Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
Photo courtesy of

Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Saturday, December 31, 2011

What do writers really need to know?

I often ask myself this question as a writer, teacher, and role model to my eighth grade students. It is hard to know what to teach students about writing, as it can be such a revealing personal endeavor. A focus on writing, however, is SO needed for students to build on their levels of self-expression, fluency, creativity, and imaginations. 

Perhaps this book that has recently been published will offer some much-needed answers and advice:

10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know

By Jeff Anderson

Whether writing a blog entry or a high-stakes test essay, fiction or nonfiction, short story or argumentation, students need to know certain things in order to write effectively. In 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know, Jeff Anderson focuses on developing the concepts and application of ten essential aspects of good writing—motion, models, focus, detail, form, frames, cohesion, energy, words, and clutter.

Throughout the book, Jeff provides dozens of model texts, both fiction and nonfiction, that bring alive the ten things every writer needs to know.

Check out more at:

Friday, December 30, 2011

Our 8th Grade Career Day!

Check out this awesome video our medial specialist put together for our recent 8th Grade Career Day, where we invited professionals from all over the area to speak to our students about their jobs and how much they love them. Their enthusiasm and energy was contagious! 

You may even spot me demonstrating some squats with my Crossfit coach!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Take some time to yourself this winter break!

It's the most wonderful time of the year, right? School is out for a week (or more), and teachers finally have the chance to unwind, reflect, and consider how to start the new calendar year off right.

I am currently in Florida with my parents and husband, soaking in the sun by the pool, reading a few new books, sharing Christmas cheer, and genuinely enjoying some well-deserved R&R. It is often difficult for me to sit down for five minutes at a time, but this is just as good a time as any to truly -- and finally -- do so. 

I recently came across another teaching blog that speaks to the importance of this R&R during the holidays in order to emerge re-energized and refreshed for the new year ahead:

'Tis the Season for Two Kinds of R & R

R and R rest and relaxation.jpgI couldn't have been more relieved when winter break arrived my first year as a teacher. Two weeks of R & R. No lessons to plan. No papers to grade. And most of all, no kids to clash with.
My break got off to a blissful start. I slept late, worked out, and spent time with family and friends. But after a few days, I became preoccupied with one thought: each day that passed was one less day until I'd have to return to my chaotic classroom. My restful break had suddenly become a restless one.
I wallowed in despair for a day or two before concluding there was only one way to alleviate the dread I felt about returning to my classroom: make sure I'd be returning to a different classroom. My time off could no longer just be about rest and relaxation. I would also have to engage in another kind of R & R: Reflection and Regrouping.
I started by reading the journal I had been keeping since September. It was painful to relive day upon helpless day of classroom chaos, including the time I was decked trying to break up a fight. But it was also productive. As I wrote in my first post on this blog, owning your classroom woesis the first step toward overcoming them. And it was during that first winter break when I began to see my role in various classroom problems and find solutions to them.
I've shared many of those problems and solutions in previous posts. But more important than the actual changes I made are the process that led to those changes (Replacing Classroom Chaos With Control) and the protocols for implementing them (Rolling Out Classroom Changes). And even more relevant to my main point here was the timing of such changes.
A lot of people think it's important for teachers to be reflective, and I agree. But who has the time, energy, or focus to reflect and regroup in meaningful ways when you're teaching all day and grading papers all night? The best time to reflect and regroup is when you're away from the daily grind and can think with a clear mind.
A lot of people also think it's futile to make classroom changes mid-year. In fact, I often hear teachers say they "can't wait until next year" to do something differently. But rather than think of September as next year, think of January as next year, since the first day back after break can feel like a new year for students and teachers alike. Approach the first day back as though the slate is clean, and kids will respond accordingly.
So, whether you need to refine your practice or completely regroup like I did as a first-year teacher, take time over the holidays to ensure your classroom is a better place when you go back. And you may have a better break as a result, since it's hard to rest or relax if you're dreading having to return to the classroom.
Best wishes for getting some well-deserved R&R over the holidays, and a happy new year!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

We need to develop students' academic vocabulary....

Here is an interesting article shared by a colleague about developing ACADEMIC LANGUAGE. Enjoy!

Developing Students' Academic Vocabulary Helps Beat Achievement Gap

By Ben Johnson

Ben Johnson served as an administrator in large and small schools, and at a charter school. He was the assistant superintendent of the Natalia Independent School District where he helped bring about major improvements in student learning.


At a small school district, I faced the challenge as an administrator of diminishing the achievement gap in the student scores, especially in math and science. For example, we noticed that in science there was a 40-point gap between Hispanic students passing the test versus the number of white students passing. 

Having been in the classrooms and having observed teachers teaching, I knew that they were not treating Hispanic students any differently than the white students. So why was there an achievement gap?

We wrestled with this question for a while. Then one day when I was talking with my own children the problem dawned on me: I sometimes had to watch how I spoke with my own children because they would give me funny looks when I used the "big" or unfamiliar words. My own children spoke English just fine, but they did not understand words like ubiquitous, loquacious, or facetious. The solution was looking me in the face quizzically. So, were teachers using academic language that the students whose first language was English were more familiar with? To make a long story short, we decided to increase the level of vocabulary development, primarily using many sheltered language techniques. The results were astounding. Because of this and an intense college readiness focus, in two years, our schools went from the status of unacceptable to recognized and then the next year, exemplary.

Sheltered Techniques & Marzano

Sheltered instruction is designed with the idea of helping teachers of regular subjects to accommodate for English language learners in their classroom. A close look at the strategies and the techniques of sheltered instruction will reveal that many of them are suitable for all classes.

We learned a few things in the process of increasing the vocabulary readiness of our students. Notice that I did not say that we diminished the academic language of the teachers. The focus was on helping the students to better understand and speak academic language. One of the foundations of sheltered instruction is "comprehensible input." What this means is that when the teacher is speaking to the students, the teacher should use multiple contextual clues that provide meaning along with the spoken words. A teacher would use the words verbally, but at the same time, point to the objects being described, and also show the words in written format. Gestures, pantomime, movement, actions, sounds, pictures, graphics, and video all are additional methods that teachers have at their disposal to increase the likelihood that their students will understand the message.

At about the same time we came across Robert Marzano's Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement which basically states that before a student can grasp the concepts being taught, the student needs a mental scaffold in which to place them. Experience, first-hand or virtual, is the number one scaffold-building tool. Reading is second best and the next best tool is intense vocabulary development prior to instruction.

As a Spanish teacher, I learned early on that the mouth is connected to the brain, and if the mouth could not say the word, then there was little chance that the brain would remember it. Learning new content in math or science is much like learning in a conversational Spanish class. If done right, the students will leave the class being fluent in the language and culture of science or they will be able to converse in the language of math. This requires that the teacher needs to initially realize that students may not understand completely what reduce, simplify, analyze, compute, illustrate, or group means.

Strategies that Work

The best way I have learned to build vocabulary is beginning with a visual/verbal/aural Bloom's Taxonomy-like scaffolding method -- starting easy then getting more complex and difficult.
Recognition of the word in context: As I point to the endoplasmic reticulum picture I say, "Is this an endoplasmic reticulum?" The students say in unison, "Yes." As I point to a picture of a ribosome I say, "Is this a vacuole?" Hopefully they respond, "No." As a total physical response (TPR) methodology, I can ask them to stand next to or point to the mitochondria, chloroplasts, etc.

Reproduction of the words in context: After going through all the words, I ask them to say the words aloud, as I point to such things as the nucleus. After I am satisfied they can say the words, then I check their understanding, "Which organelle of the cell processes energy for the nucleus?" 

