Saturday, January 12, 2013

Fraught with discipline

Onward! 4LAKids
4LAKids: Sunday 13•Jan•2013
In This Issue:
 •  NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS AUGMENTED: Instead of using bond money to purchase iPads, why not use it to upgrade safety+security technology in our schools?
 •  STATE SUPERINTENDENT TOM TORLAKSON PROPOSES NEW STATEWIDE TESTING SYSTEM: Common Core Assessments to Focus on Problem Solving and Critical Thinking
 •  HIGHLIGHTS, LOWLIGHTS & THE NEWS THAT DOESN'T FIT: The Rest (but not necessarily the best) of the Stories from Other Sources
 •  EVENTS: Coming up next week...
 •  What can YOU do?

Featured Links:
 •  OUR CHILDREN, OUR FUTURE: What will California schoolchildren, your school district and YOUR School get when the initiative passes?
 •  Follow 4 LAKids on Twitter - or get instant updates via text message by texting
 •  4LAKids Anthology: All the Past Issues, solved, resolved and unsolved!
 •  4LAKidsNews: a compendium of recent items of interest - news stories, scurrilous rumors, links, academic papers, rants and amusing anecdotes, etc.
FRAUGHT appeared in a headline in the NY Times last week – it jumped off the page as one of those words that are almost-but-not-quite archaic: “full of”…but with a slight negative connotation. “Here be the possibility of dragons.” In the past week I’ve heard it in conversation twice – “fraught with possibilities” is my favorite usage. Not all the possibilities are positive.

DISCIPLINE is a whole other thing – a word that used to signify a value that was highly prized but now seems to worry folk for its negative meaning. If one were to envisage ‘school discipline’ one might conjure up an image of Michelle Rhee in fishnets and a leather bustier. Maybe that’s just me …let’s not go there.

I have been working for a number of years with folks on an LAUSD Discipline Policy. We agonized over the word itself – but continued on in an attempt to restore discipline’s good name. LAUSD’s previous policy was a mess – and was certainly uneven from school-to-school, classroom-to-classroom and principal-to-principal.

Students were regularly suspended for truancy and tardiness. Kids were suspended in large numbers for “willful defiance” – something I consider the job description of an adolescent …but no one could agree upon what ‘defiance’ meant. It might be dropping a pencil or a provocative stare or owning that dog that routinely eats homework. The Discipline Policy Task Force ran the numbers and found that suspension for willful defiance was epidemic among students of color, special ed students and males. If you were a Black special ed kid you might as well just take a seat outside the principal’s office!

There are times when 4LAKids is willfully defiant. This is one of them.

If you Google LAUSD and Discipline Policy your screen will fill with contradictions – and will ultimately bring up this image: - with Superintendent Harry Handler paddling School Board Member Bobbi Fieldler in a 1979 photo op promoting Fiedler’s initiative to restore corporal punishment in the District after a four year hiatus. (Fiedler was against busing but for paddling. She successfully ended the first and brought back the later – and got herself elected to Congress.)

LAUSD’s new discipline policy is research-based and data driven; reached through collaboration, consensus and hard work by a lot of folks – including Beaudry educrats, outside agencies, ivory tower educational theorists (sorry Dr. Sprague!), classroom teachers, school administrators, parents, school police, civil rights attorneys and law enforcement. The policy is a mouthful: The Discipline Foundation Policy for the implementation of School-Wide Positive Behavior Support and Response to Intervention Strategies – but it is extremely good work/very well done.

And now that it’s in place and being implemented districtwide the conventional thinking by the conventional thinkers (“It must be working – we have 100% compliance!”) is that the work is complete and those that worked on it are no longer needed. That nothing is ever done and anything+everything in public education is dynamic and constantly evolving seems to have eluded the powers-that-be. The folks in School Operations who now are charged with implementing the plan are wonderful warm human beings with the milk of human kindness by the quart in every vein. But they are not the ones who created and nurtured the plan. They are not the Health and Human Services folk who lived and breathed the plan. They were not at the table.

Consequently we are back at the table with a new cast and we are having the conversation again. And the consensus at the table among the new folk is that ‘Discipline’ is too loaded a word.

