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INFORMATIONAL LETTER NO.  46
POLICY CODE:  IKF

 

TO:                  Superintendents (Please forward to all school principals, administrators and
                        teachers)

FROM:            Susan A. Gendron, Commissioner

DATE:             October 6, 2005

RE:                   SAU Review: Outlined Findings from Pilot Sites and Adjustments to/Guidance on the Protocol and Day's Schedule

Now that we've completed all five (5) pilot SAU review visits, I'd like thank all the pilot sites, their private school colleagues, and the members of the DOE Review Teams for the pilot sites for the very helpful start to this process that they have provided for all of us.  I'd also like to follow up on Informational Letter # 40 (September 23, 2005) with a final summary of our findings and the minor adjustments  to the process and schedule for the day's visit that we have made as a result of what we learned from the pilot process.  The revised "Protocol" is available on the Department's website at the following address:  http://www.maine.gov/education/edletrs/2006/ilet/06ilet046protocol.pdf and a hard copy of this revised version, marked "REVISED", will be sent to you.  As noted earlier, there are no changes to the self-assessment tool itself.

Most significantly, we learned that the SAUs found the compilation of evidence helpful to them in assessing their own status on this work; they also appreciated the visit from the Department of Education Team, both as a demonstration of the Department’s interest and as another way to focus on their work, their next steps, and needed technical assistance.

Our learnings, and our responses, can be summarized concisely as follows:

1. The day was not as focused as it needed to be to ensure useful dialogue.  As a result, we have:

(a) focused the morning on a discussion of Core Standards 1-3, with the survey results on these Core Standards integrated into that discussion -  and I remind you to please be sure to complete the self-assessment (including the Evidence Section and the Focus Questions) and the Self-Assessment Data Collection Form before the visit;

(b) focused the afternoon on a "Concluding Conversation" which covers successes, challenges, sustainability and next steps/technical assistance needs relative to Core Standards 1-3 -  and  I remind you to please be sure to complete the Concluding Conversation Data Collection Form before the visit;

(c) eliminated the discussion of Standards 4-9, though we encourage SAUs to consider Standards 4-9, to ensure a holistic view of the elements of a standards-based system in its own planning conversations, as the SAU continues to build on the work the SAU did for the review visit.

2.  It was unclear to SAUs how best to compile the evidence for their placement on the self-assessment continuum, since the different schools in the SAU may be at different levels of implementation.  As a result, we'd ask that the SAU give priority to a discussion of its written curriculum, sample unit plans and lesson plans, professional development calendars, and other materials that are representative of both the work described in the Indicators related to each of the 3 Core Standards and the various grade spans across the SAU.

The review process is intended to gain information on the status of the implementation of Learning Results and the Local Assessment System across the SAU, not school by school.  However, school specific information is a building block for that overall snapshot of the SAU and can be used in various ways as the self-assessment tool is being completed.  For example, the SAU may gather information and evidence from teachers and administrators at each school in order to create an aggregate profile on the SAU's implementation in relation to the 3 Core Standards; the SAU may want to annotate the self-assessment tool accordingly (e.g., by color coding or notes) as a way of knowing - both for the SAU visit and for future planning - the status of implementation by school. 

3.  The responsibility of the DOE Review Team to make a judgment on the fit of the SAU's evidence with their placement on the self-assessment continuum was difficult to fulfill in the time available.    As a result, we have eliminated the judgment of the DOE Review Team; instead, the DOE Team will engage in a dialogue with the SAU Team on their morning presentation of evidence on Core Standards 1-3 in support of the SAU's placement on the self-assessment, in order to help identify technical assistance needs with the SAU in the afternoon.  This approach is consistent with the clarified expectations of the Education Committee, and will support the Department’s ability to report on statewide issues and implementation status.

4.  The SAU expected some sort of feedback from the DOE Review Team, even if it were not a judgment of the fit of the evidence with the SAU's placement on the self-assessment continuum.  While we appreciate that SAUs have a strong interest in the Department's feedback during these visits, the DOE Team will be using this time for conversations that deepen the capacity of the SAU to identify their successes, challenges and needs for technical assistance themselves.  The DOE Team will do that through the Focus Questions on the 3 Core Standards and the Concluding Conversation in the afternoon.  There will be a time for Department feedback during the later validation process, which is a separate process that will be conducted next school year and in accordance with criteria that will be uniform and that you will know ahead of time, as these criteria will be part of the amendments to Chapters 125 (school approval) and 127 (diploma requirements).  By waiting to give feedback then, in accordance with specific criteria, we will be able to be consistent, and not arbitrary, in our feedback.

