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--> Chapter 5 Monitoring the Conditions of Instruction. The theory of standards-based reform suggests that if states set challenging standards for students, measure student progress toward the standards, and hold schools accountable for meeting those targets, schools will make the adjustments in curriculum and instruction necessary to bring all students to the standards. This theory was aimed at achieving a balancing act. On one hand, advocates argued for the need for common standards for all students and common assessments that would gauge student learning against the standards. But on the other hand, the architects of standards-based reform also wanted to honor teachers' professional knowledge and judgment. Within the framework of common goals for students, the designers of the new systems set out to provide flexibility for teachers to enable them to meet the particular needs of their students. In practice, though, the theory ended up placing a heavy burden on teachers and other school professionals. Districts were supposed to provide teachers with models of effective instructional practice and support for developing and strengthening their curriculum and instructional techniques, but many lacked the wherewithal to do so effectively. Although the theory of standards-based reform placed great emphasis on what students should know and be able to do, it remained silent about the knowledge and skills needed for teachers. As a result, the states and districts that have implemented standards-based systems have seen a familiar pattern. In the first few years, as teachers become aware of the new systems and make some adjustments to their classrooms, performance increases, in some cases substantially. However, performance then flattens and hits a plateau unless districts and states make concerted efforts to provide the support needed to develop the capacity of teachers to teach to the new standards.
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--> The Conditions of Instruction Findings In many respects, the demands for standards for student performance and new forms of assessment are aimed at fostering changes in teaching, particularly for low-income students. Critics argued that the kind of didactic, teacher-directed instruction that traditionally characterized American classrooms did not lead to the high levels of learning the reformers wanted to encourage. And many argued that traditional tests encouraged teachers to place a premium on quick recall, rather than on solving problems in real-world contexts (Resnick and Resnick, 1992; Shepard, 1991). Other studies, particularly in international research, showed that the type of teaching students were exposed to was linked to their achievement; simply put, students learned what they were taught (Schmidt et al., 1998). However, a number of studies had found gaps between the curriculum taught in schools with large numbers of low-income students and that taught in schools with more affluent students: the more affluent students were more likely to receive challenging assignments than their lower-income peers (Puma et al., 1997; Smith et al., 1998). Newmann and Associates labeled the kind of instruction reformers advocated for all students “authentic pedagogy,” and found that such practices were associated with higher levels of achievement. By authentic pedagogy, Newmann and Associates referred to the following standards (1996:33): Higher-Order Thinking. Instruction involves students in manipulating information and ideas by synthesizing, generalizing, explaining, hypothesizing, or arriving at conclusions that produce new meaning and understandings for them. Deep Knowledge. Instruction addresses central ideas of a topic or discipline with enough thoroughness to explore connections and relationships and to produce relatively complex understandings. Substantive Conversation. Students engage in extended conversational exchanges with the teacher or their peers about subject matter in a way that builds an improved and shared understanding of ideas or topics. Connections to the World Beyond the Classroom. Students make connections between substantive knowledge and either public problems or personal experiences. The small body of research that has examined classrooms in depth suggests that such instructional practices may be rare, even among teachers who say they endorse the changes the standards are intended to foster. In one study of 25 teachers in Michigan, James P. Spillane found that all teachers said they attended
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--> closely to the state policy and reported that it affected their teaching. But when he looked inside their classrooms, only 4 had fundamentally changed the kinds of tasks students were expected to perform and the discourse in their classroom (the study examined mathematics teaching and learning). In 11 classrooms, there was no indication that the tasks and discourse had changed at all (Spillane, 1997). In large part, Spillane found, the discrepancy reflected the variation in teachers' understanding about the tests' instructional goals. For example, teachers saw that the test put a premium on problem solving, but for some, that meant adding a word problem at the end of each lesson. This variation in understanding was true among principals and district office staff as well. A separate study of 22 classrooms in 6 states found a similar pattern (David, 1997). In examining teachers' responses to new assessments, David distinguishes between “imitation” and “improvement.” Most teachers imitated the form of the new assessment, she found, often by adding open-ended questions to their classroom assessments or assigning more writing. But these responses produced limited results. By contrast, she noted, some teachers went beyond imitation and changed their practice fundamentally. Districts' capacity to monitor the conditions of instruction in schools is limited, and there are few examples of districts that have been shown to be effective in analyzing such conditions and using the data to improve instruction. The research base on such efforts is slim, in large part because there are so few examples to study. The examples begin to suggest, however, that examining instructional practices, along with data on performance, and using that information to develop a professional development strategy, can help teachers improve their instruction and help improve student performance. In Brazosport, Texas, the district established instructional specialists and facilitators, who observed teachers in classrooms, then worked with them to help analyze data on student performance and model lessons and instructional strategies. The facilitators often helped teachers learn new techniques by teaching lessons themselves and showing the teachers that their students were capable of learning more than they had thought they could (Ragland et al., 1999). Community District 2 in New York City has created a Supervisory Goals and Objectives process that focuses principals' and district administrators' attention on instruction and ways to improve it. The principals develop annual plans for instructional improvement, which form the basis for performance reviews by administrators. The administrators—including the superintendent and deputy superintendent—visit schools frequently, observing classrooms and meeting with the principal to discuss improvement strategies. The district has
