By: Chris Woolard
Recently, the State Board of Education unanimously approved Ohio’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) consolidated plan application and the Ohio Department of Education submitted it to the U.S. Department of Education. It will have four months to review, comment and possibly ask for additional information. Many observers had thought that the feds would take a hands-off approach to state applications, but early indications suggest that is not the case. Based on feedback that other states have received, the federal peer review process has been technical and critical, and reviewers have been stringently interpreting the ESSA law.
It is important to point out that the ESSA application is a technical document, with several prescriptive and complicated technical requirements. The ESSA “state consolidated plan” is the application that all states must complete in order to receive hundreds of millions of federal dollars in education support. The vast majority of this money is then sent to schools and districts, with a focus on supporting disadvantaged students, activities such as English language arts and math supports, after-school programs, teacher professional development, additional resources for homeless students and a host of other programs. At its heart, ESSA is a bill about equity that truly embraces ensuring success for “every student.” Once approved by the U.S. Department of Education, Ohio is tasked with implementing the technical requirements of the federal law.
It has been more than 18 months since Congress passed the law, and now that Ohio submitted our plan, it is a good time to reflect on how stakeholders played a major role in contributing to Ohio’s ESSA submission.
Ohio originally planned to submit our application for the first deadline in April 2017 and hosted a plethora of statewide stakeholder opportunities. After 10 regional meetings with 1,500 participants, 11 webinars with 3,100 participants, an online survey that received 11,200 responses and the initial posting of the draft, stakeholders asked for more time to dig into discussion on the draft. In response to this request, Ohio delayed its submission and conducted a thorough review of the draft with the State Board of Education and major education associations.
After the first draft of the application was published, stakeholders expressed concerns about many issues that were not addressed in the draft template. Many of the high-level concerns that were expressed were issues that are not specifically required to be addressed in the ESSA template. For example, stakeholders were very clear that testing concerns were on the mind of educators. Since then, the state superintendent convened an advisory group to make recommendations, and the General Assembly has removed the requirement for the fourth and sixth grade social studies tests. Likewise, many educators expressed concerns about the educator evaluation system. ESSA removed the requirement for teacher evaluations linked to student growth, so it is now a state decision on how to define effective teaching. The Educator Standards Board was convened and made a series of recommendations to improve the evaluation system. Both the testing and evaluation system concerns were brought to the Department’s attention — however, neither were directly related to the ESSA application. Stakeholders have since provided, and will continue to provide, major input on these issues that are Ohio policies — not ESSA policies. The work continues, even though it is not directly reflected in the ESSA application.
Outside of these larger issues, stakeholders played a major role in developing the technical details of the ESSA plan. Stakeholders don’t agree on all issues, and on many topics, the Department received competing feedback on all sides of a related issue. The Department’s role was to synthesize the feedback received, align it with Ohio-built policies that are already in law and build a plan that meets the federal requirements.
There were several ESSA flexibilities that stakeholders strongly supported. For example, ESSA provides flexibility for advanced eighth grade students who are taking algebra I in middle school to take the corresponding algebra I test rather than also taking the eighth grade test — thus double testing. Ohio has been a national leader in this based on a previous waiver, and nearly one-third of eighth graders are enrolled in algebra I. Not only that, Ohio previously received an expanded waiver to allow this same flexibility with other end-of-course exams (English language arts I, biology, etc.). This represents a major reduction in the number of tests taken, and Ohio is proposing to continue with this policy.
Many stakeholders have expressed concerns that school report cards are too focused only on state test results. While ESSA continues to have rigid requirements on using information from state tests to ensure that all students are succeeding, it does provide additional flexibilities that paint a larger picture about what is happening in schools. Ohio is proposing using chronic absenteeism (some districts already are doing great work) as the ESSA-required measure of school quality and student success, while piloting school climate surveys and other measures that may be included on future report cards when technically feasible and data are available. Many school administrators asked for the opportunity to share more about the good things happening across their districts in a structured way through the report cards. Several districts have quality profiles that describe accomplishments and other important details (see example). Ohio is addressing this feedback and, in fact, will include links on the upcoming report cards for district profiles and narratives.
