Educator Portal Plus is Go-To Source for District of Columbia Teachers

Photo Credit: US Department of Education.

Teachers are getting support they need to improve their practices and deepen students’ knowledge and skills.

When geometry teacher Robert Athmer started working in the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) four years ago, he was disappointed with the way the school district communicated and shared resources with educators. At the time, DCPS’s online portal provided only basic information and was difficult to navigate.  He found it “lacked inspiration.”

But today, after a major overhaul in response to teacher input, the portal gets frequent use.  Athmer now considers the revamped version of the portal an essential way of connecting with school district officials and fellow teachers, accessing meaningful professional development materials, viewing high-quality lesson plans and staying up-to-date on key professional learning opportunities.

“It’s a one-stop shop,” Athmer said. “I tend to use the resource tab all the time for things like pacing guides, unit plans, lesson ideas and formative assessment ideas. The resources for secondary mathematics are great. Everything is up there.”

The site is called Educator Portal Plus and it was redesigned with support from grants that included the district’s Race to the Top grant. It is being used by 90 percent of DCPS teachers and is also open to teachers at charter schools in the district who can see lessons aligned to the Common Core State Standards or tap into other professional learning resources on the site.

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Engaging Educators to Design and Improve New Systems of Evaluation and Support: 5 to Watch

This graphic highlights five initiatives of States and districts to engage educators. At the top of the graphic with the title is a map of the United States with five States highlighted: Colorado, Illinois, Tennessee, Florida, and Connecticut. In the body of the graphic, there are five images with text next to them. The first image is two people talking. The text next to the image is “Denver Public Schools: Union leaders and teachers from pilot schools helped secure 92% support for the new system.” The second image is comment bubbles with a question mark. The text next to the image is “Tennessee use an online rapid response system to answer educators’ questions about the new system within 48 hours.” The third image is a picture of a survey. The text next to the image is “Hillsborough County (FL) is using feedback from teachers to adjust communications and solve technical problems with its system.” The fourth image is a person speaking to an audience. The text next to the image is “Illinois proactively involved the two statewide teachers’ unions and the nonprofit Teach Plus to get input from teachers at the front end.” The fifth and final image is two hands in a handshake. The text next to the image is “New Haven (CT) teachers are helping to craft the educator evaluation and support system, which is seen as a model of labor-management collaboration.” Under the body of the graphic is the sentence: “More online in Engaging Educators: A Reform Support Network Guide for States and Districts.” 	 The link to the publication:

Many States and school districts are proactively engaging educators in helping to shape key reforms, including evaluation, feedback and support systems. Five to watch are:

Denver Public Schools (CO) avoided the “happy talk” that often undermines credibility with its “keep-it-real” communications campaign, focused on successes and challenges. Union leaders and teachers from evaluation pilot programs traveled to nonpilot schools to articulate first-hand experiences, an effort that led to 92 percent of schools joining the pilot evaluation program.

Hillsborough County (FL) created educator advisory panels and surveyed teachers (“pulse checks”) to assess their understanding of and attitudes toward the evaluation and support system. The district is using this feedback to adjust communications with teachers via e-magazines and podcasts, publish updates to address confusion and efficiently solve technical problems with the system.

Illinois proactively engaged two statewide teachers’ unions through early discussion and advisory roles to co-create its teacher evaluation, feedback and support system. And the State worked with the nonprofit Teach Plus to organize several feedback forums across the State.

New Haven Public Schools (CT) teachers are helping to craft the educator evaluation and support system, which has been held up as a model of labor-management collaboration. A teacher’s overall evaluation is based on classroom observations (conducted by peers or administrators) and student learning goals (including student assessment data) that teachers set with their supervisors.

Tennessee set up an online rapid response system to answer questions about the new teacher evaluation and support system. The department fielded up to 75 questions a day and responded within 48 hours.

Details in Engaging Educators: A Reform Support Network Guide for States and DistrictsTo view a more detailed version of this graphic, click here.

