Monday, October 30, 2017


In September, 2016, we wrote about the impressive results of the first year of the Boise Pre-k program; 83% of students who attended the Pre-k program were at "grade level" or "ready to read" when they entered kindergarten, as opposed to half of those who did not participate in the program.

The Boise Pre-k program is a collaborative venture among the Boise District, the city of Boise, the United Way, Micron Foundation, and other community partners. Two outstanding teachers, Sheila Dengler-Shaw and Grace Ruddy, teach two sessions each of the program at Whitney and Hawthorne, respectively. Each of the two schools have high percentages of students who qualify for the federal free/reduced lunch program.

Year 2 Results

Here are the combined results for Whitney and Hawthorne Pre-k students on the Fall 2017 Idaho Reading Indicator, along with "ready to read" percentages for students not enrolled in the Pre-k program and the Boise District as a whole.

Year 1 Cohort - Mobility and Spring Kindergarten Results

Of the first year cohort, only 60% (24) of the 44 Pre-k enrollees who took the fall Kindergarten IRI in 2016 are still at Hawthorne and Whitney. As we wrote previously, high-poverty schools are typically high-mobility schools, as well. Of the 20 who are in different schools, 6 are enrolled in other Boise bench elementary schools, and 14 have moved out of the Boise District.

Among the 30 students who were enrolled in Boise Schools during kindergarten, here's the IRI data for fall and spring of the 2016-17 school year:

So, 2 students from the first cohort went from scores of "3" on the IRI  to a score of "2" in the spring. However, 3 students moved from a score of "1" (intensive) to a score of "2". The percentage of first cohort "3" scores remained higher than that of the total percentage at the two schools.

First Year Cohort First Grade Results 

We are currently undertaking an analysis of Fall 1st grade scores for the first cohort of Pre-k students. We are concerned about how the "summer slide", decline in reading performance over the summer, has affected students from the Pre-k project. We know that, in the past, students from low-income schools often have made dramatic gains during the school year, only to see the gains disappear during the summer.

Sunday, October 8, 2017


Findings from educational research drive instruction in the Boise School District. The District's comprehensive professional development program includes research-based strategies such as 

WICOR (Writing, Inquiry, Collaboration, Organization, and Reading to Learn), the basis for AVID and many district-wide practices
Engaging Qualities - research from the late Philip Schlecty, author of numerous research articles and "Working on the Work" and the promotion of an engaging culture in classrooms.
Depth of Knowledge - Dr. Norman Webb, explores cognitive complexity, transfer of knowledge, forming generalizations, and background knowledge, among other issues in teaching.
Growth Mindsets, Dr, Carol Dweck, exploring fixed and growth mindsets, and how they affect teaching and learning.
Mathematical Mindsets, Dr. Jo Boaler, Stanford researcher and professor

These are just a sampling of the programs provided for Boise teachers. Many other content-specific opportunities are also available as well. 

However, the foundation for professional development in the District is the work of two acclaimed educational researchers, Dr. Richard Dufour and Dr. Robert Marzano.

Dufour, who passed away in 2017, was the acclaimed principal of Stevenson High School in Illinois, and later Superintendent of the Lincolnshire District. His work on development of collaborative cultures in schools is highlighted in "Professional Learning Communities at Work: Best Practices for Enhancing Student Achievement", the basis for the development of "PLC" teams at schools across the country. The Boise District has embraced the PLC concept, and provided important district-wide training in the development of collaborative culture. In Praise of American Educators, his 2015 book, is viewed as a classic among educators already. Here is a short video featuring Dufour.

Marzano's book Classroom Instruction that Worksthe basis of much professional development in the District and across the country, and his Nine High-Yield Instructional Strategies are research-based practices in regular use by our teachers. Marzano is among the most respected educational researchers in the field.

Marzano's work has yielded some similar recommendations to that of John Hattie, whose 2009 book Visible Learning revealed the results of a massive "meta-meta-analysis" of over 800 studies, and provided a list of practices identified as most effective, using an "effect-size" analysis. 

For example, Marzano identifies "Cooperative Learning" as an important strategy as does Hattie. "Remediation Feedback" as identified by Hattie is similar to "Setting Objectives and Providing Feedback" from Marzano , and "Concept Mapping" in Hattie's work is similar to Marzano's "Nonlinguistic Representations".

Hattie emphasizes Spaced Practice, which is  "frequency of different learning opportunities; three to four exposures to learning over several days before learning occurs, and spacing the practice of skills over a long period of time". One of Marzano's strategies is "Homework and Practice" on a regular basis. Boise teachers use these methodologies on a regular basis.

Of course, any research is subject to criticism as to specific conclusions the researcher draws. For example, Hattie's research methodology, evidence, and conclusions have drawn fire from researchers  (here and here, for example), and Marzano's evaluation system has been the subject of ire from some writers; however, both are respected researchers.

Research-Based Strategies and Instructional Time

It's important to note that effective use of the strategies recommended by educational researchers is dependent on other factors, one of which is time. Each of the strategies is designed to facilitate maximal use of classroom instructional time. The District's Calendar Committee recommended with its calendar proposal to increase instructional time in the second semester by almost two weeks. Even though several of those days are now taken up by SBAC testing, effective use of the strategies will provide additional essential learning time for Boise students.

A Note on the "Summer Slide"

In our last post, we wrote about "summer slide" and its effects on students, particularly on struggling readers. For those who want to learn more about the phenomenon and what to do about it, here are two articles:

1) Richard Allington, author of "Summer Reading: Closing the Rich/Poor Achievement Gap"
 responds to questions about "Summer Slide". in this interview from the School Library Journal.

