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Districts Making Smart, Data-Based Decisions

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In December, we acknowledged the Meriden Public Schools for its innovative use of data to drive decision-making. When a district integrates regular data analysis into its teaching and leadership practices, the whole community can start to make informed decisions about what’s working for kids. And, when we conducted an analysis of Meriden’s data and IT systems in 2013, we learned that Meriden is really using some creative approaches to monitoring the well-being, academic outcomes, and progress of its teachers.

That’s why we collaborated with the district to produce a website that highlights some of Meriden’s achievements and also provides other district leaders with a starting point for self-reflection and improvement of their own data and IT systems. This Data Systems Guidebook contains a self-evaluation tool that we really hope will facilitate discussions among district-level school leaders about data and IT systems. (Don’t worry: the site does not save any of the data. We can’t see your responses when you fill out the evaluation. It’s for your internal use only!) The self-evaluations are broken out into three areas that are critical to ensuring sound data practices: district-wide practices, school-level practices, and technology infrastructure. Although the self-evaluations are the website’s focus, this tool is not meant to be used for strictly evaluative purposes. Ultimately, we hope districts will use this tool to develop priorities for improvement in the areas of data and IT.

As an example, let’s take a look at the first area, District Performance.

As you can see, this chapter is divided into several subsections—topics that districts will need to consider if they’re going to develop well-thought-out district-level data systems. The first sub-section is about strategic planning.Read More »

A Field Guide to Survey Design

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downlaod pdf

An Introduction to Surveys

Surveys are used to collect information about populations of people that cannot be easily observed, such as attitudes, concepts, and behavior. Due to the un-observable nature of the information that surveys collect, survey designers must take steps to ensure surveys collect information that is accurate, reliable, and representative of the target population. The survey development process requires five key steps:

  1. Designing the Survey Process
  2. Developing the Survey Questions
  3. Testing the Survey Questions
  4. Collecting Data
  5. Analyzing Data

Developing surveys using this five step process is both an art and a science. This field guide will provide you with an overview of best practices for developing high quality surveys.

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The Redesigned SAT

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In 2016, Connecticut’s 11th graders will be required by the state to take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). This will be the first year in which the test is mandated, and it will also be the first administration of an updated version of the SAT. In March, the College Board will debut a Redesigned SAT that is shorter in length, narrower in scope, and better aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Although these changes bode well for all students, the “newness” of the exam is likely to incite some trepidation among pupils and their families.

Just what can students, teachers, and families expect from the SAT next spring? Read on for the rationale of this redesign effort, explanations of precisely what will look new and different, and resources for teachers, families, and students.Read More »

For Parents, Testing is an Opportunity

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By Jeffrey Villar, Executive Director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform

I have my annual physical this week. It’s not something I look forward to, and I particularly dislike the associated blood test. Nonetheless, the test provides my doctor and me with important information about my health, and we use that data to make decisions that help me live a healthier life. It makes me think: there are some interesting parallels to the standardized assessment that my own children, and all Connecticut children in grades 3-8 and 11, take annually. This year’s Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test was developed by a consortium of representatives from 22 states, including Connecticut. In a way, this test is similar to my annual blood test in that it was scientifically constructed to measure information with reliability and comparability.

Not only am I a parent to six children, but I’m also an educator who spent two decades working in Connecticut’s public schools, including having served as the superintendent of two districts.Read More »

CCER’s 2014 Policy Progress Report

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Each year, we hold ourselves accountable by tracking the number of our our policies that are implemented each year from our original 10-year policy plan to narrow the achievement gap.

While last year’s report tracked the tremendous progress that was made over several years, this year’s report shows that progress has slowed. We must do more in 2015!

Download The 2014 Report Now

Expecting More for Connecticut’s Students

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CCER has always been committed to the idea that all Connecticut students deserve a great education that will prepare them for success in college and/or careers.

But right now, there’s no way to know if our kids are receiving the best education possible–because standards vary from state to state. What’s a B+ in one is a C+ or B- in another. 

That’s why we are working with business, community, and education organizations across Connecticut to support high academic standards in public education through the Common Core.

