Board members and the chief academic officer said at the board of education business meeting Monday more information is needed in determining a return of investment for adding a special type of teacher to reduce class sizes and boost individual attention.
Chief Academic Officer Maria Navarro said that although return of investment can be complicated for so-called focus teachers, the strategy is generating the right kind of discussion regarding Montgomery County Public Schools.
“I think if anything else the ROI process pushes people’s conversations at a deeper level than before, so I think at a minimum it is guiding people’s questions based on data or … guiding next steps based on data, and so we always to kind of continue that sort of data-driven decision making in our schools,” Navarro said.
Navarro presented academic data on students in schools that received focus teachers for select math and English courses two years ago.
Navarro and Kimberly Statham, deputy superintendent of teaching, learning and programs, said some of the secondary schools that were selected to receive new focus teachers in English and in mathematics showed improvement.
With regard to return on investment, board member Rebecca Smondrowski said it is important to consider focus teachers in this case as well as other elements that may have led to improvement in student academic performance.
“I just think the information is important in how we evaluate what we’re doing and how we evaluate what other outside forces may be contributing to our kids,” Smondrowski said.
Smondrowski said there is not a definitive way to find out the student perspective on what influenced their improvement in a math or English class.
“As I think we’ve kind of all expressed, that’s one of those things about this particular area of discussion; it’s not an exact science,” Smondrowski said. “When it comes to student learning, there are so many distinct variables that have an impact on kids’ failures or successes.”
Smondrowski said she would like to hear from students about what may have contributed to their grade improvement following the addition of focus teachers.
Smondrowski said students could be asked about whether they are taking their math course for the first time, if they are making use of supports either within MCPS or outside the system, such as a tutoring program offered by MCPS or Saturday school.
“Those are all really important factors, and those are all great things we have available to our students, and so just trying to incorporate that into the equation, I think, is really important,” Smondrowski said.
Navarro said that currently utilization of student answers on that information is a matter of making connections between information from different sources.
“We have that information,” Navarro said. “The question is making all the links for a sort of, ask of a specific student versus a group of students.”
Navarro said executive staff need to do more analysis on data from the two years of adding focus teachers, fiscal years 2014 and 2015.
Board member Christopher Barclay said he would like to see studies of the effectiveness of multiple initiatives on the same group of students.
“My issue is really specific,” Barclay said. “The impact of multiple initiatives on students.”
Barclay said he would like to see what combination of initiatives or investments in a school shows results in a group of students and not so much what combination proves to be effective for one child.
“Not necessarily the individual student what did they, how did they do, but the combination of resources that we may provide for a student. Does that help a particular type of student?” Barclay said.
Barclay said that once schools have observed improvement in most students who receive a combination, he hopes this finding can be shared with other schools in a similar quartile.
“If we see that these combinations have worked, when we look at (what) school has ‘X’ situation, here are things that you can combine that can make a real difference as opposed to one single initiative,” Barclay said.
Barclay said that specific student cases could be helpful but that the board of education will only look at the effectiveness of a strategy as it is applied to a group of students.
“It may be individual schools look at individual kids, but when it gets to us, it will be, you know, 20,000 kids,” Barclay said.
Barclay said individual schools would look into the effectiveness of combinations of investments on students and then associate superintendents would share the schools’ findings with deputy superintendent of school support and improvement and the associate superintendent of secondary schools.
“It would start with the principals, because they are the ones who will lead the school relative to their school improvement plan and the specifics of those individual students, but then there’re the associate superintendents who are responsible for those schools, those directors of school performance. They’ll be the ones who will get that data in. And ultimately if it’s secondary school it will go to Dr. (Darryl) Williams, and if it’s elementary it’ll go to Dr. Kimberly (Statham).”