Johns Hopkins University’s Mid-Year STAT Evaluation

STAT Year Three Mid-Year Evaluation Presentation

STAT Year Three Mid-Year Evaluation Report

February 16, 2017 Baltimore County Board of Education Curriculum and Instruction Committee meeting at which the evaluation was presented

During the Livestream, BOE Member Ann Miller posted on her Facebook page, BCPS Board Member Ann Miller (NOTE:  LH = Lighthouse, the schools where STAT is piloted):

BCPS Board Member Ann Miller
BCPS Board Member Ann Miller Gilliss: What is explanation for performance changes? A: results are not statistically significant. LH schools were slightly more economically disadvantaged. Learning curve. Not enough data to show but encouraging on PARCC compared to state.
BCPS Board Member Ann Miller
BCPS Board Member Ann Miller Gilliss: should we expect continued growth as we go forward? A: PARCC we are looking at LH schools in Y2. I would expect performance to be still low for new program. These results aren’t saying STAT was effective in achievement, but does say STAT didn’t interfere in achievement in Y2.

Videos: A Tale of Three Policies; Save BCPS Policy 8120 & STAT Conversations; A Side-by-Side Analysis

Two more enlightening videos detailing what’s happening behind the scenes.

The first video illustrates how Board of Education policies are being altered to advance STAT when no one is watching (except for BCPS Chicken Little, that is).

Policy 8120: Purpose, Role and Responsibilities of the Board of Education

BCPS Chicken Little’s second video carries the tagline:

Conversations about Baltimore County Public Schools’ 1:1 “Student-Centered,” “Computer-Centered,” Personalized and Competency-Based Learning Digital Initiative, its associated costs, convinced elected officials, and the always tardy evaluations.

What’s been lost to pay for STAT?  Compare what was said about this at a recent Board of Education meeting and on the national stage at the ASU GSV ed-tech summit.

A related conversation from Discovery Future@Now Conference Panel: http://www.discoveryeducation.com/futurenow2014/roadmap.cfm 

“I build a case: we will either pay for it now or we pay for it later. And what we can do, and school systems do this, is find the money for things we want to find money for. But we have to be, I think the best superintendents are salesman and saleswomen.

But the other thing, too, is that before we ask for additional money — because we know it’s going to cost more — we have to do serious scrubs of our own budgets, so as positions come open, do we need to fill those positions?

But we’ve also been very upfront with our county as it costs additional money, we’re going to be very upfront and honest whether there are positions that we can decrease in the school system that are non-school based.  How do we then redirect our funds? But we’ve been very upfront that it’s going to cost more. But, we have to demonstrate those early wins, those success stories in our 10 Lighthouse Schools to give us the leverage to say that we need to continue this.”

What’s the Status of STAT’s Digital Costs? In a Dozen Years, that Could Be a Billion Dollar Question. Updated.

A year ago, the public first glimpsed the costs of Baltimore County Public Schools’ digital initiative when the “STAT budget” was released. A revised tally is back, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

A guest op-ed by Joanne C. Simpson

A blur of money is spinning around the virtual vortex where our Students and Teachers are supposedly Accessing Tomorrow via STAT. The question: Is this a space-time passage to the future or a budgetary black hole?

The $1.6 billion Baltimore County Public School’s proposed operating budget for next school year was just released—and the cost of the laptop-per-student initiative still remains nearly as opaque as wormholes and astrophysics.

Overall, the schools’  digital initiatives’ scenario seems a mash-up of multimillion-dollar “techbooks,” controversial Spanish-language software, unclear rising expenses, possibly stealth purchasing policies, and interactive projectors that could tap a school’s budget for nearly $6,000—per classroom projector.

The updated BCPS “6-Year Proposed Instructional Digital Conversion Plan” predicts spending on the one-laptop-per-student program at $257 million by 2018-19, including an initial $13 million for wireless network infrastructure and nearly $200 million for students’ and teachers’ laptops. See plan here, p. 11.

At first, it seems the “Total Cost” of the 6-year conversion comes in about $28 million less than last year’s spending projections—mostly because of deleted or redirected millions slated overall for projectors, a project temporarily slowed last year by a school board vote. “Total Annual Costs,” are pegged at $57 million (including $52 million annually just to lease laptops that turn over every four years).

A lowered overall price estimate would seem welcome since STAT, touted as a model for other districts, is one of the costliest and most experimental digital school initiatives in the nation. Recent documents and administration responses, however, reveal the actual price tag is likely higher. Much higher. (See also Postscript below).

BCPS Superintendent S. Dallas Dance downplayed STAT’s financial heft at the Jan. 10 Board of Education meeting when he presented the proposed 2017-18 budget, which requests an 8.5 percent increase—$64 million more—from the county. “To dispel a rumor, STAT has not driven the Baltimore County Public School’s budget,” Dance said, highlighting increased spending on salaries. “I’ll say that one more time: STAT has not contributed to growing budgets.”

Yet concerns about rising costs under the superintendent’s overall Blueprint 2.0 plan clearly remain:

  • Spending authorities* have been approved for contracts worth tens of millions of dollars in digital curricula and related software, mostly beyond the STAT budget—at least $74 million and counting, records show.
  • Costs will likely rise as the student population at 112,000 is expected to increase by more than 6,700 within the decade.
  • And BCPS’ pilots under Blueprint 2.0 are already creating financial woes: more than $4 million has gone out the door on the dysfunctional computer-based ScholarChip ID program alone–mostly for equipment bought, and sitting idle or underused. And this in a school district with many dire needs, and nearly half of its students living at the poverty level.

See these links on When School Dollars Go to Waste, and a similar tech equipment debacle, including maintenance fees on unused equipment and software in Fort Worth, Tx. “Meanwhile, audits regularly find wasted funds at the district level, including one last summer that identified more than $2.7 million in misspent technology funding for schools in Fort Worth, Texas,” notes The Atlantic.

Overall, what exactly has been spent on digital-related curricula, services, hardware, personnel, training, and infrastructure from anywhere in the public school budget—or is slated to be spent? At the current rate, STAT and related costs could approach $1 billion by the first dozen years, sources say. More BCPS transparency would be helpful, yet an external or state legislative audit might be the only way to know for sure.

A school board budget work session, open to the public, is set for Jan. 24 and 31. The overall FY 18 superintendent’s budget will go before the board, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, and the County Council for consideration. As people review this 328-page document (nearly $2 billion including the capital budget), here are a few areas to explore:

How Much is that ‘Tech Book’ in the Window?

Overall, most STAT and related costs are perpetual if BCPS plans to remain a highly digital school district—expenditures that could rise substantially. School districts do need better tech options and wifi, but the scope of what’s going on here seems alarming.