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--> also organized a number of professional development models that schools can use (Elmore, 1997). In Philadelphia, the district has established Teaching and Learning Networks in each “cluster” of schools. The network staffs visit schools and work with teachers to develop professional development strategies based on performance and instructional needs (Wang et al., 1999). Recommendations Schools and districts should monitor the conditions of instruction—the curriculum and instructional practices of teachers—to determine if students are exposed to teaching that would enable them to achieve the standards they are expected to meet. Districts and schools should use information on the conditions of instruction to require and support improvement of instruction and learning in every classroom. Teachers should use the information on conditions of instruction in their classroom, along with data on student performance, to improve the quality of instruction. Districts have a responsibility to assist schools in collecting and using such information. Schools should use the information on the conditions of instruction to organize the time and resources provided to teachers and demand support from the district. Districts should use the information on the conditions of instruction to improve the quality and effectiveness of the resources and support they provide to schools for instructional improvement. Questions to Ask ❑ Are curriculum and instructional practices monitored in schools? ❑ Do schools use data about curriculum and instructional practices, along with performance data, to develop plans for instructional improvement? ❑ Are data about curriculum and instructional practices, along with performance data, used to strengthen the support provided to schools for instructional improvement? Criteria Relationship to Student Standards. The data on classroom practices should be examined against the expectations for student performance embodied
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--> in the state or district standards. Instruction should enable students to achieve the standards. Coherence. The conditions of instruction should be consistent within schools and across grades. Students should be exposed to the same content and instructional practices if they are expected to achieve the same standards. Disaggregation. Data on instructional practices should be reported by race, gender, socioeconomic status, and other factors to indicate whether all students in schools are exposed to similar conditions of instruction. Examples The following two examples are efforts by researchers to examine the conditions of instruction in Chicago public schools. In one, the researchers administered an extensive survey and conducted detailed observations of classrooms. In the other, the researchers examined student assignments—the work students performed as part of their daily classroom activities. In both cases, the researchers viewed their findings against standards for effective instruction. To find out about the conditions of instruction in the Chicago Public Schools, researchers from the Consortium on Chicago School Research conducted an extensive survey of teachers and students in 1994 and analyzed the information from 2,036 teachers. Researchers then observed over 800 language arts and mathematics classes in eight elementary schools and seven high schools. They analyzed classroom lessons against the subject-matter content of the test used in the district, the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills. The researchers found that many Chicago classrooms keep pace with grade-level expectations and test content, but many others do not. As a result, many students do not learn the content they need in order to perform well on the tests. “Especially troublesome,” the researchers write, “is the finding that students attending schools in Chicago's most disadvantaged neighborhoods are much more likely to encounter instruction that is poorly coordinated and that conveys weak expectations for student learning” (p. 1). The study found, for example, that although instruction in early grades tends to follow the expectations of the test, the pacing flattens out by about fourth grade, particularly in high-poverty schools, and classes tend to repeat topics already taught. And the repeated lessons do not build on prior learning; rather, the lessons tend to repeat the same basic skills students were exposed to before. In some cases, elementary lessons were more demanding than those in middle or high school. The pattern exists in language arts instruction as well: there, they found, students might read more challenging books in higher grades, but they are not asked to explore them in any more depth than they were when they were younger. The results suggest, the researchers conclude, that many Chicago
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--> youngsters are not exposed to the knowledge and skills they will be tested on (Smith et al., 1998). A separate study, also in Chicago, examined student assignments in writing and mathematics in grades 3, 6, and 8 in 12 schools. The researchers analyzed the assignments and student work against standards for intellectual quality. These standards emphasize the construction of knowledge, or the ability to apply or extend knowledge to new situations; the use of disciplined inquiry, or the ability to build on prior knowledge, strive for in-depth understanding, and communicate their understanding; and the value beyond school, or the extent to which student learning has an impact on others besides the demonstration of competence. The study found that the majority of assignments at all grade levels represented no challenge or minimal challenge. And they found that students who were assigned more challenging work were better able to perform at higher levels. They conclude that, although the unchallenging and minimally challenging assignments may enable students to learn basic facts and procedures, they do not equip them to do the kind of tasks they might be expected to perform as workers and citizens outside school (Newmann et al., 1998). Professional Development Findings Just as students' achievement is related to what they are taught, teachers, too, are able to transform their instructional practice when they have had opportunities for sustained learning in new instructional approaches. As David notes in her study of teachers' responses to new forms of assessment, teacher learning represented the difference between imitation and improvement. She writes (David, 1997, p. 12): Teachers who described changes in their practices, beyond introducing a new lesson or activity here or there, usually point to a combination of experiences leading to these changes. These include extensive and repeated opportunities for learning that (a) cause teachers to think about and know content differently; and (b) provide a range of teaching strategies and curriculum ideas. The most influential of these opportunities usually combine one week or longer summer institutes over successive years in which teachers are learning new content in a particular subject area (e.g., literacy or mathematics) in the ways they will be teaching it, coupled with access to help during the school day from staff developers, administrators, and colleagues.
