Saturday, January 14, 2017

Quality professional learning comes in all shapes and sizes.

For the past four years we have used late-start Wednesdays, early outs, and full days for professional development. These various formats of professional development may be inconvenient for working families, but these days are imperative to the success of our teachers. During this time our teachers have worked hard to develop their craft within their subject areas and grade levels.

Teaching is a profession. All professionals need time and opportunities to update, to train, to interact with other professionals, to hone their craft, to reflect on their work, to get better. Effective professional development is distributed over time and not jammed into a single day. We offer a variety of learning opportunities for teachers. These opportunities range from full days, to early outs, and to our weekly late starts. These various structures provide opportunities to differentiate our professional development for teachers.

Professionals need opportunities to: become aware of best practices, observe others modeling new or different practices, have opportunities to practice, receive feedback, reflect and interact with others. Professional learning communities which meet on late-start Wednesday and at other times are opportunities for teachers to engage with one another to focus on each of these questions:

What do our students need to know and be able to do?

How will we know if they can do it? (How will we evaluate student work to measure their mastery?)

What we will we do for students who already can do what is expected?

What will we do to support and help students who have not achieved the standards?

When teachers are able to meet regularly to reflect on practice, examine student work, agree on
common outcomes, research best practice, observe others, share effective practices, everyone benefits. The traditional structure of the school day has not allowed for this type of practice. At RPS we have intentionally built time for teachers to improve their craft. Sometimes the lumberjack has to stop sawing to sharpen his blade to improve production. This is no different than the teaching profession, sometimes we need time away from teaching to improve teaching.

We are proud of the work of our teachers at Rugby Public School District!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Common beliefs about grading and reporting.

Our highest performing PLCs report out on the standard. With this in mind we need to have conversations about what our core beliefs are in relation to grading and reporting. We have pockets of teachers who report out on the standard. To continue our work in this area we need to develop some consistencies and core beliefs across the district. Our school improvement committees have helped to develop the survey questions below to help gain feedback from teachers.

We will be putting together a task force to meet over a period of time to review the survey results, review the research, have dialogue, gather input from stakeholders, and then create a set of beliefs that we share as a district in relation to grading and reporting.

The survey is broken down into four areas: Practice, Curricular Alignment, Behavior, and Multiple Opportunities. We believe these are the key areas for our task force to focus on.

Here's an example of how each question is setup on the Google Form:


Description: Homework is defined as additional practice beyond what is done in the classroom.

  1. I believe all homework that I assign is meaningful and supports the student's learning. 
  2. I believe homework should not be included in the final grade. 
  3. I believe formative assessment should not be used for grading purposes, only for feedback.
Curricular Alignment

Description: How aligned is your curriculum to your I Can Statements?
  1. I believe all classroom instruction and assessments should be aligned to my I Can Statements.
  2. I believe it is important to provide multiple learning opportunities for students to demonstrate growth for each I Can Statement.
  3. I believe it is important to regularly report progress to parents and students based on the I Can Statement.


Description: Behavior is defined as anything that would be included in the grade that changes the reporting of mastery. For example, late assignments, classroom behavior, poorly completed assignments, missing homework, zeros, and etc.

  1. I believe behavior should be reported separately from the student's academic grade.
  2. I believe zeros teach students responsibility.
  3. I believe zeros cloud the reporting about what a student knows and is able to do. 
  4. I believe students should always receive full credit when they turn in their late or missing assignments.
  5. I believe it is acceptable to use bonus points/extra credit in a student's grade. 

Multiple Opportunities:

  1. I believe reiteration of a skill or concept is a significant part of competence. Redos and retakes are important to determine mastery.
  2. I believe redos and retakes should replace the grade and not be subject to reduced points. 
  3. I believe the latest grade should be used and not the average when determining mastery. 
More to come....

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

College remediation rate...a moving target


Like most school leaders I am concerned with the remediation rates reported by the different entities within our state. Remediation refers to the percentage of college freshman students that take remedial courses due to low ACT scores. This article isn't about directing blame, it is more about the inconsistency in reporting this data. Higher education naturally could blame K-12 for lack of preparation which led to remediation and K-12 could blame higher education for not providing a better atmosphere for individual students to succeed. Who's problem is remediation anyway? I personally think it is a shared problem and one that needs a shared solution. 

Recently, I began to research this topic. I started by contacting our community colleges, regional colleges, and our two research institutions within our state. I also reached out to approximately 15 other states and requested their remediation rates for incoming freshman. Finally, I reached out to the North Dakota University System.

This is what I learned…

Remediation may not impact on-time degree completion like previously thought.