Leader Spotlight with Florida Principal Tauri Eligon

Tauri Eligon, a member of the first Principal Rapid Orientation and Preparation in Education Leadership (PROPEL) class, in front of a PROPEL ad on a wall

Tauri Eligon was the first member of the inaugural class of the Principal Rapid Orientation and Preparation in Education Leadership (PROPEL) program at Florida Atlantic University to be hired as an assistant principal. Participants in the selective program are effective teachers who are nominated by their principals and who are selected after several rounds of interviews. During the first half of the 16-month program, participants continue teaching four days a week in their own school, take classes part-time and do administrative tasks under the supervision of the principal. During the second half, participants complete a four-week apprenticeship at a high-needs school, learning from the principal about leadership and how to give teachers helpful feedback. Eligon started his job at Challenger Elementary in Tamarac in September 2013, 20 months after he entered the training program

Q. What inspired you to become a teacher?
A. My mother, who was a high school teacher in Brooklyn. She had some of the toughest students you could possibly have. But she treated all of her students as if they were her kids. That left a lasting mark on me.

Q. You were an elementary school teacher for 14 years and had also served as a mentor teacher and mathematics specialist. Did you always want to be a principal?
A. No. But I had a principal who saw some leadership qualities in me. He opened my eyes to the possibilities of the impact I could have in a leadership position.

Q. What was the most beneficial part of the PROPEL program?
A. The professors were not typical professors. They were area superintendents, principals and directors. They were able to provide real-life examples of leadership.

Q. What else was helpful to you?
A.  We learned to have difficult conversations with parents—telling parents that their children are having trouble academically or socially; telling parents that their children may be having thoughts that might be violent. These are conversations that need to happen, that do happen, and they’re not easy. The training absolutely helped. We spent a lot of time talking through different scenarios, different problems and having practice conversations.

Q. Was there anything in particular you felt you needed to learn?
A. I needed to learn quickly to be a better manager of time, a better leader and a better collaborator. It’s a different skill set, and these are skills that need to be learned and honed.


To learn more about PROPEL and Florida’s principal preparation programs, visit the full post here.

New York Puts Spotlight on Teachers Engaging Parents

Teacher leads a workshop for parents during "Parent University" on May 1

With 47 workshops offered at the May 1 “Parent University,” teachers engaged parents in their children’s education. Credit: Steve Bartholomew

South Huntington schools invite parents back to school to learn about new college and career standards

When parents at the Silas Wood Sixth Grade Center in South Huntington, New York, began asking questions about the unfamiliar assignments their children were bringing home last fall, teachers thought they deserved answers. So, the teachers with the support of teacher leaders put together an evening demonstration of how the State’s new college and career ready standards had changed both how they were teaching and what students were expected to do.

On January 8, the night of the demonstration, the notorious polar vortex of the winter of 2014 slammed into Long Island, and the temperature plunged into the single digits. Undeterred, the teachers went ahead with the event and hundreds of parents braved the cold and sat through sample lessons in mathematics and English language arts to learn how to ask their children questions like those they hear in school.

“Instead of just asking their kids how their day went, they might say ‘I’m noticing that your homework is different. I wonder what you can teach me about that,’” said Stephanie Brown, a sixth grade English language arts teacher and “parent academy” organizer. “We taught them how to do a close read of text. So, when they’re home and a child has to read something, they can ask, ‘What’s the gist of the first three paragraphs?’”  

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Hawaii Zones of School Innovation Committed to Improvement

Four students pose for a photo, holding vegetables they have picked as part of an agriculture project with Makaha Farms.

Hawaii created two Zones of School Innovation to support regions with many of the state’s lowest performing schools. Schools in these zones benefit from greater flexibility and from state investments in curriculum, professional development, technology, teacher recruitment, and wraparound services such as medical care and nutrition education. Photo credit: Hawaii Department of Education

Investing in teachers, time, services and technology to close achievement gaps

Bem is a ninth-grade student who lives with his parents, cousins and grandparents, migrants from the Marshall Islands, in a sparsely populated area of the island of Hawaii, 25 miles away from Kau High School. There are many obstacles Bem faces on a daily basis to receive an education. Just getting to school regularly is a challenge, as it is for many other students in this largely rural part of the State.

But, lately, Bem has been attending school more regularly and has become more engaged in his school work. He even says he wants to get involved in student government. “He’s been coming to school every day, he’s more serious about his studies and he knows that learning is going to take hard work,” said Kau High and Pahala Elementary Principal Sharon Beck.

A comprehensive set of policies and services put in place over the past few years across the sprawling Kau–Keaau–Pahoa Complex Area of schools is starting to make a difference. Unlike every other State, Hawaii has a single, statewide school system. Complex areas function like school districts in other States. In its successful application for a Federal Race to the Top grant, Hawaii said it would make two complexes—Kau–Keaau–Pahoa on the island of Hawaii and Nanakuli–Waianae on the island of Oahu—Zones of School Innovation (ZSIs) because they each had several schools that were among the lowest performing in the State.

