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Deb Sigman
Deputy Superintendent,
California Dept. of Education



When the STAR era ends, what will take its place?
June, 2011

The Common Core is now Californiaís choice. But plans for assessing the Common Core are only now taking form. At the center of that planning process is Deb Sigman, who leads state policy for the California Department of Education. Her dialogue with Steve Rees about the form the new assessments are taking was both informative and interesting.

Their conversation centered on the opportunities and risks ahead. The pragmatic questions that will arise at the district level moving forward were front and center: How can computers be marshaled in sufficient numbers to use in place of Scantron forms? How can we afford to assess writing when we canít even keep our teachers employed? Is through-course testing going to work alongside of or instead of our benchmark test program?

A written summary of the teleconference.
Unfortunately, no audio file of this event is available.

A list of background readings on assessing the Common Core

Jay Pfeiffer
Retired Deputy Commissioner,
Florida Dept. of Education



Got Data? Make the Most of It: Lessons from Florida
May, 2011

When Jay Pfeiffer became Deputy Commissioner for Accountability, Research, and Measurement at the Florida Department of Education, he was eager to connect data together to guide policymakers more wisely. Jay loved building bridges. He also loved a good challenge. With old-fangled hardware and software (and a modest budget), he set out to build a modern and powerful longitudinal student-data system. His success in Florida set the standard that other states, including California, are hoping to meet.

In this teleconference, Jay shared his pragmatic insights, and suggestions for district leaders who are seeking a frugal survival strategy in year four of this downturn. His ideas were centered on how to get the most value from the people and things districts already have: teachers and students and data. This proved to be a practical, action-oriented dialogue, as well as a very interesting story.

You can listen to an audio file of this teleconference.   [14MB mp3 file]

Brad Phillips
Executive Director

This assessment
conversation was
co-sponsored by

Owl Corps Web Site


Tracking Students Across the K-12-to-College Divide
April, 2011

Brad Phillips, founder and executive director of the California Partnership for Achieving Student Success (Cal-PASS), shared stories of his members' success in paving the road from high school to college. The hazards have been misaligned curriculum and mismatched expectations. Cal-PASS members have avoided these hazards by sharing student level data, meeting to share observations, and planning to make system level changes.

The real action in Cal-PASS occurs within their 65 Professional Learning Councils. The membership partners — both K-12 and higher education — meet in curricular-specific groups and share challenges. Here is one case-in-point that Brad shared.

The fate of students who get As and Bs for their writing in high school but who get placed in remediation in college was the first of two stories Brad shared. A collaboration between leaders in Grossmont Union HSD and the regional colleges and universities revealed that graduates with both high and low grades were being placed in college remedial writing courses at the same rates. The discussions revealed two flaws of misalignment. First, the expectations of teachers and the curriculum differed substantially from high school to college. Second, the community college placement test was not in sync with what high school students had learned. Although it took two years for educators in both worlds to realign what they taught and tested, success was notable: 86 percent of graduates avoided remediation in writing compared with 62 percent previously. (It helped to include rewarding 11th and 12th graders with a higher-level placement in college if their grades were sufficiently high.)

Other stories like this are available on the audio recording of this talk. When you listen, you'll also learn about Cal- PASS's new query system for K-12 leaders that makes visible the trends that were previously invisible. This is their SMART technology, and they are looking for K-12 districts to help them complete their field testing.

This conversation is an eye-opening look at a voluntary data coop whose power is in the hands of its members. This is your chance to see the progress that's possible

You can listen to an audio file of this teleconference.   [13MB mp3 file]

Cal-PASS Web Site

"High School to College: the New Alignment," in January 3, 2011 issue of Education Week.

"Cal-PASS Paves a Road Out of the Data Wastelands," The Owl newsletter, November 2010, published by School Wise Press.

To join the testing team, email Eden Dahlstrom.

To bring your district into Cal-PASS, email Bill Duvic.

Patrick Lee
Assessment Consultant
and Owl Corps Director

This assessment
conversation was
co-sponsored by

Owl Corps Web Site


Assessing the Common Core:
The Post-STAR Era Ahead
March, 2011

A very large audience gathered on the telephone to listen to Patrick Lee share his inside knowledge of the types of tests that may await California students and teachers if the PARCC assessments are adopted by the CDE.

Patrick's inside track on the evolution of the PARCC plan is a result of his research. Although he is a primarily an assessment practitioner and consultant, he was retained by a foundation to interview members of the PARCC consortium as well as assessment experts around the country. These interviews with key insiders brought him closer to the actual plans for these new assessments. This conversation revealed substantially more specifics than the CDE or the consortium itself has yet shared.

If California remains committed to this new era of tests, the STAR era will be coming to an end by September 2014. Its successor will be a profoundly different set of tests created by a national consortium, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). These tests will be given at four times during the year. The first three administrations will be mainly comprised of brief and/or extended constructed response items. Multiple choice items will be less visible until the final administration given at a point close to the end of the year and these will involve "innovative item types." Computers will be used to administer the tests, and will deliver results back to teachers within two weeks of the date of administration. Students will be asked to write, and the writing will be primarily scored by computer analysis, although portions of the assessment will be human-scored.

Although it is far from certain that California will remain in this consortium, and also far from clear whether this transition will be properly funded, it is very clear that people are eager to learn as much as possible about the direction our state testing program may take.

