So, What Else Did the Board Discuss Last Tuesday? (Tempest in a Teapot, Part 2)

From my comments on The Oregonian Forum re Lighthouse:

The irony in this discussion of the Board’s faux “division” is that our OSBA Lighthouse Project instructors are competent, experienced, and successful education professionals who are, as the Board is, locked into a rigid program that needs data on the Board’s performance as measured by future student achievement, and therefore [the program] cannot adapt or change to improve.

Also ironic is that of all the topics the Board discussed last Tuesday, this one is merely “sensational,” while the other topics were much more relevant to the continued improvement of student achievement.

The Board received updates on the District’s rollout of standards-based grading (see Policy IK) accompanied by increased professional development in classroom assessment — the day-to-day, moment-by-moment feedback teachers give to students about learning, which, according to exhaustive research, is our most powerful teaching tool.

The Board also continued the discussion about the upcoming renewal of the HSD 1J Strategic Plan that will involve a large cross-section of the HSD community. Board members Adriana Canas, Rebecca Lantz, and Hugh O’Donnell will serve on a core committee with 27 other community representatives to determine which of the current plan’s objectives have been met, which should be maintained, and which still need work. The core committee will also deliberate on perceived need for new objectives.

Following the work of the core committee, still more educators and community members will serve on action teams that will determine the steps needed to realize the objectives.

Any volunteers?

Dividing the Board? Not.

An article in today’s The Oregonian suggested that a recent discussion at a Board work session on Tuesday, September 14, centering on HSD 1J Board of Directors training, is dividing the Board. Certainly we Board members have differing opinions, but is it really news that we disagree on something? We disagree all the time, but we come to consensus, or, in formal meetings, vote. And nobody walks away mad.

My comments on the article are as follows:

Wendy, just a slight course adjustment here…I’m with John on the ponderous waste of time, and I’d just as soon discontinue the project. But with four Board members (and probably five, but the fifth was missing from the meeting) wanting to continue the project, it doesn’t much matter what John or I have to say.

Perhaps you didn’t have space in your article, but it would be nice for folks to know that we, the Board, are lab rats in the Iowa Lighthouse Project. Not that that’s a totally bad thing, but because the Iowa folks are gathering data based on our performance as a Board over the next few years, the content and delivery of Lighthouse instruction has not, and cannot be, altered or the data gathered might be less valid and reliable as compared to other Board’s performances nation-wide over the last few years. That’s just the facts of life in a research project that depends on good statistics.

And that’s a piece of the picture that none of us had explained to us going into this thing.

The best thing we learned from Lighthouse was to follow up with District administration on Board expectations. The rest has been to micro-analyze District performance data (an admin job) and encouragement to micro-manage our administrators, which is something that the Oregon School Board Association has discouraged in the past, according to all our training to date. At least until Lighthouse.

I’m all for high-performing Boards of Ed, and I think we have a very conscientious group, but we barely have enough meeting time and opportunity to take care of A-1 priority issues, let alone waste time with the glacial pace and questionable learning opportunities of Lighthouse.

If the Lighthouse curriculum could be condensed and presented the way a competent teacher would be expected to present it, I’d be willing to go for it, but not the way it is now.

Bottom line: this Board is made up of seven reasonable adults, and our differences of opinion on the Lighthouse Project are no big deal. Certainly not enough to cause a “division” among us.

Last, I “feel” the comment by Mad As He** talking about irony. Remember, Mad, I’m a retired teacher. Part of my (latent) mission as a Board member is to encourage better, more differentiated professional development that is actually welcome and valuable, and positively affects student achievement.

Further comment:

singa September 17, 2010 at 6:58AM

“The school board needs to be conversant enough to be critical consumers of the reports put in front of them by staff thus enabling them to ask appropriate questions and set reasonable and challenging educational goals for the district. The next step is to set reasonable parameters for the admin. to work within to achieve those educational goals through board direction and policy.

In the end the buck of district performance stops with the board.”

Right as rain, singa.

From the Board page on the HSD 1J website, :

“The Board of Directors received several distinguished accolades from the Oregon School Boards Association (OSBA), both collectively and individually, for their commitment to community engagement and developing their skills as Board members. The awards were presented at the 2009 OSBA annual convention in Portland, which was held in November.

