This is the second of a two-part series
By Madelynn Coldiron
When it comes to the new program reviews that schools are undertaking this year, the burden of proof may not be such a burden after all.
That’s what some educators are saying after piloting the new accountability measure last year. In program reviews, schools document how they are educating students across all content areas in writing, arts and humanities, and practical living and career studies, while also demonstrating what students have learned. The reviews are being carried out in those three subject areas this year; next year they will begin counting as 20 percent of a school’s total score under the state’s new assessment system.
Photo: Sixth-graders from Pulaski County’s Southern Middle School rehearse Twelve Angry Pigs, a parody of the classic movie Twelve Angry Men. The “pigs” (from left to right are Noah Mathenia, Kylie Warren and Morgan Wesley) are deliberating the fate of the Big Bad Wolf, when Little Red Ridinghood (Sierra Carr) accuses the suspect of wrongdoing. Drama is one of the major elements in the Arts and Humanities program review.
Two other subjects, world languages and K-3 education, will be added to the formula in 2015-16 after field testing by all districts in 2014-15.
The secret to program reviews, said Angela Spears, curriculum specialist at Nancy Elementary School in Pulaski County, is for educators to look closely at what they’re already doing.
“It’s not necessarily that you have to do anything above and beyond what you’re already doing – just documenting what you’ve already got in place and realizing the connections are there,” she said. “They are there – more so than I originally thought they might be.”
The lesson teachers at Middlesboro Independent High School learned in their program review pilot last year was the importance of ongoing documentation of learning and activities, rather than reconstructing the record later, said district Instructional Supervisor Rebecca Powell.
That’s been communicated to all teachers this year, she said, adding, “We tried to make everyone aware of what we’re looking for in the demonstrators.”
While the burden of proof in program reviews may be lighter than expected, the burden of time is another matter.
“Time is a factor of concern,” Powell said.
Rae McEntyre, who leads the program review team at the state education department, said some of the pilot schools that did more than one review found it took less time the second time around.
“We understand that the first time a school goes through a review it will be time-consuming,” she said.
A school-level team conducts the program reviews; from there they are approved by the school council and then checked at the district level before being forwarded to the state education department.
Tight budgets may be affecting existing offerings in the program review subjects. Some schools have been dropping these kinds of classes and may have to scramble now, McEntyre said.
When program reviews were first being discussed as part of the new accountability formula, Education Commissioner Terry Holliday and his predecessor, interim Commissioner Kevin Noland, both advised schools not to make cuts in those areas, she added.
“They kept sending out that message and yet we still heard that was happening. And I think with the reviews, (schools) will scramble to figure out what they can do,” she said.
Schools that try to improve or provide more professional development to strengthen the program review content areas may face added costs, McEntyre said, but there are many avenues that can accomplish the same thing without spending a lot of money.
At the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative, teachers of programs in member districts are working together to share professional development and resources.
“That’s a great model for other co-ops to follow,” McEntyre said.
She suggested districts and schools “think a little more beyond the traditional” for cost-effective training and resources.
Nancy Elementary, like other schools in the Pulaski County district, has a tab on its website’s home page dedicated to program reviews. Teachers can upload video or other files showing students demonstrating what they’ve learned in the program review areas, along with items like lesson plans and curriculum maps, Spears said.
Not only can teachers share ideas using these Web pages, but they serve as formal documentation, she said.
“What we wanted was for people to be able to see what we’re doing and when the external program review happens at the end of the year by our district, where you have to have your program review documented, we’re going to be able to say ‘See our website,’” Spears said. “We’re hoping to have no paper at all. That’s our goal and I think all of our elementary schools are trying to do that.”
McEntyre said schools can turn to free community resources for help in boosting content in the program review subjects, such as health departments or county extension offices. For professional development, program review content-area teachers can work with other teachers, she said, and also can “shadow” real-world professionals in their field.
It’s especially important for teachers to work together because a measure of a program’s success is how well it is naturally integrated in all subjects.
There are quick fixes to be made in the assessed program areas without the need to launch broad initiatives, McEntyre noted.
“We have been trying to tell schools, sending the message out that we know that this is going to take time. When you are developing a program it doesn’t happen overnight,” she said.