Rhode Island: Measuring Contributions Support Professionals Make to Learning

Establishing specific goals helps students and professionals make progress

Teacher and her student sitting at a desk looking over a notebook

Teacher and student go through class notes together. Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Education

Amy Manchester has worked as a speech language pathologist for 12 years. Her caseload at Richmond Elementary School in the Chariho Regional School District in Rhode Island includes students with autism, dyslexia, language disorders, and other disabilities.

Her job is to make sure her students can access the curriculum. On any given day, that could mean teaching a non-verbal student to use a speech device to ask questions and make comments during class. Or, it could mean teaching a student who is on the autism spectrum the rules of conversation and methods to interpret social cues and body language to help them participate in classroom discussions.

She knows the work she does affects her students’ learning. Until this year, however, her performance evaluation did not put a lot of emphasis on her effectiveness.

But, during school year 2013­-2014, Rhode Island piloted a process by which support professionals—library media specialists, school nurses, reading specialists, counselors, psychologists, social workers and language and speech pathologists—were evaluated based, in part, on whether their students achieved specific learning goals and outcomes.

In the past, for example, Manchester might have had a goal of helping students improve their ability to understand words as they were being spoken to them. But the amount of improvement did not affect her performance evaluation. Now, she has specific numerical targets (called student learning outcomes, or SLOs) for lowering the number of pronunciation errors a student makes and for increasing his ability to identify distinct sounds within a word. SLOs are long-term academic goals established for groups of students, which help them understand their progress and helps support professionals like Manchester understand what work still has to be done. Another of Manchester’s goals was to collaborate more with classroom teachers. “A lot of times it is easy to do our work in isolation and the collaboration piece is key [to student learning]”, she said.

Manchester and other support professionals also need to set specific targets for increasing access to student learning (called student outcome objectives, or SOOs) to measure their impact in a different way. Reducing truancy, for instance, is an SOO.

The formal title of the process is the Rhode Island Model Support Professionals Evaluation and Support System. It is an extension of the State’s redesigned teacher evaluation and support system, which puts greater emphasis on student learning and goal setting. Both systems were developed with support of the State’s Race to the Top grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

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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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Pennsylvania Trains Principals and Teachers in New Observation Method

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

Marybeth Zlock poses with her second grade students at Corl Street Elementary School in State College, Pennsylvania. Photo credit: Marybeth Zlock

Marybeth Zlock and her second graders at Corl Street Elementary School in State College, Pennsylvania. Photo credit: Marybeth Zlock

James Ellis, the principal of White Deer Elementary School in New Columbia, Pennsylvania, likes the conversations he and other administrators in his district are having with teachers about what great instruction looks like.

These discussions occur after school leaders observe teachers in action and are designed to provide helpful feedback and guidance on what teachers can do to improve in their jobs, such as by better managing their classrooms or helping students make more progress. The observations are part of Pennsylvania’s new teacher evaluation system, which went into statewide use as a pilot for the first time this year. Under the old system, Ellis said he didn’t have the same deep discussions about what he saw or should have seen.

“In the past it wasn’t unheard of to put the observation [report] in the teachers’ mailboxes for them to sign, and we were done for the year,” Ellis said.

Now, he talks with the teacher before and after the observation and does a less formal, walk-thru or visit again before finalizing an evaluation. That second classroom visit can both reinforce what he saw during the formal observation and provide new insights. “Previously that wasn’t as important to me as the main observation,” said Ellis. “Now, I really try to check back,” he said.

Teachers with fewer than three years of experience are formally observed twice a year; more senior teachers only once. The classroom observations and how a teacher carries out other professional responsibilities count for half the evaluation. The other half is based on student growth data and other measures of learning.

“A Different Atmosphere”

One of the teachers Ellis observed this year was Erin Sheedy, a kindergarten and special education teacher at a neighboring school in the Milton Area School District, north of Harrisburg. Sheedy said she particularly liked the pre-and post-observation discussions she had with Ellis. Administrators like Ellis in the district conduct observations in schools besides their own.

“It’s a different atmosphere to have that kind of one-on-one attention for any teacher,” she said. “The principal used to be the man behind the door, the wizard behind the curtain. Now they’re much more visible, and it’s a conversation.”

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Iredell-Statesville Schools Are Raising Achievement for Students with the Highest Needs

North Carolina’s Iredell-Statesville Schools (I-SS) are raising academic achievement amongst their high-needs students, English learners and students with disabilities. In 2010, I-SS received the $4.99 million Development grant through the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation(i3) competition that is making this possible.

