Tag Archives: AYP

JOURNALING CHAOS 5: “School Runnings”

chaosjpeg

The “I Ching” teaches that “Before there can be great brilliance… there must be chaos.”

This is PART 5 in a series of blog posts that document our research, strategic thinking, observations and debates as we take on one of the last vestiges of the industrial revolution: the practice in schools of organizing kids into grade levels according to their chronological age.

At the end of the day on Friday I received a phone call from Max in the Superintendent’s office.  Max was contacting all the principals in the district to get our individual prediction on what we anticipate our API will be this year.  We all have a guess.  We live the API. 

woodThe API is California’s Academic Performance Index.  It is a long and tortured statistical calculation that synthesizes each school’s test results into a 3-digit number. Every student at every grade and every subject area is calculated and “processed” like an elegant wood chipper that grinds otherwise healthy leaves and limbs into useful chips. It weighs the number of students that score proficient and reflects overall organizational growth from year to year. Every school in California is obligated to somehow reach the API promised land of 800 or face the fate of the mastodons.

“To tell you the truth Max… I have no clue.  You want me to just pull a number out of the air?  

“Yep… the Superintendent wants every principal’s prediction.”

“Well…last year we ended up at 797 but our school-wide goal was 801.  We just missed it.  A little better result from this grade or that grade and we would have made it.  Just make up a number?”

“Whatever you think.”

skiWe just held the Olympic Festival yesterday, Max.  The best one in 9 years.  We had a 1000 students participating with well over 100 adult volunteers and parents and guests.  There were 25 different events for kids.  We had two former olympians.  We had India’s first ever winter olympian, for God’s sake.!  She is an Alpine ski racer, Max! But the Olympic Festival and our community spirit and Alpine skiers and our year-end celebration have nothing to do with our API.  It doesn’t compute.”

“I just need a number Dr. Riley.”

“Our 6th graders bombed the local measures.  I think they might have done it on purpose.  Only 7 out of 120 students were proficient on the math section.  How do I factor that in, Max?”

“Uh…can’t help you on that one.”

“But then again, on the MAPS assessments our 6th graders were right on pace.  And that is a much more difficult assessment, don’t you think?”

“No clue sir.  I’m not familiar with SNAPS.”

wall“And we know that if 50% of our students– especially 50% of our English language learners– don’t score proficient on the California Standards Test we will miss the AYP benchmark for the first time and we will go into Program Improvement. We know that.  We are climbing a mountain.  So we added a full hour to the instructional day and tried to target students who were borderline.  And every teacher provided English Language Development to every student for :35 minutes every single day. Damn…  that has to count for something!”

“So you want me to put you down for 801 again?”

“Yea, I guess so. NO! I can’t say 801… that was last year’s goal.  This year our goal is 840!”

“So you want me to put you down for 840?”

“C’mon Max…there is no way we hit 840.  Too many distractions over the longer day.  I think our teachers got burned out mid-year.  We pushed too hard.  By March we had to make adjustments just to keep their morale up. If we caught it soon enough and made the best of the additional hour and kept our focus in every classroom…  we could get a pretty good bump in our API.  But if not… if we really did lose a significant number of our teachers somewhere on the journey… we are hosed.”

“Sounds like you want to stay closer to the 801.  You have to say at least 800.”

“We could go backwards Max!  We could go back down to 790!  When the district told everybody in January that they had to resign to stay at El Milagro or return to a district school… it affected morale too.  18 of our teachers are district employees and 15 are employees of Mueller Charter School.  What a freakin’ mess!  It never should have worked out that way.  Five of our veteran teachers decided that they would leave El Milagro and go back to the district.  So we have been dealing with that and interviewing new teachers and writing letters of recommendations.  These are our colleagues we are losing!”

“Ok…  listen I am going to just say 795 for Mueller Charter School…”

“You know what the problem is here Max? The problem is we give the CST to students according to their grade level… instead of their level of mastery…”

Silence on the other end.

“Max… do you read my blog?”

