Friday, May 30, 2014

Creating thinkers or test-takers?

With the implementation of our new Professional Growth and Effectiveness System this fall, I have been closely monitoring the national conversation concerning student growth and pay for performance. We have been lucky in Kentucky to have leadership by teachers, principals, and superintendents to develop a balanced system of effectiveness that focuses on the professional growth of educators NOT getting rid of them.  While the overall goal is college/ career-readiness for all, our success in improving student outcomes will be determined, in a large part, by getting the system RIGHT!

I have long been a systems thinker and have been heavily influenced by the work of Edwards Deming. In his book Out of the Crisis, Dr. Deming had some astute observations about annual performance evaluations that were connected to merit or performance pay. Here is an excerpt from page 101:

Evaluation of performance, merit rating, or annual review… “The idea of a merit rating is alluring. The sound of the words captivates the imagination:  pay for what you get; get what you pay for; motivate people to do their best, for their own good.” Deming says that may be fine in theory, but “the effect is exactly the opposite of what the words promise.”

Deming went on to say that 90-95 percent of the variation in an individual’s performance and the performance of the organization (in our case a school) could be attributed to the system. Implementing a teacher evaluation system that focuses solely on student performance is a simplistic answer to a very complex system and is WRONG! 

We must ask ourselves, are we trying to develop a system that will result in students learning to think or simply take tests?

In Kentucky, we are focused on the entire system of professional growth and effectiveness to support teachers, principals, and superintendents which will result in student success. 

The system includes a focus on working conditions that impact student learning. Another key focus is providing access to professional learning that is customized to the needs of the teacher, principal or superintendent. A very large part of the system is teacher preparation. In collaboration with the Education Professional Standards Board and Council on Postsecondary Education, our state is working closely with universities to improve the teacher recruitment, preparation, placement and the retention of great teachers.  There are many more parts of the system we are working on. 

Quite often the Kentucky Department of Education is criticized for working on too many things at one time. However,  if you truly want to reform a system, you cannot work on only one part of the system until you perfect it and then move on to the next part. Every action you take has a ripple effect on other parts of the system. System work can be hard and very frustrating; however, if we want to reform our education system to help more children achieve college/career-readiness and success, then it is our responsibility to do the work and to get the system RIGHT!

Terry Holliday, Ph.D.
Education Commissioner

Friday, May 23, 2014

Kentucky’s chapter in the education reform story

This week I had the opportunity to speak to education writers from across the United States at their national seminar in Nashville.  The Education Writers Association includes journalists, researchers, teachers, policymakers and others with an interest in improving the public discourse surrounding education. The organization is dedicated to improving the quality and quantity of education coverage to create a better-informed society.  Several of the journalists who regularly cover education in Kentucky were in attendance.

The organization asked me to share Kentucky’s education reform story.  By all accounts it is a success, though we still have a long way to go to achieve our goal of college/career-readiness for all.  The following are some of the thoughts I shared with them as the reasons for our accomplishments.

When they write the Kentucky chapter in the book describing education reform, they will certainly mention the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990. I hope they will also highlight the era of Race to the Top, Federal Stimulus Funds and No Child Left Behind Waivers. Kentucky’s leadership in education reform is well documented and is part of the culture for education in Kentucky.

The Kentucky chapter documenting the reform period from 2008-2016 should begin with the foundation that was developed through the passage of major legislation in 2009. Senate Bill 1 (SB1) passed with no dissenting votes. SB 1 required new college-ready standards, assessments, accountability systems, and support for educators in implementing. Perhaps the most unique part of the legislation was the requirement for collaboration between higher education and K-12 education on setting college-ready standards.

When the Kentucky chapter is written, a few key initiatives should be highlighted.

1. It really helps to be the first. Kentucky was first to adopt and 
        implement common core state standards, first to assess the 
        standards, and first to implement an accountability system 
        based on the standards. By being first we were able to 
        chart our own course. There was no major opposition since 
        we had 100 percent support from legislators and the 
        Governor. Also, there were no other states for people to 
        compare us to.
2. We worked to develop a broad base of support. We developed 
        a strong communications plan with key partners. Our 
        educators stayed involved and informed through every 
        phase. Parents received communication on why we needed 
        more rigorous standards and assessments and how this would 
        impact their children. Business leaders received packets of 
        materials from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce to help 
        them lead the reform efforts in their communities.
3. From the very beginning we made a decision to involve 
        teachers in every step of implementation. We pulled more 
        than 1,300 teachers, principals, and district leaders together 
        every month for two years to help us plan for implementation 
        and monitor and adjust implementation plans. Every school 
        and every school district developed a comprehensive plan 
        for implementation and support for the new standards
4. We made a decision not to rush the teacher, principal, and 
        superintendent evaluation procedures. We heavily involved 
        educators to develop evaluation models linked to the new 
        standards and assessments. As a result, we have widespread
        support this year as every district piloted the new evaluation 

