Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Novi Hockey Wins!


Novi High School hockey beat Catholic Central 3-2 in overtime. Go Wildcats!

Administrator evaluation - are we as good as we can get?

Last year every building administrator in Michigan was evaluated. The categories were highly effective, effective, and ineffective. The MI School Data site has an Excel spreadsheet that can be downloaded with the ratings from every public school district in Michigan.

For the 2011-2012 school year, there were ratings reported on 3,214 building administrators. 32.7% were rated highly effective and 65.4% were rated as effective. In total, 98.1% of building administrators were rated as effective or highly effective.

In Oakland County, there were ratings on 332 building administrators. 40.6% were rated as highly effective and 58.1% were rated as effective. In total, 98.7% were rated as effective or highly effective.

Last year in Oakland County a total of 4 administrators were rated as ineffective.

These ratings makes me wonder about things.

First, I know many administrators. The ones I know are hard working, good people. This reflection is not meant to denigrate or disparage anyone.

Second, I think it's important to know that I believe in accountability. Every one who serves in public education should be held accountable. Students come to school to learn. Taxpayers fund our schools. We have to be able to demonstrate that students are learning.

I also believe in evaluation. Evaluation helps us improve. Evaluation - done well - identifies what we do well and what we can do better. Without evaluation and reflection I won't improve. Getting better is important.

But when everyone is above average what does it mean? The results of these evaluations give the impression that we are doing about as well as we can be doing. How can we get any better than this? Over 98% of the building administrators in the state and in Oakland County are effective or highly effective.

Not every student in Michigan succeeds. Not every school in Michigan is well run. Can we say that every administrator is effective or highly effective when we can't say that about our schools?

Even if every student or school was successful does that mean we can't improve. Being rated effective or highly effective gives one the impression that you can't get any better.

I think we can get better. I think we have to get better.

Perhaps we are using the wrong tool. Perhaps we are trying to fit a simple solution to a complex issue.

Instead of ratings we need reflections. Instead of keeping score we need a tool that helps us make plans.

I don't want someone telling me I'm doing a wonderful job (although that is appreciated). Instead I want a process that would help me honestly look at what is working and what is not and find ways to improve, ways to get better.

But a process can't be reported in a one word rating. A process requires deep thought and time.

The students in Michigan deserve the best. They also deserve people who strive to improve everyday. What we need now is a tool and a process that will help us get there.

Public accountability and teacher effectiveness

How effective are teachers and administrators?

This week the New York Times and WNYC published reports that identified by name the ratings of teachers in New York City schools. Here's an example from PS 113 in New York.

The website where these ratings are displayed provides a brief explanation:

The ratings on this page reflect the city’s effort to isolate the effect of individual teachers on student performance. In this case, the measurement is based on math and English scores on New York State standardized tests. Each teacher was assigned an “expected” score based on the past performance and demographics of his or her students. This expected score is then compared to the students’ actual test results. The difference is considered the “value added” by the teacher.

Here is a fuller explanation of the system.

In Michigan beginning this year every teacher will receive a rating ranging from effective to ineffective.

Last year building administrators in Michigan received a similar rating.  Here you can download an Excel file that lists the ratings of principals by district. Statewide 32% of principals were highly effective, 65% were effective, and 1.87% were ineffective. 

In the Michigan School Code, Section 1249a, if a student has been assigned to a teacher who has received two evaluations in a row that identifies him or her as ineffective, parents are required to be notified. The name of the teacher is required to be disclosed.

Will this kind of public disclosure be an effective tool in improving the quality of our public schools?

I believe in being accountable. I believe that school administrators and teachers have a responsibility to be as effective as they can be.

I just question whether whether the public "outing" of teachers and administrators will ultimately lead to improved schools. 

I can understand that parents want to know who is a good teacher. After all I would want my child with the best teacher possible.

However, I wonder if these ratings really provide parents with that information. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Girls District Basketball


The Novi High School girls basketball team began district play tonight against Plymouth Salem. Go Wildcats!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Deerfield Media Center


Deerfield students are still excited about books. Here students prepare for the long weekend by stocking up on books.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

On buses, budgets, and quality schools

I had the opportunity to be at Novi Meadows - our 5th/6th grade building - as school ended today. Over 1000 students spilled from the building to board twenty buses for their ride home.  Here's what it looked like:
As I stood there and watched I wondered what the scene would look like if our district did not provide transportation to these students. Every 5th and 6th grade student in our district is bused to this building. Some of our students live over four miles from the building. Would parents be here to pick up their children? What would this parking lot look like with cars instead of buses waiting for students? Would our parking lot be big enough for all of the cars that would be trying to fit into the parking lot?

