The Jeffco School Board held its first regular meeting of the the 2017-18 school year. This was a quiet one as meetings go, but there are a few highlights we want to share:
Study Session: Strategies to Support Student Success
The study session focused on the work that had been done to improve student achievement at five different Jeffco Schools. Each of these schools had shown a marked improvement in their growth scores on the 2017 CMAS, and each principal had time to talk about the strategies their school used to produce better results.
So what works?
- Support systems, both within the school and with outside community organizations
- Collaboration at every level. This ranges from student learning approaches to the work done in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) where teachers, instructional coaches, interventionists, and other staff can collaborate to pinpoint the best approaches to engaging individual students.
- Time. Staff need a structured time that supports collaboration and data-driven instruction, schools need time to implement and evaluate new approaches to learning, and time is needed to see improved results. There are no magic shortcuts.
- Strong, stable, and consistent leadership to recognize issues and target appropriate resources to address issues and support staff and students.
Superintendent Glass has also summarized this study session discussion and his takeaways on his Advance Jeffco blog. We encourage you to read his post and thoughts about what this means for the rest of the district.
We’d also like to emphasize the collaboration theme again. It’s one we’ve heard before, back when Jeffco Schools received a $39 million, five-year Teacher Incentive Fund grant to do a strategic compensation study that compared the impact of merit pay and the impact of additional resources and collaboration. There were three different presentations given to the Jeffco School Board as that study progressed; resources, support, and collaboration were repeatedly mentioned as the most effective elements in boosting student achievement. Some of the 2016 findings are summarized in this Denver Post article:
Data in Jefferson County’s schools also is being watched at a national level. The district is near the end of a federally funded pilot program that tested performance incentives and changes to how teachers are supported.
So far, analysis of the project shows that the supports provided to teachers — such as creating leadership opportunities, professional learning communities with coaches and a system for constructive feedback — have increased student performance. Financial incentives are not showing a strong link.
Jefferson County officials say they believe the best and fastest results will happen with both components.
Aswege, who taught at one of the schools in the pilot program, said bonuses for school or team goals didn’t remove collaboration, but she said the money is still more necessary for the coaching resources.
“When you have a healthy culture in a school, you don’t think about the pay,” Aswege said. “You don’t think about anything else but helping children.”
Why is that important? Because too often, the argument goes something along the lines of “any kid can learn in any condition, including a cardboard box, so long as they have a great teacher.”
What the data actually shows is that while great teachers make a difference, collaboration and resources for a team of great teachers makes a much bigger, school-wide difference. And then we need to give it time to work rather than rushing off in search of a different quick fix.
We’ve sat through a lot of superintendent’s reports over the years, but this is the first time we’ve been completely blown away. First, he had a slide presentation that summarized the various groups he’s met with and meetings he’s attended in the past few weeks. It also included a list of future events and meetings.
We are thrilled to see our superintendent out getting to know people in all parts of Jeffco so he can hear about what’s working, what’s not, and issues we need to address going forward. We’re also thrilled to see it documented, so that anyone who wants to know what our superintendent is doing can see it, too.
Ends Discussion: CMAS Spring Results
Once again, Jeffco Schools students outpaced the state on the 2017 CMAS tests–and in some cases hit new academic highs. Student growth scores also outpaced the state and often did so by an increasing margin over previous years.
Now before anyone jumps in to argue that many or most of our students are failing, etc, we’d like to remind our readers of these very important points:
- Spring 2017 marked the third year that students took CMAS (also known as PARCC), and increasing numbers of families have chosen to opt out of testing.
- The bar was raised with CMAS, with students being pushed to higher academic expectations. Students have been expected to meet those expectations, despite the reality that the years since 2009-10 have been marked by larger class sizes and fewer resources. Despite these challenges, student achievement continues to improve.
- In middle and high school, the CMAS math tests students according to the math they are taking rather than their grade level, which leads to a bit of confusion. Eighth grade students who take Algebra I are counted in the algebra results rather than the “8th grade math” results, and the same is true for 7th grade students enrolled in Algebra I or 8th grade students enrolled in Geometry. “Seventh grade math” only includes those students not enrolled in algebra rather than all 7th graders, and the same is true for 8th graders. What this shows most clearly is a math divide between students who are already excelling in math (and thus taking algebra in 7th or 8th grade), and those students who were already struggling and continue to do so. We hope this allows Jeffco staff to keep working to better address struggling students and bring them up to grade level, but also want to make it clear that the 7th and 8th grade math categories only feature a subset of students.
The report also summarizes some of the elements that are pushing student achievement higher, as well as the areas that need improvement.
Also keep in mind that “churn” is a key word in understanding Jeffco’s student achievement scores in the past several years, as Chalkbeat makes clear:
Colorado has already changed math and English testing twice in the past decade, making comparing past results extremely difficult — if not impossible. Officials say it won’t be the case now because this is essentially a contract change. However, more significant test changes may need to be considered after the state’s academic standards revision process is completed in 2018.
Yes, a new set of tests (though supposedly comparable to CMAS) and yet another academic standards revision are already on the way. It seems like we barely have time to adjust to one change before another is headed our way, and that’s hardly a process that benefits our students’ learning.
Other items of note
The rest of the meeting largely consisted of policy reviews, and few of those required changes. Any policies with changes are listed on Board Docs.
Also of note: for the first time we can remember in years, no one signed up for agenda-related public comment. We found that odd, particularly because student achievement has reliably been one of the most popular topics for citizens. Only one person signed up for the non-agenda-related section as well, making for a very quiet (and quick!) meeting. Curiouser and curiouser? Quite possibly.
With that in mind, we owe our readers a post about the upcoming school board election. We’ll post that soon. Until then, we remain