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In an economy driven by technology, innovation and service, future success for our students will require both content knowledge as well as a set of underlying skills such as critical thinking, communication and collaboration.  Both common sense and research tell us that our students must be prepared for learning beyond high school whether it is in college, job training and apprenticeship programs.  But how do we ensure that all students who enter high schools are ready for their future when they are only there fo four short years?  The answer lies in both effective classroom instruction as well as effective intervention.

We know that all students can learn; however, some students need more time and more support.  In the past, many school systems waited for students to fail or fall far behind to intervene.  Summer school was offered when students failed or gave up and the student then was required to repeat the entire course regardless of content that had been previously mastered.   Special education was sometimes offered as a last resort when staff had tried everything they could think of to help and simply didn’t know what else to do.  These sorts of extreme measures are important for many students and absolutely necessary at times, but for many others success is possible if we intervene quickly and efficiently.

Imagine a school system where student outcomes are clearly identified, where there is high quality instruction in every classroom and where TIMELY intervention is available for EVERY student at the first sign of a struggle.  What if students didn’t have to wait for help until they had already failed?  What if students didn’t need to repeat an entire course, but rather just the portions that they had yet to master?  Wouldn’t this be a more efficient and effective system for students, parents and teachers?

The best intervention is prevention and so our most important work actually begins with a strong core instructional program in every classroom for every student.  Approximately 80% of students who receive a well taught, research-based curriculum should experience success as a result of instruction in the classroom.  Quite simply, this is the reason that districts should take the time to have teachers collaboratively create a common core aligned curriculum along with assessments methods to measure student growth and achievement.  Schools should also focus on increasing the quality of classroom instruction and ensuring that research based and proven methodologies are utilized.

The next step to ensure that all students learn at high levels is to create intervention plans to assist students who need more time or support to reach proficiency on skills and content.  Well-constructed intervention plans have the following characteristics:

  • Tiered support – some students need a little help and some need a lot of help.  Interventions should offer various levels of assistance based on the needs of the student.
  • Directive – interventions must be mandatory.  We can’t claim that our mission is to ensure that all students learn at high levels and then allow our students to “choose” to fail.
  • Administered by trained professionals – systems must be in place so that the professionals with the most expertise in a given area are able to deliver intervention.  This notion is based on a medical model.  If you have the flu, you can see the physician’s assistant, but if you have cancer, you need the oncologist.
  • Targeted – intervention is very specific to the student and the standard in which he or she needs assistance.  Using a reliable system of assessment in the classroom ensures that we identify specific areas of intervention.
  • Timely – effective intervention occurs promptly, not after an F grade has been given for the course.  Also, interventions should only be as long as needed; a student should not have to languish in intervention past the point where it is helpful.

If you would like additional information on effective intervention:

An easy to read article – “The Why Behind RtI” by AusitnBuffum, Mike Mattos and Chris Weber-click HERE

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Post high school planning, also commonly known as the college search – it’s a topic that can strike fear in the hearts of even some of the most seasoned parents.  We can spend countless hours wondering how to ensure that our students are prepared and trying to point them in the “right” direction.   As we all know, living in Marin also adds an element of pressure. It seems like everyone is talking about where their children are going, but have you ever wondered where the majority of our students actually end up?  Do you wonder how many of our students attend the UCs, CSUs and College of Marin?  How many students chose to go directly to a career?  There are so many post high school choices with something to fit everyone’s needs and yet, the conversation doesn’t always include the variety of options that are available.

As TUHSD, we are quite interested in our data regarding post high school preparation and college enrollment.   So that we could better understand the facts, wehave acquired previously unreleased data from the national college clearinghouse that allowed us to go beyondantidotal stories and the student self-reported data that we have relied on in the past.  Data from the clearinghouse reports the percentage of students who complete a degree in six years and so the most recent data available is for the class of 2007.  Here is the data in relation to some commonly asked questions:

How many TUHSD students enroll in college and how many of them earn a degree?

