By Fred Sharpsteen
State Department of Education
I - The problem introduction:
State department of education and standardized testing.
I am writing about the way the state has implemented and continues to change the way that school districts report No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and how this affects schools that are trying to meet the standards. The state has adapted testing that is in contradiction to best management teaching practices as research has found. I will describe how the state Michigan Department of Education (MDE) operates in isolation of input from school with out taking public comment on their implementation of the NCLB rules. One of the major points of NCLB is taking parent input on School Improvement. At the same time the state MDE operates in a vacuum, by not getting out and taking public comment on how we could improve assessment systems. Another point that I will look at is the distribution of monies in the state and federal level and how it affects the outcomes of the programs. The third issue that I will talk about is the intent of NCLB and how this approach to student achievement is not the best way of getting the results of having all children become effective learners. Lastly I will talk about what schools can do to help their schools to go from being good school to becoming great schools.
II – Examination of the problem:
Last march I was at the Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning (MACUL) I sat in on an open discussion with a group of 20 directors of technology across the state of Michigan. This was one of the first times that I had seen any one from the MDE actually open up a conversation with the practioners and look for are input that would help drive some of the state standards. One of the conversations that we started to talk about was the Michigan Education Technology Standards (METS) assessment.
Currently the state feels that this is a requirement of the NCLB, so over the last two years they have been requiring all school to self assess the student proficiency. The Director of Technology was surprised to find in a quick assessment of the room with the use of assessment clickers that we were in favor of a standardized assessment of all students. The reason from most of the people in the room was this, if we don’t use a common assessment that the statistics that we were reporting are useless. We are then only comparing one group of students against the next year’s group of student in that school or district but we can not compare from school district to school district. Also on this issue is that best management practices in education, the researchers tell us that timely feed back on testing become increasingly less important the longer it takes to get feed back to the students. When we look at the MEAP test we get the results almost a year later after the test is taken. If this is a tool to help us make data driven decisions it would seem that they would want to get this feedback to the school much quicker. When we did a site visit to the Department of Education in Ohio in March 2008 they told us that they return their state high stakes test data back to the school 6 weeks after the schools take the test. Six weeks, wow this seems to be a better way of getting data back so schools so that they can actually look at making improvements before the next rounds of testing. On the pro side of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) all children have the right to become literate. There is a quote from the book Bridge to Literacy that says this, “America’s schools need to produce literate citizens who are prepared to compete in the global economy and who have the skills to pursue their own learning well beyond high school” Page 130. Also another quote comes from Margaret Spelling the U.S. Secretary of Education, “One adult unable to read is one too many in America. We must take a comprehensive and preventive approach, beginning with elementary schools and with special emphasis in our high schools. We must focus recourses toward proven, research-based methods to ensure that all adults have the necessary literacy skills to be successful” page 138.
The second point that I would like to talk to is the way that monies are handed down at both the state and federal level of government. Many of the monies that funnel to the Local Educational Units (LEA) are based on AYP failure. I feel this is a bad practice by the state MDE for two reasons. One you are giving monies to school systems that have a track record of failing. By throwing more money at these schools will not make them more successful. In fact it may have the opposite effect of harming them further. As they are at a time that they need to focus on school improvement at a simple level and instead will be focusing on trying to implement and a new program in to a dysfunctional program. In a report by Lawrence O. Picus of the University of Southern California he wrote “A careful look at the research on the impact of money on student achievement shows that we may be asking the wrong question. Rather than consider whether or not additional resources will improve educational spending, it seems more important to ask how additional resources could be directed to improve student learning, or in Hanushek's (1994b) view, spend those resources more efficiently”.
The Third and last point that I will make is how school can become good to great schools.
In the book by Jim Colins he makes five points for school and the social sector going from being good to great. I will briefly try to summaries these but you really need to read this book. The book has had a great impact on my thinking and how we operate in educational systems. They are Level Five leadership, the hedge hog effect, the flywheel effect and the concept of the bus. The first is level five leadership within the organization system. This is having great leadership at all levels especially at the top level of the organization. The Second is the hedge hog concept. This is the process of doing what you do and do it well, in other words don’t try to be many things to everyone. The third is the flywheel effect, start with one success and build on it. This will cause momentum that you can then take to the next project and will keep inspiring the organization to becoming a great system. Lastly is the bus make sure that all stake holders on the bus are on the right bus then make sure that all stake holders are in the right seat on the bus.
Many of these items have affected me in my professional experience working at the schools. From the funding of are schools and the way that we use data to drive the educational systems. The federal government and the state are pushing us to become the best we can but they don’t model how to be successful when they don’t get us timely feedback on are data. When they don’t place the tax dollars and grant monies in the school that will make the best use of the funds for all students and to create successful model educational projects that can be replicated in other schools. As far as the good to great model I use these on a daily basis to help my LEA and the ISD and the state to influence them at the leadership level that I can effect to going from being a Great school/education system that it can be.
1. One of the ways that they could resolve the issue of disconnects form the LEA district and the public and parents would be to have more open discussion at a grass roots level.
2. More timely feed back to the LEA cut the time line of feed back from 6 months to 1 year to 6 weeks.
3. Change the way that the state hands out funding of non AYP schools to great schools to create model programs.
4. Getting PD for the educational leaders of are school systems on the good to great model
5. Modeling best management practices for all school to follow to help them see what good instructional practices look like.
6. Get the right people into the right places in the organization. I.e. If there on the bus and should not be then get them on the right seat or off the bus.
Collins, Jim. Good to Great : Why Some Companies Make the Leap... And Others Don't. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.
Corcoran, J. (2009). Bridge to Literacy No Child or Adult Left Behind. New York, NY 10006: KAPLAN PUBLISHING.
Picus, Lawrence O. "Does Money Matter in Education?" June 1997. Nation Center Education Statistics. 15 Oct. 2008
The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement [School Improvment]. (n.d.). Retrieved October 15, 2008, from The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement
Web site: http://www.centerforcsri.org/index.php?%20option=com_content&task=view&id=130&Itemid=5