"High Achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation." - Charles Kettering

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Who’s in charge here, anyway?

I solicited advice regarding the next topic to address here and one request was to address the issue of governance. Specifically, the reader asked that I help interpret the state statutes that define who runs the school, who sets policy and who handles the day-to-day school business. Statute reading and interpretation is not my favorite activity, but since I know all of three people who read my blog and 33% of them request a topic, I figure I should follow the reader's advice.

Click on the title of the post to go directly to the statutes regarding K-12 education in Wisconsin. Many of the statutes are dictated by the Wisconsin Constitution, and this is specified within the body of the individual statute. Chapter 115 defines the role of the state superintendent of schools, who’s basically in charge of making sure schools educate the youth of Wisconsin within the confines of the set standards and statute. Chapter 118 is the bulk of the statute dealing with the nuts and bolts of the education of Wisconsin youth. It begins with a great paragraph, pasted below, which defines the roles and responsibilities for many entities:

118.01 Educational goals and expectations.

118.01(1) (1) Purpose. Public education is a fundamental responsibility of the state. The constitution vests in the state superintendent the supervision of public instruction and directs the legislature to provide for the establishment of district schools. The effective operation of the public schools is dependent upon a common understanding of what public schools should be and do. Establishing such goals and expectations is a necessary and proper complement to the state's financial contribution to education. Each school board should provide curriculum, course requirements and instruction consistent with the goals and expectations established under subsection 2. Parents and guardians of pupils enrolled in the school district share with the state and school board the responsibility for pupils meeting the goals and expectations under subsection 2.

Subsection 2 referred to in the paragraph above has 31 (!) specific Educational Goals listed. Some have been added since I graduated from High School because many of the adults in my age range that I deal with on a daily basis clearly have not met some of these educational goals, especially instruction designed to aid in students making sound decisions…

That being said, this is an unusually coherent excerpt from the statutes which defines responsibility for youth education as belonging to everyone from the state itself to the state superintendent of schools to the local civic entity to the School Board to the PARENT to the CHILD. There seems to have been an evolution over the years from this basic premise of encouraging self-sufficiency in our youth to spoon feeding them with the pablum of the masses.

All throughout chapter 118, the locally responsible entity cited as responsible for youth education is the School Board. Not the teachers, not the principals, not the superintendent. The School Board. As you read through each subsection of the chapter (if you’re a glutton for punishment), each invariably begins with, "the School Board shall establish" and "It is the responsibility of the School Board." One section even states that the school board MAY employ the services of a superintendent of schools for the purposes of running the school district. It’s not even a requirement. The School Board runs the school by law and the School Board sets policy by law. The administration and staff are responsible for running the day-to-day business of education, under the direction of the School Board.

Now let’s reminisce about a time when the Evansville School Board had abdicated their responsibility to the administrator. The actual timing may have been prior to that referred to below, but I was not aware of it until this time. The year was 2006 and Mike Larson was President of the Board and John Willoughby was Clerk (I can’t recall who the other officers were). I believe Dennis Hatfield and Michael Pierick were relative newcomers to the board, Tina Rossmiller, Dennis Knudson and Art Phillips rounded out the 7 board members. This was the year that I decided I would stop qvetching about the School District and become involved. Most people have their "last straw moments" and mine was when the administration tried to ditch the half-day kindergarten option to increase revenue so they could fund a 4K start-up. Many day-to-day frustrations with the school district preceded this "aha" moment which galvanized me into a warrior advocate for the underdogs in our district. Half-day kindergarten, gifted and talented programming and AP classes at the high school were all under scrutiny by the administration as not having enough return on their investment and all had my support. At the reorganization meeting in April of 2006, two to three months after the onset of the Kindergarten Wars, the winds of change blew through the School Board. Michael Pierick ousted Mike Larson from his long held position of Board President. The board was determined to wrest the control back to where it belonged and re-establish their lawful role as the head of the district in which the administrator reports to them and not vice versa. It was a memorable moment for Evansville that has been followed by many other such incidents of good direction by Michael Pierick. He is a diligent Board President and informed about the statutes himself. He does not rely on partial interpretations by the administrators. He comes to his own conclusions and urges other Board Members to do the same by his fine example. He has consistently recommended that the Board put procedures in place that help them direct the administration, as the legislature intended. It remains one of my favorite memories of the Evansville School Board and I wasn’t even on the Board yet.

