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Six Ways to Maximize Your Medicaid Reimbursement Dollars

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Six Ways to Maximize Your Medicaid Reimbursement Dollars

Sloppy bookkeeping, from records to services provided, can cost your district money.

By Jennifer Robinson

If your school district does not participate in the Medicaid program, you may be missing out on a substantial revenue stream—even if you are a small or rural district. Regardless of size, a key benefit of Medicaid is that it allows districts to recover some of what they’re already spending to provide required services to students.

For districts that are participating, it’s easy to see how much money Medicaid is bringing in, but how do you know if you’re recovering all the money you should? What should you review to identify issues that might be affecting your revenue?

Here are six best practices for maximizing your Medicaid program performance and reimbursement dollars.

  1. Capture data in one central location.

While many things contribute to a district’s Medicaid revenue, one key factor is the way data is captured. When I meet with a district for the first time and ask providers how they document services, I often hear 10 different answers, ranging from spreadsheets to spiral notebooks. Without a seamless way to gather data from each provider, data could be slipping through the cracks. That can result in a disastrous Medicaid program, especially when the district is audited.

One solution is to just say no to paper. One of the biggest contributors to a successful program is the use of an online tool that allows providers to record sessions and document therapy notes in one central location.

  1. Define what success means.

Before a district can improve, it has to start measuring failures and successes. First, define what success means to your district in terms of compliance, revenue, and effort.

  • Is success the amount of revenue received?
  • Is it a successful audit?
  • Is it happy providers?
  • Is it the amount of time your staff spends running the program?

A district should never settle for less than 100-percent compliance. This ensures you won’t have to pay any money back. If you don’t have an online tool to assist with that, create a checklist.

  1. Make sure it’s worth the effort.

Many districts wonder if the Medicaid revenue is worth the extra work they’ll have to do to apply for reimbursement. Similarly, if a district sees a decrease in Medicaid revenue, it may question its participation. Instead, the district should first analyze what caused the decrease to determine if the issues can be resolved.

Here are questions to help determine if it’s worth it to stay in the program and, if so, how your district can do better.

  • Why did we have audit problems? Were we missing required signatures and/or documentation?
  • Why did we have to give money back? Did we bill for services that weren’t eligible?
  • How does this year’s revenue compare to last year’s?
  • How are surrounding districts doing in their Medicaid programs and how do districts close to our size compare?
  • How much money should we be recovering?

Measure the level of effort your staff puts in to recover that revenue. When you ask if it’s worth the effort, the answer should be yes.

  1. Organize and analyze your data.

A district’s data will come from a variety of places, including student information systems, IEP management systems, HR systems, claims reports, and service logs. Once you’ve collected this data, you can slice and dice it in a variety of ways. For example, you can examine:

  • Revenue by month, service, provider class, program, school, students, and school years.
  • Provider activity by service type, provider, month, and students.
  • Claims results by service, denial codes, provider, date, and students.

Now you can start making comparisons. If something doesn’t add up, drill into the details. This will lead to discoveries that will tell the story of your district’s Medicaid program. Once you know what the issues are, you can determine how to address them.

  1. Monitor your program monthly.

To ensure you’re maximizing your reimbursement revenue, monitor your district’s Medicaid program every month.

  • Monitor provider activity. Whether you track this via an online tool, spreadsheet, or paper-based process, look at every provider to make sure they record all services, that their therapy or clinical notes are complete, and their licenses and registrations are current. Examine the types of services they provide, their caseload, number of sessions per student, number of sessions documented, and the dollar amount of claims reimbursed. If services aren’t being recorded, find out why. Or if a provider has drastic differences in their caseload, sessions, or paid claims, you’ll know you need to drill down more deeply to analyze why there are such significant differences.
  • Monitor students. Validate student eligibility, and monitor parental consent and expirations for IEPs, prescriptions, referrals, approvals and pre-approvals. Ensure all students with IEP-related services have documented sessions.
  • Monitor claims. Make certain that what you received is what you expected. If there are differences, research those discrepancies. If claims are being denied, analyze why. Then determine if they can be corrected and resubmitted. Remember that state rule and validation checks should occur before your claims are submitted.
  1. Step back periodically and check your results.

Then, at least twice a year, take a look at your overall district Medicaid program. Mid-year is usually a good time to dig in and look at the data more critically. It’s far enough along to spot issues but early enough to correct them. At the end of the year, analyze the overall success of your program. After you complete your review, implement changes to achieve your goals.