A flurry of digital curricula spending authorities for vendor contracts were approved or expanded by the school board in 2016. For example, Discovery Education ($4 million expanded to $10 million (!) for just two more years); Middlebury Interactive Languages ($7.5 million) for 13 years (a part of the BCPS Blueprint 2.0 plan); and DreamBox Learning, Inc., whose contract would nearly double for just the next 9 months, to $1.2 million. (See contract spending authority links for such vendors below, or at bcps.org.)

Discovery Education’s contract will include “techbooks,” which do seem to offer some cool new options: a blend of text and visual media in different languages, and text-to-speech (read-aloud). Yet students’ laptops are already loaded with some of those services, such as text-to-speech in seven languages via Kurzweil 3000 Firefly.

Costs for “techbooks” gave pause to nearby Montgomery County Public Schools, a larger system with 159,000 students. MCPS is also known as a digital district.

“We clearly as a system are looking at what the possibilities are for the future in terms of digital resources and digital textbooks,” Betsy Brown, MCPS’ director of curriculum, has said. “But we have to consider cost effectiveness, and we also have to examine how current the resources will be.”

Brown told the Gazette: “There are no big savings incentives in making the transition from textbooks to digital tech books.”

MCPS has elected to focus district funds on Discovery Education’s popular video streaming services, at about $260,000 annually since 2014, according to MCPS records.

BCPS, which already had video streaming before the $6 million expansion, has said the “techbooks” would cost less than regular textbooks, yet long-term licensing fees have not been fully disclosed. Here are some struggles other districts have found, especially when they cut paper textbook funding in favor of digital options.

Meanwhile, Middlebury Interactive Languages (MIL), the centerpiece of BCPS’ Passport Program, has been a primary element of Blueprint 2.0’s second-language acquisition goal.  This year it expanded to 40 elementary schools, and there are plans to bring the computer-based language program to middle schools as well. MIL also exemplifies ongoing software and other fees. “Once the program is fully expanded to all schools, the anticipated annual fee will be $550,000 each year. The site license cost will be $5,000 per school once 51 schools are attained,” board records show. Software licensing fees, online or cloud subscriptions can increase digital costs to districts.

MIL also has raised controversy elsewhere. Until recently, the computer-based language program partnered with Middlebury College, whose professors staged a revolt and no-confidence vote in 2014 because of quality problems and questions about co-owner K12, Inc,. a troubled online education company. In 2015, the Vermont college sold its 40 percent stake in MIL to the for-profit K12, which is now the sole owner.

Note Dr. S. Dallas Dance’s testimony in company ads for Education Week, and MIL’s website, which features Dance and BCPS in SEVEN separate sites/links for the for-profit company. Google the connections, and see Here. This fledgling software’s $7.5 million contract authority with BCPS goes out 13 years, to 2029 (!).

Numerous other spending authorities for digital curricula or related contracts have been approved or expanded by the school board in the last year, including Curriculum Associates/iReady ($1.2 million); Code to the Future ($1 million); and Apex Learning ($3 million, with $2.5 million for about two more years). The list goes on.

Overall, such big-dollar figures certainly surpass the $1 million slated per year in the STAT budget under Curriculum Resources/client software, some of which is being piloted in schools and set to expand. What will the costs be then? Can these vendor expectations even be met?

Consider other BCPS pilots, like the student lanyard ID program, whose vendor, ScholarChip Card LLC, was paid at least $3.7 million by mid-2016, according to BCPS sources (and now past $4 million, see postscript). Superintendent Dance did a promotional video for ScholarChip as the program launched here in 2014 (among other edtech tie-ins to BCPS vendors, and a recent superintendent ethics violation finding).

ScholarChip is a Pearson Independent Software Vendor.

More than $4 million for a mostly failed pilot? (Students no longer wear the ID lanyards, which were onerous; swipe-in attendance kiosks were sent back or sit idle, and other problems.) Just ask teachers or principals. The original spending authority was for a whopping $10 million; are payments still going out? Does BCPS have this kind of champagne budget? Could other cash-strapped school systems pay for all this? (See a few answers below. In short: $220,000 is still going out every year. Until 2024 (!).

When school board members in September asked how the STAT budget could cover the Discovery Education contract alone, administrators cited funding from other district curriculum coffers. A county audit of last year’s budget noted significant “areas of under-spending” by BCPS, including textbook supplies, special education operational supplies, and transportation professional services.

The Office of the County Auditor wanted to know: “why BCPS has chosen to prioritize this initiative over other competing funding needs.”

Creative Procurement 101

Many of these for-profit companies, meanwhile, are being awarded no-bid contracts under a BCPS curriculum policy, Superintendent Rule 6002 and related. https://www.bcps.org/system/policies_rules/rules/6000series/rule6002.pdf

Under the policy, curricula are evaluated by BCPS staff and others, without ‘requests for proposals’ or other bidding processes. (Discovery Education’s contract also includes professional development services, not just curricula.)

And this despite the fact that no-bid contracts have raised concerns in area school districts and elsewhere. The Maryland Office of Legislative Audits in 2015 also criticized BCPS for a lack of “competitive procurement methods” for various services. BCPS said the district is complying with state laws. https://www.ola.state.md.us/Reports/Schools/BCPS15.pdf

Board-approved “spending authorities” usually mean BCPS could spend up to a listed amount. Dance has pointed out that actual contract costs sometimes come in lower (though many spending authorities return to the board for a vote to expand).

In addition, and possibly more concerning, the superintendent apparently has other sole powers: “Contracts or contract modifications of $500,000 or less may be executed by the Superintendent or his/her designee,” under a BCPS Policy 3215 questioned at the Jan. 10 board meeting. It remains unclear how often this option is used and how.

This all seems to leave the door open for a frightening lack of oversight.

The superintendent does seem savvy at finding money for STAT (which the FY18 budget notes “requires a significant funding commitment”) from various sources, including federal E-rate funds for networking, and a $1.3 million grant to help support STAT—which will run out after next year. With all the financial pressure, the squeeze is on. BCPS internal “redirect” efforts have been noted elsewhere. In the 2015 Maryland State Education Technology Plan, BCPS staff answered survey questions about the district’s tech integration, including: “What are your consistent sources of funding?”

The BCPS response: “Continued cuts and redirects to budgets in all areas of operation within BCPS are impacted.” http://dlslibrary.state.md.us/publications/JCR/2015/2015_98a.pdf

So, again, what are the real costs of STAT, lost opportunities and all?

Overall, there’s lots of uncertainty about “forever costs” for BCPS’ out-in-front digital initiative being watched by districts around the nation, nay the world, as a model for tech in education—despite unknown long-term learning outcomes, high costs, and student measures like BCPS’ 2016 PARCC standardized test scores lower than area counties.

