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Open House: OMG!

September 15, 2013 — 1 Comment

September is Open House Month, and the welcoming speech from a teacher could sound like this:

“Welcome, Parents! Let me show you how to access my website on the SMARTboard where you can see how the CCSS are aligned with our curriculum. You can monitor your child’s AYP by accessing our SIS system, Powerschool. In addition, all of our assignments are on the class wiki that you can access 24/7.  As we are a BYOD school, your child will need a digital device with a 7″ screen to use in class.”


How parents may feel during Open House listening to education acronyms

The result of such a speech is that parents may feel like students all over again. The same people who sat in desks, perhaps only a few years ago, now are on another side of the classroom experience, and the rapid changes caused by the use of technology in education necessitate a need for education primer, a list of important terms to know. While attending the Open House, parents can observe that there are still bulletin boards showcasing student work. They can note how small the desks appear now, if there are desks. Perhaps the lunch lady is the same individual who doled out applesauce and tater tots onto their school lunch trays.  Yet, listening to how instruction is delivered, monitored, and accessed may make parents feel that they are in some alien experience with instructors and administrators spouting a foreign language. Just what is a wiki? they may wonder, and what does BYOD stand for?

So, let’s begin with some of the acronyms.  At Open House, educators may casually throw around some of the following terms to explain what they teach or how they measure what they teach:

  • PBL (Project Based Learning) a hands-on lesson;
  • SIS (Student Information System);
  • Bloom’s Taxonomy: a sequence of learning based on complication of task and level of critical thinking which is being replaced by the DOK;
  • DOK (Depths of Knowledge) complication of task and level of critical thinking required
  • ESL (English as a Second Language);
  • AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress);
  • WIKI: a web application which allows people to add, modify, or delete content in a collaboration with others; and
  • SMARTboard: interactive white board

Subject area names may also seem unfamiliar since they now reflect a different focus on areas in education. English is now ELA (English/Language Arts) while science and math have merged like the Transformers into the mighty STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The old PE class may now bear the moniker Physical Activity and Health (PAH), but  History has already dealt with the shift to the more inclusive term Social Studies coined in the 1970s.

Assessment (testing) brings about another page in the list of education acronyms that parents may hear on Open House, including these few examples:

DRP (Degrees of Reading Power) reading engagement, oral reading fluency, and comprehension younger elementary students;
DRA (Developmental Reading Assessment) reading engagement, oral reading fluency, and comprehension in elementary and middle grade students;
STAR: new skills-based test items, and new in-depth reports for screening, instructional planning, progress monitoring;
PSAT/SAT/ACT:designed to assess student academic readiness for college 

Parents, however, should be aware that they are not alone in their confusion. Educators often deal with acronym duplication, and  state by state the abbreviations may change. In Connecticut, some students have IEPs (Individual Education Plans), but all students have SSP (Student Success Profiles) which shares the same acronym with the SSP (Strategic School Profile). Connecticut introduced the teacher evaluation program SEED known as the System for Educator Evaluation and Development, which is an acronym not to be confused with SEED, a partnership with urban communities to provide educational opportunities that prepare underserved students for success in college and career.

Federal programs only add to the list of abbreviations. Since 1975, students have been taught while IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) has been implemented. NCLB (No Child Left Behind) has been the dominating force in education for the length of the Class of 14’s time in school, along with its partner SSA (Student Success Act) which is similar to, but not exactly like, the SSP mentioned earlier. The latest initiative to enter the list of reform movements that parents should know  is known as the CCSS the Common Core State Standards.

The CCSS are academic standards developed in 2009 and adopted by 45 states in order to provide “a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them.” Many of the concepts in the CCSS will be familiar to parents, however, the grade level at which they are introduced may be a surprise. Just as their parents may have been surprised to find the periodic tables in their 5th grade science textbooks, there are many concepts in math (algebra) and English (schema) that are being introduced as early as Kindergarten.

So when a student leaves in the morning with a digital device for school, BYOD or BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology) and sends a “text” that they will be staying late for extra help or extra-curricular activities, parents should embrace the enhanced communication that this Brave New World of technology in education is using. If at Open House a parent needs a quick explanation of the terms being used by a teacher, he should raise his hand;  in spite of all these newfangled terms and devices, that action still signals a question.

Above all, parents should get to know the most important people in the building: the school secretary (sorry, the Office Coordinator) and the school custodian (sorry, FMP: Facility Maintenance Personnel). They know where your child left her backpack.

