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Saturday, December 27, 2014

Personnal Agendas and start dates

By now I imagine you've heard that the Governor has directed the Department of Education to stop automatically approving requests for early start dates to our school calendars.  The essence of the directive from the DE Director Buck is this;
Moving forward, the director or director’s designee will only consider a school or school district’s request for a waiver of the school start date if the school or school district has adequately demonstrated that starting on or after the earliest start date specified would have a significant negative educational impact. Each request will be individually reviewed and approved or denied by the director or the director’s designee. 
This action by Director Buck was at the request of Governor Brandstad.   It as been pushed for several years now by business interests at the Iowa State Fair and in the tourism industry.  That lobbying group is interested in attendance at State Fair events,  losing teenage employees at school start and profits.   Only 2 districts in the state chose to open at the mandated start time last year.  Many start as early as the second week in August.  Each district has its own reasons for its calendar dates.  I've always assumed as educators we should have the right to run our school calendar as we see fit for the education process.  Apparently thats not as important so we will abide by the law if we need to, even though it may not be in the best interest of education.

Basically the 1983 law that this is based on sets the mandatory start date as "the Monday of the week in which September 1 falls."  For 2015-16 school year that would be August 31.  I'll be talking about calendar proposals at the January board meetings.  My original plans was to propose calendars with a start date of either Monday Aug. 24 or Wednesday Aug. 20.  I still plan on having those proposals on the table and requesting a waiver if necessary, but will also have the same proposals moved back a week to fit the mandated start date.   If we start on August 31 we will not be done before Memorial day, quite likely we will be in school until Friday June 3.

As always any calendar proposal is subject to a public hearing before a waiver is sought.  In past years we have had very few people comment on our calendars.  I will be including an innovative calendar at the meeting that is designed to provide for more teacher collaboration and student intervention time, but it also lengthens the year by approximately one week.  If you are interested in calendar development for the district you are encouraged to attend this meeting.  A decision on the final calendar won't be made at this meeting, but board and community feedback is expected.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Attendance Matters

I have a subscription to the ISFIS data service that allows comparisons between all kinds of Iowa school data.  Was very interested in the comparison of school districts reading scores compared to their average daily attendance:

The upward slope of that trend line indicates a predictable and significant correlation between higher attendance rates and better reading scores.  This shows 8th grade, but its is consistent across all grades, getting more significant as the years go on.  Getting your kids to school does matter to their success.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Iowa Common Core Resources

Many people have questions and concerns about what is in the Iowa Core.  The Iowa Department of Education has a very good resource for teachers and parents alike to get better acquainted with Iowa Core.  Here is their message:

Parents and the community are key components to students’ academic success. And to that end, there’s a section at directed at parents and the community.
Under the Parents and Community tab, there is a parents’ guide providing an overview of what students will learn by the end of each grade as directed by the Iowa Core. The guide not only provides an explanation, but also gives parents an understanding of what is being taught, enabling them to reinforce lessons at home. 
There also is a collection of resources provided by the Iowa Reading Research Center designed to help parents support their children’s educational needs.
In addition to Community Resources there are Educator Resources and the actual standards and essential skills are listed for easy searching.  With these resources, I encourage everyone to check out Iowa Core for yourself.  I think you'll find it a very good resource.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Electronic newsletter

For those of you who have not been getting our monthly newsletter, I'd like to point out the link on the right entitled NFV Monthly Newsletter.  As described in the current issue and below, we are shifting from a hard copy newsletter to all parents to a an electronic version open to everyone.

The December newsletter is scheduled to be the last one we mail to all parents.  Beginning next month, newsletters will be posted on my blog site and if you subscribe to updates from that site, whenever I post a newsletter you will receive an email alert.  Of course printed newsletters will still be available, but only for those who request them through either office.  Just contact Vicki Gamm at North Fayette or Carole Nading at Valley to request to be on the mailing list for newsletters and we will provide them.

Two reasons for the change, one is simply penny pinching,  postage, paper and time can be saved through going electronically,  and the second is hopefully better coverage of our district with this communication.  Many of you who don't have kids in school probably have never received a monthly newsletter.  This way you can, at no cost to the school.  Of course, anyone who wants a hard copy simply make the contacts mentioned above, we still will be sending them out, just not nearly as many.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

I'm back!

Wow, haven't posted on my blog since last May!!  No excuses, just busy on other things and didn't get to it.  With the due date of the Teacher Leadership and Compensation Grant arriving, I may be able to focus on some of these communications a bit more.

Something I want to bring everyone's attention to is the link to NFV Monthly Newsletters to the upper right on this page.  I am working on cutting the costs of printing and mailing newsletters.  As I post newsletters each month on this page, patrons can subscribe to changes and receive notifications that the letter is available.  Look for the "Follow by Email" icon in the right hand column. I hope this works out well for everyone, if it does I will stop mailing newsletters in January.  For those who do not have access or would rather have the hard copy in the mail, just contact either office to request it and we will put you on a mailing list.