We are excited about this campaign, and about the fact that these six organizations could all get together in agreement on the need to raise standards in Connecticut.
It is great to see superintendents, boards of education, principals, business leaders, and policy leaders coming together on this important issue. Fully embracing and implementing Common Core will help to ensure that Connecticut kids have the bright futures they deserve.

Join the conversation and learn more!

A Math Teacher’s Point of View: Common Core Brings Deeper Content Mastery, and Continuity

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By Catherine Freeman, mathematics teacher at Sage Park Middle School in Windsor

You’ve heard from Catherine Freeman before—in her op-ed and in a previous blogtalking about why Common Core has made her classroom a place of deep learning for both her and her students. Today, Cay will tell you a little more about how Common Core specifically helps her students in math.

What exactly are the Common Core State Standards?

The Common Core Standards for Mathematics are an outline, a clear set of specific skills and mathematical concepts that students should know by the end of each grade level. The Common Core is NOT a curriculum. Although the standards do set rigorous end-of-year learning goals, districts have the freedom to determine how to help their students get there.

In fact, each state or district has the independent right and responsibility to take the Common Core Standards and develop or adopt a curriculum that outlines how much time to spend on each topic, and identifies age-appropriate materials and resources to be used. Curriculum specialists and teachers in each district decide how to lay out the sequence of big ideas and smaller learning tasks to reach the end goal of developing critical thinkers and problem solvers. They also develop regularly scheduled check-ups on students’ progress so that students who are behind can receive intervention and support as the year progresses. There should be an ongoing cycle of developing lessons to teach the standards, going back to revisit and revise them as we become experts on these new standards, and discussing how to best help our students reach deeper levels of understanding and lasting skills.

Common Core Creates Deeper Understanding of Content

The Common Core Standards are written to encourage students to solve real-world problems. As a math teacher, I see these standards built with greater focus–with fewer standards than before in each grade, but with the potential for a truer and more lasting understanding. Instead of giving students a cursory survey of many math concepts, we work on building lasting conceptual understanding of the really important concepts. This translates to higher-level learning with more opportunity to teach critical thinking skills.

Previously, students were taught the procedures to solve a math problem with an often tangential explanation of the conceptual understanding behind the process. I look at the work that I used to give my students, and I see how I used to teach skills in isolation, without context. I was teaching my students how to get the answer, instead of how to understand the math. I am throwing out my old worksheets, which listed 40 problems of a single type on each page. I’m not going to use these anymore because this isn’t how students will be presented with math in real life. Instead of teaching, “Here’s the process for finding the answer to a ratio problem. Now solve it 40 times,” teachers must now ask their students to demonstrate that they understand ratios and can use them to solve real life problems.Read More »

Why Windsor’s Teacher of the Year Is Excited About Common Core

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By Catherine Freeman, mathematics teacher at Sage Park Middle School in Windsor

“Yours is not to question why, just invert and multiply.” Sound familiar? This is how I (and perhaps many of you) learned to divide fractions. You will not hear those words anymore in classrooms that are implementing the Common Core Standards  in Math. Instead, you’ll see teachers presenting models, students drawing pictures, and everyone talking a lot about what fraction division means, and interpreting problems in the context of a real world situation–all to create meaning.

As the New York Times has observed, the old system of learning math hasn’t changed in a very long time; it had assumed that our students would continue their math studies in college in order to develop the type of mastery needed for real-life application. But as a teacher, it’s my job to prepare my students with the skills they will need to succeed when they leave my classroom. That means I need to acknowledge the expectations that they will face upon graduation from high school, expectations that are different today than they were when I was in school. I need to teach to new standards in a new way.

In a classroom where the Common Core standards are implemented fully, a lesson does not start with the teacher standing at the board and demonstrating how to solve a problem. You will not see students mimicking the teacher’s steps Read More »

Wall Street Journal Op-Ed: What I’ve Learned Teaching Charter Schools

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One seventh grader asked me, ‘Why are so many people mad at us if we are doing so well?’