So the short answer to "Who’s in charge here, anyway?" is "The ECSD Board of Education is in charge." They review the Superintendent’s performance (imagine having 7 bosses, YECH) and set, modify and validate policy. The administrators are responsible for the day-to-day operations, and the teachers instruct the students, all under the direction and at the behest of the School Board.

I hope that helps!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Origin of Proficient and Advanced on the WKCE

Here's a link that the Observer has had on his blog for a few years now. He convinced me to self-publish some of my reports to the board and the public in 2007. The topic I wish to discuss right now is the second posting from January 28, 2008 entitled "Student Achievement Update: January 2008."

WKCE (Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam) is the currently sanctioned testing protocol in Wisconsin to show progress toward the NCLB (No Child Left Behind) goals established in 2002. Each state has their own test and WKCE is ours. A brief review of the report I wrote right after attending the discussion session at the State School Board Convention in January of 2008 will make you conflicted as to whether you should be more astonished that Wisconsin school children can function after high school or that any sane human being with a modicum of statistical skills really expects that 100% of any population can be considered proficient or advanced in all subjects. Proficient has connotations of extreme competency. Which is all the more baffling in this context.


This is where I accessed the annual goals for WKCE proficient plus advanced performance.
Annual Measurable Objectives for Reading and Math 2002-03 through 2013-14 are summarized here. One can access the results of any school district by clicking on the Data tab at the top of the page and clicking on WINSS. From there you can view any data for any district you like. (Author's note: If I ever figure out how to save my formatting so I can post tables, really important for my area of expertise, I will be very happy. I will summarize the tables found on the DPI website referenced above because the tables keep losing their formatting. Arrgh.).

Annual Measurable Objectives (AMO).

The scores required to be met are listed in order of school year from 2001-2002, the starting point to 2013-2014, each year separated by a comma.

READING: 61%,61%,61%,67.5%,67.5%,67.5%,74%,74%,74%,80.5%,87%,93.5%,100%.
MATH: 37%,37%,37%,47.5%,47.5%,47.5%,58%,58%,58%,68.5%,79%,89.5%,100%.

The proficiency rates are based on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations (WKCE) and Wisconsin Alternate Assessments (WAA - both for LEP and Students with Disabilities) test scores of students enrolled in the school for a full academic year (FAY). The overall goal is for all Wisconsin students to attain the "Proficient" or "Advanced" levels in Reading and Mathematics by the year 2014.

From these data, one can determine that for the 2009-2010 school year, it is expected that every school in Wisconsin is expected to meet the goal of 74% of their students scoring proficient or advanced in Reading and 58% of the students must score proficient or advanced in Math. Those who do not meet the goals are placed on a list of "failure to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)." Three years in a row of failing to meet AYP puts your district in jeopardy of losing federal funding. Schools must meet these goals not only in total but by subgroup for which there is a sufficient population in the school, including Disabled Students, Students at Risk and English as a Second Language Students. An editorial comment on these goals is that whoever decided to put these goals in place (Elizabeth Burmaster may have been the Superintendent in charge of the DPI at the time, but I don't know for sure) backloaded these goals in the same way the district backloaded their loan payments in an effort to save pain early on but at the expense of severe pain now. In each case, school officials hedged their bets that the environment would be different and be able to absorb the heavily backloaded goals. In the case of our district loan repayment, it was expected that our enrollment would be so much larger by the time the payments got onerous that the increased state funding would alleviate the tax bills. This has not been the case. (Exhibit A: The mill rate was increased last August by about 10% of its former value. For the record, I didn't vote for it). Now Ms. Burmaster is gone and in the face of imminent statewide failure to meet AYP, Mr. Evers has declared the WKCE an unacceptable measure of student progress in favor of MAP testing. I don't know how fast the new protocols can be implemented, but nothing ever moves quickly in a big bureaucracy, so I don't think change will come soon enough to protect Wisconsin Schools.

