Saturday, September 13, 2014

Seattle Schools Updates

Tweet from the district about priorities for 2014-2015:

During a retreat today, the School Board picked its top governance priorities for the 2014-15 school year: bell times analysis, multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS), special education and stewardship of resources/internal controls.

First, shouldn't these "priorities" have been set at the end of the school year (so that everyone comes to the first day of school with those in mind)?

Second, someone would have to define the last priority, "stewardship of resources/internal controls."  If it means getting on the good foot for operations and watching over the dollars (like not spending them on pre-K junkets), great news.  

In other news:

On district-given assessments:

The computer-based tests are designed to help teachers find out what students already know and what they need to learn early in the school year. These types of assessments are known as interim benchmarks because they "benchmark" student understanding periodically, which helps teachers adjust their teaching to their students' needs.

This year, Seattle Public Schools contracted with a vendor to supply benchmarks – called mClass Beacon – that match the state's Common Core college and career readiness standards. In the 53 participating schools, the MAP achievement tests will go away for students in Grades 3-9 in order to alleviate concerns about "overtesting."

Depending on feedback and funding, Seattle Public Schools could begin districtwide implementation of the mClass Beacon system after this year. 

One name to explain mClass Beacon - Amplify.  Not good.

State testing:

This is also the year that the state will require all districts to administer Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) assessments. The Smarter Balanced assessments this spring replace the state's Measurements of Student Progress (MSPs) for reading, writing and math and eventually the High School Proficiency Exam (HSPE).

Like the Smarter Balanced assessments, the mClass Beacon benchmarks focus on Common Core standards and use technology to enhance testing. That means nearly all students taking the benchmarks will practice using a computer to answer questions – just like they'll have to do on the Smarter Balanced tests in the spring. Computer-based tests like these are better at assessing the complex skills and deeper knowledge required for students to succeed in college and careers. They aren't the prototypical "bubble sheets" associated with standardized testing, though three or four of the 53 schools will use a pen-and-paper version this year due to technology issues.

Three brief benchmarks – in September, November and February – will be offered for reading and writing in Grades 3-9, math in Grades 3-8 and Algebra I. The assessments, which take about an hour, will include detailed score reports that should be easy for both teachers and parents to interpret. 

This is somewhat vague as teachers can also give additional "mini-checks" using the mClass Beacon testing.  I don't know what will replace MAP for Advanced Learning placement next year.

Personally, I think it would be nice if the district made a chart of ALL the tests that will be given and when they will be given.


Unknown said...

This is when I wish I knew whether the district regularly used oxford commas or not. Does the district have three priorities as suggested by the staff or do they have four. If it is three, then the phrase "special education and stewardship of resources/internal controls" has a different meaning than "special education, and stewardship of resources/internal controls."

Anonymous said...

It's hard to believe that the staff could present to the board a list of possible priorities and then say "pick three for us to work on."

All of the items listed are important, relevant projects for the staff to work on.

Why can't the board push back and say, we expect a report or all of those, by the end of the school year?

What happens to the priorities not picked? Nothing gets done? This is no way to run a railroad...


Lynn said...

2014-15 Assessment Calendar

Anonymous said...

Mary, the implication is clear. Special Ed is sucking the resources out of everything, and it needs to be internally controlled. That is the third priority.


Anonymous said...

So, capacity management is not a priority. Seriously?

- North-end Mom

Charlie Mas said...

Who cares what the board chooses as their priorities for the year? Certainly not the staff. The board priorities don't matter one bit. The staff will work on whatever projects they choose and they will ignore whatever projects they choose and the board doesn't have any role or say in decided which is which.

Program placement (renamed Equitable Access Framework) was named as a board priority for three years in a row and the staff never did a lick of work on it once. What did the Board do about it? Nothing.

The board priorities are meaningless because the board lacks the willingness to demand they have meaning.

Anonymous said...

Huge fail by board and staff. Capacity management isn't a priority? Let's mark this moment. It will become important in choosing what new board members to support during election season. How can any quality programming happen with no space for high schoolers let alone preschoolers.

Capacity Wonk

mirmac1 said...

Mary in the discussion at the retreat the two were listed and discussed separately.

My opinion is that board and staff HAVE to exercise stewardship of resources in ALL they do. It's a how not a what.

North end Mom Herndon said the work on capacity is basically on BEX IV now so will happen anyway.

I stepped out for some minutes. I don't think preschool was mentioned once.

Anonymous said...

"North end Mom Herndon said the work on capacity is basically on BEX IV now so will happen anyway."