Schools spend money. Every dollar we spend is spent to build or maintain a quality school system for our students. Our goal is to ensure that every student, every day has a quality educational experience. In our district over 2.3 million dollars is spent on transportation.

As the state budget process grinds along districts are having to analyze every dollar that is spent. Some would argue that schools should not spend anything outside of the classroom.

I disagree. This picture reminds me that services like transportation are important and help to create a safe environment for our students. Opportunities in athletics, theater, band, choir, newspaper, radio, and TV production are also important. Quality educational programs in the core subjects are clearly important. Every one of those programs costs money.

I know that we need to be as efficient as possible. But I also believe that we cannot cut our way to a good school district. Our responsibility is to create excellent educational opportunities and manage our budget wisely.

College and career ready - who do you believe?

The state of Michigan's dashboard - created at the behest of Governor Snyder - shows that 17.3% of Michigan High School graduates are ready for college.

Yet, on the Michigan Department of Education's website - MI School Data - there is an Excel file that you can download that tells a different story. When you look at this Excel file it shows that 71% of the 2008 Michigan high school graduates attended an Institute of Higher Education for the 2008-2009 school year. It goes on to show that at the end of that year 73% of those students had earned at least one year's credit in college.

For Novi the numbers are even more remarkable.  For the 2008 graduates, 90% went on to an Institute of Higher Education and 90% of those students earned at least one year of college credit in one year.

Why does the Governor continue to state that only 17% of Michigan high school students are ready for college? The evidence is clear - the majority - the vast majority - of high school graduates in Michigan are ready for college and are successful in college. That's the message that we should be promoting.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Using iPads at Parkview


Kindergarten students use iPads this morning for their spelling lesson. Engaged, focused, and learning to spell. A great combination.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Great teachers, great partners, great things for students

Emily Pohlonski, our Novi High School science teacher, shared with the Michigan State Board of Education the Novi School District's Partners in Excellence program. Here is a link of her presentation to the State board of Education. Here's a link that shares some of our students' reflections on their experience at Providence Park.

Why are programs like this so important? School help students develop passions and interests. The Partners in Excellence program provides us a chance to inspire our students and help them connect their education to their life.

Making Meaning


Mrs. Lazar and her class have a classroom discussion on the difference between fiction and non-fiction writing. Is realistic fiction all fiction or is some real? Good question.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

New MEAP Cut Scores - What parents need to know

Dear Parents,

Each year, Novi Community School District students, along with all other Michigan public school students in grades 3-9, are required to take the MEAP and eleventh graders are required to take the MME. With the release of results from the Michigan Department of Education, you will hear news reports about new cut scores that the Michigan State Board of Education recently adopted for these tests.  We encourage parents to use the Novi Community School District and the Michigan Department of Education for the most accurate and current information.

So, what are cut scores and why has the Michigan State Board of Education changed them? MEAP and MME cut scores separate test takers into various categories, such as advanced, proficient, partially proficient and not proficient. The new cut scores represent a significantly higher standard for student achievement. On some grade level tests, students previously could have answered as few as 40 percent of the questions correctly to be considered proficient. Under the new scoring system, students will have to correctly answer a much higher percentage of questions. Michigan is one of only three states in the nation (along with New York and Tennessee) to move to this top tier level of test scoring.

Like school districts across the state, the Novi Community School District MEAP and MME proficiency results are expected to decline when results are publicly released on February 15. We maintain high standards for our students and their test scores are consistently among the highest in the state. We anticipate this trend will continue even with the new cut scores. Regardless of this change in the numbers of students reported as proficient on state assessments, we will continue to refine our own assessment system in regards to ongoing school improvement efforts to support student learning, growth, and achievement.

If your student is reported as “not proficient,” it does not mean that your student is falling behind. It means that on the day of the test, your student did not score high enough to be deemed proficient according to the newly mandated cut score system. MEAP and MME tests are only two of several measures used in our district throughout the year to ensure that students are making academic progress. Actually, by the time parents and schools receive the MEAP/MME results from the state, many students identified as not proficient will have closed the gap.

With this in mind, we will be examining our curriculum and district assessments to respond to this more rigorous level of test scoring. In addition, our staff will focus our professional development efforts on enhancing our abilities to rise to the challenge presented within these recent changes.

Undoubtedly, parents will have many questions about the scoring changes. We will continue to provide information through a variety of communication channels such as newsletters, e-mail, our web site,
parent-teacher conferences, and more.

We are committed to developing each student’s potential with a world class education. We want all students to grow each year and achieve their highest potential. It is our intention that upon graduating all Novi students will enter our ever-changing global society ready for college, career, and community life.  No single assessment can convey readiness for life and learning beyond high school.  But the productive, positive and comprehensive learning experience provided in Novi schools will continue to add value to your child’s well-being for years to come.




