School Quality Model and Management

Seattle Public Schools has a number of slogans. Among them is "Every School a Quality School". The District claims to be working towards this goal, but the District has no definition of a Quality School, so those claims lack credibility. Rather than clucking at the District for not having a definition of a Quality School, our time would be more productively used helping them to find one.

What is a Quality School? We need to be clear that we separate the idea of a Quality School from the students in the school. If we were to rely on student achievement, for example, as our definition of a Quality School, then we might conclude that Bryant is good school and that Hawthorne is a struggling school. But does anyone believe that if the Hawthorne students were all transferred to Bryant and if the Bryant students were all transferred to Hawthorne that the outcomes for the students would be much different? Would the Hawthorne students suddenly start to achieve because they are now at a good school and the Bryant students suddenly start to under-perform because they are now at a struggling school? I doubt it.

There are a number of factors that determine student achievement and the bulk of them, and the biggest ones aren't at school. Attendance area schools can't control which students are assigned to them, so the presence of a lot of under-performing students does not necessarily mean that the school is doing a bad job. Likewise, the presence of a lot of high performing students doesn't necessarily indicate that the school is doing a good job.

A Quality School is one that addresses its students' needs. A Quality School is one that delivers lessons that are at the frontier of each student's knowledge and skills. A Quality School identifies the students who are working below grade level and provides them with an early and effective intervention to accelerate their learning up to grade level. A Quality School identifies the students who are working beyond grade level and gets them the additional challenge they need – deeper understanding of the concepts, broader application of the ideas, and further exploration of the material. A Quality School keeps grade level students working at grade level and gives them opportunities to go further.

The District can adopt this as the model of a Quality School. It is independent of the achievement of the students, it suggests a post-industrial model for education, and it sees students as individual learners. Moreover, it is a model that the District can measure. Following the MAP test in the fall, the District can say to a school "You have 18 fourth graders who are working below grade level, 7 who are working beyond grade level, and 27 who are working at grade level. What are you doing for each of these groups of students?" The District doesn't have to dictate what the school does to meet these students needs, but they can – and should – demand that something be done. This would also include questions about what the school is doing for students with IEPs and what the school is doing for English language learners.

But that's not all.

After that, the District should follow up and verify that the school did the things that they said they would do. If the school says that they will provide double math periods for the students working below grade level, then the District should have some means of confirming that the school actually did it. I'm not sure how they could do this without an on-site inspection.

But that's not all.

After that, the District should determine if the schools' actions were effective. There is another MAP assessment in the winter. It should show progress. It should show that the students who were working below grade level in the fall are at grade level – or are at least closer to grade level than they were before. It should show that the students who were working beyond grade level in the fall are still working as far or farther beyond grade level. It should show that the students who were working at grade level in the fall are still working at or beyond grade level. Progress – whether adequate or not – should be noted and course corrections or enhancements, if needed, should be made. A similar determination should be made again in the spring.

Schools that failed to address their students' needs or failed to address them effectively are the struggling schools. Schools that do address their students' needs and address them effectively are the Quality Schools. That’s how Performance Management should work. The struggling schools should be more closely managed by the District. Perhaps the District should dictate what they provide these groups of students. The Quality Schools should be allowed more autonomy to continue to address student needs in their own way.

The District should adopt this model for defining and assessing School Quality in their Performance Management System. Frankly, what other model could they adopt? Is there anything else that even makes sense?


Sahila said…
Nothing's going to get better until we get away from the idea that kids all grow/develop at the same time and there is something 'wrong' with them if they're not "at grade level"...

I posted an anti-NCLB YouTube video here earlier today, with teachers making just that point...

think this is the right YouTube piece....go to minute 4:30

Do away with horizontal age-based grade levels, put in a vertical curriculum and let kids learn at their own speed... that lets those who take longer take the time they need and those who are speeding ahead are not held up and dont need to be isolated in a separate group...

its interesting to hear the students' comments... they're the consumers of this education system - surely their reporting of their experience counts....
Charlie Mas said…
Sahila, that sounds great. You are undoubtedly right.

That is not, however, how things are now done and it is more revolutionary a concept than Seattle Public Schools is likely to adopt in the next year or so.

So, while we can retain that as a long-term goal for transformation, in the short-term we need something that works within the current context.
Charlie Mas said…
Oh! And I don't presumen that there is anything "wrong" with kids who are not working at grade level. I do, however, think there is something wrong with kids who haven't been given the opportunity to work at grade level and beyond.

The question isn't where are the kids, but is the school giving the kids lessons that are appropriate for where they are.
Sahila said…
Charlie - at what point will the SPS begin to think about adopting such a common sense approach?

And if we dont start pushing for it now, or next week, or next month, or next school year, when will things ever change?

20 years down the track?