  • 80% of our graduates enrolled in college in 2007. Of those who entered college, 70% earned a degree in six years or less.
  • TUHSD students weremuch more likely than others to graduate within six years. The national average of students who enrolled in college and earned a degree in six years or less is 54.2%

How many TUHSD students either do not enroll or do not finish their degree?

  • For the class of 2007, 391 students (out of 955) or 41.2% did not receive a degree within six years.

Where do TUHSD students enroll in college?

The top five colleges of enrollment for the classes of 2007-2013 are as follows:

  • College of Marin – 832 students
  • University of California-Santa Cruz -239 students
  • University of Oregon – 171 students
  • University of California- Santa Barbara – 163 students
  • California Polytechnic State University – 162 students

Both parents and school staff are also quite interested in how well we prepare our students for post high school education.  Research is clear, one of the best predictors of success in college and career is access to a rigorous curriculum in high school.  Therefore, as a district, we regularly monitor many data points including but not limited to enrollment and success in Advanced Placement courses and numbers of students who take college entrance tests such as the SAT.  Here is what we know about recent trends regarding college readiness:

  • Over the past five years we have had significant increases in the number of students taking Advanced Placement classes, taking the exam, and scoring a “passing” grade or higher. About 30% more students now take a course and the exams and at the same time, our passing rates have increased by about 30%.
  • Over the past five years we have had a 100% increase in the numbers of low income students who take Advanced Placement courses and their pass rates have increased by 147%.
  • Over the past five years, the numbers of students taking the SAT has increased by about 4 %. Even more significantly,  the number of students of color who take the SAT has increased by 61%, and the number of low-income students taking the test has increased by 102%.
  • SAT scores for TUHSD students have increased .5% and 3.5% for low-income students.

As you can see, the data above tells us a story about our schools.  Our students are well prepared for college and career, but we can and will continue to improve what we teach and how we teach it.  If we are truly preparing the leaders of the future, we need to ensure success for all students, not just most students.  The data also tells us that we are improving preparation levels for ALL students, not just one or two small subgroups.

The clearinghouse data shows that by far, the most popular college choice for our students is College of Marin.  In fact, more students attend COM than the next four most popular choices combined.  It’s important to remember that COM is a great option and that the staff there has worked to improve their services to our students over the past several years.  In the end, there is no “one size fits all” for post high school and our best bet is to prepare our students so that they have a variety of options from which to choose.

Coming in the next blog – advice from seasoned parents about post high school transition and college search process.

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There has been a great deal of media coverage recently about state national education issues and much of it is confusing and contradictory.  Many of these news reports use jargon and terms that can be unclear such as “Common Core Standards”, “No Child Left Behind”, and “Smarter Balanced Assessments”.   As parents, we hear bits and pieces of these reports but not many of us have the time to wade through it all to put together the pieces of the story.

The Roots of our state assessment system go all the way back to 1965

On April 9, 1965, the Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty.  This landmark legislation allocated large amounts of financial resources to meet the needs of students from low-income homes.  For the first time, the federal government acknowledged that some students need more services to reach the goals that are set for all students.  The federal money allocated to schools for low-income students is referred to as Title I funds.   ESEA is a law with a limited lifespan and therefore, has been reauthorized by congress several times since 1965.  For more information about ESEA, click here.

No Child Left Behind was a new name for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act

In 2002, President George W. Bush reauthorized ESEA and renamed it the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).  For the first time, the federal government created a large role for itself in pubic education with the mandate that all states must have student assessment systems that expose achievement gaps between groups of students.  NCLB also came with a series of sanctions for schools that didn’t meet targets, which increased dramatically each year.  In California, the STAR tests were created in order to meet the federal requirements of NCLB.  Despite widespread dissatisfaction with NCLB, these tests were given in California up until Spring 2013.  At Tam District, our test scores have had an upward trend for the past decade.

