Friday, July 26, 2013

We've Been “Warned”

EGHS “Warning” Classification Informational Sheet
Michael J. Podraza, Principal and Timothy S. Chace, Assistant Principal

On July 2, 2013 the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) released school classifications using a new system.  The new system, revamped according to RIDE website  “...comes out of a request for “flexibility” regarding some of the provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA - also known as No Child Left Behind or NCLB) , and it placed East Greenwich High School into a category of “Warning”.  The reasoning for this classification has been explained by RIDE as: the size of the gap that existed last year in our NECAP Math scores between the scores of our “Performance Reference Group” and a subgroup of “Students with Disabilities” has increased.  

Needless to say, this data, in light of the high stakes nature of NECAP on our students ability to graduate, and the impact that it has on our school’s classification and reputation, greatly concerns us.  We have, and will continue to actively take steps to address this and any gaps that we may identify in our students’ learning.  There is, however, other data and information that comes out as a result of this annual classification, but has not yet been disseminated to the EGHS community. It is our intention to do so here.

What follows below are some important data points from our 2013 ranking and scores that we hope will clarify some of the concerns that the community may have, and will show the true growth that East Greenwich High School has made and is currently being overshadowed by this new classification.  All of the information below can be obtained through RIDE’s "Fall 2012 RI NECAP Results Public Report" or Public NECAP Reports via Measured Progress.  The links in the bullets are to the the official RIDE “Report Card” for EGHS in the year highlighted.

A Closer Look at the Data

EGHS Overall
  • According to our Official “School Report Card” EGHS had the number of examined targets almost double this year. However, we “Met” or “Met †” († symbol means- Student group has fallen short of the target but has made sufficient progress”) in all of those targets in 2013 (9/9).  This was not the case when we were ranked as a “Commended” school in 2012 (3/5).

  • The percentage of EGHS students achieving “at or above proficiency” in Mathematics on NECAP improved in 2013 to 70%.  This is 5% growth from last year and a 6% growth over 5 years.  This growth puts further pressure on any gap that may already exist between all students and any subgroups. Only one other high school in the state (Barrington HS) joined us at or above 70%.  The State average in mathematics is 34%.
  • The percentage of EGHS students achieving “substantially below proficient” (lowest NECAP score) in Mathematics decreased 3% in 2013 from 2012 while the number of students tested increased.

Reading and Writing
  • The percentage of EGHS students “at or above proficiency” in Reading on NECAP improved in 2013 to 95%.  This is 4% growth from last year and a 5% growth over 5 years.  Only one other high school in the state (Classical HS) was at or above 95%.  The State average in reading is 79%.
  • The percentage of EGHS students “at or above proficiency” in Writing on NECAP was 75% in 2013 . The State average is 50%. NECAP Writing Scores are not a factor in school classifications and unlike NECAP Reading and Math, RIDE has not made it an area required for graduation.

EGHS Scores vs. RI “Commended” and “Leading” Schools

1. Commended Schools

According to RIDE’s Website on School Classifications Commended Schools are  “The highest performing schools that represent the strongest patterns of performance across metrics, test at least 95% of their students, and serve all students well.”

RIDE “Commended” Schools
Block Island
No Data
Exeter West Greenwich
Jacklyn M. Walsh
North Smithfield

“Commended” Schools Average

2.  Leading Schools

According to RIDE’s Website on School Classifications Leading Schools are ranked as such because ofStrong achievement in reading and mathematics, small or no gaps in student performance, and/or are improving student achievement, and increasing graduation rates

RIDE “Leading” Schools
Greene School
Mount Hope
North Kingstown
North Providence
Paul Cuffee
Times X2
Trinity Academy

“Leading” Schools Average

New Factors Qualified for in a New Classification System

  • For the first time ever, in 2013 EGHS had enough students qualify for the subgroup “Students with Disabilities” as a category RIDE uses in determining in classification.  In order to qualify for any subgroup that is factored into classifications, the group’s population must be greater than or equal to 20 students.  In addition, new to the classification system this year, if a school qualifies for a subgroup, RIDE automatically creates another category that is then also used in the classifications called “super-subgroups”.  This occurs even though the school’s population may not qualify for the other subgroup that is factored.  The EGHS super-subgroup is called “Program” Super-Subgroup and it consists of students with an IEP along with students who are considered ELL (English Language Learners).

EGHS Actions- Math and Subgroups

  • Based on previous years NECAP and course taking data, in 2011-2012 EGHS made major changes to it’s Mathematics scope and sequence as well as to the courses offered to all students in Mathematics for School Year 12-13.
  • In SY 12-13 EGHS increased the number of “Math Labs” to meet increased need and support students to meet the new NECAP graduation requirement. This class provides additional direct mathematics instruction by a certified Math teacher and supported with a Special Education teacher.  Math labs support all students who meet local criteria as being in need of Mathematics support.
  • Specialized sections of “Study Skills”, a Special Education support class, were designated for students with IEPs who struggle in Math during SY 12-13.
  • To support struggling students, the number of sections of Response to Intervention (RtI) (which is taught by Special Educators) was increased.
  • A grant funded after-school program called “Check and Connect” was implemented in SY 12-13 to support students involved in RtI.