Still, BCPS wins awards for STAT, here, here and here, mostly from edtech industry-supported groups. Regarding one event cited: “The United Nations General Assembly was the backdrop for a keynote address by the BCPS superintendent to schools and global education, business, and technology leaders hosted by Hewlett-Packard,” notes the DILA 2015 Open Door Policy Award, hosted by EdSurge, Inc. and Digital Promise.

BCPS is using Hewlett-Packard tablet/laptops, and Microsoft software, in its classrooms: The spending authority for the HP device contract: $205 million.

How is STAT Going So Far?

First rolled out in Fall 2014, STAT’s $1,400 HP EliteBook Revolve 810s are now in grades K-6th, and 7th in several test schools known as “Lighthouse Schools.” Three high schools are testing the laptops and digital curricula in grades 9-12, including Owings Mills, Chesapeake, and Pikesville, and will continue to pilot STAT next year, Dance said.

A series of evaluations revealing successes and flaws so far have been conducted by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Research and Reform in Education (CRRE). Parent responses have been mixed—with some support for the tablet/laptop hybrids and digital learning options, yet ongoing concerns about increased screen time and physical or visual fallout for students, as well as software glitches, increased reliance on computer-embedded assessments, funding and other issues. (See agenda/video under Meetings tab for public comment, Jan 10 meeting.)

One parent noted recently on ABCSchools: Advocates for Baltimore County Schools Facebook public group that it seems BCPS is serving as an example to convince other school districts to “engage in this great experiment that was really all about using the public ed system to research and develop the EdTech products [that] private industry is trying to develop with no knowledge if it all will even work or be beneficial to children.

“And in the meantime we will spend hundreds of millions on STAT which we could have spent on what we already know through research already works. Smaller class sizes, equitable healthy facilities, and we might even give every child in every school free breakfast and lunch.”

With two children in the school system, I share many of the same concerns.

There are other worries. The proposed budget indicates downward trends in student performance, (p.103), including a drop in Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) scores for grade 3 students, from 57 % reading on-grade level in 2013-14, before STAT, to 50 % of third-graders in 2015-16—after all grades 1-3 had the devices.

At the Jan. 10 meeting, Dance emphasized a focus on human capital over tech in the superintendent’s FY 18 budget. “Eighty-three percent of our budget is going to people, with salaries and benefits,” he said. “And we want to make sure we focus on our people.” The budget does includes a 2 percent pay increase for employees “and a plan to hire more than 100 new teachers.” (The district had that many unfilled teaching positions just a couple weeks before school started in the Fall.)

Yet there’s the ongoing 168 teacher/mentor positions to support STAT—with nearly all annual salary costs outside the STAT budget (about $8 million for teachers not assigned to classrooms), an issue raised recently in TABCO teacher association campaigns.

BCPS school board member Kathleen Causey has voiced concerns about high-dollar contracts, purchasing Policy 3215, and opportunity costs: “This is an unprecedented expense for untested curriculum,” Causey said after the meeting, noting that children “need to develop their humanity before we focus on all this intensive data learning.”

Pricey Interactive Projectors: In The House

The Tale of the Interactive Projectors reveals the push-and-pull of trying to create what some term a “digital ecosystem” in a school district whose physical ecosystem is already plagued with crumbling school buildings, brown drinking water, a lack of functioning AC and heat, oft-scarce classroom supplies, and ever-challenging student nutritional needs.

(Transportation woes have been on many parents’ minds, as noted lately in social media. Yet at a school board Building and Contracts Committee meeting that reviewed tire contracts, the issue of using “retread” tires on school buses was discussed. A few board members expressed concerns, but staff said it was “okay,” because recapped tires were being put “on the back wheels.” See contract # ARA-206-16, $1 million.)

For the proposed Boxlight projectors (the administration wanted 6,900 for each classroom-plus), the virtual rug was pulled out when, in February 2016, a contract for $41.4 million (!) was rejected by the school board and sent out to be rebid under different parameters.

Trouble is: The projectors are still being bought, apparently outside board purview.

Individual schools are being told to pick up the tab out of dwindling BCPS allocations. A July 29 superintendent’s weekly bulletin to staff: “School administrators who plan on purchasing projectors in school year 2016-2017 should review the approved projectors.”

The required options, according to BCPS documents: $5,899 with amplified sound system; $4,522 (sans that sound system); and a non-interactive table-top projector and package, $1,051.

Yet schools’ per-student BCPS allocations for instructional materials and supplies—including such projectors—have dropped, nearly 6 percent in elementary schools by FY 15—from $142 per student to $134, a tightening of discretionary purchases to “ensure compatibility with STAT specifications,” notes the 2016 STAT Biannual Conversions Update.

In fact, under STAT “all technology will be fully transitioned to a central budget” by next year, and instructional supplies centralized further (see pp. 83, 118 of the FY 18 budget).

At what cost in the long run? Those interactive projectors for 6,000 or so classrooms would still top $30 million to purchase, and they have a shelf life of 5 or so years. Meanwhile, the Boxlight projectors, which board members and county officials questioned because of high pricing and other issues, are already showing up in BCPS’ new elementary schools. The ‘selected’ projectors also use components by Clinton, the firm whose contract the board turned back. When the issue was raised, administrators said the board never told them not to buy single projectors.

(They might be terrific classroom tools, though comparable or more-established classroom projectors could be purchased for less, experts say. Once a model is bought, there’s pressure to buy that same model for consistent teacher training and compatibility. Either way, some digital services, such as Discovery Education, seem to rely partly on getting them in place pronto.)

School board member Causey brought up the projector discrepancy in comments at the board meeting. “It has come to my attention recently that there is one major contract that somehow has gone awry,” Causey said.

“There is a requirement for schools to choose from one of two or so choices in a new interactive classroom set-up,” she added. But “is that the equipment the board feels is the best use of taxpayer dollars?”

Resistance is Futile?

No matter how the pixels fall, taxpayers—that means us—are the ones footing the Very Big Bill for STAT, the Digital Ecosystem, 24/7 Learning, A Digital Conversion, or whatever this “transformation” might be called. Are we heading down a financially unsustainable path? At this point, I’d call for a state legislative audit to find out.

Among pressing FY 18 budget questions:

  • What constitutes “other instructional costs/contracted services,” which have jumped from $10.6 million in FY 14 to $53.6 million in the proposed budget? (p. 80) That’s a 500 percent increase. (See postscript below.)
  • Which vendors are getting paid an “increase of $6.2 million in one-time expenditures” for “new BCPS curriculum materials.” (p. 69). About $7 million is also listed in the budget of the Chief Academic Officer, who selects curricula for “instructional textbooks & supplies.” (p. 223).