Common Core Standards change the national dialogue

Part of the backlash against NCLB was because all fifty states had the flexibility to adopt different standards for what students need to know and be able to do as well as different systems to assess student achievement.  The Common Core Standards initiative was borne out of the frustration of the inconsistent standards and testing systems.    They are an attempt to nationally standardize knowledge and skills taught to all students.  Although the Common Core Standards have been the topic of some controversy, they were written by educators and focus on using information and skills to solve real world problems.  Under Common Core, the same skills that have always been taught will continue to be taught and there is now an increased emphasis on the application of knowledge.

The new state testing system will assess students on the Common Core Standards

Last  spring all school districts in California  assessed students using a new system known as “Smarter Balanced” tests.  This new set of tests are aligned to the Math and English Language Arts Common Core Standards and will include both multiple choice questions as well as performance tasks that require students to apply knowledge and solve problems.  At the high school level, only 11th graders will be tested.  For more information about these assessments click here

Data will be more useful than ever

The smarter balanced assessment system is a mandatory requirement from the state for all schools in California.   The information gathered will be available to schools, teachers and parents relatively quickly and it promises to be more useful than data received in the past.  Additionally, the inclusion of performance tasks will allow a level of understanding of a student’s ability to apply knowledge.  For sample performance tasks click here.

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If we stand still in a rapidly changing world, we will be quickly passed by.  As educators, we must be aware that our role is to prepare our students to enter an increasingly competitive job market and college application process.  If we accept the status quo when other schools and districts are making improvements, our students will be denied the highest quality education possible.

Continuous improvement is imperative and must be driven by a robust statement of mission and corresponding strategic plan.  A strategic plan charts a course for a specific future by setting goals designed to move the organization towards its aspirational mission.

In comparing district leadership and student achievement, Waters and Marzano (2006) identified five specific district leadership responsibilities that positively correlated with student achievement:

  • Establishing a collaborative process to set goals;
  • Establishing “non-negotiable goals” (that is, goals all staff must act upon once set by the board) in at least two areas: student achievement and classroom instruction;
  • Having the board align with and support district goals;
  • Monitoring goals for achievement and instruction;
  • Using resources to support achievement and instruction goals.

Ultimately, the responsibility of strategic planning belongs to the School Board.  According to the National School Board Association, One of the primary responsibilities of a school board is to set direction for a district. Boards should work with their communities to set a direction for the district through the creation of a mission statement and then development of specific goals intended to move the organization closer to realization of that mission.

The first step in the strategic planning process is usually to create a student focused mission statement.  This statement should reflect the values of the community and be focused on the outcomes expected for students rather than the actions or behaviors of adults such as teachers, administrators or parents.  The mission tells us what a graduate of our schools should know and be able to do.  Mission statements are aspirational rather than a statement of what exists today.

Because public schools should be a reflection of the communities in which they exist, there should be a process of input from parents, students, staff and community members.  Forums and surveys are typical data gathering processes.  Before a mission is set, there must also be a thorough examination of data for all aspects of district functioning including student achievement, discipline, climate, district financial records and human resources records.  It is the responsibility of the school board to create and approve the mission, but this should only be done after careful consideration of input and data.

After a mission has been created and approved, the Board of Education typically establishespriorities, which are the major areas that must be addressed in order to make progress toward the mission.  All areas of school district operations should be at least considered when creating a comprehensive plan.  Of course no plan is complete without priorities in the areas of curriculum and instruction but other areas of consideration may be finance, human resources, student services (counseling, discipline, wellness), community engagement, public relations/communications.

Once priority areas are determined, strategic goals should be set in each area.  Again, each step of the process should involve opportunities for input and collaboration with staff, parents, students and community.  Each strategic goal should clearly lead the organization towards achievement of the mission.  School boards should closely monitor progress towards goals and amend the plan over time so that it stays relevant.  Once a strategic plan is in place it must be updated regularly.  Goals that are accomplished should be celebrated and new goals that lead to the mission should be added.

