Superintendent Baesler's Listening Tour

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After speaking with approximately 400 teachers across the state and covering 2400 miles in 13 days, Superintendent Baesler’s eleven city Listening Tour is now complete. The State Superintendent began this tour to explain in great detail the rationale to review the current English language arts and mathematics standards.  This explanation would lead into conversation about the state assessment, and the selection timeline of when to expect a different test to be chosen for North Dakota.  The session would conclude with insight into the Every Student Succeeds Act and the flexibility states and school districts will incur, once our state plan is complete, submitted, and approved. 

Superintendent Baesler answered questions, gathered suggestions, and had a frank honest discussion about any issue the educator audience wanted to discuss.  She explained the timeline and request for proposal process for selecting a state assessment, and usually finished the evening by discussing the reauthorization of the Every Student Succeeds Act, and openly took suggestions from teachers and administrators, of ideas they would like to see incorporated into the future plan for education in the state of North Dakota.

The following bullet points are highlights from the dialogue exchange on the tour, and strive to capture the culmination of concerns, questions, suggestions, and general comments into quality categorical feedback.

The standards writing and review process:
  • The writing committee is expected to commence work June 22-24, 2016, and is comprised of 30-35 teachers per content area for a total of approximately 70 members. The review committee is projected to examine the first draft around August 1, 2016.  General public comments are slated to be taken after the first draft is updated and subsequently thereafter as the process unfolds.  The final draft of the North Dakota State Standards in English language arts and math is expected to be complete the first quarter of 2017.  The tentative meeting dates for the standards writing committee are as follows.
  • June 22-24, 2016 (3 days)
  • July 21-22, 2016 (2 days)
  • October, 2016 TBD (2 days)
  • November, 2016 TBD (2 days)
  • February, 2017 TBD (2 days)
  • The review committee is expected to examine the first draft in August and subsequently in October and November, with the final draft release projected for February or March of 2017.  It is intended for the review committee to be comprised of 20 individuals from the following three categories: elected leaders, business and industry, and parents and citizens.  The rationale for the review committee is to provide a different perspective or insight to the writing committee.
Suggestions for Standards Writing & Review Committees from other educators.
  • On the review committee, there should be an educational leader from the content area of English and Math.  These two people should be able to answer or clarify any questions the review committee may have.  We need to make sure the writing committee has input or access to provide clarification.
  • When other content areas are reviewed, there should also be a review committee to ensure more cohesion and autonomy.
  • Please make sure we have teacher input on public comments and with the review committee.
  • NDDPI and standards writing committee should consider sending out a statewide survey at each grade level to gather information on standards and find out what is working and what is not. The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction did this in the Red Light/Green Light Project.  This perhaps, did not make it to all educators.
  • Some standards address multi-skills.  Could the writing committees clarify or simplify one standard to cover a skill set?
  • In some districts, when the common core came down, teachers went to their schools and focused on power standards.  We need to focus on narrowing standards, so our district looks like another district in North Dakota.  The Common Core made us less common in North Dakota.
  • Marzano says on teacher evaluations, we should focus on three to four outcomes.  I hope our writing committees would be able to follow that philosophy and look at narrowing our standards down.  We want to focus on the ten most need to know standards.
  • Each content area group should draft power standards at the state level, then those standards should be shared with schools who can take this information to their Professional Learning Committees (PLCs) and the PLCs can draft their power standards and share those back to the writing committee.  I hope in North Dakota we could have ten really strong power standards to use as guidelines.
  • When the first standards draft by the writing committee is complete, will teachers be able to give input if we are not on the writing committee?  The answer to this question is yes.  NDDPI will post the drafts on the website and NDDPI will put out a press release announcing the availability for public comment.
  • There is some concern about the review committees.  Some complexity is lost on a review committee when it comes to politicizing standards when they aren’t really political.  What would happen if those in the committee would say “no, my child can’t do this, we have to throw this out?”  What will happen to our teachers if that is allowed to happen and it is politicized? Reply: The answer to this question is it is political because our funding is politically funded.  When serving on a curriculum committee, we had to gather public comment, and we did.  It depends on the amount of professionalism, and the response that is given.  We have more control over our standards than most other states.  The state board has complete power in 48 other states.  Wisconsin and North Dakota are the only two states that have their educators in control of their state standards.
  • How will North Dakota ensure standards are at the same level for new students coming into the state?  Teachers do not want such differing levels of new students coming into their district from another state.  How do we lobby to ensure our state does not go backwards or any other state for that manner when it comes to this issue?
