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

Teachers Leading Transformative Changes in Ohio School Districts

Three teachers discuss strategies.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

Teachers are taking the lead in increasing college and career readiness and improving instruction in several school districts in Southeastern Ohio, according to the Ohio Race to the Top newsletter. High school teachers in the Franklin Local School District near Zanesville developed a Peer Assisted Review process that gives teachers time to plan together and support one another in the classroom. This and other teacher-led initiatives in the district created a “culture of collaboration” and “just-in-time” support for teachers striving to prepare their students for college and career success. Teams of teachers in nearby Coshocton City Schools are working together to assess students and analyze data to improve instruction.

Read more about these teacher-led initiatives here.

Massachusetts Districts Adopt Rigorous MassCore Course Requirements for High School Graduates

A teacher helps two students in a school science lab.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

Twenty years ago, Massachusetts was one of the first States to raise expectations for what all students should know and be able to do by implementing higher standards and greater accountability for schools and districts.  Today, the State’s students consistently perform at the top on national assessments. Even with that enviable track record, Massachusetts continues to see gaps in achievement and college- and career-readiness based on students’ race, ethnicity, native language, and family poverty level.

So, in 2007, after the State Department of Education reported that too many students were leaving high school unprepared for the rigors of college and the workplace, Massachusetts established what it called the “MassCore” course of study: more instruction in mathematics, English, science, social studies and a foreign language. Massachusetts recommended that all high school students meet the MassCore course of study, and left it up to individual school districts to determine whether to require it.

A student does a math worksheet with a graphing calculator nearby.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

The Melrose Public School district just north of Boston was among the first to make the MassCore course of study a requirement.  “We’re asking more of students,” said Margaret Adams, the district’s chief academic officer. “If we help and support them and give them the tools to be successful, they rise to the occasion every time.”

In 2009, the Federal Race to the Top program invited States to submit aggressive, comprehensive plans for improving curriculum and instruction, enhancing educator effectiveness, and ensuring that more students are well prepared for success in college and careers. In their response to the invitation, Massachusetts State officials highlighted the potential of MassCore to increase student success in higher education and the 21st century global economy. That led to efforts to provide districts with incentives and support to encourage more of them to make the MassCore course of study a requirement.

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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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Maryland Pairs World Languages with STEM to Increase 21st-Century Skills

A teacher, Mandy Tang, teachers first graders at West Side Elementary School a math lesson in Chinese.  She has her hands raised and the children are doing the same.

Mandy Tang teaches first graders a math lesson in Chinese. Photo credit: Nancy Zuckerbrod

Cumberland, Maryland – In this quiet mountain town in western Maryland, a classroom of first-graders at West Side Elementary School sings a cheerful song in Mandarin and then seamlessly transitions into a lesson on subtraction—also taught entirely in Chinese.

West Side, in rural Allegany County, is one of about 19 schools throughout Maryland that are part of the State’s innovative World Languages Pipeline program, which helps elementary-school students gain vital skills and knowledge in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), as well as a solid foundation in key foreign languages. Although the students are only in elementary school, the lessons represent an early start on preparing them for success in college and careers later on.

The program was spurred by the Federal Race to the Top program, which encouraged States to come up with innovative ways to prepare more students for success after high school as a way to boost the nation’s economic competitiveness. In its application for the Race to the Top grant, State officials made the case that “Maryland’s competitive edge in an increasingly flat world depends on the preparation of graduates who are highly skilled in STEM.”

The Race to the Top grant gave the State a chance to convene stakeholders who have collaborated to plan how best to combine STEM and foreign language instruction. It also allowed the State to work with STEM teachers on curricula that could be translated into Chinese, Arabic and Spanish. Those materials help the foreign language teachers deliver lessons on topics such as the diversity of life in the rainforest, the science of sound and the three states of matter.

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Bringing STEM to Rural Scholars in Florida

Florida student Phidell and fellow rural Florida high school students work on a STEM project.

