‘Opt-out’ aftermath

‘Opt-out’ aftermath: School District looks to move forward

Published in Cape Coral Daily Breeze Aug. 28, 2014

With the Lee County School Board’s decision Wednesday to “opt out” of statewide assessment testing, personnel of the school district were left scrambling to formulate a plan Thursday morning.

“The plan in stone is to stop the high stake testing,” Boardmember Don Armstrong, who voted in favor of the measure, said Thursday morning. “This is about education and about giving our students the best education. When these tests don’t accurately measure how the kids are doing, that is an issue.”

He said the school board’s vote to “opt out of high stake testing,” gave the superintendent direction of how to formulate a plan to stop the testing in the best way possible.

“Dr. Graham is meeting with staff now and is working on a plan,” he said Thursday morning. “We set that in motion. She (Graham) has to formulate the plan to execute it. It’s her job.”

Board Member Mary Fischer, who also voted in favor, said she felt the decision to “opt out” was a statement.

“I have asked the superintendent to bring us a recommendation with some clarity of exactly what opting out of standard mandated testing means and what those tests are,” she said. “We will be approving a new strategic plan that will give us a road map. We will still be teaching the standard. The superintendent will bring forward a plan for assessment.”

Steve Teuber, who is running against Armstrong, said his heart is very heavy due to the decision three of the five board members made Wednesday night.

In addition to Armstrong and Fischer, and Tom Scott voted for the motion.

“While all of this is happening we are spending money we didn’t have,” he said. “Now we are taking all these resources going into reaction mode. What is happening to education and instruction right now? What do you think the advantageous affect is happening in Lee County? Those are the types of things these three didn’t think about.”

Tueber also said by the board taking action Wednesday night, no alternative plan was provided.

“What option is the state going to have,” he asked. “What happens if the state doesn’t give an answer for six months? The potential consequences for this move are humungous. I would not have done it this way.”

Tueber said there is nothing to support from the action taken at the board meeting.

“We don’t have a plan to get behind to support,” he said. “We don’t know what to do next until the state responds.”

Tueber said although the teachers will continue to teach the children of Lee County, he questioned how long before that has an impact on them.

“You don’t know what you are going to test,” he said. “You are going to end up losing a portion of our kids’ education to figure it out. I don’t think it has to be that way. I think it is a tipping point. It is going to make a decision.”

Incoming board member Pam LaRivere said she would have liked to have seen the board vote on each of the pieces separately because there was a blanket statement made for opting out of all mandated test taking. She said if the tests are looked at individually, it would have provided an opportunity to look at the reasons believed they were not necessary pieces.

“We have to have a plan. We need to provide something to the state,” she said. “Now the district is going to have to work very quickly to come up with a plan.”

According to information released by the Lee County School District, there are numerous potential effects of the district opting out of statewide assessments.

Some of the effects on students include: graduation requirements cannot be completed due to Florida Statutes requiring students passing 10th grade FCAT, or ELA Assessment, and algebra 1 end of course exam; course completion credit may not be obtained for end of course exams, which is 30 percent of their grade; third grade retention could not be appropriately administered because it is based on statewide standardized assessment and Lee County could not comply with Opportunity Scholarships.

The decision also affects employees, schools, the school district and funding.

Instructional personnel and school administrator evaluations would be affected because their performances are based on student growth, which is assessed by statewide assessments. Performance pay would also be affected, as well as funding because schools would not receive recognition dollars for letter grade improvements.

As far as schools, incomplete school grades would be issued because 95 percent of students have to participate in statewide assessments, according to information provided by the school district. Charter schools would also feel the effects of opting out of testing. The school district is required to provide test administration services and cost payments for the required student assessments.

Lee County could not be an “academically high performing district” and state funds, discretionary grant funds and discretionary lottery funds would be withheld.

Tueber said the school board could have addressed the problem of excessive testing in a different manner due to there being three different issues: standardized testing, Common Core and excessive testing.

Teuber said 60 percent of “excessive testing” is done from the county level, which he believes is what everyone is complaining about.

As far as Common Core, he said there are four carts to a train: the first is standards, the second is how you teach the standards, the third is how you evaluate what is taught and the final is how the teachers are evaluated on the first three.

Teuber said the standards are the same standards that Florida has had for the past five years. He said there is a only a 7 percent material difference between FCAT and Common Core.

Last year, Teuber said, a bill was passed in the state of Florida that provided control over all curriculums at a district level. He said the school board should have formed committees that looked into every piece of curriculum to see what is acceptable. Once that step is taken, it narrows down the curriculum and produces your very own Lee County curriculum, he said.

