Should HSE Flip Start Times?

The following are slides presented to the HSE School board on January 15, 2020 regarding the idea of flipping start times of the various schools in the district.

The data was collected via comments on the HSE website between November 20th, 2019 and December 20th. There were 1840 total comments, which were read and compiled by the HSE Administration team.

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Here is a link to the 3-tier busing proposal as well. The link on BoardDocs uses spaces, so it doesn’t always work. This is a temporary link from my site (here). At some point I might remove it.

http://jones123.com/tmp/Proposed3Tier.pdf

Is There Equitable Grading in Our Schools?

What is the purpose of the grades that a child receives in a class at school? What do the grades on a child’s report card represent and what can you assume from that grade? What ramifications happen to a child as a result of the grades they receive? More importantly, are the grades received fair and equitable?

These are critically important questions for our schools.

Simply put, if grading is not equitable, then recognitions such as honor roll, valedictorians, and rankings within classes become erroneous at best. It is possible that a child could learn more yet earn a lower grade than other kids that learned less but ended up with a higher grade. In some situations, a child could fail or even be required to retake a class simply because their teacher graded more strictly than other teachers.

I’m in a somewhat unique position to look at the issue of equity in grading. I have twins that take a lot of the same classes but have had different teachers. This provides insights into many of the questions that I’ve listed above. In a few cases, what has been seen has been concerning, so much so that I’ve raised concerns with teachers, principals, and even the administration within our school district.

The Purpose of a Grade

It is interesting to discuss the purpose of a grade with people in the education profession. The perspective on topics such as grading scales can elicit strong opinions.

Ultimately grades are intended to assess a child’s understanding of a topic. Having said that, there are questions that arise. One of the core questions is whether a grade reflect the child’s understanding of the topic when they’ve completed a grading period, or should the grade reflect the child’s understanding of the topic throughout the learning of a topic.

While most people I talk to indicate that a grade should reflect whether the child learned a topic, in most cases, that is not what a grade is shows. Rather the grade shows the child’s understanding though the process of learning. This measuring of the learning instead of the measurement of the result can be impacted not only by the way a course is taught, but also by several other factors. These include how tough a teacher grades, when assessments are done, and the format used for assessments.

The “Timing Versus Performance” Factor

Let me use an example of a class with four children and ten grades to illustrate the impact of grading the via the processes of learning versus grading the results.

If a child requires repetitive actions to learn something, then they might score poorly at the beginning of a grading period, but then do better the longer they are in the class. By the end of a semester, once a topic “clicks”, this child might be preforming at an above average level. Because of the poor performance at the beginning of the semester, their grade could be weighted down as shown by child 1 in the table below.

There could be another student that is more consistent in their learning. This is shown as child 2 in the table below.  As such, they could score a fair grade consistently from the beginning to the end of the semester. In the end, this ‘fair and consistent’ learner could end up with a better grade than the child that was slower to learn at the beginning, even though they might have learned less by the time the semester was over.

A third child could be one that quickly learns the easier material at the beginning of the semester, but as the course progresses, has trouble and scores progressively worse. By the end of the semester, this child could have learned the least amount of the more relevant information and retain the least overall.  Because of their higher grades at the beginning of a semester, their grade could be skewed to appear they know more than they ultimately do at the end.

Child 1 Child 2 Child 3 Child 4
Grade 1 50 80 100 100
Grade 2 50 80 90 0
Grade 3 55 80 90 100
Grade 4 60 80 80 0
Grade 5 60 80 70 100
Grade 6 70 80 70 100
Grade 7 80 80 60 0
Grade 8 85 80 60 100
Grade 9 100 80 70 100
Grade 10 100 80 60 100
Average 71 80 75 70

Consider a fourth child. This is the child that is slow to turn in homework, or even fail to turn in homework. Since grades often reflect not only tests, but also homework, missing grades can be counted as zeros. Once these penalties are applied to a child’s grades, then the grade no longer reflects their understanding of a course’s material, but rather is more a reflection on their ability to turn things in on time. They might know the content from a class better than the teacher, but because they didn’t submit assignments at the correct times, they could be scored as if they didn’t know the material at all.