(Mitochondria/chloroplasts). "Which parts of the cell are necessary to create proteins?" (Endoplasmic Reticulum, nucleus, Golgi apparatus, and ribosomes). 

Written words in context: I then start bringing out the written-word strips and ask the students to match them with the pictures. Then, and only then will I let the students start reading the chapters, or workbooks, because, not only are they now familiar with the concepts, but they have muscle memory of the words in their mouths and know how to say them and thus remember them. This method is more enjoyable and more effective for students than writing the words ten times each in sentences, an all too-typical vocabulary development technique.

To increase student-learning success and decrease the achievement gap, what other vocabulary development techniques and strategies do you use to help students develop the necessary background knowledge?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Great new books to check out!

You may enjoy some new education books hot off the press:

1. Where Great Teaching Begins: Planning for Student Thinking and Learning
By Anne R. Reeves

2. Insights into Action: Successful School Leaders Share What Works
By William Sterrett

3. Total Participation Techniques: Making Every Student an Active Learner
By Persida Himmele and William Himmele

4. Teaching in Tandem: Effective Coteaching in the Inclusive Classroom
By Gloria Lodato Wilson and Joan Blednick

5. Designing Personalized Learning for Every Student
By Dianne L. Ferguson, Ginevra Ralph, Gwen Meyer, and others

6. Creating an Inclusive School, 2nd Edition
By Richard A. Villa and Jacqueline S. Thousand

7. What Works in Schools: Translating Research into Action
By Robert J. Marzano

8. School Leadership that Works: From Research to Results
By Robert J. Marzano, Timothy Waters, and Brian A. McNulty

9. Teaching and Joy
By Robert Sornson and James Scott

10. The Big Picture: Education is Everyone's Business
By Dennis Littky with Samantha Grabelle

And my personal favorite --

The Well-Balanced Teacher: How to Work Smarter and Stay Sane Inside the Classroom and Out
By Mike Anderson

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Personal Relationships are SO Important!

Merry Christmas to all! I always strive to get to know my students as people and figure out what motivates and interests them. If you do not make personal relationship building a personal priority, you are only hurting yourself and not allowing your students to get to know you -- or let them know who they are. I really like Brad Kuntz's column below that speaks to the importance of the personal connection with students:

Build Personal Relationships to Boost Students' Self-Esteem

In the Classroom with Brad Kuntz
By Brad Kuntz

I've seen a student who is failing in all his classes receive the highest test score in my class. Why? Because that student felt a significant connection to me and he wanted to do his best. In this time of overcrowded classrooms full of increasingly more disengaged students, teachers need to go the extra mile to make personal connections with their students.

The relationship built between a teacher and a student can have as much to do with a student's success as the academic instruction itself, because a teacher who has earned the respect of a student is much more likely to keep that student engaged during instruction.

You can engage your students by carefully sharing a more personal side of who you are and by getting to know the individuals in your classroom. Giving students a glimpse into your personal life (without revealing anything private or controversial) can show them that you are willing to open yourself up, invite them in, and trust them with a part of who you are. You could share humorous, exciting, meaningful, or even humbling or embarrassing stories from your past or present that at least loosely relate to your content area.

A math teacher telling a story about screwing up a currency conversion while traveling overseas and grossly overpaying for a souvenir; a history teacher explaining how he felt overcome emotionally while visiting the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.; or a foreign language teacher sharing a humorous story about a mistranslation with embarrassing consequences are all examples of stories that help students see their teachers as real people who have real experiences outside of the school walls.

Students also appreciate the chance to relax and be entertained; and, in the meantime, they can see examples of the subject area used in a real-world context.

On Monday, before jumping straight into instruction, try telling your students about your recent fishing trip or the sporting event or concert you attended that weekend. There are bound to be students who also fish, like the local sports team, or share a common music taste. And even if you never specifically discuss that connection, you have altered students' impressions of you and increased the likelihood of your developing a positive relationship with them.

Next, make an effort to notice and comment to individual students about details specific to them. With as many as 40 students in the classroom, this can be really difficult, but that's also why it's that much more important to students to be noticed. You could do something as simple as commenting about the band on a student's T-shirt, complimenting a student on the impressive doodle on her math binder, or commending a student for his performance in the game or concert last night. Show students that you are paying attention and that you see value in them.

No matter the method, developing personal relationships with students is a win-win. You have the chance to be a role model and personally influence the young people in your class in a positive manner that helps raise their self-esteem. And perhaps, at the same time, you'll increase their motivation to succeed, improve their academic habits, and set them up for success.
Brad Kuntz teaches Spanish and environmental leadership at Gladstone High School in Gladstone, Ore., and he is a 2011 winner of ASCD's Outstanding Young Educator Award, which is sponsored by GlobalScholar.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Helping our Hispanic Students Succeed

I am often torn about how to best help my Hispanic students be successful, especially those still learning English, often traveling back to their home countries, and whom have little to no support at home. The following article offers some valuable insight and ideas on how to better engage our Hispanic students:

Bridging the Hispanic Achievement Gap
English-Only Policies and Cultural Isolation Add Difficulties for Growing Hispanic Student Population

By Rick Allen

A recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report shows that the achievement gap between Hispanic and non-Hispanic white students has been dishearteningly static for 20 years. The failure to narrow the gap comes despite a decade of No Child Left Behind and state legislation to promote English learning among immigrants, the majority of whom are Spanish speakers.

The NAEP study examined the score differences between Hispanic and white students from 1990 to 2009, and the report compared NAEP reading and math scores for 4th graders and 8th graders over time, finding national gaps of between 21 and 26 points.

Gap Differences Among Newly Settled and Long-Standing Hispanic Communities

Interestingly, some states with relatively recent but increasing numbers of Hispanic immigrant students, such as Kentucky, fell well below the national average for NAEP score differences between Hispanic and white students. On the other hand, states with long-standing Latino populations and steady immigration from nearby Mexico, such as California, Texas, and Arizona, had gaps wider than the national average, according to the study.

On the surface, it seems that the longer Hispanic families live in the United States, as would often be the case in California, the worse they do in school. But do NAEP numbers really show that some states are better supporting Hispanic achievement than others? And what accounts for the differences?

"I'd like to be able to say that Kentucky is doing something amazing to bring up the achievement levels of our Hispanic students," says Lisa Gross, a spokesperson for the Kentucky Department of Education. "But while we are focused on high achievement for all children, this data may be a bit misleading."
Gross suggested that the NAEP ultimately tests a small sample of Hispanic students in Kentucky, where a decade of recent immigration has increased the Hispanic population to 4 percent of the state's K–12 students.

Kentucky, however, has managed to narrow the gap in high school graduation rates between Hispanics and white students, Gross points out. From 2008 to 2010, the graduation rate difference decreased from 5 percent to 2 percent. In 2010, about 79 percent of Hispanics graduated, compared to 81 percent of whites.

Richard Fry, a senior research associate at the Pew Hispanic Center, offers some theories about why Hispanic immigrants may be doing better in some states than others. In states where Hispanic immigration is recent, students often enroll in schools where the vast majority are native English speakers, he says.

"In the new settlement areas, Hispanic students are often not in the inner cities," Fry notes. "They're often out in the suburban fringes. And even when they are in the cities, they're much more likely to be in majority white schools. They are not going to the same kinds of schools as Hispanics in California."
Lower academic achievement and high dropout rates among Hispanics in California result from a number of contributing factors, Fry says: "First, relative to white students, Hispanics in California are much more socioeconomically disadvantaged. More qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.