And are they still basing all their capacity management on the 2012-13 projections?

Also, BEXIV didn't address high school capacity until 2018 or 2019, right?

It should be fun to see what happens when the Oct 1 numbers come in.

- North-end Mom

Anonymous said...

Mirmac said the meeting started with issues of 'trust' being aired everywhere. Did this lead anywhere or was it just so much griping as usual?


Po3 said...

Which excuse will be used as the reason for not completing bell time analysis:

a)we had to deal with capacity
b)we had to deal with transportation
c)we had to deal with common core
d)all of the above

Anonymous said...

So, closing the achievement gap, or, using the politically correct language, closing the opportunity gap, is NOT a priority? Didn't even rate a mention? Nice.

Maybe that is because it is solved, and the differential graduation rates between children from poor vs. children from income-stable homes has magically melted away; along with that pesky issue of disproportionate disciplin. Awesome!!

SpEd is in a shambles (revolving door 'leadership', IEPs not followed, 'gatekeeping' of resources that are needed to achieve a Free and Appropriate Public Education). It should be THE priority.

MTSS -- that's just hocus-pocus spinning-wheel shiny-lure nonsense that poor teachers will have to suffer through while that fad eventually crests and then wanes. And our kids will have nothing to show for it (neither will our teachers) in the next 24 months. But, Tolley and Heath minions in the glass palace will sit and spin wheels busily for months to do as their bosses bid them. Then eventually Tolley will go away, and MTSS will quietly be forgotten, left to join all the other idiotic Edu Vapourware.

Capacity management? Since when is that in the checked-off column? It's the DISTRICT that keeps going around saying that "BEX IV won't solve everything". They know they have problems that 'construction solutions' or 'capital solutions' (I.e. build a wing or add a portable or push a shuttered building back into service) canNOT solve, which leaves them with the 'non-construction solutions' (redraw boundaries - just did that, can't do it again; kick out SpEd/ELL -- oops, can't do that anymore; kick out preschool --PYSCHE! We are now going to be adding preschool! Awesome!!), which they are all out of except for school in shifts.

But, for the Board Retreat, not ONE single Director could cut through the morasse of staff crap and tell them they must solve the negative capacity crisis? I kinda hoped Carr at least would be lucid. Or Peters. Apparently neither Director had the vision, understanding or chutzpah to tell staff/Wright/McEvoy/Tolley enough is enough. Sigh. Perhaps they were just trying to be polite. But the time for polite is over. Waay over.

Charles Wright's contribution has been WORTHLESS - yet he's paid, what, $120k or more? Flip Herndon failure to jump up and down to daylight the crisis means he gets 100% blame for it because of his absolute and total failure to champion the extent and urgency of the crisis.

When he goes, can Joe Wolf take over?

Oh wait, I think I get it. Closing the achievement gap is not a priority along with solving the capacity crisis is not a priority because as long as 'those' kids keep dropping out, our high schools don't 'tip over'. So, our high school problem is and will continue to be solved on the bodies and minds of the most poverished children.

I am not a conspiracy theorist, and I really can't believe Peaslee and Tolley and Herndon are doing this by design, but the thing is, it does kinda work itself out. Barf. Really, think about it. As long as the district is failing kids, families, and for that matter, teachers too, kids will throw in the towel and quit, leaving more room at the inn for everyone else. Guess that also helps make our District's test scores improve as well.

My priorities?

1. SpEd
2. Capacity Management
3. Closing the achievement gap
4. Bell times.

But hey, that's just me.


Anonymous said...

Looks like the renaming of APP and a new web page is it for SPS attention this year. How unsurprising.

How will we do identification now that MAP is gone? Don't get me wrong, MAP was a bad identification tool anyhow. How will we bring more nonwhite affluent students outside of NE Seattle into the program? Will there be a curriculum? Will there be accommodations for 2x exceptional kids? Will any K5, 68, or high school location live up to its advanced learning promise?

Not according to this meeting.

APP family

Anonymous said...

Also, I agree with a comment from a different thread. We cannot have belltime analysis worth a darn unless capacity management, starting with a plan to deal with high schools, happens first. If we end up with split shifts there is no point in trying to push HS start times later. From everything I see, split shifts are coming soon.

Add in preschools on campuses and special education arrival times and I have no idea what the board is thinking on bell time analysis. Capacity and programming needs for next 5 years need solidification to come up with a straight face belltime plan.

APP family

Anonymous said...

