November 21, 2017

EBM + ESSA = New Way of Making Decisions
Over the past several years I have written several blog articles concerning PARCC scores and the impact or lack of impact on actual school district policy decisions. For a further understanding of my thoughts you may want to read the following blog articles:
The following are some highlights from these articles:  
  • Almost all states have abandoned the words "Common Core" and now refer to Common Core as "State Standards."
  • One of the stated goals of Common Core was to create internationally benchmarked standards. To understand what this really means, I researched what the words "internationally benchmarked standards" mean. As an example, an "exceeds in Math" at the high school level is equivalent to a 33 on the ACT test. Is it a wonder that few Illinois high school students exceed standards in math?
  • The Illinois transition from ISAT to PARCC was an attempt to better align elementary student ISAT scores with ACT college-ready scores. Thus, elementary scores of students meeting or exceeding standards in the 90% or better range became 30% or better on PARCC. Do you really think cumulative student scores dropped by 60% in one year? No, the cut score changed.
  • Student growth score analysis quickly grew as an alternative way of reporting student achievement because of this perceived drop in student achievement. However, critics were quick to point out that these growth scores were not indicative of student achievement or putting it another way, of being "College and Career Ready."
  • The concept of Growth vs. Proficiency is still being debated. Most experts agree that proficiency scores (PARCC) need to be reported to the public but the institution (school district) should be using growth scores to determine policy, decision making and teacher and principal evaluation ratings.
  • I researched college enrollment and college completion and determined the following: If 66% of high school graduates enroll in college and then 59% graduate within 6 years, then an estimated 39% of high school graduates graduate from college. I would assume this means they are "college ready" if they graduate. This statistic is far more than the 17% of Illinois students who met or exceeded expectations on the PARCC. I believe the cut scores are not set correctly.
  • I have also written about the family involvement for student academic proficiency. In families (especially immigrant families from countries such as India, China, Viet Nam and others) that value education and require their children to study and work hard in school, the meets and exceeds proficiency rates are very high. Schools need help from parents and families to achieve higher proficiency scores.
  • Another blog post I wrote concerned my perceived lack of parental attention to their child's PARCC scores. Parents want to know what college their child will be able to successfully be admitted more than they want to know their child's PARCC score.
So why as a school superintendent did I take you on this walk through research and my ideas on public education? The reason is that the new Illinois ESSA plan allows schools and districts to tell their own stories about how your schools are being successful.
My first recommendation to you would be to determine what your public thinks are the success factors for your schools. High schools might want to refer to the work of Dr. David Schuler and High School District 214 in Arlington Heights. Dr. Schuler has initiated a campaign to redefine what it means to be ready for college, work and life. It is titled "Redefining Ready" This website encourages schools to expand the definition of ready to possibly include some or all of the following: "The new readiness indicators, developed from research by world-class organizations, more accurately reflect the educational landscape of the 21st century. Multiple metrics include Advanced Placement courses, Algebra II, early college credits, industry credentials, attendance, community service, among others."
I would suggest that you look at the ISBE strategic goals. They include the following:
Every child in each public school system in the state of Illinois deserves to attend a system wherein...
  • All kindergarteners are assessed for readiness
  • Ninety percent or more third-grade students are reading at or above grade level
  • Ninety percent or more fifth-grade students are meet or exceed expectations in mathematics
  • Ninety percent or more of ninth-graders are on track to graduate with their cohort
  • Ninety percent or more students graduate from high school ready for college and career
  • All students are supported by highly prepared and effective teachers and school leaders
  • Every school offers a safe and healthy learning environment for all students 
You could convene the stakeholders in your school district and determine what measures your district stakeholders believe defines success for your students. Let's say your stakeholders determined similar benchmarks as ISBE, your message might look like the following:
  • X% of our kindergarteners are ready for school, this number has increased considerably following the expansion of our pre-kindergarten program.
  • X% of our third graders are at reading level based on Lexile scores, this number has increased due to the following factors: reduction in student to teacher ratio at grades K-3; the change in our reading program; the addition of reading coaches for our primary teachers; and the reading interventions for students not meeting expectations.
  • X% of our fifth graders meet or exceed PARCC standards in math, this percentage has increased due to our revision of the math program to directly align to the Illinois Learning Standards and our conversion to a standards-based grading system.
  • X% of our ninth graders are on track to graduate, this percentage has increased dramatically as a result of our new freshmen orientation program, our employment of additional counselors at the ninth grade level who track student grades on a weekly basis, and the interventions we pursue with students who have any grades lower than a C.
  • X% of our students are college and career ready as evidenced by the new high school requirement that students pass the local junior college math and English readiness assessment, any student who does not pass the assessment is required to take a non-college credit remedial course in the subject they did not successfully complete. This course is taught by the junior college at our high school and the district covers the cost of the class for the student. This is our school district guarantee that all students will be able to take college-level math and English for college credit after they complete high school.
