Byron's Babbles

ESSA Opportunity #4: Identification of School Improvement Strategies


States can establish their own framework for supporting identified schools that incorporates personalized learning strategies. ESSA has two two required categories for intervention.


Action/intervention is required in at least the following types of schools:

  • Comprehensive Support and Improvement Schools: The lowest performing 5 percent of Title I schools and all high schools with graduation rates below 67 percent. Districts have the initial responsibility for improvement activity. If schools don’t improve within four years, states have to intervene.
  • Targeted Support and Improvement: Schools where any group of students is consistently underperforming. Schools work with districts on improvement activity. If schools don’t improve, the district has to ensure more rigorous intervention.

The big key here is that the School Improvement Grant (SIG) is eliminated with ESSA. Now in its place is a new provision that allows STATES to set aside 7% of their Title I funds for school improvement activities.


The Vital Few of Extending My Reach to Lead

IMG_0415I just completed the book The Disciplined Leader by John Manning (2015). There will be two more posts about the experience of the book, but this post deals with my vital few (three) from Part III of the book – Extend Your Reach The Responsibility to Lead Your Organization. One thing that really resonated with me in this section of the book was the idea that leading our organization is about extending my leadership reach beyond myself and our team to a degree that’s much further from me yet still critically connected to my organization’s center: me. Extending my reach also means having an alignment of values and people.

My vital three for Part III are (I have included a link to my original post on each lesson):

  1. Develop a “What’s the goal” culture
  2. Put more weight on “why”
  3. Cultivate Curiosity

img_2003-1HOW can your leadership be both spread and focused? This is a critical tension faced by many companies with multiple operations. One of the keys to putting strategy into action is to have everyone in the organization understand her role in carrying out the goal. I believe this is the first step to extending our leadership reach. So, as I look at my role of developing great teacher leaders it is important for me to define and organize high-impact teacher-leader roles that can allow great teachers to have a far greater effect on vastly more students, teaching peers, and the culture of excellence we are building for the organization. State and district education leaders must ensure that schools have the support they need to design and implement high-impact teacher-leader roles.

I also want my reach as a leader to encourage our team members to be curious. Curiosity as it applies to leadership will always lead to creativity and innovation. Curious leaders will not be content to keep doing things the same way over and over. A curious leader will look at things from multiple perspectives, continuing to ask questions. Being curious is simply being eager to learn and to know; to be enthusiastically inquisitive. Curious leaders are always moving forward. Curious leaders are not afraid of failure. In fact, curious leaders know that “failure” is the prerequisite to success. Curious leaders know that you will never know how far you can go until you go too far – I call this swinging the pendulum.

If we are truly committed to growing leaders in our organizations, we must find ways to extend our reach. What are you doing as a leader?







ESSA Opportunity #3: Selection of Accountability Indicators

Posted in Education, Education Reform, Educational Leadership, ESSA, Every Student Succeeds Act by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on May 25, 2016

IMG_0133Each state must have a statewide accountability system that is based on the challenging state academic standards for reading/language arts and math to improve student academic achievement and school success. States shall:

  • Establish ambitious state-designed long-term goals for all students and each subgroup of students in the state for improved:
  • Academic achievement as measured by proficiency on the annual assessments
  • High school graduation rates including the four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate
    and at the state’s discretion the extended-year adjusted cohort graduation rate
  • Percent of English learners making progress in achieving English language proficiency

The indicators of the system, for all students and separately for each subgroup:

  • Academic achievement as measured by proficiency on annual assessments
  • Another indicator of academic achievement
  • For high schools, a measure of the graduation rate
  • Progress of English learners in achieving English language proficiency
  • An indicator of school quality and student success such as student engagement, educator engagement, student access to advanced coursework, postsecondary readiness, school climate and safety, or other measure.

I really like this last bullet. I believe it would be interesting to investigate the idea of a school culture grade. Even something like the evaluation that happens with an AdancED visit. As a school leader of schools needing turned around, the culture and operational soundness piece has been an important contributor. I would like to explore the possibility of getting a culture/operations grade. It would also be interesting to think about multiple grades for a school. Parents are used to seeing multiple grades on a grade report and I believe this might bring more meaning to school grades and accountability.

Additionally, states may integrate personalized learning indicators into their accountability system and assign them substantial weight. States may also emphasize growth to proficiency to incentivize success for every student, not just those likely to perform at grade level.

