“For the typical lecture setting, the best evidence suggests students should lay down their laptops and pick up a pen.” – Susan Dynarski, Professor, University of Michigan
It was a busy year on the blog:
Thank you for reading and taking an interest in our schools!
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Enjoy the holiday break, and I’ll see you back here at the blog in 2016!
The Board will appoint a new director for Region A tonight. This new school board director will serve out the remaining two years of Keith Knauss’ term. Three strong candidates are seeking the appointment: Elise Anderson, Jeanne Best, and Al Iacocca.
Tonight the administration will present the annual Student Growth and Achievement Report. School-level reports will be delivered by each building principal, analyzing the results of PSSA’s, Keystone Exams, and (for UHS) SATs. Principals will also discuss what they take away from those results and how programs, instruction, or curriculum will be changed to further improve the opportunity for student learning. This is a great opportunity to hear directly from our Principals.
Finally, there may be a vote to add additional supports for the Hillendale 3rd grade, which has class sizes of 24 for Language Arts. The administration, following our class guidelines, has looked carefully at the situation and believes that the best course of action for our students is to keep classes and groupings intact. Some board members want to override the administration, and may force a vote tonight.
I argued last week that such an action is unfair to the students and families at our other schools, and that it is unwise for a board to override routine educational decisions that have been made in good faith by our educational leaders. I have heard from several residents and parents already. If you have a point of view, I would also love to hear from you. You are also invited to address the whole board during public comments, or send a short email in advance to the whole school Board.
You can join in person in the District Office at 7:30pm tonight, or watch via live-streaming from ucfsd.org.
Background: Parents of 3rd grade Hillendale Elementary students have petitioned the UCF School Board to reduce class sizes for Hillendale 3rd grade. The administration has recommended keeping the Hillendale 3rd grade class sizes in its current configuration, which meets the UCFSD class size guidelines. The parents are requesting that the School Board overrule the administration and depart from the district’s class size policy.
Below are my remarks delivered at the November 9 School Board Work Session
I would like to comment on class size optimization, and the specific request for the board (and Administration) to take actions to address the 3rd grade class sizes at Hillendale, where there is one classroom of 25 students, and one classroom of 26 students.
I would first like to address the specific request before us and then I would like to address the larger policy issue of class sizes.
The Unionville Chadds-Ford School District now has a vacancy on the school board due to the resignation of long-time school board member Mr. Keith Knauss.
Please consider whether you or someone you know might be interested in serving our community on the School Board. The successful applicant will represent region A, and must be a resident of East Marlborough Township or West Marlborough township. Applications are due November 6. Details on the vacancy and the application process can be found on the UCFSD web site here.
One of my readers, who is also a school administrator, sent me a link to a useful article from Inside Higher Education, called “Teaching to the (Right) Test”.
The authors discuss the interaction between standards, testing, and curriculum design, and how assessments play a critical role:
Are there generally accepted aspects of good curriculum design? Yes. Step 1 is to decide what we want our students to learn: the learning goals. Step 2 is to devise ways to determine whether (and how well) our students are accomplishing these goals. And Step 3 is to design our curriculums and teaching strategies around gaining mastery of the learning goals. …
Educational innovation is an iterative process. Preparing our lectures and designing our curriculums aren’t the end; they’re closer to the beginning, in fact. We must demand evidence that education — in general and in each course we offer — is “working.” When we have articulated the learning goals and designed tools for assessing their attainment, we are in a position to get that evidence.
In assessing our students, we can determine how well our curriculums and teaching strategies are helping them meet the learning goals. Importantly, we can also use the evidence from the assessments to modify and improve the efficacy of our lesson plans and teaching strategies. This evidence from assessments guides us toward the more effective methods, and helps us revise the less effective ones.
The authors also recognize that the “teaching to the test” slogan has led us down the wrong path:
Bad tests are not helpful. And teaching to bad tests is counterproductive. These facts, however, do not compel a conclusion that testing itself is bad or that teaching to tests is bad. This erroneous logic, unfortunately, has hijacked the national conversation about educational reform, and hindered innovation in higher education. …
How did we get stuck in this flawed logic? They believe one of the causes is that teacher education programs (for both K-12 and higher education) don’t train teachers on why and how to use assessments to inform instruction:
A disastrous reality is that most teachers in higher education today receive little or no training in assessment. This mirrors the situation among K-12 teachers. A 2012 report by the National Council on Teacher Quality revealed that only “3 percent of teacher preparation programs adequately build teacher’s skills in the crucial area of student assessment.” We all can use help and we all can improve.
Their conclusion about testing and instruction?
When learning goals are clearly defined and reliable assessments are aligned with them, “teaching to the test” is not only good, it is exactly what we should be doing.
The whole article is worth a read.
Last night the school board voted 8-1 to approve the Fact Finder’s report. The UCFEA approved the same report last week. As result, the two sides have effectively agreed to the terms of a new four-year contract, covering the period July 1, 2015 to June 30 2019. (More info on the Fact Finding process, under the PA Labor Relations Board, is here),
(I expect more information will be released on the District’s website soon, including the full fact finder report, which, under the Byzantine laws and regulations of Pennsylvania, could not be released to the public prior to the board vote.)
I have reproduced below my full remarks delivered at the board meeting. The short version:
Another school year begins, full of new opportunities! Welcome back students, teachers, and support staff!
Thank you parents for entrusting your kids to the district. Thank you to our administrators for leading our district to greater heights in 2015-16. Thank you to our classroom teachers for engaging and encouraging our students. And thank you to our tax payers for funding our excellent educational program.
Working together, let’s make this a great year for our students!
The UCFSD school board recently approved a tax increase (average across Chester and Delaware Counties) of 2.28%. And our board and community had a lively debate about how to meet our present and future fiscal requirements, challenges, and risks.
Across Chester County, other school districts faced similar challenges and questions. How many exceptions above the Act 1 index should be taken? Should we draw down reserves or increase reserves? How do we cope with the escalating costs of PSERS and medical insurance?
One of the more harmful constructs in American culture is the belief that natural ability, rather than hard work, is the path to success. And in the field of education, the attitude of “I’m not good at [blank]” can be quite harmful and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
24-year old Sam Priestly, a not-very-athletic English writer, was chosen by table tennis coach Ben Larcombe to demonstrate what hard work can accomplish. Ben, convinced he could turn anyone into a top-tier player, coached Sam for one hour each day for a year. The goal was to turn Sam into a top-100 table tennis player. Continue reading