Déjà vu. Welcome to square one. For those of you who have been here before please do not complain overmuch: There is work to be redone.

THE GOVERNOR’S WONDERFUL NEW BUDGET … Fraught with possibilities and ‘Discipline’s in the headlines.

Huffington Post: Jerry Brown's New Budget for Post-Crisis California: Discipline Begets Opportunity
Wall Street Journal Opinion:Brown's Breakthrough Budget
Marketplace: California's budget goes from red to black
Sacramento Bee: California budget has money for promised raise for state workers, but little else

The Governor hit the ground running Thursday, selling The Weighted Student Formula – which didn’t get much traction in the legislature last year – so he’s not calling it that this year.

Whatever Jerry calls it, LAUSD+UTLA will be for it because it will bring added money to the District. But most students, teachers, administrators, superintendents and school board members don’t work in LA. Most parents, voters taxpayers and legislators are from Somewhere Else. And the folk from Somewhere Else (when SE isn’t San Diego, Sacramento, San Jose, Long Beach or Fresno) are going to want to know what’s in it for them. Stay tuned.

THE CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION proposed to eliminate some of the STAR test a year early next year in anticipation (we can hardly wait) for the new Common Core Tests. [STATE SCHOOLS CHIEF URGES CUT IN NUMBER OF TESTS NEXT YEAR]. This has Superintendent Deasy’s knickers in a twist: How will her evaluate teachers and measure Academic Growth Over Time and Add (or subtract) Value without those tests? This is actually an opportunity for him to find out …because the STAR tests are going away totally in 2015!

• Statistical Analyst par-excellence Nate Silver – the Mario Andretti of the data drivers –- on data-driven metrics for teacher evaluation: “…applying objective measures badly is worse than not applying them at all”

And buried in the CDE plan is a proposal to fund all the tablets and laptops needed to implement Common Core Testing with a California State Bond. Why would LAUSD use local Q bond money to fund this investment when California is going to anyway? Though 4LAKids believes the testing companies – who will reap huge profits from the Common Core Tests – should foot the bill. And to repeat the question asked in the AALA Update: “Instead of using bond money to purchase iPads, why not use it to upgrade safety and security technology in our schools and offices?”

THE SAME U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION that denied California a waiver from No Child’s Left Behind - because we won’t evaluate teachers based on test scores that are meaningless to students - granted waivers to Virginia and Florida who created different testing benchmarks for Black, Brown, White, Asian and Special Ed Students [see “YOU DON’T FIX EDUCATION BY LOWERING THE BAR. YOU DO IT BY LIFTING THE KIDS.”]. There’s a name for this but it’s not a nice word. Another name for it is ‘separate but unequal’. The case law is Brown v. Board of Education + Mendez v. Westminster. The U.S. Dept. of Ed has an Office of Civil Rights. Maybe they were too busy sending out their resumes?

¡Onward/Adelante! - smf

LAUSD DISCIPLINE FOUNDATION POLICY RESOURCE MANUAL for the implementation of School-Wide Positive Behavior Support

Huffington Post |

This article by June Ellen Stevens appeared in the Huffington Post on June 26th and 27th of 2012 .
The first time that principal Jim Sporleder tried the New Approach to Student Discipline at Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA, he was blown away. Because it worked. In fact, it worked so well that he never went back to the Old Approach to Student Discipline.

This is how it went down:

A student blows up at a teacher, drops the F-bomb. The usual approach at Lincoln -- and, safe to say, at most high schools in this country -- is automatic suspension. Instead, Sporleder sits the kid down and says quietly:

"Wow. Are you OK? This doesn't sound like you. What's going on?"

The kid was ready. Ready, man! For an anger blast to his face..."How could you do that?" "What's wrong with you?"... and for the big boot out of school. But he was NOT ready for kindness. The armor-plated defenses melt like ice under a blowtorch and the words pour out: "My dad's an alcoholic. He's promised me things my whole life and never keeps those promises." The waterfall of words that go deep into his home life, which is no piece of breeze, end with this sentence: "I shouldn't have blown up at the teacher."


And then he goes back to the teacher and apologizes. Without prompting from Sporleder.