Despite the departure from multiple choice mode, the testing consortium promises to build vertical scaling into the design. In theory, this makes year-to-year progress measurable in ways that allow for more defensible conclusions about how districts, schools and teachers are doing. But in practice, this will remain a dubious claim until the reliability and validity of the items and the scoring rubrics can be established.

For California K-12 educators, these new assessments are a dramatic change from the STAR tests. But when combined with the impact of redefining what, in fact, should be taught — a result of the Common Core standards, and its promise to define college and career readiness — educators could be in for a quantum leap to an entirely new era. The link to this 40 minute conversation and 20 minute question-answer session follows below.

You can also listen to an audio file of this teleconference.   [27MB mp3 file]

Achieve is the national organization that is leading the PARCC consortium. This is where you can find background information on this topic.

Sample questions have been released by the consortium design team. They are intended to provide examples of the range of types of questions, as well as the rigor of the questions themselves. These 36 pages of questions have been published by the Florida Department of Education.

Here is the presentation on the PARCC consortium, prepared by Deb Sigman and her team at the CDE in September 2010 for the North/South Assessment Directors' meetings.

Doug McRae, a well respected national assessment expert who was an advisor to the CDE on the initial design of the STAR test program, has offered his initial review of the conceptual foundations to both the PARCC and Smarter Balance consortiums' plans. He is a skeptic, and he frames questions in eight areas that are a useful critique of the premises to both plans.

Kermith Walters
Siskiyou County
Superintendent of Schools


The Scramble For Choice in Siskiyou County
February, 2011

Supt. Kermith Walters, superintendent of Siskiyou County Office of Education, shared his observations about the "choice" game. He sits in the middle of a surprisingly intense competition for students. Just over 6,000 students go to schools in 25 districts in this very large and very thinly populated county on the Oregon border of California. With enrollment countywide declining 20 percent in 10 years, largely due to the decline of the timber industry, district survival and student enrollment are intertwined.

Supt. Walters has been busy informing his districts' superintendents on the laws that set the ground rules for parent and student choice. With five distinct sections of the Education Code governing choice, the legal confusion is understandable. He has also reminded district leaders that choice should benefit students, not hinder them. When one superintendent in the county moved to restrict interdistrict transfers, Supt. Walters made the case to loosen restrictions to maximize student satisfaction.

Several legal memos helped bring the "choice" laws to life. Supt. Walters has agreed to share them for everyone's benefit. You'll find them linked below.

Brief chart of Five Choice Laws: Guidance to Superintendents
Detailed legal memo on the choice laws, by Lozano Smith

You can also listen to an audio file of this teleconference.   [12MB mp3 file]

Solomon Gebala
Prior Director
of Purchasing
Hayward USD


Buying Services Smarter in Hard Times
January, 2011

This discussion focused on the notion that in difficult economic times, a little creative thinking about new ways to buy services could help districts get more bang for their precious bucks. Solomon Gebala presented the ideas that he brought to both his prior district, Hayward USD, and to his colleagues in the California Association of School Business Officials, where he has co-chaired the R&D committee.

Several questions that are on the table in many districts were discussed as part of the teleconference. Could this downturn lead to replacement of some teachers with online instruction? Could more teachers be shared among many schools? Could district middle managers be employed by several districts? Solomon Gebala talked about ways that traditional outsourcing for goods and services might be extended into the district office and classroom to help mitigate the shortfall of revenue.

Listen to an audio file of this teleconference.   [13MB mp3 file]

John Mockler
John B. Mockler
and Associates

This assessment
conversation was
co-sponsored by

Owl Corps Web Site


The New "Schools Suck" Industry:
Who Says We're Not Getting Our Money's Worth?
October, 2010

This teleconference was a candid, funny, and serious presentation of the good work that educators have accomplished in the face of dwindling resources. John Mockler draws evidence from new data that's available to us all, but that is rarely seen from such a positive perspective. Among the highlights: improved participation in more demanding courses, rising test scores, and faster rates of test score improvement among Latino and African-American students.

Balanced with the praise that John Mockler offered to school and district leaders you'll find an equal dollop of criticism for those who bash educators while misinterpreting the evidence. What makes this annual review so powerful is that John Mockler does his homework, his knowledge of the self-interest of education critics is deep, and he draws his own conclusions true to the evidence at hand.

Review the presentation material from this teleconference.  [PDF document]
Listen to an audio file of this teleconference.   [24MB mp3 file]

Gloria L. Johnston
Superintendent Coach,
Board Consultant, Author,
and Former Superintendent


What can boards do to help their districts exit PI?
September, 2010

When your district is in the PI zone, everyone can (and should) help. But in too many districts, school board members believe they have no role to play. In fact, board members can (and should) play a leading role in moving their district out of PI.

You will enjoy listening to this teleconference, where Gloria Johnston shared her candid opinions about her belief that board members should set the mark for the district's goals, mission, and vision, and that school boards should focus their "policy leadership" on teachers: who the district hires, how they are reviewed, how they are supported, how tenure decisions are made, and the collective bargaining agreement itself.

Listen to an audio file of this teleconference.   [38MB mp3 file]

Owl Corps Director,
Retired CDE
External Evaluator,
School Improvement Coach

This assessment
conversation was
co-sponsored by

Owl Corps Web Site


CST Analysis: Prepping for Principal Meetings in August
August, 2010

Every summer, when CST results are released, each district's assessment personnel have only a few weeks to analyze them before principals are back for the traditional huddle. In the rush to prepare an analyses of both the district overview and each school's results, they have to brave the unknown and plunge into a thorough examination of the results.