By taking a data-driven approach, you can quickly identify and resolve issues to maximize your Medicaid revenue—and ensure your students are receiving the services they need to achieve their potential.

Jennifer Robinson is the director of Medicaid services for Excent, developer of the Enrich line of software platforms for tracking special population data in K-12 school districts.

The Importance of Recognizing the Unique Roles of Specialized Literacy Professionals

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The Importance of Recognizing the Unique Roles of Specialized Literacy Professionals

The International Literacy Association’s position emphasizes the key qualifications for three different reading positions.

 By Rita Bean

 

As schools strive to meet the demands of more rigorous standards and the resulting shifts in literacy instruction in Pre-K through grade 12, the need for specialized literacy professionals to work with teachers becomes even more urgent. Each school or district, however, must consider its specific literacy needs and goals, as well as its financial resources, to make decisions about which literacy professionals might best suit or align with district efforts to improve literacy.

Recently, the International Literacy Association (ILA) released a position statement describing three distinct roles that schools might consider as they think strategically about how to improve teacher practices and student literacy learning. Understanding the three roles, how each contributes to improvements in literacy learning, and the key professional qualifications for each is indispensable for making sound decisions about which literacy role a school may require.

  1. The reading/literacy specialist’s primary role is to provide instruction for students, especially those who experience difficulty with reading and writing. In schools with large numbers of low-achieving students, the reading/literacy specialist can provide the interventions or supplemental instruction that students need, or they can work collaboratively (e.g., co-teaching, co-planning) with classroom teachers to provide such instruction. Often, reading/literacy specialists have major responsibilities in Response to Intervention programs, where they may teach students and work with a literacy team to decide on specific instructional interventions and grouping patterns. These specialists must have an in-depth knowledge of literacy instruction and assessment; they must also understand how to apply results of assessment measures to inform instructional decision-making. Although these specialized literacy professionals often spend much of their time working directly with students, they also need the facilitation and leadership skills that enable them to work collaboratively with their teacher colleagues and serve as a resource for them.
  2. The literacy coach’s primary role is to support teacher learning and facilitate school-wide literacy program efforts. Schools that have identified a specific need to refine, align, and improve teaching and learning by providing professional learning experiences for their teachers may choose to employ a literacy coach. These professionals can collaborate with individual and/or groups of teachers through coaching to improve classroom, grade-level, departmental, and school-wide literacy teaching and learning. In addition to having an in-depth knowledge of literacy instruction, assessment, and an understanding of how adults learn, literacy coaches must be able to facilitate larger needs assessment and change efforts in the school, which requires advanced leadership skills and an understanding of organizational change. At the secondary level, literacy coaches must be able to work effectively with content-area teachers to support them in improving content learning by integrating disciplinary literacy strategies into their teaching.
  3. The literacy coordinator’s primary role is that of developing, leading, and/or evaluating the school or district literacy program. These specialized literacy professionals generally have multiple school or district responsibilities that include the development and/or management of a comprehensive literacy program in Pre-K through grade 12. They may be asked to collaborate with the principal or another administrator to evaluate the performance of teachers (and specialized literacy professionals such as reading/literacy specialists or coaches). Given their multiple responsibilities, these professionals not only need a strong literacy background and leadership skills but also administrative and supervisory experiences to address overall school change.

    ILA’s position statement was designed to inform school districts, as well as colleges and universities preparing specialized literacy professionals, about the unique distinctions of these three roles. By providing clear descriptions, districts might be better able to decide which professional to hire and what the job description for that professional should include. An overlap in position responsibilities might exist in some districts where financial constraints limit the number of specialized literacy professionals that can be hired. For example, some reading/literacy specialists may have part-time teaching responsibilities and also be asked to provide part-time coaching services to teachers. Likewise, literacy coaches may not only coach teachers but also work with students. In such situations, administrators are urged to consider the unique experiences, skills, knowledge, and dispositions of those employed, and if necessary, provide the professional training that would enable them to better perform in their respective roles. Regardless of the role, the ILA’s position statement says specialized literacy professionals all need “leadership, facilitation, and communication skills to perform effectively in their respective roles and in collaboration with other educators.”

    For more information, go to the accompanying position statement and research brief

    Rita Bean is professor emerita in the University of Pittsburgh School of Education's Department of Instruction and Learning and lead investigator for the research that provided the foundation for ILA's position statement and accompanying brief. The International Literacy Association is a global advocacy and membership organization dedicated to advancing literacy through its network of more than 300,000 literacy educators, researchers, and experts across 75 countries.