Is this the Age of Enlightenment? No.
Is this the Age of Reason? No.
Is this the Age of Discovery? No.

This is the Age of Measurement.

Specifically, this is the age of measurement in education where an unprecedented amount of a teacher’s time is being given over to the collection and review of data. Student achievement is being measured with multiple tools in the pursuit of improving student outcomes.

I am becoming particularly attuned to the many ways student achievement is measured as our high school is scheduled for an accreditation visit by New England Association of Schools and Colleges(NEASC) in the Spring of 2014. I am serving as a co-chair with the very capable library media specialist, and we are preparing the use of school-wide rubrics.

Several of our school-wide rubrics currently in use have been designed to complement scoring systems associated with our state tests,  the Connecticut Mastery Tests (CMT) or Connecticut Academic Performance Tests (CAPT). While we have modified the criteria and revised the language in the descriptors to meet our needs, we have kept the same number of qualitative criteria in our rubrics. For example, our reading comprehension rubric has the same two scoring criteria as does the CAPT. Where our rubric asks students to “explain”, the CAPT asks students to “interpret”. The three rating levels of our rubric are “limited”, “acceptable”, and  “excellent” while the CAPT Reading for Information ratings are “below basic”, “proficient”, and “goal”.

We have other standardized rubrics, for example, we have rubrics that mimic the six scale PSAT/SAT scoring for our junior essays, and we also have rubrics that address the nine scale Advanced Placement scoring rubric.

Our creation of rubrics to meet the scoring scales for standardized tests is not an accident. Our customized rubrics help our teachers to determine a student’s performance growth on common assessments that serve as indicators for standardized tests. Many of our current rubrics correspond to standardized test scoring scales of 3, 6, or 9 points, however, these rating levels will be soon changed.

Our reading and writing rubrics will need to be recalibrated in order to present NEASC with school-wide rubrics that measure 21st Century Learning skills; other rubrics will need to be designed to meet our topics. Our NEASC committee at school has determined that (4) four-scale scoring rubrics would be more appropriate in creating rubrics for six topics:

  • Collaboration
  • Information literacy*
  • Communication*
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Problem solving*
  • Responsible citizenship

These six scoring criteria for NEASC highlight a gap of measurement that can be created by relying on standardized tests, which directly address only three (*) of these 21st Century skills. Measuring the other 21st Century skills requires schools like ours to develop their own data stream.

Measuring student performance should require multiple metrics. Measuring student performance in Connecticut, however, is complicated by the lack of common scoring rubrics between the state standardized tests and the accrediting agency NEASC. The scoring of the state tests themselves can also be confusing as three (3) or six (6) point score results are organized into bands labelled 1-5. Scoring inequities could be exacerbated when the CMT and CAPT and similar standardized tests are used in 2013 and 2014 as 40 % of a teacher’s evaluation, with an additional 5% on whole school performance. The measurement of student performance in 21st Century skills will be addressed in teacher evaluation through the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), but these tests are currently being designed.  By 2015, new tests that measure student achievement according to the CCSS with their criteria, levels, and descriptors in new rubrics will be implemented.This emphasis on standardized tests measuring student performance with multiple rubrics has become the significant measure of student and teacher performance, a result of the newly adopted Connecticut Teacher Evaluation (SEED) program.

The consequence is that today’s classroom teachers spend a great deal of time reviewing of data that has limited correlation between standards of measurement found in state-wide tests (CMT,CAPT, CCSS) with those measurements in nation-wide tests (AP, PSAT, SAT, ACT) and what is expected in accrediting agencies (NEASC). Ultimately valuable teacher time is being expended in determining student progress across a multitude of rubrics with little correlation; yes, in simplest terms, teachers are spending a great deal of time comparing apples to oranges.

I do not believe that the one metric measurement such as Connecticut’s CMT or CAPT or any standardized test accurately reflects a year of student learning; I believe that these tests are snapshots of student performance on a given day. The goals of NEASC in accrediting schools to measure student performance with school-wide rubrics that demonstrate students performing 21st Century skills are more laudable. However, as the singular test metric has been adopted as a critical part of Connecticut’s newly adopted teacher evaluation system, teachers here must serve two masters, testing and accreditation, each with their own separate systems of measurement.

With the aggregation of all these differing data streams, there is one data stream missing. There is no data being collected on the cost in teacher hours for the collection, review, and recalibration of data. That specific stream of data would show that in this Age of Measurement, teachers have less time for /or to work with students; the kind of time that could allow teachers to engage students in the qualities from ages past: reason, discovery, and enlightenment.