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Sunday, March 5, 2017

A quest for graduation requirements that make sense

Not too long ago, I wrote about the Ohio State Board of Education's working group, conceived with the charge of recommending how to mitigate the impending disaster that awaits the class of 2018.

With Fall re-test scores coming out this week (we'll communicate them to students and parents on Tuesday), it seemed a good time to recap the working group's activities and update the status of our juniors.

First, the hoped-for surge in test passage rates isn't materializing, at least not at Licking Valley High School. (I'll update this post on Tuesday if I get more information from other Licking County schools).

Before Fall re-tests, 95 LVHS juniors were on-track to graduate, in a class of 169. After Fall re-tests, that tally is 101, or 60% of the class. Even with the generous interpretation of "on-track" offered by the Ohio Department of Education, and allowing for exemptions for students with disabilities, the total is 70%.

Not that we're surprised. After all, the pathetic number of released test items and total lack of school-based item analysis virtually ensures that the kind of high-quality feedback necessary for improvement isn't available.

The state board's working group's first three meetings featured presentations from the Ohio Department of Education that were intended to justify the 'rigor' of the tests and present a clear picture of the situation. See notes here:
Meeting 1 notes
Meeting 2 notes
Meeting 3 notes

In the fourth meeting, group members came ready to discuss some proposed solutions and add their own. In small groups, they listed pros and cons of various plans and came back together to report out.

What happened was in a word, remarkable.

All four groups, with access to an infinite number of choices, came back with solutions that followed the same general theme: we need a system that allows for more than standardized test scores. Board / committee member Peggy Lehner, Chair of the Senate Education Committee, said "Only one (solution) comes close to what we currently require."

All four groups offered similar solutions for the class of 2018 -- some sort of 'safe harbor' provision that exempts them from the consequences of not achieving 18 points. Beyond that, it was evident the group members wanted a "re-do" for the overall  system. "This should be a caution," Senator Lehner remarked. "Because this group appears to desire something different."

To applause from most in the room, group member and high school student Jessica Frey summed it up: "I'm advocating for not looking at students through one set of guidelines. There should be multiple options."

The working group, with representatives from Ohio businesses, colleges, communities and schools, is indicating they want to do more than craft a narrow, short-term solution for the class of 2018. Whether or not their work has a bigger reach is up to the state board and department of education.

Here's hoping they heed the group's message!

Keep your eye on... 

(my personal take on political elements of the process)

Who thinks the tests are a good  idea?
The comments of a working group member from Akron Public Schools (an Assistant Superintendent standing in for the district Superintendent) gave voice to a recurring doubt that has been gnawing at me for months: Who in the business community, exactly, thinks these tests are a good idea? If career and workforce readiness is at the reason for their existence, then who is demanding them?

The only indications from this working group seem to point toward this emperor not having any clothes. First, the department's speaker from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce trumpeted college and career readiness, but used slides from a presentation that also showed the kind of 'routine cognitive tasks' like the ones on EOCs are decreasing precipitously in workplace applicability.

Second, the Chamber of  Commerce member of the working group, Tom Zaino, has expressed the need for educated employees in Ohio. But he has also appeared skeptical of the narrow band of skills measured on the test and the wisdom of use of the tests as a sole determiner of graduation. For example, he asked, "Why can you not just have a non-college-ready diploma?"

Last week, the Akron Public Schools rep reported she had convened a group of 50 top business leaders to create a 'graduate profile' -- what they'd like to see students have upon graduation. In groups, they reported out their 'wish list.' The result? "Not one mentioned a specific academic standard."

What is the state legislature prepared to do to remedy the situation?
Senator Lehner has continually voiced a willingness to fix the problem in the legislature if the state board can't or won't, and she speaks emphatically on this point. Her comments above are in line with previous ones in that they seem to indicate legislative action might be imminent. With the state budget bill currently in progress and due to be done by June, and Ohio's ESSA draft plan due soon (the state could delay submission until later in the summer if it wants), it makes me wonder if a series of events might bring the whole testing system down in a crumbling heap by the beginning of the next school year. It seems a long shot, but I continue to maintain that any legislator measuring the will of his or her constituents via polling or other means cannot possibly maintain all this testing is needed or desirable.