NOTE: Once a child is penalized on a score for not turning in an assignment on time, their grades no longer reflect learning. Similarly, once kids earn points for random activities such as winning a Bingo game, the grade no longer reflects learning, but rather is then based partially on luck.

The Teacher Factor

While the above table illustrates how different kids perform, the grades could also be impacted even more on how teachers assess a class. Across a school and even across a district, kids are taking classes that have the same objectives with an expectation of the kids learning the same things. For example, if kids are taking an eighth-grade honors foreign language class, then it is expected that each child will learn the same core information by the end of the course grading period. Thus, it is assumed that they would be assessed in a manner that allows the grades to be comparable regardless of which teacher they had within a school or within the district. In fact, for many classes, the consistency in teaching objectives is critical to ensure that the students are equally prepared for any subsequent classes that build on what was learned.

If one teacher is grading an eighth-grade honors class as if the kids were in high school because it is an honors class, yet another teacher is grading as if the kids a bit easier because they are at a junior high development level, then there would be a question of equivalence in the grades and grading. Similarly, if one teacher is giving tests in a class that are comprised of 100 questions each worth a point and another is giving test with 10 questions each worth 10 points, then it would be hard to consider the grades equitable since a child missing one question in one class would have an A and the child missing one question in the other class could have a B. As a third example specific to teaching a foreign language, if one teacher is grading kids only on how they say words, and a different teacher is testing on not only how they say words, but also grading spelling and punctuation, then the grades would not be fairly distributed.

Another teacher factor that causes disparity in grading is the concept of weighting grades. A recent example was brought to my attention where one teacher for a freshman high school course was weighting grades whereas another teacher was not. Because these are for the same class, the grades are no longer equitable.

Randomized Bonus Points

There are other areas that can impact equitable grading as well. Some teachers provide ways for students to get extra credit. Some teachers do not. If all students can earn the bonus points, then that is equitable. If, however, bonus points or grades can happen in a manner that not all kids can get them, then that leads to grades that are not comparable. Worse is when such bonus points come from activities that have nothing to do with learning or the materials being covered in a class.

There are three examples I can give that are unfair distribution of bonus points or grades that have happened within HSE schools. The first is the giving of bonus points as a prize for winning a game. Specifically, one of my kids has been in a class where the winners of a Bingo game received bonus points. These are points that improve a child’s grade out of sheer luck.

The second example is the use of ‘homework vouchers’ that allow a child to skip a homework assignment without penalty. If a homework assignment is being graded, then allowing one child to skip it as a prize means that there is a potential for that child to not be assessed in the same manner as others because they won’t have those points.

The third example I’ve mentioned before and comes from a world history class. In the case of teachers grading using similar questions and tests, the equity can be skewed if one teacher chooses to weight grades while another does not. This causes one class of students to potentially be graded with better scores, while the other is not.

Why Does All This Matter?

You cannot expect every teacher to teach and grade the exact same way. As such, it is easy to stick with tradition and state that it shouldn’t matter that things are not quite the same across classes. Having said that, because the grades that kids receive are ranked within most schools, and because grades are used for allocating scholarships and other recognitions, it becomes imperative that there is a high level of consistency.

In the case of some classes, if you don’t score high enough, you can’t proceed to the next class. This is the case in the eighth-grade honor’s foreign language class mentioned earlier. In the case of that course, there might be a student that would not have had to take the course over had they had a different teacher.

If the top 50 students receive a scholarship and your child is 51st, you should not have to wonder if you would have been one position higher if you had been in the class that weighted scores instead of the ones that didn’t.

Where to From Here?

If grades are expected to reflect an understanding on a topic, then they need to focus on that understanding. This means that they need to be adjusted to focus less on the process of learning and more on the process of measuring the end results. Things such as bonus points for random acts or grade penalties for late assignments need to go away. If the grade is focused on reflecting learning, then these don’t belong in the grades. That isn’t to say that accountability should be ignored within the schools, but rather it should be presented separately from the grades that should be indicating knowledge on a topic.

