A cure for dyslexia ... really?

I've already been asked a couple of times today about articles published in various mainstream publications (at least USA and England) about new research claiming to have found somethign that may lead to cure for dyslexia. Here is a link to the Newseek (US Edition) that I'm basing this post upon. You might want to read it before reading my criticism. 

I reserve the right to edit or expand this  - but in order to provide a timely response to something in the news, I'm going to publish this now and perhaps come back to it later. 

First, let me say that if a cure for dyslexia is at hand, nobody will be happier than I! Realistically though, I see many of signs of hype, many reasons for skepticism, and not much that makes me in any way optimistic. I'm going to go through one of the articles Newsweek - US Edition) to explain my thinking.

"Two scientists believe they have found a possible cause of dyslexia, the disability that affects reading skills—and it could be treatable."

So, the first sentence already triggers the skeptic in me. It has all the right caveats ("possible cause", "could be treatable") but sounds like it wants to inspire hope. What I really notice is that it calls dyslexia "the disability that affects reading skills".  It could have defined dyslexia. Or, it could have called it "a disability that affects reading skills". The author of that line chose neither. 

I'd like to provide just a bit of background about the problems associated with the word "dyslexia". For some time, while working for the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) in the role of Learning Disabilities specialist, I made sure to avoid using the term dyslexia when talking about reading and reading disabilities, There was no commonly accepted definition. People used the term to mean so many different things It detracted from building a common understanding of what a particular child might need, rather than adding to the conversation. 

In 2005, Sally Shaywitz, a respected, well-credentialed researcher wrote Overcoming Dyslexia (Indigo writes About the Author  "Sally Shaywitz, MD, is Professor of Pediatrics at the Yale University School of Medicine and codirector of the Yale Center for the Study of Learning and Attention...").  This book must have sold well because it certainly seemed to cause a sea-change in the ability to agree on a common understanding of what was meant by dyslexia - a reading disability with the root cause in phonological processing. This is how the term is now used by many reputable scientists doing psycho-educational, neuro-scientific research. 

For many years, there have been questions as to whether there were sub-types of reading disabilities (e.g. visual versus auditory processing problems). Only phonological processing difficulties been shown to be underlying problems for most reading disabilities. Theories and small studies have occasionally posited visual factors in reading difficulties, but there has never been the same body of evidence as there is for the phonological basis of reading disabilities. 

So when the Newsweek article fails to define dyslexia it isn't a small thing. However, one could surely go to the article abstract to find out what is meant by "dyslexia", right? If you do that (go to the primary source), you learn that the people studied were "adults with normal ocular status, but with dyslexia, i.e. with visual and phonological deficits." Well, that is by no means a commonly accepted definition of dyslexia (visual and phonological deficits). So it seems to me that at the very least, I'll want to know more about how their subjects were selected. Looks to me like they might have picked people to study who had reading problems and some "visual deficits". If that is the case, then it isn't surprising if they then "found" a visual problem. We still don't know from this that the visual and reading issues are causally related. 

Call me cheap, but whenever I don't have free access to academic journals, I don't just pay for anything I might find an interesting read. If I did, I guarantee you, I'd be impoverished to the point of bankruptcy! So, I go through some decision making (and I still haven't bought the article).

First - look at where it is published - Proceedings of the Royal Society B. I don't know about this academic journal - so I went to have a quick look. It is a Biological Sciences journal with an Editorial Board and peer review expertise to match. This is a very good thing if interested in biology of the eye - but the Newsweek article is about a finding related to reading disabilities and possible treatment. In contrast, the scientists who wrote the article claimed (at the end of the abstract) that their work "suggests new implications in both fundamental and biomedical sciences" (not education). 

If we are to think about implications of pure science for treatment (applied science) we should surely be including expertise from the applied side (learning/cognitive psychology, etc.). The Newsweek article is light on this - enhancing my skepticism. A quick search in Academic Search Premiere, Academic Search Elite, Medline, and ERIC, yielded no other articles by either of these authors on the subject of dyslexia. So, I would say that it is unlikely that dyslexia is their area of expertise up to now. None of this is definitive; but it is noteworthy that we don't have clarity of what they mean by dyslexia, nor clear expertise in that topic. 