"The kid still got a consequence," explains Sporleder -- but he wasn't sent home, a place where there wasn't anyone who cares much about what he does or doesn't do. He went in-school suspension, a quiet, comforting room where he can talk with the attending teacher, catch up on his homework, or just sit and think about how maybe he could do things differently next time.

Before the words "namby-pamby", "weenie", or "not the way they did things in my day" start flowing across your lips, take a look at these numbers:

2009-2010 (Before new approach)
• 798 suspensions (days students were out of school)
• 50 expulsions

2010-2011 (After new approach)
• 135 suspensions (days students were out of school)
• 30 expulsions

"It sounds simple," says Sporleder about the new approach. "Just by asking kids what's going on with them, they just started talking. It made a believer out of me right away."

Trauma-sensitive schools. Trauma-informed classrooms. Compassionate schools. Safe and supportive schools. All different names to describe a movement that's taking shape and gaining momentum across the country. And it all boils down to this: Kids who are experiencing the toxic stress of severe and chronic trauma just can't learn. It's physiologically impossible.

These kids express their toxic stress by dropping the F-bomb, skipping school, or being the "unmotivated" child, head down on the desk or staring into space. In other words, they're having typical stress reactions: fight, flight or freeze.

In trauma-sensitive schools, teachers don't punish a kid for "bad" behavior -- they don't want to traumatize an already traumatized child. They dig deeper to help a child feel safe so that she or he can move out of stress mode, and learn again.

Pick any classroom in any school in any state in the country, and you'll find at least a handful -- and sometimes more than a handful -- of students experiencing some type of severe trauma.

What's severe trauma? We're not talking falling on a playground and breaking a finger here. This trauma is gut-wrenching, life-bending and mind-warping: Living with an alcoholic parent or a parent diagnosed with depression or other mental illness. Witnessing a mother being abused (physically or verbally). Being physically, sexually or verbally abused. Losing a parent to abandonment or divorce. Homelessness. Being bullied. You can probably name a few others.

Since at least 2005, a few dozen individual schools across the U.S. have adopted some type of trauma-sensitive approach. But the centers of gravity for most of the action are in Massachusetts and Washington. These two states lead the way in taking a district-wide approach to integrating trauma-informed practices, with an eye to state-wide adoption.

Without a school-wide approach, "it's very hard to address the role that trauma is playing in learning," says Susan Cole, director of the Trauma an Learning Policy Initiative, a joint project of Harvard Law School and Massachusetts Advocates for Children. Cole is co-author of a seminal book: Helping Traumatized Children Learn, sometimes known as "The Purple Book."

With a school-wide strategy, trauma-sensitive approaches are woven into the school's daily activities: the classroom, the cafeteria, the halls, buses, the playground. "This enables children to feel academically, socially, emotionally and physically safe wherever they go in the school. And when children feel safe, they can calm down and learn," says Cole. "The district needs to support the individual school to do this work. With the district on board, principals can have the latitude to put this issue on the front burner, where it belongs."

Many teachers have known for years that trauma interferes with a kid's ability to learn. But school officials from both states cite two research breakthroughs that provide the evidence and data.

One was the CDC's Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study). It uncovered a stunning link between childhood trauma and the chronic diseases people develop as adults. This includes heart disease, lung cancer, diabetes and many autoimmune diseases, as well as depression, violence, being a victim of violence, and suicide.

The study's researchers came up with an ACE score to explain a person's risk for chronic disease. Think of it as a cholesterol score for childhood toxic stress. You get one point for each type of trauma. The higher your ACE score, the higher your risk of health and social problems.

A whopping two thirds of the 17,000 people in the ACE Study had an ACE score of at least one; 87 percent of those had more than one. With an ACE score of 4 or more, things start getting serious. The likelihood of chronic pulmonary lung disease increases 390 percent; hepatitis, 240 percent; depression 460 percent; suicide, 1,220 percent. Public health experts had never seen anything like it.

(By the way, lest you think that the ACE Study was yet another involving inner-city poor people of color, take note: The study's participants were 17,000 mostly white, middle and upper-middle class college-educated San Diegans with good jobs and great health care - they all belonged to Kaiser Permanente.)

