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Tech Update: Common Core

Update-tech_pulse

TECH Update: Common Core

The latest developments in hot areas of school technology. By Calvin Hennick

When Susan Gendron was commissioner of education for Maine, the state’s SAT scores dropped from within the top 10 in the country to dead last overnight. But there wasn’t any backlash. People were expecting it.

That’s because, for the first time, Maine was requiring all of its students (not just those going to college) to take the test, and Gendron had spent months telling the state’s education reporters and politicians to expect the 50th-place finish.

“It was the best thing we did,” Gendron, now president of the International Center for Leadership in Education, says of the public relations move.

Gendron recommends that school districts take a similar approach to the first round of Common Core–aligned test results. It’s widely assumed that, because of the enhanced rigor of the new standards, scores will drop dramatically in most locales. Given the antipathy with which the standards have already been greeted in some circles, plunging scores could cause an uproar in districts that lack a strong communication plan.

Gendron says administrators should talk to local press about the new tests, put sample questions in school newsletters, and enlist area employers to provide testimonials about how the skills assessed by the exams are valuable in the workplace. School leaders should also take to social media channels and board and PTA meetings to warn about the score drop, she says.

But schools shouldn’t just tell people that scores will be low. Leaders should also explain what they’re going to do about it. Results from the new tests are expected to come in much earlier than data from previous state assessments, and Gendron says schools should use the numbers to form a plan that addresses the areas of highest need.

“In the past, schools got scores so late that it was difficult to do anything with them,” Gendron says, noting that results used to come in as late as the fall. Schools are now ­expected to get them in the spring—early enough to help inform instruction for the end of the school year, or the following fall. “The intent is to give actionable data to the schools. They can reprioritize what they offer for student intervention, they can act upon the data in summer school, they can offer PD for teachers,” Gendron explains.

If parents, teachers, or community members are concerned about low scores, administrators would do well to tell the story of Kentucky. The Bluegrass State was the first to administer Common Core–aligned assessments, and schools saw the predicted drop in scores during the first year of implementation. But the numbers have risen, and state officials say that more students are graduating ready for college and careers than in previous years.

Students shouldn’t be left out of this conversation, Gendron advises. Kids can see that they’re being asked to do different things on the new assessments, and they may not be surprised that their scores take a dip.

“We have to say to kids, ‘We can’t compare to where you were before. This is a starting point,’ ” Gendron says. “We want kids to own their learning so they can start to measure their own progress.”

Illustration: Viktor Koen

Beating the Common Core

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Beating the Common Core

Specific advice for mastering the four toughest standards in reading and math. By Dr. Mark Ellis, Dr. Maureen McLaughlin, and Dr. Brenda Overturf

The Common Core State Standards are designed to help students build a solid foundation of knowledge and skills in preparation for both college and career. To help students meet the expectations of these more rigorous standards, it is important for educators to focus on the standards that students struggle with most.

Based on i-Ready diagnostic data from more than 750,000 students, Curriculum Associates has identified four standards as the most difficult in reading and math. These findings are shared below to help educators better plan and maximize their instructional time, accelerate student progress, and create learning environments in which all students can succeed.

Reading

In reading, the findings show students need extra support with informational as opposed to literary texts, as well as with complex texts. The most challenging standards are those that require synthesis skills, including those related to:

  1. Determining central ideas or themes and summarizing details
  2. Analyzing text structure
  3. Integrating and evaluating content in diverse media and formats
  4. Analyzing similar topics and themes across texts

The data show one of the most challenging standards is CCSS Reading Anchor Standard 7, which relates to #3 above. This standard focuses on students’ ability to draw on information from multiple sources and to integrate information from diverse media (audio, video, multimedia presentations, photos, illustrations, graphic novels, and more) and in varied formats (textbooks, charts, graphs, magazine articles, newspapers) when researching and problem solving. Diverse media help teach this standard and are highly engaging for 21st-century learners.

Another challenging standard is Reading Standard 9, which relates to #4 above. In this standard, students analyze texts to find similar themes and topics and identify where texts may agree or disagree based on fact or opinion.

Tips for Teachers

How can teachers incorporate multimodal text as part of student instruction? Look for content that exists in multiple formats. For example, engage students by listening to a speech like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” in addition to reading it. Other examples of texts represented in diverse media include The Very Hungry Caterpillar (DVD) for younger grades and Hamlet (audiobook) for older students.

To help teach Standard 9, use graphic organizers, interactive comparison/contrast digital tools, and rich content. Programs such as i-Ready and content tools such as those found at Big History Project, Discovery Education, PBS LearningMedia, and NASA are examples of some of the valuable resources out there.

