Welcome to Board Watch for the 11.6.19 Board of Education meeting at Lovonya DeJean Middle School.
We noted in our last Board Watch that most contracts presented to the board at the Oct. 23 meeting failed to include clear Annual Measurable Outcomes and metrics of success, as required by Board Bylaw 9322. Our review of tonight’s proposed contracts summary finds that just one approval recommendation has measurable outcomes and meets the threshold of clearly naming the contract’s purpose.
Board Bylaw 9322 – which was informed by our 2017 data resolution – clearly states that all district contracts and agreements for service will include Annual Measurable Outcomes and Metrics of Success. Regardless of the content or merit of these contracts, truly acting in accordance with this bylaw would require voting “no” on these items. Is the board willing to follow through on its apparent intentions in passing Board Bylaw 9322?
The contract that appears to best comply with Bylaw 9322 is the first one listed, a Health Pathways Consultant in the College and Career Department. Of this contractor’s eight deliverables, more than half are quantifiable and virtually all can be verified for completion. For example, the second deliverable states “the number of Health Pathway students that complete Early College Credit will increase by 50%.” We need to see this same level of specificity in all contracts.
E.1. Roadmap 2.0 Progress Monitoring
Tonight, staff will present an update on the district’s progress towards the Roadmap 2022 goals. We welcome this transparency and were excited to dig into the data, which – when presented clearly and in context – can help identify both what’s working and what areas require more attention. And as it did in August, the district is again releasing growth data for all schools, which we continue to applaud them for.
Overall, it’s great to see continued improvement in staff presentations. With a clear agenda and executive summary, the flow of the presentation is easy to follow, and indicators are helpfully mapped to the three Roadmap areas. At the same time, some aspects of the presentation could be improved to allow for greater accessibility and targeted action:
Clarity of data: While staff attendance rates for the year to date are compared to the same rates at this point last year, student average daily attendance rates (ADA) lack this “apples to apples” comparison. This makes it difficult to know whether student attendance is actually improving, or if typically stronger attendance in the beginning of the school year explains why the year-to-date ADA is greater than ADA rates for previous years.
Some terms require more explanation, particularly “Distance from level 3.” This important contextual data point is presented alongside SBAC proficiency rates and would benefit from a descriptor or definition to allow the public to interpret its meaning.
Providing the right level of detail/disaggregation: While school-level growth data can be incredibly powerful, we were confused by the decision to celebrate individual school grades that made above average growth in ELA and math. When we think about a genuine measure of growth, we care more about a trend happening across a school that speaks to a consistent student experience. Research has shown that dramatically improving student outcomes requires multiple back-to-back years of excellent instruction. Focusing on a single year of growth within a school is not going to move the needle or tell us what practices should be scaled.
On the other hand, a place where we would have liked to see more detailed data is Thriving Employees, the one Roadmap section that lacks school-level data. Teacher attendance is said to range from 78% to 97% across individual school sites, a striking range, but there’s no way to know which schools are struggling with such high teacher absenteeism – where 1 in 5 teachers miss school on a typical day.
Accuracy: The presentation states there have been no teacher contract grievances to date, and only 10 last year among UTR’s 1,662 members. Based on what we know from other districts, these numbers don’t feel accurate, and we’d ask the bargaining units to comment.
Specificity of next steps: Ultimately, data only matters if it’s used to drive action to address the challenges revealed. We appreciate the inclusion of next steps tied to specific challenges in each Roadmap area, but unfortunately we find them to be vague or, in some cases, weakly written. For example, how will adding teacher attendance goals to SPSAs reduce teacher absenteeism? Will the district release the baseline data for each site so the public can track its progress as well?
In response to the fact that none of our schools made above average growth for African American students, one recommendation is to “Focus on targeted Literacy and Math interventions for African American students.” We need to know more about these interventions and how this will work – and who will be responsible for this increased focus?
Ultimately, weak recommendations won’t lead to appropriately targeted adjustments and will make it difficult to adequately track next steps and ensure accountability for implementation. Bylaw 9322 lays out a high bar for contractors who must provide measurable outcomes. Shouldn’t we have the same standards for our own district services?
FYI: Next Important Budget Conversation
On Nov. 20, CBO Wold will be presenting on opportunities to reduce administrative spending as the district looks for potential solutions towards solving the $49M deficit for next year. We’re looking forward to this discussion and keeping budget cuts as far away from students as possible.