Data and Fads

How important is data? Current data tells us that Jeffco students continue to outperform the state. In 2016, Jeffco students’ average ACT scores reached their highest level, exceeding state performance across all indicators.

There was a recent conversation online about education and all the latest fads. PLCs are the current buzz  in education and, in talking with experienced staff, we’ve learned there are good ways and not good ways to use PLCs (Professional Learning Community.) Teachers are overwhelmingly tired of the latest fads in education and lack of resources as well as the loss of staff due to our inability to compete with area districts in compensation.

The following article was cited in one of the comments. It happens to make a few really great points and the edu-jargon that exists probably removes parents from participating in more engagement because the myriad of acronyms promote a misunderstanding and confusion for those not experts in education. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/11/11/a-serious-rant-about-education-jargon-and-how-it-hurts-efforts-to-improve-schools/?utm_term=.b89ee5c1803e

It’s an interesting conversation. There are a million opinions on this subject. Data was the subject of discussion for the charter renewal  at the last board meeting. It has also been the subject of discussion on social media for some time.

There are also appropriate and inappropriate uses of data that we should take into consideration. Using standardized tests to determine the quality of an educator is one example of inappropriate use. Giving schools a grade based on test scores is another example of inappropriate use of data, yet there are organizations with websites grading schools when all they really are doing is grading the socioeconomic status of a school instead of looking at growth metrics.

Prior to the recall, Jeffco DataView used data from tests to show the instability of schools in Douglas County to show that the reforms were not conducive to increasing student achievement and that those “reforms” were actually negatively impacting students. Having the comparability data to align similar school communities and do comparisons (demographics, ELL, FRL %, growth measurements, etc.) is an excellent use of data to show where strong performance is occurring and where we can make improvements.

Often, we are too focused on single elements of data available to us when it should be used as a snapshot along with other indicators as evidence to investigate the performance of tools we are using. For example, considering our shift in academic standards in 2009 and math testing results, we can see how much further our students are in achieving mastery of the math standards, at an earlier age. We can also do comparisons of the effectiveness of curriculum materials that aide instruction in the classroom through additional testing measurements.

One statement that is made far too often and was made at the last board meeting is that the school was special because they didn’t “teach to the test.” This is actually concerning.

What are the standards? Most parents haven’t read them!

Read the Colorado Standards! Click on the links below for subject and then find the grade level you’d like to see and click on it!

The Arts
http://www.cde.state.co.us/coarts/statestandards

Comprehensive Health
http://www.cde.state.co.us/cohealth/statestandards

Mathematics
http://www.cde.state.co.us/comath/statestandards

Physical Education
http://www.cde.state.co.us/cophysicaleducation/statestandards

Reading, Writing, and Communicating
http://www.cde.state.co.us/coreadingwriting/statestandards

Science
http://www.cde.state.co.us/coscience/statestandards

Social Studies
http://www.cde.state.co.us/cosocialstudies/statestandards

World Languages
http://www.cde.state.co.us/coworldlanguages/statestandards

 

Now, knowing what the standards actually are and what the goals are for student learning to reach these standards, what else would you test students on? Have they mastered the material or not? There’s an interesting website that has covered the political rally against standards. For whatever reason, it’s political instead of factual and anyone can find a million websites and social media pages dedicated to the anti-common core rhetoric. http://www.hashtagcommoncore.com/#0

About a month ago, there was a social media post in a neighborhood group from a mother asking about schools in the area. One individual recommended a charter school and noted that they didn’t teach that horrible common core at that Jeffco charter school. A discussion ensued following that comment with this parent defensively declaring that they did not teach common core. Yes, the charter schools, all public schools teach common core. It’s the law in Colorado. The difference was the curriculum. Several charters and one option school use the Core Knowledge curriculum (and others as well) but they still all teach to the same standards required under Colorado law and they still take the same tests measuring mastery of those same standards. The political rhetoric has trapped so many parents and community members into not understanding the topic.

During one of the ESSA Standards Spoke Committee Meetings, one of the participants wanted to ensure that as we reviewed the Colorado Academic Standards we did not allow common core in Colorado. Apparently not realizing that we’ve used those standards since 2009.

There are so many discussions we all need to have. Perhaps there is a standard you don’t agree with. That is a quality and thoughtful conversation to join in with educators.

The next conversation is curriculum. You will find a variety in Jeffco. For math, Jeffco has used Math Investigations, switching to Math Expressions in just the last couple of years. There are also schools using Saxon math. All slightly different and important, matching the differing needs of children. Data can show the appropriateness of the curriculum in meeting the needs of the children in their effort to master content and that informs those who make decisions to support classroom education.

Now let’s go back to data. We definitely do too much testing in Colorado. Or, perhaps more accurately, the emphasis we place on test preparation that detracts from instructional time and the uses of the data for teacher effectiveness are what constitute our idea of too much. You are unlikely to find an educator or parent who thinks the amount of time we spend on testing is okay. While there are the mandated tests, school districts also add their own testing elements. A quality educator is using the data they gather while testing your child to determine how to best meet the needs of your child in class. However, that educator is also using many other indicators as they get to know your child. A direct student/teacher relationship is the most effective in meeting the needs of your child in a classroom.

However, in the argument for and against data, we have to respect those educators who use data to determine whether curricular materials are serving all students. The ability to take data from an entire articulation area or to break it out into disaggregated groups of students to determine how best to reach them and what additional supports might be provided to classroom teachers, is the role of educators at the district level. Educators in both roles are valuable.

The ultimate goal is to ensure that every child is ready for life when they graduate from high school. You’ve heard “college and career ready” – every child should be given the tools to succeed in life beyond their K-12 education.

If we can focus on that true conversation about the role of data and have respectful conversations about this topic, we could make changes that would benefit everyone in education. Here are the conversations we’d like to see happening:

  • How to use data appropriately
  • How parents can use date to determine how their children are doing and to offer supports at home
  • How educators can use data in the classroom
  • How administrators can use data to improve supports to classrooms and individual needs of students
  • How to use data to compare grade level students across districts to reflect increases in growth that might be duplicated
  • How to use data to end use of a curriculum that does not adequately meet the needs of students

Data can be good. It’s a thoughtful conversation that should continue to occur. Most importantly, all stakeholders in education should be included in the conversations. Classroom teachers, administrators, educators who work at our Ed Center, AND parents!

We don’t expect the use of edu-jargon to end any time soon, which is why explanations of words and acronyms are needed from our education leaders. We don’t know whether the use of PLCs will increase achievement for our students. Our best guess is that they’ll be effective for some and not for others.

Most importantly, Jeffco Schools’ commitment to academic excellence must begin in the classroom, with attracting and retaining top teachers, principals and support staff who can effectively meet the diverse learning needs of 86,000 students.

We’ve worked hard in Jeffco to do more with less, but too many kids are not getting the support they need. Jeffco Schools faces more tough choices ahead due to limited state funding, the failure of ballot measures 3A and 3B and shifting enrollment.

Keep having thoughtful conversations that include every stakeholder!

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