A quick google search however, indicates that many, many popular news magazines have picked up this story. Why? Perhaps the second link provided in the Newsweek article helps us to understand. A press release was put out by MedicalXPress. So I did a bit of looking. First thing I noticed when I went to that link was that big advertisements were the first thing to see. The first was for a dyslexia related product - a font claiming to make reading easier for people with dyslexia.  I've looked into such fonts in the past. Just recently I had seen another "de-bunking" report, showing no evidence of the claims made for fonts like this. The second ad was for an Orton-Gillingham online tutoring service (Orton-Gillingham being a dyslexia treatment approach or method). 

So, it looks to me like MedicalXPress is an ad based platform for disseminating information. It may disseminate scientific information; but it appears to me to be a profit driven site (I haven't done a ton of digging, so I could be wrong - but there are certainly ads!). That's enough to get my spidey-senses tingling even more than they already were. 

Now it appears that we have biologists, who may or may not know anything about dyslexia who have noticed something in the eye of adults who have some form of reading problem. How many, you ask? 30. Thirty subjects are what this international hype is based on, due to (it would appear) a sponsored press release. Remember, that a sample size of 30 is often chosen because it is the minimum required for some statistical determinations of significant results. Without looking at the article itself, I don't know what kind of significance we are talking about (the abstract is very light on the methodology or results). I do believe however, that on a moral basis, it is wrong to drive all kinds of hope for a cure for dyslexia based on one set of findings. 

Overall, I'm left with an impression of a small study done by people who are experts in biology, not dyslexia who have found something a little bit interesting, which could be something, could be nothing. MedicalXPress who advertise dyslexia products, picked it up and appear to have talked to the study authors.  It looks to me that they wanted a sensational quote such as "Our observations lead us to believe that we indeed found a potential cause of dyslexia." Note that what scientists say is "potential cause". Any correlation found scientifically can perhaps substantiate a claim to a 'potential' cause; but one of the most important rules of research is to remember that "correlation does NOT imply causation". 

I am NOT a biologist, and have NO idea what is or isn't possible with respect to cone cells in the eyes. However, for illustrative purposes of why it is important not to get excited thinking that correlation implies causation, WHAT IF some people with reading difficulties in childhood eventually have some degree of re-arrangement of cone cells in the eye because of their reading problems. Nothing in the abstract of the article suggests anything in the methodology (in this adult sample) that states for sure which way the relationship goes. Again, I'm not saying that this is a probable explanation (it doesn't seem too likely to me - but what do I know). All I'm saying is that this study appears to me to be a LONG way from the exaggerated claims being made in the popular press. 

I have seen this type of thing over and over again. I'll give you two examples. In the 1980s a researcher was interested in a similar theory of asymmetry of auditory processing. He did research suggesting that plugging one ear would lead to better auditory processing / language / reading. It was a "potential cure" for dyslexia. You aren't seeing this cure in use 30 years later.

The other big one is the Irlen coloured lenses which have been repeatedly demonstrated not to have substantiating scientific evidence. All the support seems to come from individuals with a financial interest in associated products. Please remember that anecdotal evidence (it seemed to help my child) is not the same as evidence that rules out other possible explanations for why it 'seems to help some children', such as placebo effects, increased time, increased child or adult interest, etc.

In my opinion, it is cruel to have parents spend time, energy and scarce financial resources to buy products that have a very slim chance of doing any good. When a lamp is described as "magic" in a news release about a potential cure for dyslexia, I am almost 100% positive that there is a profit motive somewhere behind the scenes. Parents are often willing to do/pay almost anything if they think it will help their children read. They want a magic lamp more than anything.

It is to Newsweek's credit that they did not use that line from the news release. But I do think they went to press far too early and with too much naivety in their belief in this as a potential cure. In my opinion, it is the mandate of good scientists, journalists and educators to be selective in what we claim as evidence of effectiveness. To do otherwise is abdicating our responsibilities to know more than the typical parent or consumer. 

In my experience, sensationalized accounts of early research inevitably lead to far more harm than good. 

 I was born a skeptic.... (no this is not really one of my baby pictures!)

I was born a skeptic.... (no this is not really one of my baby pictures!)

Morphing the website

I'm just starting to learn how to make some changes to the website so that it is no longer for the candidacy. Until all the changes are made, you may still see references to the candidacy. Hopefully it won't take too long. Right now I must go and get the very last of the signs. Apparently we missed some in Riverbend!

