Friday, December 14, 2012

Embrace life

As the sun rises outside my office I watched a video of Steve Jobs talk about life. Steve Jobs was a complex man, who like all of us, was not perfect. But this video made me reflect on my life, what I am doing, and where I am going. What do I want out of life?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Who's college ready?

What does it mean to be college ready?

Here's a quiz that uses profiles of real students. Can you tell which one is college ready? (To read the chart: Amy’s ACT English score was 32; her math score was 19; her reading score was 35; her science score was 28; and her ACT Composite was 29.)

So which one was college ready?

ACT explains the college ready score in the following manner:
Empirically derived, ACT’s College Readiness Benchmarks are the minimum scores needed on the ACT subject area tests to indicate a 50% chance of obtaining a B or higher or about a 75% chance of obtaining a C or higher in corresponding credit-bearing first-year college courses. 

Most of us understand the composite score on the ACT.

As you can see these nine students have a variety of composite scores:

ACT Composite
Amy  29
Bob 30
Cal 22
Deb 22
Eve 30
Fay 29
Gus  24
Hal  26
Jan 29

One might guess that those who are college ready are the students with highest composite score.

That guess would be wrong!

There are two students who are college ready in this list. They are Call and Deb. The students with the lowest overall ranking are the two students that ACT would say are "college ready."

Bob and Eve with composite scores of 30 are not considered "college ready" in all four subjects because they did not score at one of the ACT cut scores. Bob did not meet the cut score in math and Eve did not meet the score in science.

The students with the lowest ACT composite scores are, according to ACT, the most "college ready" of the group.


Because they hit the magic thresholds.

  ACT English   ACT Math   ACT Reading   ACT Science   ACT Composite
ACT Scale Score Cut Score to be considered college ready 18   22   21   24   Not used
National Percentile Rank 37   63   53   80    
Michigan Average 18.3   19.3   19.4   19.7   19.3
Class of 2010 National Average 20.5   21   21.3   20.9   21
Class of 2010 MI Average 18.9   19.7   19.7   19.9   19.7

This chart shows the magic numbers according to ACT. On the English sub-test of ACT in order to have a 50% chance of earning a "B" or better or a 75% chance of earning a "C" or better in the freshmen level English class, ACT's research says you need a minimum score of 18. That score of 18 is at the 37th percentile. Said another way, 73% of the students who take the ACT hit the college ready score in English.

You can also see that in science a student needs to earn a 24. That score of 24 is at the 80th percentile. Only 20 percent of the students in the United States who take the ACT hit the college ready score in science.

This all leads to another question: Does a student have to be college ready in all four subjects to be successful in college?

The answer is no.

We could use this data to hammer our teachers and say that they are not preparing our students to be successful in college. But that would be wrong!

Or we could look at this data and use it for its intended purpose - continued dialogue about what our teachers are doing right and what our teachers can do to get better.

Data-driven or using data to drive a story: Look at the evidence

Data is important. However, in my mind, there is a difference between being data-driven and using data to drive a particular story line.

When you are data-driven you look at the data and then identify what is says.

When you are using data to drive a story line, you identify the story that you want to tell and then you look at the data.

At times I feel like our state politicians are not data-driven.

Instead, it feels like they have made up their minds about what they want to say and then they find data that will support their story.

It is unfortunate that they do this - to be charitable.

In some ways it is deceptive and disingenuous.

Recently I wrote about how I think Governor Snyder of Michigan has identified a story he wants to tell and then found numbers to support him. Let me explain.

How many Michigan high school graduates go to college? And, more importantly, how many of those students are successful? The state of Michigan's Mi School Data website gives us the numbers.

Under the post secondary outcomes link on this website, you will see that of the 2010 Michigan high school graduates 75% had enrolled in college and 56% had earned 24 credit hours in two years. Districts across the state varied in the percentage of their graduates who enrolled in college, the percentage who earned college credit, and the percentage who enrolled in remedial classes.

In my school district, this website reveals that 90% of the class of 2010 enrolled in college and 75% of those students in two years had earned 24 college credits.