That meant additional flexibilities and investments for ZSI schools including:  more instructional time during the school year as well as in the summer; financial incentives to attract effective teachers and leaders to remote schools; a common curriculum; intensive support for early-career as well as experienced teachers; an infusion of technology to expand students’ understanding of the world; giving principals more control over hiring decisions; and arranging for medical care, mental health counseling, nutrition education and other services.

These enormous changes have led to evidence of progress. Eight of the 18 schools in the zones identified as low-performing four years ago have now met performance targets and, in more than half, student growth is outpacing State averages in both reading and mathematics. Statewide, Hawaii public schools have narrowed the achievement gap by 12 percent, and on-time graduation has increased by seven percent.

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Parent and Community Engagement is Key Driver of School Transformation in Baltimore

A teacher leans over a students desk, helping him with an assignment.

As part of its “Expanding Great Options” initiative, Baltimore City Public Schools has employed a holistic parent engagement strategy to turn around struggling schools. One principal built relationships with parents and students by shaking hands before and after school each day. Teachers sent out flyers, knocked on doors, and made phone calls to parents to discuss their children’s performance. Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

School turnarounds require changes in school culture and strong relationships with parents

Commodore John Rogers Elementary/Middle School is located in an impoverished neighborhood of East Baltimore that struggles with high rates of gang violence and teen pregnancy. Ninety-five percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches and many are three or more grade levels behind in reading when they enter. The school floundered academically for years. In 2010, based on its test scores, Commodore ranked 872 out of 875 schools in Maryland. It enrolled only 225 students, half of the building’s capacity. Four principals had come and gone during the previous five years.

In the past four years, however, the school’s results have improved measurably. Enrollment more than doubled, chronic absences dropped significantly, and the percentage of students proficient in reading and mathematics rose 20 percent. In 2012, the school’s mathematics performance exceeded the districtwide average.

Creating More High Quality School Options

How did this happen?

In 2010, Baltimore City Public Schools chose Commodore to participate in its “Expanding Great Options” initiative, an effort launched by former Superintendent Andrés Alonso to increase the number of high quality schools in the district. The city opened new schools, expanded the capacity of high-performing ones, closed the lowest performers, and began working to turn around struggling schools. During the first full year of the program, the Baltimore City school board approved eight new schools and moved to close nine low-performing ones. In addition, all high schools became schools of choice.

Commodore was among a group of persistently low-performing schools selected to be part of a districtwide turnaround initiative, which brought intensive support underwritten by the State’s Federal Race to the Top award and School Improvement Grant. The goal: transform school culture and dramatically accelerate learning outcomes. Interventions varied by school, but included new leadership, extra support staff, a longer learning day, new technology, more staff mentoring, and professional development for teachers.

Parent Engagement a Top Priority

Marc Martin, a seasoned school leader with a strong track record of success, became Commodore’s new principal. In addition to hiring new staff and renovating the building, Martin made parent engagement a top priority. He set out to get to know each parent personally, to build trust and hope. “I literally slept here during the summer before the school opened,” he said. “We sent out flyers, made phone calls and knocked on doors to let families know we were here.”

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Colorado Expands Opportunities for Under-Represented Advanced Placement Students

Arvada High School Principal Kathy Norton and students hold the over-sized check the school received from the Colorado Education Initiative for outstanding A.P. course completion scores. Norton and the students are surrounded by various officials from the district, the State, and the Colorado Education Initiative.

Arvada High School Principal Kathy Norton (fourth from left) and students accept a check from the Colorado Education Initiative for outstanding A.P. course completion scores. Photo credit: Colorado Education Initiative

Across Colorado, high school students who previously would not have had the opportunity to enroll in Advanced Placement (A.P.) classes are not only enrolling, but also are earning passing scores in those classes.  “The best thing about A.P. classes is you get the prep for college and you get to learn so much more than you ever would have imagined in high school,” said Megan, a student at Arvada High School in Jefferson County. “It expands your mind to places you never thought it could go.”