As schools move forward looking at measurements for preparing kids for the real world, more and more subjective factors are likely to creep into the mix of what teachers are teaching. It will be critical that the measurements that are presented – the grades – and grading system don’t get skewed as a result. In a math class within a school pushing a project-based environment, a child that excels at math should not be penalized in the course because they were not able to interact effectively with a group. Rather, they should have a grade in the class that reflects their math abilities. As school systems cycle to looking at the overall portrait of what they want kids to be able to do by the time they graduate, things like aptitude, leadership, grit, and other related characteristics should not dilute the core focus of grading for a class topic.

It is time to shake up and fix the grading system. To be a little redundant, let me say again that while the school systems are looking to measure such areas as decision making, information gathering, project management, grit, creativity, integrity, and leadership, they need to make sure the measurement and tasks associated to these is not impacting the core topics and expectations of the classes the kids are taking. A math class should have a grade reflecting math. These other core competencies are critically important to teach our kids, but they should be graded independently of the transference of knowledge that is expected in the current grading systems.

Tying This to HSE Schools

Within HSE, the disparity across similar classes has been noted by many parents, not just me. This past year it seems that the disparity was especially highlighted within the Honors Spanish classes at the eight-grade level. While this is a class offered to eight-graders, it is considered a freshman-level class. The inconsistency of how kids were graded across most of the year was reflected in the grades. As classes such as this become a part of a child’s GPA used for class rankings and future scholarships, these inconsistencies need to be reviewed and, while it might sound crazy, past grades need to be adjusted by the school district to make the grades not only more equitable, but to also better reflect what kids truly learned. In the chart presented earlier, Child 1 and Child 4 likely learned the most by the end of the grading period even though their grades were the lowest. That is extremely concerning to me as a parent and should be even more concerning to a school district.

HSE has made one move toward putting more weight on grades towards the end of the grading periods versus at the beginning. That is a start, but the inconsistencies in all the other areas mentioned in this article remain. Those need to be addressed. In the case of the Honors Spanish class, one teacher stated that they graded differently (and harder) than the other teachers, and indicated they graded in a different manner. This was clearly visible in the grades received by students. The district needs to address this.

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After Thoughts for This Article

In this article, I’ve identified a problem with grading in our school system. For example, I indicated that the grading of core competencies for students are separated from the grades given for a class on a given topic. This is how elementary school grades are often done. In higher grades, it is imperative for teachers to make sure their grades are reflecting a child’s understanding of the course topic and not other factors.

Additionally, penalties and rewards that impact grades, but have nothing to do with knowledge understanding should go away. A grade no longer reflects understanding of the material if it was reduced or inflated because the child won a random game or even because they were late submitting. To be clear, a child should still be accountable for turning in assignments, but the consequences should happen outside of the grading for a course topic.

To maintain consistency across a large district such as HSE, checks and balances should be put in place. Two teachers will never grade the same, nor should we expect them to teach the same. While there are objectives that must be met across the year, it might be time to make sure smaller, milestone objectives are set throughout the year for each course and then allow teachers time to connect to make sure they are all working arm-in-arm.

Similarly, the weight of grading for what is being taught should be applied to grading similarly.  The school district has the data on grades. It is all digital. This means that grades for “like classes” can be compared. It should be expected that if all things are similar, then the mean and median grades for each group of kids taking a class should be similar. If one class is off by more than a few points after removing outliers, then a deeper look should be done to insure that this is truly the kids that didn’t learn at the same level as the others versus a case where a teacher simply didn’t grade at the same level. In a case where a teacher graded at a different standard, grades might need to be adjusted.

The district has an analytics group. They have the data to help identify issues such as grading inequity. As such, hopefully we see changes in the near future! Based on what I’ve seen, it is my opinion that there at least one class where grades should be adjusted because the teacher stated they graded the kids at a different level than the other teachers.