Another major change in ESSA is the federal government walking away from prescriptive models on how to improve our most struggling schools. Instead, districts and schools will have much more discretion in designing local, evidence-based improvement plans based on the needs of their students. During the feedback process, stakeholders asked for more information and details on this process to ensure their ability to have local plans and produce locally driven evidence of strategies. Additionally, the Department has committed to developing a local engagement toolkit to assist schools and districts in collaborating with their communities to determine priorities for Title funds and setting goals for continuous improvement.
These are just a few examples, but throughout the ESSA template, there are areas where stakeholders directly impacted the application, including phasing in the N-size adjustment, using parent surveys to improve the report cards, focusing on connecting 21st century grants to local school improvement processes, exempting English learners from accountability measures during their first two years, exploring military readiness as a college and career readiness measure, updating and refining several report card measures (Value-Added, Gap Closing, high school indicators), and providing support for disadvantaged students to participate in advanced coursework such as Advanced Placement courses.
The Department is encouraged by the thousands of Ohioans who dedicated their time and expertise to improving our plan for supporting districts, schools and students across the Buckeye state. So…a giant THANK YOU to all the educators and stakeholders who have provided feedback in this process. The process doesn’t end here though. The main work of ESSA occurs with the development and implementation of local improvement plans. Stakeholder engagement also will be a crucial element of those local plans.
Chris Woolard is senior executive director for Accountability and Continuous Improvement for the Ohio Department of Education. You can learn more about Chris by clicking here.
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By: Paolo DeMaria
I still run into people who buy in to the myth that low-income students can’t achieve academically at the same level as other students. I’m so discouraged and sad when this happens — because it is fundamentally wrong. What’s worse is that this myth gets a boost every time someone runs a correlation between levels of poverty and academic achievement and doesn’t take the time to explain what it means.
This week, the state will issue school and district report cards reflecting the 2016-2017 school year. The release of report cards is an important annual occurrence that gives Ohioans an opportunity to gauge how well schools are doing relative to academic standards established by the state as measured through the state’s system of standardized tests. Ohioans should understand that the report cards are only one gauge of the quality of our schools and that many aspects of the outcomes achieved by students are not reflected on the report cards. A more complete picture of what happens in schools can be gained by visiting them and talking with teachers, administrators, parents and students. (On this year’s report cards, for districts that have chosen to do so, we are including links to district profiles that allow users to see more information about accomplishments and achievements that go beyond report card measures.)
Each year, at the time the report cards are released, the misleading and incorrect assertion is made that the only thing that state tests measure is students’ socio-economic circumstances. Number crunchers will engage in the annual ritual of running a correlation between district performance and the percentage of economically disadvantaged students and boldly pronounce, with a sweeping statement, that schools with higher concentrations of economically disadvantaged students do worse on state tests.
For example, one report released after last year’s report cards contained a graph (shown at the end of this post) that took data for 1.6 million students being educated by about 100,000 teachers in more than 3,000 buildings in more than 600 districts and reduced them to seven data points. These seven data points plot the average performance of districts within an average of district percentages of low-income students within seven specified ranges of the state’s Performance Index measure. The report then concluded that “the graph clearly shows the strong negative relationship between PI score and economic disadvantagement.”
There is no doubt that poverty impacts children’s knowledge acquisition and skill development in profound and significant ways. Poverty is related to housing instability, homelessness, food insecurity, adverse health issues, traumatic event experiences, brain development and much more. All these issues create challenges to students’ success in school. Many high-poverty students start kindergarten not ready to learn and often stay behind as they advance from grade to grade. The persistent achievement gaps have implications for these children’s lives, as well as their communities, our state and our nation.