  • When working with the North Dakota University System.  All of our grade levels need to have content specialists, so we have a good representation or understanding of standards.  We cannot have just content specialists at the high school level and generically across elementary anymore.
  • Please address how these two processes, ESSA & Standards writing committee, will coincide with each other.  Is it premature to be working on the standards at the same time as ESSA? Reply:  The standards are a very small portion of what our accountability plan will be.  The group supported yesterday to have an improvement plan be part of accountability, no matter where a school or school district begins.  We want to see continuous improvement and growth is shown and taken into measure.
Suggestions for Math writing committee:
  • There is more clarity needed in the current high school math standards.  An example of this is the wording of the standards at the Algebra II level.  New educators coming out of college into teaching do not understand what the standard wants them to accomplish.  If teachers are having to spend time deciphering what the standard is—this is not time well spent.
  • I think it would be easier for math instructors if there were ninth grade standards, tenth grade standards, and eleventh grade standards.  Math is interrelated, and ideally there should be integrated math at grade levels.
Suggestions for English language arts writing committee:
  • Teachers would like to see the English language arts standards cut down.  This is a good opportunity to narrow the standards down and focus on a few.
  • In English language arts, there was a major shift from fiction to nonfiction.  How has that shift been?
  • Will the standards be implemented this school year?  Reply:  No, the standards will not be ready until early 2017.
Other Standards Questions and Suggestions:
  • Some district wrote the common core standards to span other content areas.  An example would be in social studies.  There are reading and writing standards written in history and geography.  Will these content areas be looked at now or when North Dakota reviews the social studies standards?  Reply:  Those standards will be addressed when the social studies rewrite begins next summer.
  • Can you envision when we will start to revise the standards for science?  Reply:  We were in the middle of updating our science standards when the English language arts and math standards discussion hit.  We put the science standards on pause, and we will come back to the science and social studies standards revision next summer.
  • The science standards are convoluted.  When we rewrite those standards, we need to do away with the diagrams and simplify the standards into a table like the other standards for continuity.  The verticality of the standards should all be at the same level—pk-13.
  • We have standards that are fourteen, fifteen, sixteen years old.  Our next standards up for review are science, social studies, and art.  Health is ten years old.  Teacher would like to see the health standards moved to the forefront given the drug and health crisis.
  • When writing the science standards, it would be nice to equip our teachers with talking points, and go into the review better prepared.  How are we going to address controversial issues?  We need to better prepare the teachers with how to handle controversial issues.  We need to educate and have talking points.  We really need to explain at the rollout the thought process and rationale behind the revision. 
  • I haven’t heard so much about the Common Core standards, but that parents felt like they could not help their students with math.  Will the standards revision help fix this?  Reply:  NDDPI needs to own that problem.  We wrote the standards and then sent them forward and washed our hands.  We didn’t give a lot of support and didn’t help fill the need.  Teachers had to build the plane as they were flying it.  NDDPI has created a new office entitled Academic Support to help or lend support.  We don’t want this scenario to happen again.
  • When the new standards are drafted, we would like teachers to be able to have input into the curriculum that is selected for their district.  Teachers want the state to mandate that directors and districts listen and allow their content educators to help curriculum directors or principals to check to see if the curriculum is aligned to all of the content standards in a given content area, not just a few.
  • The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction must help explain the difference between curriculum and standards.  NDDPI must educate the public.  Also, NDDPI needs to do a much better job of unpacking the standards.  Schools and teachers spent a lot of time, energy and money unpacking the standards and supporting one another since 2010.
  • Districts have spent time and money matching curriculum to the core standards, now what? Reply:  A crosswalk between the curriculum and revised standards should identify what changes are needed to the existing curriculum, if any.
  • What do we do with all of the curriculum we have purchased?  Reply: The changes coming in the standards should allow districts and schools to be able to extrapolate the material you need from your current curriculum to fulfill the requirement of covering standards at grade level.
  • We are just learning the Common Core and getting comfortable and now we have to relearn and look at our curriculum and realign again.  The cost to the district to do this is a lot.  Reply: Everything that I am hearing is that the existing curriculum should be useable in the new standards.  I am hearing that narrowing the standards may be a consideration.  
New Assessment and Smarter Balance Questions and Feedback:
  • When choosing the next state assessment, we need to provide clarity to parents of what classrooms look like now and what parents can expect as the standards are revised and a new test is selected.
  • When selecting the next state assessment, it should be noted that there used to be a committee made up of educators who critiqued the assessment and made sure it aligned to the standards.  In previous years, this committee was made up of 70 North Dakota educators.
