on display

State releases early mock-up of data ‘dashboard,’ offering clues on how it may report school quality to the public

There are stars showing student performance on tests, bar graphs displaying school funding, pie charts revealing teacher experience.

The colorful pages released Monday by New York state officials are an illustration of how the state could display information about schools to the public. Creating a “dashboard” is part of the state’s broad rethinking of what it means to be a successful school under the new federal education law.

State officials stressed that this is only an illustration of what it could look like and it’s very much a work in progress. They are not required to submit the “dashboard” with their final plan, which is required by September under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act — so they have some time. Still, the early glance provides clues about the state’s approach.

The state’s new dashboard reflects its desire to avoid a narrow focus on test scores and instead provide several different measures of whether a school is succeeding or needs to improve. Under ESSA, dashboards can include virtually any statistic, including comparisons among similar students, suspension rates or factors such as school funding and teacher experience.

The main drawback of dashboards is that they can be confusing. Between bar graphs, scatter plots and rating systems, they can make it difficult for parents or the public to draw simple conclusions — or even understand the information — about their own schools, critics argue.

So far, the head of the state’s Parent Teacher Association said these dashboard mock-ups are a good sign, but there is more to discuss.

“Overall, this would be a step in the right direction,” said Kyle Belokopitsky, its executive director. “The sample may need revisions so parents can fully understand the content.”

Here are the mock-ups provided Monday, which the state cautioned are early drafts and would not be finalized without parental input.

Sample “School-At-A-Glance”:

The one-page snapshot includes information about whether students have completed advanced coursework, such as passing Algebra II or graduating with an Advanced Regents diploma. It also has information about test scores and graduation rates, but comparisons —  at least on the draft — occur only in a 1-4 rating system based on a formula that determines how a school compares to others in the state.

Sample “Report Card Dashboard”:

This more detailed draft report uses one to four stars to show how schools compare to other schools statewide, both as a whole and in terms of how they serve particular subgroups, including African-American students, Hispanic students or English language learners. The “subgroup” idea has already generated some controversy, with critics arguing it sets lower expectations for some groups of students and could be confusing for parents.

The more information the state provides, the more complicated the dashboard can get — and that garnered some apprehension from observers.

“I hope they’ll be clear about how these school report card stats were generated,” tweeted Bobson Wong, a teacher at a large public high school in Queens. “Lots of hidden info in there.”

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said the state will work with parents to ensure it is easy to understand.

“We’re going to be working with groups of parents,” Elia said. “That will all be part of a process to gather what it is we really need to include and when we include it, what’s the best way to include it so that it’s transparent.”

The dashboards also give the state a chance to experiment with “equity” indicators. Some of the sample measures included in the mock-ups include the ratio of guidance counselors to students, access to specific classes, or level of integration.

Taking a more careful look at “inputs” like these is in line with the direction the Regents have been headed under Chancellor Betty Rosa’s leadership: away from evaluating schools based on student test scores and toward an approach that tries to assess whether their students had access to a quality education. In an interview with Chalkbeat earlier this year, Rosa explained her theory of improving schools.

“Just because you raise the bar [does not mean] the student can jump over that bar without building the steps to get them there,” Rosa said. “For me, it’s more important to build those steps.”

stuck in the middle

How changes to dual credit and federal law are affecting schools and putting Indiana education officials in a bind

PHOTO: Helen H. Richardson, Denver Post
Algebra teacher Jessica Edwards helps students with math problems during her 9th grade algebra class at Smoky Hill High School in Aurora, Colorado.

Dual credit classes are at the center of a trifecta of competing forces in Indiana education — and it’s a complex problem the state needs to solve sooner rather than later.

Essentially, Indiana officials are juggling rules from three separate groups:

  • The Indiana General Assembly, which says all high schools must offer classes where students could earn college credit.
  • The Higher Learning Commission, a regional group that accredits Indiana colleges, which now requires all dual credit teachers to have master’s degrees or 18 credit hours in their content areas by 2022;
  • And the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaces No Child Left Behind and wants states to have rigorous goals on how they expect schools to prepare kids for life after high school. It goes into effect for schools this coming school year.

Since 2006, Indiana schools have had to offer dual credit classes, but teachers weren’t required to meet more advanced education requirements. Indiana State Board of Education member Steve Yager, former superintendent in Fort Wayne, remembers that schools worked hard to carry out the new law on the ground.

“The legislature challenged us as educators across the state to provide more opportunities for academically able students to get more credit while they were in high school, and we did a darn good job of it,” Yager said.

But schools were handed a setback in 2015 when the Higher Learning Commission updated its policy for states it oversees, throwing Indiana educators into a tailspin. It was a problem because in the time schools had been increasing their dual credit offerings, the state as a whole was disincentivizing teachers from earning master’s degrees. A 2011 overhaul of teacher evaluation made advanced education count for much less in salary negotiations.

Now, about 75 percent of Indiana’s more than 2,500 dual credit teachers don’t completely meet the new dual credit teaching requirements, putting local teachers in a position where some must pay for thousands of dollars in college classes in a fairly short period of time.

State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick said the department is working on a plan that brings together state universities and other partners to devise a solution that can get teachers the extra credits they need while keeping cost and time to a minimum.