“No I don’t have time to read blogs because I make phone calls like this all day and just try to stay ahead of the information that the superintendent is trying to gather.”

“Ok… just put us down for 805.”

“805…got it.  Thank you Dr. Riley, it’s been nice talking to you and….”

“And make a note Max that we are really looking hard at this whole system of grouping kids in grade levels according to their age.  It doesn’t make sense anymore. ”

“Ok I wrote that down.”

But of course I know he really didn’t.  And I realized immediately that this is exactly how the status quo stays in tact from year to year; how it absorbs change.  I had no business giving Max some arbitrary number meant to quantify the depth of teaching and learning that took place at Mueller Charter School over the course of an entire year.  The ups and downs.  The celebrations.  The growth and the turmoil and the daily struggle for fresh air. 805? 840?

840

It is the reason that we seek to challenge the very structure of how we group our students for learning and testing.  So I started to pull up my blog to re-read the questions I had generated last week and maybe add to the list.  Just then the phone rang again.  It was Max.

“Dr. Riley…  did you say an Alpine skiier from India?  Didn’t they make a movie about her?”

“No Max…  that was the Jamaican bobsled team.”

“Oh…yea…that’s right…Cool Runnings.”

runnings

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under charter schools, El Milagro, standardized testing, Un-graded schools

A LONG KICK AGAINST THE WIND

filmstrip06ew

Yesterday was my day to post on Leadertalk, which is one of several blogs managed by Education Week. Educational leaders are invited to participate– and my day is the 20th of every month.  So I am always thinking about what I want to post on Leadertalk.  It is harder to add photos and I feel a little more confined, like I have to be much more careful since it is someone else’s deal.  Nevertheless, as a neophyte blogger, it is a cool opportunity.

So I decided to post a hybrid piece, combining the elements of what I published here at El Milagro Weblog last week and my idea for today. 

Because as of today we are 5 instructional weeks from the California Standards Test (the CST’s!)  and our teachers are studying their formative data and making some very strategic adjustments in how they work with their students on the final push.  5 weeks is the blink of an eye and they know it.   We are still a long ways away from where we need to be.  In fact, our MAPS data tells us that 22% of our English language learners are now operating at a proficient level in language arts and 23% in math.  We need at least 50% proficiency to reach the state’s Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) goal.  

This is crunch time.  Our teachers are as serious and as focussed as I have ever seen them.  There is no panic.  There is no quit.  There are no false illusions about where we are.  So it will be interesting to see how our students perform on California’s standardized tests in May.  

field-goal1This is also the time period in which we cease to philosophize about the wisdom of standardized tests and what the pre-occupation with language arts and math might be doing to our students’ broader abilities to think and innovate and solve problems and reason.  This is not the time to engage in the political debate.   An NFL coach may not like the rules for sudden death overtime, but when you are out of downs on your opponents’ 20-yard line, you better just trot out your kicker for the game winning field goal and argue about the rules of the game later.

ny-timesjpeg2So we are playing to win.  And when we win, we expect that there will be some interesting headlines in the morning newspaper.  Something like:

 

 

“California Charter School Shocks Education World”

or

“Mueller Charter School Achieves Unprecedented One-Year Gains”

or

“State Department Questions Legitimacy of Dramatic Test Results

 

It is a healthy exercise  to visualize your organization’s success and there are many ways to do it.  But try visualizing the newspaper headline that captures the essence of your  mission and celebrates the moment at which all your collective dreams and ambitions come to full fruition.  What will the headlines say? 

“Charter School Caps Decade of Innovation by Tipping 901 on API”

hands-up

As a visualization exercise, this headline is dramatic.  But it is more than an exercise… it is our mission.  And it is attainable.  We have implemented a longer day, a daily English language development program in every classroom, our assessment tools have improved and so has our capacity to use technology.  And those are just the highlights. So now all that is left is five weeks of instruction, a 45-yard field goal (against the wind)  and the long vigil at the news stand.  Just what will your headlines say? Perhaps ours will read:

“California’s Top-Performing

School Lives up to Its Nickname:

El Milagro!”

headlinez

Leave a comment

Filed under California charter schools, El Milagro, public education, teaching, technology in schools

BOX SCORE

(NOTE: As the Annual Yearly Progress (AYP)  goals continue to accelerate, more and more US schools will be categorized by the pejorative brand: “Program Improvement School”.  NCLB’s kiss of death.  By 2014 as many as 90% of America’s schools could be categorized as underperforming “Program Improvement” schools.  Perhaps it provides a handy label for politicians to rail on public education in general… but inside our schools, where we know our children’s names and faces, it is a different story.