“Now you have a test,” Teuber said. “Now you go to the state and say we are not doing it because we are not teaching your Common Core crap. That’s when you take the battle to them. That is a good eight months to a year down the road.”

Armstrong said although the board has had discussion after discussion about high stake testing, they were not getting anywhere.

“It is time to take action,” he said. “This doesn’t mean education stops in the county. All we are doing is stopping the state mandated testing. These kids still have to go to school. They still have a curriculum . . . still have to learn how to read, write, add, multiple, subtract, and divide. The only difference is you are not going to be tested to death.”

Fischer said the board had a look at the tests and a pairing down of the number of tests given, which collects a lot of data that is not necessarily used to measure the growth of students and their continued skill building.

The amount of money spent district wide for the state testing also raises some concerns for Armstrong. He said, conservatively, $11.2 million is spent annually on testing.

Armstrong said high stake testing has unnecessary stress and pressure and takes away from active teaching.

“Educating them does not mean giving them a test for two months straight,” he said.

Armstrong said it was time to take a stance against high stake testing and take their education system back from Tallahassee.

“Remember the Boston Tea Party?” he asked. “They threw all the tea into the river. We got the Caloosahatchee River down here. I think that is a good place for the Common Core and high stake testing. I would rather ship it back to Tallahassee and say thanks, but no thanks.”

Armstrong said there still needs to be some type of testing for assessment. He believes that can be accomplished through a beginning of the year, middle of the year and end of year exam. By having all three exams, Armstrong said it gages the students at the beginning of the year, how much they have obtained in the middle of the year and the progress they have made at the end of the year.

Fischer agrees that the school district needs assessment. She said she thinks the district needs to use tests that are norm, validated and reliable and provide them with good information.

“We will move forward and our kids will be involved in learning activities and hopefully our teachers will feel freer to challenge the curriculum,” she said.

‘We live in a video world’

I attended a board meeting last week for Washington County Schools in Jonesborough, Tennessee. The topic of camera’s in the classroom was a topic discussed to some extent.

Cameras pulled from classrooms

Published in Herald & Tribune March 4, 2014 issue

After concerns surfaced last month about cameras being used as a new teachers’ evaluation tool in Washington County classrooms,  the process was stopped immediately, Director of Schools Ron Dykes told school board officials at a called meeting on Feb. 25.

“Teachers are under enough pressure,” Dykes said. “We wanted this to be a supported element that they would find helpful in assisting them.”

Dykes said he has no intention of re-implementing the cameras until he receives a mandate from the state or clearance of legalities that have been raised.

According to Dykes, most teachers have a formal evaluation two to four times a year, and the cameras were intitially considered a way to help in that evaluation.

“We have spent considerable amount of money in providing professional development, as well as administrator staff and curricular support personnel to work in the classroom and help our teachers improve instruction,” Dykes said.

The State of Tennessee, he said, notified the district that additional assistance would be provided in the form of cameras that takes video of the instruction during the evaluation. Dykes said the state department said it was the new wave of observations.

The funds for the cameras came from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“This 30- or 50-minute video was going to be shared between evaluator and the teacher being evaluated,” he said. “These cameras were never intended to film a classroom. They were simply intended to film an observation of a teacher teaching.”

Dr. William Flanary, director of secondary education and career technical education, said he attended a single-day training session in November and brought back enough cameras for each school. The session was conducted by the manufacturer of the cameras, thereNow, and Tennessee Department of Education personnel.

The camera, Flanary said, sits on its own tripod, has two lenses and a cordless microphone that the teacher could wear. He said the two lenses fold up and can be pointed independently of each other.

“With some practice, you could get an entire classroom,” Flanary said.

The Tennessee Department of Education provides keys to the camera only to the individuals who are certified in doing an evaluation.

Board Member Phillip McClain said some of the teachers called him about their concerns. He said they were under the impression the video went to a “Cloud” and then a third party.

Board Member David Hammond agreed, saying the teachers he heard from were more worried about the videos being sent to a third party.

Dykes said the videos are encrypted and are only used for the teacher and observer.

The video is uploaded to a secure website and the only person who has access to view that video was the administrator who created it, Flanary said.

Ideally, he said, their hope was to have the teacher sit down with the administrator while watching the video. After it concluded, a conversation would take place on how to become a better teacher.

Flanary said the key holder would delete the video after the video was viewed.

Faculty meetings were already being held to explain the purpose behind the camera, as well as its functionality.

Board Member Jack Leonard said he believes the presentation of the camera program should have been rolled out in a different manner.

“Teachers are always wanting to improve their instruction,” he said. “Their evaluation is too important to their job not to improve.”

Board Member Mary Lo Silvers said as a retired teacher, she believes she would appreciate the camera program.