To help students meet Reading Standard 9, administrators should also encourage teachers to engage students in classroom activities that require them to identify similarities and differences in texts. Administrators should provide teachers with access to various texts on the same topic—including books, magazines, and technology sources—as well as adequate time to plan together to achieve the goal of this standard.

Math

In math, standards that require deeper conceptual understanding prove the most challenging. They include standards related to:

  1. Geometric measurement
  2. Modeling problem situations
  3. Fractions
  4. Statistics

The new standards emphasize the concepts behind calculations and reasoning about complex problems, so it’s no longer enough for students to know basic algorithms and facts. Instead, they need to reason and analyze in order to make data-based decisions and develop creative approaches to non-routine problems. Research confirms that students are more likely to use their skills accurately and flexibly when they understand the concepts behind the computations.

Tips for Teachers

Below are some tips for teachers to address the need for addressing deeper conceptual understanding.

  • Connect new material to students’ prior knowledge or experiences. This ultimately helps build students’ ability to recall and retain knowledge over time.

  • Engage students in hands-on activities. With regard to geometric measurement, for example, ask younger students to measure various parts of their body with yarn and find the lengths in centimeters. Then ask groups to compare the measurements of two students and make posters for the class math wall.

  • Continually reinforce measurement concepts and skills in an informal yet productive way. Try occasional estimation tasks that get students thinking and talking.

  • Assess and revisit older students’ understanding of the six key measurement concepts. These two articles, “Measurement of Length: How Can We Teach It Better?” by Constance Kamii and “Assessing Children’s Understanding of Length Measurement” by Heidi Bush, offer assessment items that target these concepts.

  • Build student understanding of fraction operations by using the concept of unit fractions together with area and number line models as shown in this set of videos from Illustrative Mathematics.

  • Encourage students to share (and stretch) their mathematical thinking! One strategy to get students started with this is Math Talks, sometimes called Number Talks, which promote mental reasoning and encourage greater flexibility in mathematics.

Teachers and administrators must also recognize that students are not the only ones learning and that students’ input can help teachers deepen their own understanding of mathematics. Administrators must additionally facilitate professional development driven by teacher input, organize schedules that promote collaboration, and model intellectual curiosity by increasing their own understanding of mathematics.

To learn more about the Common Core State Standards that students find the most challenging, visit www.ReadyCommonCore.com/MostChallengingStandards.

Dr. Mark Ellis is a National Board certified teacher and professor of education at California State University at Fullerton. Dr. Maureen McLaughlin is a professor in the Reading Department at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania. Dr. Brenda Overturf is the chair of the IRA Common Core Standards Committee. All three are also Ready authors. 

Image: Hero Images/Media Bakery

5 Strategies for SPED Success with Common Core

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5 Strategies for SPED Success with Common Core

Handle tasks head-on to speed student success. By Christine Fax-Huckaby

As the Common Core State Standards have been implemented this school year, with many states in the midst of using the new standardized tests, the transition has been mired in challenges. The Common Core is a critical step toward ensuring students have the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in life beyond graduation, but teachers and students alike have been apprehensive and overwhelmed. They need greater support, more empathy, and better communication from school and district leaders to help them overcome their anxiety.

This anxiety is even more prevalent in the special education community, and as a special education academic support teacher, it’s my job to make sure teachers and students in my district are as prepared for Common Core as possible. Here’s what’s working well in our district:

1. Understanding the problem

When I’m talking to special educators in my district, I often draw from my own experience in the SPED classroom and think about how I would feel in their shoes.

Essentially, Common Core requires special education teachers to become pseudo-subject experts. Before Common Core, special educators were mostly focused on helping students gain access to information across various subjects, but they had never been asked to be “experts” in a particular subject.

Now, a special educator might be asked to teach math, science, and health lessons, guiding the students to mastery in subjects in which they are not themselves masters. That’s a very heavy burden to carry, and if you can understand this problem, you’ll be better equipped to face it head-on.

2. Changing our mind-set

Once you’ve identified the problem (“Common Core is a lot to handle”), try to frame it in a different light.

Most special educators are familiar with the buzzwords: Universal Design for Learning. The educational framework suggests that the best way to design classrooms is to think about how that design will affect every student, whether blind, deaf, learning disabled, or challenged in some other way. This often means creating multiple support systems in the classroom ahead of time, giving students plenty of options for being introduced to and completing tasks.

Similar to UDL, one of Common Core’s biggest goals is to reach students in multiple ways, allowing them to demonstrate mastery in the way that makes the most sense to them. For Common Core to succeed, K–12 teachers across the country will need to weave UDL principles into their instruction. That means SPED teachers should be celebrating Common Core, not running from it!

3. Getting creative and using a variety of learning activities

Common Core has the potential to give both SPED and general education students some freedom in how they choose to demonstrate mastery of what they’re learning. Instead of requiring every student to write an essay, which may exclude the students who aren’t good writers, teachers can now afford to let students get a little creative.