Overall, a strategic plan provides direction for staff.  The role of administrators is to implement the strategic plan rather than to strike out on their own about what they independently believe to be the best course of action.  In the simplest terms, the School Board determines the “what” and the staff uses their expertise to determine the “how”.   Neither the staff or board can work in isolation, they are a team and they need each other in order to truly engage in continuous improvement on behalf of students.

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“Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”

Carol S. Dweck,Mindset: The New Psychology Of Success

Over the course of my career it has become clear to me from both extensive research and practice that absolutely every child and adult can learn at high levels if they are given the right amount of time and support.  As a teacher, it is not simply my job to deliver content, but instead my focus is on ensuring that those around me are both growing and reaching high levels of proficiency.  In order to achieve these goals, I believe that educators must subscribe to what Carol Dweck refers to as the “growth mindset” and the following elements must be present in our work:

  • Clearly defined and stated learning outcomes at various levels of complexity

For the last seven years, I have worked closed with Jay McTigue, author or Understanding by Design and the Marzano Research Laboratory to develop a system of clearly stated learning outcomes for all of the programs and courses within our schools.  According to Robert Marzano, effective learning goals provide both the student and teacher with a clear understanding of the target knowledge.  Effective learning requires that we are transparent about the learning goals, how we define proficiency and how we will measure growth.  When a student knows where they are headed as well as their current level of functioning, they can work with their teacher to develop a meaningful plan to reach their goals.  I also believe it is imperative to scaffold learning outcomes in a manner thatincreases complexity over time. I start with ensuring acquisition of content knowledge and then create opportunities for analysis and application of that knowledge to unique real-world problems.

  • Engaging and innovative research based instructional strategies

Students must be actively engaged with material in order to achieve high levels of learning.   Students should find the information and activities challenging and yet engaging.  Lectures that provide information that can be found in a text or with a simple Google search are ineffective.  Although I employ a variety of strategies depending on the needs of my students, I have found particular success with a project or problem based approach.  According to the Buck Institute for Education, Project Based Learningis ateaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem, or challenge.  Unlike the older methods of “doing projects” at the end of a unit, Project and Problem Based Learning as we know it now, allows teachers to work in a collaborative manner with students who are engaged in deep learning.I view myself as a collaborator with students and a facilitator rather than a lecturer.

  • Effective use of formative assessment and feedback to personalize the learning process

The research of John Hattie has allowed educators to demystify the learning process and his simple statement of “know thy impact” should be the driver for teaching.  Hattie’s synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses of educational researchtells us that we should focus on the strategies and practices with the highest impact.  Providing feedback and effective use of formative assessment are among the highest leverage strategies that a teacher can employ.  Feedback must be honest, accurate and delivered in a caring manner intended to convey essential information about the learner’s current level of functioning and progress.  Similarly, using a variety of methods to gather formative data allows me to tailor instruction to the needs of the group as well as individuals.

  • Trusting relationship between teacher and learners that fosters perseverance

The very act of teaching implies that there is a respectful and trusting relationship between the instructor and the learner. As a teacher, I must create an environment where every student feels valued and appreciated.  The environment needs to encourage risk taking, and an understanding that failure is part of the learning process.  It is only from these failures that we understand our misconceptions and are able to engage in a process of deep learning.   Allowing our students multiple opportunities and methods to show proficiency, taking the time to get to know students personally, and working individually with students when possible are methods that build trust.

Education has been my passion for my entire life.  I care deeply about improving outcomes for all learners and ensuring that everyone has an opportunity for success, no matter their level of background knowledge when they begin.  I have taught a wide variety of adults in a number of venues over the years.  When I taught at the university level, I was successful with both inner-city teachers as well as teachers from affluent suburbs by having high expectations for all, respecting their backgrounds and experience, being available for extra assistance and working tirelessly to ensure their success.  Similarly, I have worked as a practitioner in public schools with thousands of teachers over the last 25 years.  I have worked with my leadership team to develop ongoing professional development for new teachers as well as experienced teachers.  I am proud that our teachers are truly 21st century instructors who are innovative, effective users of technology and truly embrace a problem solving approach and that our data shows steady improvement in student achievement over time.

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