Last year, our district had a school (Theodore Robinson Intermediate School or TRIS) placed on the "Failed to meet AYP" list for the first time. As a whole, TRIS has met these goals every year. In the Fall of 2008, the school as a whole scored 80.7% Proficient plus Advanced (P+A) in Reading and 81.5% P+A in Math, well within the goals for that year. Unfortunately, only 29% of the 62 Students with Disabilities scored P+A in Reading and 33.9% in Math that same year, placing us on the failure list because these data were statistically significantly lower than the goal. TRIS put a plan in place, earned a grant to pay for the plan and had stellar success. This year the students with disabilities really boosted their performance on the test for this subgroup to 38.7 % P+A in Reading (nearly 10% improvement!) and 51.6% in Math (nearly 18% improvement). We should remember that even though there were the same number of students taking the test this year as last year, the individual students changed with the advancement of the second graders to third grade and the graduation of the fifth graders out of TRIS. When you’re talking about such a small population, individual differences can be striking. And saddest of all, despite all the good work that has been done at TRIS and great improvement seen, these data still fall statistically short of the NCLB goals for 2009-2010 school year.

Another subgroup that is routinely reviewed for which there is a sufficient population in the Evansville School District is Economically Disadvantaged Students. It is a sad sign of our times that this subgroup has steadily increased every year since 2005. For 2008-2009, TRIS students in this subset technically failed to meet the reading goal of 74% P+A with a score of 71.1%, but applying the standard error to the data kept them in compliance. The math score was higher last year at 73.5% P+A for economically disadvantaged students, well above the goal of 58%. This year the scores did a bit of a flip flop with an increase in Reading to 74.8% P+A in Reading and 68.2% P+A in Math. Both scores meet the goal standards, the Reading being a bit on the shaky side.

I say these data are shaky because next year there are a new, much more rigorous set of standards to meet. The Reading score goal increases to 80.5% of students needing to meet P+A and the math score goal increases to 68.5% P+A. Unless something drastic happens between now and then, both the economically disadvantaged student and the disabled student subgroups will fail to meet AYP at TRIS. It’s possible other schools in our district will also fail, but I have only evaluated the TRIS data at this point. It's also probable that schools all over Wisconsin will begin to fail to meet AYP in the next year or two due to the bar being raised far more than incrementally each year until a miracle occurs and all the children in America will become proficient and advanced in Reading and Math.

As a check point for sanity, let’s evaluate at one of my favorite comparisons with regard to schooling: Girls vs. Boys. In November 2009, the boys at TRIS scored 78.8% P+A in reading and 83.7% P+A in Math. The girls essentially flip these numbers with 84.6% scoring P+A in reading and 79.1% scoring P+A in Math. The old sex stereotypes are still alive and well in our world. And unfortunately, the Reading scores have been showing a steady downward trend for both genders since 2005 and the math scores have been stagnant in the same time frame. The whole school is in danger of failing to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) next year if the downward trend in reading scores continues and the bar raised to 80.5%. Please note that this is not a failure of the schools, but a failure of NCLB to even pretend to understand statistical data. No population will ever be 100% proficient or advanced unless the definitions of these categories are changed to mediocre and abysmal. They already have been watered down to meaning "passable," according to my report referenced in the link above. This is why the Wisconsin DPI has decided to switch from using WKCE as the measure of AYP to using MAP testing, which stands for Measures of Academic Progress. The students take MAP tests in the fall and in the spring to measure what they have learned in the space of a year of instruction. Our only hope is the implementation BY NEXT YEAR of MAP testing for the measure by which NCLB is judged. Also, we can hope for but not expect some sense to overcome the numbskulls in charge so they can recognize that 100% of a population rarely does anything.

