Monday, May 30, 2011

A Visit from the Commish

Above: Commissioner Chester with Superintendent Hodges, Jordan Jackson Co-Principal Kathy Podesky, and me.

Last Monday was a key day in our district as we hosted the State Commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), Dr. Mitchell Chester. As he usually visits at least district per week, Mansfield was selected for a distinct reason. Michael D'Ortenzio, Jr., a senior at Wellesley High School, and the chairman of the student advisory board for the DESE heard about the campus setup of the Mansfield schools from his colleagues of the advisory board, MHS seniors Justin Deckert and Jonathan Paz. Being curious as how to the campus environment could foster collaboration amongst the schools, D'Ortenzio suggested the visit to Dr. Chester.

During the two-hour visit to all four schools, the commissioner and Michael saw areas that have been focal points for the district in recent years. At MHS, they learned of the work done in the Academic Learning Center (ALC) and the recent efforts to make the response to intervention (RtI) process viable to assist students that are struggling academically. Highlighted was the use of student tutors from the ALC. These tutors work not only with their peers from MHS but also students from the Jordan Jackson and QMS. They also learned about MHS' Senior Option program and how the Career Pathways students perform internships throughout the district's schools and throughout businesses in the community.

Tours of the elementary schools featured an example of how technology is being utilized at Jordan Jackson, demonstrated a smart board lesson at Robinson, and highlighted the theater program at Qualters Middle School. Additionally they viewed the Little Hornets daycare program at the Robinson. This program enables over 75 MHS students to gain a meaningful hands-on experience through the child development coursework.

The visit concluded with a small reception in the MHS library for the guests, Mansfield teachers, students, and parents. During some brief comments and a Q & A session, Commissioner Chester stated, " “I like what I see. It’s down to business but a student-centered atmosphere. The campus atmosphere is not unique to Massachusetts but its not typical. I’m impressed with how Mansfield has taken advantage of that here.”

Virtually all of us were impressed with Michael D'Ortenzio, this articulate young man who will be continuing his studies as a political science major at Boston University this fall. He spoke with ease and confidence on such heady topics such as educator evaluation and school funding. It should be noted that as the chairman of the state's student advisory board, he is also a voting member of the state board of education. Kudos for the state for empowering student voice to this degree! With the young, bright Mr. D'Ortenzio, I could think of no better representation.

Above: Michael D'Ortenzio chats with Director of Buildings & Grounds Walter Parker

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Most Unflattering Pic Ever!!

If you didn't catch Friday's Mansfield News, there was a collection of photos from the annual MHS All Sports Boosters Club 5K, which was held a couple of Sundays ago. A great time, a great race, and most importantly, raises some decent money for our kids...

One of the photos was the one above... copied and pointed out to me by my assistant, Cathi Horowitz!! Yes, that's me, behind a mom and her 2-year old, ready to stroke out any minute as I cross the finish line!

Some random thoughts after seeing this:
  • I need to hit the salad bar.... really.
  • No, the 2-year old did NOT beat me in the race!
  • No, I didn't catch any flies...
  • No, I wasn't in pain.... just winded.
  • My finishing song on my iPod was "Boom Boom Pow" by the Black Eyed Peas. Ummm, didn't exactly charge me up!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

You Wouldnt Believe the Error's

I have to smile when I see my 15-year old daughter correcting her friends' poor spelling and/or grammar while they are posting on her Facebook wall. Most of their errors are in the they're/there/their and you're vs. your milieu. The usual suspects...

I say this since my daughters were practically toddlers, we have been playing a little game. We will be out anywhere- at a restaurant, shopping, at the park- you name it. I tell the kids, "I bet Daddy can find a misspelled word or bad grammar somewhere!" And true to form, I usually can find some sort of error on a sign, advertisement, or menu. It doesn't take much effort...

Over the past year something has jarred me. Maybe it's an epidemic. Maybe I just didn't notice it before. Maybe it's yet another snapshot of the dumbing down of America. I'll state it this way:

How many people were absent that day in the third grade when proper usage of apostrophes was taught??!!

The error I see time and again is the use of an apostrophe to make a noun plural. For example, here's a picture I took at my car dealership's service window last week when I got my car serviced:

"Saturday's"?? Saturday owns who or what at this Saab dealership?

Then there was this posting in the Mansfield News to advertise that MESA (the Mansfield Elementary School Association) would be holding a "casino night" fundraiser:

"Mansfield School's"?? Geez, don't they still have something called a copy editor??

