Rethinking High Stakes Exams

One has to ponder the question “why,” on many occasions.  A recent “why” has come to me this month as January is the mid-term point of the school year and most high schools are in the midst of exams that mark the end of term one.  “Finals” as they are called run for three weeks.  Three weeks of no classes, and no learning.  When we know better, why do we do this?  Why do we persist in this practice?

The ironic part is we know better.  We know that high stakes, final exams that provide no opportunity for feedback or further learning are not representative of a student’s knowledge or understanding, and do nothing to further a student’s knowledge or understanding which is arguably the point of school.

Students taking a test at the University of Vi...

Image via Wikipedia

An argument that is often launched for those who believe in and rely on final exams often goes something like this… “How will I know what they have learned, if I don’t give them an exam?  How will they prove that they have learned anything at all?”  To those, I offer up the following response:

  1.  Formative Evaluation – In his book Visible Learning by John Hattie, the effects of formative Evaluation were found to have a d = .90 or standard deviation of .90.  Hattie describes this effect size as, “…a 1.0 standard deviation increase is typically associated with advancing student children’s achievement by two to three years, improving the rate of learning by 50%…” (pp 7 of Visible Learning).  Thus, formative evaluation strategies in the classroom would not only give teachers information about what a student knows, but work to increase a student’s rate of learning by almost 50%.
  2. Self-reported Grades d=1.44 where Cohen argues, “…an effect size of d=1.0 should be regarded as a large, blatantly obvious, and grossly perceptible difference…” (pp 8 Visible Learning).  Hattie found that even without tests, “…high school students have a reasonably accurate understanding of their level of achievement… This should questions the necessity of so many tests when students appear to already have much of the information the tests supposedly provide…” (pp 44 Visible Learning).
  3. Feedback (d=.73).  “When teachers seek, or at least are open to feedback from students as to what a student knows, what they understand….then teaching and learning can be synchronized and powerful.” (pp 173 Visible Learning)

When assuming the reason for a final exam is to find out what students know or best case what students have learned, my question back to a teacher would be “Why don’t you already know?”  I believe that if effective teaching and learning practices such as formative evaluation, self-reported grades and feedback are consistently and appropriately utilized by teachers, a final exam would simply provide them with a weak, irrelevant example of what they already know.

Hattie, John, Visible Learning A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement, Routledge, 2009.

How to Stop Talking and Start Teaching

This year, as I begin to understand and implement the notion of Instructional Leadership into my practice the saying, “Just because I said it, doesn’t mean they learned it.” seems to becoming more and more meaningful.  I find that with my staff, I am a great teller.  I tell people all sorts of things everyday.  However, in order to truly IMPROVE, and make noticeable gains with SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT, teacher practice has to shift.  Teachers have to learn and grow; if they need to learn, one of my main roles is to teach them, not just tell them.

Student teachers practice teaching kindergarte...

Image via Wikipedia

In study after study, the evidence is clear.  Dr. Rick DuFour could not say it in more simple terms:

“Two different comprehensive syntheses of research on the factors impacting student learning have come to the same conclusion: the most important variable in the achievement of students is the quality of instruction they receive on a daily basis (Marzano, 2003; Hattie, 2009). To ensure students learn at higher levels, simply improve teaching.

Simply improve teaching sounds simple enough.  The two questions I am currently pondering are, “What is my role in improving teacher practice?; and, “How do I improve teacher practice?”

What is My Role in Improving Teacher Practice

Short and sweet, this IS my role.  If I am about being a principal who makes the school the best school I can, who makes it a place where all children learn everyday, and who is determined and focussed on school improvement, then improving teaching practice gets down to the heart of the matter.  I could focus on the by-product of ineffective teaching practice such as low test scores, high suspension rates, unhappy students, unhappy parents etc, but this would not solve the base problem.  I am 100% convinced that strong, effective teachers utilizing strong, effective teaching practices all the time, everyday result in steady school improvement.  Steady school improvement results in a reduction of under performing students, a reduction in acts of violence and opposition, and a reduction in unhappy parents and students.  So now that I am convinced, how do I do this?  How do I improve teacher practice?