Encourage them to design PowerPoint presentations, make an iMovie trailer, shoot a documentary, or write a song – whatever speaks to them. Rather than treating every student the same, Common Core asks students to represent what they’ve learned in their own way.

4. Finding strength in numbers

My philosophy is, “Nobody knows everything when it comes to Common Core, but everybody knows something.” Our district has set up cohorts for subject departments, and meeting in these smaller groups, or “zones,” has been immensely helpful.

Not only can special educators attend these zones to ensure sure that they are kept abreast of the shifts happening in their subject area as a result of Common Core, but they are also given an opportunity to share some relevant UDL principles and SPED strategies to help the general education teachers improve their lesson plans.

5. Taking advantage of Common Core–aligned resources

Educational technology companies are investing thousands of dollars to make sure their products are aligned with Common Core, so don’t create more work for yourself. Find good Common Core resources, and take advantage of them!

For example, my district has been using Learning Upgrade, an online math and reading curriculum that employs catchy songs and fun games to address Common Core standards in a relatable way. The courses also have built-in reporting features that make them ideal for case management.

We’ve also found Gizmos’ iPad-friendly science activities and labs to be very helpful for lesson planning, and using Canvas as a learning management system allows us to share new information as well as discuss challenges with our colleagues district-wide.

Whether you’re a special educator, a general education teacher, or an administrator, these tips will help you and your students prepare for success with Common Core. It may seem daunting, but I fully believe that Common Core has the potential to make a positive difference in students’ learning.

Christine Fax-Huckaby is a special education academic support teacher in the Sweetwater Union High School District in California. She has worked in special education for 19 years and spent the first 15 years of her career in the classroom.

Image: Keith Brofsky /Media Bakery

Creating College- and Career-Ready Students

Career_pulse
Creating College- and Career-Ready Students

Use these five practices to help teachers help students. By Michael Moody

There’s great potential in College- and Career-Readiness Standards (CCRS) to significantly increase our students’ academic performance, and also their chances of success beyond graduation. But none of it can happen unless our teachers are prepared and supported.

In the past, professional development for teaching with new standards was often based on building awareness of the standards and implementing aligned instructional practices. For CCRS, however, that is simply not enough.

New Standards Require a New Approach

As district and school leaders, the first step you should take in successful implementation of the standards is to ensure a common understanding among teachers of the characteristics of a college- and career-ready student and to recognize what mastery really looks like at all levels. Only then can teachers make sound instructional decisions and apply appropriate strategies.

While that sounds simple enough, there are few relevant resources currently available to educators that provide clear indicators of aligned instructional practices and student behaviors.

What to Look for in Every Classroom

Based on more than a decade of experience and the Insight Core Framework, we’ve developed five Core Practices, which outline distinct, observable teacher and student actions and help you gauge the effectiveness of CCRS-implementation classrooms.

Core Practice 1: Know the discipline well

Observable student actions:

  • Demonstrates precise content knowledge
  • Uses academic vocabulary
  • Uses resources that are high quality and appropriately complex

Observable instructional practices: The teacher has a deep understanding of the content he or she is teaching and is able to communicate it in a way students can understand.

Core Practice 2: Prioritize evidence over opinion

Observable student actions:

  • Responds to questions with evidence-based answers
  • Uses evidence when building arguments, making claims, or explaining thinking

Observable teacher practices: Not only does the instructor need to give students opportunities to find and use evidence to support answers—she or he needs to challenge students to go beyond weak arguments and basic opinions.

Core Practice 3: Grow and improve students’ knowledge base

Observable student actions:

  • Makes connections within and across disciplines
  • Applies acquired knowledge in real-world situations
  • Exchanges and analyzes multiple perspectives

Observable teacher practices: The teacher facilitates connections across disciplines and provides students with the opportunity to practice applying their knowledge in authentic situations with real purposes.

Core Practice 4: Assess progress toward mastery

Observable student actions:

  • Demonstrates understanding in various contexts
  • Receives, acknowledges, and incorporates teacher feedback

Observable teacher practices: Mastery is more than just tracking grades. The teacher provides timely feedback to students and structures learning activities toward relevant data.

Core Practice 5: Promote intellectual risk-taking and persistence

Observable student actions:

  • Feels part of a supportive and challenging learning environment
  • Demonstrates academic curiosity

Observable teacher practices: The teacher gives students multiple opportunities to persist through challenges and learn from mistakes by celebrating perseverance. With the CCRS, it’s not only about getting the “right” answer—it’s about persisting and developing skills for solving challenges for later in life.

Putting It All Together

The CCRS are drastically different from standards in place even a few years ago and are unique in their focus on the student—as opposed to simply the content.