If, rather than looking at seven data points, we look at every school, and even every student, we see reasons for hope. We can find schools that have a better handle on how to help students overcome the challenges of poverty and reach success. We see low-income students who achieve at the advanced and accelerated levels. We see the possibilities of what could be rather than being confined by what is.
Consider the graph below developed using 2015-2016 school year data. It has more than 3,200 data points. Each one represents one school building. Why is it different from the previously discussed graph? Because it shows details. It shows that what is going on in Ohio’s schools shouldn’t be reduced to seven data points. Clearly, there are school buildings that have high percentages of economically disadvantaged students that, in fact, have higher performance indices (see the red circled area). This graph gives us the evidence to believe that, in fact, it is possible to help low-income students achieve success and that possibility exists to bust any correlation that might exist.
Click graph to enlarge.
Are there enough of these successful schools? Of course not. But by knowing they exist, believing that others can achieve the same outcomes and applying our skills at understanding the dynamics of schools and transformation, we can make progress. Solid research and analysis (see my favorites listed below) shed some light on what it takes. It’s about excellent leadership; high standards and expectations; quality curriculum and instructional practices; a culture of collaboration and excellence among staff; school climate that is focused on learning; supports for students; parent and community engagement and partnerships; and a commitment to continuous improvement. Notably, it isn’t about top-down mandates or significant additional financial resources. The right combination of reform strategies for each school has to emerge from the collective work of the staff in the school with input from the local community in order to ensure the necessary buy-in and increase the likelihood of success.
This kind of customized school improvement is hard work. No two schools are alike, and the specific mix of strategies will be different for every school. Fortunately, there is renewed energy around taking on the challenge of improving educational outcomes for low-income students. The Ohio Department of Education and the State Board of Education are committed to this work. By all of us joining together with the shared belief that we can make a difference, and with the knowledge that committed school teams can identify and implement evidence-based solutions that will work, we can make a real difference for thousands of students and for our future.
Ohio Education Policy Institute, FY16 Local Report Card Initial Analysis
Click graph to enlarge.
Paolo DeMaria is superintendent of public instruction of Ohio, where he works to support an education system of nearly 3,600 public schools and more than 1.6 million students.
List of Favorite Resources:
Baroody, Karen, Rho, Lois and Huberlie, Ali. Back from the Brink: How a Bold Vision and a Focus on Resources Can Drive System Improvement. Education Resource Strategies. April 2015. https://www.erstrategies.org/cms/files/2862--lawrence-case-study-back-from-the-brink.pdf
Berger, Ron. An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students. Heinemann: Portsmouth, NH. 2003.
Bryk, Anthony S. et. al. Learning to Improve: How America’s Schools Can Get Better at Getting Better. Harvard Education Press: Cambridge, MA. 2015.
Elmore, Richard. School Reform from the Inside Out: Policy, Practice, and Performance. Harvard Education Press: Cambridge, MA. 2004.
Hagelskamp, Carolin and DiStasi, Christopher. Failure is Not an Option: How Principals, Teachers, Students and Parents from Ohio’s High-Achieving, High-Poverty Schools Explain Their Success. Public Agenda. 2012. https://www.publicagenda.org/files/FailureIsNotAnOption_PublicAgenda_2012.pdf
Levin, Ben. How to Change 5000 Schools: A Practical and Positive Approach for Leading Change at Every Level. Harvard Education Press: Cambridge, MA. 2008.
Meyer, Peter. Needles in a Haystack: Lessons from Ohio’s high-performing urban high schools. Thomas Fordham Institute. December 2012. http://edex.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/publication/pdfs/NeedlesHighSchoolEdition_6_0.pdf
Suffren, Quentin and Wallace, Theodore. Needles in a Haystack: Lessons from Ohio’s high performing, high-need urban schools. Thomas Fordham Institute. May 2010. http://edex.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/publication/pdfs/Needles_Full_Report_10.pdf
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By: Jo Hannah Ward
Humans have an innate desire to learn and improve. We work to improve our health through nutrition and exercise. We also might set a schedule or use tools and apps to collect data and track our progress on our smart phones. We focus on changing our behavior (exercise and nutrition) to impact our data (the number of steps to help improve our cardiovascular system and our weight). Sometimes we join a gym, engage in group activities or obtain a coach. Along the way, we also ask ourselves and others in our lives questions that might lead to greater improvement: “What did I do to lose a pound this week?” or “How can I find time to walk in the evenings?” As we work toward our goals, we are continuously evaluating our personal data and engaging with others in ways that help us reach our goals. Continuous improvement in schools is very similar.