  • In regard to the new state assessment, will there be a test item selection committee?  Assessments must be timely.  Standards aligned tests are very expensive.  Will there be resources to have our own North Dakota test? 
  • Our North Dakota Educators need to be involved in writing test questions or selecting our next state assessment.  We are in the trenches and have to make it through the assessment.  NWEA gives a score when the student completes the test.  This is motivational to a student.  They want to see that they have improved from the fall to the spring.   Is there a way, results could be incorporated into the next proposal for the state test?
  • When selecting our next state assessment, there needs to be consideration or a way to weight motivated and engaged versus valid and reliable.  We want the students to gain something out of the test versus just completing the test or putting something down because they are tired of it and have no vested interest.
  • Why do we leave 9th and 10th graders out of state assessment?  Why do we have this gap?  It should be understood that part of taking a test and what motivates a student is to see their score right away.  Students want to know they have improved.
  • Is NWEA correlated to the standards?  I ask this because the NWEA and/or MAP test shows results and growth and hope right away.  I ask this question to see if we could fix that process, so NWEA could be our state assessment?
  • May we please put the state assessment back to the fall?  We would get the results in a more timely fashion so we could use them to drive our professional development.
  • If Superintendents do not put much weight on assessment, is there ramifications or punitive consequences?  Reply:  The answer to this question is there is not.
  • Has there been a study to compare paper/pencil test versus a computer test?  What has been the results?  Which is more reliable?  (NDDPI needs to consult our Regional Educational Laboratories about this question).  In using paper/pencil tests, the teacher is able to break it up easier, walk away, read portions of the test to the younger students.  If you go below the fourth grade, would the reliability be valid?  Using the computer test, students just seem to click and click.
  • When it comes to assessment, is the state going to change at all?  Reply: The new accountability law still requires the state to test in three areas—elementary school, middle school, and once in high school.  This will not change.  No Child Left Behind required us to test at three grade levels and measure graduation rate.  Those were the two things that were measured and mattered.  The new law says, there needs to be accountability, one measure and graduation rate.  The hyper focus will change.  The Every Student Succeeds Act committee determined they want to measure a continuous growth beyond proficiency.  The Every Student Succeeds Act Committee does not want to be punitive.  We want to measure true growth.  There is a dashboard of opportunity to consider when measuring growth—the amount of electives offered, rich robust libraries, liberal arts, and other avenues that speak to the whole child and programs we know are good for students.
  • A concern is cost.  Where is the money coming from for assessment?  Do we have money set aside?  Reply: It is part of our federal title money and it is set aside for this specific purpose.  The cost of the assessment is the cost of the assessment.  There is not any additional people added to do the procurement process.  There is someone there to do the job.  We have to do the test.  It does not cost the state anything to put the test out for bid.  The interim test is required by the state of North Dakota and is state law.  The interim test is required to be given once per year.
  • Will there be a new state assessment? Reply:  The state assessment is used by legislators to measure the Return on Investment.  Superintendents use assessment data for the programs in their budget to their school boards.  Teachers use data for their classroom.  We will have three years of trending data.  We need a type of assessment that addresses what the student is able to do.  We need an assessment that is able to reach the broadest array of people that is taken in the least amount of time possible that delivers useful results in a short amount of time.
  • At the high school level, we would like to see the state assessment back in the fall.  What we are doing now with testing in the spring is not working.
  • Superintendent Baesler, please let the ACT be the junior test.  Our juniors lost a whole week of instruction due to testing-- One day for ASVAB, one day for PSAT, five days for NDSA, and one day for ACT.  ESSA takes effect July 1, 2017.   Reply:  The first time the ACT could be given as the high school state assessment and as the college entrance exam will be the spring of 2018.  The Every Student Succeeds Act gives school districts the flexibility to use ACT as their 11th grade test if a school district chooses to pursue this avenue.  All schools within the school district have to concur and use the ACT as their 11th grade test.  The ACT may be given as the 11th grade test, this would allow a school district to move the state assessment to the fall of the senior year or to give the assessment at the sophomore level or even all three years of high school.  The district level of school choice for using ACT is up to the Every Student Succeeds Act planning committee with a recommendation coming from the Assessment Task Force.  The state plan will not be written by NDDPI, but rather it will be written by the state and state educational partners.  Once again, ESSA takes effect July 1, 2017.  The 2017-2018 school year is the first year ACT could be the 11th grade assessment.
  • Smarter Balance Assessment says it is adaptive, but not enough—it changed the wording, but stayed at grade level.  NWEA is truly adaptive and goes out of grade level.  This is something to keep in mind when looking for the next state assessment or writing into the next request for proposal.
