Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Test scores, family income, and schools

The following graphs, from a column in the New York Times, show the relationship between SAT test scores and family income.

SAT reading scores by income

SAT math scores by income

What do these graphs tell us?

Family income matters - a lot.

Another story, reported by Dave Murray, suggests that outside of school factors play a significant role in student achievement.

But these are numbers in general. These numbers do not tell us how students do in our schools with our teachers.

Do the students in our schools do better than these graphs and news stories suggest? With our teachers and our schools have we figured out a way to ensure that all students will have an equal chance at success?

We would hope so. But do we have evidence?

Our district goals talk about ensuring that all students make no less than one year's growth in one year's time. We also state that all students will achieve at a high level.

Worthy goals. Goals that we must achieve. If we are to be successful in achieving these goals it appears that we will be beating the odds.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

We can do better - technology can help

We here in the United States like to think that our problems and our struggles are unique. 

Look at this video from Norway:

Do the problems and issues that they talk about here sound familiar?

Here is Novi we are educating our children for success - not just in Novi but for life in our world. 

We need to make sure that our students are ready. Technology can empower our teachers and our students to teach and learn better. 

Being happy matters

Saturdays are good days to reflect.

I spent some time reading today. Here's an interesting point I found to reflect on:

In the book, The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, the author makes the following point:

We become more successful when we are happier and more positive. For example, doctors put in a positive mood before making a diagnosis show almost three times more intelligence and creativity than doctors in a neutral state, and they make accurate diagnoses 19 percent faster. Optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 56 percent. Students primed to feel happy before taking math achievement tests far outperform their neutral peers. It turns out that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive.

Being happy is a good thing. In a world where it's easy to get sidetracked and negative and down, being happy can make a difference.So, let's agree that today (and maybe tomorrow and maybe the day after that) we will try and be happy!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

It's not unusual but I'm confused

While I know it is not unusual, I'm confused. This time it is the state of Michigan, in particular, the Michigan Department of Education that is confusing me.

In an era where information about schools has become increasingly important the Michigan Department of Education continues to create confusing story lines.

Let's look at some of the highest rated schools in Michigan.

Angell School in the Ann Arbor Public Schools is rated, according to Michigan's 2011-2012 Top-to-Bottom rankings, as the highest rated school in Michigan.

Or take Bemis Elementary in the Troy School District. It was the second ranked school on Michigan's 2011-2012 Top-to-Bottom rankings.

Look at Deerfield Elementary, the highest rated school in my district. Deerfield was the 10th ranked school on Michigan's 2011-2012 Top-to-Bottom rankings.

All three of these schools received an "A" on their state report card.

These schools are among the very best in Michigan.

Angell, Bemis, and Deerfield are also classified as Focus Schools because they are among the 358 schools in the state of Michigan with the largest achievement gaps. They have large gaps not because a majority of there students are not proficient. These schools have gaps primarily because they have proficient students and very proficient students. While some students do not meet the proficient threshold on the state assessment, the gap in these schools is, by and large, between those who are proficient on the state assessment and those who are very proficient on the state assessment.

The state of Michigan says that that it should spend its state resources to help these schools - schools that are rated among the very best in the whole state of Michigan. The state will send a District Improvement Facilitator to help use analyze data, facilitate professional dialogue, and customize interventions to help close the gap.

Why?  Because closing the gap is much more important than providing assistance to schools that are low achieving without any gaps.

Look at this graph:

The state says that the schools represented in orange and red on the graph above deserve state assistance. They represent 15% of the schools in the state of Michigan - the Priority and the Focus Schools. The schools represented by black, blue, and green dots do not need any extra state help.

Look particularly close at the schools circled in purple. One school - a blue dot - does not receive or need any assistance according to the state. They have very low achievement as seen as the Top-to-Bottom Percentile rank axis. They also have no achievement gap - as noted by their placement on the Achievement Gap axis. They are a low performing school where the majority of their students perform at the same - low - level. This school is neither a Priority or a Focus School. This school, according to the state, does not need any targeted assistance from the state.

The red dots circled in purple are Focus Schools. These schools have high achievement - among the highest in the state. They in fact rank higher than some of the Reward High Achieving Schools. What they unfortunately also have is an achievement gap. That gap could, and probably is, a gap between students who are proficient and students who are very proficient. Yet the state has committed resources to help this school close that gap.

