Quality Frameworks for Illinois School Districts
August is a particularly busy time for school administrators and you probably are not paying much attention to the new Illinois ESSA Plan for Accountability. However, I would like to start a series of articles on this topic to help you get more familiar with the requirements. IASA has recently recorded a podcast episode with Dr. Julie Schmidt, Kildeer Countryside CCSD #96 Superintendent, on the topic of "Quality Frameworks." You can listen to the podcast here.
Dr. Schmidt was a member of the IASA-lead Vision 20/20 team and she served on the Illinois Balanced Accountability Measure (IBAM) committee. Dr. Schmidt volunteered to pilot the Quality Frameworks in her school district during the 2017-18 school year. Even though Kildeer School District has used a Professional Learning Community approach to school, district and classroom improvement for 18 years, Dr. Schmidt voiced her support of all school districts using the Quality Frameworks for school and district improvement purposes.
By listening to the podcast, you will learn the following steps the administrative and teacher teams insisted on to back up all decisions on the Frameworks with actual data that supports their conclusions. The Quality Frameworks contain "purpose setting questions" for each of the seven standards. For example, for Standard 1, Continuous Improvement, the purpose setting questions are the following:
- How do we embody collaborative problem solving?
- How do we effectively plan for continuous improvement?
- What evidence do we have supporting a continuous improvement model in our district?
- How do we analyze student learning to determine our plan?
Dr. Schmidt recommended starting with these purpose setting questions for each standard. Your next step is to find artifacts and evidence to support your rating of the standard. The second step is to determine where your school or district functions on this standard, a type of self-assessment. The third step is to set goals based on the results of the rating on the Quality Framework rubric related to the standard being examined.
For example, in Kildeer, the leadership team decided goals needed to be set for Standard 3, Shared Leadership, and Standard 6, Family and Community Engagement. The team developed the goals and eventually presented the goals to the school board for approval. The result of self-assessing on each standard led to actionable goals toward which the district will take steps to improve over the next school year.
Concerning the movement in Illinois accountability from strictly using student proficiency (now only 20%) for accountability to using student growth (now 50%), this will offer schools and districts a great chance to tell their own story concerning the academic growth of its students. This seems to be a much better way to judge student academic progress. Students will need to grow a year in a year or, put another way, each student will need to grow more than the median growth of all students who started at the same previous year assessment score.
For more information on how the State of Illinois will be using student growth for accountability purposes I highly recommend that all readers of this Update watch this video prepared by John Gatta from ECRA.
In my twelve years at IASA supporting new superintendents, I have discovered one important finding. Those new superintendents who ask questions, have an informal or formal mentor, seek peer relationships within their region and continue professional relationships with administrators they respect and look up to continue to be the most successful first-year superintendents.
It is very important to establish a peer-to-peer relationship with at least one other school superintendent and, hopefully, with several other superintendents. For teachers we call this Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). Administrators need PLCs also. Participate in your local IASA Region meetings and make connections with area superintendents. Hopefully you have formalized a relationship with a "mentor" for your first year and, if not, perhaps you can contact past administrators that you have worked with or know. It's important to have someone with experience whom you can bounce ideas off or gather information from when making critical decisions. Remember, IASA provides a mentor to first year superintendents at no cost.
The most important point of this discussion is to ask multiple people questions about the same topic so that you can gather as much information as possible before making important decisions or recommendations. Reaching out to others for advice and support increases the lifeblood for success as a school superintendent.
How Does a Teacher Evaluator Have Time to Adequately Observe Teachers For the New Performance-Based Teacher Evaluation System?
Performance-Based Teacher Evaluation is very complicated and it requires fundamental due process for teachers. By my last estimation there will be seven legal documents that your district will wrestle with in this new system. They include: 1) Teacher Collective Bargaining Contract; 2) Teacher Evaluation Plan; 3) RIF Joint Committee Document; 4) PERA Joint Committee Document; 5) District Work Rules; 6) School Board Policy Manual; and 7) Part 50 Rules.
Administrators will need to be aware of how the information in these documents affects performance-based teacher evaluation. The burden of proof will be much greater on the administrator to correctly operationalize all the processes related to teacher evaluation and then, as a cumulative act, rate the teacher. The legal concept that a tenured teacher can now lose their position due to their summative rating is a major change from past procedures.
In addition to the legal challenges to this evaluation work is the idea that staff development and improvement of teaching has been and will continue to be a major emphasis of the teacher evaluation process. In my blog posts I write about how we need to concentrate on improving teaching, not rating teaching. We need to provide professional staff development and training in the areas for individual teachers who do not earn high summative ratings. Teacher evaluation needs to transform into an intellectually engaging experience for the teacher. The evaluator needs to be skillful in the use of reflective questioning to get the teacher to commit to a personal professional development plan for improvement.
Teacher evaluation will change from a mostly "compliance" issue to a "growth" issue with legal intended and unintended consequences.
Classrooms need to be intellectually engaging experiences for students. No longer will it be sufficient for classrooms to be teacher-centered. The days of teachers lecturing and students taking notes are over as students must be "minds on" not "hands on." Education is about "learning," not about "doing."
Teacher evaluators can no longer schedule one formal observation, which I often characterize as the "Dog and Pony Show," and one informal observation and think this will suffice for possible teacher reduction under the new PERA. It never was sufficient and it is even less so now that teacher tenure and teacher employment has changed.
So how does the administrator find the time to observe teacher's multiple times during the evaluation cycle? There is only one way I know to accomplish this goal. The administrator has to schedule time to conduct the observations. In addition to the observations, it is my opinion that the administrator must follow each observation with a "reflective conversation" with the teacher if either expects any change to occur based on the evidence collected in the observation.