The second game-changing discovery explains why childhood trauma has such tragic long-term consequences: Toxic stress physically damages a child's developing brain. This was determined by a group of neurobiologists and pediatricians, including neurobiologist Martin Teicher and pediatrician Jack Shonkoff, both at Harvard University, neuroscientist Bruce McEwen at Rockefeller University, and Bruce Perry at the Child Trauma Academy.

Together, the two discoveries reveal a story too compelling for schools to ignore:

Children with toxic stress live their lives in fight, flight or fright (freeze) mode. They respond to the world as a place of constant danger. Their brains overloaded with stress hormones and unable to function appropriately, they can't focus on schoolwork. They fall behind in school or fail to develop healthy relationships with peers or create problems with teachers and principals because they are unable to trust adults. With despair, guilt and frustration pecking away at their psyches, they often find solace in food, alcohol, tobacco, methamphetamines, inappropriate sex, high-risk sports, and/or work. They don't regard these coping methods as problems. They see them as solutions to escape from depression, anxiety, anger, fear and shame.

When Sal Terrasi, director of pupil personnel services for the Brockton Public Schools, learned about this research, it really didn't surprise him that trauma interfered with a kid's ability to learn. A 40-year veteran of public schools, "I wasn't unaware of this," he says.

But having empirical data gave him a good reason to try something in Brockton's 23 schools that had never been attempted: Create a trauma-informed school district that works in tandem with the local police department, and the departments of children and family services, mental health, youth services and a group of local counseling agencies.

Oh, he ran into resistance all right. Some teachers' knee-jerk reaction to an angry 15-year-old yelling in their faces is to yell back, kick the kid out of class, and talk with other teachers about how to punish the punk. Or, as Terrasi puts it: they regard the behavior as willful disobedience instead of a manifestation of trauma.

The same teacher is not likely to have the same attitude toward a six-year-old girl who's lost in a daze and will not participate in any class activities.

And yet both children might be responding in their own way to a similar event: awakening to a mother's screams in the middle of the night, calling 911 in despair and watching in terror as police cart dad off to jail.


Take a short walk on the dark side of our public education system, and you learn some disturbing lessons about school punishment.

First. U.S. schools suspend millions of kids -- 3,328,750, to be exact. Since the 1970s, says a National Education Policy Center report published in October 2011, the suspension rate's nearly doubled for white kids, to nearly 6 percent. It's more than doubled for Hispanics to 7 percent, and to a stunning 15 percent for blacks. For Native Americans, it's almost tripled, from 3 percent to 8 percent.

Second. If you think all these suspensions are for weapons and drugs, recalibrate. There's been a kind of "zero-tolerance creep" since schools adopted "zero-tolerance" policies. Only 5 percent of all out-of-school suspensions were for weapons or drugs, said the NEPC report, citing a 2006 study. The other 95 percent were categorized as "disruptive behavior" and "other", which includes violation of dress code, being "defiant" and, in at least one case, farting.

Third. They don't work for the kids who get kicked out. In fact, these "throw-away" kids get shunted off a track to college or vocational school and onto the dead-end spur of juvenile hall and prison. One suspension triples the likelihood of a child becoming involved with the juvenile justice system, and doubles the likelihood of a child repeating a grade. And those suspensions begin early.

In Pierce County, Washington, a study of nearly 2,000 children who were on probation, 85 percent were suspended before they reached high school. A heartbreaking one-third of these students experienced their first suspension between 5 years old and 9 years old.

When you hear information like that, you've got to consider that it's not the kids who are failing the system -- the system is failing the kids.

That's what Sal Terrasi, director of pupil personnel services for the Brockton Public Schools, had been thinking for years. Now he had empirical evidence -- the CDC's ACE Study, the neurobiological research that definitely showed that traumatized kids cannot learn when they are over-stressed, and Helping Traumatized Children Learn, the book that Susan Cole, director of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative (TLPI) at Harvard Law School and Massachusetts Advocates for Children, co-authored.

With all that in hand, he said, metaphorically, "Enough already." What he really said was: "I saw the data as providing us with powerful support for change."

He called a community-wide meeting. Each of the district's 23 schools sent a four-member team. Representatives from the district attorney's office showed up. So did local police (in a learning capacity), as well as the departments of children and families, youth services, and mental health. Local counseling agencies sent folks. They spent a whole day working with TLPI and talking about trauma and learning.