In this teleconference Pat Puleo provided help in avoiding the four most common "worst practices" when analyzing CST results.

Pat Puleo has extensive experience helping leaders of districts make sense of test results. As a school improvement coach, she's a veteran of the II/USP and HPSG eras as well as SAIT and DAIT campaigns. She has helped many a struggling district leader bridge the gap between assessment and instruction.

Listen to an audio file of this teleconference.   [11MB mp3 file]

Tom Barrett
Owl Corps Director,
Former Director,
Riverside USD
Dept of Educational Accountability

This assessment
conversation was
co-sponsored by

Owl Corps Web Site


Benchmark Troubles: Eroding Quality, Resistant Users
June, 2010

Benchmark assessments can, in theory, be a useful path to plotting the progress of students' mastery of the standards. But in many districts, the benefits of these assessments remain out of reach. The quality of benchmark test items vary greatly. Their degree of alignment with what teachers are delivering can wander. And the skills of those interpreting the results and setting cut scores can make or break the value of the results.

In this teleconference, Tom Barrett shares some of the lessons he's learned in building and managing successful benchmark assessment programs. Listen in to learn about the technical factors that affect benchmark tests' reliability and validity, including the impact of test length, test frequency, and test composition on the usefulness of the results. In addition, Tom takes you through a real-world California benchmark example to demonstrate the proper use of p-values and point-biserial statistics.

Tom Barrett is currently a director in School Wise Press' assessment consulting service, the Owl Corps. He was the director of Riverside USD's Department of Educational Accountability from 2004 to 2007, earning the lead after many years of service. Riverside administrators appreciated his knack for making complex data understandable to all audiences, from school board members to teachers and parents. Though he has served at the highest educational levels in the state, Barrett is most comfortable on the front lines, where his ability to express technical information in terms that lay persons can understand, and persuade even the most skeptical teachers, makes him uniquely valuable.

Listen to an audio file of this teleconference.   [53MB mp3 file]

W. James Popham
Professor Emeritus,
UCLA Graduate School
of Education and Information Studies

This assessment
conversation was
co-sponsored by

Owl Corps Web Site


Everything School Leaders Need to Know About Assessment
May, 2010

In an ideal world, all educators use assessment effectively to improve student learning. But in reality, many get bogged down in the technical terms or lost in the sea of data. Find out what educational leaders really need to know about assessment by listening to W. James Popham, professor emeritus at UCLA and a leader in the field of educational measurement, in conversation with Steve Rees. In this teleconference, Dr. Popham, using plain language and concrete examples, argued for higher levels of assessment literacy from the board room to the classroom.

Popham has a well-earned reputation for both his wit and wisdom. His recent keynote speech to the California Education Research Association earned him a standing ovation. And his comments on what he calls "the abysmal state of assessment literacy" have sparked debates. He is as spirited a defender of the cause of assessing wisely as he is a critic of assessments misused.

Listen to an audio file of this teleconference.   [54MB mp3 file]

Jim Cox
Assessment Guru

This assessment
conversation was
co-sponsored by

Owl Corps Web Site

Top of Page

The Assessment Literacy Gap:
What It Costs and Why We Must Close It
March, 2010

Measuring the progress of learning is a challenge. The best tests in the world aren't sufficient. But good tests in the hands of assessment-literate teachers, principals, and instructional leaders make for the ideal combination.

Jim Cox, one of California's best-known advocates for the intelligent use of assessment, shared his observations gleaned over 40 years of working side by side with educators, helping them make sense of the evidence of learning through assessment. Jim focused on three high-cost errors he's witnessed in districts where the level of assessment literacy is low, providing an enlightening conversation about some of the pitfalls of the misuse of assessment.

Jim has a 40-year track record of educational accomplishments to his credit, all in the fields of accountability, assessment, and program evaluation. His current passion is helping schools become "data driven" organizations. Those who hear his speeches or attend his trainings often praise his talent for making the complex seem simple

He is the author of two books, both published by Corwin Press. The first, published in 2006, is "Finding the Story Behind the Numbers: A Tool-Based Guide for Evaluating Educational Programs." The more recent book, which he co-authored with his wife, Keni, is "Your Opinion, Please!: How to Build the Best Questionnaires in the Field of Education."

Though Jim Cox is now 95 percent retired, he continues to share his assessment expertise as an advisor to The Owl Corps, an assessment consulting service.

Recommended Readings: Assessment Abstracts
Listen to an audio file of this teleconference.   [66MB mp3 file]

Finding the Story Behind the Numbers:
A Tool-Based Guide for Evaluating Educational Programs

James Cox (Corwin Press, 2007)

Unlearned Lessons:
Six Stumbling Blocks to our Schools' Success

W. James Popham (Harvard Education Press, 2009)

Steve Lund
Superintendent (Retired)
Fort Bragg Unified

Top of Page

Save Time and Money by Using Assessment Effectively
February, 2010

In this lively teleconference, recently retired superintendent Steve Lund shares his observations and experiences finding and reducing waste—a subject of interest to all educators in these money-strapped times.

Steve Lund believes that pockets of wasted instructional time exist in all districts. Like forensic detectives, assessment experts can find students who are starting their year covering material they've already mastered; students who are getting "extra help" that repeats failed teaching efforts; teachers who are teaching subjects they are least effective delivering; students who are reading far below grade level and who are misdiagnosed as "special education" or "learning disabled."

Listen to Steve Lund in conversation with Steve Rees, expanding on these ideas and sharing ways you can put assessment wisdom to work.