        systems and next year, all teachers, principals, and 
        superintendents will utilize the state evaluation procedures.
5. Finally, our state is committed to a continuous improvement 
        approach. We know we must continue to listen and learn from 
        students, parents, teachers, and community leaders. Just 
        one example of our continuous improvement approach is our 
        Kentucky Core Academic Standards Challenge which will launch 
        in August. We are asking every citizen in Kentucky to read the 
        standards and provide comments and suggestions on how to 
        improve the standards so we reach our goal of every student 
        reaching college- and career-readiness.

Finally, I hope the Kentucky chapter will close with the record of success we have enjoyed. Our high school graduation rate is among the top in the nation and our college- and career-readiness rate has improved from 34 percent to 54 percent since we adopted common core standards. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

The angst and anticipation of PGES

In order for more students to achieve success by reaching college- and career-readiness standards, we must have a highly effective teacher in every classroom, a highly effective leader in every school, a highly effective leader in every school district, and strong support and guidance from the state through the General Assembly, Kentucky Department of Education and Kentucky Board of Education. The theory of action is strong and clear but the resulting plan is a daunting challenge to implement. 

The teacher, leader and superintendent growth and effectiveness blueprint has taken Kentucky educators more than four years of careful planning, negotiation, testing and tweaking. Full implementation of the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System without personnel consequences will roll out for teachers, leaders and superintendents during the 2014-15 school year. In the 2015-16 school year, the effectiveness system will be used for personnel decisions at all levels. The work to date has been very difficult; however, we are only half way to our goal.  

Full implementation of our educator effectiveness system will require significant changes and intensive training, but the benefits are many. Superintendents will be much more engaged in instructional and planning processes with their principals and school councils. Principals will be more involved in monitoring instruction and providing feedback to teachers to help them improve. Teachers will be looking for models and exemplars of powerful instruction that help more students succeed.  That’s what should happen.

I do, however, have some trepidation as we move toward full implementation of the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System in 2014-15. I am concerned that teachers and principals may not have received adequate training to implement the system. I am concerned that teachers and principals may not fully understand the multiple measures in the effectiveness system. I am concerned that principals may not implement the system with fidelity and rather than focus on feedback to teachers so they may improve teaching and learning, the principals will use the system as just another checklist to get the work done. I am concerned that at the end of the school year we may have more than 90 percent of our teachers rated effective and yet student achievement will not have improved.

A couple of recent national issues also cause me some anxiety. In recent weeks, we have seen a number of education research reports question the use of student value-added growth measures. These reports show the wide variability of value-added measures and the inconsistency between value-added measures and other measures of teacher effectiveness. 

In Kentucky, we made very early decisions on using a student growth percentile that made more sense to teachers than a value-added measure used in surrounding states. Also, we were very intentional in not using student growth as a weighted component in our effectiveness system. In Kentucky, we will certainly use student growth as a significant component in teacher, principal and superintendent effectiveness systems; however, our focus is more on the continuous improvement of teaching and learning rather than dismissal of educators.

My uneasiness has been eased in the last few weeks with some encouraging news from the U.S. Department of Education (USED). When considering No Child Left Behind waivers, USED indicated for a large number of states, it would focus on standards and assessments and work with states on teacher and leader effectiveness. This is a good sign. Many states will not have student growth measures until 2016-17 since they are implementing new assessments in 2014-15 and at least two years of assessment data is needed to generate student growth data at the state level. In Kentucky, we first implemented our new college/career-readiness assessments of in the spring of 2012, so we will have three years of data at the end of the 2014 assessment cycle but still may benefit from USED’s approach.

No doubt, the national debate around teacher and leader effectiveness will continue and our roll out of the Kentucky Professional Growth and Effectiveness System will move forward. A key for Kentucky will be that we continue to listen to our educators to improve the system and weigh the results of the effectiveness system against the student and school measures of college- and career-readiness. We must see improvements in both these areas. If we do not, our effectiveness system will lack credibility. 

The theory of action is clear. Our planning has been collaborative and intentional. Now, we face the really tough work of implementing, monitoring and improving an effectiveness system that has the potential to not only elevate the education profession, but also to significantly improve student outcomes.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Learning system requires a system that learns

To create a great system of learning, you must have a system that learns. This is true at the individual student level, as well as at the teacher, classroom, school, district, and state levels. 