1.       Each year, public school students in grades 3-9 take the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) test and 11th graders take the Michigan Merit Exam (MME).


2.       The Michigan State Board of Education recently approved new MEAP and MME “cut scores.” for Mathematics, Reading, Science and Social Studies. A cut score is the score that separates test takers into various categories, such as advanced, proficient, partially proficient and not proficient.


3.       The new cut scores are higher and significantly “raise the bar” for our students.


4.       Michigan is one of only three states (along with New York and Tennessee) in the nation to move into this top tier in regards to test scoring.


5.       Districts throughout the state will show a decline in the number of students reported as “proficient.”


6.    If your student is reported as “not proficient,” it does not mean that your student is falling behind. It means that on the day of the test, your student was not proficient according to the newly mandated cut score system. Several other measures are used in our district throughout the year to insure that your student is making academic progress.

We maintain high standards for our students and their test scores are consistently among the highest in the state. We anticipate this trend will continue even with the new cut scores.

Learning Together


Building administrators gathered this morning to discuss effective instructional practices and effective teaching. Creating a shared knowledge base will help us continue to move forward as a district. The computer lab allowed us to access some excellent tools.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Just be honest Governor Snyder

Governor Snyder, please be honest with me. You say that you'll give my school district a chance to get extra revenue if we follow six best practices. (See page A-5 in this report - paragraph starts with "Of this total . . .)

As I look at his list of six best practices I guess I am a little confused. Wikipedia, I know it may not be the authoritative source, says a "best practice is a method or technique that has consistently shown results superior to those achieved with other means, and that is used as a benchmark."

What are the results that the Governor believes these best practices will help us achieve? I can agree that monitoring individual student growth is a best practice. Marzano talks about the benefit of tracking student progress. This practice actually has an educational benefit. Focusing on student outcomes, measuring progress, reflecting on progress or the lack thereof - all of that makes sense. We should do that in schools. Students come to school to learn. We should be able to demonstrate that the time spent in school is worth it.

I would agree that offering opportunities for post-secondary coursework could be considered a best practice. However, I would suggest that the best practice is challenging every student to excel - to perform at a high level. All students should achieve at a high level. But students reach those high levels at different times. Those students who can move faster should be allowed to move faster. But not everyone moves at warp speed. For those that do move through the traditional curriculum quickly offering opportunities for post-secondary work in high school is appropriate. But every student should be challenged appropriately every day. That's the best practice!

But the other "best practices" - are they really best practices or just what the Governor wants us to do?  

Schools of choice? 

Policy holder for health care benefits? 

Online learning?

Where is the evidence that these are best practices?

Don't sell me mud and tell me it's chocolate pie!

If you really want my district to be the policy holder on health benefits, just tell me that's what you want. When you call it a best practice it suggests that if I follow this it will improve my district somehow. I don't believe that is true. A best practice is a widely recognized practice that consistently shows superior results when compared to other practices. Some of what you identify as "best practice," in my opinion, is just what you want us to do. 

Just be honest. Tell me you want me to do this. You don't have to justify it with the term "best practice." It's just what you want.

CO 2 Cars at Novi Middle School


Students in Mr. Laney's class work on their CO 2 cars. Design, cut, sand, paint, and then race!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Leading and Learning About Curriculum


Tonight the Novi Board of Education is learning from our Content Area Leaders about Atlas Rubicon. Atlas is our online curriculum warehouse that helps ensure that we provide a viable and guaranteed curriculum.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

NHS Boys Basketball


The Novi High School boy's basketball team battles Plymouth Salem tonight. A tight game into the 4th quarter.

One Act Play

Students at Novi High School prepare for tonight's one act play performance of "Freedom of the City." Cast and crew performed last weekend and their performance was rated highly enough to go on to state competition next week.

The place for schools

Here's an interesting video: "An Open Letter to Educators". Are schools in danger of becoming irrelevant?

It is hard to say although it cannot be argued that schools are still the sole repository of information. The internet has given us more information. The internet has changed how we find information and how we share information.

How do schools fit into this new reality?

Even though information is readily available, do people know what the information means and how to use the information? Can people distinguish between "good" information and "bad" information? Who determines what is "good" and "bad" information?

Schools, and those of us who work in schools, are wrestling with a world that provides an unlimited amount of information. What I know is that just because there is more information available it has not necessarily made us any smarter.

Schools have a place. Schools can help develop context, make connections, and see possibilities. Schools have always done this. My hope is that we can continue to wrestle with how schools will do this in the future.