prose. After a day of five classes your head is filled with the clamor of the classroom.

~Frank McCourt, Teacher Man

McCourt, a thirty-year teaching veteran and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Angela's Ashes, is describing the reason it took him so long in life, until the age of 66 actually, to write his first book.

Unlike Frank McCourt, I am not trying to "fashion deathless prose." I am just trying to write this blog post. However, I know what he is talking about. After a day of five classes, interacting with one hundred-and-some-impossibly-large number of high school students, putting together a coherent series of thoughts can be a daunting challenge.

Last year I had a student teacher--an outstanding one. This year, she has her own classroom in a different district. One of my fellow teachers recently gave her Teacher Man, which we also read for a school book study a few years ago. My former student teacher brought the "deathless prose" and "clamor of the classroom" quotation above to our attention. Yes, that "clamor of the classroom" is often a positive thing, but, still, it is a day-long clamor! My former student teacher is dealing with many of the challenges faced by new teachers as they enter the profession. On top of all this, she has some very large class sizes! I have a few of those as well, and some of my colleagues have classes that are downright physically crowded.

My large classes are full of students with large personalities! One student wants to tell about the funny thing that happened to him yesterday afternoon. He has a new story every day. Another student has a long, complicated, and ongoing drama involving a boyfriend. A student is learning English and wants to follow me around asking questions. Another student is learning English and sits silently. One student unexpectedly shows up with some silica salts that change color when dehydrated. This will require a Bunsen burner. Three students are about to leave for the sports event and need their homework right now. All that put together adds up to "clamor in the classroom," seriously complicated by large class sizes!

While the sheer number of daily human interactions itself can sometimes be hard for both students and teachers, there are other reasons large class sizes pose problems. With smaller classes, we are able to provide more individualized attention to each student--and students have more opportunities to make relationships with adults in the classroom and with eachother. Low income students show especially large academic gains when they have small class sizes. Teachers stay in the profession longer when their class sizes are not so large--and this results in more consistent and stable instruction in schools.  School counselors with large caseloads face similar issues.

Back in 2009, the Washington state legislature passed ESHB 2261, which established the Quality Education Council. The Quality Education Council adopted recommendations for specific lower class sizes, but staffing allocations in the state budget have yet to fund these.

Now the Washington state legislature needs to put its own recommendations for lower class sizes, recommendations adopted by the Quality Education Council, into place in our schools.  It might be time to clamor for it.

CSTP--Staff | Education, Education Policy, Elementary, Life in the Classroom, Mentoring, Teacher Leadership, Travel | October 5, 2013

Translation from Finnish


The following is a guest-post from Sarah Applegate, an NBCT teacher librarian at River Ridge High School in Lacey Washington. She is passionate about quality information literacy instruction, working with teachers to provide a wide range of resources for students, and dark, bitter Finnish licorice.

I have a confession.  I am a “Finnophile” (“one who loves all things from Finland”) and a “ChauvaFinn” (“one who displays excessive pride in Finland”) yet I hold an American passport.  My friends and colleagues will tell you that since I returned from a Fulbright study in Finland in 2011, I have sought out every opportunity to reflect upon and share what I learned and observed during my research on the Finnish education and library system.  Some might say I sought out TOO many opportunities- during casual dinners, on long runs, and while watching our kids at the park,  to share memories, insights and observations from my time in Finland. While embracing my Finnish obsession, I have continued to reflect on what I observed while in Finnish schools and libraries. I have constantly considered how schools in Washington could learn from Finnish education practice and translate them into Washington state settings.

On September 21, I was finally able to make connections between what I had learned and observed in Finland through a Finnish Education Conference, funded by the US Department of State with support from CSTP and WEA. We gathered 50 teachers from Washington to hear and think about what makes Finland’s education system work and how their approaches could be used in Washington state schools. I brought together four US Finland Fulbright teachers, as well as two Finnish teachers, to speak on how Finland organizes their education system, designs and delivers instruction and trains their teachers. During the morning, participants were able to learn about Finnish education practices and in the afternoon, teachers a chance to “translate” what they had learned to their own teaching context and plan for potential implementation of Finnish practices in their Washington state setting. What we translated has some promising implications for us in our schools - read on to see what we cooked up.

Maren Johnson | Education, Education Policy, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | October 1, 2013

CSTP celebrates the big 1 - 0 ! Now where are those talking points?



by Maren Johnson

We’ve got something unique here in Washington state in terms of education organizations that work with teachers.  Yeah, we have some great districts, state education agencies, unions.  In addition to all that, here in Washington, we’ve got an independent nonprofit with a focus on teaching—and that organization, the Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession, is celebrating its ten year anniversary this month!

So what does CSTP do?  Just a few of the activities:

Community Dialogue and Advocacy.  What’s different about CSTP advocacy training?  No talking points provided!   Whether online or in person, CSTP advocacy training gives teachers the opportunity to develop their own messages for their own audiences, whether that audience is local, state, or national.  At an advocacy training before a recent legislative session, one teacher, a tad frustrated, asked, “Where are the talking points?”  The facilitator’s response: “The talking points will be better if you, the teachers, develop them!”