I-SS-5th-graders

In one of Iredell-Statesville’s elementary schools, (left to right) 5th-grade students Ashley, Sitaly, Jose, Jasiah, and Bobbie work together during their science intervention time to discover the meaning of “force.” (Photo courtesy of Jada Jonas and the Iredell-Statesville Schools)

Their plan, called COMPASS — the Collaborative Organizational Model to Promote Aligned Support Structures — focuses on aligning support structures for teachers, strengthening collaborations between educators in professional learning communities, analyzing student performance data, improving curricula and developing differentiated instruction to address individual needs and raise academic achievement. According to project director Sherrard Lewis, COMPASS has been “a unifying force — a glue — that brings the data usage, heightened curricular goals, and instructional improvements together.”

COMPASS was implemented in participating schools in three stages, the last of which began during the 2013-2014 school year. The first stage involved staff training and support. The second worked to improve and increase data use to inform teaching practices and curriculum creation.

“When teachers analyze and understand data, it helps them understand a child’s true potential,” Lewis said. The district created quarterly “Data Days,” which allow teachers to focus on student performance data and other measures to identify student needs and then select evidence-based interventions to help students reach specific, measurable goals.

Professional development workshops, managed by the I-SS i3 team, immediately follow the Data Days and are geared to help teachers meet their students’ needs.

One principal involved in the COMPASS program said, “One thing I really appreciated is that the support we’ve gotten this year has really been differentiated based upon the needs of our school … [the COMPASS team’s] support has been very unique and tailored to our schools and what our teachers need.”

Since these initial changes and training sessions, graduation rates have increased for several of the targeted groups. In 2010, for example, high-needs students were graduating at a rate of 65 percent. In 2012, that number had risen to 90.

I-SS will continue to build on this foundation with additional support from a $19.9 million dollar U.S. Department of Education Race to the Top-District grant for a new project called IMPACT — Innovative Methods for Personalizing Academics, Complemented by Technology. Their learner-centered model seeks to reinforce the strides that have already been made through COMPASS.

Cross-posted from the June 10, 2014, article by ED’s Office of Innovation and Improvement.

 

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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California Training Partnership Helps New Teachers Bring Innovative Practices to Home Communities

With the help of a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Lupita Prado Machuca has returned to her home community to teach language arts at her former middle school. Once an English language learner, she now teaches students in the community where she grew up and helps them to see the importance of an education that prepares them for college and careers.

Lupita Prado Machuca teaching her 8th Grade Language Arts class in Kern County, California

Machuca is the product of efforts in the central region of California to change the face of teacher preparation by equipping future teachers from local schools with high-quality training. California State University Bakersfield (CSUB), with funding support from a federal Teacher Quality Partnership grant, brings mentor teachers into classrooms of first-year teachers and provides teacher candidates with field experience from day one, increasing their confidence and abilities to take on their own classrooms.

The five year, $10.5 million grant, which began in 2009, supports a partnership among CSUB, California State University Monterey Bay, and California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo, along with K-12 school districts in Kern and Tulare counties. Known as Edvention Partners, their combined efforts address the diverse needs of schools, teachers, and students within a large geographical, primarily rural, area.

The training program emphasizes solutions to individual and community challenges with professional development tools for educators such as differentiated instruction, positive behavioral intervention, and the culturally responsive teaching (CRT) model. By facilitating teaching aspirations in central California communities, Edvention Partners is empowering teachers to integrate personal experience with research-based teaching practices to promote student achievement.

Local school leaders are very excited to have a talented former student return to teach. “She really has some innovative practices and ways to connect to the students,” said Language Arts Department Chair Stacie Rubinol, who taught Machuca in junior high school. “She really inspires them to learn beyond what is just in the textbook.”

Superintendent Ricardo Robles recognizes how important the Edvention Partners program has been to Machuca and his district. By keeping talented teachers in the community, students can witness an example of the importance of an education that prepares them for college and the workforce. “We’ve been very lucky to get her… Cal State has been a huge asset to our school district,” Robles said.

To learn more about Machuca’s experience, watch this video.

 

Cross-posted from the May 22, 2014, edition of The Teacher’s Edition, a weekly e-newsletter of ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach.

Tennessee Improves Teacher Preparation Programs Through Report Cards

A teacher writing on a blackboard while two teaching students listen.

A class at Lipscomb University on teaching geometry. Photo credit: Kristi Jones, Lipscomb University

Last year, the teacher preparation program at Nashville’s Lipscomb University was named one of the nation’s best by the National Council on Teacher Quality. In November, the State’s 2013 Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs also lauded Lipscomb, saying the overall performance of those that completed the program made the school one of the most effective in Tennessee as measured by the Tennessee Value Added-Assessment System (TVAAS).

Lipscomb’s overall effectiveness had previously been recognized on Tennessee’s 2012 Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs. But that year’s numbers also revealed a weakness: recent graduates of the private institution were, on average, less effective than those of other programs in teaching social studies to grades four through eight.

