Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Great Year Comes to a Close

Well folks, this is going to be my last post of 2016. I plan to take the next couple of weeks off to enjoy the holidays. Although I plan on being in the district next week during this break in the action, most of my time will be relegated to beginning the initial planning for the 2017-2018 school year. Foremost on the agenda will be creating several draft calendars. It is usually during this work where I have an opportunity to reflect on the year that has just ended. I suppose building a new calendar makes one a bit nostalgic!

What a wonderful year we have had! There is just so much to make us both proud and thankful! Our athletic program has continued to perform at very high levels with several of our teams competing in the state tournament. Many of those accomplishments have been discussed recent posts, but thinking back on the calendar year as a whole: we don't want to forget the excitement of our boys soccer team who also had a very successful run at the state tournament. Remember how hot it was those days?

A big change this year was the retirement of our longtime music teachers, Mrs. Anderson and Mr. Jensen. These high profile positions were ones that we had to make sure that we got right, because there are some high expectations for our music department. As I say to my colleagues, we take our music program pretty seriously at Hudson! Well, the proof is in the pudding because our music program continues to amaze us at performance after performance!

Speaking of retirement, the makeup of our faculty and staff is very different than it was one year ago! In fact, this time last year we really had no idea the number of employees we would have retire. By my count we have nine new faculty members on staff! They are doing an amazing job by the way!

The last couple of weeks I have shared with you some of the outstanding work of our teaching faculty. You now know that not only can we state this based on our observations, but we have been able to begin to quantify these results. A little teaser here: the Iowa School Report Card will be released sometime in early January. I have had an opportunity to have a sneak peak and can't wait to show you the results for our schools!

You have probably also noticed in the last couple of years that I haven't spent much time visiting with you about the status of our budget. That is because we have a healthy budget and are financially stable. I will always advocate for greater funding for our schools, and based on the rhetoric that we are hearing as legislators are gearing up for the legislative session it sounds like we are going to be in for a rough session. The good news is that we currently have reserves that should enable us to weather low state aid. (State aid has been inadequate for years now, but we'll save that for another column after the new year! 😊)

Parents join their first graders to build gingerbread houses
prior to break. An annual tradition at #hudsonschools!

Obviously the biggest driver of our school budget is enrollment, and I reported in October that enrollment was down this year, but it is not something that should be all that concerning. If you read the enrollment report, I shared that based on our projections we should have reached the 'low water mark' in terms of student enrollment. With our smallest class in the district graduating in May, that is good news moving forward. Using what we call the 'cohort methodology' based on a five year rolling average, it appears that our enrollment is set to begin to rise.

Part of that enrollment increase should be attributed to some wise decisions by our city council that will bring more families into our community. As you are already aware, construction in the second addition of Upper Ridges is well underway and the Meadowbrook Condominium project is slated to break ground shortly after the new year.

In all, a pretty good year if you ask me! Fact is, I am pretty excited and stoked to see what comes next! I would like to wish each of you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I'll see you when school resumes on January 4th. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Teacher Leadership: Proof That it Works!

I have used a lot of ink over the past three years extolling the virtues of our teacher leadership system and sharing with you all the good work that we have been able to do under this system. By distributing and flattening our leadership structure, those closest to instruction have been given the authority to make decisions about what works in classrooms. Operating within a defined set of parameters that have been outlined by the Board of Directors, we are able to stay true to our district priorities that include a focus and emphasis on literacy, mathematics, and technology integration.

From a data collection standpoint, it has been (and will continue to be) difficult to draw a straight line from the work of our teacher leaders to performance on the statewide standardized tests known as the Iowa Assessments. I have carried on relentlessly about the fact that the Iowa Assessment does little to measure the effectiveness of instruction in the classroom. I say this because we know that the Iowa Assessment doesn't align well with the Iowa Core Academic Standards. And unfortunately both the Iowa Assessment and Iowa Core Academic Standards are legal requirements that, frankly are the antithesis of one another. So instead, to measure the effectiveness of our teacher leadership system we have relied on a lot of qualitative measures.

The qualitative measures we collect suggest to us that instruction is being strengthened in our schools and we have in fact tightened alignment to the Iowa Core Academic Standards. We have done this by ensuring foremost that what is being taught is what is being assessed. Beyond that, once we administer our assessment; those students who have not yet mastered the content receive supplemental instruction. Now, both the instructional strategies that are being used to deliver the core content and the supplemental strategies that are being deployed for remediation have been researched, developed, designed, field tested, and ultimately delivered by our teacher leadership team. The million dollar question(s) then become, do they work; and how do we know? The short answer is yes, and this where we have hard quantitative data to back up our claim. I am going to get a bit technical, but please bear with me because this is not only fascinating, it is AWESOME!