Steve Lund is a 35 year veteran of California schools. For the last 20 years, he served as superintendent in small districts. Most recently in Fort Bragg Unified, in Mendocino County, he met the challenge of NCLB sanctions by increasing student performance district-wide.

Listen to an audio file of this teleconference.   [57MB mp3 file]

Jan Keating
Director of Pupil Services,
Walnut Valley USD

Top of Page

Parent Choice in Public Education:
SB 680 Puts this Option on the Table
January, 2010

In 1994, Walnut Valley Unified School District opted to participate in a little known parent choice option, District of Choice. It was the vision of former superintendent, Dr. Ron Hockwalt, to provide any child an opportunity to attend schools in the district. Although controversial, the district has stood by the belief that all parents should be able to decide where they want their children to go to school. There is no denying that the district has benefited from this decision financially.

Jan Keating, Director of Pupil Services at Walnut Valley USD, shared her district's story. Listen to this teleconference to find out what they've done to stay the course, and how the program has benefited transfer students at all academic and socioeconomic levels.

Jan Keating is Director of Pupil Services at Walnut Valley USD, a district of about 15,500 students in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles. In Los Angeles County, there are only three districts participating in the District of Choice program: Walnut Valley USD, Hacienda-La Puente USD, and Gorman ESD.

Listen to an audio file of this teleconference.   [59MB mp3 file]

Joel Montero
Chief Executive Officer,
Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team

Top of Page

Building Community Confidence in Your Financial Savvy
December, 2009

All district leaders share the strain of California's economic downturn. But almost everyone could use a little help explaining what the revenue declines and budget cutbacks really mean for students, parents, and local communities. In a dialogue with Steve Rees, Joel Montero shared his observations on how leaders succeed at talking intelligently, clearly, and persuasively about money.

When community confidence is the key to your district's well being, plain talk helps you persuade parents and taxpayers to take the action you'll need. Building community confidence can pay off in more active parent involvement or increased contributions to your education foundation. And it can also result in active voter support for bond measures or parcel tax elections.

As CEO for the Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team (FCMAT), Joel Montero is responsible for oversight of FCMAT operations including AB 1200/management assistance, professional development, California School Information Services (CSIS), the Educational Data Web site, teleconferencing, and product development. Mr. Montero has 35 years of service in public sector institutions in a variety of roles. His past experience includes superintendent of a medium-sized unified school district; assistant superintendent in business, personnel, and curriculum and instruction departments; principal; assistant principal; and classroom teacher.

Listen to an audio file of this teleconference.   [53MB mp3 file]

Robert Anderson
Senior Assessment Specialist West Ed

Top of Page

What Supes Want from Assessment Directors
November, 2009

A certain odd distance often separates assessment directors from their leadership. Sometimes their numbers-savvy leaves them feeling outside the circle of softer-skilled leaders in the cabinet. Sometimes assessment people feel ostracized because testing itself is considered to be "outside" of teaching and learning.

This leaves superintendents wondering what an assessment director should know. What are their core competencies? What should they do to spread their knowledge and way of thinking? Should they be expected to persuade teachers to embrace the district's benchmark tests? Are there other measures of progress that matter, beyond "proficiency?"

In conversation with Steve Rees, Bob Anderson talked about the paths that generally bring assessment directors to the job and offered insights on how they are best trained and by whom.

After teaching writing at the University of California at Davis for 13 years, Robert Anderson leapt into the castle of K-12. He worked for the next 16 years at the California Department of Education in the Standards, Curriculum, and Assessment Division. He has also served as a Peer Reviewer for the USDE in the areas of standards, assessment, and accountability. In March 2006, Anderson joined the staff of WestEd as Senior Assessment Specialist working with the Assessment and Accountability Comprehensive Center. His passion for educational equity and his intellectual curiosity in curriculum, instruction, and assessment make him a committed research-practitioner.

Listen to an audio file of this teleconference.   [60MB mp3 file]

Dr. Merrill Vargo
Executive Director
Pivot Learning Partners

Top of Page

Winning Battles in the District Improvement Wars
October, 2009

Merrill Vargo's conversation with Steve Rees provided educators facing the Program Improvement challenge insight into where to find the leverage points that are likely to remove barriers to change and how to get more "bang" for scarce "bucks" in this era of diminishing resources. She discussed real-world anecdotes of both successes and failures, and provided candid conversation about the barriers to progress that are not often discussed: collective bargaining agreements, board policies, and labor-management relations.

As Executive Director of Pivot Learning Partners (previously Springboard Schools) for 15 years, Merrill Vargo and her group of educators have been working to help schools raise student achievement and narrow the achievement gap. Her organization, which started as the Bay Area School Reform Collaborative (BASRC), is a leading District Assistance and Intervention Team (DAIT) provider and has led the way in the new era of school improvement. Competition among the nearly 40 DAIT providers in California is fierce. About two-thirds of the DAIT groups are county offices of education. The remaining third are private organizations like Pivot Learning Partners. Pivot is currently one of the largest private DAIT providers, with DAIT teams working in a dozen districts statewide.

Tom DeLapp
Communications Resources for Schools

Top of Page

Demonstrating Accountability and Achievement
Even When Budgets Are Strained
September, 2009

In this teleconference, Tom DeLapp explored ways to better define your "product," which in the public schools is LEARNING. In this Era of Accountability, parents, the public, and the press are demanding that school leaders clearly articulate and demonstrate that they are delivering a high-powered, competitive, and continuously improving education for all students.