The response has been nothing short of amazing: an entire community figuring out ways to turn the system from a blame-shame-punishment approach to one of taking care of kids so that they can learn.

• Many of the district's 23 schools have adopted trauma-informed improvement plans. Suspensions and expulsions have plummeted. Arnone Elementary, for example, which has 826 students from kindergarten through 5th grade, 86 percent of which are minorities, has seen a 40 percent drop in suspensions.

• Three hundred of the district's 1400 teachers have taken a course about teaching traumatized children that TLPI developed with the district and educators at Lesley University.
• The attention to child trauma doesn't stop at the schoolyard fence. Local police alert school personnel of any arrest or visit to an address. Counselors identify children who live at that address so that, "at the very least, the school is aware that a second or third-grader is carrying something around that is a big deal," says Terrasi.

So many schools in Massachusetts are interested in adopting a trauma-informed approach that the state legislature is considering a bill -- House Bill 1962 -- requiring schools to develop an action plan to develop "safe and supportive schools." (Apparently, that's a little more positive wording than "trauma-sensitive.")

It's all well and good to advise schools to do everything through a trauma-informed lens, but when you get down to classrooms and students, what exactly does that mean?

The Arnone School staff, which was trained by TLPI's Joe Ristuccia in how trauma affects learning, instituted two programs: Collaborative Problem Solving, developed by child psychologist Ross Greene, author of The Explosive Child and Lost at School. The other is the Positive Behavioral Interventions & Support program, which is used in more than 16,000 schools across the U.S.

The U.S. Department of Education-sponsored program acknowledges that punishment, "including reprimands, loss of privileges, office referrals, suspensions, and expulsions," is ineffective, according to a description of the program that appears on its website, "especially when it is used inconsistently and in the absence of other positive strategies". Instead, "teaching behavioral expectations and rewarding students for following them is a much more positive approach than waiting for misbehavior to occur before responding."

These expectations include teaching children how to "show respect, responsibility, safety and kindness," says Peri Jacoubs, Arnone's assistant principal. Teachers use a system of rewards for good behavior, as well as positive reinforcement, such as telling a child who's walking in the hallway "I really like the way you're walking," instead of waiting for, or only saying or yelling, "Stop running", if a child starts running.

In Washington State, six elementary schools in the Spokane Public School District are becoming trauma-informed. After the successful adoption in Lincoln High School (see Part I of this series, as well as a longer story about how Lincoln High School changed its system), the Walla Walla Public Schools plan to figure out how to integrate the approach in its other schools.

The training for both school districts comes from the Washington State University's Area Health Education Center (AHEC). It started from completely different place than Massachusetts did -- wanting to reduce children's exposure to violence.

It began with juvenile justice and public health, but it soon became clear that "no treatment system was large enough or versatile enough to respond" to the challenge, says Chris Blodgett, AHEC director. The answer was to engage "universal" systems -- the ones that touch children every single day. That means schools. They adapted the ARC model developed at the Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute, as well as the "Flexible Framework" found in Helping Traumatized Children Learn.

Even though each state started down different paths, they've arrived at the same conclusions.

• To be successful, this transition requires the participation of all schools in a district.
• It takes an entire community to support the changes.
• It takes more than one school district to have a long-term impact on a state.
• And there's no such thing as a cookie-cutter approach. The training, the goals, the strategy -- all have "to be tailored to culture of community," says Susan Cole. One school, like Lincoln, might have most of its students grappling with severe and chronic trauma, while another might have a small percentage, but one that needs attention.

Or, as AHEC assistant director Natalie Turner, who does much of the training in Washington State schools, says: "If you've seen one school, you've seen one school."

"Understanding trauma is such a missing piece to school reform," says Cole. The changes that have taken place at schools such as Arnone in Brockton, MA, and Lincoln in Walla Walla, WA, are just the beginning, but they should be the norm, not the exception, she believes.

"There is much work ahead at the policy level," she explains. "Helping educators understand that trauma is playing a key role in many of the problems they are seeing at school is going to require a movement."