EGHS’ Commitment to Excellence

Despite our school’s history of, and continued exemplary achievement on standardized tests such as NECAP, SAT, AP, ACT, etc., we reject the notion that any school, student or educator should ever be defined or categorized simply by one test or measure. Standardized tests can be a valuable tool to help inform instruction, but they are only a snapshot in time, not an album of true growth and achievement. As such, we will constantly work to examine and improve the full complement of educational experiences for our students at EGHS.

We are proud of the hard work done every day by our students, teachers, staff, parents, and the support that the East Greenwich community provides to the High School. We are confident that in the coming years, the EGHS community will rise to the challenge of closing any achievement gaps that we may encounter, whether for groups or individuals.  While we continue to be proud of the education that we provide at EGHS, we will always look to improve, because we are truly driven to empower students as lifelong learners.  We believe that this is best accomplished through: a commitment to implementing and achieving the highest standards, delivering personalized instruction with student choice, and promoting real and relevant skills that our students find valuable to shape their futures.  

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Education's Goodhart's Law Violation?

As I look to prepare my school community for the newest form of standardized testing that my students will be using, and that as a school we will be judged on (as a school in Rhode Island we will be using PARCC), I have a few nagging questions/concerns that keep popping into my head. However, after reading Steve Denning's The Single Best Idea for Reforming K-12 Education I believe I found common thread to my questions & concerns:
"The current focus on testing has tended to make test results the goal of the system, rather than a measure. The change in goal means recognizing that a test is only measure. Using tests as the goal infringes Goodhart’s Law: when measure becomes the goal, it ceases to be an effective measure."
In our preparation for standardized testing that is aligned to the Common Core, have we violated Goodhart's Law? If so, have we usurped the potential power that is the CCSS?

Although this discovery has not decreased the nagging questions in my head, it has helped to align them and has created one major question that now lingers- When have so many countless hours been spent preparing, creating and/or dismantling elements of our educational system for something that is going to determine the fate of so many, but has yet to be: created/released to the population that will use it, proven reliable, and/or proven valid?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Not Buying What We Are Selling?

What if the students that we are looking to educate, make life-long learners of, equip with essential skills, make productive citizens, etc., are not buying what we are selling?

Can many of the difficulties we as educators find with achieving the goals listed above come down to the fact that many students don't want to play a role in the current realities of our educational system?

Are we losing those who should be our best students? Those who don't want to "game" their way through learning (How many arbitrary/make-believe "points" makes my learning good enough?).

Are we losing the students who, after completing all the worksheets, reading all the different textbooks (never covering all the chapters though), listened to the countless lectures, did all the required readings, wrote all the papers, and passed all of "the tests", yet are no more empowered than when they began to create solutions to the problems they are concerned with?

Yes, kids are different these days (and this is a good thing). No longer do we have students who are blindly engaged by the dominant pedagogical progression of: basic lessons first-then prove you are ready to move on (test/grade)-then take the next course-then prove you are ready (test/grade)-then repeat as mandated-Why?-Because I said so. What is created in this progression? What changes? How is one tangibly different than when they started? How is one empowered? Most importantly, how is this process real and relevant to the worlds students intrinsically choose to inhabit? In far too many cases the answer to all of the questions is "Nothing/They are not/It doesn't". 

(Unfortunately the deficit-model of education now heavily promoted and in vogue in schools will only exacerbate this situation, but that is a post for another day.)

I believe that in the long run, the disenchantment with this system of education is is a good thing.  Tackling this issue will ultimately help us to evolve into systems that can achieve the goal of producing lifelong, reflective learners. I also believe that within the problem lies the solution. The truth is that if we don't feel apart of, or are made to feel not a part of a group/organization/system, we won't want to be involved activities that we feel merely sustain it.  When we see ourself as an outsider, how compelled are we to take the steps necessary to perpetuate a system that we don't connect to? Don't get me wrong, many will go through the motions. Many will do enough to collect "points", or may continue to show up so that extrinsic rewards are attained or punishments are avoided. However, if creating lifelong learners is the goal, this passive progression cannot be acceptable.  It will never achieve education's goals. As such, we must immediately begin to take the critical step of personalizing education in order to make all students "insiders".  

As educators we must find a way to get all of our students engaged in learning, not in schooling.  We must personalize learning, not to align lessons to Gardner's multiple intelligences, get points on an evaluation rubric, or because we believe it may help raise test scores. We must personalize to engage. We must personalize to create an environment where every learner is an insider by choice. Because in education, when a learner is an insider, we have a person who creates, who fixes, who changes, and who sustains the world and the culture in which they had a hand in creating. We will then, once again, have a product worth buying.