The school represented by the blue dot - low achieving and no gap - does not receive any state assistance.

As I said at the beginning, I'm confused.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Constitution Day 2012: Why it's important but what is more important

Today, September 17th, is Constitution Day. In 2004, Congress decreed in legislation that each educational institution that receives federal funds shall hold an educational program on the US Constitution on September 17th.

Creating a program that students from kindergarten to high school can benefit from is difficult, but it is worth the effort. The US Constitution is one of the most, if not the most, influential document ever written. When it was written it provided a framework for government and citizenship that was unique and transforming. The proof of its power can be seen because it still has relevance today.

I certainly support Constitution Day. Helping our students learn and remember the lessons of the Constitution is critically important to the health of our nation.

But there is something that is more important than a once a year observance of Constitution Day. Our schools need to ensure that our students learn and experience the values embedded in the Constitution. Schools help create active and involved citizens not by celebrating the Constitution once a year but by living the Constitution's ideals every day of the year.  

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The iPhone 5 and education: What one has to do with the other

Today, September 12th, many people are waiting for the announcement from Apple that a new iPhone will be released. Twitter, blogs, and news accounts abound with stories about what the new iPhone will look like, what features it will have, and how we have to have it.

I have an iPhone. A lowly iPhone 4 - not even the iPhone 4s. I started with the original iPhone. Upgraded when I had the chance.

My iPhone - I love it. I use it. It carries my pictures, my music, and my contacts. It gives me instant access to information and ideas. When I'm lost, it offers guidance. When I'm confused, it offers answers. When I'm bored, it offers diversions. The iPhone seems indispensable.  

And yet . . . it is just a piece of technology. A wonderful piece of technology to be sure. But still, in the end, just technology.

The iPhone doesn't solve problems; it provides me with tools to solve problems. The iPhone doesn't know the right questions to ask, I do.

The power of the iPhone is not in the iPhone, it is in the people who own and use the iPhone. Just because a person has an iPhone does not mean that they are going to be productive beyond measure. Just because a person has an iPhone does not mean that her life will suddenly transform into something it was not.

The iPhone is technology. Apple is wonderful at using the iPhone to create an illusion that your life would not be complete, that your life would not be meaningful, that your life would not be as productive if you did not own an iPhone. But the truth is, it is not the iPhone that makes a person's life complete or meaningful or productive.

It is the people themselves who make their life complete, meaningful, and productive. A person can have an iPhone and still be a mess. A person can have a full and complete life without an iPhone. The power is in the people who use the iPhone, not in the iPhone.

And that leads me to the classrooms in my district. The classrooms in my district are powerful not because of the classrooms, but because of the people in them.

We have classrooms and schools full of technology. We have computer labs, computer laptop carts, iPad carts, and graphing calculators. We use Twitter and Facebook. Our media centers have access to information from around the world.

But the power of our school district is not in the tools. The power of our school district is in our people. Just because we have technology does not mean that we are a great school district. We are a great school district because we have people who know how to use technology to help our students learn.

The best classrooms I visit are not the classrooms that use technology everyday. The best classrooms I visit are not the classrooms where technology is never used.

The best classrooms I visit are the classrooms where teachers connect with students, identify powerful learning goals, and help students understand what goes on in the classroom connects with their life outside of the classroom.

The iPhone 5 will premier today. The hype says it will transform the world.

That's not true. What transforms the world is what has always transformed the world - people.

Students are arriving in the classrooms in my district as I write this. My hope is that something will happen today to transform the life of a student. When it does it will not be the technology in the classroom that transforms them. It will be because a teacher used the tools that were available - a book, a computer, a discussion, a question - in a powerful and meaningful way to engage, excite, and encourage that student.

What does the arrival of the iPhone 5 have to do with education? It reminds me once again that it is not the technology that is transformative and powerful in classrooms - it is people!

Friday, September 7, 2012

I'm not paranoid, but that doesn't mean they are not out to get me

I am not normally a paranoid person. But the state's latest effort to clarify who is doing well and who needs state assistance makes me believe that the state is out to get me.

Why do I feel that way? The state's latest effort to identify how schools are doing makes be believe that they are more interested in making high achieving schools look bad than they are in truly identifying student and school performance.