 An Aztec symbol for change - seems appropriate these days?

An Aztec symbol for change - seems appropriate these days?

CBE 2016/17 Achievement Results

Calgary Board of Education released student Achievement results this week. I'm going to start today with comments on Provincial Achievement Tests (PATs). 

You can read CBE Administration's News Release here; the Backgrounder is here; and the full presentation provided to the press here

Alternatively, here is my simplified explanation and questions (same data):

Grade 6

Meeting the Acceptable Standard

CBE did better than other jurisdictions on all the Grade 6 tests.

Meeting the Standard of Excellence

CBE did better than other jurisdictions on all the Grade 6 tests.

Nearly 30% of CBE students met the Standard of Excellence in Science and nearly 1 in 4 did so in Social Studies.

NOT meeting the Acceptable Standard

So we are at least as high, or not as low, as the rest of the province. However, the provincial results are not very good.

More than 1 in 4 (26.3%) CBE Grade 6 students failed Math. CBE also had failure rates over 20% in Social Studies and Science.

The presentation provided by CBE Administration described CBE results as strong.

In my opinion, most members of the public won’t agree that failure rates of over a quarter of students in math, and over 20% in other subjects, represent “strong” results.

In addition, given that the English Language Arts results are dramatically better than the other tests, the Board of Trustees should ask what percent of students had reader or scribe for Reading/Writing portions?

 

Grade 9

Meeting the Acceptable Standard

CBE did as well as, or better than other jurisdictions in Grade 9 French Language Arts, Science and Social Studies.

However, the only subject in which more than 80% of CBE students met the Acceptable standard in Grade 9 was French Language Arts. Anecdotal evidence suggests that less capable students are being counselled out of French Immersion.  This would result in a two tier system. It is worth investigating further.

Meeting the Standard of Excellence

CBE did better than other jurisdictions on all the Grade 9 tests, except English Language Arts.

More than 20% of CBE students met the Standard of Excellence in Science and Social Studies.

NOT meeting Acceptable Standard

More than 20% of Grade 9 students failed English Language Arts and Science (nearly 1/4). Almost 1/3 failed Social Studies and more than 1/3 failed Math.  

Questions

These results beg two big questions:

1. What is it about our instructional methods that result in failure rates greater than 20% while at the same time yielding Excellence in more than 20% (sometimes nearly 30%)?

2. Are we doing what is necessary to make sure every student is functionally literate? Is literacy strategy designed to move more students into Standard of Excellence? Or more to meet Acceptable Standard (without accommodation). What proportion of resources going to each? How were resourcing decisions made? Do they match Board values?

Comments

There has been an increasing emphasis and reliance upon teaching methods where the ‘teacher acts as facilitator’ (versus ‘sage on the stage’). Sometimes teachers use an inquiry approach or discovery methods, problem based learning, and such. Too often these de-emphasize direct instruction even though some students need direct instruction. In these instances the methods are not well supported scientifically (empirically).

It has been frustrating to many parents and to many teachers that there has been this heavy emphasis across CBE. There are lots of teachers who know that a broader repertoire of teaching techniques is required. Lots of parents know that phonics is often required and kids need to practice and memorize some things (NOT all!). Given what is known (from a cognitive science perspective) about how students learn, and given scientifically supported methods, the Board should be asking itself if this emphasis on “inquiry” has advantaged some students at the expense of the more vulnerable? See the purple outlined results in the accountability pillar summary on page 10 of the presentation for further illustration of this point.

 

 Achievement 

Achievement 

Donor update

Two more friends made, or pledged donations (both under $100). Another $140 added to the totals: 

So ... new numbers 

$1,229 IN TOTAL DONATIONS IN AMOUNTS OF $100 OR LESS.

$3,200 IN DONATIONS IN AMOUNTS OVER $100.

All together = $4,429

Here's a re-print from earlier (to save you scrolling):

I have received a total of $3,200 in donations in amounts over $100.

$200 from Carol Bazinet, Calgary, AB

$250 from Wayne Herbert, Edmonton, AB

$1,000 from Kathy Krug, Calgary, AB

$250 from Brad Law, Edmonton, AB

$1,000 from Jack and Irene Peltier, Calgary, AB

$500 from Denise Watts, Calgary, AB

Thanks to all my supporters! 