"In California, Hispanics tend not to go to the same schools as white children. Nor do they go to the same schools as black children. Many Hispanic students are educated in Los Angeles Unified and other large, urban school districts. A much smaller share of white students and African American students are educated in the same schools." Fry also points out that schools reflect residential segregation patterns.
In addition, those large, urban districts tend to have big schools, "which are usually associated with poor academic performance and higher dropout rates," he says.

Generational Discouragement Creates Dropouts

Although students drop out of high school for a constellation of reasons, which could be related to family life, personal attitudes toward school, or a desire to enter the workforce, low academic achievement doesn't bode well for any student's retention in high school. This is especially true for Hispanic students, who have the highest dropout rates in the nation.

Currently, the dropout rate for Hispanics is about 18 percent, nearly three times the rate of white students and 8 percent higher than black students, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Native-born Hispanics have a 10 percent dropout rate, but the dropout rates are even higher for Hispanic students in urban schools across the nation, often approaching 35 percent in Los Angeles schools, for example.
A 2008 review, by Russell Rumberger and Sun Ah Lim, of 25 years of studies about dropouts found that the process of dropping out begins in early elementary school, with poor academic achievement being one of the strongest predictors. Some studies also showed that second-generation Latino students have higher graduation rates than both their first-generation (foreign-born) and third-generation (U.S.-born youth with U.S.-born parents) counterparts, according to the review.

In the multigenerational study of Mexican American families, Generations of Exclusion: Mexican American, Assimilation, and Race, authors Edward Telles and Vilma Ortiz found that "Mexican Americans, three or four generations removed from their immigrant ancestors, are less likely than the Mexican American second generation of similar characteristics to have completed either high school or college."

Mexican Americans have lower levels of schooling than any other racial-ethnic group, a trait that tends to transmit across generations because of ethnic and cultural isolation, the authors say. The lack of education, in turn, inhibits the upwardly mobile assimilation into the wider society, which was the more typical experience of European immigrants of the last century.

"In the third generation, many of those hopeful parents didn't see their dream realized, and their children are now living in isolated barrios where there is little optimism and a lot of dysfunction, like street gangs, related to the conditions of poverty in which they live," explains Patricia Gándara, a University of California–Los Angeles education professor and codirector of the The Civil Rights Project. "They are no longer 'protected' by the traditions of the old country, and they live in a culture of low mobility, so the dropout rate goes up."

A Failure of Language Policy?

Part of the problem of supporting students from bilingual households comes from curriculums that downplay the vital interaction of the two languages, English and Spanish, in the brains of students who live in predominantly Spanish-speaking or bilingual households.

"Programs and curriculums often do not take into consideration the fact that the children speak a language other than English; that they need to acquire high levels of academic vocabulary, discourse, and inquiry in English to succeed in content areas; and that their own cultural and linguistic contexts are crucial ingredients in developing understanding of academic concepts," write Eugene Garcia and Bryant Jensen in the 2007 Educational Leadership article "Helping Young Hispanic Learners."

Gándara insists that the inability to properly educate Hispanic students in California and other states is clearly a failure of state education policy.

In California, where 40 percent of the population is Hispanic, only about 5 percent of California school-age children are in a primary language program that uses Spanish (or other languages) as well as varying amounts of English to instruct children academically. "Research converges around this being a good practice because it allows children to access the core curriculum—science, social studies, history, math—while they are learning English," Gándara explains.

But California, like many other states with high Hispanic populations, has "statewide laws that have regulated bilingual education out of existence," Gándara says.

In Forbidden Language: English Learners and Restrictive Language Policies, a book Gándara coauthored with Megan Hopkins, they examine the failure of English-only policies instituted in California, Arizona, and Massachusetts with the intention of closing the achievement gap. Their book points to evidence that such policies have only further marginalized English language learners, a majority of whom are Hispanic, in an education landscape of high-stakes academic testing. The authors call for states to foster multilingual programs in the schools that can build on the language and cultural capital of English language learners.

Indeed, the inability of Massachusetts to adequately fulfill its 2002 English-only law by providing teachers properly trained in English language teaching was recently deemed a violation of students' civil rights by the U.S. Department of Justice. Massachusetts must now develop a plan to train teachers to instruct English language learners in academic content by next June.

Will the next generations of Hispanic students in new settlement areas, like Kentucky or Louisiana, be able to continue to close the achievement gap? Or will immigrant optimism be enough to propel second- and third-generation Hispanics to better assimilate into the U.S. mainstream school culture? When will states and schools adopt language policies that reflect the needs of their students? Considering the growing demographic shift of the Hispanic population in U.S. schools, these are crucial questions that need to be answered sooner rather than later.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Don't leave out the social sciences!!

Between common standards and the No Child Left Behind law, advocates for social and behavioral sciences worry their field is getting getting short shrift in schools. How can we change this upsetting phenomenon??

Experts Say Social Sciences Are 'Left Behind'

By Sarah D. Sparks

As the majority of states implement common-core content standards, some experts are arguing that that the focus on mathematics and language arts leaves out the social and economic studies that can help students connect content to their daily lives.
Researchers at a National Research Council forum on social sciences in Washington last month suggested that the expansion of testing in math and reading under the No Child Left Behind Act has led to a piecemeal approach to teaching social and behavioral science subjects in the states. While all but four states have adopted the common-core standards in mathematics and language arts and the NRC has proposed a framework for voluntary national science standards, social and behavioral sciences have failed to gain a significant presence in either set of guidance, despite protests last year from the field.
“No Child Left Behind frankly left us behind, and the common core gave us a footnote,” said S.G. Grant, the education dean at Binghamton University in Binghamton, N.Y.
The discussion caps a year of dismal news on the social studies front for U.S. students: National Assessment of Educational Progress reports out this year found mostly mediocre performance for students in geography, civics, and history.
9-12 Social Studies Standards For Delaware and Minnesota

States can differ dramatically in the amount of attention they require schools to devote to specific topics in the social and behavioral sciences.

SOURCE: Survey of Enacted Curriculum, University of WisconsinThe NRC meeting was intended to help policymakers and school officials discuss ways to use social and behavioral studies to tie together content in the common core. The forum mirrors a separate conversation launched last May by state school chiefs over the development of social studies standards, but experts at the NRC forum argued that social sciences should not be taught only within a stand-alone subject course.

“It is the integration of sciences, not the separation, that moves science forward,” said Martha Zaslow, the policy and communications director for the Society for Research in Child Development, in Washington, arguing that schools should begin teaching students from the elementary grades on up to use an “integrated approach” to content.

Incorporating perspectives from social sciences can help students connect otherwise-separated core subjects, like reading and science, to the interdisciplinary uses of those lessons in real life, according to Mr. Grant.
Making It Real

“I can’t think of a social problem that has a disciplinary focus,” Mr. Grant said. “What social problem has only a political solution, or for which only history can give a lens on? The value of the social sciences is in the ways we can think about social problems through multiple lenses.”
In a study released at the forum and commissioned by the National Academy of Sciences, of which the NRC is a part, researchers at the University of Michigan, working with the Consortium for Policy Research in Education, analyze the social and behavioral studies—including anthropology, economics, geography, history, political science, psychology, and sociology—in states’ K-12 content standards from 2007 to 2010. The study looks at content standards from eight states: Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, and Wisconsin.

Co-authors Diane Massell, a senior research associate at the consortium, and Carol A. Barnes, an assistant research scientist, found that states gave the most attention to political science, economics, and geography. But “there was a lot of variation in what was given attention and where,” Ms. Massell said. “The standards don’t have legs on their own—they’re not going to walk into a classroom and be used.”
For example, history topics made up nearly a third of all state social studies standards, and anthropology popped up sporadically across states, but sociology and psychology content was “almost negligible” in all but Idaho’s standards.
Accountability is even more sporadic for social studies topics, researchers found. For example, 21 states now require an economics course for high school graduation, up from only 13 in 1998, but only 19 states require students to be tested in the subject, down from 25 in 1998, according to William D. Bosshardt, a senior adviser for program development at the Council for Economic Education, based in New York City.
Opportunity Gap?