Using simple math to do the calculations, I will use the following as an example. Assuming a teacher evaluator has 20 teachers to evaluate and using the Voltz Protocol of 10 observations per teacher per cycle (eight informal and two formal) then the evaluator has to schedule 200 (10 X 20) observations in a two-year cycle for a tenured teacher. Assuming all the teachers are tenured, the evaluator would have 252 (176 X 2) school days to do this work, not quite one per day. However, if each observation is followed by a reflective conversation between the teacher and the evaluator, this evaluator would have 400 time slots to schedule or 1.58 per day. Again, we have made major assumptions, such as the evaluator being able to be available every day to observe and/or reflect. Let's assume the evaluator cannot work on teacher observation/reflection on 10% of the available days, this reduces the total of days to 227 days. The new daily schedule will require 1.76 or 2 observations/reflections per day.
Another major assumption is that the administrator has two full years to conduct the observations/reflections. We know for sure that the non-tenured teachers will need the protocol every year, and we are also making a huge assumption that observations/reflections can be conducted every school day. This will entail a major shift in the evaluation cycle and reporting of summative evaluation scores, a topic for another blog post.
The key points made in the blog are that the teacher evaluator needs to conduct multiple observations/reflections with his/her teachers and will need to dedicate part of every school day to get this done. The administrator will need to block out times to schedule this work in order to make sure it gets done.
In order to reach the goal of more teacher observations, teacher evaluators need to consider the following points:
- Teacher evaluators need to make teacher observation a priority in their daily work routine.
- Teacher evaluators need to believe that having teacher-evaluator reflective conversations will result in improved teacher instructional performance and, in turn, increased student growth and proficiency.
- Teacher evaluators will need to communicate to their supervisors that teacher observations are very important for student growth and proficiency. They need to have the permission, endorsement and encouragement from their supervisors to spend the time necessary to observe classroom teachers and to reflect with the teachers to optimize teacher performance.
Tell Your Public about the Positive Things Happening in Your District
We often only hear the negative things happening in K-12 public education. It is your role and the role of your staff to get the positive news communicated to your community. A great way to communicate is via social media and your district website. Have you thought about using Twitter or Facebook to communicate with your community? Some districts are using audio and/or video podcasting. Talk with your administrators and find out what the schools are doing now and discuss these new media.
There have been many instances of students bringing guns or weapons into schools over the last several years. I would advise you (as you are new to the district) to review your school crisis plans. Each of your schools should have a school crisis plan on how to handle situations that endanger student and staff safety. We are entrusted to keep the children of the community safe at school. If an unfortunate incident should occur in one of your schools, your goal is to keep everybody safe.
After you have reviewed the crisis plan, I would suggest that you convene a meeting with your local law enforcement, fire department and other emergency response personnel to get their recommendations on how to handle various emergencies. Representatives from these agencies are the experts in your community and they understand your community. Other school administrators, resource officers (if you have any) and representatives from the teacher and support staff associations should also be included in these discussions.
A common theme I've noticed when reading newspaper accounts of safety incidents is that some parents have been critical that the administration at the school did not notify them of the threat to safety, but the school knew how to tell the public when they were dismissing school due to heat or canceling school due to adverse winter weather.
In my opinion, the reason this becomes such a big problem so quickly is because of the availability of cell phones and popularity of social media. Even though most schools do not allow students to carry cell phones while in school, we all know that many students still do. As soon as an incident occurs, students start calling parents. Thus, it is difficult for administrators to try to deal with the critical crisis at hand and also deal with parent notification.
Some districts have purchased calling services that can instantly apprise all parents of an issue, whether that is closing school due to adverse weather, notification of a crisis, or information about an upcoming parent-teacher conference day. As a former superintendent, I can tell you that I would want to make sure I notified parents as soon as possible. A call-out system seems like a good solution, if your district can afford the expense. If you cannot afford a calling system try to get a grant to pay for the hardware. At the least, you should have personnel available to call the news media - including radio and television stations - to get your message out the same way you would for inclement weather. I have found it good practice to have a secretary trained to do this because administrators are usually busy with the crisis at hand.
Again, it is important first to ensure the safety of your students and staff. If an unfortunate incident should happen in your school district, you will eventually be facing the media and explaining what you did to keep students and staff safe. The more prepared you are in this regard, the better the school district will look in the eyes of the parents and the public.
Tip of the Week
Paul Houston (past AASA Executive Director) and Doug Eadie have published The Board-Savvy Superintendent. In the book they state, "The old-time passive-reactive school board that merely responds to finished staff work cannot provide the leadership that the times demand: in making truly strategic decisions, in selecting key district innovation targets, in monitoring district educational and administrative performance, and in building district ties to the wider community."
The point they are making is that the old adage of the Board making policy and the Superintendent managing the school district is not an accurate depiction of today's board-superintendent relationships. I totally agree with these writers. In all my years as a superintendent, I never served a school board that wanted to devote itself entirely to policy and left the leadership and management of the school district up to the administration. The board members I served with were professional people who were intelligent, active community members. They were concerned about the education of all students. They had great leadership and management ideas that we were able to learn from and implement.
In your role as a new superintendent, use the talents of your school board members to maximize the educational opportunities you can give to your students. The relationship between the Board and the Superintendent is not distinct. The relationship is constantly changing and superintendents need to adapt to the needs of the Board and the community. Involve your board and your community in determining the mission, vision and goals of their schools.