Live Coverage from the Conference
PSEA posted live updates from the Pennsylvanians Achieving Academic Success Conference on April 6, including photos, participants' impressions of the sessions and coverage of sessions and keynote speakers.
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Breakout Sessions and Team Meetings
At the close of Carol Corbett Burris's session, conference attendees broke into 6 groups, talking about a variety of subjects including legal issues, professional development, building systems of schoolwide support, meeting students' socio-emotional needs, a continued look at using data for de-tracking systems, and using tools that the PA Department of Education has to offer to address achievement gaps.
One presenter from the breakout sessions, Kelly Carey, school psychologist for the Pocono Mountain School District, shared his thoughts about achievement gaps and systems of schoolwide support in April's PSEA member spotlight.
Following the breakouts, team members will meet to discuss the day's events, followed by dinner featuring a talk by Dr. Robin Jackson. Jackson, educator and author, will give a talk titled "Never Work Harder than Your Students and Other Principles of Great Teaching."
Session 2: Using Data in Pursuit of Solutions
After a short break, we have gathered again as a group to hear a case study of how data can be applied effectively to address achievement gaps. Special guest speaker Carol Corbett Burris, Ed.D., the principal of South Side High School in Rockville Centre, NY, explained to the group how her district used data to try to increase Regents diploma rates and raise the participation of students in accelerated math classes.
By analyzing student data to define characteristics of students who do not receive diplomas and to identify students at risk, the district created a strategy focused on bringing new resources to students rather than using remediation. This strategy involved eliminating track choices for grades 9 and 10, and putting all students into heterogeneous groups taking rigorous courses. In her school of over 1100 students, more than three times as many African-American and Latino students are now taking accelerated math courses than in 1995, including AP calculus in their senior year. The likelihood of all students to take accelerated math classes increased significantly.
What did Rockville Centre learn?
- Acceleration is more effective than remediation
- Heterogeneious grouping + high track curriculum appears to be the best grouping combination
- Prior to detracking, when there was a choice, 48% of high achieving minority students did not take accelerated math (for white or asian high-achievers, this rate was less than 20%).
- The program did not change the results for "high achieving" students
- Special education student achievement increased
"The conference is very informative. We didn't know what to expect, but Richard Rothstein made a lot of sense - and this is important information. We wish there were more teachers here today." - Debbie and Jan Cechak, Tunkhannock Area School District.
"I was surprised by the keynote speaker. I was so glad to hear his attitude and approach to talking about No Child Left Behind, with facts behind it. He definitely got my attention."
- Patrick Andrews, learning support teacher in Fairfield School District
Pictured at left: Debbie and Jan Cechak, Pictured at right: Patrick Andrews.
Pictures from Session 1
PSEA President's comments on Rothstein
PSEA President Jim Testerman shared his thoughts on Richard Rothstein's presentation: "We are fortunate to have a speaker with Richard Rothstein's experience and expertise to set the tone for this conference. Achievement gaps are a real problem for our schools. Rothstein's common sense look at the research - showing the impact students' socioeconomic differences outside of the classroom on their abilities to learn and achieve in the classroom - is essential for us to consider.
As eductors, this conference gives us a valuable opportunity to talk about what schools can do to close student achievement gaps, but big picture perspectives like Rothstein's are ideas that we can and must consider as we work to find effective, lasting solutions."
Session 1: Questioning the Origins of Gaps: Do We Have the Data We Need?
One table during the first round of discussions focused on raising the bar of achievement, but creating a more positive learning environment to make that possible. Programs like "KidWriting" help students to be more creative about their reading and math work. They mention the Reading First initiative, which emphasizes the importance of getting students to read by 3rd grade, but the group notes that this can't be done at the expense of music and art. Aside from the importance of the arts, courses like music and art also help teachers to have more planning time for their lessons.
First up on the team discussion agenda is a look at the importance of accurate data. Dr. Robert L. Jarvis, Director of K-12 Outreach, Penn Center for Educational Leadership, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania, and Director of the Delaware Valley Minority Student Achievement Consortium.
In this session, each table discussed as a group the kind of data that school districts currently collect and analyze - and what that means in terms of closing the achievement gap. Participants also discussed
Opening: Lunch and Keynote Speaker Richard Rothstein
Keynote speaker Richard Rothstein opened the conference with a talk illustrating the varying causes of achievement gaps. He discusses research showing that students' lives outside of the classroom play a major role in achievement gaps. Students' socioeconomic status, their access to health care, dental care, physical fitness, and the environments in which they grow up have a significant effect on their abilities in the classroom. Rothstein talked about the importance of recognizing these factors, rather than looking at them as excuses. He addressed the problems of No Child Left Behind, arguing that holding schools accountable to only math and reading test scores widen the achievement gap by forcing schools to focus on narrow goals, and advocated for closing the achievement gap by looking past narrow solutions that only address one problem.
The question and answer series of the lunch focused on the Obama education plans, merit pay and special education's relationship to achievement gaps. Rothstein mentioned that Obama's health care plan would have "enormous impact on closing the achievement gap," and noted the importance of the president's focus on early childhood education and nurse-family partnership. He noted that he thinks Obama doesn't realize the problems with merit pay, and how impossible it is to measure a teacher's contribution.
Rothstein discussed several problems with merit pay, saying that a merit pay system based on test scores would hurt teachers, students and student achievement, and noting research concluding that no actions should be based on the outcome of a single test. On special education, Rothstein talked about the importance of health care and early childhood programs in helping to identify students needing support from special education programs, both to close the achievement gaps and to make sure that students needing additional support receive it at an early age.
Pictured: Richard Rothstein
Mr. Leonard Ference Executive Director, Pennsylvania Middle Schools Association and PSEA President James P. Testerman welcomed participants to the conference. In his opening comments, Testerman remarked "The science teacher in me believes that there is a scientific way we solve achievement gaps, that there is an algorithm, and that algorithm is this: the more that people and organizations forego fads and quick fixes, the more children we can help fulfill their potential." Testerman announced Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute, for a talk titled "Where Do Student Achievement Gaps Originate, and Why Are They So Persistent?"
Dr. Carla Claycomb, PSEA staff, welcomed participants to the conference and encouraged district teams to begin to discuss their team's work at the conference over lunch. I had the opportunity to talk with Christy Clapper, school counselor for Quaker Valley School District, about what she hopes to learn here at the conference. "I'm hoping to learn a little bit of other's perspectives about where achievement gaps originate and how they affect other public schools," Clapper said. I'm hoping to learn how we can mitigate those concerns in our own school system."
Pictured: Christy Clapper