These and other queries were posed to BCPS officials last week, with no answers by the time of this post. Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki Almond’s office has forwarded the questions to county auditors who will review the school budget.

Some responses, and the updated “STAT budget,” can be found in this board Work Session document released 1/24, and in postscripts below.

Yet we still have no tally on superintendent and staff travel expenses for dozens and dozens of conferences to promote STAT. Consider this Jan. 24-27 Future of Education Technology Conference in Orlando, FL, where at least four BCPS staffers, including Ryan Imbriale, executive director of Innovative Learning—and his wife, Jeanne, director of Enterprise Applications—are presenting to school leaders, with such themes as: “Learn the value of utilizing a digital ecosystem in your district.”

In the end, this all seems the tip of the proverbial iceberg (oddly enough, school administrators compare BCPS to the Titanic (see this video, 9 min. 35 sec), apparently since a large school system is hard to turn. Maybe they don’t know what affect that analogy has on concerned parents).

The mid-2016 BCPS STAT Biannual Conversions Update (a story for another day) offers clues to other future costs. Just consider STAT’s projected “Eight Conversions: Curriculum. Instruction. Assessment. Organizational Development. Infrastructure. Policy. Budget. Communications.” Among the policies “revised to align with STAT:” the much-troubled new Grading and Reporting Policy 5210.

Are we converted yet?

Alarms are sounding—at least in my ears. That document, handed to board members, notes: “As we conclude year three, the eight conversions are progressing toward the goal of systemic institutionalization by the year 2018.”

And I’ll say that one more time: Systemic Institutionalization.

Joanne C. Simpson is a former staff writer for The Miami Herald, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and Johns Hopkins Magazine, as well as a BCPS parent, college educator, and freelance writer based in Baltimore. She can be reached at jcscribe@yahoo.com

Postscript:  2/7/17 — The BCPS Board of Education Votes on the FY 18 Budget

In keeping with getting things on the record, for posterity perhaps, here are a few answers on cost-related questions—and other areas yet to explore. BTW: If one wonders how deep this “digital conversion” goes, consider this tidbit:

BCPS’ 161 school library media specialists are now categorized as “digital learning teachers.”

Probably the most alarming issue in the FY 18 budget: the district is set to spend more than $6 million next year for software license fees not previously discussed publicly, plus millions in other license or site fees not yet determined. That’s apparently on top of $57 million STAT will cost our schools every year. STAT’s overall price tag is indeed closer to $300 million. Just for the first several years.

So, STAT costs are not lower, as the updated “STAT budget” indicates, but higher. Perhaps way higher.

In fact, some items briefly listed in the digital conversion plan also show up big in additional costs tucked elsewhere in the FY 18 budget or approved contracts: “client software,” “license fees,” “staff,” and “network infrastructure upgrades.” Logic would indicate: If they’re STAT/digital costs in the plan, then they’re STAT/digital costs period. (See the op-ed for details and related costs).

Overall, a full audit—both financial and thematic—seems in order. And that would be something to keep in mind for any district with a digital initiative. Because, even after rounds of questions, the amount of money being spent by BCPS, even on specific digital curricula, is mind-numbingly unclear. And we have to wonder why.

For example, expenditures for Discovery Education and Curriculum Associates/iReady next year are listed at different dollar figures in budget materials. (Discovery Education is $196,000 in administration responses, and $536,000 for Discovery Ed’s contracted “techbooks.” For iReady, $223,500 is noted in the budget executive summary, then later it’s $720,000. What’s going on?)

On a more global level, board members recently asked why STAT is crowding out other school needs:

Question: Why did BCPS fund STAT over competing priorities? Hundreds of millions spent on STAT so far while funding for instruction flat. STAT crowding out poverty programs, driver pay increases and critical capital projects to improve student environment.

Answer, sort of: “S.T.A.T. aligns with the BCPS Strategic Plan, Blueprint 2.0, which was approved by the Board. The initiative was evaluated by the Board and funded along with other critical educational priorities.” BCPS noted cost-of-living and other pay increases for drivers and said capital funding is separate. [Though there’s apparently been some crossover with AC funding and other spending, an issue that also needs to be explored].

Overall, everyone needs to question exactly how money is being spent on STAT and similar digital initiatives in other school districts. Because every dollar spent (overspent? misspent?) on the digital initiative and related is a dollar not spent on other school needs. 

And, despite BCPS’ particularly single-minded focus on STAT’s “significant investment,” our board and elected leaders must provide oversight to better meet the needs of our children, such as students facing poverty or too hungry at school to learn, among other challenging issues. A device won’t fix such things. And a pricey-yet-glitchy $1,400 laptop-per-student can’t be equity if the ongoing use of such devices is not even good nor developmentally appropriate for learners as young as seven years old.

Adjustments can be made and advanced tech options still offered. One board member asked why our school system doesn’t follow 3:1 ratios—or a device for every three children—in elementary schools, as Maryland’s education technology plan stipulates. The cost savings would be $13.6 million annually, according to the district, but does not match current STAT instructional plans. (Other digital-minded public school systems, such as Montgomery and Anne Arundel Counties, focus on providing student access to tech, not one-device-per-child in lower grades. They have cited developmental appropriateness and fiscal responsibility concerns. And $13.6 million a year would equal the yearly salaries of more than 220 teachers).

And lastly, from the op-ed, the question about that 500 percent jump under “other instructional costs/contracted services?’ (from $10.6 million in FY 14 to $53.6 million for next year alone.)

The answer: “As articulated in the 6-year Instructional Digital Conversion Plan, this increase is consistent with the roll-out of devices in alignment to the S.T.A.T. strategic plan and instructional software license fees.”

Follow-up question:  “Who are the vendors paid under “other instructional costs/contracted services?” What exactly are these services? What is the list of vendors/providers?”

Answer: “Daly is the primary vendor for 1:1 devices and related services and support. In addition, the largest vendors related to software license fees are Northwest Evaluations, Engrade Inc., Discovery Education, Curriculum Associates, Dreambox, Learnings, [Dreambox Learning] and Creative Enterprise Solutions, which provide services for curriculum, instruction, and assessments.”

Included in that huge $53.6 million figure: “Ongoing software license fees: $4.9 million,” according to recently posted 2/7/17 BCPS responses  to board member questions, an amount not discussed publicly. Hmmm, yet there’s another $1.2 million in software license fees also cited (see below). So what is the grand total amount BCPS is paying each year just in any digital-related license fees—i.e. “forever costs?” 

QUESTION 2: Which vendors and/or costs and services, etc. fall under: “Other Instructional Costs: $1,289,663”?

ANSWER: $1,259,283 will be used for software license fees for programs such as Destiny resource manager, Library Manager, State Standards, Softchalk, Blackboard Web conferencing, and WebPath Express. The remaining funds will be used for equipment, travel and conference fees, professional dues, and miscellaneous contract services for the office of Digital Learning.

