Friday, February 28, 2020

Let's support, not retain, our 3rd grade students

What if I told you that the state of Michigan was mandating that by the end of 3rd grade all students needed to be 52 inches tall – that’s almost 4 ½ feet. That’s the average by the way.

If a student is not 52 inches by the end of 3rd grade he or she would be retained and would need to repeat 3rd grade. 

I could argue that I am not punishing the child. I’m just doing this for their own good. Small children get teased. Small children are weaker. They could fall behind. They can’t keep up. They will experience failure in some tasks. 

What if I told you that those children who are not 52 inches by the end of 3rd grade would be retained? 

You would say that I am nuts!

And I would agree.

Because in 3rd grade, students are not the same age. Some could be almost eleven months older than their friends. Plus, parents come in different sizes – genetics influence how tall the child will be. Plus nutrition. Sleep. Allergies. Lots of things influence growth.

You might argue that instead of holding students back, maybe we should just support them. Help them be successful. Provide support if and when it is needed. Let them stay with their friends. Let them grow, with support from us. 

That seems reasonable. 

What if I told you that the state of Michigan was mandating that by the end of 3rd grade all students needed to be at or near proficient in reading or they would need to repeat 3rd grade?

Does that make sense?

Kids need to read. On that I think we would all agree.

But, 3rd graders can be almost eleven months different in age. 3rd graders can have significantly different home literacy environments. 3rd graders can have different levels of support in their communities. 3rd graders develop at different paces.

Instead of retaining 3rd graders, we need to support 3rd graders. And while we are at it, we need to support 2nd graders and 1st graders and kindergarten students and preschool students. 

What we need to do is have reading specialists in every building who can support students who struggle. 

What we need to do is ensure that our teachers know and understand literacy and can intervene strategically when necessary, 

What we need to do is create class sizes that are manageable. 

What we need to do is provide public libraries that support our students. 

What we need to do is support parents so they can support their children and improve their literacy.

What we need to do is encourage parents to read to their children every day, talk to their children every day about meaningful things, and love their children so their children have confidence.

Let me repeat, kids need to read. But, punishing them by retaining them is not the answer.

Research demonstrates that retention is not an effective strategy. Early retention has a number of negative side effects and does not help close the gap or promote success.

What does work is having high quality classrooms in schools that have resources to intervene early and with effective instructional strategies. 

So in Novi, we will be exercising the legally allowed Superintendent good cause exemption for students whose 3rd grade test scores indicate that they might be struggling in reading. We will learn each child’s strengths and weaknesses. We will treat each child as an individual. We will also continue to provide high quality instruction and support from interventionists as appropriate. We will work with families to identify family literacy practices that will make a difference. We will promote these students to 4th grade.

Kids need to read. In Novi, we will work to make sure that all of our students have the support they need to be successful and that we continue to prepare them for their future. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Why am I so stupid

On November 11, 2019, it snowed in Novi.

A lot! Probably 8 inches.

It started before school, snowed all day during school, and even continued into the evening. Disaster!

A parent emailed us to describe the carnage:
I know the first snow of the year is difficult but I wanted to express my extreme concern with the bus situation this morning.  The elementary school children stood (at least 4 small children) at the bus stop, in the cold and snow, for 1 hour today.  I am not exaggerating. 
It was not our finest hour.

But in our defense the weather service predicted only light snow - no more than 3-4 inches. We live in Michigan, I rationalized. This will be no big deal.

I was wrong.

Fast forward to yesterday, February 25, 2020. At 2:00 PM, approximately 20 Oakland County Superintendents were on the phone with our weather person. The report was that tomorrow (today if you are keeping track) we would receive 6-8 inches of snow - most of it coming between the hours of 7:00 AM and 7:00 PM.

So it was agreed - snow day. We would be putting our students at risk if we brought them to school, had to release early, and were then late getting everyone home. Roads would be slick. Buses might slide. Parents could not get home in time.

So, by 10:00 PM on February 25th most schools in Oakland County had called off school for February 26th. An eminently responsible position.

I went to bed and slept well. I knew that the decision was reasonable.

But wait.

On February 26th, Oakland County did not receive the anticipated snow. We received 3-4 inches. Clearly, we could of had school. This is Michigan. This was no big deal.

So why am I so stupid?

I prefer to think of myself as human, not stupid.

People make mistakes, bad calls, decisions that, looking back, should not be made. Even though we operate in a world that has more data than we have ever had, many decisions still rest upon people like me to gather, sort, and interpret the data.

My guess is that a computer, given the data that we had, would have made the same decision about today.

The benefit of a human making the decision is that, hopefully, people consider the impact of the decision on the people who will be affected. I erred on the side of caution because people - school children - were involved.

If I'm called stupid - so be it.

I'll continue to try and refine my decision making skills. I will be perceived as stupid at times. But, I'll keep at it. I'll keep trying to make good decisions for the students and the families in my district knowing that together we can keep learning, keep growing, and keep building a positive place for all of us.