How Do I Improve Teacher Practice?

Well, first of all, let me say I am working on figuring this out.  I am by no means an expert in “how” but I have figured out a few things!

1.  Weekly Professional Development (PD). With the increased use of our Staff Intranet/E-Bulletin Board, for the past 2 years we have been posting all item information, and announcements.  This allows us to have very few items on our weekly staff meeting agenda thus freeing us up for PD time.  We are currently running 30-45 minutes per week of teacher PD where all teachers are working together.

2.  PD Design. Here is where I rely on Robert Marzano and The Art and Science of Teaching.  For example: In past years, before report card writing started, we would have a staff meeting where I would review the expectations of report card writing, how to write comments, the rules for putting in certain marks etc.  Then teachers would go off, on their own and write their report cards.  When finished, they would turn them into the admin team for review.  Often when teachers would turn their reports in they would say things like “I hope these are right.”  This got me thinking…

Cover of "The Art and Science of Teaching...

Cover via Amazon

This year, our pre-report card writing was PD – it had lesson design!  Teachers worked together in table groups to identify important information needed in report cards.  They worked together to decide upon the order of this important information.  Then I passed out my guide “How to Write Report Card Comments.”  We compared what they had figured out and what I had figured out.  Then we practiced writing some report card comments on actual students.  Together we created a rubric so they could assess their own work and the work of their colleagues.  They asked themselves, “Does this work meet the criteria we developed for the rubric?”  The results of this work were amazing!  Teachers interacted with new knowledge then applied their new knowledge.  Learning success!!

3.  Professional Learning Communities.  Previously I wrote a post on PLC‘s Professional Learning Communities This post will give you some information on our PLC journey.  The most exciting thing we are doing this year with PLC’s is our PLC observations.  I believe that watching a person teach, then analyzing and debriefing observations, then setting goals for their own teacher practice will in and of itself result in improved teaching practice.  I have plans to also add in The Walk-About to our PLC Observations.

4.  Find and encourage PD outside of the school.  Yeah for Webinars!  What a great way to get information to people from their own laptops.  My role is to be the scavenger and finder of great PD opportunities outside of the school either face to face or Webinar.  My role is to also support teachers in managing time and in some cases finances to access quality PD.

5.  Questions and Questioning.  One of my main “need to-dos” this year is to ask more questions.  When working with teachers, debriefing in meetings,or  analyzing practice I find that asking questions designed to support teachers in synthesizing new information results in a whole different type of understanding.  See Feedback vs Feedforward for more thoughts on this.

One of the most fortunate events that has occurred for me is that our Area Director also believes in Principal PD and Improving the Practice of Principals.  This has led to some of the best PD I have been apart of in my career.  Each month, a large group of Principals meets together to get smarter!  With this, I am hoping to continue and develop my understandings of Effective Instructional Leadership.  I am very interested in finding out how other Principals are working with their staff on the notions of “Simply Improve Teaching,”Just Because I Said It, Doesn’t Mean They Learned It,” and “Instructional Leadership.”

How to Increase Social Engagement At Your School

Students of Nan Hua High School gathering in t...

Image via Wikipedia

As I continue to understand the work of  J. DOUGLAS WILLMS, SHARON FRIESEN, AND PENNY MILTON in their 2009 report What Did You Do in School Today? I am understanding more specifically the notion of Social Engagement.  For quite some time now, when we talked about engagement, we were all referring to academic or intellectual engagement.  Social Engagement; defined as “meaningful participation in the life of the school” in a lot of ways is the first requirement needed to influence the success of academic and intellectual engagement.