I went to a presentation on this new assessment and it actually looks like it could be useful to a classroom teacher both for an individual student and for a class. There are a few things I don't know yet, but one can see much more clearly each skill set a student gets and does not get, and how many students in the class got and did not get each skill set. It looks very readable in terms of data. It also appears to assess not only if the student got the correct answer but why or why not (what the reasoning was) which is more helpful than simply if they got the correct answer. It was a brief presentation so I will want to see it in action.

Anonymous said...

Huh. I don't understand why hiring a permanent superintendent wouldn't be at the top of the list. It's the board's one employee and central staff's direct supervisor.

Also, agree with Enough Already. Not having the Opportunity Gap front and center in priorities is a misfire in messaging and reality.


Anonymous said...

My mistake - it was #SPSWTF, no Enough Already to whom I referred above.

Prosleep Mom said...

I'm re-posting from the Friday thread, as the discussion seems to have moved here.

There were a number of strange things about the Board retreat. One was the discussion about what setting these priorities would mean anyway. Several of them were stuff that has to be done in any case (budget, capacity,) so people wondered why those should be prioritized. It was explained that the priorities would be used to accelerate work in one area over another when things had to get done. Brent (new HR head) said he would interpret this as focusing hard on SPED hiring, since it's a priority, vs something else (replacing Tracy??) But it didn't seem that either Board or Staff was crystal clear on the purpose of this exercise.

I was also really shocked that hardly anyone voted to prioritize capacity- Sue Peters did, and Marty gave a 1/2 vote; they were the only ones. I asked a Board member about this afterward, and she implied the district had a plan and it wasn't really an issue. I'm guessing I'm not the only one who would like to hear this plan! They spoke of capacity as being in implementation mode for BEX IV, and gearing up for the BTA levy-but that was it.

Sue Peters also had good questions MTSS- how much of this program is assessments and how much is supports. Tolley fielded this question and basically did not answer it; he talked about setting baselines and making people aware of the kids who have problems. (Really?? couldn't they just ask the teachers and the principals? They are probably quite aware of who is failing and who is getting suspended...) Anyway, they now seem to have the baseline data so hopefully can start implementing support. (And does anyone know of other districts who have used MTSS and how successful it was? The Board was really behind it, but I've missed learning about the studies or experience that support it.) They did seem to think that this was the program that would address the achievement gap.

Finally, I think this priorities issue could be vastly improved by creating concrete goals for the priority areas, with what improvement is expected, by when, and who is responsible. The only concrete results I've seen from these retreats in the past year is the Bell times framework, which at least outlines a plan. (So far,it's about two months behind schedule, but we did lose a super, and have a couple other major crises to deal with; it is still possible to get on track and at least we have a track.)

The tone was much improved from the last one; people seemed willing to work together, and the facilitation was much better as well. I wasn't present for the morning session and so can't speak to that.

An aside- I also learned that the Strategic Plan now has metrics- you can see them here: http://www.seattleschools.org/modules/groups/homepagefiles/cms/1583136/File/Departmental%20Content/strategicplan/District%20Scorecard%20Metrics_08012014.pdf?sessionid=7150eb3fc6e1eb76eefeb71763c9d33f

Prosleep Mom said...

Among the handouts for the morning session were a list of the RCW statutes defining powers of the board. This one surprised me:

RCW 28A.330.100 Additional Powers of the board:
9) To provide free textbooks and supplies for all children attending school.

Free supplies?? Seems like this has gone by the wayside, given the number of checks I've been writing this week, not to mention all the calculator purchases.

Lynn said...

APP Family,

The Highly Capable Annual Plan includes a list of achievement assessments to be used for HC identification on page 11.

You might also notice that while students in grades 9-11 will have an identification opportunity in the spring, there will not be a cognitive component to the identification process. Those identified students won't receive any services, so it doesn't really matter who is identified. It makes me wonder why 98th percentile cognitive scores are required for the IBX program. Wouldn't 95th percentile math and reading scores be sufficient for that too?

uxolo said...

This is a good
explanation of MTSS

If we ever had an RTI or MTSS implementation, it would address most of the teaching and learning issues we encounter. See the Parent Resources link, too.

Anonymous said...

Oh silly people, kids don't actually need school buildings to be taught in. MTSS will save the day. Stuff 45 kids in a classroom with two teachers given some PD on MTSS and CCSS and they'll be GREAT! Watch those test scores skyrocket!

Kids don't all need chairs to sit in, either, or lockers. Kids are small and can share the seats and desks. One kid can stand while the other sits, right? Or they can just hang out in the hallway and take shifts. It will be great for their socialization.