Phidell (far left) and fellow rural Florida high school students work on a STEM project.
Photo credit: FloridaLearns STEM Scholars

Phidell Lewis, a 17-year-old senior at a 450-student high school in a thinly populated area of the Florida Panhandle, had two big adventures this past summer.

He spent four days alongside some of the nation’s top scientists as part of a group analyzing nanomaterials, tiny particles with special characteristics. He also attended a forum of engineers representing various industries, where he learned that mechanical engineers have skills that can be useful in the field of animation, which Phidell has been considering as a career.

Florida students working on STEM activities in the Summer Challenge

Photo Credit: FloridaLearns STEM Scholars

Both opportunities came about because Phidell is one of hundreds of students from rural communities in Florida who are STEM Scholars—part of a new State initiative to expose students to opportunities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) through its Race to the Top grant.

STEM education is critical in preparing the State’s labor force to be competitive in the increasingly high-tech global economy. Many new and existing jobs require expertise in STEM fields, as well as post-secondary credentials. In Florida, estimates indicate that nearly 9 out of 10 new jobs that become available over the next decade will be in STEM fields according to a 2010 report issued by the Council of 100, a group of Florida business leaders who advise the governor, called Closing the Talent Gap.

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Better Times at Douglass High

Logo of Frederick Douglass High School featuring Frederick Douglass' face and an open book.

Image credit: The Academies at Frederick Douglass High School

Two years ago, fifteen-year-old Miquel Green put on an earnest face and prepared himself to stand the consternation of his older brother, Andrew. Miquel had decided to transfer from his current high school in Baltimore, Md., to Frederick Douglass High School, the Charm City school from which Andrew had graduated just five years before.

“He was mad,” recalls Miquel with a chuckle, yet he couldn’t fault his brother for the concern. During Andrew’s time at Frederick Douglass High, truancy, violence, and underachievement were rampant, and Andrew counted himself lucky to have graduated on time. But Miquel knew something that his brother didn’t—Frederick Douglass High had become a turnaround school.

A Storied Past and a Brighter Future

A 2008 HBO documentary, Hard Times at Douglass High, filmed in 2004-2005, declared, “America is in the midst of an educational crisis.” At the center of this struggle was a disorganized, academically dilapidated Frederick Douglass High, where less than 25 percent of students graduated and hopelessness pervaded the halls.

But the school had not always been this way.

In 1883, Frederick Douglass High, then called the Grammar School for Colored Children, opened its doors. By 1889, the institution became the first in Maryland—and only the third in the nation—to award high school diplomas to African Americans.

Born out of the “separate but equal” era, the school quickly established a reputation for educational excellence among African Americans, and built a powerful alumni base, including Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, jazz entertainment legend Cab Calloway,  and “mother of the civil rights era” Lillie Mae Carroll Jackson.

But decades of financial and administrative struggles at the school and the challenges of a city dominated by urban poverty gradually disintegrated Frederick Douglass High’s academic foundation.

When the school’s current principal, Antonio Hurt, arrived from Georgia two years ago, the school was, in his words, “an education cemetery … people couldn’t take pride in our programs.”

Fast forward to today and Frederick Douglass High has reinvented itself. The entire school community has come together—the staff and students recommitting themselves to a learning environment based on the values of “pride, dignity, and excellence,” the school’s motto. The work is not yet done, but hopelessness has left the building.

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Tennessee Trains 30,000 Teachers in the Common Core State Standards

An instructional coach gives a thumbs up during a TN Core English Language Arts training session held this past July.

An instructional coach gives a thumbs up during a TN Core English Language Arts training session held this past July. Photo credit: Tennessee Department of Education

In an ambitious and comprehensive effort, the state of Tennessee provided 30,000 teachers with intensive training this past summer as part of its transition to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)—more rigorous academic standards in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics.