These insights into the relative performance of Lipscomb’s graduates were made possible by the State’s revamped teacher preparation programs report card, a key element of Tennessee’s many Race to the Top-inspired reforms.

Senior Vice President and College of Education Dean Candice McQueen said the relative weakness of the school’s social studies teachers confirmed what she had been hearing anecdotally and seeing in surveys of graduates during those years. Many felt they did not have full command of good teaching strategies and did not know how to plan strong lessons. Armed with the data, she was able to work alongside the university’s provost to alter their advising and social studies methods course and bring in two grade K–12 experts.

This year’s report showed that Lipscomb’s graduates were, on average, more effective social studies teachers than veterans statewide, as well as other beginners. “The report card was helpful in pushing the conversation,” McQueen said.

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Educators Explain Colorado’s New Performance Evaluation System

A teacher stands in front of her elementary school students performing a lesson.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

Throughout this school year, the Denver Post is reporting the experiences and views of four Colorado teachers as their districts fully roll out the new educator evaluation requirements for the first time.  Each district is taking a slightly different approach; some have adopted the state model and some have created their own systems. 

Denver Public Schools has opted to use their own evaluation system called LEAP (Leading Effective Academic Practice).  Zachary Rowe, a teacher in the district, told the paper that “the biggest challenge is shifting the culture we have in teaching around evaluation from one that is focused on what it used to be, which was finding bad teachers, to what LEAP is, which is finding good teachers and helping them improve…That’s a huge culture shift.”

Terace Viney, a middle school teacher in Greeley, said the evaluation system was “overwhelming” at first but now she’s accustomed to it. “I want to be [rated] advanced, that’s my goal,” she said. “That’s how I’ve been all my life. I know I’m proficient. The hard part, to be advanced, you have to get all your students on board.” Another teacher noted that a strong, trusting relationship between principals and teachers will also be critical.

The five parts of the Post series can be found herehere, herehere and here

Delaware and Hawaii Putting Student Data and Teacher Collaboration at the Heart of Instructional Improvement

Three teachers looks at and discussing student data at North Dover Elementary School in Delaware in order to improve instruction.

Teachers discuss student data at North Dover Elementary School. Photo credit: Lindsay Osika

When North Dover Elementary School in Dover, Delaware was awarded $50,000 as one of the State’s 17 “recognition” schools for its gains in student achievement in 2013, Principal Suzette Marine gave some of the credit to what she called the school’s “Go Green” culture. “Students know that any time their data is green it’s great because students have reached their benchmarks on proficiency levels and are on track for success,” Marine wrote on the school’s website.

“Go Green” refers to the way positive data is displayed on the computer dashboard the school uses to keep track of student progress. Teachers meet with their students several times each year “to look at data and talk about ‘this is where you perform’ and ‘where would you like to be next time’ and ‘what do you need to get to the next level,’” she said. Teachers also meet for 90 minutes once a week to analyze their own performance. “It’s phenomenal the way they lean on each other and they share,” Marine said of her teachers. “When they look at data, they can say, ‘this is my concern, this is what I’m seeing in the classroom’ and then talk together about how to address it.”

Five teachers at North Dover Elementary School discussing student data in order to improve instruction during a Professional Learning Community.

A Professional Learning Community at North Dover Elementary School. Photo credit: Lindsay Osika

That was what State, district and union leaders hoped would happen after winning a Federal Race to the Top grant in 2010. Teachers in many schools already were meeting to discuss their students’ work. The grant deepened the discussions by making it possible to hire coaches. Coaches help teachers in each of the State’s 237 schools become more adept at using student data to focus their instruction on the concepts and skills that their children needed the most help mastering.

As a result of the weekly meetings, which are called “professional learning communities (PLCs),” Marine is seeing much more differentiation of instruction in both reading and mathematics when she observes classrooms. “Teachers are going above and beyond to meet the needs of every student,” she said.

North Dover is one of two schools in the Capital School District that have been recognized by the State for the progress they are making. Pam Herrera, who oversees the professional learning communities for the district, said the entire district is focused on using data and improving instruction as a way of implementing the Common Core State Standards adopted by the State. Those standards, adopted by 45 States and the District of Columbia, emphasize the critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills needed for success in college and careers.

“Our focus is on our students and we communicate that throughout the district in terms of our expectations and cultures and the professional learning communities fit right into that,” Herrera said. “We’re looking at the student data and getting right at the heart of what’s happening with all of our students.”

Christopher Ruszkowski, who heads the Delaware Department of Education’s Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Unit, said he hears comments like that all over the state. “Every teacher, every principal, every superintendent cites the professional learning communities as a core reason they have seen gains over the past three years.”

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