Tag Archives: iowa

Live blogging Oskaloosa High School’s experiences at the FIRST Championships

For the next few days I am turning over my blog to a high school student!

Molly Bleything is a student at Oskaloosa High School here in Iowa. Her after-school robotics team, the Sock Monkeys, was one of three from the state to make it to the national FIRST Championships this week. Molly will be sharing her team’s experiences in St. Louis.

Here are a couple of videos chronicling the Sock Monkey’s early successes:

And here is a short article that Molly wrote a few days ago:

Hey guys! We are Team 4443: The Sock Monkeys. We are from Oskaloosa, Iowa and we are part of the robotics club at our high school. The other part of the club is Team 3608: The Ninjaneers. The Sock Monkeys team consists of sophomores (10th graders) and older. The Ninjaneers consist of freshman (9th graders) and younger. We do not have an official team sponsor. What makes our team unique is the different ideas, logic, and people that are on it and contribute to it. All of us see things differently, so the amount of opinions/ideas is massive! A big challenge that we had to overcome is our scoop design. At competitions, one of our tables in the pit has all of the scoop designs we’ve used throughout this season. The team has changed the design three or fours times since we made the first design out of cardboard. The continuous improvement is awesome and we are now done re-making it. It’s painted blue – like our shirts – and ready to go for competition.

We as a team have done several unique things. For starters, one of our present seniors and a 2013 high school graduate made a Rubik’s cube solver over the summer. And yes – it does actually solve the cube. We have also made a balancing “segway” robot. It balances and keeps itself upright by driving forward and backwards in tiny amounts. Often times during competitions, you can find the guys in the pits putting stuff on top of the NXT to show how much it can actually hold and stay upright. It brings a lot of attention and people often get a good laugh out of it! None of our team members have had any serious injuries during the robotics season. At least, none that have happened that involve robotics. At the end of the day, we are pretty regular nerds.

One story about our team this season…I have a great one! At the 2nd qualifier (for us, it was in Ottumwa IA), we were not supposed to continue on to state. After a lot of emails, a written letter, and the coach having a conversation with us, we were offered the opportunity to go and compete at state. All of us were really surprised and happy. To be honest, no one was expecting to get anything out of state, or to be one of the greats, but during alliance selections, we were picked.

All of us started clapping, cheering, and we were really excited. After what seemed like thousands of matches, we had won state by alliance! Afterwards, we got back and everything was crazy for a while. We had a lot of meetings, where a LOT of to-do lists were made and we set a lot of goals for ourselves. A big concern was money and how we were going to be able to pay for the trip to state. So, the Sock Monkeys hosted a bake sale during parent teacher conferences. The bake sale went over really well and with that money, and the money that was donated to us through free will donations and other various ways, we were finally ready to go.

Super Regionals arrived. The team had figured as a whole that we weren’t going to come back home with anything to brag about… but while we didn’t win any trophies, we came home with an invitation to the World Championship. Although all of us were really excited and happy, Super Regionals was a reality check for us. At Super Regionals we made it to the semi-finals and right before lunch break, we competed in a match. During the match, a rule was broken. The team that we played with and the third team in our finalist alliance stood in the question box. After lunch break and a twenty minute delay, we were granted a rematch. Sadly, we lost the rematch, but this time we lost fair and square. Super Regionals was a great experience for us.

We and another team had scored the highest at the event with a total of 389 points. We were six points away from beating the all-time world record! We (and another team) had also scored the highest in our division with a total of 353 points. We knew that we had done our best, fought for what was right, and enjoyed every second. We were prepared to go home that day. All of us had said good job to one another and to the other teams. Right before closing ceremonies started, they called out four team members to go down on the floor. Logan, Kazuki (both drivers), Collin (coach) and I ( ___) went to the floor.

Rebecca Whitaker was the one who made the announcement as to who was moving on and who wasn’t. She got up on the podium and started off by saying, “Twenty-five teams will be moving on today!” The crowd went wild and then Kazuki turned to us and whispered, “We have a chance.” The whole arena fell extremely quiet and, let me tell you, you could almost feel the intensity. I swear that you could’ve heard a pen drop. She had gotten to the twentieth team advancing and all of us were eager. I kept checking the stands to watch my teammates there. They were all so still. Then she said, “….team number 4443, The Sock Monkeys..” All of us screamed and went crazy! It was all absolutely amazing. Immediately afterwards, our teammates ran down the stairs and we all hugged and high-five’d one another.

