Podcast: How the District Selected Its Power Standards
Parents who are members of the Citizens for Federal Way Schools were joined by district administrators at their November 30th meeting for a discussion about Standards-Based Education. Marie Verhaar, FWPS Director of Instructional Alignment and Development, gave a lively 10-minute presentation on how the standards were selected, a presentation that reportedly generated some "ah-ha's" among the audience. We have made the audio of her presentation downloadable here, along with a transcript.
Transcription: Marie Verhaar at the Citizens for Federal Way Schools meeting, November 30, 2011.
These standards aren't new.
There's a myth out there that we've gone out and written brand new standards and dropped them on our staff and said, go out and get new resources.
Our state reading standards have been around for seven years.
I was a principal at Valhalla. These are the standards my teachers used for seven years.
The state math standards have been around for three years. They were revised from the standards we had three years ago.
You've heard of No Child Left Behind. When that came around, they said, "States, you can't just stand in front of your kids and teach to teach anymore. You've got to have some standards."
I started teaching in 1979. This is my 33rd year in education. I'm embarrassed to tell you that I don't know what I was teaching them. I loved those little 1st and 2nd graders. But it was what I thought they needed at that time. I was a brand new teacher and I had no clue.
We are better teachers, educators because of standards. As parents, you should want them.
I am the parent of two students who graduated from college and one in college.
I have a son who got As in math. Both my children had to be enrolled in remedial math in college, very embarrassing. Why did they get As in math? They were compliant, they were nice kids, they sat in the front, they did what their teacher said, did their homework and they brought a ton of food for the food drive. I'm not kidding.
I was one of those parents who would say, what do you mean you didn't get an A? Because I sat with them for hours when they didn't know the concepts. But I was an educator
Where I was a principal over 50 percent of the kids spoke Spanish, their parents can't teach them the concepts as much as they'd love to. Why doesn't homework count? Because homework is practice. If every time you sat in front of the piano you got a grade an F, F, F, F and maybe a D, you'd say "Done, not doing this anymore." So practice without penalty.
State standards have been around for a really long time. We do have some teachers who might say to you that they don't really know the standards expected of me, I haven't taken the time to read them. Know why? – that's because there were 57 reading standards for 1st grade. Dr. Marzano says that if we were to teach every standard for reading, math, writing, social studies, science, communications -- there are over 1,000 standards, we'd have to increase school to K-22. And if a teacher truly did teach to all of those standards, they could spend no more than ½ a day on each standard.
Standards Based Education really should be learning-focused education, it's not about I taught it anymore -- because we want to make sure the kids have learned it.
The second thing we know is that not all standards are created equally. Some standards are more important in a student's future success in life and beyond than others.
Take non-fiction writing. Think about your day, I'll bet you did some nonfiction writing for your job or in your personal life – emails or wherever.
Nonfiction writing is a power standard. We didn't make the standard up. Districts all around the nation are looking at all of their standards and saying this. My daughter-in-law is a new teacher – she's looking at all of these standards, and saying I don't know which ones are more important. If I don't have time to teach all of them and teach them all to the same depth.
Research is saying to us – and now national standards are coming out --You have to spend the time looking at these standards' complexity, analyzing the complexity of these standards, asking some tough questions –which ones are we not going to let students out of the door NOT knowing?
Because what we've been doing – and it wasn't a bad system because we didn't have a different way – (for example, take three people in the room) we had three sophomore English classes and we all walked out the door with something different: she walked out the door with a strong background in nonfiction writing because her teacher was a rock star at teaching nonfiction writing; my teacher wasn't so great at it, so I left with a strong understanding of Shakespeare; and she left with a strong understand of how to determine what the important detail is in a piece of text so she can look at it and analyze it later. Is that what we want for our kids? Should we three have walked out the door with the same sets of those essential standards because they're going to serve them well today, and tomorrow and in the future? That's what we've done.
We brought together teams of teachers last year -- not administrators: K-12 teachers in content areas, all in the same room -- and used the work of Dr. Larry Ainsworth and Dr. Douglas Reeves.
And we looked at all 35,000 standards and asked them, teachers, what do you believe are the most essential and we used three criteria.
- Readiness – will this standard prepare the student for the next grade?
- Endurance – does this standard stay with this kid and serve him for life?
- Leverage – does the standard leverage the student in other content areas – so, nonfiction writing, does is help you in science, social studies --yes?
It wasn't based on what we love to teach, which to be honest, (is what) we did before.
The reason we did this together is that elementary teachers never talk to middle school teachers.
We aligned them to the state tests, the HSPE and MSP, looked at the SATs, IB and Cambridge exams. AP teachers identified AP standards; IB teachers, IB standards.
But what we've said as a district is that we have to agree on what's most important for our kids, we owe it to them. Teachers said we've never had this conversation before. The other thing teachers said was, wow, I didn't really realize that the standard was asking me to have that child go to a very high level of rigor, and analyze and interpret, I was just having them identify and do this stuff down here.
We have parents saying we are dumbing down the system. We have teachers looking at something called the cognitive complexity of the standard – how difficult is it? If that's the level of difficulty, then we have to test them to match that, not test them down there. If they don't know it at this cognitive level, then we are doing them an injustice.
We identified power standards for every content area. It was a whirlwind, we did it in a year. The conversations were the most powerful teachers have ever heard.
Then we said, look at some of these standards, they're huge, it's not just "Identify the author's purpose," it's "Identify the author's purpose, evaluate the …, and then do this." That's a huge standard. Now we have to chunk them apart into bites. So kids can be successful in one piece of it, then go to another piece and another. Those are the learning targets.
The power standard is the whole, the learning targets are the pieces. Some people think we have a power standard and three new pieces of learning underneath. No – all of those learning targets are connected. Did we do a perfect job? No, there's a school district in Illinois that's been doing this for eight years, and they said to me, you have to look at your power standards every year to make sure you got them right. Because guess what, the same kids who walk through your doors in September aren't the same who walk through your doors next September. You've got to use your student data, your MSP, all of those pieces to analyze -- did we get the right power standards?
Here's the next thing, if we really do our job and start at Kindergarten and be sure our kids learn by the time they leave, some of those standards we chose for 7th and 8th we might be able to take off because kids have got it by the time they're there. So we'll go back and analyze.
Did we do a perfect job this year? No, but I think our teachers are thinking I can do this, 15 power standards. And we're saying to them, it's not just about you teaching them.
I love what Amye said at the board meeting the other night: Amye said it's about you showing us your work teachers, how do you know the student met them. Because as a parent you have the right to walk into the classroom and say, "You said my kid didn't meet the standard, please show me and tell me why so that I can help them at home." Then I would say, "What are YOU going to do for them, teacher, so they can, because this is about all students meeting standard, not just some."
So this was the process we took for identifying the standards. You saw some handouts, you now know as a parent these are the 15 things –concepts – your child needs to know at each grade and you can sit down with your teachers and say what are things they know and don't know.
Posted: December 21, 2011