Examples of personalized academic indicators include:

  • Rate of growth to proficiency on state assessments for all core subjects
  • Mastery of deeper levels of academic competencies

Examples of personalized measures of school quality or student success include:

  • College credit earned in high school
  • Mastery of social and emotional competencies
  • Access to multiple, personalized pathways for mastery of competencies

States must also incorporate test participation in some way in their accountability system. States must count academic factors more heavily. A state must use this system to meaningfully differentiate all public schools in the state based on all indicators for all students and subgroups of students and puts substantial weight on each indicator. The system must differentiate any school in which any subgroup of students is consistently underperforming. Those subgroups are

  • Economically disadvantaged students
  • Students from major racial and ethnic groups
  • Children with disabilities
  • English learners

ESSA Opportunity #2: Innovative Assessement Pilot

Posted in Education, Education Reform, Educational Leadership, ESSA, Every Student Succeeds Act, Leadership by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on May 24, 2016

HomePageESSA allows for up to seven states initially to apply to collaborate to design, build, and implement innovative, competency based systems of assessments. This is a state pilot, not individual school pilot. I have had schools say they would like to pilot their own summative assessments. This is not an option under ESSA, if not a part of the pilot.

The seven states approved may use these assessments to meet federal accountability requirements. A state may pilot its new assessment system statewide by the end of the demonstration period. The assessment must meet all the high technical quality factors.

Every state must have annual assessments in reading or language arts and math for grades 3-8 and once in high school, as well as science assessments given at least once in each grade span from grades 3-5, 6-9, and 10-12. Assessments may, at the state’s discretion, measure individual student growth. State systems can measure achievement via an annual summative assessment or multiple statewide assessments, the results of which would be required to be combined to produce a summative score.

States may use computer-adaptive assessments. States may measure a student’s academic proficiency above or below grade level and use such scores in the state accountability system.

Leading & Giving In The Community

FullSizeRenderIn his final and 52nd lesson in The Disciplined Leader, John Manning (2015) talked about giving back. I am a big believer in this as an educational leader. We must take care of our students, families, and communities. Many of our families have needs that must be met for learning to happen and I believe we, as a school, have an obligation to do what we can. Can we take care of everything? No. But we must do our part. We have two wonderful staff members, Carol Sepaniak and Lacy Spears that have started a program to aid Hoosier Academies Network of Schools families.This is in keeping with our Core Value of img_2032-1building strong community relationships for success.

“Your responsibility as a leader is to personally demonstrate your commitment through your actions inside and outside your organization.” ~ John Manning

Hoosier Helpings Food Pantry began through a collaboration to sponsor a canned food drive. A contest was created for K-6 and 7-12 Hybrid students to incentivize them to participate. The class that brought in the most cans won a pizza party and the second place winner won a donut party. The canned food drive was promoted to benefit Hoosier Academies’ families through the FAST Outreach Program. The canned food drive was such a success, that steps were taken for Hoosier Academies to open its own food pantry called Hoosier Helpings.

img_2003-1We decided to visit the Center Grove Care Pantry to observe how another school corporation runs a food pantry. The visit helped us to develop pantry guidelines, check-in procedures, and a food box distribution list. An application was submitted to Hope Pascoe with Gleaners in order to become a school-based pantry. Our application is currently under review. To become a community partner with Gleaners, Lacy Spears and Carol Sepaniak obtained their food handler license through ServSafe. Another requirement is to have cold storage units. A freezer has been donated and we are currently looking to secure a refrigerator. As we are waiting to hear from Gleaners, several events have been held to benefit the Hoosier Helpings Food Pantry.

Events are listed below:IMG_0400

  • $25 Starbucks gift card given to the teacher to bring in the most canned food during on site professional development.
  • Canned food donation at Bowl to Enroll where staff and families could bring donations to the event.
  • Personal Hygiene drive for both students and staff.
  • Partnership with Aldi for Summer Reading Program “Read to Feed.” One can of food will be donated to the Hoosier Helpings Food Pantry for every book that is read.
  • NJHS and NHS students worked in the pantry organizing shelves, painting freezer and creating signs.

Moral Compass

Lesson #51 in The Disciplined Leader by John Manning (2015) really affirmed our decision to spend the past year with our Focused Leader Academy and, ultimately, all of our stakeholders completely redoing our vision and mission for the Hoosier Academies Network of Schools. We also went on to explicitly develop a set of core values. I was amazed these had not ever been developed for our schools. Those in our organization now understand the importance of these and why the organic development of vision, mission, and core values is crucial for organizational success.