While this is an exciting and worthy vision for K-12 education, it will require a great deal of preparation, a long-term vision, and relevant supports in order to be successful. In particular, districts and schools must have a succinct, clear-cut approach to not only identifying indicators of college and career readiness in students, but also illustrating the real link between teachers’ practices and student mastery.

Michael Moody, @DrMichaelMoody, is the founder and CEO of Insight Education Group. His experiences as a classroom teacher, school and district administrator, and consultant have given him a unique perspective on the challenges and opportunities in education today. The complete Insight Core Framework is available for free download, including the rubric and meta-analysis research data for each practice.

Image: MediaBakery

Working Together: A Recipe for PARCC Success

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Working Together: A Recipe for PARCC Success

Illinois school district approaches new testing system with an “all skills on deck” approach. By R.J. Gravel

This spring, districts throughout the nation will embark on the first major wave of revised high-stakes assessments. Our industry is seeing a drastic shift from traditional testing to significantly enhanced, interactive assessments that leverage technology.

As schools prepare to implement these new digital assessments and testing platforms, there are many questions about the roles and responsibilities of staff members. With traditional testing, a small group of building leaders and assessment coordinators oversaw the exams; however, today’s testing system requires a much larger group of individuals to collaborate to ensure a successful experience.

Educating Your School Community

To successfully implement a system, it is important to understand the structure of the assessment. However, many of the rules and conditions that govern a student’s testing experience are still being defined. This is further complicated by the reality that many state education boards have joined to create two sets of rules: nationwide norms and state-specific addendums.

To ensure each school understands testing protocol, assessment consortiums, software developers, and state education boards have established a series of communication channels via e-mail and website postings. As new information is released, notices are transmitted to district superintendents and should be reviewed by all individuals responsible for coordinating the assessment process, including building technology coordinators and student information system managers. It is also important to provide a summary of relevant information to educators who will be serving as test administrators. At Johnsburg School District 12 in Illinois, we are implementing the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests. We provide assessment updates at school board presentations and in bi-weekly newsletters to teachers. 

It is important to remember that while publishers and state agencies provide information on the assessments, the best communication comes straight from local school leaders. Use these assessments as an opportunity to develop a communication plan that balances electronic messages with face-to-face dialogue and training sessions. At Johnsburg, we developed a PARCC planning and preparation series that includes a test administrator training session.

Preparing for Students of All Abilities

Identifying and providing accommodations to ensure each student has an equal opportunity on state assessments is not a new concept. As the roster of accommodations is substantially updated, it is important that all faculty members—not just those working in support settings—understand available accommodations. Members of the special education and student services team need to work closely with building and teacher leaders to guarantee that individual student plans are updated to reflect the support available to students.

Continuous Communication

As we transition to a computer-based testing environment, a substantial amount of the responsibility resides in the domain of technology support personnel. The role of technology professionals is crucial to ensuring a successful testing experience, including safeguarding the local area network, designating testing rooms, and providing a sufficient number of devices (and back-up devices) for each student.

It is crucial that school technology teams be included in all of the communication related to test procedures, local testing schedules, and student groupings. For instance, if a student with a visual impairment requires screen magnification software, the testing room must be supplied with this tool. For this, technology support personnel should review the roster of students to ensure they have provided all necessary accommodations. Additionally, advanced technology support staff should be available to assist with issues that arise during the test administration. In our district, we will have up to three schools and 18 classrooms testing at a single time. Continuous communication between technology support personnel and building leaders will ensure that everything is ready to go on testing day.

Moving Forward

As districts move forward with implementing the Common Core State Standards, we know that challenges are inevitable. However, creating a culture of collaboration among school leaders, technology professionals, and student information system software providers, such as Skyward, will put us in the best position to support our students as we embark on this new challenge. The face of state assessment is changing, and we have the opportunity to affect its outcome. Let’s work together, share our experiences, and be part of the future.

R. J. Gravel, @rjgravel, is the director of instructional technology for Johnsburg School District 12 in Illinois. He is a nominee for the 2015 Illinois Computing Educators’ Educator of the Year award.

Image: Jose Pelaez/Corbis/Media Bakery

Audio and the Core Assessments

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Audio and the Core Assessments

All you need to know to choose between headphones and earbuds for test-taking students. By Tim Ridgway

 When school technology directors and administrators are thinking about this year’s newly mandated audio requirements for language arts assessment, their minds immediately turn to headphones and headsets. And they should. However, there’s another audio option that many may not be aware of, one that involves a much smaller investment: earbuds, which come in a variety of models that sport diverse features to fit the needs of any classroom. 

Both PARCC and Smarter Balanced require audio technology be available to students for use during the English language arts test. Students who require text-to-speech features on the mathematics test also need this option. Earbuds fulfill Common Core State Standards assessment requirements.