The outcomes of social engagement defined as having: “Friendships, social networks, sense of belonging, self-confidence, and often enjoyment of school'” I believe are the key factors, the initial purposes and our first point of school.  It’s always interesting that we mostly know “what” to do in schools.  The trick is to know how!  How do we support students in developing friendships, building social networks, developing a sense of belonging, developing self-confidence and enjoying school?  Great questions!

I think we have been working quite specifically and purposefully on the outcomes of Social engagement.  We participate in the Alberta Government Accountability Pillar to measure our growth and success.  I will probably forget a few things here, but here are some of the things we do:

  • Self-confidence:  set goals, work on them and review them.  Differentiation to support all students in being successful.  Understand learner profiles to properly support.  Develop report card comments that are strength based, rather than deficit based.  Use restitution, rather than punishment, whenever possible.
  • Friendships and social networks: keep some friends together in classes, encourage a variety of learning opportunities including small group and partner time, specific friendship groups/clubs focussed on social skills development during class time and at lunch, 27 minute unstructured play time at lunch, cross-grade activities in the school, buddy classes, “fun” noon-time clubs.
  • Sense of Belonging: monthly school assemblies, school tee-shirts, clubs, teams, student helpers, classroom meetings (morning meetings), Touchstone for specific students, culturally diverse celebrations and learning.
  • Enjoyment of school: know your student!  Have fun!  School wide activities such as pajama day, sports day, assemblies, new initiatives such as drum fit, recognition of personal successes.

Perhaps if I think longer, I could add to the list.  But, more importantly, what can you add to the list?

For more on the complete What Did You Do In School Today report by the Canadian Education Association click here http://www.cea-ace.ca/programs-initiatives/wdydist

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Are You In the Club?

Students of Nan Hua High School gathering in t...

Image via Wikipedia

As I continue to understand the work of  J. DOUGLAS WILLMS, SHARON FRIESEN, AND PENNY MILTON in their 2009 report What Did You Do in School Today? I am understanding more specifically the notion of Social Engagement.  For quite some time now, when we talked about engagement, we were all referring to academic or intellectual engagement.  Social Engagement; defined as “meaningful participation in the life of the school” in a lot of ways is the first requirement needed to influence the success of academic and intellectual engagement. 

The outcomes of social engagement defined as having: “Friendships, social networks, sense of belonging, self-confidence, and often enjoyment of school'” I believe are the key factors, the initial purposes and our first point of school.  It’s always interesting that we mostly know “what” to do in schools.  The trick is to know how!  How do we support students in developing friendships, building social networks, developing a sense of belonging, developing self-confidence and enjoying school?  Great questions!

I think we have been working quite specifically and purposefully on the outcomes of Social engagement.  We participate in the Alberta Government Accountability Pillar to measure our growth and success.  I will probably forget a few things here, but here are some of the things we do:

  • Self-confidence:  set goals, work on them and review them.  Differentiation to support all students in being successful.  Understand learner profiles to properly support.  Develop report card comments that are strength based, rather than deficit based.  Use restitution, rather than punishment, whenever possible.
  • Friendships and social networks: keep some friends together in classes, encourage a variety of learning opportunities including small group and partner time, specific friendship groups/clubs focussed on social skills development during class time and at lunch, 27 minute unstructured play time at lunch, cross-grade activities in the school, buddy classes, “fun” noon-time clubs.
  • Sense of Belonging: monthly school assemblies, school tee-shirts, clubs, teams, student helpers, classroom meetings (morning meetings), Touchstone for specific students, culturally diverse celebrations and learning.
  • Enjoyment of school: know your student!  Have fun!  School wide activities such as pajama day, sports day, assemblies, new initiatives such as drum fit, recognition of personal successes.

Perhaps if I think longer, I could add to the list.  But, more importantly, what can you add to the list?

For more on the complete What Did You Do In School Today report by the Canadian Education Association click here http://www.cea-ace.ca/programs-initiatives/wdydist

So What is Visible Learning Anyway?