Experts voiced concern that the lack of time spent on social and behavioral topics in the main curriculum may be creating opportunity gaps for students planning to take honors courses in high school. The University of Michigan study analyzed the nearly 600,000 Advanced Placement exams taken in Massachusetts, Michigan, Texas, and Virginia in 2010 and found 25 percent to 40 percent of all exams were in the social- and behavioral-science fields, from psychology to micro- and macroeconomics—suggesting students interested in advanced coursework need more preparation early on in social-science content.
Moreover, even if students have access to social and behavioral courses, they may not be schooled in the skills they need to succeed in that work. In the University of Michigan’s analysis of K-3 and 9-12 standards in Delaware and Minnesota, the researchers found more than 60 percent of elementary content standards in social and behavioral topics and more than a third of those at the high school level required only basic skills of memorization and information processing. By contrast, less than 3 percent of high school standards in those fields and less than 1 percent of elementary content standards required students to synthesize, evaluate, and make connections among concepts—the most advanced cognitive skills.
Shirley M. Malcom, the director of education and human-resources programs at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in Washington, said prior attempts to boost social-science topics in the curriculum have failed because teachers and administrators already have too much to cover in a given year. “If you took every standard and stacked them up, they’d end up being thigh-high,” she said.
Ms. Massell of the research consortium agreed. “States are already struggling to cogently and coherently add content” to comply with common-core standards, she said. “We need to consider integration in nontraditional subjects.”

Felice J. Levine, the executive director of the American Educational Research Association, in Washington, also agreed. She noted that schools could use basic psychology instruction, for example, to help students reflect on day-to-day issues such as bullying or social networking. “It is how we develop a deeper and richer curriculum,” she said.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Higher Standards for NCLB Leniency

Minnesota is the only applicant that did not adopt the common-core standards and is not taking part in designing common assessments.

States Promise Higher Standards for NCLB Leniency: All but 1 applicant cite common core

By Catherine Gewertz

In hopes of getting relief from key tenets of the No Child Left Behind Act, 11 states are proposing large-scale efforts to train their educators in new academic standards, create or oversee development of new instructional resources, and redesign their testing systems.
The proposals represent plans from the first round of applicants in the U.S. Department of Education's waiver program, which allows states to escape requirements such as bringing all students to proficiency on state tests by 2014.
In exchange, however, states must establish new accountability systems that win federal approval, and the first-round batch of applications shows a wide range of such plans. More states are expected to apply for waivers by the second-round deadline of Feb. 21. ("NCLB Waiver Plans Offer Hodgepodge of Grading Systems," Dec. 7, 2011.)
States seeking waivers must also show that they have rigorous academic standards, a solid plan to transform standards into good instruction, and tests that ensure students are ready for college or good jobs.
Federal Flexibility:
States Promise Higher Standards for NCLB LeniencyThey can meet the standards requirement by adopting the Common Core State Standards, which all but four states have done. They can meet the testing requirements by belonging to a multistate consortium that is designing common tests for those standards. All but five states are participating in those projects.
Alternatively, states can demonstrate high standards by having their higher education systems certify that students who master them can skip remedial college courses. They can meet the testing requirement by presenting a plan to design high-quality assessments, or by submitting their current tests to the federal Education Department for peer review.
Minnesota is the only one of the applicants that did not adopt the common standards in both mathematics and English/language arts and is not participating in designing common assessments. It adopted only the English/language arts standards. Minnesota's higher education system has certified that mastery of its math standards will allow students to enroll in credit-bearing coursework, the state says in its application. It also says it will submit its assessments in both subjects for peer review.
Every other state applying for a waiver cites its adoption of the common standards and its participation in common-assessment design as evidence that it is meeting the Education Department's "college- and career-ready" requirements for standards and tests.
Implementation Plans

States sought to show that they are analyzing what it takes to put the new standards into action and deploy solid gauges of student learning. Some implementation plans are far more detailed than others; New Mexico's description runs three pages. Minnesota's is 37.
College/Career-Ready Standards

To receive waivers from key tenets of the No Child Left Behind Act, states must demonstrate they have adopted “college- and career-ready standards,” and have developed solid plans to implement them. They must also show that they have, or are devising, high-quality assessments to measure student achievement and growth. Highlights of what states are describing and proposing include:
Colorado: Adopted the common standards. Developing a “regional, content-specific” approach to blending standards, instruction, and assessment. “Content collaboratives” facilitated by the state education department will engage teachers in creating and disseminating standards-based formative assessments and instructional materials.
New Jersey: Adopted the common standards. Developing an optional model K-12 curriculum based on the new standards, with end-of-unit assessments, model lessons, and formative tasks. A statewide coalition of curriculum experts, and experts in new regional centers, will help districts transition to new standards.
Tennessee: Adopted the common standards. Conducting “crosswalk” work to compare previous standards with new ones and crafting content for professional development. Has held sessions for more than 4,000 principals and supervisors on the new standards, and has begun classroom-implementation training for K-2 teachers.

Massachusetts: Participating in designing common-assessments planned for 2014-15. To transition to those tests, the state plans to phase into its current state test items based on the new standards starting in 2011-12. By 2013-14, all math and English/language arts items will reflect the new standards. The state is also developing additional, curriculum-embedded performance-based test items in English/language arts, math, science, and history/social science.

Florida: Participating in common-assessment design. In partnership with its state colleges and universities, Florida designed a new college-readiness exam for 11th graders that allows those who reach a given cutoff score to skip remedial work in college.
Colorado: Participating in common-assessment design. It plans no changes to its current tests. Instead, the state is “pursuing multiple avenues,” including soliciting bids for its own new state tests and using a new, transitional exam until that test is finalized.
SOURCES: U.S. Department of Education; State ApplicationsIn response to questions from the Education Department, states described their work to compare the new standards with their previous sets and disseminate information about the new requirements through conferences, meetings, and workshops, both face-to-face and online.
Tennessee reports a plan for "multiyear" professional development, focusing particularly on the math standards and the new requirements for literacy skills across disciplines. Florida and New Mexico say they will turn first to training teachers of younger students and move upward through the grades over the next couple of years.
Georgia used the state's public-television system to conduct a common-standards orientation this fall, aiming to reach not only school staff members, but also parents and community leaders, it says in its application. It is also developing a more targeted series of learning sessions for administrators, teachers, and instructional leaders, by subject and grade level. The English/language arts sessions will address the new standards' demands that students read increasingly complex text and develop literacy skills specific to subjects such as science and social studies.
Georgia decided to conduct all training face-to-face or through streamed video with curriculum specialists because it has found a "train-the-trainer" model ineffective, it says in its application.
Massachusetts reported that it held conferences, professional-development sessions, and regional events for early education, K-12, and higher education to disseminate the new standards, and featured them at its annual curriculum and instruction summit.
While states are working to reach educators, the applications show signs that teachers were often the last to be reached. Indiana, for instance, includes charts detailing the training being provided for curriculum directors, instructional coaches, and administrators at the district and building levels. But it doesn't provide much detail on its plans for teachers.
Kathleen Porter-Magee, who oversees standards work at the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute, reviewed the states' waiver applications and is concerned about their professional-development plans. They seem too focused on identifying gaps between states' previous standards and the new ones, she said.
"This is actually an opportunity to step back and say, 'Where have we gotten standards-based instruction and assessment and achievement wrong, and what broad changes can we make?' " said Ms. Porter-Magee, a former charter-school-network curriculum director.
"Are we helping teachers think through how long-term lesson planning will be different? Are we actually showing them what close reading of grade-appropriate text looks like? I see a piecemeal approach that assumes that most of what states are already doing is OK, with a few tweaks to specifics."

Crafting Curricula

Many states report efforts to craft—or help districts craft—curriculum and instructional materials. Massachusetts devised instructional modules on key aspects of the standards, such as the "mathematical practices," which emphasize conceptual understanding, and plans to have at least 100 model instructional units available by 2014, it said.

Interactive Map

It has begun training 300 teachers in designing curriculum units and performance assessments, and it plans sessions for teachers of students with disabilities and those learning English, the application says. Massachusetts also reported collaborating with professional-development providers to align materials to the common standards.
And the state reported that it plans to revise its curriculum frameworks for science/technology, engineering, history/social science, arts, health, and foreign language to incorporate the cross-disciplinary literacy skills from the new standards. It developed new prekindergarten standards in math and literacy. And it mailed 170,000 copies of its revised K-12 math and literacy curriculum frameworks to districts "so individual teachers would have hard copies of the frameworks to use for their independent classroom alignment work."
Kentucky is working to build an online resource that will house the standards, along with exemplar lessons, instructional materials, and video podcasts by higher education faculty on teaching common-standards content. Georgia state specialists are producing teacher guides, instructional units, and sample tasks to post on the state education department's website.
Testing Systems

Since the common assessments won't be fully operational until 2014-15, states were asked to describe how they will alter their current testing systems to reflect the expectations of more-rigorous standards. Some reported plans to embed in their own tests pilot items from the two assessment consortia, or items that emulate the kind of questions or tasks likely to appear on those tests.
Tennessee said that it is working with the Princeton, N.J.-based ETS and Pearson to revise some items in its state tests. Oklahoma will begin piloting "PARCC-like items"—a reference to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers consortium it belongs to—within its state assessment in 2011-12, and will circulate them among educators to help them with lesson planning and formative assessment. Indiana will pilot the interim use of the SAT's and ACT's college-readiness benchmarks while it works with its current test vendor to develop items that reflect the common standards' expectations, it says.

Some states plan to raise test-cutoff scores or use outside exam scores such as those from the SAT or ACT as proxies for college- or career-readiness. Florida reported that it is working this year to raise the "cut score" and type of questions on its state test and Algebra 1 end-of-course exam. Like other states that reported similar work, Florida says it anticipates student pass rates dropping as a result.

'Unbroken Chain'

Driven by the 2009 passage of sweeping school reform legislation, Kentucky reported that it has been implementing a new assessment system aligned to the college-readiness benchmarks of the ACT college-entrance exam, which all juniors in Kentucky take yearly. The presidents of the state's colleges and universities agreed to allow students meeting those benchmarks to move directly into credit-bearing work, the state's waiver application says.

Scores from the ACT's EXPLORE and PLAN tests, given to all Kentucky 8th and 10th graders, respectively, will serve as early indicators of students' progress toward the ACT benchmarks. Scores on the ACT's Quality Core end-of-course tests in four subjects required for high school graduation can be used for students' final grades. The system, it says, provides for the first time an "unbroken chain of links "between high school and college expectations.

Common-standards advocates argue that the standards reflect college and career readiness because they were created with input from higher education and business. The ACT and SAT have derived their readiness benchmarks from correlations with good performance in college coursework. But some caution against such equations, at least for now.

"Defining college readiness is such a big question that states are relying on the common standards and tests to answer it for them," said Jack Jennings, the president of the Washington-based Center on Education Policy, which has followed the NCLB law and common-standards implementation. "But I'm skeptical that we know what any of these things mean until we see how these students make it through college."
He added that even with that dose of skepticism, he believes the new standards and forthcoming assessments are moving students "in the right direction," and that experimenting with them as proxies for college and career readiness will provide important information.

Full article available at:

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Watching Online Etiquette

It's not just recent college graduates who need to be concerned about their online presence. Now, more and more college admissions offices are researching their applicants by looking at their online profiles and not accepting students who engage in irresponsible behavior. Read on!

Bad Online Behavior Jeopardizes Students' College Plans

By Robin L. Flanigan

Stellar transcripts aside, students now have to worry about an increasing number of colleges peering at their social-networking pages online—and potentially denying their applications because of what they find there.

The number of college-admissions officials using Facebook and other social-networking sites to learn more about applicants quadrupled over the past year, according to New York City-based Kaplan Test Prep, the test preparation division of Kaplan Inc.

In the company’s 2011 survey of admissions officers from the top 500 colleges and universities, 24 percent said they have viewed publicly available pages to get a clearer picture of an applicant, while 20 percent turned to Google. Twelve percent reported that their discoveries, including photos showing underage drinking, vulgarities in blogs, and plagiarism in essays, negatively affected the chance of admission.

Educators, mostly at the high school level, use assemblies, classroom discussions, and guidance sessions to warn students about such consequences. But even educators who say they continuously hammer home the golden rule—in essence, that students should never post anything online they wouldn’t want their parents to see—are finding it hard to get through to a generation weaned on social media.

“The disconnect happens because of their age and level of maturity,” said Franklin N. Caesar, the principal of the 1,875-student Central Islip Senior High School in Central Islip, N.Y. “We’re constantly dealing with students who are inappropriate in what they say online.”

Two years ago, he started meeting with principals at lower-level schools to talk about the daily altercations he was dealing with because of comments posted on Facebook and other social-networking sites. They have met regularly since, and this year began an education program for 5th graders to address the potential ramifications of their online behavior—including a rejected college application.

“By bombarding them with information at that age,” said Mr. Caesar, “and then again in the sixth grade, seventh grade, and eighth grade, we’re hoping that by the time they get to high school, they’ll understand and it will make a difference. It’s too late if they get here and they haven’t been hearing that message.”
In the meantime, guidance counselors at Central Islip convey that message in a senior assembly at the beginning of the year and during an annual technology fair.

Eric Sheninger, the principal of the 680-student New Milford High School in New Milford, N.J., recalled having students in a Digital Journalism class Google themselves to become more familiar with their digital footprints. The students, in grades 9-12, were surprised at the “page after page of content” that came up. One girl was astonished when she found a picture of herself she’d never seen before; she couldn’t even remember where or when it was taken.

Next, Mr. Sheninger took a poll: Seventy-five percent of the students had accepted a “friend” request on Facebook from someone they’d never met. He had them consider the fact that if they post an inappropriate picture, anyone can easily take a screen shot of that image and post it anywhere online without permission.

Teaching Better Online Behavior

Experts say schools can take steps to help students avoid engaging in online behavior that could jeopardize their chances of being accepted into college. Steps include:

Start Disussions Early

Conversations about the impact social-media pages can have on the college-admissions process should start long before high school. Students have had years of opportunity by then to create questionable profiles.
Encourage Web Searches

Have students Google themselves. They’ll likely be surprised and sometimes very concerned at what turns up.

Repeat the Message

Drill home in classrooms, assemblies, and guidance-counselor meetings the potential dangers of inappropriate social-media behavior.

Get Parents Involved

Chances are that parents are unaware that their child’s digital footprint can affect college applications, and many times what happens outside of school ends up spilling onto school grounds and quickly onto social-networking sites.

Craft a Formal Plan

Lower-, middle-, and high school-level educators would do well to co-develop a formalized plan for encouraging positive social-media choices and stressing the dangers of poor ones.

SOURCE: Education Week“Then I told them, ‘Let’s say a college pulls up that image. They’re going to think twice about accepting you.’ You use an example like that to rev it up a notch,” he said.

Mr. Sheninger added that he repeated that point in two recent assemblies: “You can get a good feel of whether students are engaged. Every one of them was quiet and their eyes were forward. You could tell they were thinking, ‘Wow, we’ve never really thought about this.’ ”

Formalize Instruction?

That’s exactly why Fredrick McDowell, the headmaster of the 1,150-student Brighton High School, which is part of the Boston public schools, believes schools need a greater effort across the board to formalize instruction on making positive social-media choices—and on the growing number of repercussions that can result from poor ones.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find schools that have an official curriculum they’re using about this,” he said. “And I think that, as educators, we start too late with these conversations.”

At Brighton, behavior on social-networking sites that has spilled over into school has been directly linked to suspensions, assaults, and criminal records. In an attempt to fix the problem, the school has intensified efforts to teach juniors and seniors about appropriate Web use, with involvement from classroom teachers, guidance counselors, administrators at grade-level assemblies, and guest speakers from local law-enforcement agencies.

It’s even harder for middle school students to make a connection between their current social-media behavior and future college plans. In fact, they often separate their actions from consequences in general. Students regularly post comments online that they would never say in person, and as they try to deal with new social pressures, they tend to forget that the virtual worlds they create are far from private.

As a result, sometimes the character portrayed online bears little resemblance to a student’s true character, a situation that routinely continues into the high school years when it’s college-application time, said Carolyn Walker, the vice principal of curriculum and instruction at Natomas Middle School in Sacramento, Calif. The school serves 950 students in grades 7 and 8.

“Everybody wants to fit the norm, to be cool,” Ms. Walker said. “These kids are digital natives, and social media is a way for them to get their voices out there and be heard.

“We just have to keep talking more and more with them about how they can do that in a way that gives an image of themselves that’s real,” she said, “as opposed to what they think people want to see and hear. We don’t have a proper avenue right now to communicate that, though. We could be doing more.”

Murky Legal Issues

Kaplan’s annual survey also pointed out that most higher education institutions do not have official guidelines governing how social-networking pages should factor into the admission equation. Social-media experts predict the ethical and legal implications will likely remain uncertain until there is clear legal ground on the subject.

At some colleges, admissions officers track an applicant’s digital footprint only after receiving an anonymous tip—likely from a competing applicant or parent, according to some college-admissions experts.

“We recommend that there be a policy in place on the use of information that bubbles up through these very public sites, but the one thing a policy doesn’t always cover is what happens when the information is just laid on the table,” said David Hawkins, the director of public policy and research for the National Association for College Admission Counseling, based in Arlington, Va. “Colleges can’t just ignore something that has been brought to their attention.”

North Carolina State University has denied applications based in part on information gleaned from publicly available sites. Administrators conduct online searches only after red flags are raised during the application process.

“Before we bring new people into our campus community, we want to make sure they’re going to be a good fit for us,” said Thomas Griffin, the school’s director of undergraduate admissions.

The rejections are due largely to safety concerns and are handed down only after “a thorough, thoughtful evaluation of the situation,” added Mr. Griffin.

Though North Carolina State is not yet doing random online searches of its more than 25,000 undergraduate applicants, that step is something officials are talking about.

And with the student-recruiting firm TargetX integrating Facebook and Twitter into the technology program it designed specifically for admissions offices, those searches are getting even easier. The Conshohocken, Pa.-based firm has made it so that with one click on a social-network icon, admissions officers can instantly link to an applicant’s profile, allowing institutions to see “the most complete and authentic picture” of their prospects, said Chief Executive Officer Brian Niles. (On one random search while providing a remote demonstration of the technology, Mr. Niles quickly came across “sexy time” as one student’s entry under “activities.”)

Information Alerts

Enterpreneur Geoffrey Arone, seeing a business opportunity in social-networking searches, co-founded a Web-based Internet-monitoring service for parents that lets them stay informed about the status updates, photos, videos, and other personal information their children are sharing online. SafetyWeb, which Mr. Arone helped devise after seeing the searches firsthand while conducting college-admission interviews for his alma maters, Brown University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, automatically sends alerts when personal information is posted that could put a child’s privacy, safety, and online reputation at risk.

Related Blog

Visit this blog.Some students acknowledge that they post questionable statements online despite warnings at school.

Nick Cicchinelli, a junior at the 2,800-student Lakota West High School in West Chester, Ohio, said that he tries for the most part to keep his Facebook comments “PG” because his parents are in his network, but that he occasionally writes things he shouldn’t.

“Sometimes I just don’t think about it,” he said.

So while educators can provide the advice, they can’t make students heed it.

“Kids are all different,” said Freida Trujillo, a high school resource counselor for the 90,000-student Albuquerque district in New Mexico. “Some are going to take the message to heart and try to be diligent, and others are going to do what they normally do. It’s going to depend on the student.”

Robin L. Flanigan is a freelance writer based in Rochester, N.Y.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Looking at Teacher Evaluations

Jumping in to a key policy debate, check out these educator-panelists' own prescriptions for creating evaluation systems that can improve teaching and learning and respect teachers' professionalism. There are some great ideas here!

What Should Teacher Evaluations Look Like?

Long governed largely by inertia and school convention, teacher evaluation has recently become a focal point of education reform. Many states, under prodding from the federal Race to the Top program, have begun to implement new, comprehensive evaluation systems that incorporate student test-score data and more rigorous observation protocols. School systems are also working to tie evaluation results more closely to teachers' tenure status and professional advancement.

However, early models of the revamped evaluation systems (in Tennessee and New York, for example) have come under criticism for being haphazardly implemented, inconsistent, and process-heavy. Many teaching groups and advocates have also questioned the validity of relying heavily on standardized test scores to judge teachers' skills and capabilities. A related source of concern is how the new models can be applied equitably with respect to teachers in nontested subjects and grades.

As a classroom teacher, how do you think teachers' performance should be evaluated? How can evaluations best be used to improve teaching and learning without creating undue complexity? What role should student test scores and other performance data play? What will the best teacher evaluation systems look like 10 years from now?

Some viewpoints:

My First Wish for Teacher Evaluation
By Ryan Niman

If a genie in a lamp ever offers me three wishes for my profession, I'm ready.

Here's my first: "I wish for an evaluation system that measures the full set of skills necessary to be a teacher."
In my second year of teaching, my evaluator (the vice-principal) offered some sound advice: "Get rid of some extra desks and tables." My students had been bumping into each other as they moved around the room during group work. And somehow, until my evaluator mentioned it, I had never realized that I could actually get rid of some of the furniture in my classroom. This feedback helped me realize that I could be much more effective in advocating for myself and the needs of my students.
But, even at the time, I knew that this was lackluster evaluation. That vice-principal had come into my room to check on two things: my ability to keep my class under control and ability to run a decent lesson. Having confirmed that I could do both, he was looking for some other way to be of use.
And 'looking' was the key word. In most states, teacher evaluation has been based on one or two observations in a year. These observations can provide an impressive amount of feedback on a teacher's classroom management, in-the-moment teaching, and relationships with students.
But they cannot provide a complete picture of what a teacher does. Tasks that are difficult or impossible to see in the course of two observations include curriculum design and scaffolding, collaboration with and mentoring of peers, communication with parents, involvement with the community, and interactions with students before and after school.
Here's what a more comprehensive evaluation system could do:
• Yield more information to help an individual teacher improve--which in turn results in improved student learning.
• Inform decisions about professional development and staffing. And no, I don't mean the current fashion of identifying the lowest performing teachers in order to fire them. Instead, this data could drive efforts to help all staff to perform at a higher level--and it could inform hiring decisions, ensuring a well-balanced staff. This too would result in improved student learning.
• Communicate the complexity of teachers' work. If others perceive the work of teaching as merely controlling a classroom and delivering a lesson plan, then we will never be treated as professionals but as cogs in a machine. By doing more to enhance the image of teaching, we will ensure that highly qualified professionals are in classrooms with students. And this too will lead to improved student learning.
What would such an evaluation system look like? My colleagues in Washington NMI (a group of teacher-leaders supported by the Center for Teaching Quality) and I tackled this question in our report, "How Better Teacher & Student Assessment Can Power Up Learning." I'll share details in my next post.
Ryan Niman teaches English and Social Studies in the Edmonds School District north of Seattle.

December 12, 2011

Making Teachers Part of a Team

By Jessica Hahn

Last year, the number of 3rd graders in my school that scored proficient on the state standardized reading test was less than 50 percent. Yet some of the 3rd grade teachers were deemed good teachers. In fact, one of these teachers was considered excellent by both leadership and her colleagues. She had excellent classroom culture, invested students, and had strong instructional strategies. How can this teacher be good if her students' test scores were so low?

This story begs three questions:
1. What is good teaching?

2. How do we evaluate it?

3. What is the purpose of evaluating teachers?

I'd like to address briefly the purpose of evaluating teachers and the way we do it.

As a classroom teacher, I want to be evaluated so that I can become a better teacher. I want a team of leaders and peers who are knowledgeable, experienced, and nuanced looking with me at my practice itself, at my kids' attitudes toward school, and at my kids' social, emotional, and academic growth using a variety of tools. I want the lens through which I am evaluated always to be, "How can we develop her as a better teacher?"

The key word that I have used is "we." While the classroom teacher is a critical factor in student growth, we do not work in isolation. Therefore directly tying a student's standardized test score to the classroom teacher's effectiveness is dangerous. For example, I have been told by supervisors, other teachers, and all kinds of data, that I can be an effective teacher. But do not ever tell me that is all because of me. My students last year succeeded because their teacher was part of a highly effective team. My students grew in reading because three of them worked daily with BK, the brilliant and reflective reading recovery teacher. My lessons were stronger and more engaging because I planned with KR and KD, two of the best teachers I have ever worked with. I watched these women teach and I became better. My students loved math and got better in it because AC is, well, my colleague calls her a "child whisperer." My students were held to high expectations in a safe and welcoming environment because CS and RJ held them to these expectations in our school. I haven't even mentioned the willingness and dedication of the children and their families.

So if schools and governments want to evaluate me primarily on my students' standardized test scores, they will have to find out using some statistical method the value and percent contributed by each teammate to each student's growth.

Or we could shift our framework from "your students' success" to "OUR students' success."
Jessica Hahn has taught elementary grade children for six years in Phoenix and New York City.

December 12, 2011

Context Matters

Michael MoranOver the past few years, the fists of coercive evaluation have beaten down the integrity of the teaching profession. Rhetoric that promotes teaching as a noble career choice is contradicted by evaluations that impose fear, threaten livelihoods, and essentially work to de-professionalize the job. We need look no further than the recent widespread cheating scandal in Atlanta to recognize that using evaluation as an intimidator will not work.

That said, evaluation is important and, when implemented correctly, has the potential to truly transform teacher effectiveness and enable teaching professionals to help close academic achievement gaps between students. As it stands, however, most teacher evaluations neglect to take into consideration the specific context in which teachers actually work. Many teachers are evaluated on subjects they do not even teach, uniform standards that are not always applicable, and fleeting observations that try to project the performance of a few hours onto an entire academic year.

So, what should teacher evaluations look like? They should look like the teacher. They should look like the students and the classroom in which those students learn. Teacher evaluations should look like the grade level, content area, and community the teacher teaches. They should look like the goals that teachers, students, and administrators set for themselves, their classes, and the school as a whole.
The point I'm trying to make here is that a lot of the evidence that indicates teacher effectiveness is dependent on context. Sure, great teachers are great leaders, and great leaders can lead anywhere, but you run into a problem when an art teacher is evaluated on the standardized test results of one grade level in mathematics. Evaluations need to be multifaceted, taking into consideration not only student performance on standardized tests, but the academic growth of students as demonstrated by a portfolio of artifacts, the relationships that teachers build with students and their parents as demonstrated by student and family evaluative surveys, and observations from not only administrators, but peers and master teachers.

Taking context into consideration when evaluating teachers should not be seen as a crutch. Rather, it should be seen as a pedestal for heightening the issues that matter most to a teacher, his students, and the school. In the end, by tailoring evaluation, and thus treating teachers more like professionals, we can show teachers that we trust them and that evaluative tools are meant to help, not hinder, their effectiveness.

Michael Moran is a former 6th grade teacher currently pursuing a Master of Public Administration degree at the University of Washington's Evans School of Public Affairs.

December 12, 2011

Consulting the Key Players: Teachers and Students

Jessica KeiganAll over the country, educational systems are working to improve educator effectiveness by creating what they hope will be ideal systems of teacher evaluation. In Colorado, Senate Bill 191 was passed in the state's bid to earn Race to the Top dollars and is now being refined for implementation. I have been immersed in the process of providing recommendations for that process alongside the other members of the Denver New Millennium Initiative, and have heard many opinions about what an effective teacher evaluation system looks like.

The most informative conversations I have had about teacher effectiveness and evaluation haven't been with politicians or policy leaders, however. These conversations have instead involved the most deeply-invested stakeholders in the system: students and teachers. They have helped me to realize that the benchmarks of the best teacher evaluation systems of the future will find a balance of objective data gathered from teacher-created assessments and subjective data gathered from a variety of observations.
I am often struck by how insightful my students are about the educational system. I suppose this shouldn't surprise me, given they are the consumer of the product we create. According to my students, the best teachers are experts of their content and craft and those who provide challenge and support to each student. The ideal evaluation system would recognize that students can provide data about what they are learning if we ask them to share, either verbally or through the tasks we set before them each day. We can apply this truth to create an evaluation system that measures students' daily learning experience through formative assessment and provides more authentic measures than the limited and often untimely data gathered by standardized tests.

Teachers who are effective can also speak with eloquence about how they know they are effective. The best teachers I know are reflective about their craft every minute of the day. They are practicing effectiveness according to my students' standards by differentiating instruction and delivery for each student they teach.

In an ideal evaluation system, there would be ample opportunity for teachers to reflect on their craft by creating goals for and taking part in all stages of the observation process. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification process is the place to look for this design. Teachers who are working on their National Board certification are asked to reflect on recorded lessons, so that they watch themselves teach.

While there is room and a strong need for observations by highly qualified peer or administrative observers, the ideal evaluation system would also recognize the value of allowing the teacher to self-assess.

Ultimately, the ideal evaluation systems will recognize the need for teacher and student voice at all points of the process.

A member of the Center for Teaching Quality's Denver New Millennium Initiative team, Jessica Keigan divides her time evenly between teaching English at Horizon High School in Denver and supporting results-oriented efforts to improve Colorado's schools.

December 12, 2011

Flashforward: Teacher Evaluation in the Future

By Ryan Kinser

It's Evaluation Day, 2021. And I've never felt more relaxed. In my district and many others, the negative stigma attached to high-stakes evaluation has abated. Peer evaluation is now a finely tuned process—fair, equitable, and catalyzing teachers to reflect upon and improve their practices.

My next peer evaluator arrives in a few minutes. Each period, I will be observed by another 6th grade Language Arts teacher. Our principal has assigned one substitute to rotate through their classes as they each take a period to act as my evaluator.

