Posts filed under ‘Student Outcomes’

Communicating Priorities in Education

If you want it, you have to ask for it. Let’s make it “Show Me” time to assure educators that we care about more than test scores. Ask them for details on other priorities, and support their local analyses of discretionary resource allocation in every school. In addition, update certification and facilities standards for alignment with priorities.

PreK-12 education should…

  • Guarantee that every child has the foundation knowledge at each benchmark year (3, 8, 12) to continue successfully as a lifelong learner.
  • Provide well-rounded instruction in English language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and technology, the arts, physical education, and foreign languages.
  • Be transferable across state lines without excessive need for supplemental skill-building or redundant content.
  • House the academic efforts in appropriate, safe, and efficient institutions with universal access for at-risk populations and reasonable attempts to offer flexibility to accommodate all others.
  • Provide advanced placement courses in all major content areas for high achievers.
  • Supplement educational efforts during out-of-school time to make it a way of life.

Accountability for baseline knowledge is well covered in the national dialogue. The Common Core is addressing the need for interstate mobility. However, there remains an information gap on additional priorities. We care but we do not document the details. It’s analogous to teaching material that never makes it into the grade book. No one believes it really matters.

The first step is to collect data on the financial investments made by every school in its content areas listed above, at-risk population, AP courses, and school facilities. In addition, information concerning enrollment, class sizes, and instructional time should be added to the attendance and graduation statistics. Participation in extracurricular activities and other out-of-school activities should be documented as well.

Tests are being given to inform us about student achievement in benchmark years. However, we do not support certification and facility standards that recognize the importance of 3rd grade. Can we make this an endpoint for classifications of professional preparation or school design?

Beyond building design for age appropriateness, what changing needs do we envision for the future of schools and their extended communities? What else do we need to track?


April 4, 2012 at 10:28 AM Leave a comment

Every Child Has a Right to Stop Failing

Children learn how to make decisions and manage themselves through trial and error. Both rewards and consequences are important aspects of exploration. However, children must have the right scaffolding and supervision during that process. A child in a chaotic world cannot break his or her own failure cycle.

I am one of those teachers who are willing to drag a kid kicking and screaming all the way to a success if I must. Many children trapped in failure cycles jump into the fast lane to calamity as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Too much time has passed since their last success for them to remember how it feels to be on the path to virtue. Someone has to engineer the right solution and restore the innocence of a world in which good things can happen.

This approach is not the only strategy in my toolkit, but it is one that cannot be discarded. Children of poverty, families in transition, individuals with depression, anxiety disorders, or substance abuse – all are examples of people who are prone to underrate their expectations for the future. Their ability to fight for a success is impaired, and someone needs to either raise their expectations or create a force that tips the scales in favor of a reward for their persistence. I do not recommend this as a way of life, of course; rather, a catalyst for change until they show the resilience to keep going on their own.

Failure often can be a learning experience, and children have both a right and a need to understand this. I get that. From an academic perspective, the scientific method must be robust enough to include the full spectrum of positive and negative outcomes. Creatively, children must test boundaries to discover new ways to solve problems. Behaviorally, children need valid feedback in response to their choices. Socially, children must have the right to find their own way through freedom of choice and less sheltered reality-testing. A decision tree without all of the options or consequences is unrealistic at best, dangerous at worst.

But I still selectively engage kids in episodes in which failure is not an option. Negative consequences can be meaningless to many children in distress. A child who has been labeled as bad for a while has well-developed defense mechanisms against even hearing negative feedback. A child in a chaotic world may see only randomness. A child with a substance abuse issue will seek a second opinion with a like-minded peer while getting high. A child with depression may just shut down entirely. Most cannot be mobilized or redirected without proper support and higher obstacles to failure.