  • The Smarter Balance assessment in high school math, it is a big concern.  The questions were worded so differently that the students did not know how to answer even if they thought they knew the answer.  It was difficult to determine what the question was asking.
  • The Smarter Balance test was difficult to take a break if you were using Chromebooks.  The “pause” would not work correctly, and we had some difficulty on our desktops as well.
  • Is Smarter Balance standards aligned or standards based?  Reply:  It is aligned. 
  • Does our state assessment have to be standards aligned or could it be standards based?  Reply:  It has to be standards aligned.
  • Smarter Balance has subtests that could be accessed to test how students are learning the standards.  NDDPI could provide that feature to use as an interim assessment.
  • In regard to ESSA, how will highly qualified work? ESSA is a little vague about what high quality looks like.  Reply:  This is state law versus federal law.  ESSA says highly qualified is gone.  Every Student Succeeds Act says teachers need to be highly effective.   This fall under the Education Standards and Practices Board.  They will have discussions on what highly effective will mean.  Highly qualified is not in federal law anymore, but it is in state law. 
  • Is there a possibility of tiered graduation at the state level? 
  • Under the new ESSA law—does it address dropouts?  Reply:  Yes, the new graduation rate can include overall graduations.  The old law did not take into account what may have caused a student to drop out and come back.
  • In regard to ESSA and qualifying for Title One—will the state look at how many assessments are needed for qualifying as well as other requirements?  Reply:  I will have Laurie Matzke, our Assistant State Superintendent check into this as she is in charge of our Federal Title programs.
  • In the 2017-2018 school year when ESSA foes into effect, will the playing field be leveled and we can get money back for Title One and teaching assistants?  Reply:  That is a good question and I will need to check into what changes, if any, will be made to Title One.
  • How will schools be affected if they do not make adequate yearly progress?  Reply:  There isn’t adequate yearly progress in the new accountability plan.  There is only measured growth and continuous improvement.
  • There used to be Eisenhower funds for teachers to attend a national math and science conference.  This was beneficial professional development.  Is there going to be any money available to attend this professional development again?  Does the state have the right to incorporate this into state funding for national professional development?
  • A suggestion to consider is to seek out private and public partnerships as another path to have funding for professional development in content areas.
  • Could you cover the timeline for the state ESSA committee?  Reply:  We are writing the plan to be completed by January, 2017.  There is incongruences as the rules for ESSA will not be finalized until June, 2017
  • Going back to ESSA, what do schools need?  Reply:  One of the factors that will be used to calculate your school report card is test scores and graduation rate.  Also included on the school report card is one item that is a nonacademic factor.  Nonacademic factors would be parental involvement, library programs, and total growth.  We want schools to be able to incorporate continuous growth improvement into their AdvancEd programs that are working for their schools and has helped achieve growth.
  • Senator Oehlke asked if the ESSA accountability writing process will help our students to be better prepared for college.  Is there communication from higher education to senior high school teachers who talk to the junior teachers and on down the line?  Reply:  Our Every Student Succeeds Act planning committee has university instructors on down to the preschool level on what is needed.  Senator Heckaman said we are not doing a good job of leveraging the senior year.  Our schools need to look at senior years and have students take more classes to help them better prepare.  It is documented students take the most high school classes as a freshman, and then the number decreases each year afterward until they reach their senior year where they take five credits.  We also have discussed funding career counselors in our schools to help students take the right classes to get prepared.  Common Core wrote the standards from the top down with college and career readiness is mind.  We need to look at what students are capable of doing.  Fifteen percent of our jobs require a four year degree, while fifty percent of jobs require two years of college or less.
  • What ever happened to our addiction counselors because let’s be honest, our state has addiction problems.  Reply:  This will probably need to be addressed legislatively.  It used to be funded through Title IV dollars in earlier years.  Perhaps counseling will be funded through those dollars again. 
  • Our state needs to look at credentialing.  I know a young lady who had a social work degree from Wisconsin and couldn’t get a job in North Dakota until she had taken two more classes.  The requirements can be inhibitive or prolong the problem instead of helping solve the problem or achieve a solution.
  • I know some education folks have been meeting with the legislative committee.  What will the focus be for session?  What will our focus be?  Reply:  I don’t know a lot about what NDCEL’s focus will be.  NDDPI is worried about CTE funding, Special Education funding, etc.  I know the legislators are looking at policy.  There are some thoughts on teacher shortage and teacher retention and recruitment.  We meet in the last week of May to begin to lay out what we want to accomplish in the 2017-2019 legislative session.