(And, btw, is this how they are tucking conference travel costs into various budget line items?)

When asked by a board member in late January: “Is the S.T.A.T. program financially sustainable in the long-run, or are we setting our school system up for a fiscal disaster down the road that different leadership will have to deal with?”

The administration’s assurance: “Yes, the program is sustainable.”

How can that be known? A year ago, the question was asked: What are the true costs of STAT? We know more than we did then, when costs were publicized as $200 million total (the local media still digs no deeper on costs for the experimental program, even when basic BCPS documents themselves cite higher numbers).

Overall, the lack of clarity and transparency in the latest BCPS budget—and in the end how our schools are funded and our children’s needs met—is just one more indicator that few in power want to admit how costly this digital conversion really is.

Postscript:  2/23/17 — Another Note on Why the Money Matters, and ScholarChip Woes

As shown in this op-ed, every dollar spent on STAT or troubled BCPS pilots is a dollar not spent on the many needs that deeply concern parents. For example: What could that $13.6 million annually fund if elementary students simply had one device for every three children, the 3:1 ratio? Here is a personal op-ed from a BCPS school board member on the opportunity costs of STAT, and related.

A bit of the Orwellian glosses over these issues: “Good News Ambassadors in each Lighthouse school are documenting S.T.A.T. through the collection of digital artifacts to share via social media and the Lighthouse Web site.” What about the not-so-good news? A few more specifics on unmet needs that frustrate parents and educators, as noted very frequently on Facebook and other social media:

  • BCPS should pay highly certified teachers and not rely on long-term substitutes;
  • ensure sufficient staffing for small class sizes and efficient bus routes;
  • allow more school discretionary funds for updated classroom books and physical supplies;
  • hire actual teachers for the math Head & Shoulders and other advanced programs;
  • set aside money to meet nutritional needs (free breakfasts would go a long way for those who arrive at school hungry and struggle to concentrate);
  • provide pupil personnel workers to help serve the many students facing poverty;
  • ensure the essential environmental basics of proper heat and AC;
  • pay drivers a competitive wage and keep retread tires off children’s school buses… the list goes on.

Parents out there: compare such priorities to the quality of the software programs our children encounter, Middlebury or iReady, and others that will cost us tens of millions of dollars in the next several years.

Not Yet Exposed — Another detail that reveals just how out-of-whack things seem to be lately:

BCPS has a $1.1 million contract just to pay for laptop cases— another lucrative bonus deal for Hewlett-Packard, provider of the $1,400 HP Revolve 810 G2 laptop/tablets.

Check out the contract below, as well as budget docs that reveal that this $1.1 million was supposed to be spread out until 2021, yet nearly all that money will have flown out the window in just THREE YEARS — at $951,174 by 2018-19, budget documents show. How many children have even seen these million-dollar cases?

A million bucks is also still a million bucks. Again, an outside expert audit of STAT is necessary to find wasteful spending that could instead personally educate, cool, transport, tutor, feed and keep safe our children.

https://www.bcps.org/apps/bcpscontracts/contractFiles/MWE-840-15%20Board%20Exhibit%20Final.pdf

And, lastly, (my head is truly spinning by now) here’s the low-down on ScholarChip, the IDs students no longer wear and the kiosks that have been mostly sent back. (The latest Fall bi-annual conversions report notes yet another planned “picture-based attendance” system for students.) The cost deets from BCPS administration responses on the $4 million-plus fiasco:

QUESTION: “The student lanyard ID program, whose vendor, ScholarChip Card LLC, was paid at least $3.7 million by mid-2016, according to sources. The original spending authority for these ID cards was $10 million. Explain the current status of ScholarChip? What has happened in terms of usage, software integration, kiosk issues, and later payments? Are payments still being made currently to this vendor, and why?”

ANSWER: “BCPS has purchased all equipment and implemented the One-card system ($2.4M in FY 2014 and $1.6M in FY 2016). BCPS chose not to pursue the attendance module for students.” The annual costs to be paid to ScholarChip for a “data center license” (more license fees!) and “hardware maintenance” (for what exactly?)

$212,000 a year.

Every year. Ongoing until 2024. Should we consider any of that money–our money, taxpayer money–well spent on pieces of plastic, hung on strings?

— JCS

——

Also, a version of this op-ed on STAT costs was featured on the national education blog Nancy Bailey’s Education Website: Revive, Rally and Recover Public Schools

*Discovery Education:

http://www.boarddocs.com/mabe/bcps/Board.nsf/files/ADRH6P463371/$file/092716%20RGA-127-14%20Modification%20and%20Extension%20-%20Faculty%20Professional%20Development%20Streaming%20Content%20and%20Related%20Services.pdf

Middlebury Interactive Languages (MIL):

http://www.boarddocs.com/mabe/bcps/Board.nsf/files/A9TSUL6984F7/$file/052416%20MWE-813-14%20Modification%20World%20Languages%20Elementary%20Second%20Language.pdf

Dreambox Learning:

http://www.boarddocs.com/mabe/bcps/Board.nsf/files/AANHDY47D60B/$file/061416%20JNI-778-14%20Modification%20and%20Extension%20-%20Mathematics%20Supplemental%20Resources.pdf

Curriculum Associates/iReady:

https://www.bcps.org/apps/bcpscontracts/contractFiles/071216%20JMI-618-14%20Modification%20-%20Teaching%20Resource%20for%20English%20Language%20Arts.pdf

Code to the Future:

http://www.boarddocs.com/mabe/bcps/Board.nsf/files/AAHPAZ6197B4/$file/061416%20MBU-525-16%20Computer%20Science%20Immersion.pdf

APEX Learning:

http://www.boarddocs.com/mabe/bcps/Board.nsf/files/AGDVC970F7A1/$file/122016%20RGA-128-12%20Modification%20and%20Extension%20Online%20Student%20Courses.pdf

ScholarChip:

http://10ba4283a7fbcc3461c6-31fb5188b09660555a4c2fcc1bea63d9.r13.cf1.rackcdn.com/03/d6869a0dc672eaa5d41cd8231c707cda.pdf?id=231361

Daly Computers/Hewlett-Packard reseller:

https://www.bcps.org/apps/bcpscontracts/contractFiles/MWE-807-14_Board_Exhibit_03-11-14.pdf

The Best Laid Plans; More on BCPS Grading Policy 5210

It is rumored that while plowing in the fields back in 1785, poet Robert Burns inadvertently destroyed a mouse nest which inspired his poem “To a Mouse.” This poem, known for “best laid plans of mice and men,” a phrase widely used to describe the inevitability of things not turning out quite as planned, is perhaps more recognizable by the truncated: “best laid plans…”.

