Monday, August 25, 2014

Student Achievement Data

Today, the Hawaii Department of Education released the most recent achievement results for our schools.  This report, called Strive-HI, replaces No Child Left Behind for accountability.

Last year, our third, fourth, and fifth graders took the Hawaii Bridge Assessment which was based on the Common Core State Standards.  This statewide assessment was designed to prepare for this year's Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).  Like the rest of the State, our scores for Reading Proficiency and Math Proficiency dropped a bit due to the increased rigor of the CCSS.

In 2012-2013, 62% of our students were proficient in math and 77% were proficient in reading.  In 2013-2014, that number dropped to 57% for math and 68% for proficiency compared to the state average of 59% for math and 69% for reading.  In science, 63% of our fourth graders met proficiency in 2012-2013, and this past year, that number was 61% compared with the state average of 40%.

Achievement data, student growth in math and reading scores, chronic absenteeism, and gap rate are the measures used to determine a school's Strive-HI status.  Hale Kula students improved in our math growth from 42 points to 57 points and in our reading growth from 47 points to 52 points.  Chronic absenteeism, which we really targeted last school year, went from 16% in 2012-2013 to 5% last school year.  This is a phenomenal improvement, and we intend to continue to stress being in school, on-time and ready-to-learn.  The gap rate, however, increased from 17% to 36%.  This means that the achievement gap between those with greater challenges -- disadvantaged, English Language Learners, and Special Education students -- widened.  This is an area we need to focus on to ensure that ALL students continue to progress on grade level expectations.

Some states are opting to pull out of their commitment to implement the Common Core State Standards. Hawaii is not one of those states.  The CCSS are more rigorous and require students to think critically and reflect on their learning.  Instruction focuses on higher-level thinking skills, not just memorization and rote learning.  It is more challenging for teachers and students, but in the long run, our students will be better-prepared as we empower them to explore, discover, create, and share through project-based learning that integrates the use of technology and Web 2.0 tools.

We are proud of our school's continued progress towards implementation of the Common Core State Standards.  At this week's Parent-Teacher Conference, you will be receiving a Parent's Guide to the CCSS. Please take time to read this pamphlet, and if you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask.

If parents are interested, we can plan a Common Core State Standards information session where you will have a chance to learn more about the standards and ask questions so you know how to support your child at home. Here is a link to indicate your interest in attending a session:

We are committed to continuously improve at Hale Kula Elementary School.  As a school with high transiency, we know that we need to prepare our students, not just for academic success, but for life.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Is Spelling Important?

I loved spelling tests when I was in elementary school.  I was good at spelling and didn't even have to study to get good grades.  So when I began teaching elementary school, I followed the lead of those who had been teaching that grade level for many years as well as what I remembered from my days in elementary school.  We followed the spelling list in the Teacher's Manual for reading.  The kids wrote the words down on Monday, wrote it several times in their spelling book for homework that night, wrote a sentence with each word the next night, alphabetized the list on Wednesday, and studied for the test on Thursday night.  After the test on Friday, parents waited anxiously for the tests to be returned, and we had happy kids or sad kids, depending on how they did.  Sometimes, parents would say, "We studied all night long, and he knew how to spell the word last night.  I don't understand why he missed it."

I began to question the value of spelling tests.  I was concerned that students were scoring 100% on Friday, yet they were misspelling those same words when they wrote in their journal or responded to a question the following week.  When a parent shared that he'd promised to take his son to Toys 'R Us if he scored 100% on his test, I realized that I needed to rethink whether spelling tests were that important.

So I changed what I was doing.  On Monday, the students would take a pre-test, and if a student scored 90%-100%, he/she was exempt from taking the test on Friday.  They still did the homework, but these students didn't have to write the word several times in their spelling book.  At least I was differentiating, I thought, but really, those spelling tests still bothered me.  I also noticed that some students felt defeated; they were working so hard but still not getting the kind of scores they wanted. "Is spelling so important?" I asked myself.  It would have been so easy to abandon spelling altogether and take the heat when parents questioned why.  In the back of my mind, however,  I knew that to be an effective reader and writer, a person needs to be aware of spelling. Knowing patterns and rules does help to decode words and to make connections between letters and sounds which then lead to fluency in reading and writing.

Then I bought a book on teaching spelling, and my biggest "aha" was that spelling is developmental.  (I wish I still had that book because it changed my thinking about spelling.)  The book contained lists for each grade level, and teachers could determine a child's developmental stage by how they spelled the words.  I found it so interesting that how a child spelled a word could determine their developmental stage and influence what and how I taught those children. Recently, I found the "Monster Test" that I remember giving to my students a few years ago. It was a simple way to give students a short test and determine their approximate developmental level for spelling. As I recall, it was really quite accurate and helped me to understand what level students were at and how I could help them get to the next level.

After that, the way I taught spelling changed in my classroom.  We used manipulatives, looked at patterns, and played with words.  One of my favorite memories is when we were thinking of words with "_ar" as the final syllable. (I was teaching first grade at that time.)  I would give a clue, and students had to spell the word with their magnetic letters or write it on their whiteboard.  For example, I said, "This is something you can ride in,"  and students excitedly spelled out "car."  After spelling "far" and "star" and "war," I asked students if they had a riddle for a word that ended with _ar.  I called on Lauren, and she whispered a word in my ear.  "Okay," I said, all the while wondering what her riddle would be.  "This is a place where daddies go after a hard day at work," she proudly shared.  The students had no problem spelling out "bar!"and here I was, thinking of "bar of soap" or "gold bar."