For this we turn to a statistical measure known as effect size. Effect size compares the difference in scores in a pre-test and a post test analysis. Obviously post-test scores are going to be higher just by virtue of regular classroom instruction. But what we are trying to determine with effect size is quite simply, to what degree is the measure due to normal growth or the introduction of a new strategy or technique? And more importantly, is the growth normal, or statistically significant?

As stated above, one of our district priorities is math instruction and as such we have invested a lot of teacher leadership resources into ensuring that our instructors have access to high quality math instructional strategies that are tested and researched as part of our professional development plan. What we are able to do with effect size then, is measure the success of these instructional strategies. By evaluating our math classroom assessment data in the fall and spring (2015-2016) for K-2 on basic number knowledge and on fraction assessments in grades 3-6, we have been able to measure the effect size. Basically, answering the question, does it work or not?

But before we get to that, let's take a look at what constitutes 'working'. According to the educational researcher John Hattie, an effect size of 0.40 over the span of one entire academic year could be attributed to the normal effect of a classroom teacher. So by virtue of regular classroom instruction we should expect to see an effect size above 0.40. Everything we do is going to have some sore of effect, right? But what we are trying to measure here is the degree to what effect. In the chart to the right, an effect size of 0.20 is considered small. Once the effect size surpasses 0.40, it is considered statistically significant, and that we can begin to notice 'real world differences' and can claim the innovation is effective.

Here is where it gets pretty interesting folks, because as the data table to the left suggests, the innovations are working. But not only are they working, they are working really well! Bear in mind we are looking specifically at the effectiveness of math instruction (number knowledge K-2, fractions 3-6). In every grade level cohort, this data seems to indicate that the effect of instruction is statistically significant. In other words, it goes well beyond merely showing up for class and doing the same things that we have done over and over again.

Now, for the sake of full disclosure I do have to offer some cautionary words of wisdom. For starters, our sample size is relatively small, which makes the data subject to more variation. Obviously we can't overcome that because the size of class is the size of the class. Additionally it is also important to note that this is only one data point and has not been calibrated against other data sources.

Nevertheless, it's pretty cool, isn't it? I would like to thank Joe Kramer from AEA 267 for helping with the statistics of this project and sharing these data points.  He was incredibly helpful in the analysis of this data and answering my multitude of questions.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Miracles Happen Every Day

As discussed in a previous post, we have had a lot to celebrate in our school system recently. Successful athletic teams and great musical performances do a lot to boost morale and strengthen a culture that exudes school pride. Indeed, when the sports teams are winning it seems like everything else in the school tends to operate much more smoothly! Although I readily admit there is a lack of empirical evidence available to suggest a lower rate of absenteeism or fewer disciplinary referrals. Yet there is no mistake that everyone seems to feel a lot better about their school when the volleyball and cross country team(s) end the season as the state tournament runner up! These are the kind of successes that we can easily point to that make us feel good. We can see them, touch them, and celebrate when our team wins.  However, I would suggest that there is so much more below the surface to be proud of-successes on a much grander scale that you are in all likelihood blissfully unaware. 

I submit that miracles happen in our classrooms each and every day of the school year. Unfortunately those miracles are often known only to a handful of people. Miracles in that small space of time when a teacher connects with a student in a way that unlocks a great mystery of learning that had; until that very moment seemed insurmountable. Moments when the teacher reaches into their toolbox of strategies and grasps for their very last idea, and it works. It is then; almost as if you can see the barriers to learning fall away with an expression of wonder on both the face of the teacher and the pupil. For some of our learners this may not only be an instance of jubilant satisfaction and revelation, it can bring both the teacher and student to tears. Success!

Freshman English students learning about lyric poetry recently.
Fortunately for me, I oftentimes have a front row seat to bear witness when these moments of success occur. I have observed the high school student who makes a profound statement about the danger of global overpopulation, where they previously may not have grasped the enormity of life outside our community. And I have seen a second grade classroom perform a 'Readers Theatre' where each and every student, regardless of ability has an opportunity to shine. Some of those students, just weeks prior may have read in halting phrases, painstakingly sounding out words that made it all but impossible to understand and follow a main idea. Or how about the student we were so unsure of, who walks across the stage and receives their high school diploma?

We know the miracle that was witnessed is a result of the hard work that is happening between the teacher and the student. The result of painstaking application of time and field tested strategies. Intense remediation, and the practice that happens during classroom instruction. The extra time and effort that the teacher spends with a student before school, after school, or in what we refer to as 'Pirate Time'.

So while we celebrate with great pride all the success that our school district has had this fall, let's not forget where the real magic is happening! At the end of the day, the score that really counts will be the one in the classroom, and I can tell you those scores indicate that we are winning!