There are plans that “go as planned,” plans that don’t, plans that are unexpected and last minute, and sometimes plans you wish you could cancel. Sometimes plans are too grand to accomplish by oneself and very often plans are not planned by oneself.

And that is precisely the question for Baltimore County Public Schools regarding the grading policy change: exactly whose plans are these?

After two December 2016 BCPS grading policy meetings, some new information has come to light regarding the actual order of events, which exposes more clearly how the grading policy plans came to be in BCPS.

The facts:

First, Grading Policy 5210 was drafted by BCPS staff and was approved by the former Board of Education in June 2015, with its implementation delayed until July 2016.  Currently, only five members remain from that board that voted: Ed Gilliss, David Uhlfelder, Chuck McDaniels, Romaine Williams, and Marisol Johnson.  Those five members were present to approve those grading policy plans and proposed changes, which means that seven of the current board members were not.

Next, it is important to note that the Grading Policy Superintendent Rule 5210, which was also drafted by staff and revised on June 9, 2015, effective June 1, 2016, included some different language than the policy, itself.  Each BCPS policy is accompanied by a corresponding Superintendent Rule which is expected to align with the approved policy. It is also important to understand that the board votes on BCPS policies, but does not have the power to vote on its respective Superintendent Rule. This gives the Superintendent the power to implement what the rule states, irrespective of what the policy states.

The difference between the grading policy and rule can be seen by comparing the two: Policy 5210 and Rule 5210. The variance between the two includes the language: “Permissible grade symbols, scales, and procedures used for grades and grade reporting are set forth in the BCPS Grading and Reporting Procedures.”

This is important to note. The Grading and Reporting Procedures Manual, which includes the procedures mentioned in the wording of the change to Rule 5210, further served to remove – yet by another degree — board oversight and input into the actual grading policy, as it continued to evolve through the rewriting by staff.  The board did not vote for that change; it was never part of the policy. Additionally, board approval of this manual is not required and was not sought, despite the changes and the inclusion of the names of all board members on the actual document.

Lastly, what started as a plan, grew into a two-page policy, evolved into a six-page Superintendent Rule, and ultimately materialized into a more detailed 50-page document that was first presented to all principals and other school administrators on June 21, 2016 at their Professional Development meeting.  Teachers and other 10-month employees were gone for the summer when scant professional development was offered, and returned the week of August 17, 2016 during which a 45-minute multi-subject meeting occurred. School commenced on August 24, 2016, which gave teachers one week to read, comprehend, and plan the implementation of BCPS’s new Grading Policy and 50-page manual.

After the extremely rocky and disorienting rollout of this new grading policy, TABCO president Abby Beytin and Bill Lawrence of CASE complained to the board and Dr. Dance about the lack of time teachers and administrators had to comprehend the manual, plan for it and implement it a week after receiving it. This frustration was echoed by the current student board member and by way of parent complaints at meetings, through emails and petitions, as well as coverage in newspaper articles written by neighboring private school leadership, parents and other professionals.

As the grading policy change is occurring across the country, there are additional questions about how the 50-60 member taskforce – called the District Grading Committee – was directed to arrive at such a strangely similar plan to that of other school systems. Strange also is how in sync BCPS seems to be with the grading policy changes written about by organizations such as Competency Works, the brainchild of The International Association of K-12 Online Learning or iNACOL.

Whether planned from within the school system, or a plan inspired from outside of it, this plan has not been the collaborative effort it has been made to seem.

It may have been laid out – and it certainly has plowed through – but its impetus and implementation are questionable. With BCPS vendors and ed-tech organizations ramping up to digitalize students’ curriculum here for STAT, BCPS parents would be wise to inquire about all future plans BCPS leadership has for our school system.

NOTE:

Be aware that although BCPS staff has worked hard to address grading policy concerns, unacceptable issues are still plaguing students.

Parents say that in elementary schools, End-of-Unit assessments, which teachers are pressed to pull together and sometimes put online, can end up being 30% of a student’s grade, or basically Finals for 5th graders, who barely even have time to study.

Some of the online tests are considered “secure,” presumably because they’re going to be used over and over online in subsequent years, and cannot even be seen by parents or students, unlike paper tests which parents signed off on. So there’s no opportunity for students to do actual ‘error analysis’ and learn from their mistakes. If a parent wants to see a test, they need to make a conference with the teacher, cutting into everyone’s time. So these online tests are basically useless to students and parents — it’s all about data collection by schools.  And kids are failing them left and right.

Perhaps even more alarming, a point value on an assignment might double or triple in the BCPS One grade book, as teachers are pressured to hit a new balance of points (outlined in the grading policy addendum) between assignments and quizzes/tests, with assignments being worth more. That is a welcome change. But when an essay worth 25 points is entered as 40 points, and then that grade value is doubled to 80 points after the fact (because the ratios weren’t matching up) that could spell unexpected disaster. That one assignment, if there’s a less-than-stellar outcome, might tank an entire quarter grade–because now it’s suddenly worth 40% of the quarter. Teachers are trying to do their best in what BCPS administrators call a “transition phase,” but this chaos is unfairly lowering grades, deeply affecting students’ “career-and-college-ready” goals, and causing reams of stress for everyone.

Embedded Assessments = Testing All the Time

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) ushered in a wave of damaging high-stakes standardized testing.  The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and its emphasis on “innovative assessments” will create, as this 12/1/16 Washington Post article describes, a new threat from embedded assessments.

The New Standardized Testing Craze to Hit Public Schools

A recent piece from FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, asks if it’s Personalized Learning or Continuous Online Testing?

Though couched in humanistic language about “personalization,” such a transformation is leading to even more frequent standardized testing. This narrows and dumbs down instruction to what low-level tests can measure, depresses student engagement, and produces inaccurate indicators of learning.”

Embedded assessments are at the heart of digital competency- (or mastery-) based education (CBE). The BCPS STAT initiative is CBE.  It’s the delivery of education via software. Glitchy flawed test-phase programs like iReady, Middlebury, and Ascend Math — all described below — seem meant to replace the teacher, not provide another tool for the teacher to practice the art of teaching.

When BCPS students and parents are not allowed to see the assessments, how can they  assess where “mastery” of a concept or standard fell short?  If schools are deterring parents from actively participating in their children’s education, there’s a problem.

At a 2016 media event at Greenwood, Dr. Dance discussed embedded assessments — for some of them, instruction time isn’t stopped and students don’t even know they’re being assessed:

Baltimore Sun:  Dallas Dance talks about school assessments

This recent piece by local (and national) journalist and BCPS parent Joanne C. Simpson reveals how embedded assessments are being used in our school system.