When we compare a student that needs remediation versus those who do not, it appears it may take longer for degree completion for those that take remedial courses. Remediation may lead to higher student loan amounts for a student and a higher likelihood of not completing their degree program. As I researched this topic I found that this may not be true. This study focused on North Dakota community colleges and whether remediation courses increased the length of their degree completion. The data was generated from the North Dakota Statewide Longitudinal Data System. Based on the findings it does not appear that the act of taking a remedial Mathematics and/or English course at an NDUS Community College negatively affects a student’s likelihood of completing an Associate Degree on-time. The study found that delayed degree completion had more to do with the academic differences of the student than the required remedial classes. To say remediation automatically increases the time to complete a degree may not be entirely correct.

North Dakota does pretty well when compared to states within our region. 

As mentioned previously, I contacted 15 different states and asked for their overall percentage of students that needed some level of remediation. I received information from five different states so far. I think the Iowa Department of Education said it best, "Unfortunately, there is no uniform approach to remedial education and no standardized remedial data." As you review the remediation rates below, please know that each state calculates remediation differently and I would make the argument that each college in their state may determine remediation differently. Adding to the confusion, agencies within the state may determine remediation differently. For example, in North Dakota, the North Dakota University System has a different percentage than the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction. So, long story short, I am not sure about the accuracy of the data found below.

Minnesota Remediation Rate: 26%
(Based on 2013 data)
Montana Remediation Rate: 26%
(Based on 2015 fall data)
South Dakota Remediation Rate: 26%
(Based on 2014 data)
North Dakota Remediation Rate: NDUS: 25.31% and ND DPI: >40%
(NDUS based on 2016 fall data, unsure of ND DPI data)
Iowa Remediation Rates: 23.2%
(Based on 2012-2014 cohorts)

Inconsistent reporting may be occurring throughout our state. 

After contacting colleges and universities throughout the state of North Dakota it appears that there may be some inconsistencies when determining who qualifies for remediation and who does not. The two regional colleges I contacted have consistent cut scores for remediation. They follow recommended cut scores established by NDUS to determine remediation. Students who are unable to score an 18 on the English sub test and a 21 on the math sub test of the ACT can take the Compass test to avoid remediation. The cut scores for the Compass test at the regional colleges are a 49 in math and a 77 in writing. If the student is unable to get the required ACT and Compass score they are placed in remedial courses. The courses vary depending on the level of the ACT score. One of the research institutions in our state follows the similar ACT cut scores, but varied on the Compass cut score and used a different test for English. The cut score to avoid remediation was a 41 on the English Compass test and a 50 on the math Compass test. Therefore this research institution is using a different test for English and a higher cut score for math to determine remediation. If these conflicting data points get thrown into the same pot to determine North Dakota’s remediation rate, how will we compare apples to apples?

More questions.

If we are going to quantify our remediation rates across the state shouldn’t they be standardized for each institution?

Currently, ND DPI reports over 40% and NDUS reports 25.31% for overall remediation in North Dakota. If we report our remediation rates shouldn’t ND DPI and NDUS report the same data?

Compass will be phased out for Accuplacer within the next few months, but not all colleges may use Accuplacer according to school representatives. This may create further differences.


Here is our own data from the 2008-2013 cohort. It is broken down by the type of school.

Community College: 21.2%
Regional College: 24.3%
Research Institution: 4.2%

Check out this article from the Washington Post:

How college remediation rates are distorted - and why.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Climate and culture

During our early out last week I was able to spend some time with all support staff at RPS. Our discussion focused primarily on the climate and culture within our schools. We also spent some time discussing The Fred Factor (this year's book read for all support staff). Here is my PowerPoint:

Monday, October 17, 2016

So goes the culture, so goes the company.

It is interesting how quickly you can see and feel the climate and culture of an organization. A person can get a feel of 'how things are done around here' the moment they enter the organization's doors. Unfortunately, some of us have been exposed to toxic cultures that you can see and feel. Toxic cultures encourage isolation and actively work to halt the advancement of the organization. When toxic behaviors are allowed to flourish, people tend to do things that are right for them, and not right for the organization.
In a weak culture, we veer away from doing "the right thing" in favor of doing "the thing that's right for me." - Simon Sinek 
It begins with the leader and what he or she is willing to tolerate. The leader can ignore, participate in, or actively seek out and address toxic cultures that may exist in our organizations. As Peter Drucker said, "culture eats strategy for breakfast." We could have the greatest plan for improvement, but if we don't address our climate and culture nothing will matter. When we actively address culture and climate our organizations become better.  When a culture changes from a place where people take something for themselves to a place where people love to come to work - it's a wonderful thing.
The more energy is transferred from the top of the organization to those who are actually doing the job, those who know more about what's going on on a daily basis, the more powerful the organization and the more powerful the leader. - Simon Sinek 
Building a strong culture and climate takes work and it doesn't happen by accident. There has to be commitment from the leader and also from the people within the organization. High levels of trust must exist between the leader and people within the organization. We have to actively seek out unfiltered feedback from people about our climate and culture. We can't expect to see things from the clouds. If we rely only on information fed to us instead of going down to see for ourselves, we may have a completely different perception than those actually doing the work. We all play a role in creating a positive climate and culture for our students, but the leader's role may be most important in changing the climate and culture within a school.
What you permit, you promote. What you allow, you encourage. What you condone, you own. What you tolerate, you deserve. - Michelle Malkin
So goes the culture, so goes the company...

