Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Retention Gone Wrong

During tonight's PTO meeting our district's Director of Elementary Education, Cameron Rains (@CameronRains), came to speak to parents about the upcoming IREAD-3 assessment. He did a great job, as usual, speaking with parents about the assessment and fielding questions. He is a voice of calm and reason in times of uncertainty.

Here is a quote about the IREAD-3 assessment from the Indiana Department of Education taken from the parent communication letter:

"Public Law 109 requires the evaluation of reading skills for students who are in third grade beginning in the spring of 2012. This legislation was created to ensure that all students can read proficiently at the end of grade three. In response to Public Law 109, educators from across the state worked with the Indiana Department of Education to develop a test blueprint and to review test questions that have now become the Indiana Reading Evaluation And Determination (IREAD-3) Assessment.

The intent of Public Law 109 is to ensure every student has the opportunity for future success through literacy. The results will have a positive effect on our entire state as the need for remedial education in middle and high school is reduced and dropout rates and juvenile delinquency are lowered. In addition, Public Law 109 will help Indiana develop the highly skilled workforce needed for a strong economy." http://www.doe.in.gov/sites/default/files/assessment/iread-3-parent-guidance-fall-2011-v2.pdf

There's not one educator who could possibly argue against the spirit behind Public Law 109. However, I can't think of many who agree with the punitive nature that comes with the law. Students will take one test, given on one day that will determine if they are proficient readers. If they don't pass they have one more opportunity during the summer to prove themselves. That's it. They have two chances to pass a reading test which will determine if they are promoted or retained for the next school year.

What does it mean for students who don't pass the IREAD-3? They will be retained and take third grade again. Read that one more time. They will be RETAINED and take third grade again. There are three 'good cause exemptions' allowing students to not be retained: A) the student's case conference committee can determine the student should not be retained B) the student is an ELL student C) the student has been retained twice before third grade.

Of course, the Indiana Department of Education has said that students can receive instruction in fourth grade curriculum for all other subjects except in reading. They are coded as a third grader, must receive third grade reading instruction, and they will again take the third grade ISTEP+ test in the spring. They will forever be a grade level behind because of a one day test of reading proficiency.

Is automatic retention really the right course of action for these students? Will retention actually "... have a positive effect on our entire state as the need for remedial education in middle and high school is reduced and dropout rates and juvenile delinquency are lowered..."?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Can Your School Improvement Plan REALLY Improve Your School?

Working on my school's improvement plan this year has been challenging yet rewarding. In years past, the school improvement plan has mostly been a check mark on the 'to-do list.' Gather the data, put it into charts, discuss the guaranteed and viable curriculum, give an overview of the school population (enrollment, ethnicity, free/reduced lunch %, attendance), select a few goals, and click save.

Our classroom teachers are working extremely hard to select Essential Learning targets, gather data, make assessments based on 4-point scales, group students, offer intervention/enrichment opportunities for ALL students, and start the process all over again. Again and again.

So this year I have taken the responsibility of developing our school improvement plan more seriously than ever before. Don't get me wrong. I have always taken it seriously but for some reason this year it feels different. This year I am taking on the challenge of producing an improvement plan that actually has the potential to improve the school. Novel idea, right?

Today after school I sat with my school's literacy coach, @eandersoniu (give her a follow on Twitter), for about two hours to work on the plan. She is such an inspiration to me. I'm sure she doesn't feel that way but she is. I respect her point of view and opinions on education and enjoy our scheduled weekly meetings and the times she pops in to chat about school. While working on the plan she helped me refine our school's goals for the next three years. I feel like, for once, our school's improvement plan will help guide us in the right direction. Our committee will come together in the next few weeks to tweak the plan and put the finishing touches on it.

How does your school come up with its improvement plan? Have you made it a 'to-do list' or is it actually meant to improve your school?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Learning Outside of the Classroom

Marlin Elementary students enjoyed a fantastic week of activities outside of the classroom.

Our students were featured in the local newspaper for their participation in the SeaPerch robotics competition. You can access the article here http://dsfcbloomington.org/seaperch.html

The Marlin teams represented the school, MCCSC, and themselves very well all day. We had four teams participate in the regional competition at DePauw University. One team qualified for the state competition! This was our first time to participate in the event and we didn't know what to expect going into the day so qualifying for the state competition was beyond our expectations.

The first event of the day was an underwater obstacle course which involved the students maneuvering their ROVs (remotely operated vehicles) through five hoops on their way out and navigating back through the hoops on their way back. Teams were divided into heats and the top four times of all the heats were given trophies. Team Marlin 4 took second place overall with a great time, barely missing out on a first place finish.

The second event was a sprint race half way across the pool and back. Once again, each team did a fantastic job and the times were all very close. Team Marlin 4 took second place again, finishing just behind the Tri-North middle school team with a solid time in their heat.

During the last event of the day all of the teams made a presentation of their work to a panel of judges. I was able to sit in on the presentations and I was very proud of how our students handled themselves.

While we were at the SeaPerch competition our local Boy Scout pack was at school working hard to complete a service project for our school. They received a grant to purchase lumber to build five picnic tables for our school. The picnic tables will be used for students to enjoy some class work outside when the weather becomes a little warmer. They are also a place where students gather during recess to hang out and enjoy their friends' company. I saw the tables yesterday and they look great!

We had a great week outside of the classroom, which shows that not all learning takes place inside of a building. Sometimes it's in a pool and sometimes it's outside building something for others. I'm very proud of our students, staff, and parents for their commitment to education, no matter where we find it.