We loaded up our gear and went home after that. We were greeted by family members, teachers, friends, reporters for the paper, and Mrs. Eveland. There was confetti, signs, laughs and lots of pictures. The picture above is the one that our local news system took. The dots all over us are pieces of confetti. Kazuki (our only senior this year) told a local news source that this was one of the best days of his life. Now, we are eight days away from the World Championship. Considering we weren’t even supposed to make it to state, I would say we are doing great! This is honestly one of my favorite stories to tell about this season and it gives me goose bumps writing it. I am so happy and so proud of all of us.

I hope that you will wish the team good fortune and will interact with Molly as she blogs here. You also can follow their Twitter account, @4443SockMonkeys. Go Sock Monkeys!

Emulating downward: Iowa’s misplaced idolization of Florida’s retention policies

Dunce cap

The Iowa Department of Education (DE) was quoted recently as saying, “We really aren’t looking at [3rd grade retention] as being punitive.” The problem, of course, is that it doesn’t matter how we as adults perceive retention. What matters is how the retained 8-year-olds perceive retention. And four decades of research is very clear that retention is viewed as extremely punitive by those students that are retained. In fact, students rate academic retention as a life stressor on par with losing a parent and going blind.

John Hattie, author of Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement, notes that “it would be difficult to find another educational practice on which the evidence is so unequivocally negative” (p. 99) and that “the only question of interest relating to retention is why it persists in the face of this damning evidence” (p. 98). Study after study, researcher after researcher, finds the same few things about retention:

  • No long-term achievement gains. Being retained does not increase academic achievement in the long run. Let’s say that again: being retained does NOT increase academic achievement in the long run. Sometimes we see short-term score bumps but they always wash out by the upper grades. This is true even in Florida, whose educational ‘miracle’ Iowa is apparently desperate to emulate despite having better overall academic achievement, high school graduation rates, etc. A quick comparison of NAEP proficiency rates shows that Florida may have found ways to artificially inflate its 4th grade reading scores – results always look better when low-achievers have been removed from the grade cohort and/or students have had an extra year of schooling – but by 8th grade its students revert back to the lower half of the national rankings. [Quick aside: if Iowans want to reclaim our place at the top of the state education rankings, shouldn’t we be adopting practices of the states that do better, not worse, than us?] This means that – despite intuition and anecdotes to the contrary – there are no long-term achievement differences between students who are retained and those who are ‘socially promoted.’ One more time in case it’s not clear: “there are more positive effects in the long term for promoted students than for retained students – even when matched for achievement at the time of decision to retain or promote” (Hattie, p. 97).
  • Significantly higher dropout rates. Students who are retained don’t do any better academically in the long run but they do have a significantly higher risk of dropping out. For example, one study showed that 65% to 90% of overage children in grade 9 do not persist to graduation. Retention has found to be a stronger predictor of student dropout than socioeconomic status or parental education. That extra year is a killer – literally – when it comes to retained students’ secondary school completion rates. Florida’s graduation rate is 43rd in the country, while Iowa’s is 5th. Again, why are we emulating downward?
  • Lower life success. Retention has been shown to negatively impact long-term life success factors such as postsecondary education attendance, pay per hour, and employment competence ratings. Retained students also are more likely to display aggression during adolescence.
  • No increase in motivation. Retention – or the threat of retention – is not a motivating force for students. Students don’t try harder and aren’t motivated to do better after they’re retained. Instead, retention greatly diminishes student self-concept and impairs self-efficacy. Just to make clear how wrong DE’s statement is, research shows that students would rather wet themselves in class in front of their peers than be retained.
  • Discriminatory impacts. Students of color are four times as likely to be retained as their White counterparts, even when they exhibit the same academic achievement. Students in poverty also are more likely to be retained than their more affluent peers. The burdens that come with being retained are borne primarily by those students whom already are traditionally-disadvantaged by existing schooling practices.