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Happening in Your Town: Kids Locked in Rooms in Public Buildings

It is happening across America and people are not saying a word. Kids are being taken to public buildings and locked in rooms. Kids are taken from neighborhoods and shipped to public buildings at various locations within towns. Once there they are forced to follow rules that include separating them by their ages and marching them into rooms. In many cases the kids are forced to sit for upward of an hour with no access to electronics, food, or their parents.

The rooms where the kids are kept are often locked to prevent others from getting access to the kids. In addition to the locked rooms, the buildings are also often secured to the level that nobody without security clearance is allowed to get into the building and see the kids.

While kids are allowed a meal in the middle of each day, they are forced to follow rules while eating. This includes only having a limited time to get and eat their food before being forced back to the locked rooms.

The US Government is funding is funding this.

Do you believe kids should be locked up like this?

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Perspective is a wonderful thing; however, it is easy to twist….

Discipline By The State Numbers: HSE Schools

It’s always interesting to stumble upon new data related to our local schools. I was shown data on “school environments.” More specifically, I reviewed data summarizing disciplinary actions with schools and school districts. This data is available on the Indiana Department of Education (DOE) web site. On this site, you can find information on Indiana school districts and achievements, as well as on the data I mention here regarding school environments.

You can visit the site for the details. What drove me to this site was the promise of data on discipline. My understanding is that this is based on data reported to the state by the school districts. What also lead me to this site was a discussion on the disparity of discipline within schools in Indiana.

Of course, the starting point to look into this is knowing the diversity of HSE Schools. The DOE site presents the following data:



Clearly, HSE Schools are predominately White (72.6%) with most people being economically “stable” (84.3%).

Where then do disciplinary problems occur?

The following chart from the DOE site shows that there were 1,384 safety and disciplinary issues reported in 2017-18 for the HSE School district. This is the most recent data in the DOE system. This is broken out between suspensions and expulsions:


Not surprising, all of the HSE district numbers are lower than the state averages. The biggest area for HSE is for In School Suspensions. If you dig into the In School Suspensions data, you’ll quickly see that while Whites are in the majority of the student body, they are not the majority in the In School Suspensions. Rather, Black/African-American and Multiracial both have more disciplinary issues:


If you look at the Out of School Disciplinary numbers, then not only is it Black/African-American and Multiracial groups that have more disciplinary actions than Whites, but Hispanics also have more cases:

The specific details of these disciplinary actions are not a part of the data I found. While no conclusions can be drawn from this data along, it is easy to infer from the data that a substantially higher percentage of non-White students are likely to face disciplinary action than White students within the district.

The Out of School suspensions within IPS showed the ration of Black/African-American to White as 3 to 1, which is similar to HSE Schools. While this might seem to indicate a consistency, the ration of Black/African-Americans to Whites at IPS is 2 to 1 versus HSE’s 1 to 10. That disparity makes this a topic that should be looked into deeper.

A final note on numbers…

As mentioned, HSE had 1,384 issues reported. While this might seem like a lot, if you look at the entire state of Indiana, the number of issues reported was 223,611. Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) had nearly 13,000 reported issues (12,891). During the same period, Carmel Clay Schools had only 624 disciplinary incidents, which is less than half of HSE’s number. Having said that, Carmel also had 24 school-related arrests and 6 referrals to law enforcement, whereas HSE had none. It is interesting to note that IPS also had no arrests or referrals to law enforcement during the reporting period.

It is always interesting to look at data and see what stories it tells. To look closer at this data, you an check out the DOE site at:
https://inview.doe.in.gov/corporations/1030050000/profile

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What’s Happening in HSE Schools – Sept. 2019 SAC Meeting

For those that don’t know, within the Hamilton Southeastern Schools (HSE), the superintendent is Dr. Bourff. On a regular basis, Dr. Bourff meets with a group of people from across the district. This group is primarily composed of leaders from each of the school PTOs as well as a handful of additional parents provided by school board members.

Today, Dr. Bourff met with this group and provided some discussion on a number of things happening in the district. This posting is a summation of my notes from this meeting.