 Last pre-election donor update (I think!)

Last pre-election donor update (I think!)

Donor update

I received another $100 donation this morning from a friend. 

So ... new numbers 

$1,064 in total donations in amounts of $100 or less.

$3,200 in donations in amounts over $100.

Here's a re-print from earlier (to save you scrolling):

I have received a total of $3,200 in donations in amounts over $100.

$200 from Carol Bazinet, Calgary, AB

$250 from Wayne Herbert, Edmonton, AB

$1,000 from Kathy Krug, Calgary, AB

$250 from Brad Law, Edmonton, AB

$1,000 from Jack and Irene Peltier, Calgary, AB

$500 from Denise Watts, Calgary, AB

Grand total of donations to date = $4,164

And I got a text from my step-sister today telling me she plans to make a small donation. I'll keep updating as needed! 

100 dollar bill.jpg

Full Day Kindergarten???

Is it really a good idea?

Frankly, I don't think that we need full day Kindergarten for all children. At Kindergarten age, most children get what they need from a fully play-based, language rich environment with songs, stories, drawing/arts/crafts, building materials, and many other traditionally play-school and home based activities. Structured, direct instruction in academics (pre-literacy and numeracy learning) can be introduced in the smallest doses, as a component of a half-day program that gets a child ready for school in Grade 1. 

I am in favour of CBE's current model of having full day Kindergarten available in a small number of schools where there are many children who do need an extended program to make them more ready for Grade 1 the following year.  

I am not in favour of spending a great deal of money on an educational program that most children do not need. The arguments for full day Kindergarten are, in my opinion, much more about parent need than about most children's needs. A half-day program is an ideal transition into school for most small children. Full day Kindergarten will only lead to 1/2 day "junior kindergarten" as in Ontario, where costs are extremely high.  This isn't needed. Let's be good stewards and save our resources for the relatively few children who do need more. 

My main opponents say directly that their interests are in meeting adult needs, not just children's. During the parent forum held at Centennial High School, Mike Bradshaw, of the Student's Count Slate/party, said that parents have to work and they need care for their children, so he would be in support of full day Kindergarten. It would save parents day care costs. 

When a parent later asked me about full day Kindergarten, I indicated that I was not in favour and I contrasted my view with Mike's response at the forum.  She replied  "I read some responses that Mr. Bradshaw had on the topic of busing which led me to believe that he had his priorities totally messed up.  Parents first then children.  The comment he made at the meeting {about full day Kindergaren} was really ridiculous . . . "    (the emphasis is mine :-) )

Tory Tomblin's stance is on her website. She's in favour of full day Kindergarten. One of the arguments put forward on her website is "This will help parents with scheduling and childcare while they work." Again, this is about adult needs not children. 

Public education dollars are not intended for day-care services. Teachers (and their salaries) are not there to baby-sit! Most teachers I know would find this highly insulting!

If we were to decide as a society to subsidize day-care on a wider scale, high cost public education is certainly NOT the way to do this. There are far less expensive ways to provide day care if that's what voters want. Mike and Tory's arguments for full day Kindergarten suggest to me that they are parent advocates not child (or teacher) advocates, These plans are not fiscally responsible. They don't consider everybody. All of the public/tax-payers should be represented by school board Trustees! I will certainly bring that lens into the board room!

 

 

 

  t

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Ed. Psych. Assessments

Why do psych. assessments appear to be in short supply?

Recently, a strong CBE Parent Advocate (@standUpAB) put the following out to the Twitter-sphere:

Just for fun lets talk about restricting access to ed psychology assessments to #/ school/ year. 2 is the # I am hearing

I promised I'd do a blog or FB post on the topic and I chose blog. I like the formatting better and it might bring people to my website. 

For those who haven't any experience with this type of assessment, an Ed. Psych. Assessment should be explained. This kind of assessment is done by Registered Psychologist when parents and teachers need more information about how a child learns. It's usually an assessment done when a student is struggling academically (or sometimes when it is being questioned whether a child may be gifted). It is often diagnostic. In other words, from the results of file reviews, conversations with parents and teachers, sometimes observations, and psychological and educational testing, the Psychologist may diagnose a specific learning problem (there are many diagnoses that can impact learning in school). Sometimes, at that point, a special education need is identified. Then an individualized program plan (IPP) will be developed. 