Will the Department of Education be able to continue to defend the tests?
At every working group meeting, someone in the room has pinned down State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria on what I think are vitally-important issues: First, what evidence does the department have to demonstrate the validity and reliability of the tests? Second, when are schools and districts going to get detailed item analysis from the tests?

I can empathize with Dr. DeMaria and the department on the latter -- I'm pretty sure it is up to the legislature to pony up enough money to make full item release / item analysis possible, and he has stated it is a matter of money, in the meetings. In my humble opinion, I think a straight "up or down" vote among the state board members would reveal a near-unanimous consensus that schools need and deserve the data. If what the board needs is a resolution from the Superintendent, through a member... will they get it?

On the former, I'm not a psychometric expert, so when such information becomes available it will take me some time to digest. (In meeting 4, Findlay High School Principal Craig Kupferburg repeated another member's previous request for data indicating validity and reliability from the department.) What I do know is that our teachers are teaching to the right standards, and the test-performance history of the class of 2018 -- statewide --  speaks for itself. What I do know is that we have ample data that suggests the online test(s) were more difficult than the pencil-and-paper ones. And what I do know is that the progression from PARCC test items / platform to AIR platform -- combined items to AIR platform / Ohio items is a textbook case of putting a 'moving target' in front of kids, then comparing the performance data in an apples-to-oranges manner. 

What I don't know is how long the experts in the big building in downtown Columbus can continue to maintain the tests are fair, with the defenses they've mounted to this point, and all in the name of 'rigor.' I think it is time to level with everyone about the tests' limitations, and deal with the consequences.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Will the working group work?

I've written before that new End of Course tests and state graduation requirements have combined to create a perfect storm for current high school students.

Around the state, a large percentage of current juniors aren't on track to graduate; that number is 40%+ at Licking Valley High School.

As the stress and frustration around this mess of a system mounts among parents, students and educators, the State Board of Education considered -- and rejected -- short-term fixes at its December meeting, instead creating a working group to study the problem.

The Ohio State Board of Education's Graduation Requirement Workgroup convened last week with the charge from Chair Jana Fornario to create a resolution to present to the Standards and Graduation Requirements Committee by April's board meeting.

Such a resolution -- according to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Paulo DeMaria -- will address the impending graduation problem for the class of 2018, but the related topics of assessments and standards are outside the group's scope of work.

That's disappointing.

The main problems with the system have less to with the graduation point system and more to do with the tests that are at its core. Its problems are well-documented. First, the tests are shrouded in secrecy. Department of Education staff and state board members say educators having knowledge of the standards is enough to prepare students for the tests, but they are wrong: the new tests purported to test the standards in new and different ways from the beginning, and they have. Our kids can tell you these tests are a brand-new experience.

Because the test software is proprietary, we can't even emulate the "unique item types" (the phrase comes from the original PARCC news release) that students see on the test.

At Licking Valley High School, our team of experienced Mathematics teachers have  been particularly frustrated. They've worked tirelessly to implement curriculum based on new standards, but as Algebra teacher Beverly Stuckwisch explains in her blog post, the tests measure student knowledge and skills in unfair ways.

Second, from the beginning test results have shown  a marked difference between online and paper/pencil tests... a serious flaw given schools all over the state have been using both formats. In a cycle has now been repeated several times in the last three years, the department of education minimized the problem, in this case appealing to the written finding of a Technical Advisory Committee to bolster the credibility of its stance.

But if the TAC didn't recommend adjusting cut scores to account for differences between paper and online test versions, its conclusions are hardly a ringing endorsement for their equivalence:

"First, the TAC strongly recommends that Ohio move as quickly as possible to having a single online mode. Second, the TAC recommends that a mode correction constant estimated from one year not be used for adjustment in another year. Third, the TAC recommends that the DOE pull together a statement of what it is doing to get all students ready for taking assessments online." 

