Ensuring the success of every child every day by equipping and empowering educators with practical strategies to reach and engage all learners.
The second day of the conference was absolutely slammed with new information – more than I could possibly summarize in one blog post, but I’ll do my best! The sessions I attended today focused on some of the big-topic Race to the Top initiatives in North Carolina: the Instructional Improvement System (IIS), Measures of Student Learning (MSL), and the new Teacher Effectiveness Standards. This post will focus on the first two of those: the IIS and the MSLs.
Instructional Improvement System
Let me just say that if DPI can pull off the vision they have for the IIS it will be one very impressive system – a system that should truly make the work of educators in this state much more efficient. The overall purpose of the system is to improve and personalize student learning, and that’s accomplished by providing a link between the learner, instruction, assessment, and educator professional development. The IIS is not just designed for teachers but also students, parents, school administrators, and district personnel. So let’s look at these individually.
For students, the system will offer access to school resources anytime and anywhere a live internet connection is present. It will allow for online collaboration between students (not just at one school but from across the state at different schools), provide homework resources (including the ability to submit homework electronically), and even eTextbooks. The North Carolina Virtual Public School (NCVPS) will also be integrated into the system. Students will have the capability of designing and creating work portfolios which they can maintain over time (literally years) to demonstrate their own growth and learning.
Parents will be able to access the system to see progress reports and student grades, interact with teachers, view discipline and attendance data, and even find resources to assist their child with homework. The IIS will not only make information available to parents but also serve as a communication portal between parents and teachers/schools.
But since most of the readers of this blog are educators, I should spend a minute describing some of the features the state hopes to make available for us. For one, the IIS will serve as a clearinghouse of sorts where teachers can access lesson plans and assessment ideas (including test banks and formative assessment resources). Teachers will also have student profile information that tracks not only test scores and grades but work portfolios and student academic histories – some of these portfolios may be created by teachers while others are managed by the students themselves. It will serve as a place to participate in online professional development and even virtual PLCs (with real educators from across the state). It will maintain a PD catalog and PD records, similar to what MyLearningPlan currently offers Pitt County teachers. Use of the IIS will allow districts to collapse many of the programs we use into one single sign-on and house them in one place, so that teachers no longer have to access one program for PD, another for test data, another for benchmark creation, and another for student records. It will all be in one location.
School administrators will have similar access to the system as teachers, but it will also include the teacher evaluation rubric and process within the system. Again, this should help eliminate the number of sign-ons and resources administrators need to manage. By house student information, teacher evaluation, test data, and even parent contact information in one location administrators will be able to stream-line their work so they can be more effective in their jobs. They will have access to the PD resources that teachers see (including online courses) and have the ability to run progress reports and see school-wide testing data reported (including summative test scores from the EOGs and EOCs as well as EVAAS data).
As you can see, the IIS is a huge undertaking, but, if done correctly, should both empower teachers and make their jobs more efficient so they can spend less time taking care of some routine tasks and more time focusing on instructional design and delivery. The system has been posted for vendors to begin bidding on, and DPI has a goal of awarding the contract in August of 2012, with a phased roll-out of the system in the 2013-2014 school year. Now that’s exciting!
Measures of Student Learning (MSLs)
One of the sources of concern and frustration for many teachers and administrators is the new MSLs. While I can’t give an exhaustive summary of everything the MSLs will mean for our students, let me hit some highlights. First, let’s define what the MSLs are in their most basic form: MSLs are the assessments given to students in non-tested subjects that are meant to measure the impact individual teachers have had on student achievement. With that in mind, MSLs are not for school accountability but are for teacher accountability. That means results of MSLs will not be reported out to the public but will be considered private information in teacher personnel files. It also means the results of the MSLs will not be included in public reporting of school results. The MSLs have been designed by over 800 teachers from across the state for every subject area that is not currently tested as part of the state accountability model. So here’s a simple chart of what MSLs are and what they are not:
|| MSLs are NOT
|Measures of what students know are able to do after completing a course||Multiple-choice standardized exams for all parts of the curriculum|
|Tightly linked to the instruction that a teacher delivers||Assessments needing to be delivered with the same level of security as EOGs/EOCs|
|Designed with teacher input||Designed without teacher input|
|One part of how NC will evaluate teacher effectiveness||The only source of data used to make decisions about teacher effectiveness|
|Similar to the common summative assessments many districts already have in place||Part of the school accountability model|
|Grade Specific in K-8 and Subject Specific in 9-12||Assessments requiring a proctor when given (though one is suggested)|
|School data||Reported on report cards|
In short, MSLs were designed by teachers by answering the question, “What does meaningful assessment look like in your content . area?” When looking at types of assessments there are four major categories: current tests like the EOG/EOC/VoCATS tests, assessments that can be easily created and validated (like from courses that used to require testing but no longer do not), assessments that are more performance based in nature (for classes such as Art or Music), and assessments for local courses that are designed at the LEA level. In looking at the teacher population across the state, approximately 80% of teachers can use assessments from the first two categories – those that have already been designed or are easier to design and validate – while only 20% of teachers fall into the category of performance assessments and/or local courses. It is important to remember that even for these 20% of teachers the assessments are being designed with the input of teachers in these fields. In fact, this summer teachers in every content area assessed by the MSLs will gather together again to review items on the assessments and create the rubrics, scoring guides, and other guides required for the assessments.
In short, I really do not think MSLs are something that needs to be feared. Teachers are heavily involved in this process, and the impact of MSLs on teacher evaluation is still being worked out (which is why I’m only focusing on these two areas in this blog post and not addressing the Teacher Effectiveness standard – there are just too many unknowns at this point).
I’d like to close my post today by sharing some thoughts by Dr. Dennis Johnson during the afternoon general session. Dr. Johnson focused on exploring the shifting demographics in our state and briefly discussing implications for K-12 education. Without sharing all his statistics (which were very interesting), suffice it to say that the population in our schools is rapidly changing, and we need to begin teaching our students differently in order to ensure they succeed. He made a point that has been ringing in my mind all day, and that is “Education is necessary….but Insufficient.”
As an educator that’s a strange – almost offense – statement to hear, but he’s absolutely correct. Education has largely been viewed as the transfer of knowledge from one generation to the next, but that view of education is no longer sufficient for the changing world in which we live. Dr. Johnson identified five criteria he feels are necessary for students to maintain a “competitive toolkit” for life success (note, that’s not academic success but life success):
Notice that one one of these even remotely addresses the knowledge part of teaching (#1). Contextual intelligence deals with understanding information within context, particularly within life context (he used the example of dropping off a poor minority student in a room of educated adults and not knowing how to act and compared that to dropping off a highly-educated, middle-class person into the ghetto and expecting them to know how to act). This contextual intelligence is closely related to items #4 and 5 and reinforces the idea that it’s not just enough to know how to act in different situations, but it’s also having the ability to act differently in those situations. Finally, tool #2 allows students to work independently and not rely on others around them for success.
Now that’s a vision worth fighting for.