Unveiling the New FETC

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Unveiling the New FETC

Annual conference changes name, but not focus.

FETC, the longtime ed tech conference, is changing its name for its January 2016 show, but the conference isn’t changing focus.

FETC, originally stood for Florida Educational Technology Conference, but now the acronym will stand for Future of Education Technology Conference. The show will take place at Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center from January 12 to 15.

The show will spotlight the latest trends that are expected to saturate classrooms nationwide, including game-based learning; flipped learning; 3D printing; maker education; and mobile, online and blended learning.

“These tech trends will affect the future of education,” said Mike Eason, FETC’s general manager. “FETC wants to ensure our attendees are equipped with the knowledge to educate our nation’s 21st century students.”

FETC will feature more than 500 expert-led sessions and workshops and over 400 exhibitors designed to provide pre-K-12 educators and administrators with an opportunity to explore different technologies while increasing their familiarity with the latest devices, hardware, software and successful strategies for student technology integration.

Keynote speakers will include Reshma Saujani, the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, 2014 National Teacher of the Year Sean McComb, and astronaut/scientist Leland Melvin.

To register for FETC 2016 and get information on sessions, presenters, exhibitors, workshops and registration, visit http://fetc.org/. Join the conversation by following the conference on Twitter (@FETC) and using and searching the hashtag (#FETC).

Assessments That Students Actually Like

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Assessments That Students Actually Like

Counter the anti-testing backlash by offering students instant feedback on their work.  By Ron Drabkin

President Obama recently said that our kids take too many redundant tests. It seems that everywhere you look these days assessments are getting a bad rap. Are too many assessments a problem? The issue really centers on high-stakes, end-of-semester tests, not in-class quizzes.

John Gawin, a teacher at University Academy in Kansas City, Missouri, recently switched to online tools for formative assessment. His expectation was that formative assessments would help him personalize instruction. What he didn’t expect was to see students pumping their fists, asking to retake quizzes, even playfully trash talking about their subject mastery in an online chatroom.

Formative assessment is generally regarded as a best practice, effective at boosting student achievement because it informs instruction. It is also becoming increasingly mainstream in U.S. schools, both digitally and by more traditional processes that can include “the thumbs up/thumbs down” method and the use of colored cups to represent students’ understanding. Perhaps it is obvious that any formative assessment process would also involve more student engagement, but the literature to date does not focus on this benefit.

Recently, a host of websites and software programs have been introduced that include formative assessment. The advantage of any prebuilt formative assessment tool is the immediate scoring and data it provides. Teachers, of course, appreciate the data, but students do, too. Many students who use these tools say the scores make tests seem more like a video game. The data—real time feedback—is engaging and motivates learners.

Gawin described the rationale behind his decision to move to online formative assessment. “Using paper worksheets, if you have 20 students, you might get to check in with two students for about a minute or so during a 30-minute activity. So, I thought that using the prebuilt formative assessments (in this case, using OpenEd) would help me guide learning for many more of them.”

He continues, “The ability to automatically score the prebuilt formative assessments in real time empowers the students with instant feedback, creating more self-motivated learners. I have seen students pump their fists in the air after getting a question right after several attempts. I have also noticed that the comment section makes a big difference when it comes to student motivation to reach 100 percent on an assignment. Lately, I have simply posted to the online comment section ‘7 out of 7 is mastery,’ and this has created a firestorm among students online, with comments bragging about their mastery level. One student even tried an assignment several times. This would have never been possible with traditional paper worksheets or homework.”

Formative assessment with data can be done with the use of shared computer labs, shared computers in the classroom, Chromebook carts, and even computers at home. Gawin’s students have periodic access to Chromebooks and most have access at home to technology. For those who don’t, he “simply prints out the formative assessment for the student to do on paper. Not ideal, but it works!”

Any formative assessment—from a simple thumbs up or down to online testing—is effective in guiding instruction. Formative assessments with data are generally more effective and increase student engagement. We look forward to seeing the results of research on this topic.

 

Ron Drabkin (@DrabkinRon) is vice president of marketing at OpenEd. He has worked at JRG Software, where he was cofounder, and JustAnswer. Passionate about education, he also was part of the startup team for the innovative Design Tech High School in Millbrae, California.

