Monday, April 23, 2012

Resolution Concerning High Stakes, Standardized Testing of Texas Public School Students

The following resolution was passed unanimously by the Texas Association of School Administrators and has, as of 4-25-12, been accepted and passed by over 407 school districts across Texas as we build toward a national resolution:

WHEREAS, the over reliance on standardized, high stakes testing as the only assessment of learning that really matters in the state and federal accountability systems is strangling our public schools and undermining any chance that educators have to transform a traditional system of schooling into a broad range of learning experiences that better prepares our students to live successfully and be competitive on a global stage; and

WHEREAS, we commend Robert Scott, Commissioner of Education, for his concern about the overemphasis on high stakes testing that has become “a perversion of its original intent” and for his continuing support of high standards and local accountability; and

WHEREAS, we believe our state’s future prosperity relies on a high-quality education system that prepares students for college and careers, and without such a system Texas’ economic competitiveness and ability and to attract new business will falter; and

WHEREAS, the real work of designing more engaging student learning experiences requires changes in the culture and structure of the systems in which teachers and students work; and

WHEREAS, what occurs in our classrooms every day should be student-centered and result in students learning at a deep and meaningful level, as opposed to the superficial level of learning that results from the current over-emphasis on that which can be easily tested by standardized tests; and

WHEREAS, We believe in the tenets set out in Creating a New Vision for Public Education in Texas (TASA, 2008) and our goal is to transform this district in accordance with those tenets; and

WHEREAS, Our vision is for all students to be engaged in more meaningful learning activities that cultivate their unique individual talents, to provide for student choice in work that is designed to respect how they learn best, and to embrace the concept that students can be both consumers and creators of knowledge; and

WHEREAS, only by developing new capacities and conditions in districts and schools, and the communities in which they are embedded, will we ensure that all learning spaces foster and celebrate innovation, creativity, problem solving, collaboration, communication and critical thinking; and

WHEREAS, these are the very skills that business leaders desire in a rising workforce and the very attitudes that are essential to the survival of our democracy; and

WHEREAS, imposing relentless test preparation and boring memorization of facts to enhance test performance is doing little more than stealing the love of learning from our students and assuring that we fall short of our goals; and

WHEREAS, we do not oppose accountability in public schools and we point with pride to the performance of our students, but believe that the system of the past will not prepare our students to lead in the future and neither will the standardized tests that so dominate their instructional time and block our ability to make progress toward a world-class education system of student-centered schools and future-ready students; therefore be it

RESOLVED that the _____________ ISD Board of Trustees calls on the Texas Legislature to re-examine the public school accountability system in Texas and to develop a system that encompasses multiple assessments, reflects greater validity, uses more cost efficient sampling techniques and other external evaluation arrangements, and more accurately reflects what students know, appreciate and can do in terms of the rigorous standards essential to their success, enhances the role of teachers as designers, guides to instruction and leaders, and nurtures the sense of inquiry and love of learning in all students.

For more information see Texas Association of School Administrators, .  The constantly updated list of Texas school districts who have approved this resolution is found at .

This resolution was submitted by one trustee for the DISD Board of Trustees to consider, but has not been accepted for placement on the board meeting agenda for consideration.  Why?  Here is a news story on that issue: 

All candidates now campaigning for positions on the Dallas ISD School Board should be asked about their opinion on the board voting on this resolution.  Then they should be asked separately be asked about their own personal position on this resolution.  Their answers will demonstrate their awareness of what is happening in DISD classrooms, and their concerns.

There are plans to collect signatures, and stand, in support of this resolution at the 4-26-12 Board meeting starting at 7:00 PM at DISD headquarters, 3700 Ross, in Dallas.  While some board members are wanting to put this off for a month so as to change the wording, both the re-wording and the delay lessen the potential impact. To pass it now, worded the same as the resolution now passed by 407 school districts (27 more than two days ago), will send a stronger message to the Texas Legislature, and the world! Different wording, combined with a delay, weaken the message.
See what is being done on the state level at .  Dr. Diane Ravitch posted only two days ago about the national movement.  See  Texas is emerging as a leader in this movement for reasonable testing!

Ultimately a significantly modified resolution by DISD was passed on 5-24-12.  It can be seen and studied at .

Friday, April 20, 2012

Kipp Truth Academy & student loss

Research studies both by the University of Michigan and University of Texas have strongly documented that students are leaving charter schools in greater percentages than students are leaving public schools such as DISD. (See links to both studies below.) Now a small study of Kipp Truth Academy here in Dallas is reinforcing that finding.

Kipp Truth Academy, Dallas, & Student Movement
Right-click on the above chart to enlarge and/or print.