Discussion involving the topics of Dual Credit and Advanced Placement.
  • Superintendent Baesler:  There seems to be the impression that dual credit and Advance Placement are in competition with each other.  That is not the intention. The college campuses are offering a tremendous amount of dual credit, but school districts I think would want to offer Advance Placement as well, if a student wants to go somewhere else to college. Even if a student sits in an Advance Placement class, without taking the exam, their level of understanding is increased because of that exposure.
I know there has been a conversation about having some dual credit fees paid, I am agnostic on dual credit fees being paid. I would think the university system would welcome that, but from what I’ve understood, the Education Committee legislators are not going to go in that direction.
The university system is hearing that superintendents and principals are mad about the Advance Placement support program, they don’t understand why AP is even part of the conversation when dual credit is doing so well. Have you heard that?
  • Audience Administrator: Depending on your staffing, depending on what kids want, all of a sudden I offer an AP class, I might lose the dual credit. I may not have kids signing up for the dual credit option. I may not be able to offer the AP class in combination with the dual credit class either. Some classes I can offer at the same time. My AP calculus class I can. My AP Calculus class I offer right now is a dual credit class as well. Some schools I’ve talked to, they have classes that don’t coincide like that, and it doesn’t work. They can’t offer it that way. Right now we’re high dual credit, low AP. If I switch and have a bunch of teachers become AP qualified and start offering a bunch of AP classes, it is the reality that we could lose some of the dual credit.
  • Superintendent Baesler: You could keep your dual credit class, but if you have a student who wants to take AP statistics, the district doesn’t have to have an AP statistics teacher, they could take it through the Center for Distance Education, get it paid for and be able to take the AP exam. That is what we are driving for.
  • Audience Administrator: By doing that, now I’ve lost that kid from a class at my school. I may not be able to offer electives, I may have to reduce staff at some point. That is an unintended consequence.
  • Audience Administrator: Higher Ed is upset about this, there are issues with teaching requirements. They have people on their campuses that right now, by 2020, they might not be able to teach courses they’re teaching. Depending on how that shakes out, some of my dual credit will go away. Then I may have to switch to Advance Placement.
  • Superintendent Baesler:  AP instructors do not need to have a master’s. They just need to be certified to instruct AP. Because it’s not about measuring the time the student sits in the seat. The instructor can be effective, with dual credit you have to pass the class, the teacher is a major factor. On the AP exam, you need to be successful on the exam. It is not as dependent on the qualifications of the teacher.  Dual credit instructors need a master’s degree now, but it doesn’t have to be in the field they’re teaching.
  • English teacher describing her understanding of AP teacher training: It has to be AP all four levels of high school, English 1, English 2, English 3, English 4, it can’t just be at the senior level. That was one turn-off. The other was, we had to follow their format of writing, which isn’t what we consider good writing. We think you should have a preview and a thesis. With them, you just jump straight into it, you just get it over and done with.
  • Superintendent Baelser:  I think you’re talking about two different things. What I’m talking about, state will pay for AP professional development and some student exam fees. The training you’re talking about is the NMSI training. If you want to be NMSI certified, that is part of laying the foundation, the $15M grant to be used for all of our teachers, K-12, to offer training to teachers who want it. You can be an AP teacher and your students can take an AP test and have the exam fee paid without being part of NMSI. The Advanced Placement Summer Institute is intensive training of professional development for teachers who want to teach AP. That is a commitment for a program for high school. You don’t need to attend an AP Summer Institute in order to be AP certified and teach a class in your school.
  • The NMSI, you teach the way they want you to teach. That is separate from the Legislature’s action to provide support for AP scholarships, and teacher training for teachers who want to teach any math/English/science AP subject. A school district doesn’t need to have their senior English teacher do the AP Summer Institute and become NMSI certified in order to offer an AP test. We need to clarify that these are separate things, the NMSI and the Legislature’s support for AP.
The approximate number of 400 educators that came to see Superintendent Baesler were from the cities of Dickinson, Williston, Rugby, Cando, Leeds, Sawyer, Minot, Mandan, Glen Ullin, Fargo, West Fargo, Wahpeton, Richland County, Jamestown, Pingree-Buchanan, Valley City, Beulah, Hazen, Devils Lake, Fordville-Lankin, Lakota, Grand Forks, Cavalier, and Thompson.   Superintendent Baesler extends a warm thank you to all of the administrators and librarians who helped to make this listening tour possible.  She welcomed the discussion and suggestions and looks forward to installing those ideas in the work that is to come.