This is the FIRST POST IN A SERIES as Mueller Charter School awaits its test results from the 2007-08 school year.)  

 

I watched Sport Center last night and the announcer declared that the Yankees beat the Red Sox with  5 runs, on 8 hits and 1 error.  The Red Sox had 4 runs on 7 hits and 1 error.  Game over.  Just like that.  Spectacular drama reduced to a box score.

All of the human emotion and energy was drained from the page and forever deposited into the timeless vaults of Major League Baseball.  All that was left behind were shelled peanuts and Bronx beer cups and a lost binocular case: the predictable debris of 55,000 spectators and a national television audience.   Soon all that would be swept away too.  But not the box score.  

 So where in this infinite compression of events does the box score reflect that an  outfielder played the game of his young career or that an old veteran pinch-hit in the  8th and struck out—leaving two runners stranded and causing management to question his future in the game.   Or that a maple bat shattered on a foul ball and flew into the stands just missing an eight year old girl who had turned to look for the vendor selling cotton candy. Or that the pitchers in the bullpen spit sunflower seeds on each other and flirted with the girls in Section 107 and that one of them got a date. Or that an umpire made an embarrassingly bad call on a routine play at second only to stumble as he jogged back out to his position beyond the infield grass.  The fans who were jeering him hesitated long enough to laugh as he nearly face planted within view of a momentarily hostile world. 

55,000 fans left with new memories forever fixed.  “Remember that game we saw at Yankee Stadium just before they tore it down?  When was that… 2007?… 08”    Lives were enriched,  But not the box scores. 

And yes there is a point here.

At Mueller Charter School we await the return of our students’ test scores– now just weeks away. A year’s worth of collaboration, energy, focused effort, commitment, heartbreak, tears, momentary triumphs, wins and losses—will all be reduced to a few lines. A box score. 

“Did you meet your AYP goals?”   

“Did you make significant gains on the Academic Performance Index?”

“Did you go into Program Improvement?”

“Did you prove your worth on the planet as a charter school?”

And we will answer:  “But what about the lives we touched?  The lives we SAVED?  The families we successfully linked with health care insurance… the kids that climbed out of the basement referred to as Far Below Basic… the kids who we sheltered while their father was sent to prison in Central California… the teacher who was ready to quit until she found salvation in her extraordinary students… the strides we made in utilizing formative data to make strategic adjustments…  the hundreds of students who now have enough of a foundation in English to compete academically—even if it wasn’t soon enough to benefit this year’s box score…”

“What about the community of teachers and learners and families who will declare last year a tremendous success, who will return from summer vacation energized regardless of what shows up in the box scores?  What about our indomitable spirit– the “this is our year”, the no quit, no excuses, no turning back– the community invested in the success of their kids?”

Who knows.  When we get our results back at the end of July we may conclude that we have finally overcome the adverse effects of poverty and the economy and family mobility and the challenges of learning English as a second language and that we actually met the AYP and API and PI expectations.  The data may authenticate the most productive year in the 15-year history of Mueller as a charter school.  The Board and media and world community may then suddenly sit up and take notice:  “Wow.  How about that Mueller Charter School.  How did they do it?”  Or not.

In either case we know for certain that a single box score out of context cannot predict whether the Yankees or the Red Sox will win the American League East.  Just as we know that the complex drama of teaching and learning and human relationships and keeping children whole– cannot be meaningfully reduced to a box score. 


3 Comments

Filed under charter schools, El Milagro, gifted children, public education, standardized testing