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Four Reasons Your Students Should Blog Frequently

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Four Reasons Your Students Should Blog Frequently

Forcing students to reflect improves learning and creates resources that can improve college acceptance.

By George Masamery

On just about any list of the qualities every 21st-century learner must possess, digital literacy sits near the top. However, figuring out how to successfully integrate meaningful lessons that promote digital literacy often has teachers and school districts struggling with a host of questions, including, “Which types of devices and applications should students be using, and how should they be using them?”

The short answer is, “All of them and in a variety of ways.”

True, but that’s not very helpful.

Incorporating digital literacy into our classrooms is something the CTE division of the Phoenix Union High School District has done for years, and we continually strive to improve. About three years ago we adopted the Gaggle Safe Classroom Learning Management System, which gives students access to email, discussion boards, file sharing, collaborative editing, a filtered video search engine called GaggleTube, instant messaging, and more. We saw this as an opportunity to help our students learn how to effectively communicate electronically—something they’ll be required to do in almost any workplace. We also saw it as a way to teach students how to communicate appropriately. However, we needed to figure out the best ways to use the system.

It didn’t take long to conclude that one of the most powerful and versatile tools that the LMS offers is the blog. What sets the blog apart is that it’s a monologue. Nearly every other Internet-based application is a dialogue consisting of multitudes of people chatting, sharing, ROFL-ing, arguing, and so on. These applications require a vigorous back-and-forth, whereas the blog simply requires an owner and his or her own thoughts. An audience for feedback or comments, while desirable, serves mainly as the cherry on top.

Consequently, we’ve been encouraging our CTE students to make posting to their blog a priority.

We’ve identified four major uses for these student blogs.

  1. Student and Class Reflections

Think of all the amazing projects a typical CTE student produces in just a single school year, and the wide variety of experiences they take part in. As the semester and school year wears on, how will the students recall these projects later? Will they remember any of the finer, deeper details of their experiences? Will they remember what they learned while working on their projects? Will there be tangible evidence that the projects even existed?

We ask our students to use their blogs to reflect on what it is they’re doing in the classroom as often as possible, incorporating pictures and video into their posts when appropriate. They reflect on what they learned and mistakes they may have made, and they describe how they might improve their performance the next time.

  1. Exam Review

Students who have kept a detailed blog of reflections throughout the school year have found it to be an invaluable review tool for final exams and for standards assessments.

  1. Reading Reflections

One of the English integration initiatives for CTE in our district requires teachers to incorporate proven reading strategies, such as marking the text, Cornell notes, and key idea/detail as often as possible. We take those strategies a step further by having students address a mix of specific depth of knowledge (DOK) 1 and 2 questions in their blog. They’re encouraged to include hyperlinks to other websites or articles, pictures, and videos to support their answers.

  1. Resource for Employment/Self-Marketing/College Admissions/Scholarships

Anyone familiar with CTE understands how important these programs are for students and how well the curriculum prepares them for success in college, career, and life. Unfortunately, misconceptions, misunderstandings, and prejudices still exist concerning exactly what takes place in CTE classrooms and what types of students are drawn to these programs.

We’ve all probably heard some variation of “Auto shop is where a student goes to learn how to change the oil and fix a flat tire, and cooking class is for students who want to bake cookies and boil spaghetti.”

A great many people—including college admissions officers and potential employers—lack an accurate understanding of what CTE students accomplish and learn in an automotive technologies program or in a culinary arts program.

Now imagine what would happen if a student kept a detailed blog, complete with his or her reflections, pictures, and videos of the great things he or she accomplished in the CTE program. The student could share the blog with a potential employer, providing quick and simple access to a comprehensive and far more realistic view of what the student can do. Scholarship committees, college admissions committees, and even parents can make use of the student’s blog as well.

In the end, helping our students create a positive digital footprint is critical. It’s too easy for students to make bad choices online, and having no footprint at all is no longer acceptable. Each school district will make its own decisions on these matters, but for now, our students will continue to focus on blogging and its many uses in the CTE classroom.

George Masamery is an English Integration Specialist for Career and Technical Education at the Phoenix Union High School District.

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Coding Movement Looks to Grow Past Its Hour of Fame

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Coding Movement Looks to Grow Past Its Hour of Fame

The goal: make computer science a part of more students’ regular day, and less a once-a-year intrusion.