Finally, schools have received precious-little student performance data from the tests, despite the fact such detailed feedback is an important part of systemic improvement and student remediation. The state legislature has yet to appropriate funds sufficient to provide for such feedback, because the Ohio Department of Education has yet to ask for it, to my knowledge.

Releasing the items from the 2016 Spring test, in fact, will be strung out until 2019, and even then, the department won't release item analysis. Such item analysis was a key feature of schools' systemic improvement efforts under the OGT testing scheme, but more importantly it was a key factor in helping with remediation.

Last week's working group meeting featured a presentation from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce and input from members, the subject of a future blog post. Ohio Senate education committee chair Peggy Lehner again stated her willingness to address the issue confronting the class of 2018 with legislation if needed.

I feel the best course of action for teachers, parents and students is to reach out to legislators and express your opinion about the testing / graduation points scheme as a whole, along with the need for immediate action for the freshmen, sophomores and especially juniors in high school right now.

In all my conversations with voting-age adults in Ohio, I have heard few citizens express affection for our current system of testing. Among those with high-school-age children, the percentage expressing support for the system is even more miniscule, with most reactions ranging from "ire" to "vehement disgust." I can't help but think that the will of the people, expressed in a timely fashion to our elected representatives, would have the effect of changing the system.

Below are the elected officials who represent the citizens of our school district; if you are from another part of Ohio, your representatives' and senators' contact information can be found easily online.

Our local elected state board representative: 
Stephanie Dodd
256 Wilshire Drive Hebron, OH 43025 
Phone: (740) 629-1333
Stephanie.Dodd@education.ohio.gov

Ohio Senate representative:
Jay Hottinger
Senate Building 
1 Capitol Square, Ground Floor Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 466-5838


Ohio House representative:
Larry Householder
77 S. High St. 13th Floor
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 466-2500

Ohio House representative:
Representative Scott K. Ryan
District 71
77 S. High St 
13th Floor 
Columbus, OH 43215 
Phone (614) 466-1482 
Fax      (614) 719-3971 
Email: http://www.ohiohouse.gov/scott-k-ryan/contact

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

First-quarter academic awards announced

We've got a great group of academically-talented, motivated, hard-working students here at Licking Valley High School and our first-quarter academic awards list is indicative of that.

At LVHS, we use our Jostens Renaissance incentive program to reward students who excel and a great number of kids earn those incentives every quarter. Platinum card holders have a current GPA of 4.0 or above, red card holders achieve a 3.5 GPA or greater, and blue card holders earn a 3.0 GPA or higher.

The lists for the first quarter are below. Great job!

Seniors - Platinum
Seniors - Red
Seniors - Blue

Juniors - Platinum
Juniors - Red
Juniors - Blue

Sophomores - Platinum
Sophomores - Red
Sophomores - Blue

Freshmen - Platinum
Freshmen - Red
Freshmen - Blue

Sunday, November 20, 2016

State board considers changes to faulty graduation point system

In the state of Ohio, the classes of 2018 and beyond have new graduation requirements demanded by the legislature, created by the Ohio State Board of Education, and implemented by the Ohio Department of Education. I've taken issue with these requirements and their flawed implementation.

Eighteen months from graduation, a significant number of those students probably aren't going to graduate because:
  • Only one of the three graduation pathways is truly accessible to all students.
  • That pathway is based on scores on End-of-Course Tests.
  • Those tests measure standards in ways never used before, at levels not tested before, using an online platform that was new to students, via question types not made available to educators, and they are a moving target because the Spring 2017 test will be their third version in three years.
  • The results from those tests (and potentially valuable feedback for improvement) have only been provided with the lowest level of detail and are thus, useless.
Last month, Superintendent Dave Hile and I detailed this problem for the state board in the "Public Comments" portion of its meeting, saying that 56% of LVHS juniors were on track to graduate. The board asked ODE to collect data about the state's juniors to ascertain what the numbers looked like, statewide, and several members indicated a willingness to address the problem, as did Senate Education Committee Chair Peggy Lehner of Dayton.