As Allington notes:

"We also know that children from low-income families routinely lose two to three months of reading proficiency every summer while middle-class children gain about a month. This creates a three to four month gap every summer. From grade one to nine children from low-income families lose two or more years of reading proficiency, during the summers when school is not in session."

2) "How to Prevent Summer Learning Loss"  is a blog post by Valerie Strauss, author of the Answer Sheet in the Washington Post. Here Linda B. Gambrell, Distinguished Professor of Education in the Eugene T. Moore School of Education at Clemson University, and former president of the International Reading Association answers questions about the topic.

Monday, October 2, 2017


Each year, the Boise School District Calendar Committee recommends a calendar for the following school year to the Board of Trustees at their regularly scheduled October 9 Board Meeting.  

This past year, as part of that process, the Calendar Committee looked at the potential of adopting a calendar that would end the first semester prior to the Winter Holiday Break and the school year prior to the Memorial Day weekend.  This proposal was made for a number of reasons, including but not limited to:

  • Students would be able to complete End of Course Assessments prior to their break, allowing them to rest and not worry about studying for finals or completing projects;
  • Students would get a fresh start for second semester after the break.
  • Teachers would be able to be more efficient with instruction, preventing the need in January to re-teach material due.
  • Allow students to have more days of instruction before standardized and Advanced Placement testing in the spring;
  • Mirror what is done at most colleges and universities with first semester ending before Winter Holiday Break and second semester starting after;
  • Eliminate days from the District Calendar that traditionally have poor attendance. The District’s traditional calendar ends the school year in early June.  By ending school prior to Memorial Day weekend, we ensure that we receive maximum funding from the State for instructional purposes.

After careful consideration of more than 11 versions of potential calendars, the Calendar Committee surveyed staff, parents and patrons to gauge their level of support for the new calendar.  We wrote about the results of that survey in our June 13, 2017 blog post.  In summary, the results of the poll showed that 85% of Boise District patrons and staff were in favor of a proposal in which first semester would end prior to the Winter Holiday Break and the school year would end the weekend before the Memorial Day holiday.  The survey included responses from 4,991 individuals,  1,706 of which were Boise School District staff and and 3,285 that were from patrons and parents.

With this response, the calendar committee proceeded with developing a 2018-2019 school year calendar that would accomplish the very clear objective of ending the first semester prior to the Winter Holiday Break.  

Support for Ending the First Semester Prior to the Winter Holiday Break, but Not for an Earlier Start Date
During the course of the summer, an online campaign titled Save Idaho Summers was started by a water park in Meridian, to oppose an earlier August start date.  Following the start of that campaign, the District began receiving feedback from constituents opposed to the new calendar.  As a result of that feedback, the District launched an online public comment page on our website in August and held two focus groups in September. While it was clear that there was considerable support for ending the first semester prior to the Winter Holiday Break, many patrons did not want to start the school year earlier.

A Compromise Calendar Developed

With that in mind, the Boise School District Calendar Committee has proposed a modified calendar that will allow us to respect the overwhelming support to end the first semester prior to the Winter Holiday Break, yet maintain the traditional school start date after the third weekend in August.

We were able to accomplish this by:

  • Eliminating the October In-Service Days and making those days instructional days.
    • In considering this change, it is important to remember that the state does not mandate in-service days. Historically, many schools have set aside the first Thursday and Friday of October for staff development to allow their staff to attend regional and state in-service meetings.
    • Moving forward, staff who want to attend state conferences on those days will be able to submit for a professional leave day.

  • Adding two teacher contract days, dedicated to classroom preparation and professional development, prior to the start of school to offset the loss of October In-Service day.

  • Establishing a calendar that has fewer days in the first semester than the second semester.
    • A slightly longer second semester will increase instructional days previously lost to end-of-year activities and to mandated standardized testing.

In reviewing several alternatives, the Calendar Committee believes that the latest proposed calendar contains many benefits for students, including:

  • Optimizes instructional time in October by providing more consistency in instructional days
  • Protects the full week of Thanksgiving Break. Experience shows that by only taking two and half days at Thanksgiving results in poor attendance due to families traveling and would not be beneficial from an instructional or financial point of view.
  • Ends the school year prior to the Memorial Day weekend

Suggestion to Start School After Labor Day Raises Serious Concerns

After the District released information regarding the compromise Calendar, some patrons insisted that the District adopt a calendar that starts the school year after Labor Day.  In order to accomplish this, the District  would have to lengthen the school day or extend the school year later into June. There are a number of reasons why this idea raises concerns:

  • Loss of educational information -- according to the National Summer Learning Association, students can lose up to three months of Math and Reading skills over the course of the summer (often referred to as “Summer Slide”). Extending the length of the Summer Vacation worsens this issue and has a disproportionate impact on our most vulnerable students.  

  • Increased financial burden for parents -- extending the length of the summer has a significant financial impact on parents who pay for daycare during the summer months.

  • Loss of safety and security -- for many of our students, school is the safest place they can go. Longer summer breaks are not in the best interest of students living in poverty for a number of reasons, including access to healthy and reliable breakfasts and lunch programs.

  • Reduction in quality instructional time -- starting after Labor Day reduces the number of instructional days students have prior to end-of-year state controlled testing dates (ISAT and IRI) and College Board mandated Advanced Placement (AP) exam dates.  Extending school into mid-June would result in a significant amount of instructional time taking place after those exams.

Thanks to the work of our staff and the input from our parents, we believe that the Board will be able to consider a proposed calendar that truly has the best interests of our students -- of all backgrounds -- and our community as a whole, in mind.