The Wawascene was created by Dr. Mark Stock, former Superintendent of the Wawasee Community School Corporation. Due to its local popularity, Dr. Stock has left the blog site to future Wawasee administrators.

Blog Rules

Comments should be respectful and pertain to the topic posted. Comments about personnel matters should be made directly to the administrators responsible. Blog moderators reserve the right to remove any comment determined not in keeping with these guidelines.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Saturday Satire

Indiana Announces New Testing Program

Indiana Education officicals have announced a new standardized testing program that will go farther than any previous testing efforts in an attempt to hold schools accountable for student learning.

The testing efforts will begin before the student's birth and end with college graduation.

State Testing Director, I.M. NumBr Krunchr explained, "This is revolutionary! We will be testing parents before they are permitted to have children. They must pass a standardized parent test that will be used to predict their child's future success in school. This way we will be able to ensure that children are getting an optimum chance at success in school. There is no secret that certain parenting behaviors give students a better chance. We have correlated those behaviors to school success and created test questions that identify those core parenting values. Now the government will simply not allow those parents to birth children unless they can get a certain score."

Critics of the new program have accused the state of "draconian measures" to which I.M. Numbr Krunchr replied, "Hogwash, the business community is worried that we will fall behind China and they already limit parents to one child per couple. It's a global world now. We might as well go a step further."

The new test, which will be an on-line version using technology will be titled, "Indiana Statewide Test for Education and Pupil Proficiency Emphasizing Diplomas IN Instructional Technology (I. S.T.E.P.P.E.D IN I.T.)

Friday Football

Friday, September 29, 2006

More calls for standardized testing in college

A recent federal report is now calling for more "accountability" from universities and colleges, including a call for standardized testing.

I guess it was inevitable. But...aren't college students already tested enough?

Most professions already test their incoming people. Lawyers take the bar exam; Doctors pass their residencies and other exams; teachers take their NTE's and PRAXIS tests; accountants pass the CPA exam; cosmetologists take their state exams; airplane mechanics pass the Airframe and Powerplant tests; nurses take the nursing exams ...etc.

Presto... the magic answer to every educational issue ... another test.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

More from Daniels on county tax boards

The Star continues in this article on the issue of county tax control boards.

Here is a quote and my comments:
Property tax rates in recent years have climbed for many homeowners statewide, in large part because school boards and other local agencies have greater and more expensive needs.
This is true in part. Yet absent from the discussion AGAIN is, "Where do these 'greater and more expensive needs' come from? I'll tell where much of it comes from...unfunded mandates from state and federal government, pushed down to the local school boards. Once again, the discussion deflects attention away from state and federal lawmakers who continually expand their influence and then push the responsibility to fund these laws to the local school boards.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Daniel's proposes tax control units

In this Indy Star article, Governor Daniels proposes "tax control units" whose job would be to control property taxes.

I don't know enough about how such a "control unit" would work to know whether or not it is a good idea. Like they say, "the devil is in the details."

However, I do take exception to Governor Daniels statement that towns, schools, and libraries etc. have "broad control" over their taxing capacities.

This seems like pure "pass the buck" political speak.

I can't speak for municipalities, towns and libraries, but I can speak on behalf of schools. Most schools do not have "broad control" over their property tax rates.

In actuality school boards do not "control" very much of the property tax rate at all especially when you consider the state and federal controls that exist over public schooling and the continual mandates that expand our mission.

How about a "de-control board" that actually returns local control to schools and school boards?

I thought Republicans used to stand for more local control and less state and federal control?

That is not what most of are seeing across America these days.

My .02.

2-Hour Delay on Monday, September 25th

Wawasee Community Schools is on a two-hour delay with the alternate kindergarten schedule today due to fog in our area. Drive safely!

Writing Matters

Students taking the new SAT exams have noticed that writing skills matter.

Students are even being asked to write short answers on unlikely subjects like Math and Science.

Article here.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Friday's Funnies

A small boy is sent to bed by his father. Five minutes later:
"I'm thirsty. Can you bring me a drink of water?"
"No, you had your chance. Lights out."
Five minutes later:
"I'm THIRSTY. Can I have a drink of water?"
"I told you NO! If you ask again, I'm coming in to spank you!"
Five minutes later...
"Daaa-aaaad...When you come in to spank me, can you bring me a drink of water?"