  • X% of our teachers are National Board Certified, this is an increase of X% from five years ago.
  • The district has remodeled all entrances to the schools to increase the safety of students and staff.
Potential Trouble Decisions for Superintendents
Every superintendent, whether in a small rural town, suburban city, or urban setting will sometime in their career deal with a request from either a single board member or multiple board members for the school district to employ a friend, relative, spouse of a business partner, etc.... The best time to deal with this conundrum is to talk to the full Board of Education in open session before it happens.
A great place to have these discussions is during strategic planning for the school district. When discussing mission, vision and goals the topic of personnel is sure to be on the agenda. This is the time for the school board to state their desires for the employees in the school district. Do the school board members want the administration to recommend the best-qualified candidate for the position or the person who has local ties and connections?
The one suggestion I would offer for these difficult decisions is to pledge to at least interview local candidates and/or candidates recommended by school board members. This at least recognizes the input from individual school board members while at the same time allowing the administration to follow the directive of the above-mentioned strategic planning session.
Another factor I have learned with experience is that many times a highly qualified candidate from a totally different area of the state often returns closer to home at the earliest convenience. Thus, I have learned to give special attention to candidates who were raised in the general part of the state near the local school district.
During these types of decisions it is important to remember as superintendent you are the CEO, not the owner, of the school district. The board members are the elected representatives of the owners of the school district, the registered voters.
You Can Observe a Lot by Watching
Yogi Berra passed away in September 2015. Yogi Berra was an American professional baseball catcher, manage, and coach who played 19 seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB) (1946-63, 1965), all but the last for the New York Yankees. One of Yogi Berra's interesting quotes is, "You can observe a lot by watching." This is especially true when observing what is happening in your district's classrooms. I often suggest to teacher evaluators that they spend an entire observation just scripting what the students are doing. This gives the observer a very interesting and different perspective of what is happening in a classroom.
Danielson's "Engaged Learning" definition concentrates on what the student is intellectually doing in the classroom. I have written about this in the past but it is such an important concept it deserves further clarification and explanation. When an observer concentrates on the students and what they are doing it is much easier to script evidence related to this important component. In order for the student(s) to demonstrate intellectual work they have to be speaking, writing and doing or in some way illustrating that they are thinking about the instructional objective of the class.
In my many observations of actual teaching, I often find that students working in a small group without the teacher present are some of the best evidence of "engaged learning." You notice I said "without the teacher present." Students working without direct teacher intervention often results in students answering other students' questions, students teaching other students how to do the work, students collaborating to find the correct solution, students choosing how to solve the problem, students researching for possible solutions, and generally students doing the work.
While the use of technology is not the only way to illustrate "engaged learning," properly implemented in a classroom, technology can certainly enhance this concept. In a flipped classroom video blog produced by an eighth grade Algebra teacher Katie Kimbar, she talks about how this approach engages all types of learners in her classroom. You may view this video blog on YouTube at When you listen to Kimbar talk you can envision a classroom in which virtually all the students would be engaged because there is little whole group teacher-centered instruction. Each student chooses how they want to learn the material and works at their own rate to complete the learning goal. This would be an example of an "engaged" classroom.
Dealing with Specific Board Member Requests
In the November 2012 issue of School Administrator, Richard Mayer, a California school board member, writes in the article "When a Board Member Asks for Special Treatment," how to deal with this issue. In this scenario, the board president calls the high school principal to communicate to the principal that he wanted his daughter to be enrolled in an honors course. Is this request a reward for being a board member or is it abuse of the position?
Mayer points out that if others find out about this favor it could cause perceived lack of fairness and harm the principal's reputation. Mayer writes, "Once a board member's colleagues, constituents or district administrators suspect even a tinge of corruption, he or she has lost effectiveness as a school board member." Mayer's recommendation is for the superintendent to train and communicate to board members proper board etiquette, " essential (albeit unwritten) part of a superintendent's job is to prevent board members from behaving badly."
You might be thinking that this process of talking to board members about inappropriate behavior is easier said than done. However, it has been my experience that the time to address these kinds of issues is immediately. I agree with Mayer's suggestion to communicate to board members early about their proper role and responsibilities as board members. However, if situations like the one above surfaces in your district you need to address it immediately and directly.
In addition to special requests from school board members, you will also probably receive requests for information on school issues from specific board members. I believe it is good practice to communicate to all school board members when one school board member requests specific information. For example, if one board member requests travel expense information for all employees, I would communicate this request to the other board members and provide all the board members with the same information.
Tip of the Week
When you arrive home from work, remember the people in your home love you. Take time before you enter the house to unwind from your day and think of positive thoughts that you can greet your love ones with.

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Dr. Richard Voltz
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Professional Development/Induction-Mentoring
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