One could parse the data and argue that the Michigan numbers should be higher and that more students should be entering and succeeding in college. But overall, the numbers do suggest that three-quarters of the graduating class of 2010 went off to college and in two years over half earned 24 credit hours or two years of college credit. Again, in any specific district, the numbers could be higher or lower.

Recently, I pointed out that Governor Snyder does not use this data to communicate that Michigan high school graduates are prepared for and doing well in college.

Instead, Governor Snyder often references ACT's numbers that indicate that in Michigan less than 25% of graduating high school students meet the ACT defined benchmarks for college success in all four subject areas tested.

And technically Governor Snyder is right.

ACT gives tests in English, reading, math, and science. Depending on the student, he or she may meet the college readiness benchmark in all subject area or in just one, two, or three subjects.

According to ACT, the Michigan high school graduating class of 2010 looked like this:

College Ready
All Four Subjects19%

In Michigan, here are the numbers for the graduating class of 2012:

College Ready
All Four Subjects21%

But in my mind he is using the data deceptively because he could just as easily have used data from his own state website - MI School Data: Michigan's Official Website - to point out that 75% of the Michigan graduating class of 2010 went to college and over 56% were successful in earning 24 credit hours.

He could have used the data from these two sources together. Governor Snyder could have said that ACT's data gives us pause that we need to do more. He could have then continued and said that the evidence we have from our colleges is that our students are enrolling in college and they are being successful. He could have continued and said more needs to be done but clearly we are producing students who understand the importance of college and are working hard to be successful.

But he did not do that?


Here is my guess. He has a story he wants to tell. The story Governor Snyder wants to tell focuses on how our public schools are not preparing students and that we need to bring in other forms of schools to help them be more successful. We need online, charter, and out-of-state educational entrepreneurs to come to Michigan to show us how to do education better and cheaper.

Governor Snyder said he is data-driven.

I do not agree. I think he has a story to tell and he wants to use data to make it look real.

I am not fooled.

Friday, December 7, 2012

If we "redeem" assessment will we create another "crisis" of faith in public education

In an article in the December 3rd US News, David Coleman, President of the College Board, says the following:

"We have a need in this country to redeem assessment in the hearts and minds of teachers and parents; otherwise the accountability systems we are building will never have the depth of support they need."

The same article indicates that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation found that only 23 percent of high school teachers believe that state-required tests accurately portray student achievement and only 36 percent of students take the exams seriously

How will we "redeem" assessment and get teachers and students to have faith in and take the tests seriously?

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

The Common Core State Standards are a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practice and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Forty-five states and three territories have formally adopted the standards. The new standards will, we are told, prepare students more effectively for college and the workplace.

Along with the new standards will come new assessments tied to the standards. The new assessments, which will replace the MEAP and the MME, will be given in Michigan in the spring of 2015.

The new standards and the new assessments they tell us reassuringly will give us a more accurate picture of student achievement.

The logic of the need for the CCSS and new assessments is built upon the foundation that parents and students are not now getting an accurate assessment of student achievement. Thus new standards and new assessments are needed that will, in Coleman's view, "redeem" assessment, once again making it a valuable source of information for parents.

But the initial result will be lower test scores.

How will parents react when test scores drop and schools that were once thought to be "good" schools are shown not to be?

Rick Hess suggests the those advocates of the Common Core hope to "scare" (his word) suburban voters into accepting a reform agenda.

But the question "reformers" have yet to answer is whether there really is a crisis in the majority of suburban districts? Much of the evidence that we have indicates that suburban district students are not overpopulating remedial classes. Take Novi High School for instance. The evidence from the state of Michigan's own data shows that 56 students or only 16% of the students form the graduating class of 2010 took remedial courses in college.

Hardly a crisis.

Yet, the evidence is mounting that the Common core may be an attempt to create the next education crisis.

Instead of "redeeming" assessment, this may again be an effort to create a "crisis" of faith in public education.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Does knowing what our students learn justify the cost?

There is a report out from the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings that analyzes what states' spend on K-12 assessment. The author states:

"We estimate that states nationwide spend upwards of roughly $1.7 billion on assessments each year. . ."