By Wayne D’Orio

Emily Reid had a secret to share to help kick off this year’s Hour of Code. The curriculum director at Girls Who Code had already told the small group of students and parents at Microsoft’s Fifth Avenue store in New York City that she hadn’t taken her first computer science course until she was 19.

But now, away from the crowd, she revealed that when she was first set up with a lab partner, a male, he noticed her inexperience and sniffed, “I thought they were going to match us up with partners of like abilities.”

She was discouraged, but not defeated. Through the help of a mentor and, later, finding clubs that connected her with other women in the field, Reid eventually became not only a computer scientist, but one who has worked to help prevent hackers from infiltrating government systems.

Reid’s experience is why Girls Who Code run both summer camps and after-school clubs that aim to not only introduce computer science to girls but also to encourage them to major in the subject. The New York-based group has helped 10,000 students nationwide after starting with a pilot group of 20 children in 2012. Reid said that of the girls involved in camps and after-school programs last year, 90 percent of them are planning to major in computer science. And that’s after 77 percent of them entered the programs aiming to choose a different path.

For Reid, that’s the kind of progress that makes Hour of Code a great starting point, but just a starting point. Hour of Code, the simple idea that during Computer Science Education Week (this year’s runs December 7-13) each student should learn the basics of coding, has become a worldwide movement, said Code.org founder Hadi Partovi.

The program is expected to reach 10 million children this week alone, stretching across the country and throughout 180 countries, including the Middle East and Russia, says Partovi. “It’s insane,” he said, chronicling the program’s growth in just its third year.

The 16 children at the Microsoft store on Monday worked on a Minecraft tutorial; this year also includes a project with the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens. Other code events in New York included a pep rally at NASDAQ’s MarketSite in Times Square and a visit by Partovi at Apple’s SoHo store. Worldwide, there were 170,000 Code events taking place this week, double the number of last year’s events.

Branching Out

Beyond the flash of this week’s events is Code.org’s work to make computer science a part of all schools. Code.org announced its first partnership with a school district, giving Oakland Unified School District a $10,000 prize. The district will adopt computer science curricula for each grade, explained Partovi, as well as train teachers. Cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, and Las Vegas have said they will add computer science courses, Partovi added. Chicago will make completing one of these courses a high school graduation requirement by 2017. In addition, four states—Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, and Utah—will feature computer science courses throughout their curricula.

In other states, a bill before the Florida legislature could allow students to substitute computer science classes for foreign language courses. There, and in 19 other spots throughout the country, Lenovo partners with NAF, a national network of education, business, and community leaders focused on college and career readiness, to teach students how to design and code a mobile app.

Some measures show American students behind their international peers, but in computer science, said Partovi, that isn’t the case. Americans lead the world in technology companies, and students in this country are ahead of or equal to most of their peers around the world when it comes to computer knowledge.

“Little by little, policymakers are starting to get the message,” said Leonard Ortiz Villacorta, Microsoft’s director of citizenship and public affairs. In a world where everything from data to how money is processed is digital, understanding coding is necessary for each person to live in and contribute to the world, he added.

Photo: Stephen Brashear/AP Images for Microsoft

 

Tech Tools: Software

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Tech Tools: Software

The latest and greatest in education tools.

By Brian Nadel

My Lexia

As if having a school full of notebooks, tablets, and phones wasn’t enough, Lexia Learning has one of the first educational apps for the Apple Watch. Available at the iTunes App Store, it can turn reams of student information into a single cogent screen that summarizes a wide range of student data. lexialearning.com

Sungard eSchoolPlus 4.0

Built around Web-ready HTML5 software, Sungard’s eSchoolPlus 4.0 features a streamlined interface that pushes collaboration among students. Because the software is based online, it not only works with PCs, Macs, Chromebooks, Androids, and iPads, but it also allows teachers to see key student information at a glance with optimized search and reporting features. sungardk12.com

Bing Pulse

Ever want to take the pulse of your class during a lesson? Microsoft’s Bing Pulse lets you do that, with students responding on their phones (Strongly Agree, Strongly Disagree, etc.). Pulse in the Classroom tracks how the class is reacting to the lesson, letting the teacher know on a class-wide basis with an easy-to-read fever chart. It’s still in beta, but Pulse can help bring you and your students closer. pulse.bing.com

Math Upgrade

Math Upgrade Kindergarten can help get kids excited about math with 50 music- and video-filled lessons that are built around activities and games. Everything is brightly colored, interactive, and aligned with the Common Core standards. blog.learningupgrade.com