Just as we each have personal goals for which we continuously strive, Ohio’s education system has goals. Our focus for education is that all students begin school ready for kindergarten, actively engage in learning and graduate prepared for college and careers. Each district and school is working toward those goals and toward ensuring all student groups have equal access to high-quality instruction. Schools and districts that want higher achievement for all students should continuously plan for improvement.
The Ohio Improvement Process (OIP) is the process by which Ohio’s schools and districts examine their data and continually respond to it with plans for improvement. Although Ohio’s most challenged schools use the Ohio Improvement Process, all schools and districts can use the process as a means of continuous improvement. The following items are seven key elements of the Ohio Improvement Process:
- Aligns vision, mission and philosophy. Every step of the continuous improvement planning process should always consider the vision, mission and philosophy or beliefs of the district and community school. The questions should be, “Do the strategies, actions and resource allocations support our vision, mission, beliefs and goals?” and “Are our behaviors and decisions congruent with our vision, mission, beliefs and goals?”
- Is continuous and recursive. Districts fully committed to high performance do not view continuous improvement as a process that occurs in addition to what they do. Continuous improvement is the core work at every level of the organization and, by nature, repeats itself.
- Relies on quality data interpretation. An effective planning process is based on the ability of the district, schools and classrooms to use data to name critical problems, develop a focused plan, check progress of the plan and evaluate the plan’s impact.
- Is collaborative and collegial. Every plan gets its strength from the people who are committed to it. Engaging the community in understanding the plan will make it stronger and help others become invested in making it work. Make sure the plan reflects the joint thinking and planning of collaborative teams that include businesses, community members, students and families who support plan development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
- Ensures communication with those who are affected by the success of the district or community school at each stage. Districts and community schools may have the same needs that their communities or school buildings have. Gathering their feedback may help the planning team better understand the situation. Multiple opportunities for communication and feedback should be included throughout the process.
- Produces one focused, integrated plan that directs all district or community school work and resources. Districts and community schools have had many plans (for example, technology, professional development, Title 1, Title 2, special education, career and technical education) for many reasons (basis of funding applications or federal or state requirements). Multiple plans diminish the district’s or community school’s ability to respond to the most critical needs. By developing a single, focused plan that responds to the most critical needs, the district or community school will prioritize resources to achieve lasting success.
- Sets high expectations for changes to student performance and adult practices. The purpose of having a thoughtful planning process is to produce a plan that will change student and adult behaviors. This leads to improved instructional practice and student performance.
More than 400 districts and thousands of schools across Ohio engage in the Ohio Improvement Process. The Ohio Improvement Process is now 10 years old (Happy Birthday OIP). The Department has improved and updated the process through a continuous feedback loop, illustrated in the graphic at the beginning of this article.
For the 10-year anniversary, we have the biggest update coming your way soon! We have simplified the four stages and five steps in our current model into a single model. In the model, we move between steps in a not-so-linear fashion. Here is a sneak peek at the new look of the upgraded model:
For comparison, here is the current model:
Jo Hannah Ward is director of the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the Ohio Department of Education, where she helps Ohio’s most challenged schools and districts improve outcomes for their students.
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By: Guest Blogger
One of my favorite pastimes — both personally and professionally — is reflecting on my experiences. In many ways, the 2016-2017 school year was like all the others throughout my teaching career — incredibly fulfilling and extremely challenging.
