A Broader Picture of Student Achievement in Suffolk Public Schools

Last night, the school board of Suffolk Public Schools heard an update related to student achievement. I want to add a couple of thoughts about the content of the presentation as I am concerned about the lack of what is needed to improve student learning.

One of the pieces of data not presented to the school board is that of subgroup achievement. In fact, persistently missing from staff reports is the achievement of the subgroups of students for which schools are held accountable. Subgroup achievement is often why schools in the division do not get accredited and it is important to monitor.

Let me show you what I mean.

If you look at #1, you can see this visual shows SOL Pass Rates by Subject – over a nine-year period.

At #2, you can see this part of the report is for reading.

If you will look at #3, you’ll see a column for subgroups, whose performance is part of the accreditation process and why you might want to consider monitoring subgroup achievement.

In Column #3, find the row for black students. Look across the row and you will see a red swarm. It is the same for economically disadvantaged, English learners, and students with disabilities. SPS has a nine-year pattern where achievement for these student groups has been problematic – and it’s not getting better.

But not to worry, right?  In the achievement presentation, staff shared almost 60 solutions the division will implement.  I want to alert the board that these actions will not turn the achievement pattern around.

Let me show you one of the ways I know.

Please look at the visual, Where’s the Meat?  At #1, are the interventions planned by the school division.

At #2, there are three parts of the teaching-for-learning process: curriculum, instruction, and assessment. I went through each of the suggestions from the earlier session – and all are related to either instruction or assessment. At #3, you can see there are no checks at all under the curriculum category.  And therein lies the problem.

In the set of interventions given to the board, none are related to curriculum and this is what must be dealt with first – as all interventions should be aligned to the curriculum.

Please know that even though the solutions are mostly directed to teachers, this is not a teacher problem.

The curriculum is in the hands of central office staff – and it’s a big job. Curriculum is the most comprehensive and complex work a central office tackles, but the central office has to tackle it.

The curriculum has to be right or the school division will continue to have patterns of red in its achievement results. Staff in a school division  can work as much as they want on instruction and assessment, but if they do not work on the curriculum piece, the work is in naught. And it’s the students who lose out. You already see this in your nine-year pattern – and in many of our division’s schools.

A most important role board members play is that of ensuring student achievement for all students – and not just those who are easy to teach.  We need the board to reassess what is going on (or not) in the area of curriculum.

You see, SPS has a staff that can do this work, but nobody is setting the expectation. The board would be the natural entity to direct the superintendent to get this important work done. We can only hope.

Redesigned SAT – Essential Language Progressive Skills Alert

80dfc343-4711-4bb0-90df-ea0f5de34427A number of weeks ago, I wanted to answer a question related to the SAT Practice Tests – those tests the College Board made available for us to help teachers and students become familiar with the redesigned SAT. I personally wanted to check the alignment between the SAT questions on the Practice Test and the Common Core State Standards. As I worked through every single question on the tests, I discovered an interesting piece: Every single standard on the Language Progressive Skills list in the Common Core State Standards is tested. Every single one.

We need to make sure everyone knows this!

If you’re a curriculum type, you may want to use this information as you tweak curriculum in your district. If you’re an assessment type, maybe you’ll consider talking about this when you’re making connections between the SAT Content Dimensions and the Common Core State Standards. If you’re a principal, perhaps you’ll share this with your teachers because they are likely still learning about the redesigned SAT. If you’re an ISD/RESA person, perhaps you’ll want to include this in some of your training materials.

Download the Progression of Language Skills.

It’s up to teachers in multiple grade levels and content areas to help students learn important language skills, so I do hope you’ll consider sharing this with others.

Shift Happens! A shift in vocabulary, that is.

Image, Shift Happens

As you know, when the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts were released, we all learned about the Instructional Shifts.  As you read about the Common Core and the changes it brings, you’ll see two basic lists of the shifts – one with three items and one with six.  The list with 3 shifts simply combines some of the shifts.  I prefer to keep the shifts separated, as shown below.

Image, Slide 1

In case you’re wondering whether or not the shifts matter, I want to let you know they do.  All six of them.  But as with anything, you’ll have to figure out how to use them and make them work for you in your school or district.  When thinking about the shifts, there are at least a few times and ways you can use them: (1) Develop curriculum, (2) Design high-impact lessons for students, (3), Design aligned assessments to the college and career readiness standards, and (4) Design professional development experiences for teachers and administrators.

Now, I want to share each of the shifts with you – one at a time – in hopes there’s a thing or two you can use. Today’s shift is Vocabulary.

In using my shift pages, you’ll want to know how I’ve set them up. I’ve designed a format for beginning to think about each of the shifts.  The following visual, How the Shifts Are Set Up, shows my logic in thinking about the shifts. Take a quick look.

Image, Slide 2

After a quick description of the shift, you’ll see two areas: one that provides hints for curriculum and another that provides hints for instruction and the possible professional needs of staff.

By way of example, there’s a shift that speaks to text-based answers.  It’s a standard in the curriculum – and teachers need to understand what it means. We all need to understand what it means; it’s even being tested as part of the redesigned SAT. Remember, evidence is king in the CCSS – so I chose it for the example.