OSBA Continuing Board Achievement
The Board received the Continuing Board Achievement award for the sixth-consecutive year. This award signifies the Board’s successful completion of substantial board leadership training activities through the Leadership Institute. The award represents the Board’s commitment to continually enhancing their skills to strengthen their effectiveness as a school board.

OSBA Leadership Training
Three individual Board members were recognized for their leadership achievements though engaging in OSBA’s leadership training last year: Patti McLeod, Rebecca Lantz and Carolyn Ortman received Platinum Awards.”

Ning’s the Thing

teacher meeting

I first heard the word “Ning” from The Science Goddess a while back. I’m not sure I understand the full potential of nings, but from what I can see, there’s plenty of opportunity for collaboration and learning. I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of them.

I’ve added a new link category, “Nings,” to my sidebar for folks who visit here and would like to be pointed in new, helpful directions.

My first ning link is to The English Companion Ning, a meeting place for English/Language Arts teachers. Jim Burke, the administrator of the ning also has a web site called English Companion. And he is seriously published. Check out his books.

If you want to create your own Ning, go here.

(A few clicks later…)

I’m in the exploration mode here, in real time. Mr. Burke has a blog also. I’ll be looking at that for a while!

Additional Note (October 4, 2009): I just viewed a bunch of education-related nings using the search term teacher ning. There’s lots out there. Surf’s up!

Save the Oregon Historical Society’s Research Library


Today a fly fishing friend of mine who volunteered at the OHS museum and research library from 1979 to 2000 clued me in that the research library may be shut down for lack of funding. That would be a disaster.

Please visit the petition site to weigh in on the matter, and then let everyone you know about the opportunity to keep Oregon history available.

This resource must remain accessible to keep Oregon history alive. One of the first steps to obliterating a culture or a people is to cut them off from their history. We can’t have that happening in Oregon. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

Anyone else have any ideas on how to get the word around? Please comment here and I’ll do my share to spread the word.

As of tonight, only 20 people had signed the online petition. Surely more of us must care.

Unified Field Theory of Education

info-theoryOver Christmas Vacation (Winter Break to my PC friends), I read a thriller that put forth the idea that Einstein actually had succeeded in developing the necessary equations to explain the physical universe in its entirety, his Unified Field Theory.

The novel was written by a well-informed science historian with a knack for suspense. If the equations fell into the “wrong hands,” the result could be a weapon more devastating and sinister than the A/H bomb.

Long story short, I began to think about how unbearably complex the field of education has become. I wondered if there are, perhaps, a few simple principles we could discuss, validate, and practice, that would forever serve every student well. How powerful would that be?

Think about it…a Unified Field Theory of Education.

What would be some of the characteristics of such a theory?

I’ll suggest one, then I’d like to see some ideas from the rest of you. The simpler, the better. (No need for “research validation.” Follow your intuition.)

Here goes: “Every student is a genius, and our job is to help them discover that fact.”

Join me on the adventure. 🙂

Doug Reeves on Toxic Grading Practices

Dr. Reeves entertains while he enlightens. Classroom assessment is his main topic, and that includes sound grading practices. Here’s an excerpt from a conference earlier this year in Ontario.

Next, read page 20-21 (The Case Against the Zero by Doug Reeves) in Reeves on Zero, Etc. .  (Scroll waaaay down to the title.)

Oh, don’t forget to peruse pages 16-19 on grading in general!

Stepping Back to Assess

What’s wrong with this picture?

Well, yeah, the dragon’s in a cage, but the dragon’s still breathing fire. Good for the dragon. I think I need to follow the dragon’s example.

Since I went live with my real identity, I feel like I’ve been caged and my fire has most certainly been reduced.

A number of bloggers I’ve read recently have talked about struggling with going “live” or remaining covert. Tough decision. I’ve seen how it affects my writing and I’m not real happy.

Anonymity is not a free pass to be rude or sloppy with the facts. But being out there as yourself can inhibit expression.