Responding to disparities in A.P. enrollment across the State, the Colorado Education Initiative (CEI) is engaging with 23 high schools to increase the number and diversity of students taking and passing A.P. mathematics, science, and English classes to ensure that more students like Megan are better prepared for postsecondary education.  CEI’s program, called the Colorado Legacy Schools Initiative (CLSI), is driven by the philosophy that all students are capable of succeeding in rigorous courses.

CLSI’s strategy is already delivering dividends.  After only the first year, participating schools had already seen improvement: in 2012-2013, many CLSI schools showed a 70-percent increase in the number of students who earned a passing score on the mathematics, science, and English A.P. exams.  “These outstanding results equate to 522 new high school students who have had the opportunity to participate and succeed in rigorous A.P. coursework” stated Helayne Jones, president and CEO of the CEI. This includes the students at Arvada High, whose 95-percent growth in passing A.P. scores was more than 10 times the state and national average in 2013.

CLSI benefits from a partnership with the National Mathematics and Science Initiative (NMSI), which uses part of its $15 million Department of Education Investing in Innovation (i3) grant to fund the program.

Click here to read the full article on the OII home page.

More Students Challenging Themselves by Taking AP Classes

States across the country join Colorado in preparing more students to be ready for college or other advanced training after high school by promoting the Advanced Placement (AP) program.  Over the past decade nationally, the number of high school graduates who took AP classes nearly doubled, according to the College Board.   The below graphic shows how Race to the Top States have responded to the charge to prepare students by increasing access and success in AP classes.  Students in Colorado took 16.4% more exams in 2013 than they did in 2011, and are posting 15.7% more qualifying scores on exams in the same time period.  To learn more about strategies other States are using to increase college and career preparation, read about how Kentucky students are taking more AP classes and posting more qualifying scores on the exams here. The College Board offers 34 different AP classes.

The text across the top reads: The Advanced Placement program is one way to ensure that more students gain access to challenging courses that prepare them to think, solve problems, write and master what the global job market demands. The box on the top is titled: Participation Rates in Race to the Top States. The box includes several statistics. Students took 1.8 million AP exams in 2013, an increase of 13.2% since 2011. The gains since 2011 include an additional 71,388 exams taken in mathematics and science (an increase of 12.9%); an additional 135,954 exams taken in English, history, and social science (an increase of 11.9%); and an additional 10,409 exams taken in arts and world languages (an increase of 8.7%). The box also includes a map of the United States with the States that received Race to the Top funds highlighted. Participation rates in Louisiana rose 60.3% since 2011, the biggest gain of any State. Participation rates increased in other Race to the Top States: 14.6% increase in Hawaii, 23.6% increase in Arizona, 16.4% increase in Colorado 21.0% increase in Illinois, 19.7% increase in Kentucky, 17.1% increase in Tennessee, 17.3% increase in Georgia, 5.7% increase in Florida, 15.9% increase in Ohio, 14.1% increase in North Carolina, 14.8% in Pennsylvania, 7.4% increase in New York, 10.9% increase in Maryland, 24.6% increase in the District of Columbia, 19.1% increase in Delaware, 16.5% increase in New Jersey, 18.7% increase in Massachusetts, and 24.0% increase in Rhode Island. The box on the bottom is titled: Qualifying Scores in Race to the Top States. The box includes several statistics. Students scored 3 or higher (qualifying for college credit) on 1.1 million AP exams in 2013, an increase of 16.1% since 2011. The gains since 2011 include an additional 63,113 qualifying scores in mathematics and science (an increase of 18.2%); an additional 75,790 qualifying scores in English, history, and social science (an increase of 11.4%); and an additional 13,230 qualifying scores in arts and world languages (an increase of 15.4%). The box also includes a map of the United States with the States that received Race to the Top funds highlighted. Qualifying scores in Louisiana rose 35.1% since 2011, the biggest gain of any State. Qualifying scores increased in other Race to the Top States: 4.7% increase in Hawaii, 24.2% increase in Arizona, 15.7% increase in Colorado, 20.5% increase in Illinois, 25.0% increase in Kentucky, 19.2% increase in Tennessee, 19.3% increase in Georgia, 13.5% increase in Florida, 18.6% increase in Ohio, 14.1% increase in North Carolina, 18.3% in Pennsylvania, 9.9% increase in New York, 13.4% increase in Maryland, 15.9% increase in the District of Columbia, 17.2% increase in Delaware, 17.0% increase in New Jersey, 18.8% increase in Massachusetts, and 18.8% increase in Rhode Island. At the bottom of the image there is a note: This graphic has been updated from a previous version. Updated on May 23, 2014. The source is also given:

Ohio’s New School Models Spur Innovation

Five students crowd around two laptops to prepare a presentation.

