Burlington Public Schools Assessment Update from October 18, 2016 School Committee Meeting

The presentation embedded above was shared at our School Committee Meeting last Tuesday. It is a brief overview of some of our assessment data from across the district. 
Elementary Assessment Data 
Slides 3-11 are a glimpse at our Response to Intervention (RTI) Assessment data that we utilize for monitoring the progress of our elementary students. The highlights are as follows:
Slide 3 – This slide shows the trends in our Burlington elementary data with a focus on the fact that we moved 207 students from Tier 2 back to Tier 1 last year.
Slides 4-5 – These two slides are graphs that show concretely the increase in Tier 1 students during the course of the school year along with a decrease in Tier 2 students.
Slide 6-7 – These slides compare both  our mid-year data and end-of-year data from 2015 to 2016. In both cases, there is a clear improvement from 2015 to 2016. 
Slides 8-9 – These slides are further evidence of the fact that our elementary students are receiving focused instruction that is allowing them to improve upon deficits and move back to Tier 1.
Slides 10-11- These are the district-wide elementary results ELA and Math assessments. As the results indicate, we are hitting our mark of at least 80% of our students in Tier 1, no more than 15% in Tier 2, and no more than 5% in Tier 3. 
Slide 12 and 14 – These are our PARCC scores from last year for grades 3-8. It is noteworthy that all of our students took their PARCC assessments on digital devices. It is also worth noting that the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education stated the following about computer-based testing:

“The preliminary PARCC results showed that in most grades, students who took PARCC math and English language arts tests on a computer were less likely to score in the “meeting expectations” range…(Link to source)”

With this in mind, our Burlington elementary and middle school students still scored near or above 750, which is “meeting expectations” . 
Slides 16-17 – These slides show our high school MCAS scores for ELA and Math. In both areas, our students continue to perform well with 94% scoring in Advanced and Proficient in ELA and 89% in Advanced and Proficient in Math.  
Slide 18 – This slide shows the tremendous growth in our Advanced Placement courses at BHS. Since 2012, we have increased the number of AP Tests given from 260 to 404. At the same time, we have increased the percentage of passing scores from 72.9% to 82.2%. In addition, it is worth noting that over the same timespan our percentage of students passing the AP test compared to the state average has gone from 1% below the state average to 11.7% above the state average.


PARCC Will Replace MCAS For Most BPS Students

This post originally appeared on Superintendent Conti’s Blog

In case you missed it in the news last week, the Massachusetts Board of Education voted to accept a two-year transition plan to the PARCC assessment. The original plan to implement PARCC testing called for all Massachusetts students begin taking the new assessment in 2015, but MA Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester has been listening to school and district leaders across the state and has advocated for a more gradual transition:
“I have heard a great deal from school superintendents and others about the importance of pacing ourselves so that schools can implement PARCC and other reform initiatives in a thoughtful way,”he said in the memo. “This transition approach is responsive to the field…”
Many of the concerns schools have is in regards to the online aspect of PARCC testing, something that is new to our state. In order to help facilitate this transition, Burlington has volunteered to help support students and educators across the state in this transition.
We are pleased to be participating in the Spring 2014 PARCC Field Test – and have asked PARCC to expand the sample of our students involved because we believe that this experience will be good for children in Burlington and across the state. The Burlington Community has generously provided us with the technological resources to expand our Field Test to include all students. We are also lucky to have talented people working in the district who are willing to learn from this experience and to share this knowledge with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and across Massachusetts.
Our plan is to use different devices at different grades (i.e. tablets, chromebooks, computer labs, etc.) to determine which environment is best for students. We will be conducting focus groups with students and teachers after each testing window and sharing this information with our stakeholders and other school districts to help prepare for what is ahead.  This district preview will help us to better prepare our students and curriculum for future test administrations.
Because our students are participating in the PARCC, we have the option of opting out of MCAS English Language Arts and Math testing at all grades except grade 10 . Our sophomores will have to take both PARCC and MCAS due to both the state graduation requirement and to qualify for the Adams’ scholarships.  In other words, it appears that we will not be administering the MCAS Test this year (aside from grade 10 and possibly Science in grades 5,8,9)
There are two testing windows for the PARCC assessments. The first, for the Performance Based Assessment (PBA), is March 24 – April 11 and the second, for the End of Year Assessment (EOY), is May 19 – June 6. The PBA consists of three testing sessions and the EOY consists of two. We will share more specifics in regards to dates for each grade as soon as we coordinate them with the DESE and PARCC testing officials.
We have been informed that we will not see the results of the Field Test.  Pearson (the creator of the PARCC test) may share district results but they will not be sharing individual school or student results.  While this may concern some parents, we feel confident in our ability to continue to show evidence of students growth through a variety of assessments that our staff members conduct throughout the year.
You may have lots of questions.  We have lots of questions.  We will be getting out more information as it becomes available.

But How Will Their Students Pass The State Assessment?

