parent engagement


Test for the Good of the Learner – Adaptively with Immediate Feedback

How about adaptive tests that are shorter because they zero in on skills and knowledge levels of each learner?

How about giving these tests 3 times a year instead of long tests at the end of the year?

How about having immediate results so that teachers, students, and families know what gaps need filling, skills need practice, gains need celebrating?

Two states are currently working on replacing end of year summative tests (like Smarter Balanced) with these MAP online adaptive tests given three times a year and providing guidance immediately to teachers instead of sending information to the next year’s teacher on last year’s student.

Read about it here:
https://www.edsurge.com/news/2019-10-21-should-state-assessments-be-split-up-testmaker-nwea-thinks-so

How Should We Learn & Teach Now and What Tools Can Help Most?

See also:

First, let’s talk about the point of education and the capability of today’s learning management systems to support that process.

Children enter our world loving to learn. It is our job to support that love of learning and to remove obstacles. Each child should have an education of equity and excellence. Each child needs to be supported, seen, heard, and valued. When they are seen by teachers, parents, mentors, and peers, they can see their own unique gifts. In this way they can develop their abilities and contribute to the community. The ability to contribute brings happiness, satisfaction, and financial stability. All of this nurtures our community to flourish in peace.

We have not been doing so well in meeting those objectives. Frequent testing interrupts learning and brings many students anxiety and shame. Our very testing to ensure that they not be “left behind” can be an obstacle. We need common, advanced, effective, simple-to-use systems that let our teachers reach each child individually so the magic of learning and happiness can emerge.

Parents for Public Schools of Hawaii began 11 years ago, and I have served on the board since its founding, usually leading communications for the group. When we ask parents what they love about our schools they almost always smile and say “the teachers”. When we ask them what distresses them the most about our schools, the answer is usually accompanied by visible discomfort as they say “testing”. Parents often explain that their children are anxious during testing times, come home upset, and do not want to go to school. Some kids love tests, but the ones who do not love tests are often hurt and discouraged by them.

How can we help all of our students and ensure that school is a productive enjoyable place to be so that they continue to love learning?

Over the past two decades, many of us have worked to leverage technology, and its related partner, assessment, to increase engagement, effectiveness, personalization, and equity. It has been a tough and frustrating struggle. Overworked administrators have frequently balked at trying new approaches. Or, if they have chosen innovative systems or tools, often they have been unable to invest adequately in teacher professional development, planning time, bandwidth or devices needed to be successful.

So it is with mixed feelings that we, who have been carefully crafting tools, see this this pandemic-driven rush to virtual learning. Many districts are using old systems or not using systems at all, perhaps not knowing that there are better options. Other districts do not understand the importance of interoperability (systems working together) or integration (systems actually married to deliver results.) In some districts, schools are left to decide whether to use learning management system at all or to pick their own. This creates inefficiency, wasted money, an inability to gather district-wide detailed learning data, and frustration by parents in dealing with multiple systems in different schools. While the schools and teachers should be seeking empowerment and freedom to localize content and instructional approach, energy and time are wasted when each school makes decisions on systems that should be district-wide.

We do not just need these systems because of the pandemic. Districts and schools would have benefitted from using learning management systems effectively for years. Effective implementation of integrated systems protects our student’s time and success, our teacher’s time and success, and delivers ease of information to our families. This work can save money, make teaching more enjoyable retaining more of our great experienced teachers.

Now, in this pandemic, we realize we need virtual learning and that we need systems to manage and deliver that learning. We need these systems for this emergency, but we also need these systems for the pre-existing non-pandemic emergencies and the post-pandemic critical requirements of 21st century careers and families.

No business would let different departments choose different management systems when they have objectives that must be met. We have learning objectives for each child that must be met. Each child must be supported to realize their own unique gifts. We cannot waste time or funds in setting up rival management systems. Great freedom and creativity can be wielded if all accept the best state of the art interoperable systems now. Then we can innovate, individualize, and localize those systems.

So what are all these systems and tools that need to be coordinated? I will describe the main types with some examples below. I will note what the District/State of Hawai‘i is using now, and what I think the district should consider.

Student Information Systems (SIS) — enable enrollment, finance, school buses, cafeterias, class scheduling, grades– and some deliver special education IEPs and manage assessments, Community (family/teacher/student) Portal, etc. (Some of the leading student information systems are PowerSchool, Grade Link, Infinite Campus, Skyward, QuickSchools, Alma, and Focus)
— The Hawai‘i DOE uses Infinite Campus which has many functionalities– some of which may not be fully used at this time.
— I think HI DOE could continue to use Infinite Campus, seeing if it can get more performance and value from it. But it may want to move to PowerSchool or another provider after the current emergencies.

