SED to release test analysis today

In response to feedback and requests from teachers, principals, and superintendents, the State Education Department (SED) has authorized the early release of “instructional reports” for the 2014 Grades 3-8 English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics tests.

The reports, which have been made available in the past but later in the year, will give teachers and administrators a technical look at how students performed on particular questions. By releasing them early, educators now have more time to use the assessment results in planning for the upcoming school year. For example, if a class struggled with questions that measure addition and subtraction of fractions with unlike denominators, the teacher can adjust instruction next year to strengthen students’ understanding of this topic.

In addition to releasing the reports, SED said it would give out half of the questions and answers from the 2014 exams. In the past, the department released 25 percent.

According to Education Commissioner John King, the reports made available today do not include student performance levels; those statewide results will be released later this summer.

“By releasing critical data and twice as many exam questions, our staff will be better able to pinpoint which standards have been met as well as the areas that need more emphasis,” Port Byron Central School District Superintendent Neil O’Brien said. “We will have the time to make adjustments to help improve learning outcomes for students in the upcoming year. While we know the goal of the Education Department is to have all of the questions released, this is a great step in the right direction and will be of tremendous value to my students, teachers and district.”

Research: To save Common Core, New York should rethink high school exams

A new research study by New America Education says that New York state should be rethinking its graduation requirements if it has any hope of saving the poorly implemented Common Core Learning Standards.

New York is one of 24 states that utilizes “exit exams” by requiring students to be proficient on specific standardized tests in order to graduate from high school. To earn a Regents diploma, students need to score 65 or higher on the five core-subject exams (English, math, global history, U.S. History and science).

Beginning next year, NY will launch more rigorous exams aligned to the Common Core. In theory, these exams are designed to determine who is ready for college. But when used as an “exit exam,” they could now also determine who is able to go to college since they will act as a gatekeeper for earning a diploma. The study finds that states utilizing an “exit exam” format run the risk of weakening the intent of the Common Core and undermining efforts to increase rigor, according to researcher Anne Hyslop of the New America Foundation.

Concern stems from the fact that the current cut rates for exit exams would have to be greatly changed to reflect college and career readiness accurately. If states shift the standard to true “college and career readiness,” huge proportions of students could flunk since it’s estimated that “only 39 percent of the nation’s high school seniors were prepared for college-level math, and only 38 percent were prepared in reading,” based on the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

“Because states cannot – and will not – suddenly deny high school degrees to large numbers of students, particularly those who are already at-risk and furthest behind, states will likely dilute the rigor of the college-and career-ready benchmark if meeting that score is tied to graduation requirements,” Hyslop said.

Read the full report here.

 

A grammar lesson courtesy of “Weird Al”

In this world of texting, tweeting and snapchatting, proper use of grammar often takes a backseat to more, shall we say, creative uses of the English language.

Well one individual has had enough of this country’s grammatical errors.

Musician-comedian “Weird Al” Yankovic recently released a new music video, “Word Crimes,” detailing the many grammatical mistakes we make on a daily basis. If you’re not familiar with “Weird Al,” he is a musical-parodist known for his humorous songs that poke fun at popular culture. This latest song is a parody of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.”

All of your favorites are covered in this new hit, including:

  • There, their, they’re
  • Its vs It’s
  • Your vs You’re
  • I could care less
  • And more!

It’s Friday. Let’s have some fun. Enjoy.

Friday Rundown 7.18.14

Unions are dominating the news this week with debates on teachers’ healthcare costs, pensions, raises and tenure. In addition, union leaders have expressed their opinions on Common Core and the upcoming election. As the new school year and the next election approach, political leaders and educators are searching for a solution. This week they’re discussing the benefits of performance based raises for teachers, tweaking the Common Core standards and litigating against tenure. 

State public schools anticipated to pay highest pension contribution for teachers in 2014-15  (Watertown Daily Times)

School aid push starts early (Glens Falls Post Star)

Teachers union takes on Common Core (Politico)

School Districts Are Paying Teachers Wrong, Report Says (Huffington Post)

Sound education child’s right (Times Union)

Why building relationships is vital in school reform (Washington Post)

Can Utica be ready for a longer school day? (Utica Observer Dispatch)

In an era of high-stakes testing, a struggling school made a shocking choice (The New Yorker)

Hiring patterns shift in teaching field (Times Herald Record)

Shannan Speaks: Technology is transforming education

Shannan Costello is an intern for the Capital Region BOCES Communications Service. She is a senior at Marist College where she is majoring in Communications with a concentration in Public Relations. She will be contributing content to Education Speaks throughout the summer from the unique perspective of a college senior.