One day the first grade teacher was reading the story of Chicken Little to her class.
She came to the part where Chicken Little warns the farmer.
She read, "...and Chicken Little went up to the farmer and said, "The sky is falling!"
The teacher then asked the class, "And what do you think the farmer said?"
One little girl raised her hand and said, "I think he said: Holy cow! A talking chicken!"
The teacher was unable to teach for the next 10 minutes.

What do you say to full day K?

Star likes it . (Just remember though, this is the same mathematically challenged editorial board that thinks 84% on a driver's test is more difficult than a 61% ISTEP cut-score. If they only would have had full-day K!!)

Gazette likes it but wants the guv to talk more about the benefits.

My prediction is that Wawasee won't see it for awhile because the first money will go to schools with higher free and reduced lunch counts.

Go Warriors beat Plymouth!

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Are their brains really different?

There is a growing number of researchers saying that our children's brains are indeed different.

Ask any teacher who has been in the business for 15 years or more and they will likely tell you that the students have changed. Yet the educational materials industry struggles to respond to these changes. Do kids really have short attention spans? I don't think so. Does your son or daughter play video games for hours on end? Is that a short attention span? I suspect the "new brains" just aren't easily captivated by a lecture ( no matter how passionate) about a speeding vehicle when they can simulate driving one in their NASCAR racing game, complete with making the car adjustments necessary to eke out every bit of speed from the vehicle. Think of the physics lessons there!

Most people believe that the fast paced, interactive world of MTV, video gaming, iPod's, cell phones, instant messaging, text messaging and connectivity have truly created differences in the way our children learn. Despite the doomsayers out there, this might not be all bad.

Every teacher should read this article about "digital natives" and "digital immigrants."

The author also says in another article, "Perhaps the most important difference is that the "stuff" to be learned - information, concepts, relationships, etc. - cannot be just "told" to these students. It must be learned by them, through questions, discovery, construction, and above all FUN."

In the old way of thinking, learning is hard work. In the new age learning may be hard - but it may not always be work.

When the video gaming industry learns how to structure their products for the school environment and market, and tailor those simulations and experiences to specific course content, it will sell and it will work. It will also INCREASE the need for quality teachers, not decrease the need.

I talked to a teacher recently who has gotten some notoriety for publishing articles about the increases in unit test scores for students who conducted video gaming units versus those students who learned in traditional textbook units. His comment?

The greatest fear of his colleagues is that they would be obsolete and no longer needed.

Those colleagues are wrong. The careful use of gaming simulations to teach content in an interactive environment INCREASES the need of careful reflection that a skillful teacher can bring to the class. In fact, it may actually free the teacher to spend more time on the reflection and higher order processing when the content to be learned is actually imbedded in the game.

It is precisely this REFLECTION and processing that the high paced world we are in living in is neglecting.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

ISTEP and testing FAQ's

A recent commenter posted several questions about how ISTEP scores are used in the schools. I will post some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQ's) that I hear about ISTEP and testing in the schools.

How can you compare ISTEP scores from several years ago to today’s students? Aren’t those different tests now? Aren’t the students different too?

Yes, and that can complicate matters but not near as much as conventional wisdom would have one believe when schools are trying to do program evaluation. Several years ago, each school “weighed-in” in their goal areas (math computation for example) and tried to get a well-rounded measure of how students were performing in that specific area. They collected many different assessment scores from a variety of assessments and a variety of grade levels in order to establish a baseline for math computation. They may have had 10-15 different measures or more, including ISTEP. In cases where the ISTEP test changed, the old test scores are replaced with the new so that “apples-to-apples” comparisons are made.

Then, each school put in place an improvement plan targeting that area and went to work over the years implementing improvement strategies. After lots of hard work the schools this year will "weigh-out" by repeating those 10-15 different measures spread over those different assessments and different grade levels and try to determine if the overall pattern of achievement in math computation among the new students is different. This method is used for trying to determine if the program changes the school has made is changing the patterns of student achievement.

Yes, these are different students. However, when sample sizes get large enough on each assessment (generally speaking, the research says 70-100 students per sample size) the statistical probability of the group of students being “out of norm” is a lot less. Then by spreading this risk over multiple assessments and multiple grade levels, we can generally use this information to make some basic decisions about our curriculum and methods.

Then the tough questions come up.

Are the new students so different that the results are not comparable? This can happen but it is not as likely as most believe.

Was it the interventions we used that made the biggest difference or was it something else? If so, which ones? Should the staff continue with the strategies they were using or will another one make a bigger difference for our students?

