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November 13, 2017

ESSA growth vs. proficiency: a former teacher’s perspective

Right now, state education departments are working to try to come up with a plan that meets all the requirements of the Federal government’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). One area that has received a lot of attention in ESSA is the student accountability section and the required indicators that hold schools accountable for student learning.

The first indicator under ESSA is known as the academic achievement indicator and requires states to annually measure English/Language Arts (ELA) and Math proficiency using statewide assessments. To simplify, I would call this a proficiency indicator, where states use the information from state standardized tests to see if students are meeting grade level standards. When I was a 4th grade teacher, this information was incredibly useful for me. I needed to know what level my student’s were performing at in language arts and math so that I could scaffold lesson plans, create student groups and understand which students needed to do the most catching up. These scores helped me also talk to parents about where their child was performing in relation to where he/she should be performing as a 4th grader. However, a student’s proficiency score was only a part of the puzzle, which is where the second indicator under ESSA comes in to complete the picture.

The second ESSA accountability indicator is the academic progress indicator, which looks at the growth or progress that an individual student or subgroup of students has made in elementary and middle school. States have created different policies to measure this, but the general goal is to measure an individual student’s growth over a period of time.

When I was a teacher I also had a method of measuring this for each of my students. For example, in reading I would assess their starting reading level at the beginning of the year and then map out an individual plan for each student. Each student would have to grow between 6 or 8 reading levels, depending on where they started, with the overall goal of growing the equivalent of two grade levels. Some of my students did grow two grade levels, but they would still be below where they should be at that grade. For others the two-grade boost would put them way above the 4th grade reading level.  It is important for teachers and students to understand and celebrate their progress at multiple checkpoints throughout the year that are not in the form of state tests. In my classroom, this gave students a sense of purpose for their assignments because they wanted to meet the individual goal that we had set together. As a teacher, I also would constantly adjust assignments, homework, student pairs, etc. based on the new levels that students reached throughout the year.

For me, both proficiency and growth measures were crucial for the success of my students. The growth measure made learning real for students as they saw their reading levels steadily increase throughout the year. But I couldn’t rely on growth measures alone. The proficiency measure provided that benchmark to help me know what level fourth grade students should be able to perform at by the end of the year. Without this, I could not have identified the achievement gaps in my classroom and would also not have been able to communicate these to the parents of my students. After understanding the difference between growth and proficiency indicators and how to use the data from each to inform my instruction as a teacher, I do not think that it is a matter of one being more important than the other, but rather both working together to paint a more holistic picture of student learning.

data tracker picture

Filed under: Accountability,Assessments,CPE,Testing — Tags: , , , — Annie Hemphill @ 3:28 pm





April 17, 2017

Where Teacher Prep Meets Behavior Management

Last week, the Center for American Progress and the Hope Street Group held a forum to discuss the future of teacher preparation following the recent repeal of regulations which required states to rate their programs.

During this event, panelists repeatedly argued that teacher training should include a behavior management component. One panelist shared that she felt she was not adequately prepared to teach children with social and emotional problems when she began teaching. Another stressed the importance of training new teachers to understand and respond to the social, behavioral matters of children.

There are good reasons for this. As CPE found in its report on teacher shortages, good working conditions and support play a large role in teachers’ decisions about where to work. If student outbursts impede a teacher’s ability to manage the classroom, that says a lot about the working conditions. Accordingly, another panelist spoke about the need for teachers-in-training to have a “back-up” for assistance with behavioral management situations when they arise, which speaks to support. CPE also reports that student discipline problems are another factor in low teacher retention, more so than even salary.

Up to 30 percent of children and adolescents have mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders, and as many as 1 in 10 students have disorders severe enough to interfere with their ability to function properly in class, including exhibiting proper classroom behavior.

Research shows that the achievement levels of students who have behavior problems are significantly lower than students who do not. In addition, while the dropout rate for all public-school students is 7 percent, among students with behavior problems, the dropout rate is even higher, 38.7 percent, higher than most categories of disabilities (Porowski, A., et al., 2014).

Being equipped to provide behavior management isn’t a new concern; a 2011 study showed that teachers surveyed reported a lack of experience and training for supporting children’s mental health needs (Reinke, W. et al., 2011).