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--> Yet such transformation on a large-scale has occurred rarely, if at all (Elmore, 1996). The isolation in which teachers work—isolation from one another, as well as to the world outside their schools—hinders their ability to examine their practices against external yardsticks and learn about new practices. States and districts have traditionally attempted to provide such experiences for teachers through professional development. But the amount of professional development that states and districts provide may be inadequate, and the quality varies widely. A national survey of teachers found that, although nearly all teachers participated in professional development in 1998, most of these activities lasted from 1 to 8 hours, or less than a full day (National Center for Education Statistics, 1999). Significantly, the survey found, teachers who spent more than 8 hours in professional development were more likely than those who spent less time in such activities to say that such learning improved their classroom teaching. Not all professional development opportunities are equally valuable. A common format, workshops or conferences, are not considered effective in producing change in teaching practices or student learning (Fullan with Stiegelbauer, 1991). Such formats tend to be short-term events, isolated from the context in which teachers teach, with few opportunities for sustained interaction with peers or experts. The National Partnership for Excellence and Accountability in Teaching, a consortium of organizations conducting research on teacher preparation and practice, has synthesized research on professional development and developed eight principles for effective practices (1999): Professional development should be based on analyses of the differences between (a) actual student performance and (b) the goals and standards for student learning. Professional development should involve teachers in the identification of what they need to learn and in the development of the learning experiences in which they will be involved. Professional development should be primarily school-based and built into the day-to-day work of teaching. Professional development should be organized around collaborative problem solving. Professional development should be continuous and ongoing, involving follow-up and support for further learning—including support from sources external to the school that can provide necessary resources and new perspectives. Professional development should incorporate evaluation of multiple sources of information on (a) outcomes for students and (b) the instruction and other processes that are involved in implementing the lessons learned through professional development.
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--> Professional development should provide opportunities to gain an understanding of the theory underlying the knowledge and skills being learned. Professional development should be connected to a comprehensive change process focusing on improving student learning. Other research suggests that the content of professional development is related to its effectiveness. The most effective subject of professional development appears to be focused on the content teachers teach. In one major study of teachers in California, teachers who participated in learning opportunities focused on the curriculum—lessons they were teaching—were more likely to change their practice than those who participated in sessions dealing with special topics, like cooperative learning or diversity, that are more abstract and less directly related to the content the teachers teach (Cohen and Hill, 1998). Moreover, the curriculum-based professional development also appeared to affect student learning: students whose teachers participated in curriculum sessions outperformed others on the state test. Significantly, however, the study found, teachers' opportunities for professional development varied. Teachers of more affluent students were more likely than teachers of disadvantaged students to take part in the curriculum workshops, and teachers of disadvantaged students participated in the special topics workshops more often. Other areas of professional development that appear to have an impact on changing practice are activities centered on student assessment. In Kentucky and Vermont, portfolios in mathematics and writing have had a strong influence on instruction (Stecher et al., 1998; Koretz, et al., 1996). Teachers say that training in scoring portfolios has helped them understand the characteristics of high-quality work and the teaching strategies that help to produce such work. Teachers also report that scoring performance assessments has had the same effect. However, researchers have found that teachers have had few opportunities to learn about classroom assessment—the frequent assessments they undertake to monitor their students' progress over the course of the year. Teacher preparation programs provide little emphasis on measurement (Plake and Impara, 1997), and most instruction in measurement focuses on technical assessment issues, rather than strategies for gauging student progress (Calfee and Masuda, 1997). Largely as a result, teachers say they feel inadequately prepared in assessment (Aschbacher, 1994). Recommendations Districts should design professional development that is focused on the standards for student performance. Districts should use results from student assessments and