5.  The hour-long discussion of the survey results originally scheduled for late morning was not integrated with the earlier discussion and wasn't scheduled at the best time of day to encourage participation by teachers and principals.  As a result of this finding, and also of the elimination of the DOE Review Team's judgment described in # 2, above, which then eliminated the need for that Team to reach consensus over their working lunch, we have integrated the discussion of the survey results into the morning discussion of Core Standards 1-3 (see # 1, above) and have moved the additional hour for discussion of the survey results to the end of the day of the visit. 

The design of the process is intended to be as inclusive as possible, given the time constraints.  To that end:

(a) the SAU is strongly encouraged to share the Focus Questions (available on the website) for each of the 3 Core Standards (all for Standard 1; all for Standard 2; and questions 3, 5 and 9 for Core Standard 3) with all teachers/principals prior to the visit and to solicit their written feedback on these questions in order that the SAU’s presentation to the DOE Review Team in the morning will include their perspectives;

(b) the SAU is strongly encouraged to share the Concluding Conversation form (available on the website) with all teachers/principals prior to the visit and to solicit their written feedback on the items included there in order that the SAU's Concluding Conversation with the DOE Review Team in the afternoon will include their perspectives;

(c) the last hour of the visit with the SAU will be a discussion with the SAU Team, those who participated in the survey, and any other  teachers/principals on these Focus Questions  [see 5(a), above] related to the 3 Core Standards, and copies of the questions will be made available to the participants by the DOE Review Team so that written feedback on these questions can be provided to the SAU for their own planning purposes.  The DOE Review Team will not collect this information but will facilitate the provision of the information to the SAU by providing handouts of the Focus Questions and conducting the discussion;

(d) the SAU is encouraged to be as inclusive as possible of the perspectives of teachers and principals within the SAU's educational community and to facilitate their participation in the process  - whether the participation be by completing the Teacher/Principal survey, or providing written feedback to the Focus Questions prior to the SAU's visit to inform their self-assessment, or providing written feedback on the items included on the Concluding Conversation form to inform their next steps and assessment of technical assistance needs.  The SAU is also encouraged to hold the day's visit with the DOE Review Team in a place that is convenient to those teachers and principals who may want to participate in the visit at designated times, and to invite them to the last hour of the visit for a discussion of the Focus Questions related to the 3 Core Standards; and

(e) the SAU is encouraged to share with the DOE Team any evidence the SAU may have of other voices in the educational community - for example, students, parents, noninstructional staff, and school board members - both in relation to the morning discussion of the 3 Core Standards and in relation to the afternoon's Concluding Conversation.

6.  Finally, in addition to other very helpful suggestions and insights provided during the pilot process, we will:

(a) post the schedule of SAU Review visits on the website given above;

(b) issue certificates for contact hours for DOE Team members (both DOE staff and external members) for the day of visit only, and we encourage SAUs to consider issuing them for time spent by staff in preparation/participation in the SAU visit;

(c) monitor potential conflicts of interest.  Maine is a small State and we recognize that some DOE Team members - both DOE staff and external members - may have relationships with SAUs that make it more appropriate for them not to be on the DOE Review Team for that SAU's visit.  These may be personal or professional relationships.  There will be guidance provided during training for situations in which a DOE Team member feels that participation on a DOE Review Team for a certain SAU visit would create a conflict or an appearance of impropriety.  They will be advised to alert the DOE Team Chair as soon as the assignment is received, and adjustments will be made by the Department as needed, on a case by case basis.  Additionally, if an SAU Team feels that a member of the DOE Review Team presents a potential conflict of interest (e.g., they know what technical assistance needs they will be reporting and an external member of the DOE Review Team is a provider of those services), the SAU is asked to please alert the DOE Review Team Chair as soon as the SAU receives the names of the DOE Team members assigned to its SAU review visit and adjustments will be made by the Department as needed, on a case by case basis.

(d) create a form called "CONFIDENTIALITY AGREEMENT” that goes in the SAU Review file with the items completed by the SAU for the visit, with 4 signature/date lines at the bottom for the 4 DOE Team member signatures/dates, and which says the following:   

"In the spirit of collaboration with the SAU that is intended by the Department of Education, and consistent with the purpose of the self-assessment by the SAU, I agree to treat the conversation conducted during the SAU review visit as confidential and will refer any questions about the SAU's self-assessment to the SAU, so the SAU Team may speak for itself about the SAU review visit."

We are on schedule to begin the visits on October 17, 2005 - the start date noted in an earlier communication.  We look forward to joining you in this statewide conversation and to having the information it will provide all of us on what is needed to ensure the success of Maine's standards-based system of education, and the success of Maine's students.

If you have any questions, please contact:  Patrick Phillips, Deputy Commissioner at 624-6620 or at:  patrick.phillips@maine.gov