Learning Management Systems (LMS) — class set up, instructional plans, lessons, grades, classroom and teacher to home communications, etc. (Examples are Canvas, Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Google Classroom, Edmodo, Atlas, Schoology)
— Some schools within the HI DOE have used Blackboard Learn (Bb) for professional development and some classroom use. So now, in response to the pandemic, the HI DOE is offering the Blackboard Learn LMS to schools who wish it. We understand from the DOE that this is an interim decision as a team with members from the Information and Instruction departments. Bb was founded to serve universities, later developing K12- versions. However, elementary schools do not use Bb and Bb is not seen as desirable for middle school students or even many high school students. It is regrettable that teachers will spend time learning the Bb system, when we hope they will soon move to a more appropriate LMS.

Meanwhile, many teachers have begun using Google Classroom for their classes even though they have to enter student information themselves. (I have just heard that the district is populating the Google Classrooms for the teachers, that they were going to integrate the classroom content into the current district SIS, Infinite Campus. Then I heard that plan has been changed and there will be no integration this year.) These rumors and changes are an example of the confusion many parents and teachers describe.



It is good that the DOE has acquired gmail accounts for all students so that they can use Google Classroom (and other benefits.) As of this writing, Google Classroom is not a full LMS, however, Google has been continuously expanding their education applications. Google Classroom is needed by the HI teachers now, since Bb does not provide the same easy student interface or support teacher elementary level lesson creation. In a few years, our Hawai‘i schools might be able to manage learning through free Google applications, but we are not there yet.

Since many other apps/software need to be integrated with the LMS, using Schoology’s LMS (which was bought in 2019 by the leading SIS provider, PowerSchool) makes sense. Schoology has easy to use standards-based learning tracking as well as grading, rubric support for project-based learning, and is more interoperable than other LMS’s. It is IMS Global certified and LTI and QTI compliant. It is automatically integrated with Google Drive, YouTube, Ck12, Khan Academy and other useful apps. Should the district decide to move off Infinite Campus, it would be easy to use Schoology with its parent company SIS, PowerSchool. Perhaps the HI DOE should consider moving to Schoology or Canvas to avoid wasted transitional training on Blackboard Learn.

Special Education Management Systems— manage, generate, track IEPs (Individual Education Plans) such as EdPlan, SpedTrak, Frontline, PowerSchool Special Programs, and eCSSS. The HI DOE uses the eCSSS system which was reviewed in the 2018 Special Education Task Force Report concluding that a replacement tool for eCSSS should be adopted. The PowerSchool “Unified Classrooms Special Programs” appears to be an easy to use manager for IEPs, 504, ELL, Gifted, RTI, and more all translated into over 60 languages. The HI DOE could consider the PowerSchool Special Programs manager application.

Virtual Learning Tools — Synchronous video conferencing: (Webex, Zoom, GoToWebinar, MS Teams, Google Meet, etc.)
Currently, the HI DOE uses Webex. I do not know if teachers are finding it easy to use Webex. The BOE uses Webex without video for its meetings and the lack of video reduces the effectiveness of the meetings. Zoom has an expansion license that enables 1000 synchronous video users. If Webex has the same, it should be used. If not, Zoom should be considered. Zoom is easily integrated into Schoology. Adobe Connect is another highly scalable video conferencing alternative. The HI DOE should have easy to use synchronous and asynchronous video conferencing for teacher, admin and BOE use.

School Community Family Teacher Student Portal — Portals enable districts to reach teachers, students, and families with essential messages and to give dashboards to each user that gives them access to the appropriate student and learning information. Most SISs have portals and there are standalone portals. Infinite Campus offers a portal which is used by the HI DOE. However, from our PPS-Hawai‘i survey, it seems few families use it. The HI DOE website does not clearly feature it. Each school has their own website. Families seem to get lost between the messages on the HI DOE website, their school website, emails, and texts. The HI DOE website site map shows no pages under “G” for Guardian, no information under “F” for Families, and under “P” for Parents, few resources show up and no referral to a Parent Portal is made.