Not all earbuds are created equal, though. Here is what decisions makers should look for when selecting earbuds for student use.

 Affordability

All school district leaders, regardless of district size, are looking for cost-effective solutions to maximize budget when investing in education technology. Earbuds are a budget-friendly strategy to prepare for assessments and equip students with a single-use solution in today’s classrooms. At a fraction of the cost of headphones, earbuds fulfill both assessment and daily-learning requirements.

 Warranties

An important factor to consider when purchasing audio ed tech is whether the tools come with a warranty. Saving money in the short term doesn’t help if you spend more later. Select earbuds include a one-year warranty specifically to cover use in schools. Read warranties carefully as consumer brands typically consider school use as “institutional” and more demanding than less stressful home usage. Those warranties may not cover the day-in and day-out demands placed on products by students in classrooms.

 Microphones

Headsets aren’t the only audio tools to feature microphones. Many earbuds offer inline microphones on the cords to support speech intelligibility and develop speaking and listening skills defined in state standards. Finding earbuds that include this feature can save money by investing in a single device for multiple types of work.

 Resizable

Not all learners are the same. Earbuds that include an extra pair of ear pads can better fit younger learners.

 Diverse Plugs

With 1:1 initiatives continuing to roll out in districts around the country, earbuds that are available with a variety of plugs are versatile tools that can work with a number of mobile devices. Some earbud options include a 3.5mm plug and similar plugs that can be used with computers, tablets, and smartphones, while some earbuds feature a USB plug for increased compatibility with devices. Each plug is designed to fit the needs of individual classrooms and can be chosen based on student learning needs and device availability.

 Single Use and Reusable

Because earbuds can be single use or reusable, they are appropriate for multiple educational settings. Single-use earbuds are the most affordable option for providing audio equipment, so they are a cost-savvy strategy for fulfilling testing and classroom needs. Reusable earbuds are an alternative option for classrooms using audio equipment in learning environments other than a one-time testing situation.

 Just as not all schools are the same, not all earbuds and AV equipment are the same. The advantage of this is that you have the opportunity to select from a diverse pool of solutions in order to maximize your technology investment and support learning and assessment goals in your district.

Tim Ridgway is vice president of marketing for Califone International LLC. To learn more about choosing the right audio equipment for your school, visit califone.com/blog

Image: Getty Images

Mathskills_pulse

Making Math Relevant

Connecting math to real-world jobs shows students its importance.
By Joseph Goins

“I'm never going to use this in real life!” This is a response that teachers, particularly math teachers, hear almost every day. To the students making this remark, math is just a bunch of computations on a screen or board that they're forced to wrangle with for no good reason.

As educators, we know that's not the case. Even manufacturing jobs now require strong skills in mathematical concepts such as fractions, decimals, and basic trigonometry. So how can we help students see the meaning in math? Hundreds of software programs have been developed to guide learners through mathematical complexities but how do educators convince those learners that the effort is worthwhile? The answer: Bring relevance and context to the subject.

Career and technical education (CTE) provides a prime example of how to help students make the connection between math and real life. Applying classroom learning while working with the technology required for a chosen career path has proven to be so engaging that the Association for Career and Technical Education reports that among the advantages CTE students exhibit are gains in motivation, engagement, grades, and math skills.

The National Research Center for Career and Technical Education took math skill advancement a step further by developing a Math-in-CTE model in which lessons emphasized the mathematics already existing within the occupational curricula. After just one year, students in the math-enhanced CTE classes performed better on standardized and community college placement math tests than students who received the regular CTE curriculum. Those results are especially impressive since regular CTE students were already reporting greater general math proficiency than students not involved in CTE.

To help teachers bring this concept into their own lessons, my company launched a career-based math solution, WIN Math, which contains math and project tools formed around 16 different career clusters.

Within the framework of linking real-world projects to math, teachers can include not just obvious choices such as STEM professions, but also law and public safety, corrections or security, hospitality and tourism, manufacturing, agriculture, and natural resources. Lesson units can conclude with individual or collaborative projects based on authentic workplace tasks such as the following:

  • Creating a “green” blueprint (uses algebra, trigonometry, pre-calculus/calculus, probability and statistics, linear programming)
  • Producing a marketing plan or performance chart (uses algebra, calculus, mathematical economics, statistics)
  • Developing a disease prevention/response program (uses pre-algebra, algebra, statistics, dimensional analysis)
  • Arguing a legal case centered on a math-based problem, such as time and distance in a murder trial (uses algebra, trigonometry, geometry, calculus, finite mathematics, statistics)

The added advantage of the career-based approach is that it gives students a taste of what a particular profession entails. For that reason, the career paths chosen as lesson frameworks can be aspirational as well as practical.