{Note: Due to problems downloading the contracts noted below, the actual links are offered at the end of this article; copy/paste the links into a browser.}

The Computer Just Graded My Test, and Gave Me a C

Competency-Based Education (CBE) is a new education fad that emphasizes ongoing online/computer-based assessments and testing. The question is: What percentage of software-delivered lessons and testing will go on at BCPS–and how much will screen time increase–especially in the next year or two as STAT (the laptop initiative) is set to spread to all grades.

Few seem to know that computer-embedded assessments are already being used in BCPS classrooms–for diagnostic, formative and summative (the graded kind) of assessments–a running tally of $12 million in recent spending authorities, and counting.

The following BCPS Board of Education-approved spending authorities for contracts are mostly aligned with STAT. This information has been pulled together, and now seems a good time for parents to know what’s around–and to determine how well these offerings work so far.

One program is iReady/Curriculum Associates, which is used primarily in elementary grades. Read more about problems with iReady here.

BCPS just tripled the spending authority to $1.2 million. Teachers I’ve talked to at BCPS are finding lots of problems, such as iReady not really differentiating learning for each student as advertised. Other feedback? Contract spending authority info here.

Another is Kahoot, a game-based model that ranks students against each other on screens at the front of the room, yet has no evidence of positive learning outcomes. (It also rewards speed above all.)

Others are Padlet and Quizlet (formative, for feedback). And the testing–and grading–of students is already happening via screens. The computer-based testing company Escoreny, as well as Pearson software, are being used for end-of-unit tests and other graded assessments. Some info on Escoreny and its recently expanded $1.3 million spending authority to create constant “end-of-unit” assessments: http://escoreny.org

Overall, we can determine whether these programs seem effective, or not, and let teachers and administrators know. I’ve heard from students and others that some online math assessments have incorrectly graded or processed answers, lowering students’ grades. “Estimation” answers, for example, are unrealistic. The students beat the program to a right answer, but are marked wrong. (So teachers need to go back and regrade by hand.)

These are also costly programs, hitting multi-millions in spending authorities and related software licensing fees and updates, records show. For example, Middlebury Interactive, the flawed Spanish language computer-based program, now has a $7 million, decade-long contract spending authority with BCPS. That’s for an in-development software program. How well is that going for elementary school students?

Even more familiar to elementary students and parents out there: DreamBox, with its required hour per week and push “reminders.” DreamBox collects “50,000 behavioral data points per hour per student.” What are behavioral data points? 50,000?

How much is DreamBox costing us in the long run? And what about all that student data mined by a for-profit company? DreamBox Learning’s BCPS spending authority nearly doubled recently for just another 9 months, $636,000 to $1.2 million.

(In terms of math software, other parents probably know Ascend Math for middle schools. Has that been a help? Hope so, as it’s another million-dollar software program so far.

Ascend Math, ~$480,000 expanded to $1.3 million for three more years, plus other agreements.) Contract spending authority here.

In the end, there are likely benefits to some of these offerings. And the practice of skills is one. Another modality is fine, and tech can offer some new approaches for teachers to evaluate, and for students to self-assess. Yet is it worth the millions of dollars? How much will this approach expand here? (I’m not sure BCPS staff is being told what has been outlined in various district plans.)

A primary concern for me as a parent: Are our students just working out the bugs in for-profit software? Whetstones for flawed products, as happened in Detroit (a lot of similarities, including the ‘building the plane as we fly it’ weirdness): http://www.aclumich.org/article/guyette-how-eaas-buzz-program-exploited-detroits-most-vulnerable-kids

One way or the other, it seems these computer-embedded tests and assessments portend more screen time for students, and less direct time with teachers.

Oh, and can we please stop flying a half-built plane with our children on board?

Contract Spending Authorities:

iReady

https://www.bcps.org/apps/bcpscontracts/contractFiles/071216%20JMI-618-14%20Modification%20-%20Teaching%20Resource%20for%20English%20Language%20Arts.pdf

Middlebury 

http://www.boarddocs.com/mabe/bcps/Board.nsf/files/A9TSUL6984F7/$file/052416%20MWE-813-14%20Modification%20World%20Languages%20Elementary%20Second%20Language.pdf

DreamBox Learning

http://www.boarddocs.com/mabe/bcps/Board.nsf/files/AANHDY47D60B/$file/061416%20JNI-778-14%20Modification%20and%20Extension%20-%20Mathematics%20Supplemental%20Resources.pdf

Ascend Math 

http://www.boarddocs.com/mabe/bcps/Board.nsf/files/AANHDC479D32/$file/061416%20JNI-767-14%20Modification%20-%20Secondary%20Mathematics%20Intervention%20Mate….pdf

#PositiveStories and the #GoodNewsAmbassadors @BCPSSTAT

Is BCPS a business worthy of advertising or an educational institution for Baltimore County’s 112,000 students?

Is it a mechanism for marketing or a place for kids to learn?

Perhaps it’s a futuristic animatronic museum in which our vendors and other school systems from across the country can come see a glimpse into the future.*  To see where humanity is headed, to see the future of America, where, as Superintendent Dance has said, “you can come into a classroom and not even be able to find the teacher.”  Perhaps that’s precisely why our vendors and other school leaders come?  To enthusiastically hashtag -#foundher – when finding one – like a game of “Where’s Waldo?” in a BCPS classroom?

Whatever the reason, this certainly appears to make for an amazing advertising opportunity for our vendors.

#buyfromustoo? #freeadvertising?

It’s no secret that Baltimore County has become the hub of school innovation for the country. Maybe even for the world, according to our Hewlett Packard representative.  Does all of this hashtagging help with the momentum of leading the way?  After all, BCPS and the hashtag did become fast friends under the leadership of BCPS’ current administration.

Walk the Walk Award – DILA 2014 Winner: “Dr. Dance is constantly tweeting to BCPS stakeholders…”

Why not?  As a school system, we have not only embraced technology, but we are rocketing out to space on it.  But what is the impetus behind the advertising?  Who does it serve?  And is it safe?

Some parents on, coincidentally, social media, as well as at BCPS Board of Education meetings, have raised concerns; they do not think that it’s safe. In fact, some think that it’s downright dangerous.  Yet the response to these sentiments has been a familiar-sounding one.  The same response heard time and time again about any hiccups with STAT, Baltimore County’s 1:1 digital initiative: the problem boils down to the professional development of the teachers, they say.

And yet, BCPS’ own Department of Communications and Community Outreach seems to have opened the Wild West of Twitter in the first place. Why is it, then, that the teachers are being pointed to as the ones lacking in social media etiquette? 