Now, take a look at Shift 6, Vocabulary. I chose to present this one to you first as so many schools and districts are focusing on vocabulary development.

Image, Slide 3

For the Common Core ELA standards (including the literacy standards), Academic Vocabulary is a big shift.  As you can see from the visual, the focus should be on pivotal and commonly found words.  (The redesigned SAT will focus on Tier II words in context, but that’s not why we need to focus on vocabulary. We need to focus on vocabulary because it will help our students learn.)

If you’re working on curriculum at the district, school, or classroom levels, there are a number of ways you can provide support for academic vocabulary.

Integrate shift in curriculum units:

  • Place vocabulary throughout lessons, where appropriate, rather than at end of units.
  • Provide activities for students to work with words
  • Identify core vocabulary . Use sources such as SBAC, PAARC, Tier II, and Tier III words.
  • Provide descriptions of core vocabulary
  • Provide content cards where needed.
  • Provide a list of core vocabulary words and corresponding descriptions for units.

Additionally, as you are thinking about professional development, consider some of the examples:

  • Direct Explicit Instruction for Vocabulary
  • How to Develop School-wide Vocabulary Supports for Students
  • How to Determine Core Vocabulary for a Course, Department, and/or School
  • High-Impact Vocabulary Strategies
  • How to Help Students Track Their Own Learning of Vocabulary Words
  • Tier II Words
  • Tier III Words (for social studies, science, and technical subjects)
  • Helping Students With Their Own Word-Learning Activities
  • Effective Strategies for Teaching New Words

I so hope some of these ideas will be helpful to you as you support schools in improving achievement.


RESOURCES

Common Core State Standards

Common Core Shifts for ELA and Literacy

Examples of Lessons for Teaching Vocabulary

Content Cards – Details, Details, Details

Common Core Standards for Literacy in Science (Includes ideas for vocabulary.)

Motor Mouth Review

Content Cards – Line Graphs

Content Card – Parallel

Content Card – Bar Graphs

Content Card – Measuring Length

Content Cards: Text Structures, Grades 9-12

Today’s post is Text Structures for Different Types of Writing.  I designed this tool for teachers, but there are many pages that will also be good resource materials for students.   In this handy guide, you’ll find a quick overview of the text types (i.e., Argumentative, Informational, Narrative) in the Common Core State Standards.  AFter that, I’ve included my content cards for the following five text structures: compare/contrast, cause/effect, problem/solution, sequence, and description.

Check these out to see if they are something you can use!  Here’s the link: http://datadeb.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/001_text_structures-deb-wahsltrom.pdf

Write to the Text

 I am a fan of Kelly Gallagher’s Article of the Week.  His website is loaded with weekly articles you can use to give students interesting topics to which they can write.

I recently read an article in Education Week and asked the author, Anothy Cody, for permission to turn his article, Color Coded High School ID Cards Sort Students by Test Performance, into an assignment for students.

I set up the assignment in a modified version of Article of the Week.  I modified the directions and numbered each of the lines in the text.   The numbered lines support students in citing the text during classroom discussions.

Download the assignment:  Assignment:  Argumentative Paper

The assignment includes a Writing Checklist, which you can download separately.

Content Card – Details, Details, Details

Details and examples are one of those areas that students have struggled with when writing.  Being able to cite details and examples is a skill that is valuable in reading, writing, thinking, and speaking.  What are some of the things we might want to make sure students learn when we ask them to think about details and examples?  We might want them to know what kinds of things are details: facts, quotes, statistics, firgurative language, the information in a visual, sensory details, and more.  We also want students to know some of the things they can do with details:  compare and contrast ideas, support a point of view, oppose a point of view, make a decision, describe a character, make inferences, make prediections, and more.  As always, I’ve got a pdf copy for you – just print it out and share it with your students (and fellow educators).

Content Card, Details

Content Card – Solving Algebraic Expressions

Another one completed!

Click here to get the pdf.  Don’t forget to run this on one sheet of paper for a one-pager (front and back) content card.

Content Card – Line Graphs, Elementary Level

This content card is for the elementary level.  The content card shows the parts of a line graph, ideas for comparing data, the definition of a line graph, and common words for describing the amounts in a graph.

Download this two-page content card for line graphs.

Content Card – Adding Fractions With LIKE Denominators

Fractions, fractions, fractions.  For so many students, these are quite the challenge to learn.  One of the first things that adults should do when students struggle with an area of the curriculum is to make sure we’ve clarified the content that students are to learn.  As you know, one of the ways to do this is through content cards.

Download a full-size pdf of the fraction content card.

As always, please let me know if there’s anything that should be added to the card.

Know Data, Know Answers

I want to share a piece I wrote a number of years ago.  I love the rubrics designed by the fine folks at Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, but I wanted to unpack the rubrics.  By unpacking the rubrics, I can get to data that allows me  to see the specific parts of the problem-solving process in mathematics for which students need help.  I hope you’ll read the article and add an idea or two to your assessment toolkit.  Download the article here.

Download a copy of Northwest’s Mathematics Problem Solving Grid.