The U.S. education system is facing increasing demands that students graduate from high school prepared for college and careers. To accomplish this, students need to understand why math matters. To do that, educators need to form a math curriculum around business and industry skills to help them connect what they’re learning to the real world.

Joseph Goins is executive vice president of WIN Learning, a software firm focused on career and college readiness initiatives. Goins is a doctoral candidate in education policy and administration at Vanderbilt University.

Image: Getty Images

Career-ready_pulse

Creating College and Career-Ready Students

How a NYC public school prepares graduates for careers, and higher education.
By Gerry House

In today’s world, having a high school diploma is rarely sufficient for a diverse and rewarding career. Because most high-demand jobs require advanced skills, ensuring that all students have access to postsecondary education has become an equity issue. Those who are not prepared for college will unfortunately lose out. Yet not all students want to go directly on to postsecondary education. Some can’t afford it, and some are more interested in transitioning directly into technical and career pathways.

Career and technical education (CTE) offers a solution that addresses equity concerns. CTE programs give high school students opportunities to learn the technical and vocational skills needed for career pathways that interest them, while also providing them with an intellectually challenging curriculum that prepares them for postsecondary education. By the time they’re ready to graduate, students have completed the coursework and exams required for higher education, and they’ve earned a certificate that qualifies them for a career. In addition, CTE programs provide students with skills, knowledge, and work habits—such as persistence and time management—required for success in the workplace and in college. Because CTE programs prepare students for both career and postsecondary education, they differ from the vocational training of earlier eras where students selected a vocational track that could exclude them from the possibility of pursuing higher education.

Successful CTE schools and programs develop close working relationships with industry, higher education, and community partners. They also have support from their district. Industry and higher-ed partners collaborate with the district and school to create an appropriate curriculum that aligns with the school’s CTE focus, as well as provide work-based learning, internships, and mentoring opportunities for students. In addition, higher-education partners give students access to college classes and course credit. Community partners provide service-learning opportunities for students, as well as additional industry-related experiences. And the district ensures that the overall CTE program receives the necessary guidance, resources, and developmental support to produce the desired outcomes. The stakeholder partnerships and the collaboration and communication with students, parents, staff, and partners are key to CTE success.

The Institute for Health Professions at Cambria Heights, a New York City public school located in Queens, exemplifies the power of partnerships for CTE schools. IHPCH, created in collaboration with the Institute for Student Achievement and now in its second year, introduces students to particular health professions and provides a rigorous, college-preparatory instructional program. During their high school career, students have the opportunity to earn industry-recognized certifications such as an EMT, or emergency medical technician designation. At the same time, students take an inquiry-based, Common Core–aligned college preparatory course of study that qualifies them for admission to a two- or four-year college or other postsecondary institution.  

Through IHPCH’s partnership with the North Shore-LIJ Health System’s Center for Learning & Innovation, hospital faculty guide students through unique learning opportunities, including CPR training, EMT courses, simulated surgeries, and more. This partnership introduces students to careers in the health professions such as nutritionist, radiology technician, and nurse anesthetist. North Shore was also integral to the development of the Institute’s internship program, participation in which is a graduation requirement. Students at the institute have volunteered at local elementary schools and at Queens Hospital—an internship that led to a part-time job for one student.

The school’s partnership with Hofstra University provides students with authentic college experiences. By attending classes at Hofstra, students get a feel for the demands of college, and being on campus helps them see themselves as belonging there.

The school integrates its health theme into the core curriculum. For example, in a 9th-grade social studies unit on early civilizations, students learned about medicines used in ancient Egypt. In a 10th-grade world history class, students created a simulated talk show and had Enlightenment thinkers as “guests” to discuss the connections between medicine and the place of humans in the universe. Offerings in art include medical illustration courses, and students have opportunities to integrate the arts and their health curriculum learning. One project asked students to use Picasso’s Cubist style to draw representations of the eyeball. 

As this Queens school demonstrates, CTE experiences can engage students in a rich academic experience that prepares them for college while also teaching them specific career and technical skills that ready them for a career pathway and certification. With the support of committed educators and active community, business, and higher-education partners, CTE programs can provide students with the opportunity to graduate with the skills, technical knowledge, rigorous academic foundation, and real-world experience that support college success and access to high-skill, high-demand careers.

Gerry House is the president of the Institute for Student Achievement.

Image:  Ian Lishman/Media Bakery

Testing_pulse

One district’s cross-district collaboration improves tests, speeds info to teachers.
By Cari Jo Kiffmeyer

In a growing number of states, K-12 directors of assessment like me are finding themselves in the center of a perfect storm. Districts are looking for ways to assess students in all subjects, not just those tested by the state. They’re trying to work out how to create technology-enhanced items and assessments to provide instant feedback to students and teachers. Yet they lack the funds to buy all the assessment content they need, and they lack the tools and processes to develop the content on their own. To add even more pressure, student performance data is now being used to measure educator effectiveness.