Students prepare to make presentations about endangered species. Photo credit: Chris Rost

Aunay, a junior at Winton Woods High School outside of Cincinnati, is figuring out what she can do to combat the problem of child labor around the world for a school project.

Meanwhile, in Cleveland, Yasmine, who is a junior at Lincoln West High School, is arguing on behalf of Sierra Leone, the African country her group chose to represent in Model United Nations debates.

In a suburb outside of Cleveland, students at Brooklyn Middle School are learning skills for college success in study groups and juniors at Brooklyn High School are taking honors classes and visiting prospective colleges.

Students at Winton Woods High School outside Cincinnati work together on a math project. Photo credit: Chris Rost

Students at Winton Woods High School outside Cincinnati work on a mathematics project. Photo credit: Chris Rost

The schools that these students attend all have won State grants over the past two years, enabling them to remake themselves by adopting one of five innovative school redesign models endorsed by the State.  These transformations were set in motion by the State’s Race to the Top program. One of Race to the Top’s primary goals is to increase college- and career-readiness, and all of these models have track records in that regard.

This graphic displays the unique elements and national results of five models implemented in Ohio to increase achievement and graduation rates: AVID, Asia Society, New Tech Network, Ohio STEM Learning Network, and Early College High School Initiative. The unique elements of AVID are: rigorous course-taking (at least one AP or other advance course each year); required college-level AVID course to boost reading, writing and inquiry skills; and academic and social support (tutoring by college student role models). The national results of AVID are: Latino and African American graduates enroll in postsecondary education at higher rates than national average, Latino students take AP exams at five times the national rate for all students, and 89 percent of AVID students who go on to post-secondary education are still enrolled two years later. The unique elements of Asia Society are: international content integrated with all subjects, technology to support instruction and connect students to schools around the world, and international travel and exchanges. The national results of Asia Society are: schools in Asia Society’s International Studies Schools Network outperform their peers in all core subject areas and across all grade levels in 85 percent of all cases, according to a study by the Consortium for Policy Research in Education. The unique elements of New Tech Network are: project-based learning (students collaborate on projects requiring critical thinking, creativity and communication); authentic assessment (students are assessed on ability to solve real-world problems using content knowledge); and technology to foster collaborative learning. The national results of New Tech Network are: high school graduation rate of 6 percent above the national average, college enrollment rate of 9 percent above the national average, college persistence in 4-year colleges 17 percent above the national average, and college persistence in 2-year colleges 46 percent above the national average. The unique elements of Ohio STEM Learning Network are: subjects integrated to emphasize connections across disciplines; investigation and problem solving tasks emphasize analysis and creativity; and classroom learning connected to real world through internships, mentoring, and other opportunities. The national results of Ohio STEM Learning Network are: graduates of selective schools (defined as those that enroll small numbers of highly motivated students with demonstrated talent and interest in STEM areas) are nearly 50 percent more likely to major in STEM, and graduates of selective schools are 20 percent more likely to earn a STEM-related postsecondary degree. The unique elements of Early College High School Initiative are: students can earn both a high school diploma and an Associate’s degree or up to two years of credit toward a Bachelor’s degree; small learning environments that demand rigorous, college preparatory work; and extensive academic and social support provided. The national results of the Early College High School Initiative are: 77 percent of graduates pursue some form of postsecondary education, more than half earn two or more years of college credit, and graduation rate of 80 percent of schools is equal to or greater than the rate for the district as a whole.

Click for descriptions of the models. Image credit: U.S. Department of Education

That’s evident at the Academy of Global Studies, which is now part of the International Studies School Network operated by the Asia Society, a New York-based nonprofit organization. “When you go in and see the kids, they’re looking at things from different angles, they’re using technology, they know how to manage their time,” said Kevin Jones, a counselor at the school. “They’re engaged in real-world tasks; they’re pushed to think critically. We ask kids: ‘What is the global impact?’ We want them to think more deeply about these issues and become self-directed learners.”

The redesigned schools are having a broader impact on he State because they’re demonstrating what’s possible for students, said Pamela VanHorn, director of the Ohio Network for Innovation and Improvement. “Race to the Top allowed us to have many working models across the State that will give other schools an impetus to redesign their schools.”

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