The good news is the majority of the board seemed to be concerned with this situation and discussion turned to possible solutions. A resolution was introduced that would temporarily reduce the number of points required for graduation from 18 to 15, then ramp the requirement back up to 18 over four years. See below for the proposal:

Class of 2018: 15 points required
Class of 2019: 15 points required
Class of 2020: 16 points required
Class of 2021: 17 points required
Class of 2022: 18 points required
**In addition to the reduction in total points required, the resolution also includes the temporary elimination of the subtotals presently in the system (minimum of 4 in Math, 4 in ELA, 6 in Science / Social Studies).**

As I told staff and the board in an e-mail this week, this has a major impact on the 'graduation-ready' picture for our current juniors.

If the board approves this resolution in its current form, the class of 2018 will benefit. If the board goes farther and directs the department of education to immediately begin releasing 100% of test items for every future test, then the classes of the future will benefit and could conceivably be working within a fair system, even if it is still flawed.

The department indicated in its testimony this week that it intends to release 40% of the Spring 2017 EOC test items, with item analysis.

Of  course, if the legislature does what it should do and gets rid of most of  the whole standardized test mess they've created and implement federal minimum testing requirements, everyone will benefit. Hey, we can dream.

In December, the state board will reconvene to approve / modify / reject the resolution and the legislature stands ready to act in lame-duck session, all to fix a system that was botched from the beginning.

This week, in one of our regular student focus group conversations at LVHS, the subject of the current testing system came up. When I explained the current state board proposal for phasing in 18 points, a student instantly replied "That's what they should have done in the first place!"

I hope our students get the Christmas present of a fair graduation system. They deserve it!


Monday, October 24, 2016

Graduation standards re-examined? The time for your voice is now!

My last post generated more than 1,800 views; Ohioans are ready to talk about the present graduation points system that endangers the classes of 2018-2020.

Let's hope their elected officials on the state board of education and in the state legislature are ready to do the same. On Tuesday, LV Superintendent Dave Hile and I testified before the state board. We informed them that hundreds of Licking County students are in danger of not graduating.

That's not hyperbole. I called it a "...disaster of epic proportions," and it is.

At Licking Valley, those students make up 44% of the class of 2018. Four other Licking County schools have an even bigger percentage of students who are at-risk. Four others are within a few percentage points of LVHS. I can't help but feel it is the same around the state.

Many of the members of the state board, including Senate Education Committee chairperson Peggy Lehner, were not only ready to listen -- they were ready to talk about solutions. We discussed our need for data from the Ohio Department of Education, with Superintendent of Public Instruction Paulo DeMaria hearing our concerns.

Our bottom line: we can help kids meet high standards, if we have the feedback -- in the form of released tests and item analysis -- that help us help them, and better align our teaching and assessing to the new assessments so future students will succeed.

To date, we've gotten neither. And now the state board of education knows this.

ODE representatives emphasized that their release of SOME test items this Fall and in January should be sufficient. That's not anywhere near sufficient, and I think most of the board members felt the same way.

We hammered home the point that ODE is nowhere near being able to provide this detailed feedback now and in the near future, so our juniors are the first of three classes at LVHS who are going to be 'left hanging.' That's a lot of kids: our kids. We have little capacity to help them, and they deserve better.

Now is the time for parents of affected LVHS students -- and parents of all students -- to speak out, if you feel so inclined. The state board and legislature answers to you. You alone have the ability to influence them to be fair.

Let's make sure that representatives and senators hear from us, via phone, e-mail or other means. With a lame-duck session of the General Assembly upcoming, the opportunity exists to create a fair system for present and future students. This needs to happen!

When they realize the people of Ohio -- whether parents of high school students or not -- won't rest until a change happens, then and only then will something change

FINAL NOTE: I'm a part of two other ongoing efforts to paint a picture of the current situation for policy-makers and propose solutions to people who have the power to enact them as law or binding policy for schools. I will update those efforts on my blog when it is appropriate.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

New state graduation requirements fail students, schools and communities

Our state-imposed system of End-of-Course exams, graduation requirements and school report cards has been flawed since its inception.

I don't care about the report card -- I haven't even looked at this year's LVHS state report card. What I do care about is our students being punished by a bad system.