New Administrator

Dr. Bourff introduced Kim Lippe as the Executive Director of Student and Staff Services. Kim’s role replaces the position that was vacated by Mike Beresford and was being temporarily filled by Dr. Carnes. Per the HSE web site, she will be responsible for a variety of things:

  • Oversees Human Resource and Student Services Departments
  • Primary Director Overseeing Certified Staff
  • District Liaison to the Teacher’s Association Regarding Contract and other Personnel Issues.
  • Coordinates Hiring of Administrative and Certified Instructional Staff
  • District Supervisor of Matters Involving Student Behavior, Attendance, Discipline, and Due Process
  • District Supervisor of School Safety
  • Homeless Liaison for the District
  • District Supervisor of School Counseling Program
  • District Supervisor of Student Services
  • Corporation Liaison to School Attorney and other Legal Services

Social Emotional Learning (SEL)


If you are not familiar with the acronym SEL and the term Social Emotional Learning, you might want to research it a little bit if you have a student within HSE. This acronym is being used more and more.

The district has set up a web page on the district site at https://www.hseschools.org/counseling/social-emotional. This page has information on SEL including an embedded whitepaper with tons of information including an overview, stats, HSE milestones, and much more. I won’t rehash the material here, as you can find it all at the link included.

One of the ways SEL is happening within the district is through the #WeGotThis program. A video had been sent to all parents earlier this year promoting the We Got This concept.  I’ve included that video here:

What was shared in Dr. Bourff’s committee meeting were a few points related to SEL. First, meta studies have shown that there is a 11% increase in academic success in schools that have SEL programs. He also clarified that the mental health initiative within the district is different from SEL. Whereas mental health is considered a health-based concept, SEL is considered to a set of skills. Many of these skills are aimed at understanding and managing emotions, stress, and more.

It was shared that most employers consider SEL skills to be the hardest to find, ye the most importance for success. As such, the more the district can do to teach SEL skills, the better candidates our kids will be for future jobs.

The district plans to continue working to identify stressors in our schools and other elements that can be addressed to improve SEL. In addition to the #WeGotThis video that was distributed and the second video on the HSE site, there are currently plans to produce roughly seven more videos. The district is open to ideas for topics for these videos. An example of one topic that has come up is vaping.

In addition to the videos, the administration has been sending monthly tips to the staff and are looking to possibly do more around parent-teacher nights and other events.

iLearn

ilearn, like iStep, is almost considered a dirty word, but the more I hear about it, the less I feel that way. Dr. Combs present results from the iLearn tests at this meeting. They also presented the same information to the board earlier in the morning. Having attended both presentations, the information was the same; however, the advisory meeting in the afternoon produced many more questions.

One of the key things mentioned was about how iLearn is different from iStep. This is an important distinction. In short, the iLearn has been created to be much more application focused. Rather than being pure regurgitation of facts and figures, it tests in a more authentic learning style. Simply put, it tests to see if a student can apply what they learned versus simply testing to see what they learned.

In an application-based learning style you are asked to solve what are more real-life scenario questions. For example, a math question might ask, what is the distance between Bridgetown and Albany based on the following sign:

See the source image

This test is a simple subtraction problem. This would be a math problem where the student would need to take the 359 and subtract the 84 miles from Bridgetown. On the iStep test, this would have been a question asking the student what 359 – 84 is. While these both are asking the same question, the app-based requires the student to be able to not only know the answer to a math problem, but to be able to apply it in a more authentic manner of learning. In short, the iLearn doesn’t just test that the student memorized something, but rather tests to see if they can apply what they learned.

In addition to talking about the testing approach, data was shown for the results. This included showing many charts and graphs as to how the students faired.

With a new test, the expectation is that scores will go down. Dr. Combs stated that scores go down every time there is a new test, but then slowly pick up. Dr. Combs also commented on the number of kids that failed. HSE Schools performed above the state average in both the math and languages areas of the tests. Even so, there was a dip in the number of kids that passed. The standardize tests are create with an expectation that a certain number of kids will fail. There is an expected “cut rate”

One of the other changes with the iLearn is that the test is more adaptive or responsive. As a child takes the test, if they get an answer correct, then they will be given a harder question. If they get an answer wrong, the next question given should be easier. In addition to this responsive nature, the testis was also changed to remove the time element. Kids are given the they need to complete the test.