My question is - if we know the system isnt working, why are we wasting time, energy and money (as well as our kids educational futures and lives) trying to fix a broken system instead of creating something new that will work?
Charlie Mas said…
Sahila, I don't think that SPS will be looking at adopting the model you described until the state stops requiring them to use the current, industrial model.

The state mandates the idea of grade level expectations and requires the school districts to follow that model.

The change that you're looking for has to come at the state level. Unfortunately, you're fighting an uphill battle there. The state is heading in exactly the opposite direction, focusing a lot on "accountability", which to them means making sure that kids are working on grade level.

Right now, when you look at the majority of kids who are not "at grade level", most of them are not that way due to any innate developmental reason of their own. They are that way because they haven't been provided with ample opportunity to learn.

The biggest problem we have right now - overwhelmingly so - with allowing students to learn at their own speed isn't from pushing them forward but from holding them back.

So, Sahila, not a lot of people are sharing your concern about the pressure or stigma placed on students who take longer to learn something or are late bloomers. Most of the concern is for students who are able to learn at grade level but have not been adequately prepared for grade level instruction. The concern is for students who arrive at school woefully unprepared and behind and never catch up - not due to any native reason within the student but due to a tragic lack of opportunity.
Sahila said…
I think we have a fundamental 'speaking at cross purposes' going on here, Charlie...

You still speak about children who are not following the 'norm' in learning (slow learners, 'late bloomers')as though there is something wrong with them, as though its an aberration...

I'm saying the 'norm' is an artificial construct and we would solve our problems (those to do with the organic process of learning - fast, medium and slow if we must use those division) if we gave up the ridiculous idea that children can be so classified and met each child at his or her own unique level...

And the other issues affecting failure to progress in learning are societal ones - family, poverty, language, culture, economic - and we all have to turn our attention to that and make change there....

I get that the system isnt likely to change by itself, but we are the system and that's where we have a responsibility to challenge it and change it....

Utopian, idealistic I know - but we have to start somewhere.... and dreams were never realised starting with compromise....
Joseph Miller said…
Interesting remarks on quality. Would you say that performance management means meeting some sort of "value-added"? MAP is an interesting example because it is an adaptive assessment and allows you to see where a student is on a continuous scale, not a criterion or grade-level scale. The advantage of the continuous scale is you can see how far a student is above or below (a measurement of magnitude). Grade-level assessments mostly just tell us that a student is below, above, or at grade level. What's more, by calculating a simple z-score using RIT Point Norms and Fall to Spring growth you can calculate how much growth students have made. Said another way, we can start to see which schools are adding value.

That said, schools also need to report whether they are successfully implementing reforms (your suggestion). If they plan to double dip students in math they need to create performance measures and report regularly (say monthly). An example might be: "Proportion of students two or more standard deviations below grade level that are receiving two math blocks per day." Follow that up with "Daily attendance rate among students receiving two blocks of math" and you have the beginnings of a more comprehensive performance management system.
Bird said…
Charlie, you have a lot of faith in the MAP test.

My experience, so far, is very limited, but I have to say, I'm not so impressed with its accuracy that I'd want my the basic nature of my kid's education centered around it.

For example, my kid's scores declined from fall to winter, but went way up in spring (beyond the fall scores). Do I think a lot could be said about the quality of instruction in the first half of the year compared to the second?

No. The test makers and the district kindly included the number of minutes my kid spent on the test for each session, and it was pretty clear that the scores were very closely tied to how long my kid spent working on the test. This seems a far more likely reason for going backwards -- a lack of effort, rather than a substantial loss of skills.

Under your scenario, someone in some distant office who wouldn't know the day to day reality of my kid would be putting pressure on my kid's teacher to change things up to show improvement.

These assessments are probably useful in large aggregates where each kid's individual quirks are washed out, but bringing it to bear on my individual kid's instruction is somewhat questionable, at least when it is not considered as just a part or a larger set of information that a teacher should have about a student.
seattle said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
seattle said…
No kids don't learn at exactly the same pace, but I do believe that there should be some clear expectations set.

We expect a child to walk between the ages of 9 mos to 2 years. Wouldn't we feel something was wrong if our 5 year old wasn't walking? Or our 7 year old wasn't talking? Or our 15 year old wasn't potty trained? Or our 13 year old couldn't read?

Don't the EALR's (essential academic learning requirement)and GLE's (grade level expectations) set the basic expectations? A child is generally ready to learn to read between kindergarten and second grade, so the EALR's require that reading is taught during these grades. If a child doesn't learn to read shouldn't we find out why? Offer them extra help if they need it? Or check to see if there is another reason like dyslexia, etc? Sahila if a child weren't reading by 2nd grade would you just assume they he/she was not developmentally ready to read? Would you keep them in a much younger group of kids who still weren't reading? And if so, at what age would you be concerned, if at all? What if the child still weren't reading at age 10, 11, 12? Would you still assume that they are just not developmentally ready?