Apperson Evo

Apperson’s Evo assessment platform can create online quizzes with everything from multiple choice and true-false questions to short answers and essays. The assessments can be administered online, on paper, or by using a combination of the two. apperson.com

Insight AdvanceFeedback

Most recorded classroom visits simply produce a view of what goes on in the classroom. Insight ADVANCEfeedback takes video review a step further with the ability to identify goals and annotate the action. Delivered over the Web, the service works on a variety of platforms, doesn’t require any special software, and costs $95 per user per year after a $3,500 setup fee. InsightEducationGroup.com/AF

Tech Tools: Hardware

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Tech Tools: Hardware

The latest and greatest in education tools.

By Brian Nadel

Asus Chromebook Flip C100

If inexpensive notebooks have been dropping like flies, try Asus’s rugged Flip C100. At 2 pounds, it has a sturdy aluminum skin and 10.1-inch screen that flips over to be a notebook or a presentation machine. Inside is a 1.8GHz quad-core Rock Chip RK3288, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage space.
It sells for $249. asus.com/us

Acer H6517ST

At $800, Acer’s H6517ST shows that a high-definition projector doesn’t have to cost a pair of limbs. Based on a DLP imaging engine, the short-throw projector delivers a five-foot full-HD image from less than two feet away from the screen. Capable of putting more than 3,000 lumens of light on a screen, it will stand up to the brightest day with exceptionally sharp and rich images.
us.acer.com

Polar GoFit H7

Polar’s GoFit H7 exercise sensor and app lets the gym teacher define physical targets for each student and then remotely monitor their heart rates for safety and maximum physical results. Afterward, teachers can view an individual’s or a whole class’s workout data. polargofit.com

Casio ClassWiz fx-991EX

Casio’s ClassWiz fx-991EX is smaller and lighter than a Texas Instruments TI-84 and can perform lots of functions, though it can’t graph on its own. Instead, the calculator displays a QR code that leads to a Web-based graph, ready for students to turn in or the teacher to project. Price: $19.99. casioeducation.com

Boxlight’s DeskBoard 75m

Who says a projector can only beam its images horizontally across the room to a stationary screen? It’s not the case for Boxlight’s DeskBoard 75m, which can be set up as an interactive horizontal desk with the projector above or as a traditional vertical projection surface. With motorized tilt, height adjustment, and wheels, the DeskBoard sells for $6,300, including a P10 projector, a mini-PC, and lesson-planning software. boxlight.com

Toshiba Encore 10K

Built around a bright 10.1-inch screen, Toshiba’s Encore 10K has been designed for teachers and students. At $479, the Windows 10 tablet includes a snap-on keyboard, making it equally good as a slate or a notebook. Inside, the system has an Intel Atom x5 quad-core processor and 64GB of internal storage space, as well as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. toshiba.com

LG Chromebase 22CV241-W

Small and rugged Chromebooks are taking the classroom by storm, but if you think big (really big), LG’s Chromebase 22CV241-W still fits on the desktop. The all-in-one system is quick to set up, and it has a beautiful 21.5-inch screen and built-in speakers. Its Reader Mode reduces the display’s blue cast to decrease eyestrain when working with text. Built around a dual-core Celeron processor, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage, the Chromebase costs $350. lg.com

Steelcase Eno Flex 200

Rather than concentrating exclusively on digital material, Steelcase’s Eno Flex interactive whiteboard lets teachers mix projected material with free-hand drawing. Made of sturdy e3 CeramicSteel porcelain-coated sheet metal, the $2,600 Flex can stand up to daily abuse and includes surprising design touches, like a marker tray and hooks for hanging maps. It can work with up to four of its digital pens at a time. steelcase.com

 Epson WorkForce Pro WF-R4640

Forget about fumbling with expensive and messy ink cartridges every week or two. Epson’s WorkForce Pro WF-R4640 printer instead uses large bags of ink that can deliver up to 75,000 pages and could last the whole school year. Based on Epson’s Precision Core inkjet technology, the WF Pro can pump out 24 pages per minute. Price: $2,000. epson.com

 Microsoft Surface Hub

Microsoft’s Surface 3 and the Pro 3 have a big sister, the wall-size Surface Hub. Able to replace a projector, the huge screen uses a large LCD display, so there’ll never be a shadow on the lesson. Based on a high-performance Windows 10 computer inside along with a pair of webcams, the Hub can connect to systems wirelessly. It should be available in early 2016, but the Hub won’t be cheap, with expected pricing ranging from $7,000 (for an HD 55-inch, 1080p-resolution model) to $20,000 (for an 84-inch 4K model). microsoft.com