“It is leadership’s responsibility to make sure good ethics are part of the foundation of the company. A good starting point is to use your clearly defined vision, mission, and values to provide direction to the organization.” ~ John Manning

Here is the vision and mission we created:

Here are our core values that serve as our moral compass:

Competitive Advantage

indexIt is no secret that I do not believe in neighborhood assigned schools for all children, especially low-income families. Children deserve and need their parents to have educational choice—not just what others think is good for them. School choice is all about empowering informed parents to make the best choice for the education of their children. With school choice, however, comes responsibility for leaders to not just start schools that look like all the others. As a charter school leader it is important for us to differentiate our school to meet the needs of our families and students.

I was reminded of this last Friday night when we honored our outstanding parents who serve as outstanding learning coaches. I blogged about this in Driving Decision Making. Every student has a story and needs some type of differentiation to make the school experience right for him or her. We must do all we can to make school information widely available so parents can make informed choices. Education is a complex, highly personal endeavor, which means that what happens at the individual level—the level of the teacher and the student—is the most crucial factor in realizing success. In education, I always say we need to work very hard to make policy meet reality. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which sends key decisions back to the states, allows us an opportunity to collaboratively bring the state legislature, state boards of education, departments of education, schools, teachers, and families together to do what is best for our children.

img_2003-1In Lesson #50 of The Disciplined Leader John Manning (2015) posited, “Don’t limit competitive information to what’s obvious. Dig deep to understand your competitors’ people, their products, their services, what they do well, and what they don’t. Plug this competitive analysis into your business plan and see how it fits against the backdrop of what’s happening in your industry.” (Manning, 2015, Kindle Locations 2566-2568) This same philosophy holds true for school choice. We must study what other schools are doing and make sure that our own schools are not just doing the same things the same old way, but truly doing things that are making a positive impact on student achievement and performance.

“Leadership needs to drive activities and invest resources to study their competition and use this information to develop a competitive advantage.” ~ John Manning

We need to create transformational disruptions that create innovative opportunities for our teachers, students, and families. Instead of being customers, let’s consider our students and families as end users of what we offer in our schools. What promising approaches could we be bringing into our schools to give us a competitive advantage?

Driving Decision Making

Last night we honored our Outstanding Learning Coaches (parents and family members who work with our students in an online environment) of the Year as nominated by our teachers. It was an honor for me to be there and speak with these great parents and give them a COW (Creator of Wow) Award in addition to the Outstanding Learning Coach Award. I told these parents that with our new vision of “Success for Every Student in Indiana” that we must continue to improve our family engagement. Learning Coaches are a crucial component to the family engagement at Hoosier Academies Network of Schools. I am so proud of the work that our Community Engagement Coordinator, Rachael Borrelli does to engage our families and support our Learning Coaches. She and the teachers are to be commended for implementing this Outstanding Learning Coach awards program.

As I listened to the tear jerking, literally, stories of why these families want their children in our school, I realized we must continue to improve living out our vision, mission, and core values. Every student has a story and a context. These stories are why school choice is so important and parents must have the ability and right to send their children to the school that is the best fit for the context in which they live. This all fit with Lesson #49 of The Disciplined Leader by John Manning (2015). In this lesson Manning (2015) taught us that we must keep customers in the cross hairs of decision making. I blogged about whether we should consider students and parents as customers or whether society is the customer of schools in Leaders Listen, but regardless we need to listen to our families and engage their needs.

If we keep the interest of our families in mind and engage them in the process of educating their sons and daughters it is powerful in improving the achievement and performance of children. As Manning stated, “It is leadership’s responsibility to be an advocate for customers, so focus on them whenever you conduct any business planning.” (Manning, 2015, Kindle Location 2535) As leaders we must always make sure that those we serve are being considered in the decision making process. We will obviously never be able to please everyone, but we must be able to connected the dots between our customer’s needs and our core values for carrying out the vision and mission of the organization.

“You should also engage and align your employees to follow your lead when they’re making decisions, too. When those two strategies come together, you’ve got a winning formula for building customer loyalty.” ~ John Manning

It was so great to connect with a group of parents and students last night and it was even greater to witness our teachers interacting with those parents, families, and students. With our newly created vision, mission and core values I am confident we are continuing to improve our family engagement and decision making prowess. What does your organization need to do to improvement using customers in the decision making process?