In conversation with Steve Rees, Tom discussed test-score/API mania; being accountable to and connecting with stakeholders; addressing the twin issues of Program Improvement and Closing the Achievement Gap; and getting out in front of the rapidly-evolving digital rumor mills of socially-networked GenX/GenY parents.

Listen to an audio file of this teleconference.   [53MB mp3 file]

Larry Tramutola
Tramutola LLC

Top of Page

Winning a parcel tax campaign:
Communicating before, during, and after the election
August, 2009

A successful parcel tax campaign involves a lot more than just selecting the right dollar amount or neutralizing the opposition. It's an ongoing process of building trust and fostering communication with voters. Some things are out of your control—the economy, the state budget, neighborhood demographics. In this teleconference, Larry Tramutola discussed how to take charge of the factors within your control. In a dialogue with Steve Rees, Larry identified these key ingredients and answered questions including

  • How do a district's communications with parents and voters influence their willingness to vote "yes?"
  • How should district leaders assess what they need and what the voters will support?
  • What's the best way to frame your issues with your community?

Our presenter, Larry Tramutola, Chief Strategist and Founder of Tramutola LLC, has helped more than 250 school districts and public agencies win bond and tax elections. Even in the current economic climate, Larry has helped clients win support from their communities. Two recent success stories are La Caada Unified and Novato Unified. In June, La Caeada USD successfully passed a parcel tax with 75 percent support, transforming their previous twenty-year record of successive losses. The victory for Novato USD amounted to an additional $96 per parcel on top of the existing $155 parcel tax and an extension for another six years.

After the teleconference we gave away one free signed copy of Sidewalk Strategies, Larry Tramutola's book on mastering the art of winning elections. We selected the winner, Jim Negri (Castro Valley USD superintendent), in a random drawing of registrants who provided a question before the event.

Listen to an audio file of this teleconference.   [53MB mp3 file]

Jeff Angus
Management Consultant
Award-winning Author

Top of Page

What Baseball Can Teach Educators About Measuring Success
July, 2009

Author and management consultant Jeff Angus spoke with Steve Rees in a lively discussion about what baseball can teach educators about measuring success. He explored the lessons baseball stats offer district leaders about measuring what matters in education, and whether it's possible for district leadership to use the same management model used by baseball managers, who grow their teams by planning for the future while still winning games today. The two participants who sent in the best questions for Jeff's teleconference prior to the event won a copy of his book, Management by Baseball: The Official Rules for Winning Management in Any Field (Harper Collins, 2006).

Jeff Angus is an award-winning manager and management consultant, a professional baseball writer, and a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). His management background includes start-ups, entrepreneurial and big corporations, large and small agencies, and nonprofits. We know and appreciate his work here at School Wise Press, as we are on his client list. Jeff's main practice areas are knowledge management, change management, process redesign, and management coaching. He's written on business for leading national magazines and on baseball for numerous newspapers and other media.

Listen to an audio file of this teleconference.   [60MB mp3 file]

John Collins
Deputy Superintendent,
Poway USD

Ray Wilson
Former Executive Director
Assessment & Accountability
Poway USD

Top of Page

Poway's Way: Students and Teachers "Owning" Assessments that Truly Measure the Growth of Learning
June, 2009

Ray Wilson and John Collins have gained national praise for building an assessment success story in Poway. In this informative teleconference, they discussed why they dared to ask teachers, school by school, to vote for their own assessment system. The result was unity: All schools chose one benchmark assessment that made it possible to effectively measure growth system-wide.

Their success is marked by students using the benchmarking tests to set their own learning goals; teachers learning where they needed help most; and principals having evidence to evaluate school performance that was understood by all. This remarkable story is as much about the democratic process of building agreement on how and what to measure, as it is about the power of the end resultan internal culture that embraces assessment as a mirror to learning.

Review the PowerPoint presentation from this teleconference.
View the video of students' goal-setting conference.  [17MB wmv file]
Take a fresh look at assessment by viewing this PowerPoint slideshow.
Read the Poway Assessment Team whitepaper.
Listen to an audio file of this teleconference.   [65MB mp3 file]

Don Iglesias
San Jose USD

Top of Page

Labor and management working together in hard times:
The San Jose USD story
May, 2009

Don Iglesias runs San Jose USD with the same spirit of openness shared by his predecessor, Linda Murray. In San Jose, Don has succeeded at keeping any defensiveness to a minimum. In its place, he has built a more unified culture, one where the collective concern for the whole is stronger than the concern for the individual stake

On May 12, he discussed the challenge of leading open conversations about budget cuts and salary cuts, difficult topics for all. Listen to this conversation with Steve Rees to hear Don's suggestions for effective communication about sensitive financial issues.

Listen to an audio file of this teleconference.   [65MB mp3 file]

Marcus Johnson
Sanger USD

Top of Page

Beating the Odds and Sustaining Success - the Sanger Way
April, 2009

Sanger Unified has beaten the odds. In ways that have attracted the attention of districts throughout California, Superintendent Marcus Johnson has led his district, and many of its schools, out of Program Improvement. Johnson and Sanger Unified have achieved a level of sustained success that organizations such as WestEd and Just for Kids have recognized as truly exemplary. In this conversation, Superintendent Johnson related stories from his district's journey out of PI. He talked about the obstacles he and his team faced, and about the secrets of their success.