Then there is the opposite grammatical crime: the sin of omission. For example, I was walking the east side of Providence and noticed this outside of a medical office:

"Apostrophe?? We don't need no stinkin' apostrophe at this doctors office!!"

The sad fact is that it didn't take me much time at all to find these errors and take some quick pictures on my Blackberry. Just like the game I play with my daughters...

Alas, I take comfort in the kindred spirits that have started the Apostrophe Protection Society, a group of Brits who formed the society with "the specific aim of preserving the correct use of this currently much abused punctuation mark in all forms of text written in the English language."

To summarize from our friends at the APS, there are only three simple rules for correct usage of the apostrophe:

1. They are used to denote a missing letter or letters, for example: "I can't" instead of "I cannot"

2. They are used to denote possession, for example: the dog's bone
... however, if there are two or more dogs, in our example, the apostrophe comes after the 's':
the dogs' bones

3. Apostrophes are NEVER ever used to denote plurals!

Simple enough, no? The apostrophe is your friend.... don't abuse it!!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Full Steam Ahead for New Teacher & Principal Evaluations

I don't know if you have caught recent pieces in the Boston Globe, but in the next 1-2 years evaluations of principals and teachers in the Commonwealth are going to look different. Very different.

As part of its Race to the Top application, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education laid out a vision that is very much aligned with the national conversation about teacher quality. This conversation, one led by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, is really the next phase of accountability for improved student outcomes. It makes the case that no longer can teachers be evaluated using merely a "checklist" instrument where performance is rated simply as "satisfactory" or "not satisfactory." Rather, teacher and principal performance should be measured against professional standards and then differentiated into distinct levels. Furthermore, the best teachers should be recognized and rewarded accordingly and the lowest rated teachers should be replaced. The same is true for principals.

While differentiating teacher performance into distinct categories is nothing new (see the work of Charlotte Danielson and the Framework for Teaching, which has been in existence since 1998), the significant piece in this new vision is the use of the results of student assessments (e.g., MCAS scores) as a gauge of teacher effectiveness. This is truly the flashpoint on the issue.

DESE has detailed its Proposed Regulations on the Evaluation of Educators and is inviting public comment on them before the DESE Board of Education votes on their approval on June 28. The overwhelming majority of these regulations is based on current research and best practices. They envision a system where teachers would be evaluated against four major standard areas: Curriculum, Planning, and Assessment; Teaching All Students; Family and Community; and Professional Culture. Each of these standards contains indicators that detail a proficient performance. Using a rubric, evaluators would rate teacher performance in one of four categories: Exemplary, Proficient, Needs Improvement, or Unsatisfactory. The overall rating in a teacher's summative evaluation would have major implications. For example, a teacher would not be granted professional status without an overall rating of proficient or exemplary. A teacher with a needs improvement or unsatisfactory rating would be required to complete a "Directed Growth Plan" to address deficiencies within 90 days. If the teacher was non-tenured, he/she could be dismissed at any time.

The regulations also detail that "student performance measures shall be a significant factor in the summative evaluation." So for ELA, math, and science teachers, the expectation that aggregate MCAS scores and median student growth percentiles would be used as a measure is laid out. But what about the the 10th grade social studies teacher? Or the 5th grade art teacher? How do you measure their effectiveness in terms of student performance measures?

The regs state that "By September 2013, each district shall adopt a district-wide set of student performance measures for each grade and subject that permit a comparison of student performance gains." Furthermore, it states that each district shall have at least two measures per grade and subject area and these measures must be used to determine if the educator is having a "low, moderate, or high impact on student learning."

So what does this all mean?

With the exception of MCAS, the state is truly putting the onus on the local districts to figure out what type of assessments could be used for the purpose of demonstrating growth. This will have HUGE implications for a given district's assessment system and teacher assessment literacy. These new regs state that districts will determine the type of assessments that will be used as evidence of a teacher's effectiveness. Shouldn't these assessments be considered "high stakes" as well? These assessments should be fair, valid, and reliable. They should be collaboratively developed and evaluated.

These assessments should be performance-based, measuring a set of student outcomes and skills in an authentic way.

This doesn't sound like the traditional Scantron-based midterm or final exam to me...

If this is do be done, and done well, two things need to happen. First (as stated in the regs), all of this needs to be negotiated. I believe that this is a good thing, as without teacher ownership, none of this will work. Second, districts will have to make an investment in the degree of time and training in student assessment that is offered to teachers. If student performance measures are going to be used, this will be the heart of creating fair and credible evaluations of teachers and principals.