“We are working diligently … regarding partnerships and how to put some of that expense back on the state to help move this along,” McCormick told Indiana State Board of Education members last week. “It is not something we are being stagnant on.”

Other proposed solutions have fallen through — lawmakers passed a bill in 2016 that created a “dual credit teaching” fund to help support teachers pay for more credentials, but when the budget was created in 2017, the fund received no money.

Complicating the problem further is ESSA, which the state board is busy incorporating into its new education plan, due to be delivered to federal officials in September.

There are a number of options on the table, but essentially the board can take one of two paths: It can ask schools to ensure more students take dual credit classes, pass Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes and earn industry certifications, which would satisfy the new federal requirements for statewide goals and make earning top marks for state A-F grades more challenging.

Or, given the uncertainty around new dual credit teaching requirements, it could stop counting dual credit in letter grades entirely.

That move could put schools in an even worse position, ensuring that only a fraction of them can meet the goal at all.

Currently, 25 percent of graduates must meet the state’s college and career readiness goal for schools to earn full points in their A-F grade, a threshold that most schools easily hit. But U.S. Department of Education officials say a goal most schools can easily meet doesn’t tell the state much about how schools are doing or fulfill the requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Federal officials are pushing states to develop their own goals, but have indicated they should be rigorous — few specifics have been offered.

One reason why so many schools meet the goal is explicitly because they offer dual credit classes. For a number of those schools, the points earned from students completing dual credit classes far outweigh those earned in the other areas of AP, IB and industry certifications. And unlike other advanced courses, more low-income students and students of color take advantage of dual credit.

Ultimately, as part of the new state education plan the board can decide to:

  • Swiftly increase the percentage of students who must meet the college and career readiness goal, and expect far more schools to miss the mark;
  • Keep the same 25 percent requirement Indiana has now, with a note to federal officials that the rate will be adjusted in the future — a move that could put the entire ESSA plan’s approval at risk;
  • Take a phase-in approach, where the rate incrementally rises over the next several years, also a potentially risky move if federal officials don’t like it;
  • Remove dual credit from the A-F grade formula.

At last week’s state board meeting, board members were unsure about whether a swift change to how dual credit is measured would be fair to schools that have tried to stay afloat as state law has told them to first offer the classes, and then external policies now demand they change them.

Bluffton Principal Steve Baker said that while he knows there’s been a lot of work started to solve the dual credit teaching issues, he hopes state officials are aware of the very real problems schools could be facing in the near future and how important dual credit is to their accountability grades.

“Dual credit is where we get a lot of those (A-F grade) points,” Baker said. “I just wanted to caution them that in 2022, dual credit credentialing is going to get much more difficult and we need to be prepared for that.”

The board is expected to have further discussions on ESSA in August.

I saw the sign(s)

Demonstrators display frustration with DeVos at Denver protest

Protestors march from the Capitol to the Hyatt Regency Denver, where ALEC is holding their annual meeting. (Photos by Marissa Page/Chalkbeat)

“DeVos is DeWorst”

“Left or Right, We Can All See Wrong”

“School Librarians Say Shhhh! to Betsy!”

Those are some of the hundreds of colorful signs demonstrators carried at the Capitol Wednesday to protest U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ scheduled Denver visit.

The Trump appointee is expected to speak Thursday at a luncheon during the American Legislative Exchange Council’s annual meeting at the Hyatt Regency downtown. Wednesday’s protest was organized by Denver school board candidate Tay Anderson with help from the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.

Featured speakers included local activists, teachers and legislators. Demonstrators then marched from the Capitol to the Hyatt.

Here are some selected images from the demonstration.

During the school year, Andy Fine is an elementary school teacher in Loveland’s Thompson School District. This summer he’s interning with the CEA, and rallied more than 25 Thompson teachers and parents to drive to Denver for Wednesday’s action. “Someone’s gotta stand up for our kids,” he said. “My life and passion is standing up for kids.”

Jessica Price, a teacher at Overland High School in Aurora, brought her 6-year-old daughter Maycie Turner to the protest. “I’m here because what we’re doing is working,” she said. “People are getting the message.”

Mike Badar’s father taught in Flint, Michigan for 30 years. He said his biggest concern is DeVos will blur the line separating church and state. “She does not like history, and she wants to rewrite it based on her religious principles,” he said.

Denver Public Schools teacher Michael Durga waited calmly outside the Capitol for the protest to start Wednesday morning. Donning a T-shirt that read “Proud public school teacher,” Durga carried a colorful flag urging support for public schools and a sign themed after the reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race. “DeVos is a nightmare,” he exclaimed. “I want her to know that I am opposed to everything she stands for.”

Pam Wilson, a self-professed “concerned citizen,” marched from the Capitol to the Hyatt Regency spritzing fellow marchers and passerby with a spray bottle filled with water. She decorated the bottle with a crossed-out image of DeVos’s face. “It’s bear spray,” she laughed.

The man behind the Neil Gorsuch mask is Ian Kolsky, a DPS teacher. Kolsky and four others dressed as Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices. The demonstrators belong to a group called Move to Amend, which calls for a constitutional amendment limiting the rights of corporations.