● Health/science/tech journnalist Jane Ellen Stevens has 30 years of media experience under her belt: newspapers (Boston Globe, San Francisco Examiner), magazines (National Geographic, Discover), TV (New York Times TV) and web sites (,,, Last year, she founded and itsa ccompanying social network, ACEs Connection.

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS AUGMENTED: Instead of using bond money to purchase iPads, why not use it to upgrade safety+security technology in our schools?

Associated Administrators of Los Angeles Weekly Update Week of January 14, 2013 |

School safety is always a major issue for educators and parents; however, in the aftermath of last month’s tragedy in Connecticut, it has come to the forefront of the nation’s collective conscience.

Myriad proposals have been made, many based in sound pedagogy and others that go from the ridiculous to the sublime. Of course, nothing can ensure 100% safety from the mentally unbalanced or those experiencing a psychotic break, but it is the obligation of District leadership to take an honest look at what security measures can be implemented to enhance safety on LAUSD campuses and in offices. The voters demonstrated their support for public schools in November. It is now time that the District show some tangible uses of the additional revenue it will receive and nothing could be more critical at this time than safety.

Last week, Dr. Judith Perez, AALA President, suggested that senior staff and Board Members consider three New Year’s resolutions related to improving safety for students and staff members:

1. Increase the number of school-based administrators to improve safety and security at school sites.
2. Find ways to use remaining bond money to ensure that all LAUSD schools, particularly older ones, receive needed security upgrades, including those that are technology based.
3. Identify and allocate the resources necessary to provide adequate mental health services and support for students and their families.

This week, we would like to go one step further and provide some specific examples of how to actually carry out the above resolutions.

First and foremost, significantly improved norms for administrators, clerical and custodial staffing in elementary and secondary schools need to be reestablished. A full complement of administrators, clerical and custodial support is critical to the efficient and safe functioning of a school. Therefore, every elementary school needs a full-time principal, assistant principal, plant manager, building and grounds worker, school administrative assistant and office technician, irrespective of size. In addition, full-time campus and/or supervision aides are a mandatory part of the school safety equation. All schools need a person to monitor the main entrance before, during and after school. Also, aides are needed elsewhere on the site to maintain security throughout the campus; a minimum of two per school is necessary, with larger sites allocated four to six. Our recommendation is for 8-hour positions in order to maintain continuity and reduce transiency.

Technology, which is rapidly changing the way society looks at safety, may be used in multiple ways by school staffs and the School Police Department to improve security. Safe School Plans need to be internalized and accessible; emergencies do not allow the luxury of going to the file cabinet to review the action plan.

Technology, including well-designed apps for smart phones, is available that allows teachers, administrators, police and others to access critical information in a few seconds, such as access points, floor plans, reunification areas, shut off and emergency equipment and those with special skills. Instead of using bond money to purchase iPads, why not use it to upgrade safety and security technology in our schools and offices?

Practically every time there has been a mass shooting at a campus, the perpetrator has been one who had previously demonstrated some mental abnormalities. Often, teachers and students have noticed unusual behavior and, in some cases, reported it. However, without adequate mental health support, these disturbed individuals have been able to carry out their deranged plans of revenge. Good emotional and mental health is Critical for students to succeed in school. All too often, children are worn down by societal, peer, parental and global stressors that hinder their ability to focus and achieve. Mental health services in the state have been continually cut in the past years and that is being reflected in society today. LAUSD was once known nationally for its crisis intervention and mental health programs. School staffs used to receive training on threat assessment and intervention procedures and one would think that training contributed to the District not experiencing a catastrophic event such as what occurred in Newtown and other not-as-urban school districts.

It is time to restore LAUSD’s legacy and provide on-site counselors, social workers, psychologists and other mental health professionals who can support students, families and staff members. Partnering with public and private agencies can be of benefit to the entire community.

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings, LAPD, LASPD, the Superintendent and Board Members have been very visible at school sites. While the momentum is there, why not do more than create a photo op?

Why not actually put the money where our collective voices are and provide schools with the additional safety and security measures that are needed to maintain an environment conducive to learning. The time is now; school safety is on the public’s conscience. LAUSD Board Members and Senior Staff—Carpe Diem, seize the day!