Despite district website, newsletters, flyers, and video interviews, in addition to school websites, principal and teacher communications, the district does not seem to be succeeding in communicating effectively with families. I hope that HI DOE redesigns its communications strategy using the existing SIS Infinite Campus (or PowerSchool’s or another provider’s Unified Portal). One simplified portal could provide two way communication to all parties. School websites could be connected– but the portal should be the easiest, clearest, simplest link to each student’s educational experience– for teachers, students and families.

To summarize my current thinking on Hawai‘i learning and education management systems:

Learning and education management applications have been developing quickly. Some SIS and LMS systems have been shuttered. It is appropriate to reevaluate existing systems given breakthrough new idea and solutions to old problems.

Guiding principles, systems should be:

1) Easy for teachers to use so that teaching time and flow is not interrupted and they are not frustrated learning codes or rules.

2) Engaging to students with a user interface they can relate to, delivering interactive, synchronous, asynchronous media and tracking learning in a way that is encouraging and motivational to them.

3)  Effective solutions for special programs — SPED, RTI, Gifted, ELL — maximizing quality data and faculty attention to students – not record keeping.

4) “Interoperable”— meaning that systems can easily connect, sharing data through APIs, with other applications. 

5) Inclusive of families, students and teachers— bringing easy, clear two way communication to all — linked to the instructional access and student progress details.

This summer, the HI DOE offered “Blackboard Learn” LMS to all schools- but made it optional. Blackboard Learn is widely known not to serve elementary or middle school students well. Investing teacher time on learning it now may be wasteful. We should rush to find the best LMS solution, preferably integrated with the SIS. Schoology appears to be a better LMS solution than Blackboard Learn or Google Classroom. We should develop an integrated SIS/LMS solution and train teachers to use it now. That will satisfy #1 and #2.

We should see if Infinite campus can provide solutions for SPED and if its portal, the HI DOE website, and communications strategies can be redesigned to better include two way communication with families and students. Infinite Campus interoperability should be analyzed. If Infinite Campus cannot meet these #2, 3, 4 needs, HI DOE should consider moving to PowerSchool or another SIS.

Authentic Assessment

The emergence of PBL (Project-Based Learning) has accelerated interest in “authentic assessment”– the evaluation of student work by rubric. This practice makes it possible for students to spend their time learning and for teachers to spend instructional time in support of student learning and progress rather than interrupting learning for testing or test prep.

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Hawai‘i Department of Education Student Privacy Policies and Processes

The DOE website includes this information on Student Privacy. At the bottom is a link to the full page with more language resources.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that gives parents certain protections with regard to their children’s education records, such as report cards, transcripts, disciplinary records, contact and family information, and class schedules. As a parent, you have the right to review your child’s education records and to request changes under limited circumstances.

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Parent-Teacher-District Communications for Learning Progress

Parent engagement has a significant impact on student learning progress, comfort, and happiness.  Yet few schools or districts have yet designed systems that support ease and variety of two-way communications between district and parent and teacher and parent. We are gathering resources here to see how easy, empowering communications can be integrated into the learning management systems.

Given the explosion of virtual learning during  the pandemic, parents have been more involved in student learning providing a possible increase in the impact of parent engagement on student progress as well as an increase in utilization of technology learning tools  by teachers, students and parent.

A serious equity gap has widened given the disparity in student devices, Internet access, student, teacheer and parent technology app savvy, and parental knowledge of school processes and the curriculum.

We are gathering research and solutions here with an aim to find or create effective home-school communication to support student learning and family engagement.

How Two-Way Communication Can Boost Parent Engagement

Link to Waterford.org website– information and links to research on Parent/Teacher/District communications.

Communication Between Educators and Parents in Title I Elementary

A dissertation on parent/teacher communications, types and impacts,  in Title I schools.

Link to comparison of Schoolology, PowerSchool, and TalentLMS– learning management systems with extensive school-home communciations. https://comparisons.financesonline.com/schoology-vs-powerschool

Eric Paper on Two Way Parent Teacher Communication

Enhancing School–Home Communication Through Learning Management System Adoption: Parent and Teacher Perceptions and Practices, by Nora S. Laho (This paper examines usage of various communications methods after implementation of Schoology LMS.)

Obama Term 2: Four Education Objectives

  • Higher standards and better assessments that will prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace
  • Ambitious efforts to recruit, prepare, develop, and advance effective teachers and principals, especially in the classrooms where they are most needed
  • Smarter data systems to measure student growth and success, and help educators improve instruction
  • New attention and a national effort to turn around our lowest-achieving schools.