By NICHOLAS SIMMONS

I’m a seventh-grade math teacher at Success Academy Harlem West, a public charter school. On April 30 and May 2, 3, the 272 students at my school, along with some 480,000 other New York City public school children, will sit for the state math exam. Last year, 89% of my seventh-graders and 83% of our sixth-graders passed the test, more than half scoring at the highest level.

But only 29% of all sixth-grade public-school students in the city passed the New York State Mathematics Test last year. Among sixth-grade black and Latino kids, only 15% and 17% passed, respectively. Among my sixth-graders, 97% are African-American or Latino, and three out of four of them are from low-income families.

Many teachers and parents—as well as New York City’s school chancellor and the mayor, have said there is too much emphasis on testing. But at Success Academy, we believe internal assessments and the results from state exams are essential feedback for how well we as teachers have done our job in the classroom. Students and teachers embrace academic rigor and take pride in having some of the top math scores in the city, in many cases outperforming the city’s gifted and talented programs.

A group of charter school students rally in support of charter schools outside the Capitol in Albany in March.Associated Press

I grew up in an affluent Connecticut suburb, attended an elite private school, and had many advantages the children in my school do not. Yet students are getting a far better education than I did. They are in school from 8:00 a.m. until 5:15 p.m. If some students do not fully understand a concept that day, they willingly stay for tutoring after school until they master it, sometimes working till 6 or 6:30 p.m.

Success Academy critics, however, have a hard time accepting our students’ academic achievements, even after a five-year track record ranking among the state’s top-performing schools. Critics, among them the teachers union, claim we “counsel out” special needs or low-performing students to keep scores high. Success Academy loses fewer of its students (10%, including special needs students) each year than our peer co-located public schools do (21%). Despite evidence to the contrary, this myth is frequently cited as fact in print and online. Last year, 1,538 Success Academy students took the state exams; 13% of them were special-needs kids. Of that group alone, 56% of them passed math. An average of 7% of New York City district special-needs students passed math.

The newest theory regarding our test scores is the most outlandish. Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change, a union-funded nonprofit, was quoted in Bloomberg News saying that Success Academy is “trying to find ways to increase test scores; that’s why they go into the wealthier neighborhoods.”

Really? Is it just me—or does anyone else hear the prejudicial undertone in that statement? Is it really impossible for Mr. Westin to believe that Success Academy’s poor black and Latino children can achieve at extraordinarily high levels? That with hard work and dedication, significant numbers of children in Harlem and the South Bronx and Bed-Stuy can be proficient at math and reading? That Success Academy might want all children—black and white, poor and middle class—to have access to great schools in various New York City neighborhoods?

Critics fail to understand how insulting and hurtful their remarks are to students and their parents. One of my students recently asked me, “Why are so many people mad at us if we are doing so well?” These children work incredibly hard, and they’re proud of their success. No one, especially without knowledge of their situation or home life or personal effort, has the right to undermine their remarkable achievements.

There’s an excellent reason why Success Academy scholars do extraordinarily well on the state exams: We believe they can. We believe all children can succeed, no matter their socioeconomic circumstances.

Our critics do not share that belief. To them, the achievement gap—with only 11% of African-American children and 12% of Latino students prepared for college—is a given, an unfortunate, but unavoidable fact of New York City’s public schools.

Our students have flipped that “fact” on its head. Now it’s time for educators to start believing that with the right changes, we can achieve these results for all New York City students.

Mr. Simmons is in his second year teaching mathematics at Success Academy Harlem West Middle School.

Read the original post here.

The Courant–Rocky Hill Administrator to Retire

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By David Drury

ROCKY HILL – A top administrator for the Rocky Hill schools has announced she will retire June 30 and go to work for her former boss at the nonprofit Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER).

Marian Hourigan, the district’s well-respected assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, will step down after 26 years in public education. She has been in Rocky Hill since August 2008.

“It was a very difficult decision. I have very mixed feelings. It’s been a wonderful community to work in and it’s very hard to leave,” Hourigan said.

On July 1, she will rejoin former town superintendent Jeffrey Villar at CCER, where she begins work as director of school and district partnerships. The mission of the New Haven-based agency is to reduce the state’s long-standing academic performance gap between poor, largely minority urban districts and suburban schools.Read More »

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