That is a lot of money.

Yet, in the big picture, the reports author says:

"This seemingly large number amounts to only one-quarter of one percent of annual K-12 education spending."

In Michigan, the author concludes that we spend just over $19 million dollars or about $23 a student.

In my district, if we received $23 a student more we would receive an extra $145,000. That would pay for the salary and benefits of just under four additional teachers.

So the question we must consider is whether the cost of assessment is justified by what we learn about our students?

We pay for buses, athletic teams, choirs, bands, and a host of other things in our district. Many of these things cost much more than what assessment costs us.

But assessment elicits an emotional reaction. The cost is too much! The information is not good! It takes time away from instruction.

My counter would be - how will we give parents and students the confidence they need to believe that their children are learning what they need to know if we do not have any external assessments?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Is there a campaign to discredit public education?

On April 27, 2011, Governor Snyder said that "only 16% of all students statewide are college-ready based on the ACT taken in spring 2010 as a part of the MME."

So I did some research.

I looked at the state of Michigan's MI-School Data website. Under the post-secondary options link I found the high school in my district - Novi High School - and looked at the data available for the graduates of 2010.

I ask the database to show me how many of the graduates of 2010 had earned 24 college credits in two years.

According to Governor Snyder, only 16% of my graduates were college ready.

Yet the data shows something different.

Of the 2010 graduates from Novi High School, within 24 months, 89.9% enrolled in college and 75.3% had earned 24 college credits.

Let me repeat that. Within 24 months (2 years) of graduation, 89.9% of the 2010 graduates of Novi High School had enrolled in college and 75.3% of them had earned 24 college credits.

Why would Governor Snyder say that on "16% of all students statewide are college ready.?"

You might defend the Governor and say that he was not talking about Novi. After all Novi is a great school district and it has students who are prepared for college.

But look at the state numbers. Using this same state of Michigan database, the numbers tell a different story than the Governor tells.

In Michigan, of the 2010 high school graduates, within 24 months 75.5% of the students had enrolled in college and 56.4% of the students in the state had earned 24 college credits.

Why is the Governor telling anyone who will listen that only 16% of students statewide are ready for college when the real numbers tell a completely different story?

I would think that the governor would want to promote that our public schools are preparing students to be successful. I would think that our Governor, who professes to be a "nerd", a numbers guy, a data-geek, would use the data to promote the good job that public schools are doing to help our state's economy. I would think that the Governor would want to attract businesses to a state where students leave high school with the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in college.

Yet it does not appear that the Governor wants to do that at all.

In fact, it looks like the Governor is looking to discredit education, to embarrass public schools, to get the public to believe that we are not doing our job.

Why would the Governor want to do that?

One possible explanation is that the Governor wants to discredit public education so that he can force through educational reforms that have no track record of success. It appears that the Governor has a political agenda that he is focused on instead of focusing on the facts.

I would hope that the Governor is not trying to discredit public education to foster a political agenda but it is hard to argue against that.


Because the Governor is promoting educational reforms like the Educational Achievement Authority (Senate Bill 1358 and House Bill 6004) that would create a statewide school district that would take control of public education away from communities and put it in the hands of political appointees. The rationale used to justify this power grab is that public schools are failing.

This is the same Educational Achievement Authority that started this fall with a small group of failing schools. This reform effort has no track record of success at this point. It is only three months old. Yet the Governor is confident that this reform effort is of such quality that it should be expanded across the state. How can that be justified?

But public schools are not failing. The state's own data clearly makes that point.

I know that there are schools and districts that are not meeting the needs of the students in their care. Yet the Governor is not using a surgical approach that looks for solutions to very specific and isolated cases. He is making the case that all schools in Michigan are failing and that the majority of students are not prepared upon graduating from high school.

The only excuse for this gross misuse of data is that the governor has a political agenda.

I would urge the citizens of Michigan to pay attention to the changes that are being proposed for public education. Contact state representatives and senators and let them know that we will not stand for the Governor or for others to politicize the education of our children.