Review the Teleconference Presentation Materials   (PowerPoint Slideshow)
Listen to an audio file of this teleconference.   [65MB mp3 file]

Judy Goddess
Parent Advocate

Mariaelena Huizar

Top of Page

Involving Parents in the Real World of Schools
March, 2009

Parent engagement is easy to affirm in theory. But it's not so easy in practice. Even tougher is the challenge of building bridges among families, schools, and communities, enabling them to participate fully in school life. And for schools and districts in Program Improvement, the parent connection is a "must," as part of NCLB.

In a conversation with Steve Rees, Mariaelena Huizar and Judy Goddess shared success stories and tips for increasing parent involvement. Mariaelena and Judy are two of the most effective people at engaging parents to advance the cause of education.

Judy Goddess has been a parent advocate for 20 years. She is also a grantwriter and author of the book, "California School Rules: A School-smart Parent's Guide to Advocating for Your Child." She has served as executive director of the California Association of Compensatory Education (CACE) from 2002 through 2005. And she has convened and led conferences on parent involvement, among them a conference for Sacramento City USD's leadership.

Mariaelena Huizar, a consultant and founder of Family Involvement Training, FIT for Student Success, is an individual who uses knowledge, passion, and commitment to serving children and families to promote the intellectual, emotional, social, and ethical success of students in school communities. She is a believer in strong family/school and community partnerships for successful student achievement.

NCLB Parental Involvement Requirements (Title I, Section 1118)
Parent Involvement Evaluation Toolkit
Guidelines for Developing an Academic Plan for Parent Involvement
Listen to an audio file of this teleconference.   [68MB mp3 file]
Additional Resources

Larry Perondi
Oceanside Unified

Top of Page

The Bones of Accountability:
Who is Responsible to Whom... and for What?
February, 2009

An accountability system should clarify who owes what, and to whom. But accountability for district and school leaders in California is blurring the lines that connect board members to district leaders, district leaders to principals, and principals to teachers, and teachers to students. Is everyone responsible for student success? If so, then no one is.

In this brown-bag seminar, Oceanside Unified Supt. Larry Perondi shared ideas about who's responsible for what in districts and schools. He favors narrowing and sharpening lines of responsibility. For example, he believes students are responsible for choosing what they do after graduation. But he believes educators are responsible for preparing them to succeed whether their choice is work, college or military service. This means offering students in all of Oceanside's high schools a chance to complete the A-to-G curriculum in four years, with teachers who are all well prepared.

Larry Perondi is superintendent of Oceanside Unified School District. In the past two years, he's steered his school district through a number of challenges including budget cuts, school closures, and successful passage of a construction bond measure. Before joining Oceanside Unified, Larry served as an area superintendent, principal, assistant principal, and teacher in the Sweetwater Union High School District in Chula Vista.

Listen to an audio file of this teleconference.   [31MB mp3 file]

Paul Hewitt, Ed.D.
University of Arkansas

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How to Avoid the Battles for "My Program" in an Era that Requires More Cuts
January, 2009

During this period of financial crisis, emotions are running high and differing viewpoints may result in conflict between staff, parents, board members, and citizens. In a conversation with Steve Rees, Paul Hewitt shared his recommendations for how school district leaders can prepare their teams for the moment of red-lining. He also talked about how leaders can build agreement within their teams and with the public.

Paul Hewitt is Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership in the College of Education and Health Professions, University of Arkansas. Over the course of a 35-year career in public education, Paul served as teacher, assistant principal, principal, and superintendent, most recently as superintendent of Mother Lode Union School District. Before leaving to teach in the educational leadership program at the University of Arkansas two years ago, Paul was a visible leader in the area of school finance and budgeting. His seminars at meetings of the Small School District Association were always standing-room-only, and both superintendents and board members praised his talents as an explainer in this area.

Listen to an audio file of this teleconference.   [66MB mp3 file]

Prof. Henry Levin
Columbia University

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"Making Cuts Wisely Can Make Your District Stronger"
December, 2008

Managing in a downturn requires a steady hand and a calm demeanor. But when conventional thinking leaves you empty-handed and with empty pockets, it's time to find new perspectives and less conventional ideas.

In dialogue with Steve Rees, Prof. Hank Levin discussed his ideas about managing differently in a downturn. He explained why conventional budget thinking is flawed, and why its flaws are more likely to lead to failure under the pressure of a downturn. He shared with us practical lessons that educators can borrow from other sectors, both public and private. Some of those lessons are about return-on-investment. Other lessons are about planning outside the box.

Henry Levin is the William Heard Kilpatrick Professor of Economics and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and Director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education. As a professor at Stanford for nearly thirty years, Prof. Levin was close to the ground of California schools. A believer in the bridge from research to practice, many of his graduate students rolled up their shirtsleeves and took leadership roles in districts. He is a specialist in the economics of education and human resources and has published 16 books and almost 300 articles on these and related subjects. He also serves on the Board of Trustees of the Educational Testing Service.

Seven "Out of the Box" Ideas
Listen to an audio file of this teleconference   [57MB mp3 file]
Article: Accelerating Mathematics Achievement Using Heterogeneous Grouping Article: Math Acceleration for All

Bob Ryan
School Improvement Coach

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Four Unusually Practical Strategies for Improving Learning And Its Measurement
November, 2008

Daring to improve learning is for the brave. Improving the infrastructure that supports learning also requires courage and wisdom, as well as the skill of a generalist. Too often, the talents of specialists produce few results because no one has built bridges across domains of knowledge.