STATE SUPERINTENDENT TOM TORLAKSON PROPOSES NEW STATEWIDE TESTING SYSTEM: Common Core Assessments to Focus on Problem Solving and Critical Thinking
Via twitter from @Tom Torlakson and the California Department of Education Facebook page |

Tuesday, January 08, 2013 :: SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today recommended shifting the focus of standardized testing in California to require students to think critically, solve problems, and show a greater depth of knowledge—key tenants of the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

In a report to the Governor and Legislature, Recommendations for Transitioning California to a Future Assessment System, Torlakson made a dozen recommendations that would fundamentally change the state’s student assessment system, replacing the paper-and-pencil based Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program assessments with computerized assessments developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) starting in the 2014‒15 school year.

“Multiple-choice, fill-in-the-bubble tests alone simply cannot do the job anymore, and it’s time for California to move forward with assessments that measure the real-world skills our students need to be ready for a career and for college,” Torlakson said.

“As a teacher, what’s most exciting is that these new tests will serve as models for the kind of high-quality teaching and learning we want in every classroom every day,” Torlakson continued. “The concept is simple but powerful: if our tests require students to think critically and solve problems to do well on test day, those same skills are much more likely to be taught in our classrooms day in and day out.”

Torlakson’s report was mandated by Assembly Bill 250 (Brownley, D-Santa Monica), which the State Superintendent sponsored, to bring school curriculum, instruction, and the state assessment system into alignment with the CCSS. The state’s existing STAR Program assessments are scheduled to sunset July 1, 2014.

California is one of 45 states and three territories that formally have adopted the CCSS for mathematics and English‒language arts. The proposed revisions to align the state’s assessment system with the new standards mark a key milestone in implementing the Common Core.

California serves as a governing state in SBAC, a multistate‒led group that has been working collaboratively to develop a student assessment system aligned with the CCSS.

The SBAC was designed to meet federal- and state-level accountability requirements and provide teachers and parents with timely and accurate information to measure and track individual student growth.

Among the 12 recommendations is the suspension of particular STAR Program assessments for the coming school year unless the exams are specifically mandated by the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) or used for the Early Assessment Program (EAP). This would suspend STAR testing of second graders and end-of-course exams at the high-school level.

Torlakson also recommends that the state provide formative diagnostic tools developed by SBAC to all schools, which would provide teachers and schools with the option of receiving continuing informal feedback on the progress of students throughout the school year.

As required by AB 250, Torlakson’s recommendations reflect an assessment system that would meet the requirements of the current ESEA. But the report also puts forth several different approaches of assessment and urges policymakers to question the current regimen of testing all students, every year, in English‒language arts and mathematics.

Through work group meetings, focus groups, regional public meetings, a statewide survey, and an e-mail account specifically for public comments, thousands of stakeholders provided input to the California Department of Education regarding the state’s transition to a new assessment system.

“I extend my gratitude to the many teachers, school administrators, parents, students, business leaders, and higher education faculty for their expertise and experience that contributed to the formation of these recommendations, Torlakson said.

Recommendations for Transitioning California to a Future Assessment System can be found on the Statewide Pupil Assessment System Web page ( More information on California’s efforts to implement the Common Core State Standards can be found on the California Department of Education’s Common Core State Standards Web page (


Themes in the News by UCLA IDEA Week of Jan. 7-11, 2013

1-11-2013 :: A three-year study released by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation might shed light on the proper role of testing in public education reform; or the study’s most important findings might be ignored—overwhelmed by the national educational-testing juggernaut.

The Gates Foundation has long used its substantial clout and resources to promote value-added measures, or a practice that relies on students’ standardized test scores to evaluate teacher performance. Across the nation many policymakers and reform advocates have been quick to seize upon value-added as the key tool to improve public schools. Advocates of value-added claim that the measures can produce easily understood and scientific teacher rankings to identify most-effective and least-effective teachers.

Educators, backed by strong research evidence, have mostly claimed that the measures are woefully inexact, and their fears of inappropriate use have been borne out. For example, value-added has been used in some districts or states as the dominant or even single teacher-evaluation measure; it has been promoted as the basis for merit rewards; it has been used to “motivate” teachers by publicly posting their individual “scores” in newspapers.