The state has created three achievement categories: Reward, Focus, and Priority.

Reward Schools are defined as schools that made AYP and were identified in one of three ways: 1) top 5% of schools on the Top-to-Bottom list 2) top 5% of schools making the greatest gains in achievement (improvement metric) or 3) "Beating the Odds."

Focus Schools are defined as "the ten percent of schools on the Top-to-Bottom list with the largest achievement gaps between its top 30 percent of students and its bottom 30 percent, based on average scale score."

Some schools in my district are identified as Focus Schools when they outperform other schools identified as Reward Schools.

I tell you - they are out to get me.

First, a few disclaimers. While schools in Novi have done well on the traditional measures of success - MEAP, MME, ACT, SAT - I believe that we can do better. I know that a significant reason for our success is the supportive community, our socio-economic status, and other non-school factors. I also recognize that we have achievement gaps that are quite significant.

As the Superintendent I can rationalize that we have many exceptional students and that some of our gap is the result of having such high achievers. In some schools a majority - a wide majority of our students - are proficient on standardized tests yet there is still a significant gap between the highest and the lowest achievers.

For example, in one of our schools 86% of the bottom 30% were proficient in reading and 71% of the bottom 30% were proficient in math. In another school, 76% of the bottom 30% were proficient in reading and 68% of the bottom 30% were proficient in math.

That's the bottom 30% of these schools! In many schools they don't have that many of their top 30% proficient.

Let me repeat that I know we have gaps and I know we have to close those gaps. If I were the parent of a student who was at the bottom end of the range in my school I would want to know what the school was doing to raise the achievement of my student. It is unacceptable that we have such significant gaps.

But, the gaps we have are, for the most part, between those who are very proficient and those who are not quite as proficient.

Yet the state has chosen to label some of the schools in my district "Focus Schools." The state defines "Focus Schools" as "the ten percent of schools on the Top-to-Bottom list with the largest achievement gaps between its top 30 percent of students and its bottom 30 percent, based on average scale score."

So here is what I see.

School One

Student Outcomes
Student Outcomes
Prior Current
Third Grade Reading Proficiency 86.50% 87.00%
Student Academic Growth 3-8 12.60% 14.00%
Students proficient in Math and Reading 3-8 78.80% 79.50%
School Accountability
Prior Current
School met federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) Made AYP Made AYP
Top-to-Bottom Ranking 98%ile
Prior Current

School Two

Student Outcomes
Prior Current
Third Grade Reading Proficiency 84.50% 76.00%
Student Academic Growth 3-8 19.70% 19.30%
Students proficient in Math and Reading 3-8 46.20% 41.30%
School Accountability
Prior Current
School met federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) Made AYP Made AYP
Top-to-Bottom Ranking 97%ile

Which school is the "Reward School" and which school is the "Focus School." School One is a Focus School, while School Two, which if I see this correctly, scored lower in every category except student growth than School One, is the Reward School.

I tell you they are out to get me!

The state calls these achievement classifications. In my opinion the achievement classification system does not accurately represent achievement. As a result, high achieving buildings in my district have a label that they have to spend time explaining when that time could better be used doing other things.

Why would the state do this? It's not that I am paranoid but could it be that they wanted to create a system that identified schools from across the spectrum instead of just identifying schools that had low achievement.

I'm not paranoid, but that doesn't mean they are not out to get me!

I promise that his will be my last comment on the state of Michigan's recent change in how they report school performance.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Novi Meadows - Let's Start


Novi Meadows students in 5th grade practice locker combinations this morning. Do I start going right or left? Do I pass zero or not? Combinations are tricky!

Village Oaks - Ready for School

Village Oaks welcomes students back to school. A great day is about to begin!

Orchard Hills Begins


Busses pull into the new bus loop at Orchard Hills to drop off students. A new year begins!

Middle School Students Ready for School


Novi Middle School students walk from the bus loop to school this morning. Everyone was ready for the new school year.

High School Begins


The class of 2016 - this year's Novi High School freshman class - signed a pledge to graduate at orientation earlier in August. Today, on the first day of school, it was visible as students entered the building.

Time for School!


It's back to school time! Novi bus drivers reported early this morning for the first run of the school year.