The first and third objectives are closely related and having them both make the top 4 list, amid hundreds of other critical objectives, is concerning. Measuring, measuring, measuring; we can fail to support and develop our youths core gifts.

I would like to see the objective:

Support teachers, advanced assessment, media, technology, content, and authentic learning experiences to individualize, deepen and maximize learning for each student.

 

Is Choice a Panacea? (scholarly paper on KIPP and other charters)

quote: “Shifting tax dollars into charters turns out, despite the publicity, not to be the panacea for Black students, but an apparent diversion of tax dollars and public attention from the real possibilities that could come from a sustained investment in Texas and the nations public schools.”

abstract: Public concern about pervasive inequalities in traditional public schools, combined with growing political, parental, and corporate support, has created the expectation that charter schools are the solution for educating minorities, particularly Black youth. There is a paucity of research on the educational attainment of Black youth in privately operated charters, particularly on the issue of attrition. This paper finds that on average peer urban districts in Texas show lower incidence of Black student dropouts and leavers relative to charters. The data also show that despite the claims that 88-90% of the children attending KIPP charters go on to college, their attrition rate for Black secondary students surpasses that of their peer urban districts. And this is in spite of KIPP spending 30–60% more per pupil than comparable urban districts. The analyses also show that the vast majority of privately operated charter districts in Texas serve very few Black students.

Read the full paper here

Questions to Ask Ourselves as We Lead Youth at Home and at School

I’ve adapted the questions below for parents from Sacramento Teacher Larry Ferlazzo’s  “Five Questions for Parents to Ask Ourselves” aimed at classroom practice for teachers. (see link below)

1) Does my question bring me closer to my child—or push me away?

2) Does our activity connect with my child’s personal interests and goals?

3) Am I setting things up so my child “does the work” – instead of me?

4) Am I helping my child to develop and use “higher level thinking skills”
(figuring it out rather than memorizing)

5) Am I encouraging cooperative, continuous learning?
(with my questions and support of thinking activities with siblings and friends.

Larry’s good article, which provides much context for these questions can be read at:  http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2011/08/16/ferlazzo_fiveways.html

The Education Crisis Rivets Attention in Films

Race to Nowhere shows the desperate situations in several geographically spread areas, and the efforts of parents and others to organize to improve conditions. This film points to the importance in educating the whole child, in involving parents and the community, rather than focusing only on test scores. In pursuit of A’s, American students are driven to suicide, cheating, and drugs. Parents are expected to raise high-achieving children who excel at everything; academics, sports and the arts-plus community service. Students feel pushed to the brink, educators worry they aren’t learning anything substantive, and college professors and business leaders are concerned that incoming employees lack the skills needed to succeed. This film tackles the tragic side of our often achievement-obsessed culture and offers solutions.

Hawai’i local showing:  The film was shown in high schools around Oahu and at the Honolulu Art Academy.
For a CNN news story on Race to Nowhere  click here for video clip

Waiting for Superman, by Academy Award winning director David Guggenheim, presents the dismal and shocking facts about our outmoded education system. The film’s impact on the visibility of the education crisis, and animation of facts into a form that the public can digest, are important and helpful. However, the effect of the engaging stories of several students competing for entry to charter schools is, unfortunately, misleading though poignant.

Hawai’i local showing: This film was shown to teachers in Honolulu with representatives from the HI DOE, HSTA, Castle Foundation, and Kamehameha Schools hosting. Discussions run hot about mischaracterizations, assumptions, and focus on the minority of students angling for charter admission– rather than the majority who will and must be served via traditional public schools.  The animated statistics intro (a very useful part of the film) was shown at the Education Town Hall this spring attended by Governor Abercrombie and Maya Soetero-Ng.

For my review on “Waiting for Superman” click here to open pdf

A Community Concern, a film giving visibility to the power of organizing as a way to improve urban public schools, provides hope to community organizations across the country. A Community Concern is a documentary about people who refuse to accept the system’s failures, and are working for change. Their spirit, passion and commitment shows that when organizers, parents, youth and educators work together, they are successful. It brings together stories of people facing different challenges, but share similar goals.

Hawai’i local showing: A Community Concern was shown as an introduction to Education Talk Story meetings at churches on Oahu as a part of a community awareness campaign by FACE, Education Task Force (Faith Action for Community Equity).

For a preview, visit the website and click the video.