Lately I’ve been reviewing the internet literature on standard-based grading and marvelling about my loss of literary passion. I’ve never stooped to ad hominem attacks on adversaries, but I’ve never backed off from calling plays as I see them.

Lately, I’ve been somewhat mute. I’m not afraid of lawsuits, but don’t want to embarrass folks I associate with and care about. The fact is, though, if they’re worth caring about, they won’t be embarrassed by me. That goes for my fellow board members and my excellent superintendent.

So the first thing I’m going to tackle is the irresponsibility of print and internet publications that wear the mantle of “official and valid teacher information.” The Teacher Magazine blog board is one of those gratuitous fonts of drivel and cool stuff that enjoys the halo effect of education establishment legitimation. See if you can find some problems I have with this particular edition…

PS: Tomorrow I’m gonna wish myself Happy Independence Day for a number of different reasons. 😉

Hot Opportunities — Free Webinars

Just got my catalog for professional development opportunities from ETS/ATI (the folks I presented for in Portland in December), and there are a couple of free webinars, one featuring Ken O’Connor on “grading for learning,” the other featuring Rick Stiggins on formative assessment.

The times are somewhat inconvenient but who knows what arrangements can be made by resourceful professionals!

I’ve heard both speakers present. They know their stuff and they are passionate about it.

Why Zero Isn’t A Grade At All


Grades represent evaluations of learning.

A zero, given for missing or late work, does not represent an evaluation of learning.

Therefore, that zero is not a grade.

Any questions?

(So, what are those zeros doing in grade books?)

(Next up: Zero and Statistical Integrity)


Jose said…
After reading your posts about it, it only solidified a lot about what you said with regards to learning, and I like it. I still use zero, but it’s exactly for what you mentioned: a lack of evidence of learning. In any case, have a good thanksgiving, man.
November 21, 2007 7:04 PM
Hugh O’Donnell said…
And a great Thanksgiving to you and yours!You might notice that I was commenting on your blog while you were here! 😉

November 21, 2007 8:03 PM
Teacher -n- Training said…
AMEN! That’s all I have to say
November 22, 2007 6:14 AM
Margaret said…
A lack of effort to do the assignment? A lack of effort to take the test? (or make it up, if absent) I would much rather put scores in my gradebook, but some of the students sure don’t cooperate with that.
November 23, 2007 6:45 PM
The Science Goddess said…
Oddly enough, I am finding that an “I” in the gradebook is more motivating than an “F.” Kids are more worried about having to explain to parents that they didn’t do work at all than that they did it poorly.
November 24, 2007 8:11 PM
Clix said…
My concern is that a student who has actively resisted any and all attempts to be taught the material, and wouldn’t DREAM of putting forth any effort to learn it, will be quite happy to let that “I” sit there in the gradebook.It seems like an “I” would give a student disincentive to complete an assessment for material s/he doesn’t want to learn, because an “I” neither helps nor harms the average, while a low grade will almost certainly harm it.

Think about a single exam – would you only count as right or wrong the questions a student answered, and ignore those left blank?

November 25, 2007 6:47 AM

Don’t Give a Zero! Try 50, 59, or 60. (Or not.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Here’s the first in a miniseries about the folly of awarding a grade of zero for late work or work not turned in.

Part 1: The Math of Zero in a Percentage Scale

I was talking to a colleague recently about how although there is no one “right” way to grade, there certainly are justifiable and unjustifiable grades.

Then I said, innocently as I could manage,”…and giving kids zeros as a penalty for late work or for work not turned in is a perfect example of unjustifiable grading.”

He immediately went on the attack. “I’ve heard that the school board is about to require us to not give zeros! That’s outrageous! No work, no grade! We have to teach kids to be responsible!”

I didn’t know which of the four positions he took to reply to first, so I chose the easiest.

“Nope,” I said, “the school board is not about to require the high school to quit giving zeros. We’re in a conversational mode, and I hope people are willing to think about standards-based grading and talk it over.”

“However,” I followed up with, “have you given any thought to the math of zero?”

“What do you mean, the math? Zero is zero. Nothing is nothing. No work, zip. End of story.”