That’s my evaluation of our current and past WKCE data for TRIS. I hope this helps folks understand it a little better.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

My New Mantra

One of my favorite puzzles in our daily paper is called cryptoquotes. The quote from Charles Kettering included at the top of the blog was featured a few weeks ago. It triggered a cascade of thoughts that ended in an epiphany of, "Maybe I should do a blog with that as my header." So blame Mr. Kettering by way of my last official board meeting in which high achievement and lack of high achievement were both addressed.

One of the first assignments the board had after I joined in 2007 was to review the Middle School and High School Handbooks. The board has to approve the handbooks annually prior to distribution. I was stunned to find out that the minimum GPA requirement for co-curricular participation was only 1.5 : Between a C- and a D+. Being a scientist can be a bit of a liability when dealing with statistics, because we instinctively know the meaning of the word AVERAGE, and that grades below 1.5 were earned as well as grades above 1.5. There isn't really much of the grade point scale left below a 1.5. Once a student gets an F, the GPA minimum for participation is raised to 1.75, just above a C-. This effectively forces the student with an F to get a B to offset the F.

The explanation I was given for maintaining this abysmally low GPA requirement was that the WIAA allows competition with one F. The GPA of a student in a block schedule with 3 Cs and one F is 1.5. But this excuse is counter intuitive because Evansville, like many of our conference schools, raises the GPA requirement once a student earns an F.

The next excuse for keeping the GPA so blinking low is that some students are only engaged by their co-curricular activity and taking away that one connection to the school community in which they revel will only serve to further alienate them. My answer to that is that the district has failed that student if they cannot engage them in the process of learning something that will serve them in their adult lives toward becoming a productive citizen. Hitting a ball, singing or being in a play will not ultimately become a career for the vast majority of Evansville students. If educators cannot find a way to make learning fabulous and fascinating for the students who don't fit the profile of the "average" student to whom they are instructing, it is their solemn duty to find a way to reach said students.

I have always believed that co-curricular participation is a privilege, not a right. Privileges must be earned, and telling students that 1.5 GPA is acceptable is simply giving them permission to be mediocre. I sincerely doubt that the coaches and advisers of the co-curricular activities would accept that level of effort from any of their athletes or singers or HMV participants.

The board directed creation of a co-curricular ad-hoc committee in 2009 on which I served. The primary purpose was to compare our co-curricular advisor/coach contracts with our conference. I once again raised my concerns regarding the low GPA requirement for co-curricular participation and once again I was shot down. This time when administration emphasized the challenge of maintaining a 1.5 GPA with one F in the framework of the block schedule, my response was that, while the block schedule makes it more challenging to achieve a GPA above 1.5 if one has an F, it also is easier for the students to focus on each class as there are only 4 of them instead of 7 or 8 as in the 8 period day schedule. There should never be a question of having an F in the first place. I was told that we weren't there to discuss the pros and cons of the block schedule vs. the 8 period day. I suggested if one invokes the downside of the block schedule in one's argument, one ought to be prepared to rebut the upside as well.

The bottom line for 2008-2009 school year was that all but one sport had an average GPA of participants above 3.0, with the last one being 2.9. This screams that the magnitude of the problem is minuscule, if existent at all.

When the handbooks once again came up for discussion in March of 2010, I reiterated my position, stated that everyone was abundantly aware of what I thought about such an abysmally low expectation for our students and invited the rest of the board members to state their case. One stated that if there is a chance to keep even one kid engaged in the school community, he'd rather err on the side of a low GPA. Another member said that in light of the fact that we have essentially the second lowest GPA requirement in our conference, and all other schools face the same kind of challenges as Evansville faces, he thought it was worth taking a look at changing it. Those were the only board comments made after three years of repeatedly addressing this issue. One lone administrator, Mr. Everson, injected a glimmer of rational thought into this debate. He said that they have a Grading Protocol Committee addressing the topic of grades and uniform standards. Until the work effort required to meet each grade of A, B, C, D and F is standardized across the High School, any discussion surrounding GPA requirements is moot. This is a true statement.