Sure there should be some flexibility, multi age classrooms, and authentic differentiation to allow for individual development, growth, progress, and unique learning styles, but expectations (in the form of grade levels, EALR's, GLE's) seem appropriate to me.
Charlie Mas said…
Bird, the MAP should be used properly, as a generator of questions, not as a source of answers.

So if I child's performance on the MAP shows the child to be working below grade level and the teacher does not believe that the assessment is accurate, when the District asks: "What are you doing for the 18 students working below grade level?", the answer can be, "Five of those students are actually grade level performers and we believe that their assessment was inaccurate."

I think the MAP is a great place to go for questions, but I would not use it as a source for answers.
Charlie Mas said…
Sahila writes: "You still speak about children who are not following the 'norm' in learning (slow learners, 'late bloomers')as though there is something wrong with them, as though its an aberration..."

I don't think that characterization is fair or accurate. I don't think that there is anything wrong with students who don't meet developmental norms, and I don't think that I have ever written anything of the kind.

Everyone has different talents, different strengths, different gifts. There are norms, but they are a band - and a wide one - not a line. Even then, everyone falls outside the normal range in something. It's no big deal - unless it represents a health risk. There are some developmental milestones that do indicate a problem if they are not met - or at least should prompt the question of whether or not a problem exists.

Again, the primary reason that students are not working at grade level - for the overwhelming majority of them - is the lack of opportunity, not an atypical developmental pattern. Let's not quibble about the few outlier cases when we have an huge emergency with the vast majority of cases.
Anonymous said…
First of all, I am relieved that my daughter is not subjected to the MAP test. It causes a lot of anxiety in students, as I have seen in my own students, and it is disruptive to everyone's schedule in a school. Also, the students are exhausted after the tests. Giving the MAP tests four times a year is unnecessary and unthinkable if you add that to the new WASL and of course, the other tests that the students take in their classes.

That said, I know my daughter and I know what she is capable of. No one has to tell me through a computerized test where she is. Her teachers and her grades reflect where she is.

My daughter is a senior in high school and we made it through just fine without MAP tests. I do not see the need for them unless parents somehow need to feel absolved and reassured.

For that, though, the student pays a high price.
Charlie Mas said…
Dora, whether the assessment is the MAP or some other, teachers do need formative assessments. I'm glad that your daughter's progress is so well known and documented by all interested parties, but that is not the case for a lot of students. Either way, let's not get distracted by the details. The idea isn't about the MAP.

The main idea is how the District defines a Quality School and how they measure for school quality. I'm saying that the definition and the measure should be focused around providing students with the sort of instruction they need.

Is that how school quality should be defined and measured or do you prefer some other definition and assessment of school quality?
seattle said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
seattle said…
As involved as you are in education Dora, my guess is that your child is at a relatively good school. With strong leadership. Surrounded by plenty of high achieving kids, taught by good teachers. Not all kids are so lucky. Certainly all kids do not have a parent that knows exactly where their child is academically and is ready and willing to intervene when and if necessary.

My kids are in two great schools too. Both are doing very well and advanced academically. I don't need the MAP or the WASL to tell me that. But I try to always remember the big picture.

Not all kids have what my kids have. In fact not many kids have what my kids have.

We need some way to measure school quality for those kids and those families. So they at least have a chance of having what our kids have.

If not the MAP, or WASL, what then? If not GLE's and EALR's what then?
Chris S. said…
So I am reading this book Ken Berry recommended "Catching Up or Leading the Way" by Yong Zhao, 2009. It's one of those books where the preface is enough to make you

The cliff notes: Yong Zhao has experience both with Chinese and American education, China having gone the testing-intensive route centuries ago and recently beginning to address the drawbacks...Anyway, there is a slogan in China about "quality education" and it is pretty much defined as the opposite of "test-driven" education.
Charlie Mas said…
I want to be really clear.

This question is desperately important.

Going forward, the entire nature of the relationship between the District and each of the schools will be totally dependent on the school's "scorecard" and performance measurements. That will determine whether the school has autonomy or is closely directed by the central staff. That will determine a lot of funding decisions. That will even determine staffing decisions. It will be a very big deal.

Despite the critical nature of this decision, the District has yet to make public how it will measure school quality. They claim that they are doing community engagement on this issue, but I haven't seen much evidence of that.

The District does not do any community engagement by their own initiative. If any engagement is going to happen it will have to start with the community.

It is incumbent on US to contact THEM with our input on how school quality is to be measured. I'm offering this as a criteria, a metric, an assessment, and a benchmark.