This is my world view, not an artifact of urban experience. In fact, my kryptonite is the intersection of affluent suburbs, with quasi-utopian philosophies, and populations at risk. School psychologists working with the children of doctors, lawyers, and financiers often deal with children who are overwhelmed by their parents’ expectations for them. As advocates, they must fight for the student’s right to fail occasionally without hyperbolic reactions from parents, which can range from draconian consequences to overprotection. However, this approach to therapy can be counterproductive in programs for children with behavioral or emotional disabilities. Kids at risk need success trainers more than they need consequences regardless of their zip codes.

March 28, 2012 at 11:07 AM Leave a comment

Third Grade on the Line

There seems to be little argument about 3rd grade as a benchmark year for children. Basic reading and numeracy skills acquired by the end of the 3rd grade are essential to their success in school, perhaps even life. If this is such an important milestone, why not reorganize schools and appoint leaders accountable exclusively for grades PreK-3?

Have you ever had a small child look up at you in genuine fear reporting back from an abandoned trip to the bathroom? “There are big kids in there.” They are terrified. K-8 schools make sense in some ways, but the age and size spreads can be daunting. Never mind the cognitive and emotional rollercoasters faced along the way. The search for connectivity from the first day of school through puberty is a noble one. So is the child’s need for belonging within the local community of family and friends. But these exigencies can be met without diffusing responsibility for the academic benchmarks to be achieved or unique psychosocial needs.

Historically, the movements from junior high (7-9) to middle school (6-8) to elementary school (K-8) have been driven by the needs of early adolescents. However, the youngest members of the school have gotten a bit lost in the shuffle. Placement of fragile, security-oriented children on a collision course with the largest and most narcissistic cohort can overwhelm them and obscure their needs.

Children between prekindergarten and 3rd grade make the transition across two stages of development and acquire the skill necessary to move from play-based learning to the milieu of applied academic industry. That is enough for one school team to accomplish. In fact, the work done in the early elementary years is so crucial to future achievement that researchers are beginning to tie failure to meet these benchmarks as hallmarks of failure to finish high school and loss of access to successful  careers in adulthood. Clearly, a strong case could be made for a PreK-3 school where children had the advantage of a focus on their specific needs and educators had exclusive responsibility for bringing all the children to a single level of competency.

Optimally, neighborhood schools for PreK-3 and 4-8 could be in sight of one another and share many services, such as food and transportation. Combined school communities are better able to underwrite shared facilities for the arts, technology, or physical education. In addition, elementary school children benefit from sheltered contact across grade levels. Smaller children enjoy mentoring by the older children. Young adolescents profit from learning about child growth and development as a context for their own maturation processes as well as training to assume childcare responsibility as babysitters. But they still need their own small learning communities.

(Prior post…Finding the Best Split for K-8 Elementary Schools)

February 22, 2012 at 11:23 AM 1 comment

Show Me the Reports

Step 1 in any merit-based compensation program is training around the definition of merit. A template for performance measures and evaluation thereof is shown to the people who will be subject to them. Then the forms are filled out and discussion ensues. At some later date, these criteria are used for actual merit pay. Trust comes from knowing the people and the tool. It is not the basis for signoff on a system to be designed later.

With all the talk about teacher effectiveness and compensation, there must be hundreds of teacher effectiveness reports out there, right? Of course, they are based on well-developed records of student outcomes…which don’t really exist yet either, do they? Please tell me I’m wrong. Show me the reports.

Children learn with outward results; however, they also internalize many things that will manifest themselves later. We will never know all that we have taught them, the good, the bad, or the rest. That is why we look at teacher effectiveness with an eye to process and outcomes. Accordingly, multiple measures have been tossed around with regard to teacher performance. Now it is time for the report designers to just put the templates out there and validate them.

Similarly, children take tests to show what they have learned, their ability to analyze and solve problems. Children also demonstrate their habits of learning, their creativity and industriousness, and their civic mindedness. All will contribute to a foundation for lifelong learning. Additional measures that document intellectual and psychosocial development track their successful growth toward adulthood as well as highlighting need for intervention. Schools have built databases that cover some of these elements, but the models are not robust enough to be fully instructive or actionable. Still, it is time to print them and share them.