I attended one of these meetings and it was a real eye-opener. The staff grouped at tables of 4-5 people and proceeded to define "What does an A look like, a B, a C, a D, an F in your classes? I was at a table composed of a Spanish teacher, a Special Ed. teacher, a Science teacher and an English teacher. They all had different answers for each category. One department even said it was possible to get an A in their department on effort and attitude alone. I was floored by this statement. I asked rather pointedly if they didn't, as a department, believe that this was a terrible disservice to the students in their classes to set up a false sense of excellence. What will happen to them at UW, for example, when their previous A-effort earns them a D in college? According to anecdotal reports I receive around town, it is not a pretty sight. But I digress...

Fast forward to the end of the board meeting in which the last item up for discussion was the policy for criteria for inclusion in the National Honor Society (NHS). The National Charter GPA is 3.0 and above for consideration. Each local chapter may set their own criteria, the minimum of which must be 3.0. Our current policy states that students with 3.5 GPA and above will be considered for inclusion in Evansville NHS. Apparently, the practice for several years, despite having reviewed the policy back in 2006, has been to consider only students with a 3.6 GPA and above for inclusion in the NHS Evansville Chapter. Since Evansville defines High Honors as 3.6 GPA and above, they now want to "match the policy with the practice." I said that any kid who has been denied consideration "in the last several years" between GPA of 3.5 and 3.6, inclusive, should be reevaluated and included because they have a legitimate grievance. You can't simply violate your own policies with impunity. A specific parent wanted their child to be considered because the kid has a 3.53 GPA. Yikes. It must be emphasized here that GPA is not the sole criteria for NHS membership, especially in this day and age. But the first cut is GPA and if the policy states 3.5, until the policy is officially changed with the third reading, any student in the "gray area" should automatically be considered for inclusion in our local chapter of the NHS. I listened to all of the conversation regarding this policy change and finished with the following observation: "Does anybody besides me notice the inherent inconsistency between this approach and the GPA requirement for co-curricular participation included in the handbooks? Must you always stick it to the smart kids?" Our district policy already exceeds the National requirement of 3.0 GPA by 0.5, and administration wants to increase it to a difference of 0.6. Yet that same administration insists that raising the GPA requirement for all co-curricular participants (not just those with an F) from 1.5 to 1.75 is too onerous for the students on the edge. If you raise your expectations for student achievement, the students will meet or exceed your new bar. It is one of the constants of human behavior, especially adolescent humans. The converse is also true. If you expect that they can only achieve at a certain minimum level, they will not exert one iota more effort than that required to meet your standard. Go figure.

And that is how we discussed excellence and lack thereof in my last official board meeting. Skirting the bare edges of sanity on a wing and a prayer...

What's with the name?

Some of you may know my name is not Katy. I never gave it a thought until somebody confused me with another member of the Evansville School board on a post I made on a blog last year. Katy is simply my favorite name in the world. I couldn't name my kids that because I foolishly named my cat Katy. She was still alive when they were born and it seemed too weird to name my daughter after the cat. So, when I had to make up a handle for posting to local blogs, that was the name I chose.

Education Matters

What does a public school education entail? I discovered many surprising elements of K-12 public education in my three year term as the Evansville Community School District Board of Education Clerk. I hope to spotlight some of the more baffling aspects here on this blog. One of the goals of this blog is to engage the community in an ongoing conversation about K-12 public school education in general and our own district in specific. In the world of computers, I am not a native. My 16-year-old claims I am a techno-idiot. Compared to her, a computer native, this is an accurate statement. In the spirit of public education, I will apply my lifelong learning skills and become more computer savvy as this blog unfolds.