So there we have it: incredible damage to students’ self-concept, substantial increases in students’ dropout rates, and significant reductions in students’ future life success – with bonus discriminatory impacts! – all for the mere potential of a statistically-manipulable, now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t test score bump for interstate bragging rights. And, if that weren’t enough, we also get to pay more and get a worse outcome! It would be difficult to envision an educational practice that has less going for it than retention. And yet it is now enshrined into Iowa law, to be made operational (and, apparently, rationalized) by our Department of Education. [One final aside: DE also tries to justify retention because “we really want to get parents to take their child’s literacy development very, very seriously.” Most parents care very much about their children’s literacy development, of course. Parents of struggling readers need help and support, not blame or stigmatization or penalization of their children.]

Retention is not a policy unknown. Even the laziest of reporters or legislators can do a quick Google Scholar search and see that decades of peer-reviewed studies are clear that retention hurts kids and will hurt Iowa. The real policy question here is why don’t we care?

Image credit: Children playing, 1908; Library of Congress

Does StudentsFirst deserve a seat at the policy table?

StudentsFirst

In August I blogged about the intersection of money, politics, and educator evaluation here in Iowa. Today, reporter Mike Wiser quotes me in his Sioux City Journal article about the growing presence of StudentsFirst, Michelle Rhee’s advocacy organization, in our state:

We have seen the rise of influence of outside advocacy groups that are essentially buying access to the political process. There are lots of good ideas out there in the marketplace of ideas, but what worries me is when those ideas come attached to a big donation check, well, we know money talks in politics. [this should not be read as me saying that StudentsFirst has good ideas!]

During my interview with Mike, he asked me if I thought StudentsFirst deserved a place at the policy table. Brain-fried from a long day of working with principals, I think I mumbled that I don’t know how organizations get selected for statewide committees or what the criteria are (or should be). But maybe it’s best to turn the question around…

If an outside advocacy organization

but is more than willing to lavish large contributions around so that it floods local school board elections with unprecedented monies and is the biggest contributor to state legislative races, do you think it deserves a seat at the policymaking table?

5 big questions for the Iowa Council on Educator Development

Iowaflag

The Iowa Council on Educator Development meets tomorrow for the first time. This is the statewide group that is supposed to make recommendations to the Iowa legislature about how to better evaluate teachers and school administrators. Given many of the practical and policy insanities that have occurred in other states around this issue – massive swings from year to year in individual teachers’ ratings, educators evaluated by test scores of students they didn’t teach, Teachers of the Year being rated unsatisfactory, teachers being evaluated by student assessments for which there is yet no curriculum / teacher training, etc. – this will be important, highly-visible, and highly-controversial work. Members of the Council include teachers, principals, professors, educator association staff, Department of Education personnel, and, yes, the state director for the Iowa chapter of Students First (whom for some reason the Department of Education insists on referring to primarily as a ‘parent’ rather than her professional role).

As I think about the work ahead for this group and the changes that it may recommend, five big questions come to mind that will need resolution…

  1. First and foremost, will the purpose of any changes in our current educator evaluation systems be for educator improvement or for educator ‘accountability?’ The primary philosophical orientation of any proposed changes is paramount and will shape all other conversations, decisions, and design considerations. For instance, systems designed for educator improvement won’t be punitive; will focus on educator learning, growth, and remediation; will be less consequential to teachers’ incomes, employment, and reputations (i.e., lower stakes rather than high stakes); and will do everything possible to minimize year-to-year volatility and unreliability because they’re focused on an ethic of care, not on perspectives of shame, blame, or disdain.
  2. Iowa revised its educator evaluation systems just a few years ago to give educators much better feedback on their performance. Are there big flaws in those recently-changed systems that warrant major new changes?
  3. When teacher differences only account for about 10% of the variance in student achievement, will this statewide committee work on educator evaluations (and potential policy/funding changes) be placed in proper context given other potential legislative actions?
  4. If, as I don’t hope, the Council decides – despite an overwhelming wealth of statistical, policy, and legal reasons against such systems - that educator evaluation in Iowa should be changed so that it is high stakes AND that student statewide assessment scores should be a component of such a system, how will we remedy the deficiencies that have resulted in other states related to operational unreliability, massive unfairness, legal concerns, and a lack of confidence in the accuracy and validity of resultant educator ratings? In other words, can we identify states or districts who are actually doing this in ways that work? (and, if not, are we somehow smarter than every other state that’s tried this?) If the Council goes down this path, issues that will arise include year-to-year volatility of test scores and educator ratings, inappropriate uses of assessments and statistics that are designed for purposes other than educator evaluation, the lack of standardized statewide assessments for most students, inherent systemic biases of so-called ‘value-added’ systems against educators that work in particular settings, long-term impacts on the perceived desirability of education as a profession (and thus educator supply), Constitutional equal protection and due process rights, etc.
  5. If, as I hope, whatever changes the Council may recommend are focused on educator improvement rather than ‘accountability,’ will we be able to get the federal government to approve them? And if we can’t, it is more harmful to Iowa education to stay with the current NCLB scheme or receive a NCLB waiver? In other words – when both options have serious consequences, substantial drawbacks, and significant negative impacts on students, educators, and communities – whom are we willing to sacrifice and what will be our moral, ethical, professional, and legal justifications?