Some families are able to access behavioral health services for their students on their own, but an almost equal amount rely on schools to provide those services for them. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, in 2007, 3.1 million youth (12.7 percent) received treatment or counseling for emotional or behavior problems outside of school, where an additional 11.8 percent of youth received mental health services inside school facilities. This may be why teachers report that they believe they hold the primary responsibility of implementing behavioral interventions in the classroom.

According a report by the Hope Street Group, teachers should be trained to become aware of students’ emotional triggers. Since many students exhibit signs prior to a sudden outburst, knowing these signs could be helpful in preventing them. Teachers can further be better positioned to refer students to necessary treatment, whether through community mental health providers, family organizations outside of the school, or school-based services.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has provided a list of warning signs for mental health problems, among other advice for consulting a school counselor, nurse, administrator or the student’s parents if certain behaviors are observed. HHS also has provided a list of actions teacher can take in their classrooms to promote the mental health of students.

Research shows that parents want to be involved and prefer to seek advice or referrals from teachers, but they might not know how to communicate with professionals regarding their child’s behavioral needs. If teachers initiate communication, facilitating parental engagement, that’s a positive step towards solving the problem. Training teachers in parent engagement strategies focused on expressing support and establishing partnership with parents is therefore another important piece.

Teacher training also needs district support, as research shows that even when teachers receive effective training, certain programs tend to dissolve when they aren’t supported by school districts.

Behavioral healthcare has its place in the classroom. Given the educational impact emotional disturbances hold on students with special needs, behavioral health should be part of their educational experience, which means teachers must be supported and trained to facilitate it. Teachers, however, are not mental health professionals. Nor are they case managers. Training teachers to recognize signs of potential behavioral outbursts; making sure teachers are familiar with the community in which they are teaching so that they can more easily identify resources for referrals to trained behavioral health specialists; and providing them with support and guidance when they may enable them to feel better prepared to manage student behavior.

Filed under: CPE,Student support,teachers — Tags: — Katharine Carter @ 2:26 pm





August 22, 2016

The “Soft” Side of Teacher Supply

Our last blog post talked about the “hard” side of teacher supply – the money.  However, we also alluded to non-monetary factors that are even more important in recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers: respect, job satisfaction, and autonomy.  Very little research has focused on why individuals choose to become teachers, but we do have a plethora of information from teachers about why they choose to stay or leave the profession, which we can use to make assumptions about recruiting new teachers, as well.

A recent Center on Education Policy (CEP) survey highlights teachers’ views on why they entered the profession (mostly altruistic) and their greatest challenges (mostly policy-related).  Teachers, like most professionals, want to feel successful in their jobs (Moore Johnson & Birkeland, 2003), which is supported by evidence that teachers with higher value-added test scores are less likely to request transfers between schools (Boyd, et al., 2011).  35% of teachers who leave the profession cite dissatisfaction with their job as at least one of the reasons for leaving (Ingersoll & May, 2011).

How do we tap into teachers’ altruistic motives to create policies that may keep more high-quality teachers in the field?  Here are just a few ideas:

  1. Help novice teachers be more successful. The National Center for Education Statistics found that beginning teachers were more likely to stay if they had a mentor, with 86% of teachers with mentors staying in teaching for five years, as compared with 71% without mentors.
  2. Give teachers time to collaborate and be creative by reducing the number of hours they are instructing students. Forty-nine percent of teachers in CEP’s survey reported that their day-to-day teaching would improve with additional planning time and 34% reported that additional collaboration time would help them in teaching. U.S. teachers spend significantly more time in the direct instruction of students than their peers in other countries:

    Hours

    Source: http://www.oecd.org/edu/EAG2014-Indicator%20D4%20(eng).pdf

 

  1. Build effective systems around student discipline. Each student has unique behavioral needs, which must be addressed through individualized strategies. Students should not be allowed to disrupt their peers’ learning, nor should they be suspended for minor infractions.  Schools and principals need to support teachers and by providing behavioral supports, both positive and punitive.  Teachers in CEP’s survey reported “managing student behavior” as their greatest school-level challenge.
  2. Include teachers in decision-making. CEP’s teacher survey clearly showed that teachers do not feel that their opinions were taken into account by policy makers. Teachers are on the ground every day with students, and thus know more than any other level of decision maker how policies translate into practice.  Involving teachers in policy making may have better outcomes for students, as well as improved perceptions of teacher professionalism.