How bad is it? At this point, nearly half of the LVHS class of 2018 is not on track to earn a diploma. That's right -- it is possible that the state's graduation points system will mean a number of kids won't get a diploma.

After 13 years of school. After having met ALL local graduation requirements.

No diploma.

The classes of 2018 and 2019 are being hung out to dry by current graduation requirements and there is nothing at all in place to help schools help these students.

Our community deserves better.

Your school district report card is a sham

The idea that that the state proceeded with the release of the report cards despite their known flaws is an outrage. One Ohio Superintendent described report card metrics as an “…apples to oranges to bananas” comparison; the 2015 Spring tests in ELA / Math weren’t like the 2016 tests and they won’t compare to the 2017 Spring tests – they’ll be made to different specifications. Yet, the state has released report cards based on these test results that purport to do exactly that. There is nothing to suggest parents and community members have anything close to an accurate view of our school’s performance based on the report cards. They are worse than misleading.

New tests are faulty -- and it isn't just about the passage rates

At our school, the striking differences between PARCC (English & Math) and AIR (Science and Social Studies) test passage rates makes it clear our Algebra, Geometry and ELA tests were successfully navigated by far fewer students than the Biology and American History tests. Is it that those very same students didn’t try as hard on English and Math tests? Is it that our Mathematics and English teachers are using the wrong curriculum, or are lower-quality teachers? Even if I believed this of our teachers (and I certainly do not) then what is the explanation for this same disparity in state test results data, state-wide? Did English and Algebra and Geometry suddenly become more difficult? No. Differences in difficulty between state-created tests and PARCC tests are to blame, and it is obvious to anyone who is around our students and teachers. It is even more obvious to anyone who has seen even a little bit of both tests.

The big problem - kids aren't going to get diplomas

At LVHS, fewer than 60% of our juniors have qualified for graduation (on state testing) as of today. They are definitely at risk for not graduating. Despite our re-testing more than 120 kids on 200+ tests this summer, passage rates didn’t improve much. Many juniors started this year with fears they won’t get a diploma. The anguish felt by these kids and their concerned parents is palpable and I feel powerless to help them. Almost all of these students passed the classes associated with the tests but are deficient in graduation points and will need to take the tests again. 

How can we help them get ready for those tests? The biggest injustice is that, even though we want to do so, we can't. The thousands (yes, I said thousands) of hours of lost instructional time due to re-testing will largely be wasted.

We definitely help our students with curriculum and assessment materials aligned to the tests -- precious little remediation materials are available. The Department of Education has confirmed that – despite the fact students can re-test this winter as they did this spring – there is little reason to expect they can improve their scores because no specific data from their own test results – or school-wide data -- will be made available to schools. Faced with completely logical questions about “How do we help our kids?” from caring teachers and parents who want to see their students succeed, principals are forced to provide wholly-unsatisfying and incomplete answers.

Things won't change any time soon

For its part, the Ohio Department of Education is paralyzed by the lingering effects of our state politicians’ botched transition to new standards and assessments. Ohio is battling PARCC over the state-law-required release of test items in English Language Arts and Mathematics. Only in “late January” will released items be available. Half-length tests in other subjects were recently released. The PARCC items and Ohio items are the gold standard of student academic tasks, and we don’t know if we’re preparing students without having access to them! If schools and districts are aiming at a ‘moving target’ on the report card, our kids are currently aiming at an ‘invisible target’ on the test.

When I was an English teacher working with the previous set of state tests and standards, my colleagues and I maximized every available resource to help our students succeed. We taught an aligned curriculum, we used short-cycle assessments aligned with state tests, and most of all, we analyzed detailed data from the Ohio Graduation Test to great effect. Of these strategies, none compared to analyzing ODE-provided item analysis to see in great detail the areas of strength and weakness for OUR kids. In the span of several years, we went from low state test scores to an exceptional passage rate, with the most improvement coming in areas that had been our greatest deficit. As good teachers know, quality feedback is the key to learning. Our new state tests and accountability measures tied to test performance data provide ALL of the negative consequences with NONE of the helpful feedback we need. If the tests and report cards really are about school improvement, they are failing schools miserably as ‘teaching’ tools.