The new report, Measures of Effective Teacher (MET), confirmed some of the concerns that value-added critics anticipated years ago when Gates first became a powerful education-reform player. The philanthropic foundation continues to tout value-added measures, but now it takes a more nuanced stand, urging that a mixture of multiple measures, including student surveys and classroom observations, yields more predictive results (Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Huffington Post, School Finance 101).

“If you select the right measures, you can provide teachers with an honest assessment of where they stand in their practice that, hopefully, will serve as the launching point for their development,” said Thomas Kane, a professor of education and economics at Harvard University, who headed the study (Education Week). Since 2009, the nearly $50 million study observed 3,000 teachers in six districts nationwide—Charlotte-Mecklenberg, N.C., Dallas, Denver, Hillsboro County, Fla., Memphis, Tenn., and New York City.

The key, then, becomes figuring out just how much weight to put on each of these measures and what to do with the drawn conclusions. This is a matter of some urgency as more and more states—under pressure from the federal government—are reforming their teacher evaluation systems to include standardized test scores (Hechinger Report). The MET report concluded that test scores should count for between 33 percent and 50 percent of a teacher’s overall evaluation. It’s unclear how the researchers arrived at this sweeping estimate for how to “weigh” teacher evaluations. Perhaps, in the real world of schools and classrooms, it should be taken to mean that student performance on state standardized tests can help guide but should not determine teacher evaluation.

And what of the remaining 50 percent to 67 percent? Will these other measures receive the attention, funding, and study comparable to that given to testing? Surveys and classroom observations are especially useful, along with student performance that is not measured by tests—including students’ practical application of skills, student improvement, demonstrations, portfolios, and so forth.

Classroom observation poses challenges to ensuring evaluator competence and fairness. The observations recommended in the MET report have to be more discerning than once-a-year drop-ins by a principal. Such single observations were a poor indicator in the study, whereas averaging multiple visits by multiple observers improved reliability. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said, “Just dropping by a teacher’s classroom and writing up an evaluation must be replaced with a more serious process that actually helps improve teacher practice and student learning,” Weingarten said (SchoolBook).

Using teacher observations to improve student learning requires extensive training for observers, support services to help struggling teachers, and changed attitudes that favor teacher learning over teacher competition. Without such commitment and investment as a starting point, the default position will surely be to settle on the “silver bullet” of using student test data to determine which teachers to reward and which to punish.

There may be hints of hope in the words of Kane, the study’s lead researcher, whose earlier work is often cited by advocates of using student test scores to make high stakes decisions on teachers’ employment. “If we want students to learn more, teachers must become students of their own teaching” Kane said (Los Angeles Times). “This is not about accountability. It’s about providing feedback every professional needs to strive toward excellence.”

HIGHLIGHTS, LOWLIGHTS & THE NEWS THAT DOESN'T FIT: The Rest (but not necessarily the best) of the Stories from Other Sources

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A v. Z / ®eform v. Reason: SCHOOL BOARD SHOWDOWN IN LOS ANGELES: by Diane Ravitch in her blog |



EVENTS: Coming up next week...

*Dates and times subject to change. ________________________________________
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What can YOU do?
• E-mail, call or write your school board member: • 213-241-6386 • 213-241-6180 • 213-241-5555 • 213-241-6382 • 213-241-6388 • 213-241-6385 • 213-241-6387
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Who are your elected federal & state representatives? How do you contact them?

Scott Folsom is a parent leader in LAUSD and is Parent/Volunteer of the Year for 2010-11 for Los Angeles County. • He is Past President of Los Angeles Tenth District PTSA and represented PTA on the LAUSD Construction Bond Citizen's Oversight Committee for ten years. He is a Health Commissioner, Legislation Team member and a member of the Board of Managers of the California State PTA. He serves on numerous school district advisory and policy committees and has served as a PTA officer and governance council member at three LAUSD schools. He is the recipient of the UTLA/AFT 2009 "WHO" Gold Award for his support of education and public schools - an honor he hopes to someday deserve. • In this forum his opinions are his own and your opinions and feedback are invited. Quoted and/or cited content copyright © the original author and/or publisher. All other material copyright © 4LAKids.
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