These are the questions that professionals must wrestle with. Data will NOT make the decisions for us, but I am proud to work in a district that will at least use some professional decision-making processes to guide our discussions.

Ultimately our decisions still end up being professional judgments, but at least we are using information and data to help inform our practice.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Dumbest Editorial Ever?

This ranks right up there with some of the dumbest editorials I have ever read.

Click here.

The basic premise? ISTEP is easy because you only have to get 61% on some sections/grade levels to pass. The Indiana drivers' test is harder because you have to get an 84% to pass.

Say what?

With this logic it is easier to be a baseball player because you only have to average 1 for 3 at the plate to be in the Hall of Fame but a basketball player has to shoot 50% from the field to be considered good.

My premise? This editorial writer doesn't have a prayer of passing the 6th grade Math problem-solving portion of the test!

On a side note...I checked with our school attorney. He recalls needing to get at least 70% on the essay questions on the bar exam. Using The Star's illogic, the bar exam "lacks rigor" due to the 70% cut score. According to The Star it is easier to pass the essay section of the bar exam than it is to get your driver's license.

Quick update on Milford School

We took a few calls regarding Milford School being in "lock-down" so I thought I would post the real story this morning to squelch any wild rumors.

Milford School went into "lock-down" this morning as students were entering the school. A student had allegedly made a "threat" and left the building indicating they might return shortly. The school immediately went into lock-down procedure as they are trained to do. The police immediately went to the home and took the child into custody.

The school came out of lock-down and started their normal schedule.

Thank you to the school administrators, teachers, employees and students for handling the situation quickly and professionally.

Thank you to the parent who called here immediately to get the real story.

Monday, September 18, 2006

ISTEP this week

This is the week that ISTEP tests are given throughout Indiana in grades 3-10. It is especially important in Wawasee Schools this year because this is our "documentation year." That means that we must "document" our students' achievement this year and compare it to our students' achievement from several years ago and see if the students have improved in certain goal areas.

Our goals are NOT to improve test scores. Our goals are to improve the skills of our students.

Yet we continue to be asked the important question, "How do you know if they are getting better in their skills?" Of course we then go back to different assessments and look for patterns in the data.

There are people in the school district who are trained to do fairly complex data analysis in order to try and answer these two questions:

Did our students get better in the school's goal areas?
If so how much better? A little, A lot?
If students declined in their achievement was it a little or a lot?

Then the hardest question of all for a faculty to answer is..."If they got better in the goal areas, what interventions did we use that made the biggest difference? If they declined why did they decline?

This is the heart of what all professionals do in any profession. Analyze their own performances for feedback so they can better serve.

ISTEP is not only used for assessment at the individual student level, but it is just one part of a school-wide multi-faceted assessment plan that is being used to reflect on our own professional practices.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Friday's Funnies

The following is supposedly an actual question given on a University of Washington chemistry midterm. It really is a silly test question that the professor was clearly being funny with. I hope it is not offensive to anyone. It is "tongue-and-cheek" even though I personally consider the subject itself a serious matter.

The answer below is by one student on a chemistry exam and was so unusual that the professor shared it with colleagues, via the Internet, which is, of course, is why we now have the pleasure of enjoying it as well.

Bonus Question: Is Hell exothermic (gives off heat) or endothermic (absorbs heat)?

Most of the students wrote proofs of their beliefs using Boyle's Law, (gas cools off when it expands and heats up when it is compressed or some variant).

One student, however, wrote the following:

First, we need to know how the mass of Hell is changing in time. So we need to know the rate that souls are moving into Hell and the rate they are leaving. I think that we can safely assume that once a soul gets to Hell, it will not leave. Therefore, no souls are leaving. As for how many souls are entering Hell, lets look at the different religions that exist in the world today. Some of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to Hell. Since there are more than one of these religions and since people do not belong to more than one religion, we can safely project that all souls will go to Hell.

With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in Hell to increase exponentially. Now, we look at the rate of change of the volume in Hell because Boyle's Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in Hell to stay the same, the volume of Hell has to expand proportionately as souls are added. This gives two possibilities:

1. If Hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter Hell, then the temperature and pressure in Hell will increase until all Hell breaks loose.
2. Of course, if Hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in Hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until Hell freezes over.