This work is going to be difficult and complex. What other big questions do you think the Council will have to address?

Image credit: Iowa flag, Chuck Thompson

Money, politics, and educator evaluation in Iowa

Timeline

Some observations

I am not aware of any mention in any Iowa news outlet of…

  1. the fact that the reforms advocated for by Students First (and others) have resulted in smaller, not larger, student achievement gains;
  2. the corporate profit motive behind many of Students First’s proposed policies;
  3. Students First’s anti-gay ‘Reformer of the Year’ in Tennessee;
  4. the D.C. Public Schools’ cheating scandal under Rhee’s leadership and the fact that DCPS schools are worse off now than before her arrival;
  5. Rhee’s belief that communities should not be democratically involved in their schools (so much for local control);
  6. the fact that virtually none of Students First’s policy proposals have any peer-reviewed data, research, evidence, or other supports behind them; or

any of the other controversies (of which there are many) surrounding Students First and its proposed policies.

I’m also not aware of any state- or district-level systems that tie educator evaluations to student test scores that are deemed to be statistically stable, operationally reliable, and proportionately impactful (if you’ve got ‘em, please share ‘em!).

Some questions

  1. Why aren’t the journalists in our state doing a better job of investigating the claims and backgrounds of groups like Students First instead of simply reporting on them and/or passing along their press releases as ‘news?’
  2. Should Students First have a seat on Iowa’s new educator evaluation council?
  3. So far Iowa has resisted many of the educational policy insanities that have infected other states. Will this council focus on evaluation measures for lower-stakes educator improvement purposes or higher-stakes educator accountability purposes? If the former, will such a scheme be approved by the federal government if/when Iowa applies (again) for a NCLB waiver? If the latter, will Iowa become just another of the many states that “pretend that mathematical models can do something they cannot?
  4. Will this council think smartly when considering ‘multiple measures’ of teacher quality?
  5. Will we decide as Iowans what our educational policies should be or will we allow ourselves to be bought by outside advocacy groups?

UPDATE: In case there was any confusion about whether Patty Link is in this role as a ‘parent’:

StudentsFirstIA

Van Meter High and North High: Two Iowa schools that are rockin’ it

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills is recognizing 25 schools across America as ‘21st Century Learning Exemplar Schools.’ Today we were informed that 2 Iowa high schools are on the list: Van Meter High School and North High School in Des Moines. Check out the case study of Van Meter. Kudos to both schools and their educators and students!

Student achievement and teacher evaluations: The math doesn’t add up?

1+1=3

Many states are applying for NCLB waivers. But they are adopting teacher evaluation criteria that are statistically, professionally, and morally inappropriate. As Education Week notes:

Federal officials say they have generally approved systems in which student growth counts for between 20 percent and 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. But also acceptable is a “trigger” mechanism, like one in Arkansas, where a teacher can’t be rated as effective if he or she fails to meet expectations for student growth.

Another acceptable method is a matrix system, like one in Massachusetts, in which student growth doesn’t receive a specific weighting but is coupled with other measures, such as unannounced teacher observations.