A student moving through school will be more successful if they have a system that learns. For an individual, this means that the student must look at his or her current and past performance and identify those habits of the mind and learning tools that enable the student to identify successes and missteps in learning.  Many students are using learning notebooks to identify their goals and track their performance in academics, behavior, and other important areas. Students who take time to analyze their performance and reflect in writing will identify learning methods that worked for them in the past and repeat those methods. They will also identify learning methods that did not work and review how to improve them in future learning opportunities.

Teachers need to develop learning systems both for their personal learning and that of the classroom. Teachers are lifelong learners. Throughout their careers, there are multiple opportunities for professional learning. In our Kentucky Professional Growth and Effectiveness System we are asking teachers to do self-reflection on their learning needs that address personal improvement and improvement in teaching. 

A great tool for a teacher to use in improving a classroom learning system is a continuous improvement cycle such as Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA).  To be effective, the teacher needs to engage students from the beginning to the end of the cycle. 

First, a teacher should plan learning experiences based on key learning requirements. Clear understanding of learner expectations is critical. Students also must have a clear understanding of how learning will be measured and the goal for the classroom. 

In the Do phase, a teacher and students will identify what the teacher will do and students will do to reach the learning expectations. 

In the Study phase, the students and teachers analyze learning results and identify potential improvement strategies and successful strategies. 

In the Act phase, the teacher and students build on strategies that work and implement improvement methods identified in the Study phase. 

The continuous improvement cycle repeats many times throughout the school year and within a short period of time, students become experts at improving not only their individual learning system but also the classroom learning system.
The PDSA learning cycle can be used at the school level to improve school outcomes. Also, a district can utilize the improvement cycle to improve student outcomes and operational outcomes. Finally, a state agency can overcome the bureaucratic tendencies of the agency by focusing on a continuous improvement cycle. 

At the Kentucky Department of Education, the foundation for our "learning system" that is now a "system of learning" is called Deliverology.  It is a system developed by Sir Michael Barber, advisor to former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and a global expert on education reform and implementation of large-scale system change. More information about KDE’s system can be found on the Delivery webpage.

Why is it important that a learning system become a system that learns? Without learning, outcomes that matter will not improve and we will maintain status quo. Too many of our children are not achieving success in our schools. Creating systems that learn is critical for those children who are not achieving success. Do you have a system that learns?

Friday, May 2, 2014

Congressional inaction leaving education behind

No Child Left Behind – it’s been part of our vernacular since 2001 when Congress passed the bipartisan legislation.  The idea was to change the Elementary and Secondary Education Act through an emphasis on closing achievement gaps and greater accountability. The hallmark of the legislation was the goal that 100 percent of students would reach proficiency in reading and math by 2014. 

While a laudable goal, there were major problems in the implementation of the law. States were allowed to set their own standards, design their own tests and set proficiency cut scores as they saw fit. The result was a wide variation among the states in the percentage of students reaching proficiency in reading and math. The National Assessment Governing Board highlighted these differences in a comparison of state testing data and data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). In several cases, states reported 80-90 percent of students scored proficient on state tests, while less than 20 percent reached proficiency on NAEP assessments. When many students reached college, this disparity became evident – they were not adequately prepared.   

In 2007 Congress was due to reauthorize No Child Left Behind.  In the meantime, there has been significant debate about how to do so. President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan proposed a blueprint to reauthorize NCLB; both the House and Senate have tried to move legislation that would reauthorize this important education law. However, to date, there has been no consensus on change and no success. 

While a 100 percent proficiency goal was worthy, it was also an impossible goal to reach. With the 2014 deadline looming, states and schools faced a deadline that would label all schools as failures. No Child Left Behind had lost all credibility with educators, parents, and the public. Something had to be done.

So in absence of ESEA reauthorization, the President and Secretary utilized executive orders and existing language in No Child Left Behind to allow states to seek waivers with the proviso they would do a better job preparing all children for college and careers. I had the opportunity to serve on a task force with the Council of Chief State School Officers that developed next-generation accountability principles that were a foundation for many states as they asked for a No Child Left Behind waiver. To date 44 states have received waivers.

The waiver issue has been in the news lately. Washington became the first state to lose a waiver when the state was unable to meet key requirements that it had agreed to in its waiver application.  During hearings on the administration’s proposed education budget, many of the questions from committee members focused on the No Child Left Behind waivers. Education writers have been criticizing the administration about how the Department of Education has handled the waivers.

The criticism is misplaced. States asked for relief from No Child Left Behind due to the impending 2014 deadline.  The criticism should be redirected to the root of the problem – Congress. Through its inability to pass a reauthorized No Child Left Behind law, Congress has left states floundering and the Department of Education attempting to help without any clear guidance or vision from lawmakers. 

Congress has failed to meet minimum expectations on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  The public recognizes this as evidenced by the low ratings on opinion polls. With a mid-term election in November, it is time to ask candidates what they would do to get Congress moving again so that our education system is not left behind.