But last year also was quite different. Serving as Ohio’s 2017 Teacher of the Year, I experienced opportunities that I had never dreamed of. I traveled to Dallas; Washington, D.C.; Coronado, California; and Huntsville, Alabama for amazing professional development seminars. I stood in the Oval Office and met the president of the United States. I also met 55 other Teachers of the Year who are just like you and me: they love teaching and, above all, they love serving young people and making a difference in their lives.
Throughout my time with these educators, I have learned — over and over again — the value of educators; an understanding that takes me all the way back to my student teaching internship. A little more than a decade ago, my mentor teacher asked me, “Do you value what you do?” I have no idea what prompted her inquiry. I do know that my answer was, and is, overwhelmingly yes!
I value teachers because educator quality matters. A formidable amount of research has conclusively determined that teacher effectiveness is the number one variable that influences student learning outcomes. Because of this, we must continually increase the intentionality of our instructional practices, striving to become better teachers every period of every day. In other words, we must be the growth mindset we wish to see in the world.
I value teachers because of the ways in which they can and do impact the whole child. Almost without exception, our students are hurting. Many have encountered poverty, drugs, homelessness and abuse, and even our best and brightest often lack self-confidence. Thus, teachers must be extremely intentional not only in terms of their instructional practices but also in building strong relationships with their students.
While in Huntsville, I attended a dinner event at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. A few of the town’s residents had graciously prepared some delectable desserts for the Teachers of the Year. To be honest, I was exhausted from a long day of activities, and I hoped to mingle for just a couple minutes and then return to the dorm promptly to rest. However, after hearing I was from Ohio, one woman told me that I simply had to meet her husband. So, I did.
Mr. Saunders was from Ironton, not far from my hometown of Chillicothe. Like virtually everyone else in the room of several hundred people, he had served as an engineer for NASA. His travels had taken him from southern Ohio to New Orleans to Huntsville. I enjoyed listening to the stories of his engineering career, which he retired from at the age of 55. On a whim, I asked him what he had done since his retirement.
It turns out that, after a few years, he was offered a job as an engineering instructor at a local college. I asked him if he had any teacher stories. He proceeded to tell me of the time one of his students brought his father to meet him after graduation. The student proudly held out his degree and said, “Dad, you told me I couldn’t achieve this, but Mr. Saunders? He told me I could.” Throughout his story, he could not help but cry — and he was not alone. Mr. Saunders went on to tell me that, through all his incredible life events and accomplishments, he never experienced fulfillment that surpassed that which he felt as a teacher.
This event resonated deeply with me, and I struggled to understand why. Then, during a moment of reflection, it hit me. A few days earlier, I had watched “Moana” with my daughter. One of the recurring topics in “Moana” is the search for identity and the desire to know who you are and your place in the world.
As you begin the 2017-2018 school year, whether it’s your first or your 30th year in the classroom, do not lose sight of who YOU are. YOU are a teacher. YOU matter. YOU make a difference in students’ lives. Through your efforts, YOU can change your students’ life trajectories.
Best wishes for an outstanding school year!
Dustin Weaver was an English teacher at Chillicothe High School when he was named the 2017 Ohio Teacher of the Year. In the 2017-2018 school year, he stepped out of the classroom to become the principal of Chillicothe High School. To contact him, click here.
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By: Steve Gratz
My wife is a school counselor at Worthington Kilbourne High School, and we have interesting discussions on preparing students for their transition from high school. I’ve been an advocate for graduating students to something (i.e., college remediation-free, in-demand jobs, apprenticeship programs or the military) rather than simply graduating students from high school. In addition to both being employed in education, my wife and I enjoy riding our tandem bicycle. A couple of weeks ago, we spent several days riding our tandem in the Lake Tahoe Region on the California side. If you’ve never been to Lake Tahoe, you’re missing out.