Leaders Listen

In Lesson #48 of The Disciplined Leader, John Manning (2015) taught us to “Listen To Your Customers.” As an educational leader, I have been in more than my share of discussions about whether the students and parents are customers of our schools and the educational system. This post is not about answering that question – it’s just too complex. I’ll tackle that topic in a future post. Although, I have to give a shout out to Dr. David Burkus, author of Under New Management: How Leading Organizations Are Upending Business As Usual and Associate Professor at Oral Roberts Universty. He and I recently had an in depth conversation about about this during the launch of his book – which, by the way, every leader should read. 

Dr. Burkus and I discussed how students are much too precious and complex to just be considered as customers. He suggested that society is the customer of education. The success of our society relies on the quality of individuals, we in education produce. I tend to agree with that, but also know that we must listen to our students and families as if they were customers in the context that Manning (2015) spoke of. I also understand the complexity of educating a child and all the factors involved – parents, family, health, socio-economic factors, emotional, learning style. Thus, all the more reason to listen as if our families and students are customers, because regardless, as Dr. Burkus pointed out, society will ultimately be a customer. Failure to establish a home-school-community collaboration aimed at increasing student success puts our children’s and nation’s futures at stake.

This loyalty comes from genuine relationships—those that are carefully cultivated between the customers and your organization. This comes from interactions in which the customer feels that he or she matters personally, not financially, to a business.” ~ John Manning 

As Manning (2015) pointed out. It is all about relationships. Effective communication, which includes listening, is essential for building school-family partnerships. It constitutes the foundation for all other forms of family involvement in education. Good two-way communication between families and schools is necessary for our students’ success. Not surprisingly, research shows that the more parents and teachers share relevant information with each other about a student, the better equipped both will be to help that student achieve academically. The good news is that many are beginning to realize the value of connecting parents and community members to what is happening in the classroom. Still, there are too many families and community members who do not feel equipped to partner with schools to create the best teaching and learning environments for children. It is not surprising that these people tend to avoid substantive involvement in critical issues such as daily attendance, teacher quality, student retention, and other areas that impact student success.

Bottom-line: we need to listen and get feedback from our teachers, students and families; we must talk to our students and families and build meaningful relationships; and, we must find out why students come to our schools and why they leave our schools. Just as we ask our students to do their homework, we must do our homework, as leaders, to understand what he or she needs to be successful.  We must design environments for families to access key information to make their engagement with their children’s school more productive, enjoyable and beneficial. We must invite, engage, enable, and empower our families to become more engaged in their child’s educational experience.
As leaders we must listen to the needs of our students and families.

ESSA Opportunity #1: Assessments

IMG_0134I am beginning a series of ten posts detailing opportunities I see us having with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This post deals with new opportunities afforded by ESSA for Assessments. ESSA continues the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) schedule of federally required statewide assessments. ESSA still requires annual statewide assessments in reading and math in 3rd–8thgrade and once in high school; science assessments once each in elementary, middle, and high school. Those assessments must be aligned with state standards and provide information on whether a student is performing at grade level. ESSA allows computer-adaptive tests as well. These computer-adaptive models could be used to measure a student’s academic proficiency above or below grade level to determine a student’s actual performance level.

It is also important to keep in mind that no more than 1 percent of all students in the state can take an alternate assessments for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. There is still the requirement of 95% participation in state testing. States or localities may create their own laws on assessment participation, and districts are required to notify parents about those, but the 95% participation requirement must be met.

There are some options already being used in some states for the high school level. An option for states or districts to use a nationally-recognized assessment (e.g. SAT or ACT) at the high school level in place of the state test. These assessments may measure individual student growth. Any assessment that is used must be aligned to the state standards, provide results that can be used for accountability, and meet all the technical requirements that apply to statewide tests. They also have to be peer reviewed. Under ESSA, any district-selected assessments must be approved by the state.

In addition, summative assessments can be administered through multiple statewide interim assessments that , when combined, produce an annual summative score are allowed under ESSA. Also allowable under ESSA are assessments that are partially delivered through portfolios, projects, or extended performance tasks.

Finally, ESSA encourages and gives states the opportunity to audit their assessments to look at over-testing. As you can see, ESSA gives new flexibility in assessment design. The new law allows for use of nationally recognized high school assessments and innovative assessment flexibility. Now it is up to the states to collaborate and come up with solutions that are best for the students.