Dr. Meria Carstarphen Q&A in Atlanta Magazine

August 8, 2014

Atlanta Public School Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen answered a series of questions for the Atlanta Magazine. Among the topics discussed were her accomplishments in Austin, high stakes testing, changes she wants to make in APS and the influence of the business community.

The following are some excerpts, but please read the whole thing here:

On high stakes testing –  [In Austin] We were no longer focused on getting students to regurgitate answers on the state assessment, but we focused on whole-child development; social and emotional learning;…While testing was important and had high-stakes consequences, the test should still be the afterthought.

On educational outcomes in Austin – Outcomes were great. We had an all-time high graduation rate. The last official count was 82.5 percent, but I am certain that as we finish out the 2013 numbers, it will be at least 84 percent. The dropout rate will also be at an all-time low.

For two consecutive years… high school attendance topped 90 percent. That was a big first for the district … We can’t teach the students if they’re not in class.

On organizational changes – I’m going to have to make some aggressive changes in organization …we still don’t have an accountability, compliance, and testing office to monitor what we’re doing. That will be established.

 Other functions need to be put in places where people “own” the systems. The student data system and special education…How do we make sure that instead of blaming and pointing fingers, we get people the support they need?

…we have to make some core organizational changes that will allow us to actually restart in some areas.

On the influence of the business community – Your position or influence won’t matter. There’s only one group that I feel like I answer to, and that’s the children of Atlanta. At the end of the day, my decision-making is always about them.

I will assume that her accomplishments in Austin – including the improved graduation rates and attendance – will become the longer term objectives for APS. It is also important to understand what the starting point is – we should know in the next couple of months as many academic and other metrics  will be published as part of the Balanced Scorecard.

There is no question that Carstarphen has her work cut out for her and, as she noted in the article, there will be some pain as the organization undergoes structural and cultural changes. But if she can attain the targets she achieved in Austin over the next several years, the pain will soon be forgotten.

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Part 2 – Three opinion pieces in the AJC – Meria Carstarphen, Ed Johnson and Maureen Downey

August 2, 2014

The Atlanta Journal Constitution published three opinion pieces today and the authors include Atlanta Public School Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, business consultant and former Board of Education candidate Ed Johnson and AJC Get Schooled blog author Maureen Downey. All three are a must read in their entirety as APS is about to start a new school year this coming Monday, August 4th.

Ed Johnson headshotThe following is part two of a three-part series (see part 1 here) and contains some excerpts from Ed Johnson’s opinion piece titled “Fix Atlanta schools from the inside out” (behind pay wall):

The reality that Atlanta Public Schools still requires meaningful improvement has been quite obvious for a long while.

Clearly, APS’ improvement by “urban school reform” ideology failed, horribly so, predictably so. The failure ultimately showed up as a culture of cheating. APS today is as much two systems in one – one white, one black, with black lagging – as it was in 1999, when Beverly Hall became superintendent.

But to focus on APS’ failure to improve is to focus on what is not working for APS. It is more useful to focus on what will work. And to focus on what will work for APS is to first settle the one essential question: What is APS’ purpose?

Necessarily, APS’ purpose must be native to APS rather than be adopted from interests outside APS. Only APS’ own purpose can take account of local human, cultural, social, and economic variety. Then, the need to improve APS can be offered as transforming APS to realize its purpose tomorrow better than it did today.

To improve APS with purpose in mind also requires knowing about kinds of transformation, whether transformation of place, time, form, or state.

Arguably, pressures to transform APS in terms of place, time, and form invariably originate with external interests as their behaviorist designs to fix APS from the outside in. By acquiescing, APS allows its purpose to be, by default, the collection of status quo-keeping purposes of the external interests.

However, only transformation of state brings to Dr. Carstarphen the servant leadership challenge to provide for APS to continually experience meaningful improvement from the inside out, with purpose in mind.

After all, genuine education happens from the inside out, never from the outside in.

Johnson’s prescription of working from the “inside out” dovetails nicely with Carstarphen’s “move from focusing on what’s wrong to what’s strong”. Both approaches strive to find strengths within the system and then to build on this core to create an environment focused on improving real and sustained educational outcomes.

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A graphical review of APS CRCT performance – limited or no improvement

June 27, 2014

The GA Department of Education released the 2014 CRTC results for both the State as a whole and for each district. It has been previously noted that there was little change in the results from prior years and the APS substantial lag behind the state average remains.

Below are graphs for the CRCT reading and math results for the third, fifth and eighth grades. As you can see, there is some up and down movement, but it is all within a very narrow range indicating that the results have stagnated with little or no improvement over the last three years.

FY14 3g CRCT

Both third grade reading and math mirror the state results, however, the APS reading results are 6.8 points lower than the state and the math scores are in the 14-15 point range lower than the State.

FY14 5g CRCT

For the fifth grade, the State reading results have an upward trend, but it is relatively small over the last two years. On the other hand, APS fifth grade reading results bounced back from a low in FY13, but the gap between the State and APS widened slightly and now stands at 5.8 points. The APS results in math also bounced back from last year, but the gap between the State and APS results widened to 11.6 points as compared to FY12.

FY14 8g CRCT

The State eighth grade reading scores are on a slightly upward trend over the last two years. Again, APS eighth grade reading scores bounced back from last years results but the gap between APS and the State widened slightly as compared to FY12. In math, APS increased the scores from last year, but only came back to the level achieved in FY12 and the gap between APS and the State increased to 12.1 points.

Overall, not much changed. Probably the best that can be said is that the poorer performance seen in FY13 was reversed to some degree, but the gaps between the State and APS results remain significant.

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GA Department of Education releases APS results on CRCT exams

June 25, 2014

The GA Department of Education today released the individual school district CRCT exam results and the Atlanta Public School district showed little to no improvement over last year.

The AJC reports,

The percentage of Atlanta Public Schools students passing high-stakes state reading and math tests in grades 3, 5, and 8 in general showed little change this year compared to last. That largely mirrors the two-year statewide trend.

APS passing rates in math continue to lag significantly behind passing rates for reading. That’s also in line with statewide trends. This year, nearly a quarter of APS 5th graders failed the state math test, compared to about 10 percent in reading.

And APS passing rates for non-high stakes tests—social studies, science, and English language arts—are significantly below those for reading and math. 

APS Testing and Assessment Director Joe Blessing said. “We’re pleased with our improvement over three years. But Atlanta public schools definitely has a long way to go.”

For the specific results by grade level, go here.

The AJC also reported that the results for each school will be issued in July.

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