Technology has become increasingly important in education. It can be customized to suit different students’ learning styles and is essential for modern career success. Technology was always a big part of my life. I got my first email address at seven and my Facebook page at 14, but this is nothing compared to the current young learners who are practically born with an iPad in hand.

Educational technology is the subject of frequent discussion because it provides so many potential benefits, but also requires adaptions to the teaching process and funding to supply the products. While some argue technology is widening the achievement gap because some districts cannot afford it, others believe it is producing more college and career ready students.

As a communications major, technology has been a large part of my college experience as well as my K-12 education. I upload assignments and check my grades on my college’s web platform, use my Kindle to read textbooks, text friends about going to the library and more. My online classes have required additional technological integration. With a broad range of technology available there are many ways to use it in education.

Social Media

Social media is often heavily involved in communication about assignments, such as group project work on Facebook or assignments and suggested readings tweeted by professors. However, one of the most interesting and beneficial ways I’ve seen social media used in the classroom is for foreign language learning. There are social media sites dedicated to connecting native speakers with language learners in order to help them practice and offer corrections.

Interactive Whiteboards

When I was in high school, my school transitioned nearly all classrooms to be equipped with SMART Boards. The ability to access anything on the computer and project it to the class was always extremely helpful. In addition, new technology creates excitement for the students, which can lead to more volunteering and collaborating in class. It allows students to interactively work on worksheets and activities on screen, while keeping them more interested.

Apps

Tablet and iPad use is becoming increasingly popular for teachers of all grade levels. Schools are using apps to teach students everything from addition to chemistry. Applications are built to allow students to learn at their own pace and teachers to check in more frequently with students using programs that can monitor their progress. Apps are also ever-changing and easy to install which gives schools the ability to always be up to date.

Software

The ability to learn new programs is often more important than knowing the programs themselves. Having modern and diverse software in different classes helps with both content learning and comfort with technology. I started learning software in elementary school by using the game Oregon Trail and other typing programs. In my experiences as an intern I’ve seen companies switch to or build new software and individual employees, including myself, come in and be required to learn new programs. Strong tech abilities can help people adapt during those kinds of processes.

The possibilities of technology use become even greater as students get more specified in their career interests. Many career and technical students have 3D printing, digital arts software, state of the art auto-diagnostic computer systems and more at their disposal. Schools can offer their students more with technology, including more customized learning options, more interactive textbooks through e-readers and tablets, video guides for homework help or studying, more stimulation for visual, kinesthetic and auditory learning and greater access to information.

Basic tech skills must be built at a young age in a world where regular essential tasks, such as applying to college and banking are done online. Cultivating tech skills gives students an advantage in all aspects of their lives and helps our nation to stay competitive. Government and grant programs are encouraging EdTech integration and data is driving the global economy. Everyday there are new and improved ways to integrate technology into learning at school and at home.

Technology has been a critical part of my education from elementary school to college and it is constantly evolving. As both a student and an employee, I’ve found the technology that I learned in school extremely helpful to be prepared for the next step in life. But young students today have an even greater advantage; because it is no longer just about learning technology, today technology can help students learn in countless other areas.

Friday Rundown 7.11.14

How do you feel about Common Core? It looks like you may have to ask yourself that question before stepping into the voting booth this November. The standards have sparked debates nation-wide and that won’t be changing now that there may be a “Stop Common Core” ballot line.

Also in the news, lunch standards, the E-Rate, pre-k and more.

Our view: Better access to summer meals makes sense (Auburn Citizen)

Michelle Obama Fights GOP On School Lunch Rules (Huffington Post)

A watershed moment for technology in education (Washington Post)

What libraries need from key U.S. technology program (Washington Post)

A grand (statewide) pre-K experiment (Capital New York)

Coalition outlines mandate-relief proposals (Plattsburgh Press Republican)

Values of education (Times Union)

Progressive think tank releases report on return on investment for US’s education spending

The Center for American Progress recently released a report on the educational “return on investment” for schools nationwide. From a Times Union article on the study:

“In a report released Wednesday, the Washington, D.C.-based Center for American Progress looked at the “Return on Educational Investment,” or spending among individual school districts nationwide. Researchers also included federal monies, which don’t always show up on school budgets.

The report’s authors weighted poverty levels as measured by the percentage of students receiving free and reduced-price lunch, as well as other factors that could impact both the cost of running a school and the level of educational attainment.

Also considered are factors like the cost of living in a given area and number of youngsters who are just learning English.

Researchers then looked at per-pupil spending and compared it to standardized test scores, focusing on the number of students who passed, or met the desired standards. While noting that there are wide differences between individual schools, the study looks at districts as a whole and compares them within their state.”