With respect to how many Ed. Psych. assessments may be done in the course of a year in any one school, I've heard exactly the same number as @standUpAB, this year. At least some schools in CBE are being told that they may only be able to have 2 students assessed this year. 

In my experience - when doing very complex assessments, that take the very most time, a full time psychologist doing nothing but assessment could do at least 40 or more per academic year (there is down time over holidays, certain times of year can't be used for assessment e.g. first/last parts of the school year, before/after holidays, etc.). That means that about 12 psychologists should easily be able to complete 2 for every CBE school. There were at least 2-3 times that number of psychologists able to do assessment work as recently as one year ago and there have not been drastic cuts to psychology staff this year. 

So, if there is plenty of staff, and ed. psych. assessments aren't being done, the question must be "Why"?  There is only one reason that I can see. Administration does not want there to be more assessments completed. There are many psychologists hired by CBE who have the skill set to do these types of assessments. For years, the number of assessments actually done by CBE psychologists has been declining, despite the fact that demand has not been declining. 

Psychology managers have experienced declining authority to manage the team of psychologists. Day to day direction has been given more into the hands of Area Directors (who are not psychologists). Psychology managers who worked hard for improvement are no longer with the CBE. 

Psychologists are now doing many other kinds of work instead of assessment, despite the fact that teachers and parents both appreciate what comes from these assessments. First and foremost, the assessments are intended to provide critical information for programming effectively for the student. They frequently identify strengths and weaknesses and provide recommendations about the type of support that student requires and how it can be implemented. Secondly, a diagnosis may lead to formally identifying a special need. This brings a small amount of extra funding to the school from the CBE, 

Do NOT let this make you believe however, that more money comes to the CBE when students have formally identified special needs. That is no longer the case. Years ago the province went to a new model of funding for inclusive education. The current model provides a total amount of money for the CBE to meet all sorts of diverse needs. It isn't provided on a student by student basis. However, since the province changed its funding model, the CBE has not changed its model of funding schools. That has been the same for many years now. 

There are two main things that I believe are behind the decline in the number of assessments being completed (without a decline in psychologists' time to do them). One is that tI believe there is no desire in administration for there to be more needs identified, There could be debate about the ideas that lead to a preference not to identify the needs. I think that a good part of it is knowing that increased identification requires more resources to go the school via the Resource Allocation Method (RAM). The second is that I think there is a strong, philosophical resistance to assessment in some very senior administrators. I have observed that they do not seem to like any form of objective measurement no matter how well established the reliability and validity of the measures, nor how good the practices are that are being undertaken for interpreting and using the results of assessment. 

Until the huge 'elephant in the room' is discussed, this problem, and many others that directly underlie many parent and teacher concerns will not be dealt with. There is a clash between scientific approaches to evaluating student needs and instructional methods, and the methods used by those who are mainly interested in the 'social' construction of knowledge which subsumes everything to the group and prevents objective assessment and diagnosis of the individual.

There are books to be written on this topic, and I can't do it now. I can say however, that I see this one conflict underlying much of the disconnect between the CBE and parents (Math & discovery learning; early reading and ongoing literacy problems; report card issues - grades and report cards, and so on).

Is it okay to try to measure/scientifically evaluate things like achievement, or progress, or learning challenges? If you say yes, you are likely a parent or a teacher or a psychologist or one of  many other professional and other support staff. If you say no, you are probably a senior administrator, aspiring to be a senior administrator in the CBE, or someone whose child isn't facing the challenges that require this sort of assessment.

All I can say at the moment, is that if you want a Trustee that has a good sense of where the issues truly lie, and how they can be addressed, you would do well to vote for me. 

 

 

 Ed. Psych assessments evaluate learning abilities and current academic achievement. 

Ed. Psych assessments evaluate learning abilities and current academic achievement. 

Wow - another $100

So cool! Just received a $100 donation from a voter I don't know, and don't believe I've met in person. They just sent me money because they decided to support me, based on my platform. 

So ... new numbers 

$964 in total donations in amounts of $100 or less.

$3,200 in donations in amounts over $100.

Grand total of donations to date = $4,164

 One more of these ... thrilled every time. Maybe there will be more?

One more of these ... thrilled every time. Maybe there will be more?