Teacher Decisions






August 15, 2016

The Supply and Demand of Teacher Pay

We know that teachers are the most important school-level factor that contributes to student achievement.  And we’ve all heard that teacher pay is low.  But how low is it, exactly?  And does that really affect the supply of people entering the teaching profession?

First and foremost, teachers don’t teach for the money.  A recent Center on Education Policy survey found that only 1% of teachers listed “earning potential” as a significant factor for entering the teaching field, compared with 68% of teachers who said they taught to “make a difference in students’ lives.”  However, the number of high school graduates who are interested in a career in education has dropped since 2010 to only 5%, according to ACT, despite an anticipated increase in demand for new teachers.

If we want to attract the best and brightest minds into teaching, though, improved salaries might help.  Teacher salaries lag 23% below those of all college graduates, and 17% below those of similar individuals, when comparing weekly salaries (some of this difference is explained by the gender gap – over 80% of teachers are female).  Even when accounting for additional compensation, such as pensions and insurance, teacher salaries are 11% less than their peers.  This is significantly different from the 1970s, at which point teachers actually earned more than the average of their peers.

Wage Gap

Other countries with successful education systems treat their teachers as professionals.  A recent report from the National Conference of State Legislatures found that these countries recruit teachers from the best and brightest students, often provide free university-level training, and give teachers the autonomy to make decisions that lead to their students’ success.  Teachers have career ladders in which they can mentor novice teachers and take leadership roles.  Teachers in these systems often earn similar salaries as accountants and engineers.

Even if we don’t like to admit it, higher-earning professions are often more respected and revered.  While the cause and effect in this scenario may be muddled, we assume that doctors deserve the pay they receive because they are smart and well-educated.  Could we also assume that smart people enter the medical profession because they know they will be well-compensated and challenged in their professional life?  Sure, they also want to help people be healthy, but I haven’t heard that argument come up in discussing doctors’ wages.

Teaching is not all about the money, but Economics 101 should have taught us that the world often boils down to supply and demand.  If we want to increase the supply of high-quality teachers, we also have to increase their pay and respect.  We need a system in which our teachers are well-trained, competent professionals for which they are fairly compensated so that our students are provided with the educations they deserve.






July 27, 2016

Elementary Teacher Specialization

We have all bemoaned the high rate of teacher turnover in the U.S. and wondered how to increase teacher quality.  Most proposed solutions are costly, though: increased pay, smaller classes, merit-based pay, housing for teachers in urban areas.  The National Center on Education and the Economy released a report last week that examines the training, hiring, and work practices of elementary school teachers in four high-performing nations, with implications for how the U.S. could improve its elementary teacher workforce.  The easiest to implement? Specialization.

Elementary classrooms typically are “self-contained,” meaning that one teacher has the same class of students all day and teaches Reading, Writing, Math, Science, and Social Studies.  However, some schools have a “departmentalized” structure, which looks more like middle school or high school.  Typically, 2-4 teachers will work as a team with the same group of students who rotate through the classes.  This allows teachers to focus their lesson planning on only one or two subjects.

Capture

Departmentalized teaching provides multiple benefits:

  1. Reduced workload for teachers, which improves job satisfaction.
  2. Teachers have a deeper knowledge of the subject that they teach, which results in increased confidence and student performance.
  3. Students have the opportunity to know multiple adults and improve their organizational skills.
  4. Teachers collaborate more due to sharing students.

Even if elementary schools are concerned about changing their schedules, they can still ask teachers to specialize in a particular subject, making them the expert on their grade level team.  Doing so would still provide for deeper teacher knowledge and increased collaboration.

As a former teacher who started in a self-contained classroom and then was in a departmentalized structure for two years, I can attest to the shorter work hours, improved student achievement, and stronger collaborations provided by only teaching one or two subjects.  In fact, one of the reasons I left the elementary classroom was because my principal decided to return to self-contained classrooms.  Research tells me I’m not alone.






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