So which is it? If we accept the postulate given to me by Ms. Teresa B. during my Freshman year, "...that it will be a cold day in Hell before I go out with you," and take into account the fact that I still have not succeeded in going out with with her, then, #2 cannot be true, and thus I am sure that Hell is exothermic and will not freeze.

The student received the only "A" given.

2-Hour Delay

Wawasee Schools are on a two-hour delay today due to dense fog.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Board Meeting Highlights

At Tuesday night's regular monthly meeting, The Wawasee Board of School Trustees:

1. Approved claims, minutes and personnel items
2. Heard a report on the Wawasee Middle School Mentoring Grant and Program
They learned that the grant ends next year. The goal is to expand the number of adult mentor volunteers. The number of student/mentor matches is still higher than the other mentor grant programs that are operating. Students, parents, and Bowen Center representatives attended the meeting to express their thanks for supporting the program. The next big hurdle is continuing the program after the grant ends.
3. Approved the financial report
4. Approved the 2007 budget
5. Authorized Mr. Evans to make reductions in appropriations at the budget hearing
6. Approved the tax neutrality resolution (which essentially states that the tax rate to annually fund pension bonds is being taken from other funds and is not an additional tax)
7. Heard a report from the Superintendent on class sizes, Primetime funding history, ISBA conferences and upcoming insurance meetings.
8. Heard a report from the Director of Curriculum on ISTEP testing and upcoming professional development activities

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Parent involvement is the key

Here is a great article, forwarded to me by Mr. Duncan, Principal at Jefferson Elementary in Warsaw Schools. One of his teachers tipped him off about it. Here is an excerpt:

A 1994 report by Anne Henderson and Nancy Berla, for example, compiled results of 66 studies and concluded that family involvement was the biggest predictor of student achievement, and that family involvement not only helped students, it also improved teacher morale, helped teachers earn higher ratings from students, and bolstered the reputation of the school in the community.

Whoa. It's the biggest predictor. In other words, a kid from a supportive family in a mediocre school will fare better than a kid with an indifferent family at a great school.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Dropouts make less

While everyone argues over whose fault it is that so many students still drop out of high school in this modern day era, the question, "Who stands to lose the most?" doesn't get much debate.

It is the student himself/herself with the most to lose.

Here is another story with some statistics that seems to say that American dropouts take a big wage hit compared to non-dropouts, in fact a larger percentage hit than many other countries.

On-line Petition for NCLB

No Child Left Behind is a federal law which has created the most sweeping changes in American education probably since public law 94-142 brought about much needed change in special education service.

Along with these sweeping changes has come a new federal control over education in our country. Has this new phase of "central planning" in education been helpful? Like most things it depends on who you ask. Educators critical of NCLB have been accused of being defensive and afraid of accountability. I heard a Wawasee teacher last week say, "I think accountability has been good, but I think the curriculum has become so focused (narrow) that I am afraid we are giving up a lot that no one is recognizing."

Clicking on this link will take you to an open letter to federal legislators seeking changes in the way NCLB has been developed and implemented.

If you agree with most of what you see in the letter you can click on the link to submit your name as a "signer" of the petition.

As a parent, if you are unsure of how the local educators feel about how the current form of NCLB is changing classroom practices, consider asking your own child's teacher or teachers how they feel about it.

Like most things in life there may be some good in NCLB, but there are huge unintended consequences that affect the curriculum and methodologies in the classroom. Educators are now pondering the question, "What is America giving up in its push to raise standardized test scores, and do we know if it is worth it?"

Recently there have even been calls for a required standardized national test AND required standardized testing in colleges. How much is too much? Does this type of "central planning" and government control promote or inhibit innovation and creativity, previously the hallmarks of American ingenuity?

Click here and read the open letter to federal legislators.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Indiana gets B+ in college completion

The Journal Gazette points out the good news as well. Indiana does well compared to other states in graduating its college students. Fifty-five percent (55%) of Indiana's first time/fulltime college students completed a Bachelor's degree within 6 years.

Over the last decade it is also 10% more likely that an Indiana student will be enrolled in college by the age 19.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Indiana gets F in college affordability

The Star discusses a recent report that gave Indiana an F for a grade in college affordability. Evidently college tuition costs have risen faster than inflation, endangering student access to higher education.

If it is any consolation, the article goes on to say 42 other states flunked too.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Wawascene in the national blogosphere again

If you haven't been checking out The Education Wonks blog site every week, don't forget to do so. It is one of the best national blog sites for a variety of educational news around the country.