Financial Disclosure

Right around the time that I announced in June that I would run, I made it clear I would not be indebted to any special interest. I truly do not want to see "big money" control school board elections in Calgary. It's clear to me at this stage, that at least one of my opponents seems to have much bigger money than do I! So I know has ended up being part of this election, whether I like it or not. 

On September 19th I made an early financial disclosure so that people could get a clear sense of how my campaign is being financed. Please scroll back in this blog to see what I said way back then. I couldn't provided names then because my donors weren't yet aware it might be a campaign issue.

On the 20th of September I made further comment about campaign financing. At the forums that have been held, I commented that I'd be happy to do early disclosure if my "over $100 donors" were okay with it. 

I've now heard back,  and each of them is fine with me providing this disclosure early.

All of my donations, to date, are from friends and family. I made a promise not to take any corporate or union donations and I have (of course!) kept it. I would also like to be unequivocally clear, that I do not have access to any political party lists or other lists of potential donors. I have not got financial backing of any sort (or any other backing) from any party affiliated politician or their organization / support systems. I do have help and support from former Trustees. 

So far I have received $864 in total donations in amounts of $100 or less. Quite a few others have pledged to send something. 

I have received a total of $3,200 in donations in amounts over $100.

$200 from Carol Bazinet, Calgary, AB

$250 from Wayne Herbert, Edmonton, AB

$1,000 from Kathy Krug, Calgary, AB

$250 from Brad Law, Edmonton, AB

$1,000 from Jack and Irene Peltier, Calgary, AB

$500 from Denise Watts, Calgary, AB

I will update this, should further donations over $100 be received. 

All expenses not covered by these donations will be self-funded. 

Let me know if you have any questions. 

 

 You should know where the money is coming from!

You should know where the money is coming from!

Q & A - Choice

Answers to Parents for Choice in Education Questionnaire

I was not comfortable with the "yes" "somewhat" or "no" choices for the questions that were asked on a survey that was sent to me by Parents for Choice in Education. So I did not submit an official response. However, I am happy to share my comments. My first comment is: 

I'm in favour of choice! Generally speaking, parents are in the best place to make choices for their children! 

Trustee Candidate Name: Sara Peden

School District: Calgary – Public (Calgary Board of Education – CBE)

Specific Ward/Area (if applicable): 12 & 14

Trustee Candidate Website: www.sarapeden.ca

 Q1 – Do you agree that all education laws, school board policies and best practices in Alberta should comply with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Family Law Act when it comes to the right of parents to direct, and be fully informed about, all aspects of their children’s education?  

I think your question is trying to get at whether parents should be notified about students joining clubs, such as GSAs. In my opinion, GSAs aren't part of children's education in this context. I believe that if parents want to know if their children have joined a club at school they are best advised to ask their child. School personnel should not get in between parents and their children regarding conversations about clubs they should join.

Q2 –  Do you agree that the Alberta government should maintain current levels of funding to support a wide range of educational choices, including public, Catholic, independent, faith-based schools, charter and alternative schools, and all forms of home education? 

I would prefer to see education funding increased for all students. I believe every school aged child should be funded, wherever they attend school.

Q3 – Currently, provincial legislation requires that parents be provided notice when a program of study includes subject-matter that deals primarily and explicitly with religion or human sexuality (School Act, section 50.1). Do you agree that this notice and opt-out opportunity should continue to be provided? 

I do not see a need for any change to the School Act regarding this matter, at this time, but parents should not expect that all matters/discussions which may arise related to religion or human sexuality can be predicted by teachers. Notification should be understood to be about planned activities intended to teach about religion or human sexuality. Parents should not expect that their children will never be exposed to any such conversations in public schools.  

Q4 – Do you agree that curriculum development must be transparent and focused on clearly defined and foundational basic skill outcomes in core subject areas? 

Curriculum development is far too complex for these questions to be answered without a great deal more context and specificity about your concerns. I do believe that curriculum should not be explicitly designed as a tool for social engineering or to drive specific beliefs held by only certain segments of our society (if that is the concern expressed by this question).

 Q5 – Do you agree that high quality standardized testing must be used to ensure education accountability is maintained for students who are covering Alberta curriculum? 

There are all kinds of tools that could be captured under the category of high quality standardized tests. Tests are not “valid” or “invalid” they are valid or invalid for specific purposes. Need to be more specific before this question can be answered. I am fully in favour of accountability using objective measures. 