The above chart comparing student loss at Kipp Truth Academy with that at Dallas ISD was drawn from data found online at the Texas Education Agency web site indicated on the chart.  It is public data.  It indicates a 5th grade to 8th grade decrease in student population that is greater for Kipp Truth Academy that for Dallas ISD.  The history of such DISD student movement 5th to 8th grade is given in the chart below covering such movement since 1999.
Dallas ISD 5th grade to 8th grade enrollment comparison since 1999
Right click on above chart to enlarge and/or print. 
A much more critical pattern is indicated when you study the chart below that was created from the same TEA data base for the 14 largest ISD's in Dallas County.
Largest Dallas County School Districts Dropout Rate Progress
Right-click on chart to enlarge and/or print.
Notice the second to the last row in the above CPI history chart, the row titled "Dallas County w/o DISD."  Notice that with the simple removal of DISD students from the Dallas County wide enrollment chart, that the overall progress with raising graduation rates within Dallas County is erased!!!

When this chart was made in January I was amazed by this result and went back to double check the numbers.  I still think there may be an error and therefore place the chart here to invite anyone to help find the error. This is important. If there is not an error in this calculation it means that the multiple smaller school systems, specifically the charter school systems in Dallas County, as a group, have a VERY significant drop in 11th and 12th grade enrollments, and graduations, and therefore their CPI's dropped significantly as a group.

By the removal of the wonderful progress in CPI measurements for DISD from the remaining enrollments in Dallas County combined, the other ISD's positive measurements should NOT allow the entire CPI average to drop to negative 1.13 percentage points, unless the remaining charter school progress measurements, not included in this chart, are terrible!  Only one ISD in the chart, Duncanville, went down in their CPI measurement!  The answer has to remain with the charter schools as to what pulled the Dallas County progress average down so quickly once the DISD progress was removed.

Sadly, the wonderful progress in graduation rates within DISD that I, and many others, have been celebrating may be, at least partially, caused by students leaving charter schools to return to DISD, and not by students kept within DISD all along.  Thus DISD is getting a boost in enrollment and graduation numbers.  The question must also be asked: are these students who would have pulled charter schools testing averages down and are therefore being placed under pressure and "pushed out" and back into the public ISD system?

Corrections, and any reasons for these losses in student population being much worse at Kipp Truth Academy, than even in DISD, are welcome.  These numbers must be checked!

Update posted 4-29-12: Two major research studies have been found that both reinforce the existence of a pattern of students leaving charter schools at higher rates than public schools. The first of these two was published in March of 2011 by the University of Michigan:

The second study was published within the past month. See "Charter Schools No Cure-All for Black Students, Says Study" and the research it is linked to.

Both of these studies include KIPP Truth Academy and reinforces the findings above that charter school attrition rates are higher than those of public schools.

KIPP has issued a rebuttal of such findings: “Statement by KIPP regarding report: "Is Choice a Panacea?” by Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig and colleagues."  Click on title to see statement.

My question to KIPP regarding KIPP Truth would be "Why did the fifth grade consistently loose more students by the 8th grade than did Dallas ISD?"   Within the past year KIPP has improved, from loosing about 18 percentage points of enrollment more than DISD to only loosing 5 percentage points more than DISD.  While they are improving, they still have significantly higher attrition rates that DISD.

Bill Betzen

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Changing School Culture: Three Steps

Three steps to make monumental changes within the school culture have been in process for years within Dallas ISD. The progress is painfully slow, but happening. The three steps are transparency, parental involvement, and a move toward a more developmentally appropriate grade configuration by closing middle schools.   All three steps are in process to some extent but need much more attention and research.

1) Transparency

The old cowboy insult of “all hat and no cattle” is an all too accurate description of educational history in Texas. Twelve years ago such reporting became so bold that Houston actually claimed "zero dropout rates."  The reality was that far less than 50% of any 9th grade enrollment were receiving diplomas within 4 years.  The dropout rate was very far from zero, thus "no cattle!"

Fortunately many school districts are slowly moving away from such “all hat and no cattle” claims, but TEA recently made some of the boldest "all hat and no cattle" claims in the history of school accountability in Texas.  TEA claimed graduation rates that amounted to placing Texas among the group of states having the 4th higest graduation rates in the nation!  Fortunately business leaders in Texas, as well as academic leaders, were both vigilant and publically challenged these unrealistic graduation rates.

In spite of what TEA is trying to do, absolute transparency, exposing exactly what is happening in our schools, especially when it is painful, is slowly being understood as the best alternative. Texas has led the way with the raw data about our schools and our students being placed online and annually updated at  Almost all the reports posted in this blog come from that web site. With more such transparency Dallas is making more very real progress than at any time in the past 20 years! 

Admitting and sharing the painful truths in our public schools is the only way to have a strong foundation for progress.