As our students in Massachusetts settle in for their annual round of “high-stakes” testing, I think it is the perfect time for people to take a few minutes to watch the video from TEDxCreativeCoast titled The Future Will Not Be Multiple Choice.  The presentation by Jaime McGrath (an elementary school teacher in Savannah, GA) and Drew Davies (a web designer) was posted on Mind Shift’s blog about a month ago and I forgot about it until I saw a tweet last night with the link. It really is a must watch for anyone who thinks that our current educational structure is adequate.

It’s no newsflash the current structure of most classrooms is unchanged from the structure that was created to educate students for an industrial society back in the 19th Century.  At one point in our history fitting the right piece in the right hole as quickly as possible and being able to retain large amounts of trivial information in order to regurgitate it or draw from it quickly may have actually been useful. However in a day and age where asking the right questions is of more value than providing a quick response to a multiple choice question, we are past the point of needing a change.

In fact the findings of educators like McGrath, who stray from the current script and look at problem-based education and a focus on “design thinking” are clear.

“All we did was give them the challenge, point them in the right direction and give them the space to be creative,” noted McGrath.  

Here are a few of my take-aways made by the co-presenters Jaime McGrath (an elementary school teacher in Savannah, GA) and Drew Davies (a web designer):

  • Reports predict that 65% of our students will be working in jobs that don’t exist yet.
  • “Such simple tasks as manipulation of blocks helps infants and toddlers develop early skills, including math literacy – the language of numbers.” Huttenlocher, Jordan, and Levine 1994
  • Don’t need students skilled in picking A, B, C, D 
  • “A true understanding of reality is not possible without a certain element of imagination…” Lev Vygotsky 
  • Design in education compliments all learning styles 
  • Will it be messy and risky? But what is the reality we are trying to prepare our kids for? 
  • The future is not a multiple choice test, it is a design challenge

So my question about the state assessment (or a national assessment) posed above was – “How will these students pass the state (or national) assessment. Here’s my answer –  “Who Cares!”

I think the bottom line is that students who are being taught in classrooms where they are being taught to think will be successful on any measure.

Excuse Me Commissioner Duncan, We Need More Than Stuff To Fix Our Problems

WASHINGTON - MARCH 1:  Secretary of Education ...
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
 (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

I read an interesting article by Associated Press writer Josh Lederman this week which highlighted the comments coming from Education Secretary Arne Duncan in regards to the need for all schools to quickly move away from printed textbooks.  While I am a supporter of moving to more modern resources in our schools, the rationale for the move coming from Mr. Duncan seems to be misguided to say the least.  

Check out the following excerpt:

“It’s not just a matter of keeping up with the times, Duncan said in remarks to the National Press Club. It’s about keeping up with other countries whose students are leaving their American counterparts in the dust.
South Korea, which consistently outperforms the U.S. when it comes to educational outcomes, is moving far faster than the U.S. in adopting digital learning environments. One of the most wired countries in the world, South Korea has set a goal to go fully digital with its textbooks by 2015.”

I am gravely concerned that the focus here is on technology rather than the quality of teaching and learning that is being reinforced under our current system which places too much of a focus on standardized testing.  While technology can help support good instruction, technology alone is not going to cause the change we need. Before we can adopt meaningful “digital learning environments”, we need to talk about the factors inherent in productive learning environments.

While it is clear that other countries have moved ahead of the United States in the integration of technology into their schools, it is also clear that we cannot catch up by just buying stuff and dropping it into our classrooms. Here is an excerpt from the Times of India that shows the thinking necessary to support the successful integration of technology into our classrooms:

“We did not implement the idea in a rush. We trained our teachers first and then we moved on to the students. We also talked to the parents and got them involved. The teachers have their own iPads and they create digital content for the students ,” informed GR Sivakumar, principal, DPS Surat.


iPad vs Textbooks
(Photo credit: Abstract Machine)

Plenty of examples of technology purchased hastily

We need not look far for examples of institutions in our country making the move to digital textbooks without doing the training necessary to support staff in utilizing these resources with students.  A recent study conducted on e-book usage at the college level highlighted this a couple of weeks back.   I hope I am wrong in thinking that the feelings of the students at these colleges will be the same feelings that many/most students in our public schools will be feeling do to the lack of resources dedicated to supporting staff in implementing digital tools.

“…the functions that make e-books more attractive to students than print books weren’t being fully maximized by faculty. Features like annotating texts, collaboration tools and the ability to share notes with other students weren’t being used or modeled by the professors. And if educators used the e-books like a print textbook, that’s what students did as well. “

The bottom line here is if we are going to spend the money on digital tools and continue to conduct business in the same tedious manner, we would may as well buy writing slates to pass out to all students and install inkwells on their desks.  Then again if we did that, we would not be ready to have our students take our country’s newest standardized test (PARCC) online in 2014-2015 as we are being asked.

So the good news is that the technology will allow us to administer standardized testing to our students hundreds of times during their K-12 experience

Anyone else feeling sick to their stomach?

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