BCPS’ Chief Communications Officer, Mychael Dickerson, certainly gave the greenlight. In fact, he suggested it in this June 2015 article, stating:

“We simply asked people to send photos of them wearing Team BCPS Blue and to go to social media to post their pictures or to let us know how they were celebrating Team BCPS Day.  To our surprise we received hundreds of pictures and thousands of tweets and Facebook posts. We also held a competition recognizing the youngest Team BCPS member (mothers-to-be were sending in photos pointing at their stomachs indicating they had the youngest Team BCPS member), the oldest Team BCPS member, the largest Team BCPS group etc., the most spirited, etc.  The pictures and tweets came from all over the world and from all sorts of people to include: students; parents; families; staff members; businesses; religious groups; senior citizen homes and many other organizations and stakeholders. It was an incredible launch and this year was even more successful.”

With almost 60K followers and 10.4K tweets, @BaltCoPS has had a very busy 5 1/2 years since the account opened in April 2011. Discovery Education, one of STAT’s main vendors, which has been on Twitter since 2007, does pretty well with 314K followers and a whopping 25K tweets!

In fact, Discovery Education’s very own National Director of Educational Partnerships – who, incidentally, is also on the Board of Directors for the Education Foundation for Baltimore County Public Schools – even tweeted about us a month ago, stating: “Awesome students share our thoughts-BCPS STAT Initiative. ‘More fun way to learn’ #bcpsstat”

In 2014, BCPS’ Department of Innovation (under their previous name) even gave Hewlett Packard a shout-out! And a BCPS principal took some time to thank Daly Computers (Daly Computers contract)! Meanwhile, teachers tweet about their students being on DreamBox, yet another BCPS vendor.

All of this tweeting and none of it proven to assist with our students’ educational outcomes.

So, whom is this tweeting all about then? Who does it help?  And what is it actually for?  Is this “edu-tising” good for our students or does it serve some higher motive?

Some of us are still waiting for the “how much screen time are the students getting question to be answered.  All of this tweeting and still no answer?

#justsayin’

*From the 11/7/16 BCPS E-Newsletter:

“Dear Team BCPS: This week, BCPS hosted representatives from around the nation who visited our Lighthouse and Passport schools to see firsthand how we are implementing our Theory of Action.

Our visitors were in Baltimore attending the 2016 League of Innovative Schools’ Fall Conference. I am very proud of our students, teachers, and administrators who welcomed these special guests into our classrooms to show them outstanding teaching and learning. I also extend my thanks to all members of Team BCPS who were involved in the planning and implementation of these visits. Our visitors were impressed, and it was truly an amazing experience for all of us.”

BCPS’ New Grading Policy: Part of the Big Personalized Learning Plan

Bottom Line Up Front (but read to the end for important background information):

Due to an outcry from students and parents (and we hope teachers and administrators behind the scenes), the recently revamped BCPS Grading and Reporting Procedures were amended as of 11/1/16.  Here are the changes and a related article: Towson Flyer: Baltimore County schools amending new grading policy

Grading Policy Amendment

Grading Policy Amendment

These amendments were published directly after the 10/31 forum on the new policy held by BCPS Community Superintendents.  Principals and certain parents were invited to attend and provide feedback.

The Rest of the Story

As noted in our one blog post for the month of June (it was the summer!), the BCPS grading policy underwent a major revision effective 7/1/16.

In early August, schools reached out to parents to explain that in 2014 (when STAT was implemented), a grading and reporting committee made up of parents, teachers, and administrators:

” … reviewed grading and reporting practices from across the state and the nation. Based on the information gathered, the committee determined the policy needed to be rewritten to reflect more current research-based practices to better align your child’s grades with his/her achievement of grade-level standards. To that end, the new Board of Education Policy 5210 Grading and Reporting was approved in June of 2015 for full implementation beginning August, 2016.”

New Policy and Rule 5210

” … all student grades will align to identified course or grade-level standards and be based on a “body of evidence.” A body of evidence is simply the information a teacher collects to determine a student’s level of performance. In addition to making sure grades are based on evidence aligned to standards, (BCPS) wants to ensure that the purpose for assigning grades is clear and consistent across all schools. To do this, BCPS established that the primary purpose for determining marking period grades is to accurately communicate a student’s level of achievement in relation to the course expectations at a given point in time.”

(NOTE: This is key to Mastery-Based Education and computer-delivered curriculum)

“The school system commits to providing equitable, accurate, specific, and timely  information regarding student progress towards course expectations which includes feedback to you and your child in order to guide next steps and indicate areas growth areas. To promote alignment to research-based practices and stakeholder input, the committee oversaw the creation of a procedures manual, which is broken down into six guiding practices:

  1. Grading practices must be supportive of student learning.
  2. Marking-period grades will be based solely on achievement of course grade-level standards.
  3. Students will have multiple opportunities to demonstrate proficiency.
  4. Grades will be based on a body of evidence aligned to standards.
  5. A consistent grading scale will be used to score assignments and assessments.
  6. Accommodations and modifications will be provided for exceptional learners.”

This sounds somewhat reasonable and child-centered in theory, except for the fact that ASCD is all over this Research & Rationale, which makes them suspect:

https://www.bcps.org/academics/grading/researchRationale.html

The Sun wrote an article about it, as did the Towson FlyerDr. Dance felt obliged to write an op-ed in the Sun.  BCPS devoted a website page to it; highlights included a video and a MythBusters List.

The New BCPS Grading and Reporting Policy is Explained

As the school year rolled out, unprepared teachers, parents, and students began to realize what was going on and were not happy.  One parent started a petition to rescind the new grading procedures.  Another parent wrote a must-read op-ed about it: Towson Flyer: What’s Behind BCPS’ New Grading Policy?

National ed-blogger Emily Talmage has written about grading policies like BCPS’:  Is Your District Changing its Grading Policy? Here’s the Real Reason Why.

Take the time to read the Towson Flyer op-ed and Talmage’s piece; you’ll understand why the BCPS Grading and Reporting Policy had to change to enable “anytime, anywhere learning.”

Also read this from iNACOL, the International Association of K-12 Online and Blended Learning.  iNACOL has a baby named Competency Works, which offered a detailed report on grading changes needed for Competency-based Education (STAT).

Any school that has begun the journey toward competency education, breaking free of the limitations of the time-based system, will eventually come face-to-face with grading policies and practices. Along with the excitement of creating a new grading system that ignites a dynamic culture of learning will come opportunities to engage students, families and the community in creating a shared vision about the purpose of school. Challenging the traditional system of grading practices, rooted firmly in the American culture with its exhilarating A+ to the dreadful F, will prompt questions, fears, and misconceptions. There are likely to be lively community meetings and even a letter or two in the local newspaper. There will also be the mutual delight when a competency-based grading system is put into place that allows students and teachers to work together toward a shared vision of learning. Most importantly, there will be cause to celebrate as students make progress toward proficiency.”

Mutual delight?