It was also noted that the tenth-grade class did not switch to iLearn this past year, but still used iStep. Their scores were also presented. This year the tenth-grade testing is expected to be skipped, but the current class will take the test in their Junior year. This will be a “yet to be named” test, but could be a version of the S.A.T. or another test.

Other Testing

Dr. Bourff mentioned that the state is looking into other measurements beyond just the iLearn test that can be used to assess kid. This includes looking into different measurements from traditional test scores. This is one of the reasons the district used Panorama.

The Panorama testing has been discussed at school board meeting in association to administrative goals. I wrote an article recently on ‘Striving for average’ that is related to this testing. You can find the results of the Panorama survey on the HSE site on the analytics page at https://www.hseschools.org/about/analytics. There are both the Family-School Relationships Survey results and the Panorama Student Survey Report.

Flipped Schedules

Flipped schedules and the potential of HSE Schools flipping the start time has been a topic at school board meetings and on social media for a while now. Dr. Bourff mentioned that the administration is research this and is planning to have a recommendation for the HSE School Board by the end of the calendar year. If the recommendation requires action, then it is hoped the board will make a decision in January of 2020 for action possibly next fall for the 2020-21 school year.

Dr. Bourff mentioned that there is a lot of reasons for flipping as well as counter arguments. One of the big reasons for flipping would be the mental well-being of kids. Specifically, younger kids learn better earlier in the day and tend to be finished (wiped) by 2:00 or 2:30. Our younger kids currently go well past this time. It is thought that older kids do better later in the day than the younger kids.

It was note that Noblesville has flipped their start times as have other schools. Dr. Bourff is talking with the other districts. He has also talked with students at the high schools and plans to have additional discussions with not only kids, but also other groups.

The discussions regarding flipping include looking at a few other things as well. HSE has some of the longest school days with our older kids going roughly 50 minutes more than the required daily minimum. It was stated that because HSE has high performing schools, there is an expectation of longer class days. The elementary kids go roughly 75 minutes more than the required daily minimum. Some changes at the state level have opened a window to where these times could possibly be reduced a little bit. In the past, I’ve heard mention of possibly cutting 20 minutes from the elementary schools; however, that is not yet determined. Dr. Bourff was asked about the 20 minutes in the meeting.

In addition to possible time adjustments, there is also consideration of changing the transportation model. It was noted that there are not enough busses or drivers to do all the schools at the same time, so there will still need to be staggered start times in the district.

One question raised asked about the impact of start times on testing results. Dr. Bourff commented that history has shown that the change in start times has very little impact on testing results. The change in start times, therefore, focus more at improving the kids’ mental well-being.

In the advisory meeting, feedback was given that echoes what has been seen online and in other locations regarding flipping start times. This includes the issues of childcare and the impact on sports. A key point of feedback point given to Dr. Bourff was in regard to his gathering to feedback from a variety of sources on this topic. If the administration is going to push for a decision based on data that says flipping is best for the well-being of the kids, then he might want to forego getting feedback. The reasoning being, if all the feedback says, “don’t do it,” then it will look really bad to do the switch anyway.  Dr. Bourff indicated that he wants to collect the feedback, and that the decision will not be solely based on the data but will consider those all of those that are impacted as well.

In Conclusion

This is a summary, (my summary and a long one), of the core topics covered. Last year I was president of the Riverside Junior High PTO and shared this at the PTO meetings. Being that PTO leaders are a part of this meeting, you should ask them to share their perspective on the Superintendent Advisory Council meetings at your upcoming PTO meetings. These happen quarterly, so they won’t have an update every time!

While I have your attention, check out my latest book, which is available on Amazon.com. It’s a fun, “find the difference in the pictures” book where you also learn a tidbit about the public parks in Fishers:

Spot the Difference in Fishers, Indiana: City Parks Edition

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