Q6 - When it comes to communicating student progress for Grades 7-12, would you agree that an objective and clear reporting system of percentages and class averages (as opposed to descriptive terms only) is important? 

%ages and class averages have the potential to be just as subjective as qualitative reporting methods (albeit appearing more objective). The issue is much more about whether parents are given information (reporting) that actual provides meaningful reflection of student progress. That is different from the question asked. Generally speaking, however, I think the 4 point scale is not giving parents the level of detail that they prefer and comments are frequently written in language that is not parent friendly.  This must change.

Q7 –  Do you agree parents should be permitted to choose the location, type and style of education (i.e. home-based, language, interest, faith-based, etc.) that best suits their child, free of bureaucratic, union or government coercion? 

Without knowing what you mean by bureaucratic, union or government coercion, I can’t answer this question.  See my general comments about choice and my Facebook post at https://www.facebook.com/SaraJPeden/posts/1422459181207625 where I note that I am fully in favour of choice. When there are choices available within the public schools they must be equally accessible to all, not based on ability to pay.

Q8 – In the Spring of 2017 it was revealed that an organization in charge of a government recommended website was linking children to sexually graphic material, resulting in a severe violation of public trust and the endangerment of children. Do you agree those involved should be removed from authority and access to children in Alberta schools?

This question troubles me because it can’t possibly be answered without knowing exactly what is meant by “sexually graphic material”. And yet you have not provided any information which would allow a reasonable person to know if you are trying to inflame emotions or if there is a legitimate concern. Sorry - can't comment. 

 

 Parents are in the best position to make choices and decisions for their children. 

Parents are in the best position to make choices and decisions for their children. 

Door-knocking conversation

Last night I spoke to a CBE teacher who has been part of the Literacy Strategy teacher cohort.  She, along with a group of other teachers havehad the opportunity to participate in ongoing professional development sessions. 

She reported that the professional development sessions promote, almost exclusively, literacy learning in a social context (i.e. not independent learning). While she noted that there have been some very useful 'take aways' from this (she wan't by any means panning it entirely), she also used the term "you have to drink the Kool-Aid".

"Drinking the Kool-Aid" was in reference to the ideology behind everything being promoted. There is one philosophy of education to which all teachers are expected to align (constructivist philosophy). She worries about the de-emphasis (to the point of discouraging) on explicit instruction, Her own expertise tells her that there are places where direct, explicit instruction is required for optimal student learning. Her philosophy fits with the science of reading (need for direct, systematic instruction in phonemic awareness/phonics/vocabulary) but is not well valued in the CBE. 

So - there is a literacy strategy that doesn't refer to reading and requires teachers to "drink the Kool-Aid". This needs to change. It can, with the right Board of Trustees, who are able to develop policy and expected results, and to monitor them effectively. 

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An introduction to the science of reading.

If you have about 40 minutes and want to get a very thoughtful summary of what is known about reading and why there is some controversy over how it is taught, I think this is an excellent podcast.

Professor Daniel Willingham on why teaching phonics remains so controversial and how we motivate children to read

 

Public Input

How does CBE know what parents and the public want?

In the 2015/16 school year CBE Administrators developed a Literacy Strategy. At the time, there was no public or parent input. Parents were told that there had recently been a great deal of engagement, and that there was a desire not to overload the public with too many requests for input. 

Parent/public engagement was promised for the following year. It didn't happen. There is still no mention of it on the website. Interestingly, in the meantime, a K-12 Math Strategy was developed with public input. Sadly, the parent input was just not particularly well reflected in the resulting Strategy. (See Blog post of Sept 13).

Why has there been no public input yet? Perhaps because CBE Administrators are quite aware that parents are going to want a different kind of Strategy. They will want to know which children are having difficulty with reading. Parents and the public might want resources devoted to support children who most need help in learning to read. They might not think that providing joyful experiences is sufficient. With provincial Student Learning Assessments becoming optional, parents are going to want some kind of objective measure of their child's reading skills. 

I don't think that all the leaders downtown are currently prepared to provide what parents want with respect to Reading. Luckily, a new Board of Trustees will be able to work with their Chief Superintendent to provide him the backing and the support he needs to require his entire senior team to be truly responsive to what parents want.