 

Weigh In: What’s Your Biggest Takeaway From Last Year’s Assessments

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Weigh In: What’s Your Biggest Takeaway From Last Year’s Assessments

Whether tests were Common Core–aligned or state-created, respondents complained about too many assessments, online confusion, and improper curriculum alignment. By Carol Patton

Don Haddad: The Opt-Out Option
“There’s been a slight but steady drum beat around boycotting testing in Colorado for four to five years,” says Don Haddad, superintendent at St. Vrain Valley School District, in Longmont, Colorado. “Last year, it blew up…resulting in mass boycotts from thousands of students and their parents.

“We found ourselves in an environment where we were testing, and whenever we got the chance we would slip in some instruction. Standardized tests are only one piece of the puzzle when you look at student achievement. The emphasis that has been placed on the tests is incongruent with their value.

“We chose to honor and respect the parents who made the decision [to boycott the tests] on behalf of their children without any pushback or pressure. We’re going to collapse testing and have kids take all the tests within a very short period of time. We’ll tell them it’s required, and if they choose to opt out, it’s their prerogative. Our relationships with our parents and constituents are more important than administering yet another assessment.

“I’m an advocate for assessing students. This is just another indication of how much testing has gone overboard.”

Jayne Ellspermann: Shifting Gears
“The biggest change for students and teachers was that they were expecting the typical reading assessment they’d had for many years,” says Jayne Ellspermann, principal at West Port High School in Ocala, Florida. “The ELA assessment requires students to respond more to grammar and parts of speech and things they’d only touched on in ELA classes. What we’ll do differently next year is work on holistic literacy and ensure our students are reading more as a resource rather than as the focus of those classes.

“There was definitely a learning curve in the Algebra 2 assessments. Teachers found there were new things they had to teach that had not been taught before in that course.

“To use the analogy of building the bus as it is driving down the road, teachers hadn’t anticipated some standards, and they really had to shift during the school year to make sure that what they were teaching would help students be successful on the assessments.

“The shifts we have been talking about have hit; they’re here. This past year was the year that everybody realized, This is how it’s going to be assessed moving forward. Things are going to be different in our classrooms.”

Mike Richie: Less Instructional Time
“We really like the standards that are in Common Core, but some of the assessments we’re not happy with,” says Mike Richie, district administrator at the Northland Pines School District in Eagle River, Wisconsin. “The Badger test in Wisconsin replaced Smarter Balance. It took our technology department away from their day-to-day tasks to prepare for the test. Students were unfamiliar with online testing and the [split-screen] questioning format. Kids were actually crying while taking this test, which is not going to give you a good result.


“Preparing for the tests definitely decreased our instructional time, and trying to schedule all the students in the computer labs was an issue. Plus, results were to be available two weeks after the window closed, in March, but were not ready until July 15.
“We wish we had more formative tests that give instant results; most tests ­related to the Core are summative tests. Kids were really well prepared this year, but that’s going to take more time away from instruction. I’m okay with accountability, but at the expense of what?”

Debbie Brockett: No Alignment, No Time
“My biggest takeaway is the lack of alignment between classroom instruction and the new Common Core assessments,” says Debbie Brockett, principal at Las Vegas High School in Nevada. “The tests are a lot more rigorous, and the questions don’t directly align with the way our teachers have been trained to ask questions in the classroom.

“We spend one hour per week with our teachers to look at assessments, best practices, and data. Next year, we’ll use that hour to look at every single test question in relation to the way we teach to ensure our instructional practices align with the Common Core assessments. We have to make sure we’re teaching what kids are being tested on.

“I’m seeing teachers burn out before Thanksgiving. With class sizes at 40, 50-minute periods, no pay raises, and [things like] two math courses rolled into one, it’s hard as an administrator to feel right about telling teachers they have more to do with less. With these standards, there has to be complete individualization, and we just don’t have time to do that.”    