The most accurate, easy to audit measurements for a credible transparency are the number of students who enroll each year in each grade, combined with the number who graduate annually, and how many of those annual graduates are ready for college. Simple spreadsheets for each school and school district should include enrollment by grade and year, covering 10 years or more of such annual enrollments.  Each years numbers should include graduation numbers and percentages of those graduates who are college ready.  It would quickly show if progress is happening. 

Finally, such a TEA spreadsheet for all of Texas would be a powerful summary of what is happening in Texas education over time.

The Internet allows the accumulation and availablity of such data to explode. Dallas ISD is constantly taking advantage of that availability with results that are improving, and constantly need to improve. DISD does not yet have such a multi-year spreadsheet online and in a prominent place on the DISD web site.  Such a spreadsheet could look like the chart at the end of the post at

Such a prominent spreadsheet on the DISD web site would make Dallas a national leader in educational transparency. No other major US City has such longitudinal, multi-year, transparency. DallasISD can lead the way!

Such a lack of more complete transparency also hides good news.

Significantly positive changes within DISD started 6 years ago, but received no publicity. Those positive changes happened when the 9th grade bubble began to disappear. The 9th grade bubble is caused when the 9th grade is larger than the 8th grade the year before. That is caused by large numbers of 9th grade students failing and repeating the 9th grade. Too many middle school students were not prepared for the 9th grade. As they fail the 9th grade enrollment grows due to students taking the 9th grade two or more times.

From 1996 through 2006 the average 9th grade enrollment in Dallas ISD was 33% larger than the 8th grade enrollment due to such failures. For the decade between 1996/1997 to 2005/2006 the average 8th grade enrollment was just over 11,025, and the average 9th grade enrollment was 14,727. That 33% 9th grade bubble began to disappear in 2006.  It is now only a 9.27% bubble for the current 2011/2012 9th grade class!

The 9th grade shrinking means more students are passing on to the 10th grade. In spite in the fact that DISD is now has the smallest enrollment it has had in over 15 years, it now has the largest 10th, 11th and 12th grade enrollments in over 15 years!! Fewer students are dropping out in the 9th grade! (See enrollment by grade numbers going back to 1996/97 at

Good things are happening in DISD. These DISD cultural changes must continue!  They must be known! More complete transparency will expose all sides of DISD, the good and the bad.

2) Parental Involvement!

Parental involvement is the foundation for any cultural change within DISD. A project that has evolved to center on parents was started several years ago in one Dallas ISD middle school. This School Archive Project started as a focus by students on their own futures in letters they write to themselves for a time-capsule. Then in 2009 the most critical component was added: letters by parents to their child about their own dreams for their child. It is reinforcing parental involvement as never before.

Now entering middle school students start the year receiving a letter from their parents about their parental dreams for them in life. Yes, those dreams include education. These new students bring these letters to their Language Arts Class. They spend a week writing a letter to themselves about their own history and goals for themselves in middle school. Then both letters are placed into a self-addressed envelope and into the 500-pound vault bolted to the floor in the school lobby.

This vault is in a prominent place and under spotlights. Students pass it several times a day. At times they may be reminded of what their parent's letter says that is inside the vault. Imagine the conversations that the writing of these letters may have provoked between parent and child. This helps to make such priceless, private conversations more common. It documents them and saves them for history.

The last month of middle school this almost three year old letter is returned to students and to their parents. Everyone sees how things have changed since these letters were written. Parents and students write new letters, this time looking 10-years into the future. This time the letters are placed into the vault for the next decade. Photos are made on the day the letters are placed into the vault. Students and parents receive copies of those photos with details on the back for the 10-year class reunion. Everyone is reminded that at that 10-year reunion the returning students will be asked to speak with decade younger students in the school about their recommendations for success. They are warned to prepare for questions such as "What would you do differently if you were 13 again?"

This School Archive Project started in 2005. The graduation rate for Sunset High School, Class of 2006, was below 33%. Sunset received most of these students. Their graduation rate slowly started to rise due to this project, and many other positive changes in the high school including a dynamic principal. In 2009 they installed their own vault at Sunset, and that same year the other middle school feeding into Sunset installed their own vault. The graduation rate for the Class of 2011 was 62%. It is expected to be near 66% for the Class of 2012. It will probably be 70% or better for the Class of 2013. No other high school in Dallas has improved even half as many percentage points over the same period as Sunset!

The many changes at Sunset made a very real difference. But Sunset is the only high school that has almost all incoming students already exposed to the School Archive Project before they arrive, and ready to do it again. That difference may be what has helped to make Sunset the most improved graduation rate high school in all of DISD for the past decade.

Sunset High School Progress in Dallas ISD
Right-click on above image to enlarge and/or print.
It is the power of personal letters focused on history and the future, placed in a secure location of respect usually reserved for diamonds, gold, and money. It's a message about the value of history, the passage of time, hard work, and planning for the future.  See .