So What is Visible Learning Anyway? Thoughts and Understandings From a School Principal

As with most fall meetings, this fall started off with direction setting meetings, visions, missions and re-establishing what we are about.  It was during these meetings that the notion of Visible Learning, as described by John Hattie came across my radar.  What was this Visible Learning?

So, I ordered the book Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement and cracked it open when it came. Wow, the book is not what I was expecting and not like I have ever seen before.  I find it is not a book you can read cover to cover, it is more like a reference book.  I gleamed information out of it and let it set until today when I participated in the Visible Learning webinar through The Leadership and Learning Center, facilitated by Douglas Reeves.

Visible Learning is now beginning to take shape in my mind, I am beginning to understand new information and think about applying it in my own context.

Lightbulb moment: Changes in teacher practice effect changes in student learning (Douglas Reeves).  Okay, maybe not a lightbulb moment but a critical thought none-the-less.  Even today, as we were working through some behaviour issues with elementary aged students, could it be that if the teacher changes the approach and the practice, perhaps the students behaviour would change as well?  Let’s focus on the teaching (and I mean teaching, not teacher), rather than on the behaviours.

English: A teacher teaching something in Da Ji...As stated by Douglas Reeves: Linking specific teaching strategies with specific student results is Visible Learning.  As mentioned in the example above, would there be a way to incorporate specific teaching strategies and measure specific results? I think so.  The key at our school is that I think we are very good at identifying what is wrong and what we need to be different.  I think we know what the preferred state would be.  I think we have many resources and teaching strategies (perhaps too many) but I DON’T think we know how to measure the effectiveness of specific strategies.

In regards to the teaching strategies, our goal has been to focus on those high impact strategies.  I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of the new John Hattie book Visible Learning for Teachers to ensure our understanding and implementation of high impact strategies.  As a side note, feedback (d=.72 effect size) is a high impact strategy I previously blogged about (see Feedback or Feedforward).

As mentioned in The Walk-About we have our observations in place – in other words, teachers are observing teachers each day.  We now need to make those observations systematic, objective, and precise (Douglas Reeves).  We need to observe for high impact strategies and the effect they are having on student achievement.  We need to gather specific data about specific practices.

Our goals with Visible Learning are:

1.  To raise awareness.  ex:”This is what feedback and engagement look like in our school and in your classroom.”

2.  To set targets. ex:”Now that we have this information, what are we going to do with it?”

3.  Practice. ex: “Last month my feedback to students consisted primarily of ______ and this month it consists of_____”

4.  Measure the effects of our practice.  “This teaching practice, resulted in this improvement (or not)!

5.  Keep what works, get rid of the rest!

Perhaps through Visible Learning, our understanding of what quality teaching really is will become more specific, objective and precise resulting in a greater understanding of knowing why we are doing what we are doing in the art form called teaching.

Just Because I Said It, Doesn’t Mean They Learned It

This year, as I begin to understand and implement the notion of Instructional Leadership into my practice the saying, “Just because I said it, doesn’t mean they learned it.” seems to becoming more and more meaningful.  I find that with my staff, I am a great teller.  I tell people all sorts of things everyday.  However, in order to truly IMPROVE, and make noticeable gains with SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT, teacher practice has to shift.  Teachers have to learn and grow; if they need to learn, one of my main roles is to teach them, not just tell them.

Student teachers practice teaching kindergarte...

Image via Wikipedia

In study after study, the evidence is clear.  Dr. Rick DuFour could not say it in more simple terms:

“Two different comprehensive syntheses of research on the factors impacting student learning have come to the same conclusion: the most important variable in the achievement of students is the quality of instruction they receive on a daily basis (Marzano, 2003; Hattie, 2009). To ensure students learn at higher levels, simply improve teaching.

Simply improve teaching sounds simple enough.  The two questions I am currently pondering are, “What is my role in improving teacher practice?; and, “How do I improve teacher practice?”