The sessions were led by 700 teacher coaches, known as “Core Coaches,” who were selected from 1,250 applicants based on their record of classroom success and a round of interviews. Prior to leading the statewide training for their peers, the teacher-coaches received two weeks of intensive training from the State and experts in the Common Core State Standards.

The standards, adopted by 45 States and the District of Columbia, are aimed at preparing students for college and today’s competitive global economy. Although the standards cover only ELA and mathematics, they require instructional shifts for teaching all subjects, which is why Tennessee included teachers of science, social studies, special education and other subjects in its training sessions.

But standards alone can’t get the job done. Teachers need high-quality training and support to help students reach these expectations.

The sessions and coaching were made possible by its Federal Race to the Top grant Tennessee received in 2010, but the effects of the training will last long after the grant money runs out because teachers will have learned more about the content of their subject areas and new ways to challenge their students.

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Talking with Tennessee Educators about the Common Core State Standards Summer Trainings

Tennessee science teacher and instructional coach Christopher Bowen

Tennessee science teacher and instructional coach Christopher Bowen.
Photo credit: Christopher Bowen

Read our full feature story on the TNCore training here.

Christopher Bowen, a Johnson City, Tennessee middle school science teacher and instructional coach

Q.  What was different about Tennessee’s approach to Common Core training?

A.   “One thing that set it apart… is that they had teachers apply to be trainers. They used us instead of having a group come in and do the professional development. That probably helped with buy-in more than anything else.”

Q.  What advice would you give to other States that want to do something similar?

A.   “There’s no way to have this big of a change, to have so much buy-in, unless it’s done by teachers who have used it, modified it and seen it work.”

Q.  Are you in touch with other coaches?

A.   “Yes, we started this online community. All of us are a close-knit group. We’re talking about things other than the Common Core now. We’ve become this vast collaborative network, which has been amazing.”

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To Get More Students Ready for College and Careers, Kentucky Expands Access to Advanced Placement for Low-Income Students

A graph showing three rising, upward-pointing arrows over an outline of the state of Kentucky.  Above the first block it says “Students taking an AP exam, 2012,” then the number 20,147 below that sentence and “+92% since 2008” below that number.  Above the second arrow it reads “total number of AP exams taken, 2012,” with the number 45,553 under those words and “+95% since 2008” below that figure  Above the third block are the words “number of qualifying scores of 3 or more, 2012” and inside the third block is the number 21,922 and +100% since 2008.

Image credit: U.S. Department of Education

A Kentucky partnership working to boost career and college readiness by increasing access to Advanced Placement (AP) courses is producing nothing short of phenomenal results at participating schools. During its first five years of implementation, AdvanceKentucky has been a driving force in Kentucky’s statewide 100 percent increase in total AP qualifying scores, among the largest gains of any state in the country.

A student writing during a high school class.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education

“We’ve seen a wild increase in enrollment and qualifying scores every single year,” said Joanne Lang, who heads the AdvanceKentucky partnership. “Our goal is to give every child access to challenging coursework, not just those who traditionally are eligible.”

Students who pass an AP exam complete college at three times the rate of those who do not. African-American and Hispanic students who pass an exam graduate at four times the rate of those who do not.  Increasing low-income African-American and Hispanic students’ access and success with AP classes is a focus of AdvanceKentucky.

The program began in 2008 with 12 schools.  Kentucky’s partnership in Race to the Top, which focuses on college- and career-readiness, allowed the State to scale this AP initiative, growing to 88 schools around the state. AdvanceKentucky reached 43 percent of public schools in the state by 2013-14.

“With our Race to the Top funding, we’ve been able expand the AdvanceKentucky initiative so that more students, especially those who are traditionally underserved and underrepresented in Advanced Placement, are exposed to rigorous, college-level courses,” said Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday. “With the proper supports provided, they learn they can be successful and more kids graduate ready for college, with college credit and an option for continuing their education they might otherwise have never considered.”

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