This would be fine if 20% to 50% (or more) of student achievement could be attributed to teachers. But decades of peer-reviewed research show that teachers are responsible for 10% to 15% of student achievement at best. The remaining influences on student achievement are other school factors (another 5% to 10%), non-school factors (60% or so), and random error (about 20%). As Matthew Di Carlo states:

though precise estimates vary, the preponderance of evidence shows that achievement differences between students are overwhelmingly attributable to factors outside of schools and classrooms.

Let’s simplify this even further:

  1. Decades of research show that teachers are responsible for 10% to 15% of student achievement
  2. State laws hold teachers responsible for 20% to 50% (or more) of student achievement
  3. Teachers thus are held responsible for 5% to 40% (or more) of student achievement over which they have NO CONTROL and negative consequences ensue under so-called ‘accountability’ schemes

Does anyone want to argue that this is fair or reasonable or valid?

This can’t be said enough: It is morally inappropriate (and probably illegal) for policymakers to evaluate teachers and hold them ‘accountable’ for factors beyond their control. But that’s exactly what appears to be happening in state after state after state.

In Iowa, lawmakers and our new Commission on Educator Leadership and Compensation are working together over the next year to formulate teacher evaluation criteria. Even if we somehow can become the first state in the nation to overcome all of the other statistical volatility and operational unreliability issues associated with tying teacher evaluations to numerical student learning outcomes, will we do what’s right and ensure that the student achievement component of teacher evaluations is at most 10% to 15%? If we do, will the federal government even let us? If we don’t, how long until the first due process lawsuit is filed?

[UPDATE: Be sure to see the 4 scenarios below. Which seems most fair to you?]

Image credit: 1+1=3, Austin Kleon

State department educational policy advocacy: “Evidence-based” or puffery?

I teach. What's your superpower?

One of the Iowa Department of Education’s favorite phrases is ‘evidence-based,’ as in “schools and educators should be adopting ‘evidence-based’ practices.” That makes sense on its surface, right? So when the DE issued a press release today touting two Iowa districts that had adopted the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching’s (NIET) Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) – which focuses on teacher leadership and performance-based teacher compensation – I started digging around in Google Scholar for research about the program. I don’t live in the world of teacher leadership/compensation and thus don’t know much about TAP other than that it appears to support the DE’s policy proposals this legislative session (and that Dr. Brad Buck, an amazing school leader that I greatly respect, is the superintendent of one of the two districts). For all I know, TAP could be amazing or it could be puffery

What did I find?

And, of course, on its web site I found research from NIET itself claiming that TAP is awesome. Indeed, there’s a plethora of publications on TAP’s web site from NIET; agencies such as the Milken Family Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, or the Gates Foundation that have funded TAP; and ideologically-oriented educational organizations. But despite TAP’s claims of ‘a decade-long track record of growth and success in raising student achievement in high-need schools‘ (page 19), the evidence from independent researchers is decidedly more mixed and leans much more pessimistic when it comes to student learning outcomes.

So is TAP ‘evidence-based’ or puffery? Given the greater preponderance of negative findings by outside, independent scholars, it appears to be extremely arguable. Given that uncertainty and its own call for ‘evidence-based’ practices, should DE be basing its 2013 education reform package on the TAP model? (and should it be touting the model via press releases to the Iowa public and media, which know even less about all of this than I do?)

We already know that DE is willing to ignore decades worth of peer-reviewed research when it conflicts with its policy advocacy (see, e.g., recent incidents regarding 3rd grade retention and cutting elementary school recess). I don’t know if TAP falls into this category of willful blindness or not. But I am wondering if the studies listed above were ever presented to those in decision-making positions so that they could make a truly informed decision.

I hope that the initiatives go well for the two Iowa districts that are trying TAP. Their educators are going to invest a great deal of time, energy, and money in the model. Hopefully they will see the results for which they are striving. Until I see further independent research supporting TAP (send it if you’ve got it; maybe I missed some!), right now I’m less sanguine about whether we should be basing tens of millions of dollars statewide to implement the model here in Iowa.

Got any thoughts on this?

[Note that there's also a bigger question here that's always worth considering: What should we do if/when our own governmental agencies fail to apply the same standards to themselves that they wish to apply to us?]

