Education Week - June 12, 2013 - (Page 12)

12 EDUCATION WEEK n JUNE 12, 2013 n After Early Progress, SIG School Struggles to Improve Low scores mean future uncertain for Shawnee By Alyson Klein Louisville, Ky. After three years, a $1.5 million invest- ment, a huge staffing shake-up, and an assist from some of the state’s veteran educators, the long-troubled former Shawnee High School here remains on tenuous ground. The school, now called the Academy @ Shawnee, looked like an early success story for the newly supercharged—and controversial—School Improvement Grant program. Just one year after joining the high-profile, federally financed effort to turn around the nation’s lowest-performing schools, Shawnee posted double-digit gains in reading and math. But then, the landscape changed. Ken- tucky—a leader in the national effort to implement uniform, rigorous standards—put in place a new curriculum and assessments that demanded much more of Shawnee’s students, many of whom entered ill-prepared for high school. The school was pulled back into the academic doldrums, placing among the bottom 1 percent in the state. Principal Keith Look, who left one of the highest-performing middle schools in the Jefferson County school district to lead Shawnee five years ago, is worried he will lose his job. State guidelines call for leaders at struggling schools to be carefully reassessed—and even removed—if a school remains among the worst performers for an extended period. “Based on the way I read policy, my clock is ticking,” Mr. Look said last month. He expects the school to show significant growth in the second year of the new assessment system, but he doesn’t expect Shawnee to climb out of “priority status,” the federal term for a state’s lowestperforming schools. “We will make gains,” he said, “but they will not be enough to get us out of the bottom 5 percent” next year. What’s more, Shawnee and other lowperforming schools in the 100,000-student Jefferson County district are caught in a political tug of war between the district and Terry Holliday, Kentucky’s commissioner of education. The state chief is considering taking over turnaround operations at a number of Jefferson County schools that he believes aren’t making progress fast enough. Sufficient Time for Change? Shawnee’s three-year roller coaster ride underscores some of the crucial questions facing policymakers as the first cohort of schools in the federal SIG program winds up its grants. Is three years enough time to expect major changes in student outcomes? And how do much tougher standards and new tests— which nearly all states are beginning to embrace—throw a monkey wrench into the works when it comes to holding the lowestperforming schools accountable for change? Already, the Council of Chief State School Officers is calling for the federal government to allow states the flexibility to freeze the lists of struggling schools—under a series of waivers put out by the U.S. Department of Education. That would give educators time to adjust to higher expectations, the CCSSO argues. (See related story, Page 1.) ABOVE: Liz Cox, left, an administrator at the Academy @ Shawnee, helps senior T’uana Hanley with her gown for the school’s upcoming graduation day, as librarian Stephanie Conrad watches. Clare Sievers, who conducts mathematics interventions at Shawnee, works with junior Javonte Richie. The Louisville school is struggling to overcome decades of low achievement. Turnaround schools like Shawnee are in a particularly precarious position during the transition to new common-core standards and tests, said Diane Stark Rentner, the deputy director of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington-based group that has done extensive research on the SIG program. State and district officials in Kentucky and elsewhere should be cautious in drawing hard and fast conclusions from just one year of data, particularly right after big changes in standards and assessments, she added. “It’s probably not fair to make high-stakes [personnel] decisions after you’ve changed the standards and changed the tests,” she said. Ms. Rentner expects to see a broader discussion of the issue as more long-foundering schools move to implement the Common Core State Standards and new tests. “Kentucky is a leader, so they’re confronting it now, ahead of everyone else,” she said. Early Success When the SIG program was first expanded as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, Shawnee High, which had seen stagnant student achievement for decades, was an obvious candidate for a piece of the $3.5 billion fund. The program calls for state and other offi- cials to choose from a menu of widely debated improvement models, including conversion to charter status, a complete shutdown, or use of a basket of strategies that includes merit pay and extended learning time. In nearly all cases, the principal must be replaced unless that person has been on the job for less than three years. In the first year of the program, Shawnee and other low-performing Jefferson County schools chose the “turnaround” option, which meant roughly half their teachers were moved to other schools in the district and other teachers were hired to replace them. Mr. Look had wide latitude to recruit the best replacements he could find. He was able to persuade some high fliers to switch to his campus, including more than half a dozen teachers who had previously held leadership and professional-development roles in the district. He wound up with what he described as a “team of Michael Jordans.” The strategy paid off at first: The school made adequate yearly progress, or AYP, under the No Child Left Behind Act for the first time in its history, through the federal law’s “safe harbor” provision. Unexpected Blow Shawnee even scored a visit from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in November 2011. Afterward, Mr. Duncan occasionally weaved the school into public remarks to illustrate the power of the SIG program, which is on thin political ice in Congress. He quoted students by name who had told him that more of their friends would have made it to graduation if only the school’s turnaround had gotten started earlier. Last year’s test results came as “a real sucker punch,” said Imogen Herrick, a science teacher who has been at the school since before the start of the turnaround. “We had adapted to the original assessments and started to make gains,” she said. “All of a sudden, this brand-new assessment system came in, and we were right back at the bottom again.” Still, Ms. Herrick feels her students will benefit from the new curriculum, which generally uses tests developed by ACT, Inc. and is tied to the common core. And she pointed out that the school has inched up on the one measure that has remained constant from year to year: ACT scores. Shawnee students also made small gains—1.9 composite points—between the EXPLORE test, taken by 8th graders, and the PLAN test, taken by 10th graders. Ms. Herrick, has signed on for another year at the school, despite interest from other places in the district. “We’ve put a lot of heart into this place,” she said of Shawnee’s staff. For the most part, the teaching force has remained relatively stable throughout the turnaround effort, with about a dozen teachers electing to leave over a three-year period. The same can’t be said for Mr. Look’s administrative staff, which has turned over every year, in part because of promotions. But Ms. Herrick and other teachers say they feel as if they’re under a powerful microscope. Part of the reason: Jefferson County officials don’t think the school is making progress fast enough. And the district itself was stung by state Commissioner Holliday’s contention that turnarounds had been more successful at schools in which the state led improvement operations. Dewey Hensley, the district’s chief academic officer, is worried that test scores will remain so low at Shawnee, particularly after all the resources that have been poured into the school. And he’s concerned about Shawnee’s suspension rate. It has gone down 20 percent over the past year, according to Mr. Look, but remains among the highest in the district. “There is a new accountability system that Photos by Pat McDonogh for Education Week