The communication is not just limited to speaking—writers’ retreats (and this blog!) have given educators the opportunity to develop writing skills.

Teacher Leadership. Very frequently, in K-12 school cultures, the term “leadership” is used interchangeably with the term “administration.”  The Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession has worked to expand that definition with the development of the Teacher Leadership Skills Framework.
The NBCT Leadership Conference, one of CSTP’s signature events, has been a launchpad for many newly certified NBCTs to not only hone leadership skills, but also to develop their own personal network of statewide teacher leaders. 

CSTP doesn’t just strengthen the teaching profession, CSTP strengthens individual teachers.  One teacher recently said, “There’s a whole lot going on besides what is going on in my own little classroom, and CSTP helps me learn about it.”

Research.  CSTP commissions research to help all sorts of agencies and organizations better understand teaching and learning, as well as support for teaching and learning, in Washington state classrooms.

And hey, the audience for all this is definitely not limited to teachers!  CSTP pulls together instructional leaders of all sorts in work such as helping train and support the Instructional Framework Feedback Specialists for our new state teacher principal evaluation system.  In another example of working with administrators and teachers across the career continuum, CSTP developed a module designed to help principals better assist new teachers in their buildings. 

Advocacy, leadership, and research?  It’s been an amazing ten years.  So where is CSTP going in the next ten?
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. 

Rob | Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Social Issues | September 6, 2013

Interest Based Bargaining


By Rob

Last June the members of the association gathered into a high school gymnasium to vote on a new labor contract.  No union member or district official can recall a contract that was settled so early.  We have always bargained through the summer.  Our ratification meeting usually happens in August when room is hotter and tensions are higher.

After the bargaining team briefed us on the new contract a teacher approaches the microphone and asks, “What did we give up with this contract?”

“Animosity.” was the reply.

The district and the union followed a new model of contract negotiation- Interest Based Bargaining (IBB).  In IBB both sides generate a list of issues they wish to see resolved in the contract.  But unlike traditional bargaining solutions are not proposed.  Instead the bargaining sessions are used to brainstorm solutions and the negotiations become problem solving exercises. 

The contract was ratified with over 99% of the union voting yes.  The Association was very happy with the outcome.

The next morning I attended the district’s contract briefing.  Surprisingly, the district was just as satisfied.  In this briefing, the Director of Human Resources shared each issue and solution.  The common denominator in nearly every agreed upon solution was “What is best for student learning.”

The only solution that has the potential to negatively impact student learning was to remove the cap on the number personal days that can be taken by staff on a given day throughout the district.  There is a possibility for a substitute shortage.  Both sides have agreed to revisit this topic next spring and share data on the impact of this new contract language.

I contrast this bargaining process with our past negotiations and the recent brinksmanship in Seattle and I’m convinced IBB should be the model we follow going forward.

Mark Gardner | Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Social Issues, Teacher Leadership | August 30, 2013

Myth and Misunderstanding about TPEP


File5220b00b5c523The History Channel recently ran a series called Your Bleeped-Up Brain, and if you can get past that staggeringly stupid title, there are some interesting tidbits to be found about how our minds work.

In particular, I caught a snip the other day about how humans define "truth." The main salient points: first, we are wired to believe the first information we see, hear, or learn; second, it is incredibly difficult for us to unlearn that "first" and replace it with new information. This is essentially the "primacy effect," where we are inherently more apt to trustaccept, and maintain belief in the first thing we hear or read. Add this as well: we are far more apt to believe information that confirms feelings we already hold, regardless of the veracity or validity--or even logic--of that information.

I have been fighting a slow and constant battle within my district to help implement our new evaluation system (TPEP, though I hate acronyms) and empower teachers to understand and use the framework not just when thinking about their performance review but moreso when thinking about their own practice. In our district of roughly 400 certificated staff, it is obviously difficult to communicate to everyone in a personal, meaningful, and clear way. It is also a challenge to accurately and authentically monitor what they really do and don't understand. 

Because we are human beings, we often look to one another first for information, before digging into things such as legalese about what is actually policy. The clear problem with this? It is easier to chat in the staff room and spread hearsay than to actually look it up. Sadly, we're then more likely to use unsubstantiated hearsay as the foundation for our feelings and opinions--and then refuse to accept new information when confronted with fact that contradicts what we thought we knew.

Case in point: recently I was told that it states unequivocally in the state RCWs that teachers are required to compile an eight-section portfolio of evidence to support their performance on each of the eight state evaluation criteria (and in areas of focus, cross-referenced with framework elements). I know the law, and it states absolutely nothing that could even be stretched to construe such a directive. Yet, this colleague of mine was certain she was right and I was wrong. Why? She heard it from a friend who teaches in another district. 

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 | Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Teacher Leadership | June 26, 2013

Lessons in Teacher Leadership


File51cb02ad3388dBy Mark

David B. Cohen at InterACT (Accomplished California Teachers' blog) recently posted an interesting piece about the Teacher Leader Certification Academy in Riverside, California, which got me thinking about my own experience this past year in a newly formed "teacher leader" role in my district.