I feel as though I should apologize to our teachers, to our community and most of all to our current students, because none deserve what they are experiencing. Faced with a fair chance at success, we all have risen to the challenge in the past – our kids work hard, our parents support us, and our teachers aren’t afraid of a challenge. We’re a good school. But we’re about to be the ‘collateral damage’ of a poor system and political bungling.

The state board of education -- now largely a puppet of the state legislature -- is empowered with creating and implementing our system of graduation requirements. Please express your feelings about this system to these elected / appointed board members and legislators:


Our local elected representative: 
Stephanie Dodd
256 Wilshire Drive Hebron, OH 43025 
Phone: (740) 629-1333
Stephanie.Dodd@education.ohio.gov

State board president:
Tom Gunlock
10147 Putterview Way Centerville, Ohio 45458
Phone: (937) 291-6318
E-mail: Tom.Gunlock@education.ohio.gov

Ohio Senate representative:
Jay Hottinger
Senate Building 
1 Capitol Square, Ground Floor Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 466-5838


Ohio House candidates:
John Carlisle (Facebook page)
Larry Householder (Facebook page)


Friday, September 2, 2016

Senior costs

Recently, LVHS Guidance Counselor Shona Garver received a great question from the parent of a senior, regarding costs that come up for parents during a student's senior year. It can certainly be expensive.

When I saw her response (below) I thought it was something from which many parents would benefit. Thanks, Shona!

"I talked with a handful of staff and students and did my best to put together a good list of potential upcoming costs.  This could certainly change.  Cost estimates and timelines are based on how things have gone in past years.  Please understand this is not intended to be an exhaustive list.  Prices may change.  This is just intended to help with planning.

Parking Pass
These need to be purchased now if the student is driving to school.  They are $8 and can be picked up in the main office.

School Fees
These are posted on EZ Pay (spsezpay.com) if you have your student's ID.  Fee bills will be mailed out later this fall.  They can be paid online or by sending cash or check in to Lissa Bennett in the main office.  All senior fees must be paid by May 1. 

Caps and Gowns
These are sold by Josten's.  Seniors will be hearing from Josten's on September 16 and bringing order forms home.  The deposit is due by 9/22.  Last year caps and gowns cost $25 and the price doubled after winter break.  Students also have the option of ordering graduation announcements and such through Josten's at this time.  Announcements are optional.

ACT
ACT registration fees for fall tests
September 16 is the deadline to register for the October 22 test.
We recommend students take writing at least once.
$42.50 no writing
$58.50 with writing
Most of our students take the ACT, but some may be registering for the SAT as well.

College Application Fees
College application season is in the fall of the senior year.  Fees vary depending on the institution(s) a student is applying to.  Most colleges will accept a fee waiver for students who qualify for free or reduced lunch.  The student needs to talk with their counselor if they will be using a fee waiver.

Senior Pictures
We had all seniors get a picture taken at the beginning of the school year for their school ID.  Students are not required to have senior pictures taken privately.  If they choose to they can submit private pictures for the yearbook, but if they do not submit a picture for yearbook the one taken this fall will be used.

Homecoming
The dance is October 1.  Tickets are $10/person. 

Yearbook
2016-2017 yearbooks can be ordered now.  They are $55 for a plain book and $60 to have a student's name put on it.  The cost may go up later in the year, so students who want a yearbook are encouraged to order one as soon as they can.

Senior T-shirts
These are typically sold in winter - early spring and are $15-20.

Prom
Prom is May 6.  Tickets have traditionally been $25/person.  After-prom has had a charge as well around $10/person. 
 
Senior video
The senior video is sold in the spring and is $20.

College enrollment deposit
Depending on the college or university, most if not all require a deposit on or around the national “decision day” of May 1st. If a student applies “early decision” to a college or university, it could be required as early as January or February.  These range from $100 to $500.

Senior Dinner
Students are invited to attend a special senior dinner event the week of graduation.  Students are required to make a deposit to reserve a spot, but if they attend the dinner it is refunded.  In the past it has been a $10 deposit."