With the new state budget indicating that Jeffco’s budget will be increasing again for the fifth year in a row, we are looking forward to the upcoming board meeting on April 7th, when the new board will give their initial recommendations on budget priorities and on allocating the one billion dollar budget that the Jeffco school district spends.
At the study session on March 17th, the board heard a presentation from the new parent-led District Accountability Committee (DAC) on their research of the root causes across the district that have prevented student achievement from seeing significant improvement.
At the top of the list of concerns is the percentage of 3rd graders that are not proficient in English Language Arts. The new DAC did a thorough analysis, sharing multiple measures which are incredibly alarming. While it is true that expectations where raised last year, it is also true that nearly every measure shows over half of Jeffco third graders have significant deficits. The 2015 PARCC scores showed 56% of 3rd graders did not met or exceed the state performance expectations in English Language Arts. In addition, nearly every sub group of students from Hispanics, to free and reduced lunch students performed significantly below average. Furthermore the district’s new MAP assessments, which were given at the beginning of the school year and the end of the first semester, showed growth of only 5.4 when the expected growth was 7.2 and only 39% of 3rd graders showed the expected growth.
The District Accountability Committee also identified several root causes for this lack of student achievement. Problems range from the professional development not providing the skills necessary for teachers to match interventions to students’ needs, to not enough schools using evidence based instructional practices to promote literacy skills. District leaders are developing plans to address these deficiencies. Clearly these plans will need funding. Whether that is identifying those teachers using best practices and then developing plans to replicate them, or whether it is spending more time to research professional development that will be more effective….the bigger question is will the new board fund the plans that will actually improve student achievement?
Similar root cause problems were identified for two other priority performance challenges, the second of which was the percentage of 8th grade math students that were “on or above grade level”. For math, the 8th grade scores were the lowest math scores of all grade levels. The third priority challenge is that only 28% of Jeffco juniors are meeting the ACT college readiness benchmarks in all four subjects measured.
In both of these areas, the DAC used several different data points to support there being a true need for fast and large improvements. For 8th grade math, the DAC recognized that only 16% of 8th graders taking the 8th grade math PARCC assessment were at or above grade level (this doesn’t include those 8th graders that took the Geometry or Algebra tests). In addition, the MAP assessment showed only 42% of 8th graders made the growth they were expected to make in the first semester and there were gaps in performance for all subgroups except gender. Again, root causes indicate that throughout elementary schools there is a lack of systemic instruction, assessment and grading practices that focus on high level math concepts. The DAC also identified a lack of commitment across the district to ensure consistent differentiated teaching and learning practices which are matched to student needs.
On a related note: Does this mean too many Jeffco teachers are still expecting all students to “get” what they are teaching and therefore don’t modify instruction to fit the needs of their students? Isn’t that one of the major differences between highly effective and effective teachers? Maybe that is why the union doesn’t want to differentiate compensation for those exceptional teachers?
The third priority challenge recognized that after spending 13 years in Jeffco schools and having over $250,000 invested in their public education, only 25% of Jeffco juniors met the ACT benchmark for college readiness in all four subjects tested. The DAC also recognized that over 1000 Jeffco students aren’t graduating in four years and of those that do graduate, over 26% needed to take a remedial class before being ready for a freshman level college class. The root causes for these issues mirrored those of the other critical challenges, including a lack of system wide commitment to ensure classroom practices and program choices that give every student the opportunity to successfully complete their Jeffco education.
Again, the big question is, will the board fund the plans and programs that the district and DAC recommend to solve these critical failings, or will they return to the Cindy Stevenson era of investing money in their favorite program of the day or allocating funds to things that feel good but don’t actually help improve student achievement?
You may remember that back in 2014, after a decade of math scores not growing as expected, the former board decided to unanimously set higher math achievement goals. In order to achieve the goals, district staff recommended a change in math curriculum, and the minority report from the SPAC committee strongly suggested the board make investments that would support improving student achievement. After the district evaluated several new math curriculum options, a new math curriculum was adopted and the board allocated millions to purchase the resources and professional development for teachers to use the recommended new program. This new curriculum had well-documented achievement growth expectations, so the new board can measure if the new curriculum and professional development is producing the expected results.
Similarly in 2014, when the former board voted to focus on increasing the number of 3rd graders who were proficient at reading, district staff recommended investing $2 million in hiring literacy coaches and additional teachers who would work with smaller groups of 3rd grade students to help improve their reading skills. As a result, that board did invest $2 million in new literacy teachers, coaches and resources that would increase third grade reading scores.
Will this new board take a similar approach and allocate new funding to fix what the district and DAC identify as key factors to improving student achievement? Or will they appease the teachers union by throwing more and more money toward teacher compensation? Or will they fund their pet projects which have no research showing how they will improve student achievement?
With another year of increasing funding expected, will the board continue to say they need even more money and plan for a November ballot measure to increase taxes? Or will they evaluate which programs aren’t working, stop funding things that aren’t helping students, and fund expanding those programs that are working?
Obviously the unions will be asking for increases in teacher compensation and as we have seen from the most recent round of negotiations, the union wants to return to treating teachers as widgets. But as is indicated in the root cause analysis, clearly more highly effective teachers are needed in Jeffco to assure every student has access to lessons which meet their needs. Will the union change their tune and support higher compensation for those teachers truly going above and beyond to meet students’ needs? The previous board allocated over 8% increases to compensation over the last two years and provided highly effective teachers twice the take home increases as effective teachers.
Additionally, the previous board raised compensation for new teachers and teachers who had been in Jeffco for less than six years as research showed those teachers compensation levels were significantly below neighboring districts. Will this board follow that lead and make sure that Jeffco continues to offer competitive salaries so we can attract the best teachers to Jeffco?
If this board is seriously vested in helping students to reach their on-target grade level goals, then Jeffco must have a highly-effective educator in every single classroom, and the board must invest in the resources which actually improve student achievement.
Let’s see if this board is serious about a strategy that puts all of the focus and resources on the goal of improving student achievement. Or will they be loyal to the financial backers and supporters of their recent election?