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

We hosted Rick Wormeli. Here are my notes from the day...

We had a great day of learning for our staff yesterday. We hosted Rick Wormeli and his topic was on standards-based assessment and grading. Rick was able to provide clarity and continued to challenge our thinking. Here are the major ideas that resonated with me:

  • We should separate Advanced from our scale. You cannot be advanced on a standard you can only meet the standard. This should be reported separately. 
  • Don't falsify grades. We should separate behavior and homework from the grade. Responsibility, lateness, disrespect, and not turning in homework should not pollute the grade. These items should be reported separately. 
  • Section out your summative tests by the standard and actually label the standard or multiple standards that are being assessed throughout the assessment. Student may retake portions.
  • We need to become more evidentiary. Show me the evidence. Show me that you know the material. Be very clear and upfront with the evidence you are seeking. 
  • We have to approach each new learning goal like it is the first time the student has seen the content. 
  • Shrink the grading scale - review the 100 point scale. For example: A, B, C, D, (Remove the F) and ad No Evidence Presented or Not There Yet. 
  • Think of standards-based grading as a GPS - we reach the destination together. 
  • Never use group learning to grade one student. 
  • Allow redos and retakes on our Powerstandards. 
  • No Zeros. If it is important enough to assign then it is important enough to do. 
  • Formative assessment should be used only for descriptive feedback. Formative assessment should not be graded. 
  • No mention of quality and no judgement when providing descriptive feedback. 
  • You can learn without grades, but you can't learn without feedback.
  • Good feedback causes thinking.
  • Ego involving feedback does nothing to improve their progress on a standard. Feedback like good job, excellent, and smiley faces does nothing or may impede their progress. 
  • When feedback is descriptive and is not ego involving students do better. 
  • "It's what students carry forward, not what they demonstrated during the unit of learning, that is most in indicative of true proficiency." - Rick Wormeli
  • Nobody cares what you teach - they care about what students carry forward. 
  • "Nobody knows ahead of time how long it takes anyone to learn anything." -Yung Tae Kim
  • Repeat previously assessed items on future tests if they are Powerstandards. 
  • Assessment means to sit beside.
  • "A 'D' is a coward's 'F.' The student failed, but you didn't have enough guts to tell him." -Doug Reeves
  • Reiteration is a huge part of competence. 
  • Real time / Meaningful feedback is important to progress.
  • Review policies that may impede standards-based learning. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Ceramic Cup

I am reading Simon Sinek's latest book, Leaders Eat Last. It has been an excellent read on the topic of leadership. Sinek shared the following story that reminds us that it is not the position that gives leaders power, the people give leaders power. 
A former Under Secretary of Defense was to give a speech at a large conference. He took his place on the stage and began talking, sharing his prepared remarks with the audience. He paused to take a sip of coffee from the styrofoam cup he’d brought on stage with him. He took another sip, looked down at the cup and smiled. 
“You know,” he said, interrupting his own speech, “I spoke here last year. I presented at this same conference on this same stage. But last year, I was still an Under Secretary,” he said. 
“I flew here in business class and when I landed, there was someone waiting for me at the airport to take me to my hotel. Upon arriving at my hotel,” he continued, “there was someone else waiting for me. They had already checked me into the hotel, so they handed me my key and escorted me up to my room. The next morning, when I came down, again there was someone waiting for me in the lobby to drive me to this same venue that we are in today. I was taken through a back entrance, shown to the green-room and handed a cup of coffee in a beautiful ceramic cup.” 
“But this year, as I stand here to speak to you, I am no longer the Under Secretary,” he continued. “I flew here coach class and when I arrived at the airport yesterday there was no one there to meet me. I took a taxi to the hotel, and when I got there, I checked myself in and went by myself to my room. This morning, I came down to the lobby and caught another taxi to come here. I came in the front door and found my way backstage. Once there, I asked one of the techs if there was any coffee. He pointed to a coffee machine on a table against the wall. So I walked over and poured myself a cup of coffee into this here styrofoam cup,” he said as he raised the cup to show the audience. 
“It occurs to me,” he continued, “the ceramic cup they gave me last year . . . it was never meant for me at all. It was meant for the position I held. I deserve a styrofoam cup. 
“This is the most important lesson I can impart to all of you,” he offered. 
“All the perks, all the benefits and advantages you may get for the rank or position you hold, they aren’t meant for you. They are meant for the role you fill. And when you leave your role, which eventually you will, they will give the ceramic cup to the person who replaces you. Because you only ever deserved a styrofoam cup.”
The rank of office is not what makes someone a leader. Leadership is the choice to serve others with or without any formal rank.