And so now the public will speak at the ballot box. An election is the ultimate public input. The Trustees who will be responsible for monitoring the system will be chosen by you. Do you want someone who knows about reading (and math)? Do you want someone who has background in assessment and measurement and can make sure we do a good job monitoring?

This election will determine the quality of the oversight you will have for the next 4 years. Please consider my skills and background on October 16th and get out to vote!

 Are students getting the solid foundation in reading that they need? Too many parents are having to turn to private assessments and tutoring, It doesn't need to be this way!

Are students getting the solid foundation in reading that they need? Too many parents are having to turn to private assessments and tutoring, It doesn't need to be this way!

Where is Reading in the CBE Literacy Strategy?

I'm going to write a few blog posts between now and the election about reading. I have lots to say about CBE's Literacy Strategy I'll break my thoughts into chunks, and share 'bit by bit'.

Warning!

You can expect to see some pointed criticism of the Literacy Strategy. I think that's okay, since together, we can influence needed change. I am not just criticizing but offering solutions. I will be part of new Board of Trustees that accomplishes what the public wants - such as virtually every child learning to read. 

The various Strategies developed by CBE Administration are contained within the Three Year Education Plan. The Board of Trustees approves these plans. The new Board of Trustees will have the opportunity to exercise some influence over this Strategy (and others).

At first glance the Literacy Strategy might look fine. It has lots of positive emotion. It's "aspirational" in tone. It suggests we'll reach great heights! Who doesn't want joy for children?

Careful analysis however, leaves lots of room for concern. The biggest problem for me is that in my opinion it isn't very strategic.  

I think that a strategy should be a set of inter-related plans. When put into action (and adjusted as needed) those plans should efficiently get us to a particular "big picture" goal. There should be no question what the goal is, or what will be needed to get to the goal. 

CBE wrote this "outcome" for the Literacy Strategy:

Each CBE student will participate in intentional, joyful literacy learning and progress and achieve in their learning programs

So let me ask you this? If each CBE student did participate in intentional, joyful literacy learning but progressed and achieved at a slower pace than they currently are, would the strategy be successful? 

How much progress and achievement does this outcome aim for? 

Now, you might think that I'm just being picky. Surely the specifics must come later, right? Well, I'll write more next time, once you've had a chance to read the Literacy Strategy which is found at pages 7 & 8 of the 2016-2019 Three Year Education Plan which I've linked for you. Do please notice however, that the measures of Achievement are the same as we've been using for many years. There are no new specific measures or targets in the Strategy itself. 

So - a couple of things for you to wonder about before my next post.

First, where do you see specific mention of reading? (I can't find it)

Next, how we will know if students are getting what they need for reading? (I don't see any way to tell, do you?)

Third, what does the strategy tell you about about which students do or do not need additional support in Literacy? (No targeting of assistance to those who need it - just broad strokes.)

Fourth - how parent and public friendly is the language. Is it written in plain English and obviously meant to be easy to understand? Just because it is a document primarily for educators, does that mean it needs to be written so that it isn't easily readable by others?

And finally - what public input do you think has been used in developing this Strategy? (Hint - the answer is none!)

Until next time - I encourage you to look at the strategy and decide if it has the ring of common sense and "getting us where we need to go". Is it a solid map for teachers and parents?

And please, don't forget to research all your candidates and decide who will represent your concerns the best. Who has the knowledge of both governance and learning to speak for you. Please plan to vote on October 16th!

 Where is Reading in the CBE Literacy Strategy?

Where is Reading in the CBE Literacy Strategy?

What do you think a Literacy Strategy should look like?

CBE developed a Literacy Strategy. Does it match your expectations?

Here is the "Outcome" of the strategy:

Outcome: Each CBE student will participate in intentional, joyful literacy learning and progress and achieve in their learning programs.

So, before I comment further in this Blog (which I plan to do quite soon) please would you share your thoughts? 

I expect an outcome to describe the state of affairs after the strategy has been enacted.

Do you? Please comment!

You will find the CBE Literacy Strategy on pages 7 & 8 of the 2016-2019 Three Year Education Plan that I linked for you. 

Click on the blue title of this post and the Comments box will magically appear at the bottom of this post! I'm eager to hear your thoughts. 

 

 

             What does literacy look like for you? 

           What does literacy look like for you? 

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