Absent good data, the debate over student outcomes and teacher effectiveness is being held in moot court. It is time for demonstration projects to reveal themselves and share what they have got, warts and all. Be prepared for flak, but don’t be surprised if you get more than a bit of praise from real reformers. We all need something tangible to turn this discussion into a problem with a solution.

Prior posts…on teacher effectiveness…on basic student data…on psychosocial development

October 24, 2011 at 8:10 AM Leave a comment

Student Surveys Predict Outcomes

Melinda Gates reported to EducationNation yesterday that students can tell who is a good teacher. Gates Foundation research found that students who felt they had a good teacher demonstrated better outcomes than students who perceived they had weaker instruction. More on this, please.

A high correlation between positive student outcomes and positive student perceptions on the ability of their teachers seems like good news.  Now I am anxiously awaiting the next round of related research. In the meantime, I cannot resist the urge to explore some possible reasons for this phenomenon. I wonder if…

  • Children who receive effective instruction recognize it and appreciate it, especially when they take a test and realize they have been prepared well.
  • Classically strong teachers and motivated students are more likely to be matched within the education system. Less responsive students are turfed to marginalized programs staffed by rookies and other less-empowered educators. The latter case does not enhance engagement, performance, or satisfaction with instruction.
  • Kids who like their teachers are more likely to engage in learning.
  • Good teachers attend to the whole child, including discussions with them related to their intellectual and psychosocial development. This enables the children to be more self-aware and to recognize adults who have helped them grow. Alternately, students without such support are more likely to perform at a lower level and assign blame for failure on others, including their teachers. 
  • Children want to learn, and the adults who listen to them and work with them make better teachers.
  • Nothing succeeds like success. Each test is a cumulative evaluation of the system. Those who have done well historically will enter new classes ready to learn and do well; those who have lagged in the past will not assimilate well in the future or perform well on assessments. The best teachers combine the ability to sustain growth in some while breaking failure cycles with others.

Thank you, Ms. Gates. So what did the kids say?

September 28, 2011 at 9:23 AM 2 comments

Hearts and Minds

School must be a safe harbor for the hearts and minds of our children. Sometimes that trust must go the distance for the sake of their very survival. Concussion laws are being considered across the nation, a must for athletes in contact sports. Equally important is the prevention and treatment of sudden cardiac arrest.

Twelve years ago today, Jon and Diane Claerbout faced the unthinkable. Their brilliant and talented 25-year-old son Jos had arrived at work, started checking his email, and suddenly died. Since that time, they have met and supported hundreds of parents who have faced similar tragedies as their children, many of them high school or college athletes, have died suddenly. Diane has worked tirelessly with Parent Heart Watch, an advocacy organization that seeks to raise awareness and enact legislation mandating screening for and prevention of Sudden Cardiac Arrest in youths. For emergency treatment, AEDs, or Automated External Defibrillators are becoming commonplace in many educational and sports complexes. However, access to them and knowledge of their use continue to stymie efforts to save collapsed children in time.

Tributes for Jos and the many other young victims of sudden death attempt to ease the pain of loss, but they cannot recapture these wonderful spirits or the promise their lives had held. We need them here and now. I salute my sister and brother-in-law in their work even as I regret their pain and the absence of Jos.

Jos sought to live life well, seeing each day as an adventure. He wrote eloquently and dabbled in TV and film ideas. Describing himself as a migrant worker on his resume, Jos took detours with relish, interrupting his education, once to be a salmon fisherman in Alaska and again to take an internship in Washington to study the religious right, a group he had come to know as a force to be reckoned with while working in Alaska. During his brief career in Silicon Valley, Jos wrote “Don’t Fear the OOP,” a Java tutorial modeled on a formula for writing a trashy Western novel that still earns rave reviews today. He was eclectic and original, at once ethereal and obsessed with details. He could perseverate on a passing fancy for days then take time out to win a Muumuu contest.