Weigh In: Next Issue’s Question
What’s the best initiative you started this year and how will you improve it next year?
Please send your responses to:  wdorio@scholastic.com

Technology-Infused Learning Spaces Transform Illinois District

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Technology-Infused Learning Spaces Transform Illinois District

“Living Laboratories” allow students to experiment and collaborate.
By Dr. Jan Rashid

The word renaissance refers to new ways of thinking, to innovation and rebirth. For Des Plaines School District 62 in Illinois, the idea of renaissance is inspiring us to think differently about the who, what, where, when, and why of learning. Technology plays a large role in the answer to all those questions and often determines our students’ level of engagement.

With that in mind, our district has made the commitment to be forward thinkers and to prepare our students for high school, college, and careers—long before they reach 12th grade. The only way to do that is to ride with them on the digital journey, moving past the idea of using technology to build skills and instead using it to foster collaboration and to prompt critical thinking. But how much collaboration can truly be done in a traditional classroom, in rigid rows of desks and chairs? It was by asking this question that District 62’s digital transformation was born.

We dreamed of creating open and colorful spaces equipped with ergonomic furniture, breakout rooms, and equal access to the newest technology. We also wanted spaces to bridge the gap between the traditional library and the technology-filled classroom. Our schools are nearly 80 years old, so it was challenging to create open and welcoming areas where our digitally native students could collaborate, develop 21st-century skills, and become digitally literate.

To make the dream a reality, we created a five-year master plan to carefully manage district funds so we could transform one room in each of our 11 K–8 schools into what we call Technology-Integrated Learning Environments, or TILE spaces.

Turning Classrooms into Living Laboratories

We designed the TILE rooms to be “living laboratories” so teachers and students would have equal opportunity and flexibility to engage and collaborate using the newest available technology. The environment encourages experimentation and exploration, while accommodating active learning styles and techniques.

Walking in, you see two interactive whiteboards, tablet computers, floor-to-ceiling marker boards, and tackable walls to inspire creative thinking and collaboration sessions. Wherever possible, we used glass walls to let in natural light, and created breakout spaces where students can work in small groups. Each room is also equipped with colorful, versatile, and mobile furniture—including ergonomically correct chairs, which have been shown to improve cognitive engagement.

Sounds like a room every administrator would want in his or her school, doesn’t it? Our TILE spaces didn’t start this way. When we first created them, each TILE space had a designated laptop cart. As the budget allowed, we added new technology, piece by piece. Now, teachers often plan to bring their students to the TILE rooms during different class periods to collaborate and explore the wide variety of technology available.

The next phase of the project is to create “green spaces” within the TILE rooms where students can collaborate on the creation, recording, and editing of videos. We have a green space in one school and plan to add a couple more this year.

The 21st-Century Library

So where do traditional libraries and library media specialists fit into this picture? In many cases, our TILE rooms are connected to the school’s library, and media specialists work in the TILE spaces. The library and TILE rooms help build 21st-century skills by providing opportunities for collaboration, research, creation, and problem solving, and the media specialists are the trailblazers in creating the perfect environment.

While today’s students are widely known as “digital natives,” that doesn’t mean they are digitally literate. Texting, engaging in social media, and playing video games on mobile devices are second nature for students, but they are less likely to use those devices to practice literacy skills such as active reading and critical thinking. As students and teachers transition from paperback books and encyclopedias to online resources, we’ve discovered digital literacy doesn’t come naturally. With technology at our students’ fingertips, our task is to teach them how to be good digital citizens and how to recognize the difference between credible and non-credible resources.

Our media specialists and teachers use a co-teaching/co-planning model to serve our digital natives and teach digital literacy. Digital text such as news articles and online research resources are quickly becoming part of everyday life. Our media specialists play a large role in teaching students how to engage with digital text, which in turn prepares them for high school, college, and beyond.

A Library in Their Backpacks

To help fine-tune their digital literacy skills, we wanted to equip students with an entire library in their backpacks. We wanted students to have access to books anytime, anywhere, so we adopted myON, a digital literacy environment offering more than 10,000 books online. We harnessed the power of the digital library by creating and sharing digital bookshelves on diverse topics and at various Lexile levels. The research and reading options offer a way to teach students how to engage with digital text like never before.

The ongoing mission of our digital transformation is to empower students, teachers, and administrators to embrace technology as a tool for teaching valuable cross-curricular skills such as collaboration, problem solving, and digital literacy. It’s our goal to prepare students for their future as learners who will carry these skills into their professional lives and eventually go on to mold the future of technology use.

Dr. Jan Rashid is the assistant superintendent of Des Plaines School District 62 in Illinois.

Photo: Media Bakery

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in edu Pulse are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.