I give Mike the free plug because he cross linked to The Wawascene today in a reference to Indiana's behind the scenes proposal to link ISTEP to teacher incentive pay.

What no one will talk about

Here is a sensitive one.

Here is a link that shows student SAT scores by race and gender.

As you can see, some of Indiana's minority children are having some difficulty. BUT, did you know that virtually all minority groups in America have improved? Did you know that despite the fact that ALL of America's subgroups have improved that the TOTAL average for SAT's is relatively flat?

Say What??? How can every group in America get better but the whole group NOT improve?

It is a statistical phenomenon known to experts as Simpson's Paradox, named after Bart Simpson. (I'm just kidding about Bart.) However, Here is a link that discusses Simpson's Paradox and uses SAT data to explain.

Here is another link that shows the growing minority population.

Here is another one that shows the growing number of students who have limited English.

Here is a link that shows Indiana's increase in percentages of students passing ISTEP Math.

Here is a link that shows Indiana's increase in percentages of students passing ISTEP Language.

Now here is my point.

1. There is a fairly significant achievement gap among the races.
2. AND the percentage of minorities has increased.
3. AND the percentage of students with limited English has gone up dramatically.
4. YET, despite these barriers, ISTEP scores in Indiana have gone up in Math and Language

What am I trying to say?

Despite increasing numbers of students who have traditionally had more difficulty on such tests, Indiana has improved. While this could be a function of Indiana's subpopulations not growing as rapidly as the rest of the nation, it could also be that Indiana has improved enough to buck the trend and beat the odds. Let's hope that's true.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

What factors explain variation in student achievement?

One of our commenters asked the question, "What are some of the factors that influence the variation in student achievement that are NOT in the schools' control?"

Great question.

First it is important to understand that correlation is NOT cause-and-effect. Correlation simply means that two items seem to be " co-related," meaning they have a relationship. For example, poverty has a fairly strong correlation to test scores. They go together but poverty does not CAUSE low test scores. There are poor students with high test scores and rich students with lower test scores. The relationship is NOT cause-and-effect, but few people will deny that there is a relationship between these two items.

To demonstrate this I have provided a few links.

If you click here, you will see student SAT scores in Indiana by parental income levels.

If you click here, you will see student SAT scores in Indiana by parental education levels.

I will share more information later that could start a small ruckus. You see, there are some politically touchy things here that Democrats and Republicans both seem to shy away from addressing publicly, but most likely for different reasons.

Democrats run the risk of offending their political bases by trotting out some of these stats, and the Republicans run the risk of showing that public schools are doing a pretty darn good job given the social trends they are dealing with. And that my friends, doesn't help advance a privatization/school voucher agenda.

My .02. More later.

Two hour delay Wednesday

There is a two hour delay for Wednesday.

Medium to heavy fog blanketing most of the school district.

Drive carefully.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Indiana teacher pay could tie to ISTEP?

In what is sure to be a lively debate, Indiana Education Insight (8/21/06) has reported that the Governor, the Indiana Department of Education and key legislators are quietly negotiating a bill for 2007, that if approved, would link teacher salary incentives to test scores.

This proposal would create a performance-based compensation system under which teachers who improve student test scores, demonstrate good teaching methods, assume leadership roles, or complete professional development would be eligible for salary incentives.

Indiana Education Insight understands that the Governor has presented a plan to Dr. Reed, State Superintendent of Public Instruction as part of a plan to address teacher shortages and improve teacher quality and retention.

The ISTA (Indiana State Teacher's Association) has historically been opposed to performance-based pay systems and favored more seniority-based pay plans. The lobbying at the state level will be pretty intense.

I personally have concerns if the "pay for performance" incentives are too closely tied to specific ISTEP scores from specific students. Especially since most research attributes somewhere around 70% or more of the variation in student test scores to things outside a school's control.

I might be less concerned about the other items such as "leadership roles" or "completing professional development activities" since one could argue that those things are more closely under the teacher's control. Still, I would want to see the details.

I do believe some type of pay system that is not exclusively seniority-based could have some bearing on teacher retention. Public education loses a lot of teachers in their first 5-8 years.

Dr. Reed is reported to have some reservations to the plan but may be favorable to some type of incentive system in the school areas that report high turnover in teaching staff.

Two-hour delay

There is a two-hour fog delay this morning.

Dense fog blanketing most of our area.

Drive safely.