In this teleconference, Bob shared his thoughts about four areas where leaders might see more clearly and discover new paths to progress. These are four areas in which educators and leadership can act to make change happen soon. The first leverage point is about learning, and the other three are about the ways educators gather and view the evidence of learning.

  1. Developing students' writing skills.
  2. Building common formative assessments among all teachers.
  3. Seeing test results differently by using value-added measures.
  4. Measuring progress by gathering evidence (if you expect it, you must inspect it).

Bob is a practical school improvement expert who uses no cookbook. His track record is remarkable. Over the last seven years, he has directed teams that delivered school improvement services to 41 districts in Los Angeles County, in his position as director of research, evaluation and assessment at LACoE. He and his teams later delivered continuous support on a fee-for-service basis to 94 schools in 13 districts.

His expertise rests on a foundation of 35 years' work in school and district leadership, ranging from instruction to assessment, from professional development to budgeting, from pupil support services to program evaluation. Find out more about Bob from this summary of his work, and this detailed history of his many years as an educator and leader of educators.

Listen to an audio file of this teleconference [64MB mp3 file]

Margaret Gaston
Executive Director and Founder
of the Center for Teaching and Learning

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"How to Meet the Demand for Qualified Algebra Teachers"
October, 2008

Since the state board's August decision to mandate algebra for all eighth graders, the fur has been flying. The shortage of qualified math teachers is at the center of this debate. Learn more about teacher workforce issues that affect the algebra debate. What's the capacity of current training programs to provide more qualified teachers? With so many math teachers teaching out-of-field, what resources will be provided for professional development?

Margaret Gaston shared her insight on these issues. Three years ago, she and the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning called attention to the teacher shortage. Not much has changed since then, as the Center reported in July in an updated brief titled "California's Approach to Math Instruction Still Doesn't Add Up."

Margaret Gaston is the founder, President, and Executive Director of the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning. The Center is a public policy organization focused on strengthening the teacher workforce statewide. In addition to experience as a consultant to philanthropic organizations, she has served as an administrator with the California Department of Education, overseeing a number of programs including the School Improvement Program. Her experience in the field includes time spent as an elementary classroom teacher, categorical programs coordinator, and as a high school vice principal. In 2006, Margaret was appointed to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing by Governor Schwarzenegger.

Sylvia Soholt
Senior project director,
KSA-Plus Communications

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Communicating with Reporters about
CST and API/AYP Results
September, 2008

For most districts, the release of AYP, API, and Program Improvement rulings is either a cause for celebration or a "problem." Learn how you can turn this news event into an opportunity to engage parents in activities that increase their involvement.

Our expert, Sylvia Soholt, shares her successful approaches to turning communication efforts into engaged parents and school-supporting voters. Find out how to take "bad news" and turn it to your district's advantage. You'll see that relatively minor changes to your normal practices can reap big benefits.

Sylvia Soholt, currently senior project director at KSA-Plus Communications, has conducted communication audits for more than 15 school districts, including San Jose, Pasadena, and San Francisco, as well as for Cobb County, GA (suburban Atlanta) and Seattle, WA. She's designed qualitative research projects for many organizations including Education Week, the National School Boards Association, New York City Public Schools, Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Tips for managing your message
Learn more about communication tools available from School Wise Press
Listen to an audio file of this teleconference [46 MB mp3 file]

David Osborne
The Public Strategies Group

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Budgeting for Results (not Cuts) in an Age of Permanent Fiscal Crisis
May, 2008

David Osborne talked about how to squeeze better results out of less money by Budgeting for Outcomes, a technique pioneered by his firm, The Public Strategies Group.

In this seminar, he discussed the lessons he's learned from:

  • California's 1978 Prop. 13 cuts, which clipped 23 percent from the spending power of local governments;
  • The Minneapolis public school system, which his firm, The Public Strategies Group, ran for three and a half years during the 1990s
  • The fiscal crisis of 20012004, when his firm helped Governor Gary Locke of Washington, who had to slash the state budget by 14 percent, focus the state's creativity not on what to cut, but on what to keep, buying results the public wanted for the price they were willing to pay.

David Osborne is a nationally-known expert and author on reinventing government. He has advised Vice-President Al Gore, helping him run his "reinventing government task force," the National Performance Review. David was the chief author of the NPR report, called by Time Magazine "... the most readable federal document in memory."

Together with his firm, The Public Strategies Group, David has helped Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa, Gov. Lawton Chiles of Florida, and Gov. Gary Locke of Washington, as well as many cities and counties, successfully steer their states through hard times. His methods are just as relevant to leaders of school districts facing the challenge of "me-me" stakeholders scrambling for their piece of a shrinking budget pie.

"The Osborne Letter"a series of essays and short articles written by David Osborne on the people who make government work in new ways.
"The Price of Government, Budgeting for Outcomes"This is a handy summary of the 2004 book by David Osborne and Peter Hutchinson that spells out a new way of thinking about budgeting, and a new approach to steering your organization toward the results you want.
"The Spread of Budgeting for Outcomes"an essay on the growing successes enjoyed by public sector leaders who were guided and inspired by "The Price of Government" by David Osborne and Peter Hutchinson.
"Your Budget, From Axe to Aim," appearing in the May 2007 issue of Public Management MagazineAn essay by Darin Atteberry, city manager of Fort Collins, Colorado, and Camille Cates Barnett, a former partner in the Public Strategies Group, describing how budgeting for results helped them get a handle on a wild budget crisis in 2005.