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--> information on conditions of instruction to design their professional development programs. Districts should review the quality and impact of their professional development offerings and revise them if they do not lead to improvements in teaching practice or student performance. Questions to Ask. ❑ Are professional development offerings related to the standards for student performance? ❑ Are results from student assessments and information on conditions of instruction used to design professional development programs? ❑ Are the quality and impact of professional development offerings reviewed and revised if they do not lead to improvements in teaching practice or student performance? Criteria Link Between Assessment and Instruction. The more sensitive assessments are to instructional change, the more likely they will influence practice. Such assessments provide a signal to teachers and principals about what they need to change and provide information about the effects of their actions on student achievement. Focus on Student Work. Professional development that examines student work in relation to standards—such as training for scoring performance assessments or portfolios—provides a clear picture of the kind of work students who attain standards should perform and the classroom activities that can enable students to produce such work regularly. Such opportunities make the often-abstract language of standards more concrete. Focus on Content Standards. Professional development that focuses on the content teachers are expected to teach, rather than on generic topics that may not be related to the standards students should achieve, helps teachers understand how to redesign their practice. Such professional development emphasizes not only the content knowledge teachers are expected to have but also “pedagogical content knowledge”—the knowledge they need to teach the content to students. Such professional development models the link between standards and instructional practice by working with teachers to figure out how the standards apply in their classrooms.
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--> Examples The following two examples describe states and a district where professional development is linked directly to instructional improvement. In the case of Community District 2, the district monitors the professional development efforts closely. Portfolio systems in place in Kentucky and Vermont have proven to be powerful tools in improving instruction—particularly in writing—in both states. In Kentucky, the state assessment (until 1998) required each student in each grade tested to compile a portfolio of work completed during the course of the school year in writing and mathematics. The mathematics portfolio was required to include five to seven best pieces that show an understanding of core concepts, using a variety of mathematical tools. The writing portfolio, depending on the grade level, was required to include pieces from several content areas. Students were required to include a table of contents and a letter commenting on the work. Teachers scored the portfolios. They received scoring guides, benchmarks, and training portfolios, and the state and districts provided training in standards and scoring procedures. According to one survey, two-thirds of 5th-and 8th-grade teachers said they had received training in preparing students for the mathematics portfolios, and 85 percent of 4th-and 7th-grade teachers said they had received training related to the writing portfolios (Stecher et al., 1998). By several accounts, the portfolios and the related professional development have had an impact on instruction. A number of studies found that the amount of writing students do has increased substantially, and that the practices teachers employ in teaching and evaluating student writing have changed significantly. Writing performance rose substantially in 4th grade (although it leveled off), somewhat in 8th grade, and remained flat in 12th grade. In Vermont, the first state to include portfolios as part of a statewide assessment system, the story is similar. There, students are required to compile a portfolio that includes five to seven pieces completed during the course of a year, a “best piece,” and a letter commenting on the choices. Samples of the portfolios are scored centrally by trained teachers, and the results are reported for the state. The state provides professional development for teachers around the portfolios, and between two-thirds and four-fifths of teachers participated in at least one professional development activity (Picus and Tralli, 1998). As in Kentucky, teachers in Vermont say the portfolio has had a positive influence on their instruction. Teachers in particular noted an increased attention to teaching writing and mathematical communication (Koretz et al., 1996; Picus and Tralli, 1998).
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--> New York City's Community District 2 built its entire reform strategy around professional development. As Elmore (1997) writes, professional development in the district “is a management strategy rather than a specified administrative function. Professional development is what administrative leaders do when they are doing their jobs, not a specialized function that some people in the organization do and others don't. Instructional improvement is the main purpose of district administration, and professional development is the chief means of achieving that purpose” (p. 14). As a result, monitoring instructional improvement efforts is part of the regular oversight function of the district. Each principal completes an annual plan that lays out the school's objectives and strategies for meeting the objectives, based on a structure laid out by district staff. The plans focus on instructional improvement in content areas and professional development activities for attaining the instructional improvement goals. The superintendent and deputy superintendent also visit each school at least once a year to observe instructional practices and discuss problems with the principal. For its part, the district also provides an array of opportunities for professional development that schools can take part in. As part of its strategy, the district has arranged for specific consultants who meet district objectives; schools can select from among this array. In addition, the district spends about 3 percent of its annual budget on professional development, a figure that is probably higher than many other districts spend, although comparable figures are difficult to obtain (Elmore, 1997).
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