Here is a summary of the study’s findings:

  • Low educational productivity remains a deeply pressing problem, with billions of dollars lost in low-capacity districts.
  • Some of the nation’s most affluent school systems show a worrying lack of productivity.
  • In some districts, spending priorities are clearly misplaced.
  • State approaches to improving fiscal effectiveness vary widely.
  • States have failed to make fiscal equity a priority and large funding gaps exist across school districts.
  • State budget practices are often inconsistent and opaque. 

To read more about the results and to see how your district stacks up, you can view the study here. A disclaimer from the organization’s website warns readers: “Please interpret our individual district productivity evaluations with a heavy dose of caution. The connection between spending and educational achievement is complex, and our data does not capture everything that goes into creating an effective school system.”

Thursday Rundown 7.3.14

Happy holiday weekend! Starting with the national news, in the spirit of the Fourth of July, the nation’s top education headlines include: Global competitiveness, Common Core, standardized testing and more.

New York reform news –

POV: The pivotal middle school years

Points_viewThis Point of View was submitted by Shaker Junior High School principal Dr. Russell Moore of the North Colonie Central School District. Dr. Moore is currently in the 26th year as principal. He attended SUNY Potsdam, and graduated with a BA in mathematics and education (1976) and a MA in mathematic (1983). Dr. Moore received his MEd. in ed. administration from St. Lawrence University in 1986 and his PhD. in ed. admin. and policy studies from the University at Albany in 1993.

School years end – which is a good thing for students and adults. Courses are developed in yearly format, so there is a defined beginning and a defined end. We finish off one year and look forward to the next. We end the school year, everybody takes a break, we start another one.

At least that’s what it looks like to people outside of education.

Those of us who work in schools, however, know that is not the case.

Within individual school districts there is a lot of work that goes into transitioning students from one grade level to the next. Some considerations for doing so include determining course of level placement for each student, meeting the new year’s teachers, recognizing the accomplishments of the year ending, working with parents as needed to clarify what’s taking place, planning students’ inclusion in summer programs, and several other annual tasks that are geared to help students be prepared for the coming year.

The transition process it even more involved when you consider students who are entering your school for the first time. In my school’s case, we have students entering from six different district elementary schools, in addition to several new entrants from area private schools. Transitioning these students is an important task, as each year our entire seventh grade is new to our school. In addition, working to transition parents is almost as important, as there is a fairly high level of anxiety with many parents, mostly those with their first child entering the junior high. The move from the neighborhood elementary school, which the student has been a part of for the past seven years, to a much larger, differently structured secondary school creates angst.

Schools should not wait until the end of one school year to begin the transition process to the next. Schools need to demonstrate to parents that that they understand their unease and will be working to help them and their incoming kids to get a little more comfortable with their new environment. Kids’ feelings are different; they’re nervous but in an excited, eager to move on to the next level way. Parents are just plain nervous.

One way to begin easing parents into your school is to reach out to them about courses offered. In most middle schools, there aren’t many options for 6th and 7th grade students, but providing a description of all the courses offered in the initial school year is informative and helpful. It’s a plus if your guidance counselors visit each of the elementary schools to meet with the fifth or sixth grade teachers about the incoming kids.

Another way to inform and transition is to post information about your school on your web page. Most schools hold an evening orientation program for parents in early June, at which parents hear information provided by representatives of each department, each teacher team, guidance counselors, perhaps a PTA rep, and building administrators. Many schools also have the kids visit their school sometime in June during the day. At this program the kids can have lunch, hear from some of their specific teachers, guidance counselor and/or building administrators, and see the school.

Yet another outreach is to mail important information to parents during the summer, early enough for parents and kids to read and understand it. It’s very helpful if this mailing includes each child’s class schedule for the year. You may even consider holding an Open School Day before school starts. Such a day is very helpful to students because you can provide students with their schedules and have them try out their lockers to insure they open. Kids also get to see a lot of their future classmates on this day.

A final step in the transition can be a school’s Back to School Night. At this program, parents can walk through their kids’ schedule and hear specific information about each class from their child’s teachers. The information provided during this evening program can be much more content and class focused than the information given at the orientation program in June.

These are just some ideas that can help transition students and parents to a new school. Much of the communication should take place between individual parents and counselors as well, probably in June and July. Some of these conversations would be about specific course options, while others more general in content. Schools should work to insure that parents have a better understanding of the school, how it is structured, how issues are addressed (which may or may not be done differently than was experienced in elementary school), and what they can expect from building leaders.

Parents won’t be completely comfortable until their kids have been at their new school for a period of time and they have experienced how the building regularly functions. Effective transitions do not happen overnight. They take planning, evaluation, revision as needed and adequate attention to all involved parties. Done right, transitioning between schools can work quite well.

You can read more from Dr. Moore by visiting his blog: Moore Perspective.