What is My Role in Improving Teacher Practice

Short and sweet, this IS my role.  If I am about being a principal who makes the school the best school I can, who makes it a place where all children learn everyday, and who is determined and focussed on school improvement, then improving teaching practice gets down to the heart of the matter.  I could focus on the by-product of ineffective teaching practice such as low test scores, high suspension rates, unhappy students, unhappy parents etc, but this would not solve the base problem.  I am 100% convinced that strong, effective teachers utilizing strong, effective teaching practices all the time, everyday result in steady school improvement.  Steady school improvement results in a reduction of under performing students, a reduction in acts of violence and opposition, and a reduction in unhappy parents and students.  So now that I am convinced, how do I do this?  How do I improve teacher practice?

How Do I Improve Teacher Practice?

Well, first of all, let me say I am working on figuring this out.  I am by no means an expert in “how” but I have figured out a few things!

1.  Weekly Professional Development (PD). With the increased use of our Staff Intranet/E-Bulletin Board, for the past 2 years we have been posting all item information, and announcements.  This allows us to have very few items on our weekly staff meeting agenda thus freeing us up for PD time.  We are currently running 30-45 minutes per week of teacher PD where all teachers are working together.

2.  PD Design. Here is where I rely on Robert Marzano and The Art and Science of Teaching.  For example: In past years, before report card writing started, we would have a staff meeting where I would review the expectations of report card writing, how to write comments, the rules for putting in certain marks etc.  Then teachers would go off, on their own and write their report cards.  When finished, they would turn them into the admin team for review.  Often when teachers would turn their reports in they would say things like “I hope these are right.”  This got me thinking…

Cover of "The Art and Science of Teaching...

Cover via Amazon

This year, our pre-report card writing was PD – it had lesson design!  Teachers worked together in table groups to identify important information needed in report cards.  They worked together to decide upon the order of this important information.  Then I passed out my guide “How to Write Report Card Comments.”  We compared what they had figured out and what I had figured out.  Then we practiced writing some report card comments on actual students.  Together we created a rubric so they could assess their own work and the work of their colleagues.  They asked themselves, “Does this work meet the criteria we developed for the rubric?”  The results of this work were amazing!  Teachers interacted with new knowledge then applied their new knowledge.  Learning success!!

3.  Professional Learning Communities.  Previously I wrote a post on PLC‘s Professional Learning Communities This post will give you some information on our PLC journey.  The most exciting thing we are doing this year with PLC’s is our PLC observations.  I believe that watching a person teach, then analyzing and debriefing observations, then setting goals for their own teacher practice will in and of itself result in improved teaching practice.  I have plans to also add in The Walk-About to our PLC Observations.

4.  Find and encourage PD outside of the school.  Yeah for Webinars!  What a great way to get information to people from their own laptops.  My role is to be the scavenger and finder of great PD opportunities outside of the school either face to face or Webinar.  My role is to also support teachers in managing time and in some cases finances to access quality PD.

5.  Questions and Questioning.  One of my main “need to-dos” this year is to ask more questions.  When working with teachers, debriefing in meetings,or  analyzing practice I find that asking questions designed to support teachers in synthesizing new information results in a whole different type of understanding.  See Feedback vs Feedforward for more thoughts on this.

One of the most fortunate events that has occurred for me is that our Area Director also believes in Principal PD and Improving the Practice of Principals.  This has led to some of the best PD I have been apart of in my career.  Each month, a large group of Principals meets together to get smarter!  With this, I am hoping to continue and develop my understandings of Effective Instructional Leadership.  I am very interested in finding out how other Principals are working with their staff on the notions of “Simply Improve Teaching,”Just Because I Said It, Doesn’t Mean They Learned It,” and “Instructional Leadership.”

  • Previous Posts

  • Goodreads

  • Blog Stats

    • 7,021 hits
  • Memberships

    Follow lorilynnrecullen on Twitter
    At the Principal's Office
    BlogWithIntegrity.com Find this blog in the education blogs directory