During one of our tandem rides several years ago, we were discussing graduation options for students. The context for the discussion pertained to the state changing the school year from days to hours. Because of this change, many districts were struggling to add electives so students had more options for courses during their junior and senior years. I remember asking my wife how she would counsel a student on her caseload who has interest in becoming a registered nurse. Aside from the graduation requirements, she would recommend that the student take additional math and science credits and take advantage of Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) — this was prior to the days of College Credit Plus. I remember following up with questions about encouraging students to attend the Delaware Area Career Center, and she responded with the all too familiar response how students didn’t see the career center as a pathway of their choosing. Our discussion focused on establishing courses at Worthington Kilbourne High School that allowed students to earn industry-recognized credentials in in-demand pathways.
When I came to the office the next Monday, I suggested to Jamie Nash, the associate director in the Office of Career-Technical Education, that we needed to design courses for seniors only, where they could earn industry-recognized credentials in in-demand pathways. Jamie worked with other staff in the office and created a new program that grew into the Senior Only Credential Program. The Senior Only Credential Program was designed to complement, and not compete with, our traditional two-year programs at our area career centers. The Senior Only Credential Program can be offered as a career-technical education (CTE) program where the course can receive supplemental funds to operate the program or outside of CTE. If it is conducted outside of CTE, the school would not receive supplemental funds, but the credentialing program could be offered earlier then the senior year. Regardless of which funding structure is utilized, the course can be taught by a professional under the 12-hour temporary teaching permit. The 12-hour temporary teaching permit can be issued to a non-licensed individual who holds at least a baccalaureate degree with a major in the subject to be taught or has significant experience in the industry sector.
Since the inception of the Senior Only Credential Program, its utility has continued to evolve. Days to hours has come and gone, and the original demand for the program has changed to where today, the Senior Only Credential Program is a viable option for students to graduate and serves to mitigate risk as students enroll in postsecondary education.
Research indicates that 36 percent of students attending public colleges or universities graduate in four years. While the number does increase to nearly 58 percent after six years, the completion rate for students attending Ohio public colleges or universities isn’t stellar. Today, students who earn industry-recognized credentials prior to graduating from high school can use the credentials to earn college credit and for gainful employment while they pursue additional postsecondary credentials and degrees. Furthermore, earning industry-recognized credentials in in-demand pathways can serve to mitigate the risks associated with pursuing additional postsecondary credentials and degrees. We know that sometimes life gets in the way, and if postsecondary students need to take some time off from their studies, they know they can use the credentials they earned in high school to help them get in-demand jobs in Ohio until they can return to their studies. Additionally, those students who are successful and graduate on time can use the credentials to help pay for their postsecondary education.
Just last week, I visited with Tom Johnson, mayor of Somerset, Ohio, and with Randy Leite, dean of the College of Health Sciences and Professions at Ohio University, about opportunities in health sciences in southeastern Ohio. I shared with them how school districts could implement a credentialing program in the health sciences for several credentials including, but not limited to, phlebotomy, medical assistant, and state-tested nursing assistant for high school students. Randy immediately added that students graduating with these credentials could continue and become registered nurses with one additional year at Ohio University and preferably continue to earn bachelor of science degrees in nursing.
Today, students have many options where they can earn industry credentials — a pathway that was typically completed at the career center. Students can earn credentials not only at their area career centers, but also at their local high schools through credential only programs, at area community colleges through College Credit Plus (see Stark State’s Learn to Earn Program) or even through work-based learning using Credit Flex.
Redesigning the senior year, or even the entire high school experience, takes major commitment from school leaders, faculty and staff. Fortunately, there are great examples of this work taking place throughout Ohio. I am familiar with the work at Fairport Harbor, Perry Local, Marion City, Akron City and Cleveland to name just a few. On Oct. 24, 2017, the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Educational Service Center Association are holding another career pathway network meeting to help school districts learn how to develop enhanced career pathways and more meaningful partnerships with business and industry leaders in their communities. This will be a great opportunity for school leaders to learn from their colleagues about redesigning the senior year or even the entire high school experience.
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