In Minnesota’s West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan Area Schools (School District 197), the primary purpose of our testing is to provide information to help improve instruction. However, we didn’t have a classroom assessment tool that was used district-wide, and therefore no way to accurately view data from a district perspective. We also wanted to be able to conduct standards-based item analysis for our classroom assessments, and compare that data to our district and state assessments. So, we turned to technology and crowdsourcing.

This fall, we began implementing a system called UNIFY that provides a computer-based platform where our teachers can collaborate and build common assessments. We decided to start our “crowdsourcing” initiative for assessment creation with mathematics teachers in grades 5-9. By launching a new initiative with a small group, rather than the entire district, we can provide more focused support and coaching for our teachers. We can also make sure we’ve set up the system in a way that will provide the most benefit for all stakeholders, and we can more easily make any adjustments that are needed before rolling it out to all students.

First, we provided our teachers with training on how to write quality assessments and how to analyze and use the data to drive their instruction. Then we created a block of time for teachers across the district to meet every two weeks. To eliminate travel time and expenses, teachers meet in professional learning communities (PLCs) via Google Hangouts.

We structured our PLCs based on the Professional Learning Communities at Work process created by Richard DuFour, Robert Eaker, and Rebecca DuFour. Within this framework, our PLCs focus their work on four critical questions:

  1. What is it we expect our students to learn?
  2. How will we know when they have learned it?
  3. How will we respond when some students do not learn?
  4. How will we respond when some students already know it?

During these 45-minute meetings every other week, teachers collaboratively develop common district assessments tied to designated learning targets and benchmarks. The teams also meet for extended periods six times throughout the year. They analyze and discuss the results from their previous assessments, both from a district perspective and an individual classroom perspective. Based on that data, they make decisions about how to guide their instruction.

In addition, once every nine weeks, teachers meet for a professional development day. During this daylong session, they create new assessments, refine existing assessments based on their data, discuss instructional strategies, and participate in training, if needed.

To date, the reaction to our crowdsourcing initiative has been very positive. Teachers have long had a desire for cross-district collaboration. Previously, common assessments were written only at the building level. This initiative has not only provided our teachers with opportunities for district-wide collaboration, but the tools and training to support that.

So far, one of the biggest benefits we’ve experienced is that we can now electronically tie each assessment question to a specific benchmark, which will give us valuable information later.

For example, previously a teacher and student might look at an assessment and see the student earned an overall score of 70 percent. While the score showed that the student passed the assessment, it didn’t tell them much more than that. In contrast, in addition to the overall score, they can now see how the student performed on each learning target or benchmark, so they know what the student mastered and where he or she needs additional support or practice.

If a teacher wanted this data before, he or she would have to do all of the analysis by hand. Now, with instant access to this data, our teachers have a much better understanding of how to guide their instruction to better meet their students’ needs.

At the district level, this data will also allow us to conduct better program analysis as part of our Academic Return on Investment (A-ROI) process, which we’re launching this year. We plan to use this process to compare a program’s cost to what the data says about its results. This will help us see which programs are having the biggest impact on student learning, so we can invest our resources wisely.

Through our assessment and A-ROI initiatives, we will be better able to evaluate our students’ progress against our standards, adjust our instruction to meet their needs, and enhance our efforts to create a guaranteed and viable curriculum. We will also be able to identify which programs are the most helpful for our students, holding our district accountable for offering the best possible education.

Cari Jo Kiffmeyer is the director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment for West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan Area Schools (School District 197) in Minnesota.

Image: © Randy Faris/Corbis

Reading_pulse

Common Sense for the Common Core

Four ideas to help maximize your schools’ chances for success in implementing the new standards.
By Regie Routman

As a mentor teacher, leader, and coach who has been working in diverse classrooms and schools for more than four decades, I’ve learned that no matter what reforms, standards, or new programs come along, literacy achievement gains tend to be fleeting. Here’s what I’ve observed over and over: Without administrators who have a solid knowledge of effective literacy instruction, schools wind up focusing on implementation of isolated skills and/or standards with the hope that all the parts will add up to something meaningful. At best, this yields short-term gains and superficial learning. A good example is No Child Left Behind. After many years of a national commitment that cost billions of dollars, most students got good at phonics but showed no measurable growth in reading comprehension. My concern is we may soon see a similar outcome with the Common Core standards, and educators, parents, and the public will once again become disillusioned. So let’s take a look at the historical and present realities to assess what is possible and advisable.