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - June 12, 2013

Education Week - June 12, 2013
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Obama Plan Champions E-Rate Fixes
States Seek Flexibility on Testing
FOCUS ON: SCHOOL LEADERS: Chicago Initiative Aims to Upgrade Principal Pipeline
Questions Arise About Algebra 2 For All Students
Year-End Exams Add Urgency to Teaching
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Race on to Ready N.Y.C. Teacher Reviews
Districts Turning Summer School Into Learning Labs
Preschools Aim to Better Equip Low-Income Parents
After Early Progress, SIG School Struggles To Improve
Progress, Persistence Seen in Latest Data on Bullying
INDUSTRY & INNOVATION: ‘MOOC’ Plan Could Spawn Dual-Enrollment Courses
Virginia Joins Ranks of States Creating State-Run Districts
Blogs of the Week
NCLB Bills Split Over Federal Role in K-12
Policy Brief
States Fold Teaching Into Preschool Rating Factors
Peer Review Quietly Put On Hold For State Assessment Systems
State Opposition Jeopardizes Common-Core Future
OP EDUCATION: Are New Teachers Ready to Teach?
EDWARD CROWE, MICHAEL ALLEN, & CHARLES COBLE: A Good Time for Progress in Teacher Prep
JULIE GORLEWSKI: Teaching Toward Utopia
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
OTIS KRIEGEL: ‘You’ll Get the Hang of It’

Education Week - June 12, 2013