Image credit: What’s your superpower?

In Iowa, our Department of Education brags about elementary schools that cut recess

Everyone wants children to be able to read. But unpacking that educational goal – and the political rhetoric that often surrounds it – may require a bit more digging and critical analysis. Here’s an example…

In the 2004-2005 school year, 18 4th graders took the state reading test at Charter Oak-Ute Elementary. Only 14 were deemed proficient, for an AYP percentage of 78%. That apparently sparked a 7-year quest to raise test scores.

2005 Charter Oak Ute Elementary Reading

Today the Iowa Department of Education (DE) touted Charter Oak-Ute Elementary as one of the 5 schools (out of 1,409 in the state) that’s supposedly proving that poverty does not equal destiny. In fact, DE boldly said on its home page:

It may be well known that high-poverty schools will have lower proficiency rates than their more affluent counterparts. Sure, it’s well known. But it is wrong.*  [yes, that was our Department of Education dismissing decades of peer-reviewed research on student learning outcomes in high-poverty schools]

 DE screenshot 01

What did Charter Oak-Ute Elementary do to warrant DE’s publicity? Well, in 2011-2012, 19 of its 21 3rd grade students passed the reading test - for an AYP percentage of 90%** – despite 58% of its students receiving free/reduced price lunch. [for reference, the average statewide reading proficiency for 3rd graders is 76%]

2012 Charter Oak Ute Elementary Reading

From 14 of 18 students to 19 of 21 students. If Charter Oak-Ute Elementary had kept its reading proficiency percentage steady, only 16 3rd graders would have passed the state reading test last year. So it essentially moved the needle for 3 students. In seven years.***

By now many of you may be wondering, “What did this elementary school do to bump up these 3 kids’ reading scores?” Well, according to its principal:

[Teachers and students] weren’t happy with some of the things we had to drop, such as morning recess time because we really don’t need that.

That’s right. Among other interventions, the school cut recess. For 7- and 8-year-olds.

Never mind statements against cutting recess from the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Never mind the research that shows how recess breaks maximize children’s cognitive performance or shows recess is important for children’s learning, social development, and health (“no research clearly supports not having recess”) or connects recess to good classroom behavior. Never mind children’s needs for breaks, exercise, and play. Never mind our childhood obesity epidemic, particularly for low-income kids.

And, apparently, never mind DE’s own admonitions for schools to adopt ‘evidence-based practices.’ Whether proposing 3rd grade retention or cutting recess (FYI, for both the research is heavily AGAINST them), DE is beginning to show that is willing to hold up and/or advocate for practices that are anything BUT ‘evidence-based.’

A high-poverty school that gets rid of elementary school recess to feed the always-hungry maw of ever-increasing test score goals should raise concerns for us. Because it’s yet another example of the kinds of dehumanizing microaggressions that happen all too often to children who are in poverty and/or of color. And it’s not what we in Iowa should be encouraging. Because if DE is willing to tout this recess-cutting school as doing what it needed to raise reading scores, the writing is potentially on the wall for ‘whole child’-oriented practices in larger school districts that have even greater concentrations of children in poverty. Yes, that means you, Des Moines, Waterloo, Sioux City, and Davenport (and others)…

I’m concerned that we’re becoming one of THOSE states. In Iowa we always have prided ourselves as being more enlightened than many of those states in which districts were cutting art, music, recess, physical education, foreign language, and other aspects of school necessary to provide well-rounded schooling experiences for children. We took pride in doing our best to attend to the needs of the whole child – for every child. But that commitment to children – and our recognition of decades of child development research – appears to be waning.

So put February 25, 2013 down on your calendar as the day when not only did Iowans learn that one of our own schools cut recess to improve test scores but also that our own Department of Education was willing to brag about it. Welcome to the new #edreform in Iowa.

 

* At least it’s ‘wrong’ for the 5 schools out of 1,409 that DE cherry-picked [please ignore the other 1,404]
** DE said it was 92%?
*** Of course this ignores ordinary year-to-year variation, differences between cohorts of students, random measurement error, etc. 

Politics and sausage-making: Iowa #edreform

Did you miss the action last night from the Iowa House of Representatives discussion on education reform? No worries. Here’s my summary!

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