Listen to an audio file of this teleconference [72MB mp3 file]

Ted Lempert
Executive Director, Children Now

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Education Reforms during the California Budget Deficit
April, 2008

Ted Lempert, executive director of Children Now, shared his views of the opportunities to create intelligent education reforms in the face of the state's budget crisis. His experience co-chairing the committee, with former Sen. Dede Alpert, on the Master Plan for K-16, gives him an unusual vantage point.

This seminar is appropriate for superintendents, communication directors, public information officers, SARC liaisons, categorical directors, federal and state program directors. Participants learned about the factors that contribute to document and numeric literacy, and how to estimate the effectiveness of your own data intensive reports with different audiences.

Children Now Web site
Listen to an audio file of this teleconference [24MB mp3 file]

John Affeldt
Guillermo Mayer
Liz Guillen

Public Advocates


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A Conversation with Attorneys from Public Advocates
March, 2008

In a conversation with Steve Rees, these three public interest attorneys shared the background on the legal audits of districts' accountability reporting practices. In 2007, they sued Oakland USD, and sent warning letters to eight other districts about the condition of their SARCs. Their watchdog role has been both cheered and booed by district leaders. John Affeldt will discuss why his organization cares about the effectiveness, timeliness and understandability of districts' accountability report cards. He will also share his team's findings from two years of audits.

They discussed how to help your district pass the compliance check-ups on SARCs. The summer audits of SARCs by Public Advocates is just one of three reviews.

Public Advocates published the results of their summer 2007 SARC audits in a 20-page report. It is the only published analysis of the condition of accountability reporting in California that we are aware of.

Listen to an audio file of this teleconference [52.5MB mp3 file]

John B. Mockler
President of John B. Mockler and Associates

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"The Schools Suck Industry: Who Says We're Not Getting Our Money's Worth?"
February, 2008

This seminar is a candid, funny and serious presentation of the good work that educators have accomplished in the face of diminishing public support and dwindling resources. Mr. Mockler draws evidence from data that's available to us all, but which is rarely seen in a clear light. It is a distillation of a talk titled "Are Californians Getting Their Money's Worth from Their Public Schools?" that Mr. Mockler gave at the EdSource Forum in Palo Alto and Pasadena in March 2007.

This seminar is appropriate for superintendents, board members, SARC liaisons, Williams coordinators, public information officers, communication directors, categorical directors, federal and state program directors.

See John Mockler's presentation, "Who Says We're Not Getting Our Money's Worth?" [5MB PDF file]

Listen to an audio file of this teleconference [42MB mp3 file]

Senator Joseph Simitian
(D-Palo Alto)

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"The Truth about School Spending: SB687 and Beyond"
January, 2008

The passage of Senate Bill 687, which added school-level financial reporting to the SARC, put the spotlight on what schools actually spend and on differences in teacher pay among schools. Senator Simitian, as the author of SB 687, will share the story behind the legislation and the intent behind the policy.

This seminar is appropriate for superintendents, chief business officers, directors of human resources, SARC liaisons, Williams coordinators, public information officers, communication directors, and categorical directors.

SB 687 (Simitian, D—Palo Alto)
Number 15 on the CDE's FAQ outlines how expenditures per pupil are calculated
Calculating the current expense of education
"Teacher Compensation and Local Labor Market Conditions in California:
Implications for School Funding"
by Heather Rose, Ria Sengupta, March 2007
"School Resources and Academic Standards in California: Lessons from the Schoolhouse" by Heather Rose, Jon Sonstelie, and Ray Reinhard, January 2006

Lynda Nichols
CDE consultant in the NCLB Professional Development Curriculum Support Division

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"Narrowing the Achievement Gap by Monitoring and Managing the Equitable Distribution of Teachers"
December, 2007

An important first step in closing the achievement gap is determining teacher quality on the basis of effectiveness in the classroom rather than simply on the basis of qualifications for entry into the teaching profession. Subject matter competency is a major component of teacher effectiveness. In this seminar, you'll learn how CDE will be monitoring teacher distribution and what technical assistance is available.

This seminar is appropriate for directors of human resources, superintendents, board members, SARC liaisons, Williams coordinators, public information officers, communication directors, and federal and state program directors.

Listen to this seminar [17.5MB mp3 file].

Preview the Powerpoint slides from a prior presentation by Lynda Nichols, on "The Equitable Distribution of High Quality and Experienced Teachers."

Brooks Allen
American Civil Liberties Union

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"The Impact of Williams Legislation"
November, 2007

The ACLU, as part of a team of public interest law firms and civil rights organizations, brought the lawsuit that resulted in the 2004 Williams settlement legislation. After two years, how much have schools improved? Brooks Allen, the ACLU's point man on the on the Williams legislation, provided an overview of that progress.

Listen to this seminar [13.5MB mp3 file].

Williams v. California: The Statewide Impact of two Years of Implementation
Decent Schools for California

Professor Gary Blasi
UCLA School of Law

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"The Public's Perception of the SARC
and the CDE Template"
October, 2007

Professor Blasi conducted the first study on the understandability of the CDE SARC template. The study's conclusions sparked attempts to reform the SARC.  His study called the CDE SARC template "a failure," and faulted it for weaknesses in writing, design, structure, and data presentation.  In light of the Governor's signing AB1061 reforming SARCs, Prof. Blasi discussed the reforms address the fundamental flaws his study identified.

Listen to this seminar [16MB mp3 file].

Grading the Report Card: A Report on the Readability of the School Accountability Report Card (SARC)
About Gary Blasi