It was those kinds of activities that made a difference for my students.  They began to look forward to the short spelling lessons and for homework, students made lists of words with the pattern we were learning.  Students were delighted when they contributed a word to the list that other students might not have thought of!  Students corrected spelling words in a paragraph or did other fun activities based on the pattern we were studying that week.  We also had a word wall, and students had their own personal Quick-Word Handbook. They didn't have to worry about spelling for their first writing draft but they knew that self-correcting their spelling was part of the writing process, and they had tools they could rely on if they needed help.

Oh, one more thing . . . we did take spelling tests, but now, they weren't taken every Friday.  Sometime during the week when I thought the students had internalized that spelling pattern, I assessed them, and I added in some bonus words for those who wanted a challenge. The students almost always spelled the words correctly, and if they made an error, they were able to self-correct their mistake. Most importantly, though, was that their subsequent writing assignments reflected that they had truly learned the spelling patterns of the words we had studied.

In this age of Spell-Check, is it important for students to learn to spell correctly?  Yes, I believe that spelling still has a place in the classroom.  Being an effective communicator and a quality producer means that the reader's understanding and enjoyment of a piece of writing is not hindered by poor spelling.  How we teach spelling, however, does not have to be mundane or boring.  

Friday, August 8, 2014

A New School Year = A New Way Forward

Today is a perfect day for me to reflect on the first two weeks of SY 2014-2015.  School was cancelled due to the impending hurricanes - Isella and Julio.  Right now, the sun is shining here in Central Oahu, but earlier, we had rain and some wind.  Nothing like the Big Island, though, for which we are grateful.  Hopefully, Julio changes direction and misses our islands.

I have been the principal at Hale Kula since 2002, and each year has brought new learnings and experiences for me.  This year will be no exception.  Last year was challenging with the implementation of a trial Educator Effectiveness System, the new evaluation system the teachers agreed to as part of their last contract negotiations.  The Department wisely enlisted feedback from principals and teachers and revised the system this year so it is more manageable and can truly make a difference in improving teaching and learning.

This summer was probably the busiest since I first became principal.  Our campus has been transformed into a construction zone, and workers were busy getting as much done as possible while school was not in session, including working into the evening and on weekends. (I started a blog last year to document our progress on this project.)  Today, that campus has changed considerably and will continue to change for the next two years or so.  We are fortunate to be working with a wonderful team.  Everyone patiently answers my numerous questions, and they take care of our concerns right away. We haven't completely moved into our new administration building yet, and we still have lots of organizing to do. It certainly is wonderful, though, to be in a new office which is more than twice the size of the other one.

Enrollment is down -- way down -- and we cannot figure out why this is happening.  Our School Liaison Officer shared that this seems to be a trend, and it may have to do with the increase in housing allowance for our military personnel.  Perhaps families are opting to use their increase in allowance and live off-base. Whatever the reason, we could face some hard decisions on Official Enrollment Count Date next week because our allocation is based on the number of students enrolled.

This year, students in Hawaii will be taking the Smarter Balanced Assessments for the first time.  This will provide us with baseline data for future years.  Last school year, our school participated in the pilot SBAC test, and the students struggled.  Teachers realized that preparing our students for the Hawaii State Assessment was very different; they had gotten used to the types of questions on the HSA, and it was clear that the SBAC requires more writing and deeper thinking.  Students need to have those kinds of experiences if we expect them to feel confident as test-takers.  At Hale Kula, we did not purchase the programs for language arts (Wonders) or math (Stepping Stones) because we did not have the funds to do so.  We have the opportunity to demonstrate that it is not the program that makes a difference; it is the teacher in the classroom who empowers students to want to learn through inquiry-based projects, problem-solving activities, and differentiated instruction, as well as collaboration within the school as well as globally.

Recently, Eric Sheninger spoke with a group of school leaders from the North Central complex area. Eric is the principal of New Milford High School; he is an innovative school leader, renowned speaker-presenter, and the author of Digital Leadership:  Changing Paradigms for Changing Times.  As a school leader, he supported and empowered his staff and students to transform teaching and learning and to use technology as a tool for exploring, collaborating, communicating, thinking critically, problem-solving, creating, and sharing.  The projects he shared, all staff or student-initiated, were inspiring and true examples of learning beyond the walls of the school.  This is what we would like all of our Hale Kula students to experience, from our youngest preschoolers to our fifth graders.

And this is what I hope all our teachers believe about me as an administrator -- that I will support and empower them to try new ideas in their classroom; it is only two weeks since our teachers returned for the school year, but already, several of them have shared that they will be trying something new this year.  Many are also open to sharing with other teachers at our Tech Tips Tuesdays about how they use a specific tech tool in their classroom.  We are encouraging reflection - by students and teachers - as a way to make learning more permanent and meaningful.  Perhaps someone will decide to try blogging as a reflective tool; it's been effective for me :-)

I am looking forward to a great school year!

#SAVMP, #Eric Sheninger