We need to first agree on the criteria and the metric before making any arguments about the assessment.

Do we agree that addressing the academic needs of individual students is the appropriate criteria for identifying school quality? At least as the primary criteria? Is there another measure that people prefer?

Then, if we accept that, can we agree that the metric should be how the school addresses the academic needs of five groups of students - those working below, at, and beyond grade level, those with IEPs, and English Language Learners - is the right set of metrics? Are there other, better ways to determine if the criteria is being met? Are there other groups of students who should be considered as part of the metric? Should we include FRL students or students from specific groups that have historically under-performed? Should we consider the achievement gap?

We have heard from Sahila that she disagrees with the idea of grade level expectations and therefore regards that metric as invalid.

Then, as a third step and priority, and only after reaching agreement (or at least consensus) on the first two questions, can we begin to identify an assessment. I suggested the MAP because it was data that was already being collected. Should there be something else?

For a benchmark, I presumed a growth measure of at least one academic year for students working at or beyond grade level and, for students working below grade level, a benchmark of more than a year of advancement.

That's what I'm proposing and why.
SPS mom said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
dan dempsey said…
Quality school management in WA DC

Reported in the NY Times
Jan said…
At heart, I agree with Sahila that grade level expectations are sufficiently invalid for many children that they ought not be used (at least as we use them now), but I concede to your point. Given where we are politically, there will probably be a grade level component in any system. Here are my comments to your proposals:
1. I think that at least some portion of the achievement gap needs to be included, because it seems so pervasive and so important to the kids on the losing side of the gap.
2. I don't think that the District should be able to "intervene" and/or "take over" a school unless it has established by credible evidence that the changes are significantly more likely to result in fixing the problem than the status quo -- for the CHILDREN involved -- not the school. For example: I don't think that administration should be able to "take over" a Cleveland and turn it into a project-based STEM school without making a credible case either that the new program/curriculum will improve scores/performance for the kids there or -- if moving large numbers of them is involved -- without identifying how and why the displaced students will do better wherever they are landing -- and if the jobs or pay of teachers is to hinge in any material way on how well they do with the students they have in their schools, then the job security and/or pay of administrators should be similarly tied to the performance/success of the kids of programs where they have intervened. (I think that the STEM team should be required to "track" the progress of every single F/Soph/Jr. student from Cleveland -- wherever they end up -- and if they don't do "materially better" as a cohort than they would have done at Cleveland under the old system -- there should be consequences, in terms of both pay and continued employment -- and I think that a portion of salary should be withheld from specific members of District management until success/failure can be managed. Similarly, before central admin can abolish things like the semester-long LA choices at Roosevelt -- they need to establish how/why it is that a canned "12th Grade English" curriculum will improve whatever measurable they are using SAT scores/admission into colleges/etc.) for the kids in that program.
Jan said…
3. Central admin ought not be able to deprive a school of autonomy unless the school had it in the first place, and still failed. In other words, there ought to be a presumption that schools can choose (with whatever district help they want among the various coaches, curriculum gurus, etc.) among a range of curricular materials and teaching styles to meet the needs of their students. If they select the methods/materials they think most likely to succeed, and STILL fail -- and if the District has an option that it has credibly established will be more successful for the same group of kids -- then the District has earned the right to demand a change of something (teaching methods, materials, staff, whatever), and the kids deserve a shot at something that might be more successful.
3. If a school is successful with MOST of its students, there should be a presumption that it will lose autonomy only with respect to the programs, classes, etc. that are NOT successful. I don't know how to measure this exactly, but I think it is up to the District to come up with ways of helping a school to bring one or two lagging parts of a program up to an acceptable level, without "taking over" an entire school that otherwise may work very well.
4. Finally, alternative schools need to be able to come up with alternative measures that work for alternative kids -- and that are NOT necessarily tied to grade level expectations, or to standardized tests. No one HAS to put a child there, if they think the staff is running amok with curriculum or teaching style; but there need to be places for very different minds to flourish. It is unacceptable, abusive really, to KNOW that there are children who learn best (or maybe learn ONLY) in highly alternative ways/systems, or whose progress will not be accurately captured by any standardized testing method, and yet to demand of those children (children!) that they be forced to try to learn in ways that don't work, ot to have their success in learning measured in ways that the adults KNOW don't accurately measure what they have learned. And -- we owe those children a public education. Their families should not be forced to go private to prevent the abuse of their children at the hands of an education system that knows they don't fit, but refuses to accommodate them.
In the end -- I think about HALF of the schools ought to be alternative -- there ought to be public Montessori schools (for everyone who wants one), public Waldorf-type schools, public schools that teach with "emergent curriculum," more "expeditionary learning" (or whatever it is) schools, schools that use more "direct instruction" for language disabled and some ELL kids, etc.

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