State School Board Retreat 2013

The Iowa State Board of Education met for its annual retreat last week.  The agenda is available here but be forewarned that clicking on the tabs will download pdf files (rather than opening them in a new browser window).

Reducing the Achievement Gap update: Tab A is Michelle Hosp’s PowerPoint presentation.  This is essentially an overview of how the State Board plans to approach improving reading instruction in Iowa:

  1. C4K
  2. Universal reading screening assessments for all students and progress monitoring assessments for students identified for additional instruction or intervention:  Formative Assessment System for Teachers earlyReading, CBMReading, and aReading; and Individual Growth and Development Indicators.
  3. RtI (Response to Intervention) data system to collect assessment data and to provide access to the data at the teacher, building, district, AEA, or state level.  Check out the TIES (Technology and Information Educational Services) Iowa promotional video.
  4. If less than eighty percent of students are proficient on the universal screening assessment, examine reading instruction practices.
  5. Identify a standard treatment protocol for use with students identified as at-risk during the universal screening process.

Assessment Redesign: Tab B is Dave Tilly’s twenty-eight page handout which includes Iowa’s current teacher evaluation requirements, an overview of the Federal Flexibility Waiver process, a letter from the USDE about the status of Iowa’s flexibility waiver, and notes on teacher evaluation and student achievement data.

The student achievement data section may be particularly interesting for those following the VAM debate in Iowa.  In a “slide” labeled “Value Added Adds Quantitative Data to Teacher Evaluations” we learn that “‘[v]alue added’ is a statistical method of estimating the effect of a teacher’s instruction on his or her students’ test scores.”  On the same page we also learn that Iowa is one of many states “developing systems of aligning teacher related student achievement data (including value added measures) with teacher educ[ation] programs.”

The discussion questions (see pages 2 and 3) look interesting; I hope the minutes are detailed.

Priority Setting: Tab C is the draft of policy development priorities (which I assume is meant to be a draft for 2013-14 and not 2012-2013?):

Competency-Based Education.

Online Learning and Other Technological Advances.  One of the following bullet points is “[s]upport a requirement that all students take at least one class online”.  What is the purpose of this?  To acclimate students to online learning options for learning after high school or as a move towards a different model of schooling?

Improving Teacher and Leadership Preparation

One of the following bullet points is to study accountability (especially use of student achievement data).

Reducing Achievement Gaps.  Based on Michelle Hosp’s presentation, this seems to be largely about improving reading instruction.

The goal ought to be effective classroom instruction that minimizes reading failure and the need for intervention, in other words, getting reading instruction right for as many children as possible the first time (in the classroom) so that as few children as possible require intervention.  This is a difficult goal to achieve when there seems to be so much resistance to discussing whole language, balanced literacy, phonics, or the five elements of science based reading instruction (see generally posts in the reading category).  Much safer to talk about data and assessments and standard treatment protocols.

While avoiding the discussion might keep the peace, it also likely deprives some number of Iowa students of the benefits of effective reading instruction.  From Teaching Reading Is Rocket Science by Lousia Moats (1999), pages 9-10:

The tragedy here is that most reading failure is unnecessary.  We now know that classroom teaching itself, when it includes a range of research-based components and practices, can prevent and ameliorate reading difficulty.  Although home factors do influence how well and how soon students read, informed classroom instruction that targets specific language and reading skills beginning in kindergarten enhances success for all but a few students with moderate or severe learning disabilities.  Scientists now estimate that 95 percent of all children can be taught to read at a level constrained only by their reasoning and listening comprehension abilities.  It is clear that students in high-risk populations need not fail at the rate they do.  When placed into schools with effective principals and well-prepared and well- supported teachers, African-American, Hispanic, or students who are economically disadvantaged can learn to read as well as their more advantaged peers.  Further, students who lack the prerequisite awareness of sounds, symbols, and word meanings can overcome their initial disadvantage if teachers incorporate critical skills into lessons directly, systematically, and actively.  Thus, while parents, tutors, and the community can contribute to reading success, classroom instruction must be viewed as the critical factor in preventing reading problems and must be the primary focus for change. Ensuring effective classroom instructional practice is well within the purview of educational policymakers. (Emphasis added.)

Evaluating teachers using student test scores and providing mentors and teacher collaboration time might gets us to widespread implementation of science based reading instruction in the classroom, but it is far from certain, especially without clear understanding, guidance, and support from the DE, the State Board, and the new Iowa Reading Research Center.

If we continue to avoid this conversation, there are more potential reading pitfalls ahead as we implement Common Core English Language Arts Standards (which were incorporated into the Iowa Core).  From Louisa Moats again, this time from her article Reconciling the Common Core State Standards with Reading Research (HT: Alecia RahnBlakeslee):

The lofty goals of the CCSS and the realities of student learning as we understand them from research may not easily be reconciled. Students who struggle with reading, including those with dyslexia, comprise at least 30% of the population (Fletcher, Lyon, Fuchs, & Barnes, 2007). About 34% of the population as a whole is “below basic” on the National Assessment of Academic Progress in fourth grade. Often, up to 70–80% of students in high poverty areas enter school at risk for reading failure. Mixed in as “poor readers” are all those who simply have not been taught how to read or who do not speak English. These facts imply that raising standards and expectations, without sufficient attention to the known causes and remedies for reading and academic failure, and without a substantial influx of new resources to educate and support teachers, is not likely to benefit students with mild, moderate, or severe learning difficulties. Rather, the stage is set for those students to suffer adverse consequences, such as forced grade repetitions, denial of promotion or diplomas, and irrelevant requirements that do not, in fact, enable students to be more ready for college or career. (Emphasis added.)

Moats goes on to identify specific shortcomings with the standards:

With the CCSS’s emphasis on informational text, complex text, reading aloud, and inquiry-based learning, more of the nation’s attention is currently focused on higher-level comprehension, leaving almost no room for discussion of beginning reading and the needs of students with reading difficulties. The teacher-directed, systematic, sequential, explicit approaches that work best (Archer & Hughes, 2011; Clark, Kirschner, & Sweller, 2012; Rosenshine, 2012) are receiving much less discussion than they deserve. The risk, of course, is that even larger numbers of students will fail to become independent readers and writers.

Currently, the standards document obfuscates important relationships among word recognition, spelling, fluency, and comprehension (e.g., Mehta, Foorman, Branum-Martin, & Taylor, 2005) that provide the rationale for a multi-component approach. For example, from the standards document, a reader cannot learn that speech sound blending supports word recognition, that spelling supports vocabulary, that understanding of morphology speeds word recognition, or that oral language capacities are the underpinning for written language. One would not realize that handwriting, spelling, and sentence composition support higher level composition (Berninger & Wolf, 2009). Thus, it is vital that consumers of the standards document recognize its limitations as an instructional guide and look elsewhere for trustworthy, research-based guidance on curriculum and professional development.  (Emphasis added.)

The RtI data system and the assessments might be a step in the right direction, but I’d sure like to hear something more from the State Board, the DE, and the IRRC that indicates that they really understand early reading instruction issues and see improving classroom instruction as a top priority.