When I stepped into this role as "Teacher on Special Assignment," the job description was vague. Our district had not had a role like this at the secondary level, and as it was a part-time gig (two periods out of my day--with the other four periods consisting of my prep period and three periods with kids) neither I nor the leadership above me really knew what the work would look like in practice.

In the end, I learned so much this year. I learned things that I can apply in my own classroom, and of course I learned a thing or two about what it means to be this particular breed of "Teacher Leader."

The first thing I learned was to whom I should listen, and why.

Maren Johnson | Education Policy, Science, Social Issues | May 26, 2013

Ambitious Teaching = Rigor + Equity

Photo May 19, 2013, 12:32 PM

by Maren Johnson

"Ambitious teaching = rigor + equity. What does this mean for the Next Generation Science Standards?" This provocative question, posed at a conference last week by Mark Windschitl of the University of Washington, has been a framework for me for the last few days not just for thinking about science standards, but also for thinking about teaching in general.

First off, I like the term "ambitious teaching." Ambitious teaching sounds accessible, because, well, that means we as teachers can all aspire to high goals--and if we don't succeed, we can always try again! It's kind of like a "growth mindset" for teaching. Ambitious implies continuous growth, as opposed to reaching an endpoint.

Ambitious teaching in the context of the Next Generation Science Standards? That means rigor for both the teachers and the students--the new standards marry science practices, disciplinary ideas, and cross-cutting concepts in a way we haven't seen before. This will challenge our teaching, and it will also challenge our students. How to get the students to achieve this level of rigor? Growth mindset might again be part of the answer: Ann Renker, principal of Neah Bay Middle and High School, serving the Makah Indian reservation, has had remarkable results with growth mindset and incorporating the ideas of “hard work, not natural intelligence” throughout the school.

The Next Generation Science Standards have been designed from the ground up with equity in mind. Previous national science standards were based overtly, explicitly and almost exclusively on European tradition: Science for All Americans, basis of the National Science Education Standards, stated, "The sciences accounted for in this book are largely part of a tradition of thought that happened to develop in Europe during the last 500 years – a tradition to which most people from all cultures contribute today."

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 | Education Policy, National Board Certification | April 1, 2013

Just a Tweak? Educator Effectiveness and the Evergreen Effect


Evergreen EffectBy Maren Johnson

Educator effectiveness is where it’s at right now in Washington state. Student teachers are currently filming themselves and analyzing student learning for the edTPA (teacher performance assessment). We have a challenging ProTeach evidence-based assessment for teachers trying to get their professional certificate. Approximately 13% of the teachers in our state are National Board certified. In addition to all of this, we have a new teacher principal evaluation system that is currently being piloted and will go into effect next school year.

Against the backdrop of all these educator effectiveness programs, last week Chad Aldeman, with an organization named Education Sector, released a report titled, “The Evergreen Effect: Washington’s Poor Evaluation System Revealed.” You can read a short summary blog post or the full report. When teachers and administrators across our state are working hard right now to get a new evaluation system up and running for next year, such a report deserves a closer look.

Mr. Aldeman starts by painting the picture of five elementary schools in Pasco. Aldeman talks about how the students perform poorly on state tests while the teachers, despite the low test scores, are almost all evaluated as satisfactory. My fellow blogger Tom White wrote more about this. What does Aldeman not mention? These particular schools in Pasco have 50-70% of their students learning English--some of the highest percentages of English language learners in the state. Our state tests are given exclusively in English—clearly students who do not speak English are going to be at a huge disadvantage. Giving teachers poor evaluations because their English-learning students do not perform well on tests in English is not going to improve student learning!

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?

Mark Gardner | Current Affairs, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Social Issues, Teacher Leadership | February 9, 2013

Matters of Education...and Class Size


Class sizeLast year was my first foray into tromping the halls of Olympia as a novice education advocate. I'm still far from an expert--which was one of my reasons for being so reticent to have a political voice.

I think many of us feel that way. The first step, as always, is just to pay, watch, listen, make up your mind (and remember, it's okay to disagree with your colleagues, your school, and your union, as long as your disagreement is informed).

WEA keeps an active site that is a good place for your radar to first ping: OurVoice. A few bills of note (and I think they're all still live as I type this...but things can change quickly!)

  • S5588: Restricts use of half-days for professional development, marketed as "changing the definition of 'school day.'" (WEA's take, here.)
  • HB1293: Requires districts to disclose the real costs of testing, which has led parents to ask legislators a question they cannot seem to answer.
  • HB1673: Gradually reduces student-to-teacher class size ratios for calculating state allocations, including provisions for even smaller class sizes in high-poverty schools. According to this document, Washington would need to hire over 12,000 teachers to bring our class size to the national average (we're presently the 4th most crowded). 

While there are other bills (and troubling ideas) out there and various stages of their life cycles, ranging from misguided attempts to businessify the teacher evaluation model that hasn't even been given the chance to get off the ground to others that affect collective bargaining, the class size bill, HB1673, is the one I'm thinking about at the moment. 

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: