A new white paper from the Central Florida School Board Coalition details how Florida’s standardized testing program seen as a model by other states is harming public schools and negatively impacting student learning.
This was published in May 2012 about Florida’s system. Things aren’t getting much better… now these same tests are being used to rank teachers and administrators adding even higher stakes…
Here’s a more recent article about how one teacher was “wronged” by the system:
This is part of my “Testing Our Children” series about how testing influences school work (and the potential for visa versa). As one child put it, “It’s not all roses and lollipops!”.
My last two posts have focused on Blooms Taxonomy and its many iterations. Bloom’s taxonomy is a common way of thinking about learning objectives. I like Bloom’s because most educators have heard of it, so the taxonomy provides a common language for talking about a range of assignments.
I also like Blooms because it shows how current iterations of standardized testing falls short of assessing the broad range of cognitive abilities children develop, even with a “classic” interpretation of learning as mostly cognitive.
However, it’s important for us to remember what’s left out of Blooms when we consider how to to create classrooms as learning spaces. We need to remember that in addition to assignments and objectives, teachers consider children’s
Social and emotional well-being
Motivation and persistence
Civic-mindedness and community building
Playfulness and imagination
Cultural awareness and global perspectives
Sometimes these are called “non-cogntiive skills” or “soft skills.” I think it’s better just to call these various dimensions of learning. Sure, cognition is important, but so are all of these dimensions. Very important indeed. And good.
These dimensions of learning lie at the heart of The Good Project hosted by Howard Gardener and colleagues. Their project looks for “good” meaningful work that institutions and people do. Interestingly, a lot of the research of the Good Project has focused on digital media and communication among learners. Digital media and the internet are changing perspectives about what it means to do “good”—who a good citizen is, what a good learner does, how a good communicator communicates, what a good learner makes. Standardized tests don’t even begin to assess digital practices in any meaningful way. They don’t measure how learners contribute to the “good” in our world.
Given that current standardized tests do not target the various Bloom’s objectives, the rest of this “good” stuff is even farther from targeted objectives in standardized tests. While Bloom’s taxonomy helps us to understand different approaches to instruction and assignments, it has limits when we consider a fuller understanding of “good” learning and teaching. Henry Levin, a Professor at Columbia’s Teachers College, wrote that if our society is really dedicated to good teaching and learning, then these “non-cognitive skills” are the most important skills for our future.
How to Tell a Good Assignment from the Bad Ones (Testing Part 3)
This is part of my “Testing Our Children” series about how testing influences school work (and the potential for visa versa). As one child put it, “It’s not all roses and lollipops!”.
Bloom’s taxonomy, and it’s current iterations, helps us to address a wide variety of objectives. If you haven’t read my last post about Bloom’s Taxonomy, please read that one first. Knowing about various objectives for learning will help educators and parents understand what separates good assignments from bad ones.
Here’s a list of sample assignments or questions that are representative of different objectives. You can compare your child’s or students’ assignments to this list to see how to address a variety of tasks:
(Note: I’ve included “question stems” here as well to help adults understand how to get discussion and dialogue going as we support children’s learning…)
Unfortunately, we do not have tests that can accurately measure all of these ways of knowing. We don’t have test-prep materials that do it either. In testing and test-prep, you’re usually dealing with factual knowledge, conceptual knowledge, and maybe—if you’re lucky—procedural knowledge. I have yet to see reliable tests of creativity, synthesis, evaluation, or meta-cognitive knowledge used in schools as a part of accountability or state testing mandates.
This is part of my “Testing Our Children” series about how testing influences school work (and the potential for visa versa). As one child put it, “It’s not all roses and lollipops!”.
To understand what makes good schoolwork—beyond test prep—we need to do a quick lesson about how you could think about teaching and learning.
The story of Blooms Taxonomy is helpful to this conversation. It goes something like this:
Back in the 1950s, a little-known book was published with the title Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. The co-authors, including Benjamin Bloom, Max Englehart, Edward Furst, Walter Hill, and David Krathwohl, didn’t know at the time that they were starting a movement. Their framework, now called simply Bloom’s Taxonomy, is a central focus of many textbook writers and educators throughout the US and beyond. The nice thing about Bloom’s Taxonomy is that it is so well-known among teachers that you could go into practically any classroom and talk about it, and the teacher would (should!) know what you mean.
The original taxonomy organized objectives into six categories:
Knowledge: recalling or reporting an idea
Comprehension: understanding an idea
Application: using ideas in situations (real or imagined)
Analysis: breaking down the ideas into parts/elements
Synthesis: creating a comprehensive whole from a group of ideas
Evaluation: judgments about the value of ideas.
Since the 1950s, we have come up with more than a dozen alternatives to Bloom’s original taxonomy as a way to build upon it and extend it. But in the end, the original still holds sway. It’s a simple way to create a hierarchy of thinking (even though the original intent was to categories “objectives” rather than thinking).
Educators have added two important objectives to the original taxonomy: Creating and knowing oneself (also called meta-cognitive knowledge). Creating entails generating ideas, planning, and producing. Meta-cognitive knowledge is self-knowledge of what you know, what you need to know, and how you think. I think this one is most important because one of the biggest issues for learners is that they often don’t know that they don’t know.
Most recently, a group of educational researchers and teachers wrote a book that proposed a new framework for considering knowledge. They organized their framework around:
Procedural Knowledge (techniques, methods, skills, criteria for determining how to approach a problem or task)
Meta-cognitive Knowledge (strategic thinking, self-knowledge, understanding of which conditions call for which strategies)
So how do you tell a good assignment from bad ones? Well, now you know a few frameworks. As you look over the assignments, you want to see a variety of tasks laid out for your child. You don’t always want to see your kid getting work that asks him or her to repeat facts or find the details. That would be too much on the “Factual Knowledge” side of things. But you also don’t want work that always asks kids to talk about their self-knowledge—like “how did you feel about learning about division?” or “what strategies would you use to analyze this story?”
In essence, you’re looking for balance. As they’re currently constructed, standardized tests are not balanced across these objectives.
 Anderson, L. W. & Krathwohl, D. R. (Eds.) (2000). Taxonomy for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment. NY: Allyn & Bacon.
This is part of my “Testing Our Children” series about how testing influences school work (and the potential for visa versa). As one child put it, “It’s not all roses and lollipops!”
When my son started third grade, he came home on day one with a ton of worksheets.
“She’s just trying to get the kids into the flow of the day,” I told myself, “A little busy-work doesn’t hurt so long as it doesn’t last.”
But day two came, and sure enough, he produced more worksheets from his backpack.
Day three was a reprieve—no worksheets. “No worksheets, I see,” I said hopefully, “Did you all do something exciting today?”
“No,” he said. “We were just supposed to put the worksheets in our folders so they can come home on Thursday.”
I sighed. He was referring to the large manila envelope that comes home each Thursday with their weekly work stuffed inside.
As the first weeks of school went by, I collected all of the worksheets. By the end of the third week, I could barely grip the stack in one hand.
“This has got to stop,” I complained to my husband, “There is no reason for 9- and 10-year olds to be sitting there filling in worksheets all day!” My husband shrugged. By now, he’s gotten so used to my rants and—to be honest—I don’t think he knows what to do with me.
I decided to talk to my son’s teacher, thinking that maybe she might not realize that she’s been relying on worksheets so much lately.
I jumped to the heart of the matter. “My son has been in your class for three weeks and he’s brought home so many worksheets I can barely fit them in the drawer where I keep his school work.”
She told me that the class was going to study plants soon. She told me she and the class had even gone for a walk in the nearby woods to begin learning about the plants around them just that day. That all sounded great. But she didn’t promise to reduce the worksheets.
I knew I had approached her the wrong way—likely putting her on the defensive because of my anger. But I was still angry that she hadn’t made any changes in the next week—the worksheets still flowed in. So I contacted the principal.
A week later, I came to our meeting with the actual 4” stack of worksheets. After the usual introductions with the principal and the assistant principal in charge of curriculum, I got right to it. I’ve never seen this many worksheets come home. And the work is meaningless. Focusing on ‘what’s a verb,’ ‘what’s a noun,’—my kid knew that stuff when he was three. Why does he need to fill out a bunch of worksheets to prove he knows it now?”
“Well,” the assistant principal gathered herself upright, ready for a fight. “Third grade is an important grade for testing. And Ms. X likes to be sure that all the kids know what’s going to be on the test early on so she can focus on the other stuff later on in the school year. This will only last for a few more weeks, and then she’ll move on.”
My mind spun. My heart raced. I wanted to reach across the table and shake her—“Don’t you realize that these worksheets are such a waste of time and energy—not to mention paper and trees? Don’t you realize that you’re killing my son’s love of learning? Don’t you realize that you’re taking a kid who has only been on this earth for eight years and making him sit for hours and answer question after question by filling in dots? He will only have one chance at third grade and you are making it miserable!” I wanted to shout these words!
But the words that came out were, “I understand the pressures of third grade. And I understand that the school needs to ensure that kids pass the test. But I don’t think that these worksheets are a necessary or meaningful way to ensure that kids pass a test that will take place eight months from now.”
I went on to explain that studies demonstrate that test prep and pressure to pass tests do not help pass-rates, and they can hurt pass rates (not to mention children!). They teacher and administrators nodded agreeably, bemoaning the pressure they felt. But in the end, there were no promises to reduce the worksheets.
Notably, that teacher retired at the end of the year.
Not all worksheets are bad. But lots of them are. If I had it my way, I’d have my kids reading, writing, doing projects, and solving actual mathematical problems. The more closely the work of school mimics real-world activities, the better.
I wish I had studies and resources on the tip of my tongue then. So I’m laying it out now so that some other mother (or father—or some teacher for that matter) can say “no more!” No more meaningless worksheets! No more worksheets for the sake of test prep instead of real-life learning! No more busy work! Let kids LEARN!
In my own research, the Civil Rights Project (formerly at Harvard, now at UCLA) also provided some rich research about how testing affects schooling. (An interesting side-note is that we so often consider testing as a measure of schools without considering how tests change schools—but ask any teacher…testing changes schools! And not always for the better!)http://civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/
My next few posts will be about testing in our schools. I’ve written about this in my own research (see cites below). But this blog is a more personal take on this topic. I am hoping to help teachers and parents navigate the dangerous waters of our test-crazed educational systems.
Full disclosure: I used to write standardized tests for the Texas State Dept. of Education under then Gov. Bush. I believed in the Standards movement of the 1980s and 90s. I believed that tests should assess learning of those Standards. The TX model went on to become the model for the national testing policy called No Child Left Behind.
I changed my mind about the value of standardized tests after learning about how current tests are developed, the statistics undergirding them, the caveats of psychometricians themselves (that’s what we call test-makers), and the real stories teachers told me about how testing had perverted their instruction. I have turned full circle. I’m not alone. Diane Ratvitch is perhaps the most outspoken and recognizable turn-coat (see her blog here: http://dianeravitch.com/).
Here are a few of my studies on testing:
Dooley, C. M. & Assaf, L. C. (2009a). Context Matters: Two teachers’ knowledge about Language Arts instruction in this high-stakes era. Journal of Literacy Research, 41(3), 354-391.
Dooley, C. M., & Assaf, L. C. (2009b). Compromising curricula: Inequity in literacy instruction. In M. Dyson & D. Weddle (Eds.), Our promise:Achieving educational equity for America’s children, pp. 567-580. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.
Dooley, C. M. (2005). One teacher’s resistance to the pressures of test mentality. Language Arts, 82(3), 177-185.
Are Babies Smarter Today than When Grandma was Born?
No. Babies aren’t smarter than babies were years ago. We adults are just stupider than our babies. At least our brains are stupider. Always have been.
Brain Development (or Your Baby’s Brain is Better than Yours)
Prior to age three, children’s brains are learning machines! There is some truth to the idea that a baby’s brain is doing more work than most adults’ brains. That time between birth and age three is considered a “critical period”—a time when the brain is primed to learn through social and emotional interactions.
Let me back up a bit and explain something about brains: You can imagine a brain to be like a bunch of nodes and links. The nodes are called neurons (or nerve cells) and the links are called synapses. The brain has different regions—each with specific functions. Each region has millions of neurons that send messages across the synapses. In most regions, no new neurons are formed after birth. So when we talk about critical periods for brain development, we’re talking the period in which synapses are grown—those important connections that allow for everything from speech, to eyesight, to feelings, to complex understandings.
So you might wonder, what’s a “critical period”? Well, there are some times when learning was more likely to occur than others. Put in brain-talk, critical periods are when certain synapses grow—and if time passes without them growing, well, they just won’t grow later. So, the thinking goes, if someone doesn’t learn what was needed during that critical time, then he or she might not ever learn it.
The idea of critical periods was just a hypothesis—a good guess—back in the mid-1900s. Low and behold, the “critical period” hypothesis was proven true in the late 1950s and 1960s by David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel, researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Hubel and Torsten set out to prove that the brain did indeed have critical periods during which the circuitry of neurons would be irreversibly constructed.
Hubel and Torsten wanted to prove that synaptic connections underwent critical periods. So the researchers worked with kittens during the start of their lives. (Kittens, rats, mice—they’re all used to demonstrate what happens in humans because their biology is so similar to ours). Hubel and Torsten deprived the kittens of eyesight by suturing one eye shut. At six months (when a kitten had grown into an adult cat), the researchers opened the cat’s eye. They found that the brain activity reacting to the eye that had been sutured was much lower than the eye that had been open. And when they looked ocular dominance columns in the eye (those are the stripes of neurons that seem to prefer input from one eye or the other), those for the open eye were much larger and for the shut eye were much smaller. Their feline discovery was the evidence needed to prove that brains had critical periods for development. And depriving a baby during that critical period would have lasting devastating effects on brain development.
Hubel and Torsten also demonstrated that being deprived of something during development—especially during critical periods—is much more catastrophic than being deprived as an adult. They compared the grown kittens to adult cats that had their eye sutured for a year in adulthood, but found no difference among the adult cats’ brains. While deprivation of eyesight in adult cats had minimal effects on visual cortex cells, even a week of eyesight deprivation during the kitten’s most sensitive period could have life-long disastrous effects. Those synapses never recovered—the connections were never made.
Enough about cats, already! What about human babies?
Like Hubel and Torsten’s famous kitties, human babies have critical periods for development. For humans, the time between birth to age three is so important. A baby’s brain will build over 1,000 trillion synapses—more than that baby will ever need as an adult—and more than any adult can even hope for.
Our human babies can suffer detrimental effects if they’re deprived of nurturing and love that is so important to this critical period for brain development. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Joan Luby from Washington University School of Medicine and her colleagues observed 93 sets of children and their parent (usually the mother) as they coped with a stressful task in a lab. The parents’ nurturing ability was rated by observers who knew nothing about the children beyond the lab video. Several years later, the researchers took an MRI image of the children’s brains. They found that the children who had very nurturing parents were more likely to have larger hippocampi (the part of the brain that helps with memory and spatial orientation; you have one on each side of your brain). The kids with average or non-nuturing parents had smaller hippocampi. This is important because having smaller hippocampi increases risks for things like post-tramatic stress, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease.
The hippocampus region of the brain is credited with helping us deal with stress and create memories from experiences. So finding that nurturing mothers (and fathers) can actually grow a brain—well—Wow! All you parents out there: Kudos to you. Put “Brain Grower” on your resume!
But parents don’t get off scott-free on this one. The nurturing effect is one of those critical periods. Nurturing has to happen in early childhood so that the brain—and the person it belongs to—can experience the benefits later in life.
Nurturing is the KEY to Learning in Babies!
Babies come with a basic need to be with caregivers. Babies are inherently interested in human faces. Their brains are alert to newness and sameness. They can recognize familiar faces as early within a few weeks of birth. Babies will follow familiar voices with their eyes even before they can move their necks. They will reach out to a familiar caregiver before they can even crawl. Plus, babies come with big heads and big eyes. And adults are drawn to—guess what?—big heads and big eyes. It’s a perfect match!
…and so the nurturing relationship is born… (Cue the music here).
We can think of baby’s learning as the result nurturing. Thus, learning encompasses a process of growing and pruning synapses and neural networks that are stimulated through relationships with caregivers. Put simply, through comfort and stimulation, babies’ brains get smarter.
Even before the first year of life, a baby’s brain already starting to become more efficient by taking in what’s useful and leaving the rest alone. For example, babies learn to distinguish more than 3000 sounds between birth to eight months—many more sounds than one language can even contain. Yet, after eight months, this ability begins to decline as the baby begins to take on the family’s language. Over the course of childhood, the brain will prune synapses down to only those that are most necessary. In essence, the brain uses a “use it or lose it” functionality to become more efficient.
So, you might ask, how do you ensure that your baby is “using it”? And, in case the reality TV cameras stop by, how might you show that you’re nurturing care giver? Some of the things a caregiver can do to build a baby’s brain between ages 0-3 include:
· Talk to the baby. Name things. Tell about your activities. Even when a baby isn’t talking back to you, that baby is listening and learning from your words.
· Observe the baby’s reactions and comment on them. Give your baby feedback and lay the language on to your baby’s actions and expressions—like, “oh, you like that, huh?” and “You are holding a cup. That’s a cup” and “I see. Yes. But please put down mommy’s wine. ”
· Make sure your baby gets proper nutrition needed to build healthy bodies (and brains!).
· Help your baby get good sleep. After age 1, nighttime sleep is especially important (more so than naps). So create a bedtime routine that is comforting and relaxing. And if your baby gets up in the night, don’t confuse entertainment with comforting—you can simply hold your baby or lie down next to him or her. There’s no need for videos, books, or any other stimulation. Boring is good in those wee hours.
· Care. Be caring. Be affectionate. Hug. Hold. Cuddle. Build a stable emotional attachment with your kid—that will help learning now and later.
· Use your words to describe your emotions and ask your baby to describe his or hers as soon as talking starts. Talking about feelings and emotions will not only help your kid deal with the world in healthy ways, but also help to build a way for your family to express love, anger, frustrations, and other emotions in ways that are healthier than hitting and shouting.
· Encourage exploration and curiosity. Ask questions like: What do you notice? Where do you want to go? What do you think of that? It doesn’t matter here if your baby isn’t answering the questions. The point is: You need to ask them. Answers might come later on.
What you do not need to do to help your baby learn:
· Buy lots of stuff to “stimulate” learning—like Bach for Babies or light-up-alphabet soup or special brain-building books. They won’t help.
· Put baby in front of TV, videos, or computer screens to “stimulate” learning. Won’t help. May hurt.
· Take “mommy- (and/or daddy-)-and-me classes in music/gymnastics/soccer/cooking/cheerleading/mountain climbing/you-name-it. These might be fun for the parent and the child, so I’m not knocking these classes. But you could simply interact with your kid at a park or library or restaurant or home and the kid would be just as happy. And you wouldn’t be nearly as broke.
Before age three, your kid is a learning machine, but these basics of learning are not necessarily “academic.” In other words, this important learning before age three has never been specifically linked to reading, mathematics, or musical knowledge later on. Child developmental psychologists consider ages 1-3 to be an essential time for brain development—but think of this time as laying the groundwork for later pathways of academic learning.
Academic Redshirting. The Begin-dergarten Dilemma. Voluntary Retention. I’ve even seen the headline: “The Greying of Kindergarten.”
I often am asked this perennial question: Should I redshirt my kindergartener? The question was recently revisited by Daphna Bassok and Sean Reardon in their article titled, “‘Academic Redshirting’ in Kindergarten: Prevalence, Patterns, and Implications,” published in the Sept. 2013 issue of Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis,35(3), pp. 283-297). This post answers that perennial question based on Bassok and Reardon’s study as well as many more.
Redshirting is derived from collegiate sports—when a student athlete is enrolled in college and can acclimate to the academic rigor during year one without competing on a team. Then the student-athlete can play for four more years with both a physical and academic advantage over in-coming freshman from competing teams (NCAA guidelines allow only 4 years of collegiate play).
I’ll give it to you straight: In most circumstances, redshirting will not benefit your child. And in some cases, it could hurt your child.
Here’s the research:
When “redshirting” Kindergarten is talked about on 60 Minutes or the Today Show, the moderators usually present it as a middle- to upper-middle class phenomenon. School-district and the National Center for Educational Statistics data from the 1990s show that White males are most likely to be redshirted, regardless of their family’s income level.
Redshirting was touted in the 1970s and 80s as a way to allow a child (especially boys) to grow a little more physically and socially, providing a competitive advantage on sports teams as well as in the classroom.
Most recently, Bassok and Reardon’s study published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis suggests that redshirting may be more popular among upper-income families simply because of parents’ concerns that their child’s position in a class of kids. Also, lower income families may be more anxious to be relieved of the cost of childcare.
Jane Arnold Lincove and Gary Painter, researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Southern California, inquired “does the age that children start Kindergarten matter?” They looked at eighth graders’ performance data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988. They compared three groups of kids: (a) kids who were “young” at the start of Kindergarten (just turned 5); (b) kids who were “old” at the start of Kindergarten (already 5 ½ or older); and (c) kids who were “redshirted” (at least 6 at entry). By controlling for other variables (such as family income levels, family size, gender, family structure, etc.), they matched “redshirted” kids to their peers. They found no differences in the academic success between “young” students and their “redshirted” peers when looking at 8th grade assessment results. And, contrary to what you might expect, the “young” students outperformed the “redshirted” group in their 10th grade assessments and were more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree by age 26. The two groups were equally likely to drop-out of school and to attend college. Bassok and Reardon’s study also confirmed that kids who were redshirted do not show any academic advantages over their same-grade-peers.
Some parents might consider redshirting as a way to allow their children to mature, perhaps trying to avoid having their children retained in later grades. Lincove and Painter used their data to inquire whether redshirting is useful to prevent retention later on. They compared kids who were redshirted to kids who had been retained after Kindergarten. Keep in mind that these are kids who are the same age and in the same grade—just that one group started Kinder late and the other group got held back somewhere between grades 1 and 11. Lincove and Painter found that kids who were retained were more likely than their redshirted peers to drop out and slightly less likely to go to college. But kids who were retained had higher grades and higher earnings than their peers who were redshirted. They concluded that redshirting did not provide benefits that outweighed the potential harms.
Redshirting has varied in popularity over the years and across communities. This latest study, by Bassok and Reardon, suggests that 4-5.5% of children delay entry to school. A 1991 survey of state education administrators by Gnezda, Garduque, and Schultz estimated that anywhere from 10% to 50% of Kindergarteners were redshirted. One study that surveyed administrators in one Wisconsin school districts found the redshirt rate to be 94%! I really doubt that most districts have more than 50% of Kindergarteners redshirted. Lincove and Painter estimated the number to be closer to about 10%. But the fact that state-level administrators suggested such a high number was tells me that redshirting is a vastly popular alternative for some communities, although perhaps not as popular a practice. Communities can have vast differences in what’s accepted as “normal” with regard to entering ages for Kindergarten.
The age of Kindergarten entry has little effect on the academic and social success of a child by high school—Bassok and Reardon’s study confirmed this too. It is true that giving one extra year before starting kindergarten may give a kid a physical advantage through most of their K-12 years—I’m no sports expert, so I’ll leave that alone. However, giving the kid an extra year to “mature” may not give any academic or social advantages.
I think the bigger issue here—the reason so many parents even consider redshirting—is that Kindergarten has changed over the past couple decades. With the introduction of the 2002 No Child Left Behind law, under the leadership of President George W. Bush, and the introduction of the Common Core State Standards in 2012, under President Barack Obama, Kindergarten is viewed as the entry point to “college and career readiness.” Kindergarten classes are more conventionally academic than ever—requiring children to sit for longer periods, practice conventional academic skills more, and play less. When parents see Kindergarten classes changing, and then look at their five or six year old’s playful curiosity, they may wonder “is my child ready?” When more parents redshirt their kids, we see what has been called “the greying of Kindergarten.”
So if you’re wondering what’s worth fighting for, add this to your list: Kindergarten should be for five year olds! The kids will do better in the long run if we all agree to keep it that way. Otherwise the average age of kindergarteners will creep upward, and the natural diversity of the classroom will continue to get narrowed to meet standards of sameness. Play is relegated to shorter and shorter periods as Kindergarten schedules make way for formal academic learning. All of this happens even though we researchers know—and have plenty of studies to show—that play is the most effective catalyst for “academic” learning at this age.
 Zill, Loomis, & West (1997). National Household Education Survey 1992, 1995. Washington, D.C.: National Center for Educational Statistics.
 For example, books like School Can Wait by Moore (1979) popularized theories that suggested that kids need to mature before entering Kindergarten.
 Bassok, D., & Reardon, S. F. (2013). “Academic redshirting” in kindergarten: Prevalence, patterns, and implications. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 35(3), 283-297.
 Lincove, J. A. & Painter, G. (2006). Does the age that children start Kindergarten matter? Evidence of long-term educational and social outcomes. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 28(2), 153-179.
 Graue, M. E., & DiPenna, J. (2000). Redshirting and early retention: Who gets the “gift of time” and what are its outcomes? American Educational Research Journal, 37, 509-534.
 Frey, N. (2005). Retention, social promotion, and academic redshirting: What do we know and need to know? Remedial and Special Education, 26(6), 332-346
 Bracey, G. W. (2000). A children’s garden no more. Phi Delta Kappan, 81, 712-13.
A Response to the NCTQ Review of Teacher Prep Programs
Originally posted June 22, 2013
I am a Committee Chair for Policy and Legislative committee of the Literacy Research Association (LRA), the largest association of literacy researchers in the US. Together with members of the Board, my Committee, and input from leaders in the International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Council of Teacher of English (NCTE), I crafted this response to the recent hoopla generated by the NCTQ review of teacher preparation programs across the US.
In short, the NCTQ review is bunk. But the receptiveness of a media so willing to accept the NCTQ conclusion that there really are no (nada, zip, none—well, maybe 4?!?) good teacher prep programs in the US is concerning. The fact that U.S. News and World Report can comfortably publish NCTQ’s report within weeks of publishing their “Top Ranked” list of Colleges of Education and not have to defend the discrepancies at all also befuddles me. In the end, I think this whole fiasco suggests that our biggest call to duty as literacy educators is the need for more critical literacy!
This response (below) represents my first reaction. I will be working with leaders in IRA, LRA, and NCTE to develop a document that shares "What We Stand For" as literacy teacher educators and as means to evaluate programs that we all strive to continuously improve.
(*Please forgive formatting errors. SquareSpace doesn’t seem to like cut/pasted Word documents much)
Literacy Research Association (LRA) Response to the NCTQ Review of Teacher Education Programs
By LRA Policy and Legislative Committee members Caitlin McMunn Dooley (Chair), Carla Meyer, Chinwe Ikpeze, Ian O’Byrne, Sharon Kletzien, Trika Smith-Burke, Renee Casbergue, and Danielle Dennis (ad hoc member)
We recommend that all Literacy Research Association (LRA) members reach out to media, school leaders, and hiring personnel to remind them to attend to teacher education program ratings and evaluations that are valid and reliable rather than glossy, surface level reviews of syllabi. The adage, “you need to eat at the restaurant to review it, not just look at the menu,” comes to mind.
NCTQ evaluated more than 1,100 colleges and universities across the U.S. By offering a four-star, “consumer tool,” NCTQ claims to provide judgment about which teacher education programs are the best and worst. NCTQ’s methods included an evaluation of admissions standards, the syllabi of literacy-related courses, and the textbooks used in those courses. There was neither an attempt to check on the quality of field-based practices nor to check the reliability of data collected. This review is the latest chapter in NCTQ’s riddled history. As literacy-focused organizations, we offer an alternative vision for what makes “quality” in literacy teacher preparation.
We would be remiss, however, if we did not seize this opportunity in the spotlight to highlight some of the productive work our colleges and universities, professional organizations, and publishers are doing to ensure high-quality literacy teacher education—and were doing long before the NCTQ report. Additionally, we would like to take the opportunity to leverage support for continuous improvements.
· Attending to the Deep Research Base on Excellent Preparation for Teachers of Literacy
Many of our members actively engage in research and practices that demonstrate excellence in the preparation of classroom teachers and literacy specialists. As a community, our research addresses diverse topics within literacy education and teacher education. For example, IRA’s research on teacher preparation demonstrated how a wide variety of programs achieve excellent student learning results and kudos from school leaders. Many of our professional journals offer research on the best ways to prepare excellent literacy teachers (see, for example, the bibliographies for research studies on Professional Development/Teacher Education from NCTE’s Research in the Teaching of English here).
NCTQ’s singular focus on “the five elements of reading” is neither broad nor deep—nor is it helpful for preparing teachers for diverse classrooms. Any report that talks of students as though they’re all alike—as the NCTQ review does—neglects the reality of today’s diverse classrooms.
We encourage close attention to findings from research studies that have demonstrated the excellence of many diverse literacy teacher education programs. This research addresses how to teach teachers to meet the needs of students who may not have had a meal before coming to the classroom; the needs of students who have learning disabilities; the needs of students who are multilingual; the needs of students who are gifted; and the needs of students who struggle with eyesight, hearing, and other physical problems that may influence literacy learning. This research-base on teacher education and literacy learning is broad and deep.
· Supporting Valid Evaluations that Support Effective Literacy Education Programs
Understanding what makes an excellent teacher—one who creates learning opportunities and stays in the profession—is essential for districts and school hiring personnel. The nation’s teacher work force loses 15% of teachers every year, effectively meaning that half of the workforce is replaced every three years. Given that experienced teachers are most often better teachers, evaluations of teacher education programs should attend to the need to attract good teachers who stay in the profession.
The NCTQ’s processes for evaluation are so flawed that any decisions about teacher education made on the basis of the NCTQ review would be detrimental to teachers and—most importantly—children. The review does not attend to teacher retention rates. Nor does it attend to the literacy needs of diverse student populations.
We recommend that only comprehensive, valid evaluations of teacher education programs should be used for decision-making; the NCTQ review is neither valid nor comprehensive. Most states offer reviews of teacher preparation programs, including retention rates, already. Most colleges and universities go through accreditation processes that depend on transparent and extensive data analyses (the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) offers an explanation of the difference in quality evaluations between NCTQ’s evaluation processes and accreditation). Local colleges and universities can advise which body accredits and governs programs in your area.
· Assessing Teacher Education via Accepted Standards
Teacher education programs, including all literacy-related courses and field placements, are aligned to State standards for K-12 curricula, accreditation, and teacher licensure. This is common practice for all programs in public universities, the very same programs evaluated by NCTQ. However, NCTQ created new “standards” by which to judge programs—none of which are aligned with State curricular, accreditation, or licensure standards. In addition, NCTQ’s claim to have evaluated the integration of the Common Core State Standards is questionable because most of their “data collection” (we use quotes because no researcher would consider NCTQ’s data collection valid or reliable research) occurred prior to the most States’ adoption of the Standards.
· Celebrate What’s Right and Support What’s Needed
We recommend that media, policy, and governments (local, state, and federal) make examples of programs that have been successful, highlight effective features, and invest in creating more high-quality teacher education programs with those effective features.
· Base Textbook Selection Based on Robust, Professional Choices
Our organizations publish and have many members who author texts for literacy teacher educators. These texts are research-based, peer-reviewed, and closely edited to ensure that teachers can glean understandings about how to design high-quality instruction for students.
The NCTQ review provides a flawed evaluation of literacy-related textbooks; if used for decision-making, the NCTQ textbook review could be damaging to teachers and children. Their review of the “five elements” of reading (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension) neglects to value worthy topics such as writing, motivation, interest, diverse learners, family literacy, multi-literacies, and digital literacies, among others. Additionally, several texts deemed “unacceptable” do indeed address the five elements—perhaps a level of detail easily overlooked by the three novice literacy specialists who were tasked with “reading” textbooks for over 1100 programs in less than a year.
We encourage teachers and teacher educators to read broadly and deeply. We discourage any list that restricts what is taught to a stagnant, limited inventory of early literacy skills. We believe such limits confine learning opportunities for children and are harmful for literacy education. We highly discourage any third-party limitations of textbooks for teacher preparation programs.
Again, we encourage members of LRA to speak out both through communications with policy makers and writing letters to local newspapers. Refer to IRA’s Advocacy Manual and the OpEd Project here or here for direction, if needed.
One of the goals of LRA is to conduct and provide literary research to inform its members and the larger profession in ways that improve literacy curriculum and instruction, including literacy teacher preparation. The LRA Policy and Legislative Committee, working colleagues from other organizations, will generate a longer position paper based on current literacy research that will address some of the broader methodological limitations of and false generalizations in the NCTQ report regarding teacher preparation programs for literacy education as well providing a more positive, productive direction for literacy teacher education programs through formulating a set of recommendations for improving these programs.
One of the biggest issues in education reform and policy over the next few years will be teacher performance assessment. The problem is that most teachers rate at the highest levels and there’s no real way to distinguish the best teachers given today’s means for measuring teacher effectiveness. The Gates Foundation funded the MET study to investigate this issue (stands for Measures of Effective Teaching) and since then, the US Dept. of Education and a majority of states have pushed for new teacher performance assessments. Race to the Top funding requires a revamp of teacher performance assessment. And at the time I write this post, I’m reviewing state-by-state what’s going on—so far 26 states have implemented new standards for assessing teachers within the last 2 years. Many of these systems are tied to pay and job security.
Many questions remain about the effectiveness of these systems. In spite of so much money to revamp our state teacher assessment systems, the new assessments usually offer a generic look at teaching. And so far these assessments haven’t provided a better means of distinguishing the best teachers than the assessments that came before.
Here are some pertinent articles about this issue:
I recently co-authored a Policy Update disseminated by the Literacy Research Association on this issue. Here’s what we wrote:
LRA Policy Update
Why Is Policy about Teacher Performance Assessment Important to Literacy Educators and Researchers?
Teacher Performance Assessment (also sometimes called Educator Evaluation, Observational Evaluation, Teacher Observation Assessments, and other names) is important to literacy educators and researchers because it is shaping K-12 literacy instruction, being used to rate literacy educators, and becoming part of teacher education systems across the nation. Proponents see Teacher Performance Assessment as a way to substantiate and improve the quality of the teaching profession. High quality Teacher Performance Assessments would allow for consistent, repeatable, sustainable measures of teacher quality that provide multiple measures and clear criteria for the teaching profession.
Teacher performance assessments will likely be on the federal and state legislative dockets this spring and summer. This policy alert provides information and recommendations about how policies relating to teacher performance assessments can contribute to improving education. The goal of this informational document is to inform membership about teacher performance assessment policies that are currently under development and alert LRA members to the possible impact that they may have on their teacher education programs and institutions. Based on research, recommendations for and against certain practices are provided.
Teacher performance assessments usually consist of observations of classroom instruction and may include teachers’ plans, instruction-related documents, and reflections. Teacher performance assessments come in many shapes and sizes—some consisting of brief observational protocols focused on specific tasks or objectives of the teacher performance and others consisting of complex collection of multiple data points to assess the overall teaching and learning cycle in instruction.
Teacher performance assessments can be used in new teacher induction conducted by individual states. These assessments can also be used in evaluations of veteran educators by individual states and school districts. This policy update relates to formal, standardized teacher performance assessments for new teacher induction that are being developed and mandated as opposed to the less formal, locally constructed observational protocols that have informed teachers and teacher educators in the past.
TheedTPA is one prominent teacher performance assessment developed by Stanford University in collaboration with Pearson and is specifically used with new teachers. Created by Stanford researchers Linda Darling-Hammond, Ray Pecheone, and colleagues, this performance assessment has been endorsed by the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE) and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
Additionally the most recent issue ofThe New Educator (Volume 9, Number 1) published research articles specifically about the Performance Assessment of California Teachers (PACT). The PACT has been revised and is now the edTPA.
What Does the Research Say?
Teacher performance assessments have risen in popularity as an additional means for assessing and accounting for high-quality teacher preparation and effectiveness. Previous proposals to use measures of student achievement as a sole means of evaluating teachers and teacher preparation programs (and, similarly, merit pay based on these scores) have been questioned by researchers as unreliable and invalid (Committee on Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education of the National Research Council, 2011; Floden, 2012; Gansle, Noell, & Burns, 2012; Goe, Bell, & Little, 2008; Goe & Holdheide, 2011; Goldhaber, Brewer, & Anderson, 1999; Baker et al., 2010). Rather than simply use standardized student scores to evaluate teachers, teacher performance assessments use teachers’ instructional behaviors captured by observation and/or video, plans, reflections, and student learning outcomes (usually not standardized) as a way to more robustly evaluate teachers.
If implemented thoughtfully, teacher performance assessments can also provide teachers with a means to analyze and improve instructional practices and support student learning (e.g., Darling-Hammond, 2006; Okhremtochouk, Seiki, Gilliland, Ateh, Wallace, & Kato, 2009; Porter, Youngs, & Odden, 2001).
However, researchers have indicated concerns about observer-rater reliability (Praetorius, Lenske, & Helmke, 2012; Sandholtz & Shea, 2011), predictive validity (Gimbert & Chesley, 2009), school context factors (Okhremtochouk, Seiki, Gilliland, Ateh, Wallace, & Kato, 2009); and educational equity (Rennert-Ariev, 2008) related to the implementation of TPAs. Researchers have also warned against the turn toward a practice-only lens when looking for teacher quality (e.g., Zeichner, 2012).
Federal Level Climate
Federal level policies are likely to address teacher performance assessments as part of a broader push to address accountability at the higher education level and in teacher preparation. Federal policy consultants have indicated that, at least at the federal level, policy makers are unlikely to adopt a single test or metric for teacher evaluation and assessment. They will likely create policies that require assessment programs with various metrics. Given the national popularity of the edTPA, and the endorsement of the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE), federal policy makers are likely to include many of the characteristics of the edTPA; although they probably won’t call it by name.
1. Federal legislators will be working on re-authorizing Title ii of the Higher Education Act which expires at the end of 2013. “Teacher preparation” is already part of the institutional program report card system (IPRC). See elements addressed here:http://title2.ed.gov/Title2IPRC/Pages/IPRCMANUAL2012.pdf
Early predictions are that any reauthorization of Title ii of the Higher Education Act will include teacher performance assessment as part of the new law for undergraduate and preservice teacher education programs.
2. Federal legislators may include teacher performance assessment in any reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary School Act (ESEA, currently called “No Child Left Behind”). Title IIA of ESEA currently addresses teacher quality by providing funds for districts to provide professional development and requiring “highly qualified” teachers and leaders. Any reauthorization will likely abandon the current designation of “highly qualified” based solely on certification and will likely use teacher performance assessments to evaluate teacher performance in schools.
3. Federal legislators are also likely to address the federally funded Head Start pre-school program (and Early Head Start) due to budget threats to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Republicans in the House have suggested cutting funding since a report by the Department in 2011 (“Head Start Impact”) pointed out some limitations of the program. Currently, section 684A of the Head Start Act addresses teacher preparation, requiring all teachers to have Associate’s degrees in a related field by 2013 and at least half to have Bachelor’s degrees. However, some studies have questioned whether degrees are predictive of quality in early childhood education (e.g., Henry, et al., 2012). Any revision of the Head Start program likely would address teacher performance as part of program evaluation, in addition to other program changes.
State Level Climate
Several states have already adopted teacher performance assessment programs to evaluate current teachers. These go by various names and are of varying quality. A review of these state programs is beyond the scope of this update; however, we focus on the edTPA because it is sweeping through states as a means to assess new teachers and teacher preparation programs.
Many states have, or are creating, policies requiring colleges and universities to incorporate teacher performance assessments into teacher preparation licensure and program evaluation and are naming the edTPA as the preferred assessment. These trends suggest that the edTPA will become “the” national model for performance assessment of new teachers in the next couple years.
Currently states are adopting the edTPA one by one. This widespread adoption is in large part due to the assessment being endorsed by the AACTE and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. While Stanford has maintained all intellectual property rights to the assessment program, Pearson Publishing has rights to the operational delivery system. The assessment includes written reflections, documentation of a series of lessons, and video samples of teaching. Pearson currently charges $300 to score each teacher’s assessment. Given this cost and the cost of other required certification tests, the costs could become prohibitive for many teachers.
As of the drafting of this statement, twenty-four states and the District of Columbia have either formally adopted or are considering adopting the edTPA. See this link for the states in the process of adopting edTPA: http://edtpa.aacte.org/state-policy
Some of the questions that states are grappling with are:
● Can a state’s legislative body mandate the use of teacher performance assessments or is this a state department or governor’s office or district decision?
● Should teacher performance assessments be used for teacher certification, hiring, merit pay, and/or retention decisions?
● Who should have ownership and access to teacher performance assessment documents, rubric results, and scores?
● Should teacher performance assessment documents and results be accessible to hiring districts/schools?
● How many teacher performance assessments should be implemented if a teacher is certified and/or endorsed (or is seeking either) across multiple content and instructional areas (e.g., English Language Arts? special education? English Learner specialists?)
● Who is responsible for paying the cost of data collection and scoring for teachers’ performance assessments?
● Who is responsible for FERPA protections for students who might be filmed (including P-12 and university students) and whose work samples might be collected as part of teacher performance assessments?
● Are teacher performance assessment videos allowed to be edited? If so, how much and by whom?
● What training and expertise are required for evaluators and/or members of a scoring panel for teacher assessments (e.g., the edTPA)?
● What metrics are in place to ensure that scoring is common and reliable across scorers on teacher assessments?
Policy Recommendations Relating to Teacher Performance Assessments
Based on research about teacher performance assessments, we have the following recommendations for LRA members to present to policy-makers:
1. Multiple assessments of teacher performance should be used to evaluate teachers, as opposed to using student test data and/or one observation protocol as a sole metric.
2. Teacher performance assessments should include comprehensive indicators of high-quality teaching adapted from research on teacher quality and effectiveness (e.g., the edTPA aligns with InTASC 2012 and National Board Standards for Professional Teaching). These indicators should be valid and reliably scored.
3. Teacher performance assessments should be coordinated with adopted curricular standards for all areas of instruction.
4. Scorers must have proven pedagogical content knowledge in the area that they are scoring a teacher performance assessment.
5. Video samples of instructional events in real classrooms should be reviewed and reflected upon by the teachers who are being assessed. These videos will also require valid and reliable scoring.
6. Scoring criteria should be clear to the assessors and to the teachers being assessed.
7. The costs of teacher performance assessment, especially for new teachers seeking entry into the field, should be subsidized by the state and/or federal government through needs-based grants to individuals.
8. If a teacher is certified and/or seeking certification in several areas, he/she should select a primary certification area and participate in only one assessment.
1. Releasing any personally identifiable teacher performance assessment data to media, districts, and schools, especially when those assessments are used for aggregated program evaluation reports.
2. Mandating how teacher performance assessments should connect to specific content area preparation courses and program requirements.
3. Requiring teachers to participate in more than one teacher performance assessment (such as the edTPA) annually.
4. Mandating literacy and math or “generic” teacher performance assessments to the exclusion of other content areas, especially at the elementary level.
Baker, E., Barton, P. E., Darling-Hammond, L., Haertel, D., Ladd, H. F., Linn, R. L., Ratvich, D., Rothstein, R., Shavelston, R. J., & Sheppard, L. (2010). Problems with the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers. Economic Policy Institute briefing paper 278. Washington, DC: EPI.
Benton-Borghi, B. H. & Chang, Y. M. (2012). Critical examination of candidates diversity competence: Rigorous and systematic assessment of candidates’ efficacy to teach diverse student populations. The Teacher Educator, 47(1), 29-44. DOI: 10.1080/08878730.2011.632472
Committee on Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education of the National Research Council. (2011). Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
Darling-Hammond, L. (2006). Assessing teacher education: The usefulness of multiple measures for assessing program outcomes. Journal of Teacher Education, 16(5-6), 523-545.
Floden, R. (2012). Teacher value added as a measure of program quality: Interpret with caution. Journal of Teacher Education, 63(5), 356-360.
Gansle, K. A., Noell, G. H., & Burns, J. M. (2012). Do student achievement outcomes differ across teacher preparation programs? An analysis of teacher education in Louisiana. Journal of Teacher Education, 63(5), 304-317.
Gimbert, B. G., & Chesley, D. (2009). Predicting teacher success using teacher selection practices and classroom performance assessment. Journal of School Leadership, 19, 49-80.
Goe, L., Bell, C. & Little, O. (2008). Approaches to Evaluating Teacher Effectiveness: A Research Synthesis. National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality.
Goldhaber, D., Brewer, D. & Anderson, D. (1999). A three-way error components analysis of educational productivity. Education Economics7(3), 199-208.
Henry, G. T., Kershaw, D. C., Zulli, R. A.,& Smith, A. A. (2012). Incorporating teacher effectiveness into teacher preparation program evaluation. Journal of Teacher Education, 63, 335-355. DOI: 10.1177/0022487112454437
Okhremtchouk, I., Seiki, S., Gilliland, B., Ateh, C., Wallace, M., & Kato, A. (2009). Voices of pre-service teachers: Perspectives on the Performance Assessment for California Teachers (PACT). Issues in Teacher Education, 18(1), 39-62.
Porter, A., Youngs, P., & Odden, A. (2001). Advances in teacher assessments and their use. In V. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of research on teaching (4th ed, pp. 259-297). Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.
Praetorius, A., Lenske, G., & Helmke, A. (2012). Observer ratings of instructional quality: Do they fulfill what they promise? Learning and Instruction, 22, 387-400
Rennert-Ariev, P. (2008). The hidden curriculum of performance-based teacher education. Teachers College Record, 110(1), 105-138.
Sandholtz, J. H., & Shea, L. M. (2011). Predicting performance: A comparison of university supervisors’ predictions and teacher candidates’ scores on a teacher performance assessment. Journal of Teacher Education, 63, 39-50. DOI: 10.1177/0022487111421175
Zeichner, K. (2012). The turn once again toward practice-based teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 63, 376-382. DOI: 10.1177/0022487112445789
A Literacy Research Association Policy Update is a timely informational piece, or series of pieces, on a policy issue/topic deemed by the Policy & Legislative Committee to be of interest to literacy educators and researchers. Updates will alert LRA members that (1) an issue/topic is likely to arise (or has recently arisen) in state or federal debates and policy development; (2) there are research studies and scholarly opinions that provide initial clarification and evaluation of the issue/topic. Given the likelihood that policies/topics will evolve quickly and the need to push information out to membership in a timely fashion, Policy Updates are not exhaustive in their coverage.
Members of the Legislative and Policy Committee 2012-2013 include: Caitlin McMunn Dooley, chair; Renée Casbergue; Chinwe Ikpeze, Sharon Kletzien, Carla Meyer, W. Ian O’Byrne, & Trika Smith-Burke.
Please join us in conversation about this issue in the following areas:
CCSS Means for Policy Makers OR What's All the Fuss?
This is a final post in a series of four posts about what the CCSS means for Principals, Teachers, Parents, and Policy-makers. (Originally posted March 4, 2013)
This past week, the Indiana State Senate Education Committee voted 7-4 for SB 193 to halt the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Several other state legislators are hearing arguments now about whether to keep or toss the CCSS (e.g., AL [Senate Bill 190; House Bill 254], GA [Senate Bill 167], KA [House Bill 2289]). So many educators, parents, and policy makers are wondering, “What’s all the fuss?”
Friends in the National Governor’s Association, Achieve, the U.S. Department of Education, our national and state Congressional bodies have probably been feeling pretty proud of themselves for finally passing national curricular standards. As a nation, we benefit from having a consistent and explicit set of expectations for our children who may move from one state to another several times during their K-12 experience. However, the CCSS that we have adopted may not be what we bargained for.
Lately, more and more folks have been crying “foul” about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The main reasons are:
The process of voluntary adoption of national standards has been undermined by federal and state coercion. Hinging grants on adoption of CCSS is as good as arm-twisting, especially in an era when schools are suffering unprecedented budget shortfalls.
The CCSSs have never been tested and may steer the nation’s educational system in the wrong direction. Seldom are programs adopted without at least some vetting. Yet our nation has adopted these standards without any research, cost-benefit analysis, or testing to see if they will help or hurt students. States were encouraged to adopt the standards before they were even written! We have no indication that the Standards are undergoing any efficacy assessments. Nor do we have indication that the Standards will be changed or amended in response to implementation issues that arise during the adoption process.
States did not take part in the development of the CCSS. While the CCSS are a better set of standards for some states, they’re a step down for others. The CCSS suffer from the fate of documents written by committee—they’re the result of negotiations that result in a product that is middling at best. While there were periods for public response, the drafting committee did not represent all states, nor did it represent input from states with proven positive results.
The CCSS will hurt our most vulnerable students. As they are currently written, the CCSS represent a high bar for performance; however, they give little guidance on how to scaffold historically underserved and underperforming students to achieve at new levels. Chances are, these standards will reveal even greater disparities in achievement and opportunity. Similar revelations (e.g., the achievement gap) previously have done little to help—and have often hurt—the very students that are already suffering from an inequitable educational system.
Federal pressure on states to adopt the CCSS runs counter to the U.S. Constitution. This argument is most often proposed by conservatives who claim that the U.S. Constitution relegates education to state control. With many federal grant opportunities requiring the CCSS, they’re right to point fingers. But this may be more complicated by our nation’s history of federal education related policy which as been rich and rife with contention since the 1960s. Nonetheless, this has been a primary driver for several state legislators to propose halting or tossing the CCSS.
Assessments? What assessments? The same folks who promised us improved learning via the CCSS have also promised that assessments for these standards will be cheaper and better than what we have now. So far, we have learned that the tests will be more expensive, harder to implement, more likely to cause disruption, and more narrowly defined than all forecasts. States are pulling out of the two consortia (PARCC and SMARTER Balanced) as I write this.
There are some inherent issues with the curricular choices introduced by the Standards themselves.But these issues don’t seem to be why policy makers are rebuking them. I have written about these issues in previous posts more explicitly. Never the less, I will go ahead and summarize the issues as I see them from my perspective as a literacy/language arts curriculum specialist:
The increasing emphasis on complex and informational texts in the English Language Arts (ELA) standards should not be at the expense of fiction and other “language arts.” Poetry, music, fiction, and other creative genres should be considered just as essential to our children’s learning as “how to” guides are!
The lack of dynamic, forward thinking standards relating to learning technologies and digital composition threatens to set us back in an era when technology is transforming our world.
The developmental progression of learners assumed by the CCSS lacks empirical and theoretical support.
The CCSS were made for testing—beware. They represent a narrow view of curriculum. By all means, teachers will and should teach above and beyond the scope of the CCSS and the assessments professed to “measure” them.
My recommendations for policy makers:
(1) Require some effort be made to evaluate the cost-effectiveness, efficacy, and implementation issues encountered by educators and children as the CCSS are rolled out.
(2) Take time before adopting any assessment for the CCSS. While I have hope for the proposed assessments, I believe the growing pains will be significant and the first stab at creating a new generation of assessments may not be the best one. But I do like the emphasis on constructed response, performance assessments, and computer-adaptive items. I just think these need to be implemented at small scale and refined before they’re used to define our national education agenda.
(3) Create feedback loops and allow for amendments to the CCSS as they’re currently written. We can probably avoid some of the issues in the long run if we pay attention to short run results and feedback from educators, students, and families.
(4) Consider reducing the frequency and stakes associated with assessments. We all know that testing has over run schools and instructional time. Now is the time to allow for risk and creativity, not to constrain educators and learners with tests, tests, and more tests.
For more information and critical analyses of the CCSS, see:
This is the third in a series of blogs about the Common Core Standards. This post contains advice for teachers. (Originally Published January 26, 2013)
What CCSS Means for Teachers
I’m sure teachers are already sick of hearing about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). By now, you’ve been told that you will switch over to these new Standards if you work in any of the 45 states that have already adopted them (see a map here of the states that have/have not adopted http://www.corestandards.org/in-the-states ). So what’s a teacher to do?
1. Give Yourself Time
These Standards took more than a decade to be developed. Putting them fully into practice will take a while too. Give yourself time to learn. Find out more about the Standards, their pros and their cons (I’ve written about this in my previous blog entries.) Take time to reflect as you adjust your teaching.
2. Learn with/from Others
Seek a group of like-minded, dedicated, inquisitive teachers to learn with. Take small bits of the Standards and consider them together. Which elements do you think will be most challenging? Work together through these hard parts, share resources, identify helpful technologies, and create new units and lessons. Carve out regular time to talk—whether in the workroom at school or a nearby restaurant, really anywhere you think you’ll do it regularly.
3. Think Through the Hard Parts
I have no crystal ball, but in looking at the standards, I foresee that there will be some parts that will be a struggle for some teachers:
Teaching “complex” texts.
Text complexity is all the rage in CCSS. It’s how the developers came up with that crazy-long list of “exemplar texts” that sits at the end of the K-12 English Language Arts (ELA) Standards. Text complexity is not simply a quantitative readability score (like the Lexile scores that the CCSS use). Text complexity involves qualitative information like text genre, format and structure, vocabulary, levels of meaning (literal, figurative, etc.), and knowledge demands. While the CCSS lists text exemplars in order of increasing text complexity, your job will be to thoughtfully look beyond their list to match texts and children. While you want to push students to challenge themselves to read more complex texts, your job will be to scaffold their learning as they approach each new text. If you find that one child struggles with new vocabulary or another child struggles with a new text format, then you will know which texts to offer next as you teach about these text features.
Increasing the focus on informational texts.
As grade level increases, the CCSSs focus on informational texts increases. And the fact is, P-12 educators have a history of teaching more about narrative texts, especially in the early grades. So this might be a shift.
You will want to be sure to offer informational texts in your classroom. You will want to teach children how to approach these texts as information gatherers, synthesizers, and inquirers. You can ask your students to take these approaches by asking them to summarize, identify key points, synthesize across texts, and ask new questions. If you’re wondering how to do this, look into books offered by the International Reading Association, the National Council of Teachers of Educators—they’ll have some great ideas.
This does not mean “look it up in the dictionary”! This means that we teachers need to teach about new words through explicit instruction. Vocabulary shouldn’t focus on high frequency words that the kids already know. The words that need to be taught are the kinds that represent abstract ideas that go across content areas (words like “justice” or “apprentice”). You’ll get the most bang for your buck when you teach these kinds of words. Also teach words that are specialized and focus on one content area (like science words), but these should only be taught in conjunction with science and social studies class (NOTE: This falls apart when you’re working with English learners because they also need that first level—the frequent words that are common to everyday language).
Getting kids to explain their thinking and nurture analytical thinking.
Discuss, discuss, discuss learning. Start each lesson by asking kids what they know and how they know. End each lesson by asking kids what they’ve learned and how they learned. Ask them routinely to consider their process for thinking and learning. Use questions like, “How do you know that?” “What makes you think that?” “Where did you get information that helped your learning?” “What questions did you have that lead you to learn more?” “What questions do you still have?” “What are you wondering?” Follow these discussions up with opportunities for kids to write about their thinking, draw about it, and create “audit trails” that trace their learning journeys. (I’ll write a blog entry about audit trails soon!)
Supporting research and writing reports.
The CCSS emphasize research and inquiry. In many classrooms, research papers are sent home as projects, but they shouldn’t be. That leaves the hard work up to the student and tilts the advantage to only those students with parents with the time and background to scaffold the process. This is a role for teachers! As you work to incorporate opportunities for inquiry into your units of study, consider finding ways to engage students in inquiry. They can create their own textbook chapters, make videos, and other products that demonstrate their learning. Your job here is to scaffold the inquiry process. Help them to hone their questions, seek information from multiple sources, synthesize that information, and create a product. Think about how you might claim this role to ensure that all students in your class have the opportunity for scaffolded help throughout the inquiry process.
Integrating meaningful technologies.
While the CCSS don’t particularly shout “TECH,” the fact is that we need to use technology to teach the CCSS well. The internet, apps, and multimodal composition tools (video, audio, print, photo, etc.) are all helpful for children as they achieve new levels of thinking and understanding. They’re not going away. And kids will have to be able to master these tools (and some yet to be invented) if they are to truly be “college and career ready.”
Your role as “assessor” has just gotten harder. Teachers can master this role by closely attending to kids talk, writing, and thinking. But they will also need to pay close attention to the kinds of assessments that are being developed for the CCSS. New tests with constructed response items will require students not only to get the right answer, but also to tell why it’s right. It’s likely that more and more tests and test-like tools will become available in the next 2-5 years. Your job will be to analyze that data to best match instruction to each learner’s needs.
4. Know the Limits of the CCSS
With all this hoopla about these new Standards, it’s easy to be misled. The CCSS threaten to over-promise, but underdeliver on academic success. No nation has ever improved learning and erased achievement “gaps” by creating national standards. The CCSS are not a panacea. They’re a framework. Your job will be to thoughtfully adapt these Standards to the needs of your students while supporting them to reach new levels of understanding.
This is the second in a series of posts looking at the impact of the Common Core State Standards on different members of our school communities. (Originally published January 5, 2013)
What are the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)?
The Common Core State Standards are learning objectives for K-12 education. Standards for English language arts and mathematics were developed in 2009. Science standards are being developed now.
As of Jan 2013, the CCSS have been adopted by 45 U.S. states (see a map here of the states that have/have not adopted http://www.corestandards.org/in-the-states ). They are considered “national” standards even though VA, TX, AL, MN (accepted math but rejected English/Language Arts), and NE have chosen not to adopt the standards.
Proponents of Standards suggest:
These standards are aligned with global learning objectives and makes our nation more globally competitive.
Children who move from state to state will benefit from having more alignment among their school learning objectives in various states.
Assessments of learning will be better able to compare student achievement levels across the states now that they share the same learning objectives.
The CCSS are more rigorous than some existing state standards.
Critics of the Standards suggest:
The CCSS initiative has overstepped constitutional requirements that education remain a “states issue” by creating national standards. (Although the federal government did not write the standards, the U.S. Department of Education has funded grants to establish the CCSS as well as establish common assessment criteria for the Standards).
This is just one more education “reform” amidst many in too short of time.
Implementing new standards has never, on its own, improved a nation’s global ranking on international comparisons.
The one-size-fits-all and step-by-step developmental trajectory built into the CCSS is not consistent with research on learners or learning.
The CCSS are not as rigorous as some existing state standards.
States that have adopted the CCSS have or will soon adopt one of two assessment systems to test their students’ learning: Either the PARCC or the SMARTER Balanced assessments. Both of these assessment consortia were developed by groups of states that came together to make tests.
What does this mean for my child?
There will be an adjustment period. The CCSS are likely to be around for a while—they’re not going away. However, it will take time for schools and teachers to completely transfer over to these new standards. Ask teachers and administrators what their transition plan looks like.
Implementation of the CCSS will likely involve changes to reading and writing lessons. Your child will be expected to read more, read increasingly harder texts, and respond to those texts in talk in writing. So read to and with your child. Talk about the texts you read.
Expect that your child will be assigned more research papers. He or she will be asked for more written explanations of math problems and reading responses. And he or she may be asked to do more projects in and out of school. This is all part of the push for “deeper learning” that is part of CCSS.
There will be changes to your state-mandated testing requirements. Your regular state test—the one that was multiple-choice and given every spring—will change. The new tests include short-answer (called “constructed response”) and multiple-choice items. In the states that have adopted SMARTER Balanced assessments, they will be delivered via computers. And there’s pressure to do testing more regularly in every state so that these assessments are more likely to inform instruction. That means that your child might take more tests throughout the school year, but they should be shorter.
What can I do to help my child adapt to these changes?
In addition to reading stories, read and talk about informational texts with your child. Informational texts might include manuals, websites, newspapers, magazine articles, schedules, and books (biographies, self-help, histories, etc.). The CCSS emphasize informational texts more and more as grade levels increase. Share with your child how you use informational texts in life and work. If your child is young, mix informational texts into your bedtime reading routine.
Ask your child to explain his/her thinking more. Many of the CCSS call for learners to explain how they arrive at answers or how they consider ideas in math and English language arts. This kind of talking-about-learning is helpful to learners. Saying things like “How did you know that?” or “Tell me more about what you know about…” or “Can you tell me how you figured that out?” will help your child to articulate his/her learning. You can model this kind of articulation yourself by explaining the steps you take when you figure out a new idea or solve a problem.
Ask your child’s teacher and principal what’s needed. How can you help with implementation by contributing resources, expertise, and ideas.
What should I do to advocate for my child within the school?
Watch out for too much time spent on testing. Whether it’s practice tests for new assessments, district benchmark tests, unit tests, or what’s being called “student learning objective” tests, test taking should not account for more than 20% of instructional time (and even that is pretty generous). Sometimes when schools feel the pressure of new Standards and new tests, they might over-compensate by doing too many assessments to prepare the children. Don’t let this happen to your child! Ask your child’s teacher what tests are given, how much time they each take, and how much time they’re taking from instruction. Your child’s teacher may not be able to file complaint about these assessments but you can!
Advocate for your child’s right to resources. Adopting the CCSS will require schools to rethink the resources that they make available to students. They will need more than just textbooks. Ask your school what they’re doing to fulfill this need.
Advocate for your child’s right to play. Learning is not always according to Standards. Play is an important part of learning. Play enhances creativity and supports academic learning. Play is often the catalyst that makes disparate subjects like math and reading “click.” Don’t let your child’s schooling focus so much on the CCSS that play gets abandoned.
If you want more information about the CCSS, see these helpful resources:
CCSS Advice for School-level Administrators and Leaders
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are causing many schools to massively restructure curriculum. Every school that has adopted the CCSS is feeling the stress of change. As I work with teachers and administrators, I am often asked for advice about how to support this shift. My next few blog entries will be advice to various education stake-holders as they support children’s learning during this time of transition.
Today’s blog is directed to school leaders—principals, assistant principals, curriculum directors, and resource teachers—who want to be helpful during this time of transition. However, I hope anyone interested in the way we teach our children will find value in the post.
1. Find TIME for teachers’ professional development. What teachers need right now is time to think, plan, and collaborate. Professional development should not be the next big idea, new method, or new program right now. Don’t fall for quick-fix/quick-adoption snake oil programs. They won’t work. What teachers really need is just time to think, reflect on what works, figure out what’s needed, and plan for new curricula.
Most teachers don’t need to completely change their instruction. Instead, they need to think about how the CCSS relates to what they already do well and what methods and resources they need to meet these new standards. They need time to read the CCSS document, review the guides provided by your district and/or state, and gather resources. They need time to talk with each other, ask questions, and get help.
2. Get the right PD facilitator. This is someone who can assist teachers in reflective practice and planning. This person can help teachers create a “back-ward map” between the CCSS to instructional units that make sense. You may have someone in your district who can facilitate this kind of thinking and interaction. If not, then you might have a nearby university. Reach out and ask if they have a faculty member who specializes in teacher development. Alternatively, someone trained by the National School Reform Faculty organization (http://www.nsrfharmony.org/) can also help teachers reflect and plan.
3. Develop teacher leaders. Look to your own school’s teachers for leadership in this transition. You’ll find your job is much easier when there are more leaders forging the way to CCSS implementation, not fewer. Teachers will lead when you give them room to lead.
Find exceptional teachers (every school has them!) and ask them to guide groups to develop a transition plan. The groups can tell administration what they plan to do as they move toward new standards, which content areas and topics they want to address first, their timeline for “getting there,” and resources that they’ll need. Give these teacher leaders time and incentives. Reward them for their extra effort.
Your job here is to lead from behind—offering support, but not dictating. Listen. Listen more.
Find item examples and give them to your teacher leaders. They’ll be able to tell how the tasks reflected in the items are consistent with the more authentic tasks they use in everyday instruction and assessment. They will want to make this connection but they won’t want to focus too much on “the test”—and they’re smart for thinking that way. Now is not the time to emphasize test prep—the CCSS are about deep learning. Use what the teachers tell you as you communicate with families and your district about how your school is preparing kids to be successful on the mandated assessments.
5. Communicate, communicate, communicate. We’ve all heard that the scores will likely drop for most states once the PARCC and SMARTER Balanced assessments are in place. This is just one message that needs to come early and often. That message will prepare families and community members to expect that successful adoption of the CCSS, like most challenging and worthwhile efforts, will be a long-term endeavor.
Other topics you should discuss are: (a) what the CCSS are (a good site w/ video: http://www.ascd.org/ascd-express/vol8/805-video.aspx ); (b) why you think the CCSS are worthwhile and what the limits are; (c) how are you supporting teachers and students during CCSS adoption; (d) how can families help their children learn (focus on specific ideas like how kids can explain their thinking more and how to increase in non-fiction text reading at home); (e) how you are getting resources to your school to assist with implementation (and perhaps what the community can do to help).
Now is NOT the time to be silent. Now is a time to lead! Communication is interactive. Invite input. Invite participation.
6. Provide resources! Ask teachers what they need. Do they need non-fiction texts? Community experts for specific topics? Ways to teach academic language and vocabulary? Technology tools? Sometimes time is the most needed resource.
Resources may require some fund-raising. Seek district funds and federal funds (ESEA Title II funds are a good resource here). Ask your PTA and/or business community for help with specific requests. If those funds aren’t available, consider getting grants. Consider Donor’s Choose and using social media to ask for donations.
7. Know the limits of CCSS. When the states gathered together to create the CCSS, they garnered support by saying that a uniform set of national standards would be based on international benchmarks, thus making the US more globally competitive. They said that the CCSS would help create more stability for families who move from one state to another. They said that the CCSS would allow for deeper learning. They said that uniform standards would eliminate “gaps” in opportunities to learn that inequitable state standards had created. While these justifications for the CCSS were helpful, they’re not proven.
The CCSS offers a new list of what needs to be taught and learned, but Standards alone do not ensure learning. So be sure to offer guidance about how the Standards can be leveraged to help learning, but don’t over-promise and under-deliver.
Some of the critics of the CCSS have pointed out limitations of the Standards (these are the ones closest to my heart…there are more):
a. Developmental progression of the standards is a “best-guess” alignment but not research-based. You’ve been working with kids long enough to know that they do not progress at lock-step rates. Learning doesn’t happen in the same way that the CCSS lay out. Learning happens in fits and starts. Remind your teachers that they teach STUDENTS, not STANDARDS. Standards are simply goals. Students should always come first! Allow for variation and individualized instruction as much as possible.
b. Increasing text complexity does not ensure reading development. While the CCSS suggest that text complexity should increase at each grade level, no research proves that readers do better when they follow a step-ladder of texts from less to more complex. Kids may or may not be ready for certain texts. Having kids stumble through texts that are entirely too hard is not helpful and can be hurtful. They may need more support for some texts and less for others. Teachers need to be able to use text complexity as just one factor in matching texts to students (other factors might include students’ interests, genres of study, and instructional goals).
In addition, some researchers question the Lexile analyzer used by the CCSS to indicate text complexity. They suggest that the Lexile system leaves out important text elements like text length, text structures (like headings, sections, etc.), and genre. Elements such as these can indeed make texts more and less difficult for readers. So allow for flexible interpretation of Lexiles.
c. No nation has ever improved learning and erased achievement “gaps” by creating national standards. The CCSS are not a panacea. They’re a framework. The “gaps” we see among rich and poor, ethnic groups, and language groups are influenced by so much more than Standards. The CCSS require enabling conditions to be successful in improving educational opportunities. Please consider your role in addressing our nation’s education “gap” as one that is more comprehensive than simply implementing new Standards.
8. Ask for help. This is a big deal. Don’t mess it up. The CCSS will change US education. Your job is to ensure that the change is for the better. Seek help from district colleagues, partner with universities, seek mentoring groups and professional organizationsto support your own professional learning.
Service-learning as Applied Knowledge Building for the CCSS
Service-learning provides important opportunities for students to develop and apply their learning. Unlike community service, service-learning incorporates academic goals in addition to social, civic, and emotional goals. As the CCSS roll out, service-learning is a great way to get kids to a deeper level of understanding.
Service-Learning is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities. (http://www.servicelearning.org/what-service-learning)
Research on service-learning demonstrates
improved academic learning in all content areas (especially, but not only, those targeted in service-learning)
improved student engagement in school and learning (incl. sch attendance)
enhanced civic responsibility and citizenship
enhanced personal and social skills
improved attachments and social relationships among peers and student/teacher
A simple way to remember the process is the acronym PARC: The process starts with Planning: A teacher can help students identify a community to collaborate with and facilitate students’ planning. The Activity should involve the students: they should do the work, research the information, and figure out how to solve any issues that arise along the way. Throughout the process, teachers can guide Reflections through writing and discussions about how the project is going. Finally, each project should Culminate in a celebration; the best celebrations involve community members and family members.
My career has been about setting goals and achieving them. Sometimes I take longer than I wanted. Sometimes the goals need adjustment. Sometimes I need a lot of help to get to the goal. But I keep setting them, keep striving. I’ve been trying to help my kids understand this concept of goal setting. It’s hard. They are pushed everyday to do their best, do their homework, do their music, do their activities. Do. Do. Do. They are sometimes so busy doing, they don’t have time to reflect on what goals they want to achieve. After much thought I landed on two possible solutions.
My first idea was to start a family journal. In this journal, I would ask my boys questions about what they want to achieve. They would simply muse, reflect, and think through writing. I would then respond to their weekly musings with observations and suggestions designed to focus their attention on the outcomes that were most important to them.
My second option was to start one-on-one breakfasts with my sons. Our evenings are so often packed with appointments, meetings, and activities that we rarely have time to really sit and talk. A friend told me that she and her husband alternate having one-on-one breakfasts with their two kids. They spend this time reflecting on their kids’ goals and how they are progressing toward them. Of course they also get the added benefit of time with kids who are growing up way too fast!
When my husband and I asked the boys which option they would prefer they decided on breakfast. This is probably not a surprising decision from two growing boys. “Hmmm, I can eat or I can write; I think I’ll eat!” I’m excited to see how the exercise helps improve their perspective and better achieve their goals. I’ll let you know how it goes!
Teachers’ hefty salaries are driving up taxes, and they only work 9 or 10 months a year. It’s time we put things in perspective and pay them for what they do – babysit. We can get that for less than minimum wage.
That’s right. Let’s give them $3 an hour and only the hours they worked; not any of that silly planning time, or any time they spend before or after school. That would be $19.50 a day (7:45 to 3:00 PM with 45 min. off for lunch and plan– that equals 6 1/2 hours).
Each parent should pay $19.50 a day for these teachers to baby-sit their children. Now how many students do they teach in a day…maybe 30? So that’s $19.50 x 30 = $585.00 a day.
However, remember they only work 180 days a year. I am not going to pay them for any vacations.
LET’S SEE…That’s $585 X 180= $105,300 per year. (Hold on. My calculator needs new batteries.)
What about those special education teachers and the ones with master’s degrees? Well, we could pay them minimum wage ($7.75), and just to be fair, round it off to $8.00 an hour. That would be $8 X 6 1/2 hours X 30 children X 180 days = $280,800 per year.
Wait a minute — there’s something wrong here. There sure is.
The average teacher’s salary (nationwide) is $50,000. $50,000/180 days = $277.77/per day/30 students=$9.25/6.5 hours = $1.42 per hour per student– a very inexpensive baby-sitter and they even EDUCATE your kids!)
I teach courses about learning—theories of learning, practical applications of those theories, research on learning. But here I am trying to learn how to post on this blog and all my theories are tossed aside for the moment. Pragmatic theory prevails!