Wednesday, March 14, 2018

School Attendance Matters

Twice a year I take time to visit one on one with all our new teaching faculty. As you can probably imagine, the routine is pretty predictable. What is the best thing that has happened to you this year? What has been most frustrating? What can I do to help you? Among other things, I am very interested to hear about how their transition to Hudson Schools is going. These conversations are very insightful and have led to substantive changes to our mentoring and induction program over the last several years. Other times, I learn something that is quite surprising and incredibly enlightening. As it turns out, I am right in the middle of those visits as our school district sits idle for spring break this week, which has made my commentary here so timely. 

You see, I was visiting with one of our new teachers who was tidying up for the break and asked what was one of the most surprising or frustrating things encountered this year. The response was very interesting: student attendance. I learned that, while we were on the eve of spring break several students had been absent the entire week prior for other vacations. Now, I do get it. Sometimes families have to take vacation at certain times during the year and that they don't always align to school breaks and vacations. But other times they do, or at least they can. We wondered, does flexibility exist that isn't take full advantage of? The point this teacher was making is that students can't learn when they are not in school. Of course not! This is common sense, right? But nevertheless, it is something that happens more than you might think. 

It makes me wonder if we are doing enough as a school district to emphasize the importance of daily attendance. This, in spite of the fact we run what equates to an 'extra bus route' almost daily all over the district where youngsters have overslept and missed the bus. Or their parents have left for work early in the morning and the student decides they don't want to come to school that day. That would never happen would it? 😏 I guess what surprised me most about this teachers' comment was that I had assumed our strategy of running out and collecting our stragglers was enough. Quite the contrary!

To see what our attendance actually looks like, I took a look at the Iowa Report Card. I'll remind you that our Iowa Report Card Rankings are very high. The high school continues to be ranked as one of the highest performing high schools in the state, whereas the elementary school is ranked 'Commendable' the second year in a row, with our overall score increasing three years running. But, digging into the rankings, I do notice attendance is an area where we can do better. While both scores are well above 90%, I recognize this is certainly something that should be celebrated. In the elementary school, attendance is 96.5% compared to 95.5% at the state. In the high school, attendance is 93.5% compared once again to 95.5%.

At first blush, this is perhaps not something to get too worked up about. I mean after all it has been a pretty rough flu season. However, the trouble occurs in instances where the 5-7% absenteeism rate represents those who are chronically absent from school. Students cannot progress academically if they are chronically absent from school.

We are very appreciative of parents who call and ask us for help and advice from time to time in dealing with chronic absenteeism in their own home. If there is anything we can do as a district to help you, please don't hesitate to reach out to us! We want all our children to thrive at Hudson! It starts with good attendance!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Our Assessment Challenge

In a rare display of bipartisanship, the Iowa House advanced HF 2235 to the Senate on a 95-3 vote. A Senate education subcommittee subsequently approved the bill, and the full Senate education committee is expected to take up the issue this week. I suspect the Senate will overwhelmingly approve the bill. Again, with bipartisan support. The bill of which we speak will once and for all settle the ongoing five year drama that has plagued our ability to select the successor to the Iowa Assessment. And the successor it will name: The Iowa Assessment.

But before we go celebrating the fact the legislature has suddenly decided to get along, I think we first need to understand how poorly this entire issue has been handled. It seems the legislature was perfectly fine ceding the authority to select the successor assessment to educational professionals; provided the decision was that the Iowa Assessment was selected. Twice now, the General Assembly gave legislative directive to the Iowa Department of Education to select the successor assessment. And twice now, a recommended assessment was selected. Both times the legislature has said, 'not so fast'. 

A debacle five years in the making, the legislature first directed the department to convene a task force of education stakeholders to evaluate proposals and come up with a recommendation. That recommendation landed on a test developed by the Smarter Balance consortium; and that instrument checked all the boxes. Moreover, it was aligned to the Iowa Core Academic Standards. The final vote of the commission was something like 20-1, and the State Board of Education approved. Then the legislature intervened and said 'do over'. This time, they directed the Iowa Department of Administrative Services to oversee the RFP process, (for reasons that escape me) so they executed the process. The RFP came back, was scored, and the American Institute of Research was awarded the bid. 

This time, Pearson (the parent company of Iowa Assessment) sued, stating the RFP process was unfair. Ultimately the suit was tossed with the judge saying the process was indeed fair. But, nevertheless, our elected officials are full steam ahead on circumventing a process they had previously legislated. With the only common denominator of course being the fact that the Iowa Assessment wasn't selected. 

The legislature believes their intervention is necessary in an effort to prevent litigation. Frankly, that is quite laughable considering the numerous lawsuits that have piled up over the years due to some piece of legislation 'here or there' that has been enacted. I think we just need to be honest and say this is about the Iowa Assessment. After all, if the Iowa Assessment isn't give in Iowa, that would be bad optics. The other argument, which actually does have a bit of merit is there is a cost difference. Yes, the Iowa Assessment is less expensive than the assessment from the American Institute of Research. But you get what you pay for. 

Look. I'm all for doing business locally. In fact, anytime our school district can partner with a local business we will do so. It is good for the school, it is good for the local economy, and it is good for the business. However, this can't [and shouldn't] supersede the local businesses ability to be able to deliver the product that is required by the RFP. Quite honestly, I hope everyone can see this for what it is: a political decision.

There are some important facts that are being completely ignored in this debate. First, the Iowa Assessment, in it's current iteration isn't aligned to the Iowa Core Academic Standards. This is a huge problem that no one is even paying much attention to. Think about it this way: what if we taught our students algebra and then gave a trigonometry test. Second, this is a recurring theme with Iowa Assessments. They have claimed time and again the current test is aligned. It isn't. There are two reputable studies that are contrary to this claim, in addition to the fact that the Iowa Assessment hasn't passed a peer review process that is a requirement of the USDE. Fourth, without the USDE peer reviewed status of alignment complete, Iowa is at risk for losing Title 1 funding, and in Hudson that comes with a price tag of $46,500.  Finally, and perhaps most important: the next generation of the Iowa Assessment hasn't even been developed yet. All we have is a 'proof of concept'. 

I don't know about you, but I am not even sure what that means. But hey, like I said. Its cheaper. After all you get what you pay for. Even if it doesn't work.