My peers already conducted a pre-conference where we discussed my lesson. How do my strategies address our year-long department and team goals? Which rubric domain did I select as my individual goal? Our department has decided to focus on student engagement this year. I explain my cooperative learning strategies to the team and point out my individual area of need: higher-order questioning techniques. I ask the team, "Will you focus on how many of these questions are student-initiated?" We schedule a post-conference first thing tomorrow to debrief and suggest next steps for me.

A small 360-degree camera films the lesson. In our post-conference, the peers and I will discuss our findings, pointing to specific video evidence. While I initially found the camera intimidating, I've grown to love reviewing the tapes, seeing myself as the students do. The peers isolate student responses and point out where I could have helped them probe with higher-level questions. It's transformative, not punitive.

We have built mutual trust. We will be evaluated as a team and as individuals. Once a week our school conducts instructional rounds, where my teammates and I check out best practices in the upper grades language arts courses. During our planning period, we spend about 10 minutes in each class. Then we debrief about the positive things we saw. Finally, we identify some possible next steps for our group. We submit demonstration lessons via video to a shared workspace when schedules tighten.

By 2021, these practices are aligned with school improvement goals and will culminate in a cooperative National Board-style portfolio reviewed by a panel of district mentors. Our evaluation system now includes more financial incentives, which we earn in up to three categories: school, team, and individual teacher performance. All three are still based on student achievement, with student test scores as one component and teacher performance assessment scores as another, but our final project includes multiple authentic measures.

What else has changed over a decade of honing teacher evaluation? I invite you to ignore bureaucratic obstacles for a moment and imagine: How would you like to be evaluated in 10 years?

Ryan Kinser is a 6th grade English teacher at Walker Middle Magnet School for International Studies in Tampa, Fla.

December 11, 2011

How Can Standardized Test Scores Be Used in Teacher Evaluation?

Patrick LedesmaWhether educators like it or not, the public values the use of standardized test scores as a measure of school quality. Test scores provide a measure that is quick, relatively cheap, and convenient. Scores allow anyone to easily make judgments about teacher quality.

From this accountability perspective, perhaps it was just a matter of time before standardized test scores would be part of the teacher evaluation process.

My home state of Virginia joined the list of states seeking to use test scores in teacher evaluation, recommending that "40 percent of teachers' evaluations be based on student academic progress, as determined by multiple measures of learning and achievement, including, if available and applicable, student-growth data from Virginia Department of Education."

In this discussion on the role of test scores in teacher evaluation, I am reminded of a recent conversation with an educator working in a school with a diverse socio-economic student population:

This educator remarked, "My school had a 93 percent pass rate on the standardized test. We have over 55 percent of our students on free-and-reduced lunch. Another school had a 98 percent pass rate on the same test, but has only 8 percent of their students on free-and-reduced lunch. ... My teachers worked harder for their test scores."

It's statement a that deserves consideration.

Will the use of test scores in teacher evaluation unfairly challenge or penalize teachers who work with students with more academic and social needs?

After all, teachers in high-needs schools have to overcome the effects of poverty and other socio-economic factors to produce their high score results. While teachers in schools with more privileged students have different challenges, their students may come to school with a level of preparedness that gives them advantages on standardized tests.

So, any teacher evaluation that incorporates student test scores will need to be sensitive to environmental contexts in which teachers help all students learn.

Failure to consider the contexts could result in misleading evaluations. Test scores may artificially inflate or unfairly constrain a teacher's rating. Given the emerging literature that questions the use of growth and value-added models, teachers are rightfully concerned how scores may be an inaccurate and unstable measure of their teaching.

Despite these concerns, policies advocating for the use of test scores continue; therefore, it is important for classroom teachers to advocate for how tests can be properly used as part of an evaluation process.
Last March, I was part of a National Board for Professional Teaching Standards webinar panel that discussed this issue. An ensuing report, ""Student Learning, Student Achievement," outlines the essential criteria on how large-scale standardized assessments can be used in teacher evaluation systems:
Standardized tests should include the following elements:

1) Curriculum-related scale with equivalent unit of measure along a considerable continuum of achievement.

2) Information on validity of tests for assessing special populations.
3) Data systems that track students and link to teachers.
4) Curriculum alignment

The report goes on to state that:

"Teacher evaluation systems will need to incorporate additional evidence of teacher practice in order to correlate any student learning gains with specific classroom activities. ... Gains in student learning are not just the function of the classroom teacher but of many other factors as well, including teaching conditions and supports, past learning experiences, tutors, parents, student attendance and participation, and other external student and family factors."

The point is that if the public wants to use standardized test scores to evaluate teachers, then we need better standardized tests.

And as states expand the use of test scores in teacher evaluation, educators will need to help the public understand what is needed to make their convenient and preferred method of teacher evaluation meaningful in judging the teachers and schools that serve them.

Patrick Ledesma is a middle school technology specialist and special education department chair with Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia.

December 11, 2011

The Future Is Now for Teacher Evaluation

By Renee Moore

The best teacher evaluation should look like good teaching: knowledgeable, well-prepared, flexible, collaborative, and reflective. It should result in the growth of all involved and consistently produce significant benefits for student learning. It should be professional.

I spent two years engaging with some of the best teachers in the country about what teaching should look like by 2030. We fully expect, and our students deserve, an expansion of the learning environment beyond the 19th-century structures we have inherited. These changes have already begun: Learning extends beyond classroom walls, beyond brick and mortar buildings, beyond the 55 minute period, or the seven-period day.

As part of this evolution, teaching must change also, and, fortunately, evidence that it is in fact changing grows daily. Teachers are using a broader range of mediums and tools with increasing levels of sophistication; they are working in increasingly effective teams that multiply the talents and resources available to their students. Some teachers have already distinguished themselves as trendsetters in digital pedagogy; others have an intricate understanding of a range of cultures and social conditions from which our students now come. Still more teachers have demonstrated strong competencies as coaches and mentors to colleagues; others are developing curriculum, software, assessment tools, and networks. And there is more to come that we can't even describe yet.

How can we evaluate such rich complexity with all the varying levels of performance and experience they represent across the largest profession in America—with a few five-minute walk-bys and a checklist? Hardly. The old factory evaluation model, which was never a good fit for education, will be even less so as we move further into the potential of immersed learning and interconnected teaching. One principal trying to evaluate an entire faculty whose members practice a dizzying variety of pedagogical skills will be painfully ineffective. Like our students, teachers need assessment of our work based on a combination of measures and reviewers, with teachers taking responsibility for our own professional growth based on mutually established, student-centered goals.

To get there from here will require transformed thinking and some significant power shifts, neither of which, history reminds us, come easily. But I believe we are on the verge of such a shift as teaching finally morphs into a true profession. One of the trademarks of a profession is peer review of each others' work against high standards established by the profession.

The necessary components for this transformation are already in place. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has painstakingly created rigorous performance-based standards for almost every area of teaching, as well as counseling, media specialists, and now principals. Soon, we will have a critical mass of highly accomplished teachers as measured by those standards (we're at nearly 100,000 now). Meanwhile, the two national teacher-education accreditation agencies have merged, and have put their support behind the sweeping recommendations for overhauling American teacher preparation put forward by the Blue Ribbon Panel on Clinical Preparation and Partnerships for Improved Student Learning. That panel represented a broad cross-section of education stakeholders, including parents and teachers.

Most recently, a commission made up of outstanding teachers and teacher leaders gathered by the National Education Association has laid out an ambitious, but doable plan to move our profession to the next level, including how to create and maintain a highly effective teacher evaluation system.
American public education is at a critical juncture, and it will be our shame and our children's loss if we don't complete the journey.

Renee Moore has taught English and journalism for 20 years in the Mississippi Delta region at both high school and community college levels.

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