Short a full high school building in the North end? PSHAW. 1500 kids can go to school from 6 AM- 12 AM and the other 1500 can go from 12:15-6:15. You just schedule all the kids that do after school sports on the early shift, and the second shift kids still get home in time to watch Dancing with the stars. Done and done.

Really, what is wrong with having 20 portables instead of an actual building? Bathrooms? unnecessary. They can hold it until they get home. lunchroom? auditorium? Those things are a waste of space.

OMG, I simply can't handle it. What are these people smoking?!?!?!?!


mirmac1 said...

No director told them to cut the crap re: capacity? What do you think they can do? Repurpose BEX IV to other things? Print money?

MTSS is viewed as the means to work on the achievement/opportunity gap. It includes FEL programs and and socio-emotional supports

mirmac1 said...

And academic supports.

Anonymous said...

Re: mClass Beacon (Amplify) CCSS aligned assessments to be used by SPS this year (and in the future?)

The few ELA sample questions indicate that content knowledge is important. You need to actually know something about the foundational documents of the US. Also, for the Shakespeare question, does anyone consider the example an extended metaphor, in which all lines of text are part of the metaphor, as opposed to just the first line?


It will be interesting to hear what students and teachers have to say about the newest assessments. If your school has announced they won't be using MAP, should you assume they are one of the schools using the Amplify assessments?

I am confused by the statement that the "district isn't adding testing time to the school year." Presumably the tests take time (3x per year), in addition to the end of year assessments, so this means it is considered part of instructional time??


mirmac1 said...

Remember parents to send a written "opt-out" of mCLASS Beacon testing. I would send it to the P/AP, librarian or IT person, counselor and teachers.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I am quite surprised to hear that Herndon believes that BEX IV is covering the capacity issue bases. He knows that can't possibly be true.

Anonymous said...

As one that has opted out of MAP in the past, I hesitate to opt out of the Amplify testing until I know more about it. Will the results be used to group students for instruction? Will they take up a lot of class time? Will parents see the results? With MAP, the number was of limited value to me. I didn't know what particular skills were missing or mastered as I didn't know what content was tested. At least with the MSP I knew they were testing grade level standards - I could go to the OSPI website and read the GLEs. Amplify tests are supposed to give teachers more specific feedback than MAP.


Anonymous said...

Have any students taken an Amplify test yet? A JAMS parent said the questions are poorly written and confusing.


Anonymous said...


Amplify is a sleazy Rupert Murdoch EdReform moneymaking corporation. Joel Klein, the ex-NYC super, is part of this corporation too. Klein did more to monetize and privatize NYC public schools under Bloomberg than any previous super. And the gains students made under his regime are slight and doubtful.

And now we have Amplify coming to SPS on Sue Peters' Board watch when she was one of the biggest detractors of the EdReform movement before she ran for office? Peaslee and McLaren were also adamantly anti EdReform. How is this possible?


mirmac1 said...

veteran, staff didn't ask the board's opinion. They presented at C&I that, although this procurement is just under $250K ($247K and change) they wanted to be "transparent".

Directors don't have 25 hours a day to research how SPS ended up selecting this particular test.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Veteran, I have a lot of questions on that point.

I need to talk to some people but my vibe is that the Board is hamstrung by two things (neither of which they should necessarily guide how they do their work).

One, this perception of "dysfunction" and "micromanaging."

Two, wanting to work w/staff to the point that staff is giving them ultimatums on priorities.

I think that staff uses the Strategic Plan (which the Board never should have approved) as a smokescreen for a lot of things.

Anonymous said...

I think the biggest crock is the $250 contract limit.

The board should say: "To counter any public perception of gamesmanship caused by the number of high profile contracts falling slightly below $250K limit, because that perception would undermine public confidence in the integrity of our procurement process, we reserve the right to approve all contracts on the following items, regardless of contract price: "

Testing should be one of those. Data management or anythign to do with student data should be another. And curriculum.

Signed: Public faith

Melissa Westbrook said...

Public Faith, I believe that staff is trying to game that number and that's why we see projects broken up into pieces as to avoid having to come to the Board. It is no way to run the district and I hope Superintendent Nyland gets that.

Charlie Mas said...

Don't worry, he gets it. That's why he's doing it that way.

mirmac1 said...

The SAO regularly finds fault with agencies who exercise that approach - or modify contract with work that is completely out of scope. For example, it was improper for the architects who did the Fed Bldg study to just have that work handed to them because they had an existing contract doing something completely different.

On the list of things to report to the SAO.