Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Top Teacher Cites Insufficient Planning, Confusing Assessments , Inflated Scores

I honestly can't tell you how disappointed I am that the assessment 
we just spent all year preparing for turned out to have inflated results."
--Lafayette HS Math teacher Allison Crowley

Prichard Committee Executive Director Stu Silberman titled yesterday's blog post at Ed Week, "The Impact of Top Teaching Talent." I guess Stu's a glass half-full kinda guy. What I heard infuriated me.

Lafayette High School math teacher Ali Crowley has a lot of credibility with me. I've seen her work and know something about her intellect and dedication. Based on everything I know about her, she is precisely the kind of teacher I would try to hire and would wish for every child. So when she recounts the amount of time teachers wasted due to top-down decision-making and a lack of direction, I had a hard time focusing on how great she is. Instead, I reacted to the way we sometimes mistreat those we should value most.

During 2010-11 Crowley worked to implement the Kentucky Core Academic Standards in math. That's a lot of preparation, but sometime you just have to work through the changes. After all, testing affects 24% of all teaching days at Lafayette. The teachers were assigned timelines to meet and spent the year creating new units for Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II, all while teaching every day, and without new textbooks which Kentucky hasn't funded it four years now?

But...get this...the following June, all that work went out the window when Crowley and her colleagues learned that Kentucky would actually be using ACT's Quality Core math standards...which does not match Kentucky's Core Academic Standards. "We actually had to redo everything that we had spent a whole year doing," Crowley told the Prichard Committee.

During the summer of 2011 the teachers spent their "time off" redoing every math unit.
It's not that I haven't heard this all before. Or...wait...maybe that IS why it upsets me. We experienced this during KERA's difficult implementation. We just didn't learn, I guess. When will state education leaders come to understand the complex nature of system-wide change and respect teacher's time and what we have asked them to do enough that we don't waste our most valuable resource?

Maybe Crowley is a great teacher because she kept her head up, (says she is not bitter, angry or burned out) fought through the changes, and challenged her students to do the same. But is that really the best way to implement a state-wide program?  Crowley thinks it might have all been OK if the tests provided her with the data she needed. But it doesn't. It will provide politicians a rhetorical stick with with to beat teachers over the head...again.

Stu and I agree, Ali qualifies as top teaching talent. But that's just not the headline I heard.

This from Public Engagement & Ed Reform:

The Impact of Top Teaching Talent

In recent posts I have been sharing some thoughts about what happens to the teaching profession when we have salaries and working conditions that attract the top end of the talent pool. At a July meeting of the Prichard Committee Team on Effective Teaching , we heard a powerful talk by a great teacher, Ali Crowley! She is one of those teachers who came out of the top of the talent pool. Before her talk to the group I told this short story about her:

Ali is a National Board Certified math teacher atLafayette High School in Lexington, Kentucky. She has been teaching for 11 years and is member of the Center for Teacher Quality's Implementing Common Core Standards team.

When I was serving as a superintendent of schools we were deeply concerned about the low numbers of minority kids taking Advanced Placement(AP) classes and we challenged our principals to find ways to change this. Lots of good things happened to positively impact the problem (with much more needed) but one in particular stands out. The principal at LHS at the time, Mike McKenzie, asked all teachers to find one minority student who they knew needed to be taking AP classes and tap them on the shoulder and convince them to sign up for the next year.

Well, Ali Crowley not only tapped one student, she tapped 15 students! And not only did she tap them on the shoulders, she made a deal with them to work with them during the summer to prepare them for the math course the following year. She met with the 15 students from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day for a week during that summer and prepared them for the course. They all showed up daily and 14 of the 15 finished the course with passing grades the following year (one dropped out of the class). Just so you know, Ali did that work without pay. It was so powerful that we instituted it district-wide with pay for teachers (and named it Camp Crowley - the only program I ever named after anyone.)

I encourage you to watch this video of Ali's talk where you will see what happens when a great person at the top of the talent pool becomes a teacher. You will also see how her college peers reacted to her wanting to become a teacher. Ali provides strong insight into what is happening in today's classrooms and what reforms we need to be thinking about.

Ali is not bitter. She loves teaching. She likes the new standards and believes they will make education better in the state. But she sees the End of Course Exam score inflation as "exactly what I don't want to have happen with common core state standards." And she sees critical buy in from students, teachers and parents hampered by Kentucky's scattered top-down approach.


Anonymous said...

This is what I keep seeing and saying time after time - the folks at the top don't truly know what is operationally going on beyond a generalized theoretical (and often idealistic)perspective. I know this sounds mean spirited but they sometimes seem like mindless, directionless mice in a maze who simply react to where ever the $ cheese is placed or the SB1 walls direct them.

My teachers pointed out early on that the state was imposing common core standards without any transition but testing students on quality core standards. When we inquired all we got from the state were blank stares during the ever helpful webinars from those experts who were suppose to be explaining to us how all the new assessments were going work at assisting us. Later on writen inquiries merited a response that ACT was going to be working to align their quality core assessment with the state's common core curriculum. What a bunch of bunk - they've got their KY contract already and got it approved without our KDE leaders even knowing their was a difference between the two. Dog gone it, if that isn't true then who in their cotton pick'in right minds would buy a test that didn't measure what you are expecting to teach. It is sheer incompetence or arrogance either way.

What is so frustrating is that I am not sure that our KDE leaders even knew there was a difference until teachers identified the descepency - but how could that be? Equally, how could they simply not do anything to correct that? How frustrating to retool not just your high school math curriculum but your entire K-12 math program and then find out that kids at the end of the HS pipe aren't even being tested on what the system's curriculum was restructured to teach in just one year misguided transition.

I agree with you that it is sad that our state leaders not only don't trust our teachers to do their job but, like Mr. Silberman, are inclined to spend their time spinning their own idealistic interpretations about how important and transformative their imposed interventions are going to be while either blaming teachers for short comings in student performance or simply ignoring anything from educators which runs counter to their perceptions or objectives.

Sorry, but unlike Ms. Crowley, this type of leadership has left me bitter and angry that we continue to waste our time jumping their hoops instead of serving our children to the best of our abilities.

Anonymous said...

Just one point, state has failed to fund K-8 textbooks for four years. They have never funded high school textbooks specifically. Sorry Happy.