Realizing that I had no graceful exit strategy from this conversation if my colleague proved resistant to my charm and logic, I set up a problem for him to analyze.

“Think about this,” I suggested. “Everyone is familiar with a 4.0 GPA scale, right? What if the F (a zero, right?), in a 4.0 scale had the same weight as a zero in a scale of 0-100, the percent scale we use almost universally for grading?”

“What are you getting at?” he asked.

“Just this,” I said. “In a 4.0 scale, A=4, B=3, C=2, D=1, and F=0. The difference between a D and an F is just one point. On the percentage scale, the difference between a D and a zero is 60 points. Does that seem proportionate to you?”

“No,” he said, as the math began to register. “On a 4.0 scale, if it were equivalent to a percentage scale, the F would be, what, negative 6?!”

“That’s in the ball park,” I said. “Isn’t it amazing that we teachers don’t ask these kinds of questions more often when we talk about grading?”

“Yeah,” he said thoughtfully.

“Look,” I said, “here’s a two-page article from the Phi Beta Kappan entitled   “The Case Against Zero” written by Doug Reeves, an international education consultant from in Colorado. He explains it far more eloquently than I can. Check it out.”

The following week, I asked him if he liked the article. “Man,” he said, “I am DONE with zeros!”

“Pass it on,” I said, “because there’s more…”

(Next up: Why Zero Isn’t A Grade At All)


Lisa said…
Okay, I am definitely sneaking this in to our Monday Meeting Madness discussion at school!
November 21, 2007 5:25 AM
Clix said…
What about a student who does the assignment and flubs it – say, earns a 40? Have they earned the same grade as someone who turned in complete gibberish?Secondly, could this not be resolved equally well by going to a 4.0 scale instead of percentiles? I think a lot of it is a difference in understanding what “zero” means.
November 21, 2007 5:37 AM
roller coaster teacher said…
Our district have gone DuFours and PLC on us (lame wording, but does it make sense? Rick and Becky DuFours and their professional learning communities) for the past year or so. Anyway, at one training, Mr. DuFour explained the “math of zero” just like you did here, and a massive light bulb turned on in my head.I definitely vote for switching to 4.0 grading scale/system.
November 22, 2007 5:28 AM
Hugh O’Donnell said…
Good luck, Lisa! Buy-in is essential (not 100%, but “significant”).Clix, I think you answered your own question. What’s the difference between a 40 and a genuine zero? Treat them both like Fs, which is what a 50-60 would be in the percentile scale.Fortunately, these hypothetical objections rarely pop up in real life. But no system is bullet-proof. ;)Both kids need the opportunity for remediation if they demonstrate the willingness to engage in further learning, and the inclusion of their more recent, and, we hope, higher score in their grade.RCT, glad to see you here!The DuFours are on track. Our district went with the Doug Reeves program because we were presented the opportunity to get the whole enchilada free, courtesy of our Educational Service District. 

We’ve also been heavily influenced by Stiggins on classroom assessment, and O’Connor on standards-based grading, and Marzano’s work in several areas, including the “nine categories of instructional strategies.”

November 22, 2007 10:08 AM
ms-teacher said…
Thanks for this. My assumption then is if I assign 20 points to an assignment, then the lowest score a student could receive is 10 points. This makes sense to me. However, what do you did with a student who is rarely, if ever, in class and so misses out on most of the instruction and no learning takes place?
November 23, 2007 11:23 AM
Hugh O’Donnell said…
Ms-Teacher, if you have plenty of INCs in your gradebook that were never made up, and the attendance is really poor, you have enough evidence to flunk the kid without worrying about the math. An F is an F.Your question really highlights why we shouldn’t just use numbers to assess learning. We have to make authentic judgments backed by sufficient valid and reliable evidence.Do what works for most of the kids. The exceptions to the rule will work out intuitively, i.e., with common sense.
November 23, 2007 5:44 PM
The Science Goddess said…
I think we also need to be forgiving of ourselves as professionals—and remember that we are humans evaluating other humans. Subjectivity is a fact of the matter. The percentage system gives a false sense of security that we’re being wholly objective about achievement.
November 24, 2007 8:14 PM