Everyone is looking for Ebola news these days.  Here is the latest from the CDC as of today (October 28, 2014).  We can be very safe without over reacting if we pay attention to the health professionals fighting this disease.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Rita Pierson: Every kid needs a champion

Lets kick off Teacher Appreciation week with Rita Pierson, describing what a great teacher does.  Thank you to ALL the Great Teachers at NFV!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Wormeli on Gradebooks

This is the last post of this series.  There is more, if you want to see it search for Rick Wormeli on YouTube, but this one gets down to where the rubber meets the road.  Reporting grades in a standards based system.  There is also a good idea for handling summative and formative assessments that make a lot of sense.

Perhaps the biggest cultural shift in the standards based gradebook is not what you think it would be.  I think the biggest change we need to face is the lack of an average.  An average is a sports statistic, tells us the likelihood of the next free throw being successful, of the next hitter driving in that guy on second base, or compares this running back with all others.  As Wormeli proposes, it is not sufficient if we are standards based, to report one grade for a course.  Grades are not for ranking students, they are for reporting achievement, the mastery of a concept.

The typical report card with maybe 6-8 grades, one for each content area is now obsolete.    You can't reduce a students knowledge of the math standards to one number or letter in a grade book.  Instead we'll need to look at the preponderance of evidence for each standard, maybe the median or the mode, and decide if that is mastery.  Our grade books and report cards will look significantly different.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Wormeli on Re-dos - Provide Hope!

This is part one of two,  Re-dos and re-takes are a big time sucker, for both teachers and students,  but we need to find a way to do it.  Providing the opportunity to recover form a bad grade is essential to keeping the students engaged.  Give them hope to succeed!

In real life all kinds of high stakes tests (driver's license, bar exams, nursing boards, etc) can be re-done.  "How pompous is it for a teacher to say MY TEST is so important you only get one chance at it!"

Think about it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Wormeli on Zeros and "Degrees of F-ttitude"

 This weekend (March 16) I started inserting a series of videos by assessment expert Rick Wormeli on Standards Based Grading.  Here is the second in this series of posts.

In this Video, Rick Wormeli discusses the impact of 0's on a 100 point scale.  Most of us use 100 points as that magical percent of answers correct.  Currently NFV uses a 90-80-70-60 point grading scale, meaning a 59 is an F, 60 is a D, 70 is a C, and so on.  The question we need to ask is then when we average scores that contain 0's will we come up with a true reflection of student learning?  As Wormeli says  "GRADES MUST BE ACCURATE."  If the 0 makes the grade an inaccurate picture of what the student has learned, then it and your averaging system must go!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Wormeli on Standards based grading

Rick Wormeli is a well know expert and author in assessment practices.  He has a series of YouTube shorts describing his philosophies on Standards Based Grading.  I hope to share several of these with you through this medium so that we can seriously reform grading practices at NFV next year.

In this 7 minute clip he explains how much homework grades should count towards "an academic report of academic standards mastered."  After all, if a report card is a measure of what students have learned, then that is what it is.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Implementation Dip

An Implementation Dip is a well documented phenomena when new policy or programs are implemented, not just in school, but also business and industry.  How many of you don't buy the first version of a new smart phone or vehicle, so you can let others "work the bugs out?"  These bugs as we call them are unintended consequences of the policy or program shift that can largely be ascribed to three impacts of change:

1.  The lack of new skills that are needed to be successful within the change.

2.  Staff have a determined desire to continue doing the same things, therefore staying in our comfort zone.
3.  Push back from those opposed to the policy, or challenge by those favoring the status quo.

The third quarter has been unusual to say the least, four late starts and six snow/cold days have disrupted school and extended our school year into June 5th (so far).  Our implementation dip has occurred in this quarter when it comes to eligibility policy for co-curricular activities. Our new eligibility policy, approved by both boards last summer, applies to students in all performance activities, not just athletics and drama. We have a large number of students ineligible for activities this quarter.

The policy says that we don't start enforcing eligibility for the first 20 days of the semester so that grading can be a reliable reflection of student work.  It would be unfair to make an eligibility decision based on one grade in one week, so we give them 4 weeks to establish their level of work.  When 20 actual days days of attendance occurred (Jan 24) office personnel ran the eligibility report and there were a high number of students ineligible for that week.  This week, many of those students were also ineligible again only now is the week of a concert and an FFA contest.

Seeing the spike of ineligibilities, parents and staff started questioning if this is a fair policy to enforce at this time, they attribute it to unfair enforcement of the policy, or extenuating circumstances that unfairly impacted grades.  We had full days of school on 16 of those 20 days of attendance, and with a school issued laptop in every student's possession, is this really an excuse not to have maintained passing grades?

This policy is new and unpopular.  There is always an implementation dip somewhere in the beginnings of new things.  I see this occurrence as just that, a lack of skills or motivation to get work done, a fall back into old habits, which replaced higher effort that probably sustained eligibility in the first semester, and the dreary third quarter when academic productivity was difficult.  We need to set high expectations for students, if we cannot continue to expect work completion through weather disruptions, then how can we expect it when the thermometer hits 70 degrees for the first time this spring?

Students will rise to the expectations we set.  It is their responsibility to get their academic work completed. That is the reason for the policy, we will continue to support the policy and the students will rise up to the expectations and meet them.