Jos was a hero to his young cousins. When we went to Washington the summer before Jos died, my step-daughter, turning her back to the White House impatiently, just kept asking, “When will we see Jos?” I wish we had a better answer today.

August 20, 2011 at 10:05 AM Leave a comment

No Time for NCLB Lite

Twitter tells us that testing is bad for everyone. I disagree. I love the changes I have seen in my students as they have grown in knowledge and maturity while meeting the challenge of high stakes tests. Yes…urban students with special needs, many with English language fluency issues as well. They can do it. Oh, and, by the way, they are the very children we are not supposed to leave behind.

The digital v. analog paradigm shift is an artifact of history. However, as an analog person, I see a similar conflict between the process people and those with a results orientation. Educators tend to build processes, while education policy has moved in the direction of results. This may be no less intuitive than the shift to a digital world. Why does everyone seem so surprised that teachers might benefit from a lesson in translating their processes into results?

As process people, teachers design ways for students to engage in learning, constantly inventing and reinventing the path to knowledge. They can manage a classroom. They can direct instruction. But, they cannot control the student’s moment of knowing. As students struggle, educators tend to tighten any controls they can. Yet the student’s independent thought is essential to success in applied problem solving. This has become one of the classic conflicts in education.

In the current politicized climate, teachers must learn some new tricks…and apply them persuasively… while being observed by the hanging judge. This external control works no better for adults than it does for children. So how can we step back from this rhetoric without taking our eyes off the ultimate goal for our children? I will hypothesize that we can keep the tests, maintain the benchmarks for English language learners and students with special needs, and achieve the desired results. However, we must make partners of all educators, not sort them by individual results. And we must pay them collectively for results at least in the short run.

Twitter tells us that testing is bad for everyone. I disagree. I love the changes I have seen in my students as they have grown in knowledge and maturity while meeting the challenge of high stakes tests. Yes…urban students with special needs, many with English language fluency issues as well. They can do it. Oh, and, by the way, they are the very children we are not supposed to leave behind.

It is crunch time for NCLB; time for the sprint to the finish. Unfortunately, instead of working together to achieve our collective goal, we are engaging in vicious hunts for scapegoats and building hyperbolic arguments against testing. Suddenly, “the current testing environment” has been redefined as value-added testing in every subject at the beginning and end of every school year. That is not NCLB. However, this device has led many to question testing altogether, sadly removing accountability for the students who are most in need of the benefits of that accountability.

“Teaching to the test” has become the lowest common denominator among educators who have succeeded with achievement tests. It has been highlighted as an argument against testing…because it rewards bad instruction. I would suggest that schools where teaching to the test was needed to improve test scores must have had a pre-existing history of substandard instruction. In fact, teaching to the test may be a necessary evil during the transition to higher level instruction.

Educators with lowered expectations do not attempt to give all students access to the curriculum. As they teach to the test and the bar keeps rising, however, these same teachers are forced to broaden their students’ skill set. It begins with a core set of skills that are always tested. Then, critical thinking skills are deepened. New test content expands the breadth of topics that must be covered. Higher benchmark scores require students to be even bettered prepared. As more and more students achieve success, even skeptical educators find themselves getting closer and closer to teaching the full curriculum.

It has not been a pretty process, but 2014 was not set as a deadline for testing. It set the pace for all teachers to learn how to give all students access to a competitive curriculum. This goal must not be forgotten. It is time to set aside our differences and make it happen.

June 14, 2011 at 11:29 AM Leave a comment

Data on Social and Emotional Development

Psychosocial development of students creates opportunities, challenges, and goals for educators. Overarching questions can guide inquiry into data requirements and analysis to foster healthy development of school children. Formalizing the plan helps to refine and document aspects of an approach that already resides in less conscious professional practice.

Teachers enter the profession well-versed in educational psychology. However, all would benefit from periodic exploration of the ways in which psychosocial benchmarks affect student learning and inform curriculum and classroom management. Teachers moving to a new grade level or learning to engage students with a different social or intellectual profile seek guidance. Closing the achievement gap among children may create the need for a fresh look at expectations. In a profession that is driven by data, tracking social and emotional progress in students is an important source of information.