“I would want to know what I was doing wrong,” she said. “I would wholeheartedly support it. That is the best way in the world to show how a person could improve themselves.”

Dykes said the concept of the video was it would eventually form a database of some excellent instruction that would be used around the nation with the teachers’ permission.

He told the board and staff who  attended the meeting that “we live in a video world.” When a student steps on a bus every morning, he is on video, Dykes added.

He went on to say that a student is also on video when he or she walks into the school, walks the hall, eats in the cafeteria, goes to the gymnasium or sits in a classroom.

The reason for this is security.

Cameras, Dykes said, have been used in the classrooms in some fashion for 24 years.

‘One purpose, One mission, One passion’

Here is a feel good story that I wrote for the Herald & Tribune about teachers in the Washington County Department of Education receiving grants totalling $20,000. A special ceremony was held for them last week, which gave them all an opportunity to share how they will utilize the grant money in their classroom to further the education of their students.  

Innovative teachers receive Quest awards

Published Jan. 21, 2014 in the Herald & Tribune

Seven grants totalling $20,000 were given to teachers of the Washington County Department of Education last week during a special ceremony sponsored by the Quest Foundation.

Quest Foundation President James Harlan told the recipients that it was a privilege to be there on behalf of the foundation.

“We have just one purpose, one mission, one passion, that is to enhance education and learning in Washington County schools,” Harlan said. “We do that at the classroom level.”

The Quest Foundation has made grants to 21 classrooms in 10 schools over the last three years for more than $64,000. Last Wednesday, it added another $20,000 to the foundation’s grant total.

“The last three years have been a journey for Quest,” Harlan said. “Over $84,000 has been put back in our schools to start that lifetime of learning.”

He went on to say that it is rewarding to put that amount of money back in classrooms.

“That’s the kind of good news that makes this community, this city, a place where it is fun to live,” Harlan said. “We live in a very generous area. We care about other people and care about children.”

The foundation provides grant money for programs and materials that are otherwise unavailable to Washington County teachers. Harlan said the board looks for innovative ideas to enhance preschool to 12th-grade curriculum with a focus on STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Harlan said for most educators at the ceremony, being a teacher was all they ever wanted to do.

“Education is the thing that fundamentally differentiates the United States from the rest of the world,” he said. “We have, in the United States, a lot of things against us in terms of being competitive in the world. One thing that levels the playing field is education. That starts right here in Washington County.”

Harlan recalled a fond memory of when he was in third grade and a teacher who sparked his interest and made learning fun.

“Learning to read is fundamental to what these teachers are communicating to their students and what becomes a lifetime of learning,” he said.

Grant recipients included: Robert St. John and David Yates from David Crockett High School who received $1,774 for their project “Where No One Has Gone Before.”

The grant money will help the teachers purchase an aerial photography system that will be integrated between the media and CAD department, as well as the biology department.

Cindy McAvoy, a 6th- grade math teacher at Lamar School, received $1,709 for her project “Parents as Learning Partners – Partnerships Today that Create Success Tomorrow.”

McAvoy said many parents have shared their concern about wanting to help their children with their math, but the parents do not know how. Thanks to the grant, she will now be able to offer a workshop that provides ideas and ways for parents to support their children.

Rachel Horn and Mike Taylor of Daniel Boone High School received $3,600 for their project “Improving Student Learning with 21st Century Data-Collection Technology.” The teachers teach AP physics and physical science.

Horn said the grant will allow them to buy lab equipment for students to craft data in real time during their experiments in physics.

Twana McKinney and the David Crockett High School science department received $4,727 for the project “Technology and Common Core.”

McKinney said they will also receive equipment that will provide real-time data for students to use as evidence for reference in writing skills.

Penny Elliot Lowe, a 5th-grade math teacher at Ridgeview Elementary, received $4,500 for her project “Addressing the Learning Gap in Mathematics using iPads.”

She said she did not have an iPad until last year and was amazed with what it could do. Lowe said she saw many opportunities for using the iPad in the classroom.

“(I can) use the iPads as another way to have a deep engagement with what we are doing in mathematics,” she said, adding that students can develop their own math presentations.

Kristie Payne, a third- grade teacher at Fall Branch Elementary, received $1,689 for her project “I want to be a Mathematician.”

She said the grant will fund iPads for her students, which will allow them the opportunity to develop key mathematical concepts through the use of technology. Payne said there are many apps that help students take concrete mathematical applications and apply them abstractly.

Jackie Mumpower, a 3rd- grade teacher at Ridgeview Elementary, received $2,000 for her project “Transforming 21st Century Education through Laptops.”

She said her students will use the laptops to create PowerPoint presentations. Harlan said the amount of grants they are not able to fully fund is the reason the foundation continues to raise money.