The value of the mentoring component is yet to be realized when the 10-year reunions start in November of 2014. The reunions will add to the cultural change. They may evolve into the largest single contributor to an ongoing, educationally focused, cultural change. The message former students bring back to decade younger students may become the most priceless factor in the improvement of our schools.

What would you do differently if you were 13 again?

This project starts with parents documenting their dreams for their children. This then helps their children, our students, to then focus on a more realistic future in a way that is easier to embrace, and change as needed. Such conversations need to be more common by parents and children.

3) Developmentally Appropriate Grade Configuration: change to k-8 schools
(Yes, close all middle schools!)

Debates over grade configurations surrounding middle school have gone on for as long as middle schools have existed. Research has now pushed that issue well beyond the debate stage.

A July 2011 Harvard University study has emphasized the urgency of an improvement for our public schools that parents need to study. This detailed and extensive research concluded (page 23): "Taken as a whole, these results suggest that structural school transitions lower student achievement but that middle schools in particular have adverse consequences for American students." If parents agree, they must demand changes in grade configuration, especially here in Dallas due to the publicly acknowledged issues with our DISD middle schools.

The Harvard study showed that in virtually all subjects the scores on standardized test were lower in middle schools than in K-8 elementary schools. Parents and teachers familiar with both settings will rarely be surprised by these findings.

This past November a powerful editorial was published by CNN giving a simple message: "By all accounts, middle schools are a weak link in the chain of public education."

The K-8 response to this "weak link" is gaining momentum. The number of  K-8 schools has almost doubled in the US since 2000 as over 1,000 middle schools have disappeared, or been re-purposed as K-8. Google news for K-8 and middle school.  You will find reports of school districts closing middle schools and changing them to K-8 elementary schools with very few exceptions. The reason is as simple as the statement a decade ago by William Moloney, then the Education Commissioner of Colorado: "K-8s are the place where everybody knows your name."

What better place to endure the uncertainties of puberty? Instead DISD is now forcing students entering the changes of puberty to move to a strange school with hundreds of other students from other schools also struggling to regain their self image as they change. It is no wonder that we have behavioral issues! Student performance then falls in DISD middle schools.

This past April the National Middle School Association changed it's name to the Association for Middle Level Education. They saw middle schools being closed in the US, and realized such separate institutions do not exist in the highest achieving school systems in the world, such as Finland. In such countries the elimination of the middle school transfer trauma appears to help in far exceeding US academic achievement while at the same time investing significantly fewer classroom hours. The name change reflected a more authentic focus on educating students ages 10 to 15. Will Texas public schools see what is happening? (See more links to articles on this issue here.)

Parents can study these factors and be the driving force behind helping DISD to slowly move to k-8 schools systemwide That process has already happened in one school, Rosemont Elementary in DISD, which is leading the way. Parents studied the issues and demanded the change. More schools will follow as quickly as parents can study the issues and continue to demand the change.

Such change will also strengthen PTA memberships as parents will be with the same PTA for three more years. There will be more of an investment in each k-8 school. They must be the best schools for the sake of the neighborhood!

As to costs for these three changes, only the last one for a movement to k-8 configurations would involve any signficant costs due to potential building modifications.  This process could go slowly, as quickly as parental groups form and request such changes.  It could be worked into the normal building budget for DISD. Also, since Dallas County has seen a constant drop in birth numbers since 2007 there may not be the normal pressure for building new schools.  Such k-8 transitions could happen more easily.

These three ongoing changes within Dallas ISD, if accelerated and reinforced, will create an urban public school system that truly becomes a national model.  Someday DISD will receive that evasive Broad Prize for Urban Education that everyone was working for 5 years ago.  

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Mathematical Competence in Texas

Read the three paragraphs below.  They start an article claiming that Texas has the 10th highest graduation rate among the 34 states now following the national definition for graduation rate. Check the math! It was published by the Texas Education Agency, Feb. 21, 2012, at
Texas has the 10th highest overall graduation among 34 states that are reporting the National Governors Association (NGA) Compact Graduation Rate for the Class of 2010, according to a comparison study done by the Texas Education Agency.

The Compact Rate shows the overall graduation rate for Texas public school students was 84.3 percent. When broken down by ethnic or racial groups, Texas ranks even higher.

Among the 34 states currently reporting the Compact Rate, also known as a four-year on-time graduation rate, Texas had the second highest graduation rate for white students at 91.6 percent and, along with Arkansas, the fourth highest rate for Hispanic students with 78.8 percent. Texas also had the fifth highest rate for African-American students at 78.8 percent.
Is the Texas Education Agency recommending any efforts to target what is apparently (based on the above quoted paragraphs) the exceptionally low Asian graduation rate in Texas?

Beyond joking about this mathematical error: an email was sent to the Texas Education Agency today notifying them of this tragic set of errors.  Will they understand?