The following outlines examples of questions to incorporate into program design as well as grade level and whole school improvement plans. 

Program design: As a school/grade level, are we facilitating achievement of normal developmental benchmarks in the children?

  • Is each learning milieu age appropriate?
  • Are academic challenges consistent with physical, social, and intellectual expectations?
  • Do we communicate expectations and model behaviors for children to show age-appropriate skills in problem-solving, decision-making, and communication?
  • Are there opportunities for exploration and expression that support healthy self-esteem and relationships?
  • How do we accommodate the natural variations among children in each classroom?
  • What support services do we provide for children demonstrating unusual social or emotional issues?

 Planning and Assessment:

  • Formative Assessment: Do our children arrive at school manifesting expected psychosocial behavior?
  • Vertical alignment: What are the expectations for the children at the next academic level? What does feedback tell us about our students’ readiness in the recent past?
  • Goals: Given formative assessments and vertical alignment needs, what specific outcomes related to psychosocial development do we want to prioritize and measure during the current academic session?
  • Ongoing assessment: How can we document psychosocial development systematically?
  • End-of-year assessment: Have we met our objectives and prepared our students for success at the next academic level?

 Some suggestions for content in professional development are outlined below:

Whole learning community
  • Review of growth and development expectations
  • Training in assessment and documentation
Grade level sessions
  • Translating theory into observable behaviors
  • Formative assessment – initial impressions of students, strengths and weaknesses, possible areas of emphasis
Vertical alignment sessions Discussions with adjacent grade level teachers to compare their expectations with actual student manifestations

  • Are expectations aligned?
  • How is student behavior comparing to expectations?
  • What developmental issues or behaviors need to be addressed?
Grade level regroup Development of goals for the year and tools for measuring results


 In the classroom…

If a school does not have the habit of formally addressing psychosocial development, the data gathering may seem onerous. However, this system simply seeks to document and refine an approach, many aspects of which are already integral to each teacher’s practice, and engage the children in the process.

  • Assess psychosocial development at start of year.
  • Talk with students about who they are and how they are changing.
  • Observe students as they demonstrate benchmark behaviors.
  • Keep a developmental portfolio or diary with them/for them (depending on age).
  • Reflect on growth at the end of the year.

And finally, expect variations, but also observe outliers and be alert to the need for intervention.

April 19, 2011 at 10:58 AM 1 comment

Student Outcomes – The Macro Picture

Student data is useful at many levels. Attendance, grades, and test scores are standard records tracked by guidance staff or registrars. In addition, teachers collect a vast array of evidence to document that students are meeting curricular objectives. Increasingly, however, more extensive data is being gathered by students for daily motivation and for portfolios demonstrating their progress in school. This information often offers a clearer picture of the total student and his or her development intellectually, emotionally, and socially.

At a macro level, students are asked to…

  • Attend
  • Participate
  • Be in charge
  • Get results

A few examples of how these basic success factors can be tracked are presented by category below:



  • Record of attendance
  • Prep chart of preparedness
  • Presence in activities during unstructured time or outside of school
  •  Class participation record
  • Peer evaluations
  • Involvement in extracurricular activities

Be in Charge

Get Results

  • Achievement of psychosocial benchmarks for age group
  • Citizenship awards
  • Evidence of leadership
  • Discipline record
  • Informal assessments
  • Grades
  • Formal assessments
  • Merit awards

A portfolio of student accomplishments and outcomes is necessarily begun by the teacher in the early years of school. However, ownership of this record should be transferred to the child gradually throughout elementary school to facilitate the development of self awareness and self control. By adolescence, the notion of being in charge expands to include responsibility not only for self but for relationships with other people and institutions. Authentic assessments, periodic progress reviews, and student goal setting are integral to that process.

 Next step…psychosocial benchmarks 

March 1, 2011 at 9:43 AM 1 comment

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