An LYS Superintendent shares the following:

A superintendent and a teacher asked me essentially the same set of questions yesterday – two different districts, two different roles, but the same dilemma. Both districts have just completed a testing cycle of “curriculum based assessments” with seemingly poor results. The following are my thoughts.

1. Great job doing common assessments!  I will add that waiting 6 to 9 weeks is too long. You are now finding out 9 weeks into the school year that your instructional practices are maybe, and I add MAYBE, not as effective as you thought they were.  You could have known that with a short assessment 6 weeks ago, after only 3 weeks of instruction had passed.  Teachers, if your district persists in doing 6 weeks and 9 weeks assessments, it falls to you to make 3 weeks assessments, in the same format as the district’s common assessments.  These can and should be less than 10 questions long, and should not take an entire class period.  You can and should spiral questions from identified holes onto these assessments. In other words, follow the Cain model.

2. Both districts are implementing C-Scope for the first time this year.  Now it must be made clear to everyone that this is NOT the first year both of these districts made C-Scope available to the staff, it is merely the first year both districts have become concerned enough to mandate and monitor the implementation of the curriculum. Leaders, you may want to sit down, because this may sting.  What you have done as leaders, by not making an aligned curriculum mandatory, is an egregious leadership failure. You KNEW you needed a curriculum, which is why you bought it, yet you failed to lead the implementation of the curriculum.  Your responsibility to implement best practices, including curriculum implementation, does not end simply because you sent teachers to C-Scope training. Enough said, now don’t beat yourself up over it, let’s fix it.  Also, don’t beat the teachers up either, as this situation is mostly a result of your leadership failure, not teaching failure.

3. Early testing results in both districts were, to be generous, poor. Neither of these testing results should be a surprise.  That is, I would bet a copy of the Fundamental 5 (Cain & Laird) that neither district had TEACHERS conduct a focused analysis of their student’s deficiencies AND develope a viable plan to fill in holes.  Every teacher in my district was required to identify the most failed objectives from last year.  Once that was conducted, we remembered our Schmoker: we concentrate on the deepest hole and begin filling it weekly.  Schmoker tells us that if we try to fill all learning holes, we fill nothing. However, learning is a complex interconnected web. If we begin by filling in the deepest hole, we will address some learning gaps and misconceptions that are likely to partially or completely fill in other holes.  Once the deepest hole is filled, and that may take a while, start on the next one.  The catch here is two-fold.  One, your students have not been in an aligned scope and sequence, so there are certainly holes in the learning.  This will create low common assessment scores.  Two, this phenomenon of low scores was totally predictable had you put some thought to the problem early on.  This reflects back to point one: MAYBE the instruction was ineffective, or MAYBE it was effective but there are just too many unidentified and un-addressed learning holes.

4. The first year of common assessment implementation is likely to be chaotic.  Again, leadership created this chaos; so don’t panic in the face of your creation!  Scores will be low, holes need to be identified, and strategies need to be developed to fill in the holes, one at a time.  The process is not as slow as it sounds, but don’t be surprised when your common assessment scores remain in the tank all year long.  The trick is to look at next year’s common assessment scores.  Are the scores moving up, overall?  If so, your system is beginning to add value to children, congratulations! Keep the word “system” in mind. You are now in the first stages of creating a system approach to educating children. Before you were simply treating symptoms. System work will be much harder.  Keep in mind too that it is likely you do not fully understand instructional systems at this point.  I started using an instructional system approach in 2006. It was not until 2009 that I would have called myself actually competent, three years.  The 10,000-hour rule as described by Gladwell is in full play here.

5. Common assessment data is valuable in the following ways: A. It puts a numerical value on the health of your instructional systems. B. It verifies if instructional strategies and deficit filling are occurring, over time. C. And this is a distant third, it is student performance data.  We seem to get common assessment data and then want to come up with student interventions, which is the LEAST valuable data from common assessments.  Student interventions are symptom treating, and that is OK as long as the main thrust is to treat the disease.  In our case, the disease is an ineffective instructional system.  I see teachers spending hours doing tutorials after school: symptom treating.  I see almost ZERO time spent anywhere trying to create a better instructional system.  Those priorities are 180 degrees out of synch.

In closing, don’t panic in the face of common assessment scores.  Use the scores to improve your systems.  It took Lesa Cain three years of faithful and relentless systems building in order to produce an exceedingly high performing school with a student body consisting almost entirely of low SES students. Not to mention that Lesa had access to an incredible support network that too many of us don’t have (but you can).  Just understand that system building is work.  Work this process diligently for several years and reap the rewards.  Leadership should concern themselves only with teachers who refuse to implement the curriculum, refuse to adjust instructional practices, and refuse to fill in student learning gaps. For teachers who are on board, pat them on the back and a give them a little cover and a little time.

Think. Work. Achieve. Your turn…

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