The Common Core State Standards—or some set of common standards and framework for what kindergarten through high school students need to know and be able to do to pursue college and career goals—became necessary when it was blatantly apparent that not all students in U.S schools had equal opportunity to learn. In particular, factors including income inequality and school re-segregation doomed many poor and minority students, as well as English language learners, to an inferior education, with the result that many of these students routinely performed at least two years below grade level. In addition, many schools had not been challenging, engaging, or meeting the needs of large numbers of average-scoring and high-performing students for years. The need for common, high standards with content that spirals coherently from grade to grade was real.

Implementing the CCSS has become even more complex in the wake of the recent U.S. midterm elections, as more state governors have said they intend to replace the Common Core with homegrown standards. Also, some educators now view the CCSS as another fad that we need to “wait out.” The reality is that standards are necessary but insufficient; all standards are eventually replaced by “new” standards and expectations. Propelled by continuing pressure for quick results and high-stakes consequences for failure, schools understandably implement new reforms, mandates, and standards, but often without sufficient preparation or support for teachers. Predictably, we wind up with disappointing results.

So what’s a conscientious administrator to do? The vision and goals of the CCSS are commendable. In the hands of a masterful teacher supported by a knowledgeable administrator, standards are a plus. However, despite worthy intentions, two huge obstacles may eventually cause the downfall of the Common Core, and both are common-sense factors.

  1. First, the success of these new, higher standards depends on teachers and leaders knowing how to expertly implement them. Many teachers, principals, and administrators have not been properly prepared to teach reading and writing well, and they are relying on rapidly proliferating “Common Core-aligned” materials, most of which are severely wanting; even for experienced teachers, implementing the standards is daunting. The challenge for administrators is to provide professional learning that puts the highest priority on ensuring all teachers receive a deep foundational knowledge that transfers to expert instruction in the classroom. Without that theoretical and practical knowledge, teachers cannot effectively implement the CCSS or expertly teach and assess. Effective application of complex tasks and concepts requires a high level of expertise, and such expertise requires time and practice through well-planned, long-term schoolwide professional development. We are a “quick fix” society, and we often reject a commitment to long-term goals and outcomes. 

  2. Second, and attached to the first factor, is the high-stakes testing that accompanies the standards. History tells us that such stakes breed fear and distrust as pressure mounts for results. What’s on the test is what gets taught, resulting in a narrow curriculum broken into bits and pieces to “match” the test. Rather than relying on putting our efforts into high-level professional learning for all teachers and leaders, we waste enormous sums of time developing, preparing for, and executing tests with major consequences for students, teachers, families, and society.  

Administrators need to take the lead in providing the guidance, coaching, and expert professional development teachers need to successfully implement and sustain any set of literacy standards or learning outcomes. Here are some recommendations and actions for teachers—and administrators, too—for where put the literacy emphasis to increase student learning.

  • Become discerning readers and writers. We cannot teach what we do not know or value. Apply what you do as a strategic reader and writer to teaching readers and writers. Let students know how and why you read and write for real-world audiences and purposes that go beyond the classroom—and this may include blogs, social media, opinion pieces, and more.

  • Do more read-alouds of excellent literature. In the course of reading, think aloud to show students how readers figure out vocabulary, question the author, make inferences, reread when confused, notice the author’s craft, and so on. Your read-alouds should include more emphasis on nonfiction.

  • Embed shared experiences in your teaching. Before asking students to read complex text, read complex text with them. Demonstrate “close reading” and reason through how to find, use, and analyze evidence from the text to make meaning and support a point of view.

  • Organize curriculum through emphasizing big ideas and important concepts. The best place to start is with the K-12 Common Core anchor standards for reading. These include key ideas and details, craft and structure, integration of knowledge and ideas, and range of reading and level of text complexity. Beware starting with small pieces of the standards; teachers and students can get stuck in the details and never get to the highest levels of understanding.

The Common Core State Standards are a worthy ideal of what’s possible for our students but they should be approached with perspective. Standards do not transform teaching and learning; effective teachers supported by knowledgeable principals and administrators do. Implementation and “how” to effectively instruct and assess student learning requires years of professional learning with skillful teachers, coaches, and leaders in a culture of trust, inquiry, coaching, collaboration, celebration of strengths, and, yes, even joy. In such learning cultures, students, teachers, and leaders thrive. It is up to knowledgeable administrators to ensure teachers and principals do not continue to drown in a culture of minutiae over testing and teaching to individual standards. Rather, savvy and courageous administrators ensure that being accountable for students’ engagement, enjoyment, and success as readers, writers, and thinkers comes before any set of standards, assessments, or mandates.

Regie Routman is an educator who works with teachers and administrators in underperforming schools to increase and sustain reading and writing achievement for all students. She is the author of many books and resources, most recently Read, Write, Lead: Breakthrough Strategies for Schoolwide Literacy Success (ASCD, 2014). She can be contacted on regieroutman.org.

Image: Getty Image

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