Are you as smart as a New York 8th grader?

Here’s something fun:

Yesterday the state Education Department released 50% of the questions from this year’s ELA and mathematics state tests for grades 3-8. The blog All Over Albany pulled five questions from the 8th grade mathematics test and challenged readers to try and answer them. See how you do!

We thought it was encouraging that despite all of the backlash on the tests this year and the on-going controversy surrounding implementation of the Common Core, commenters on the post were generally supportive of the level of difficulty of the questions, one deeming them “solid, appropriate stuff for 8th grade.”

Shannan Speaks: Don’t sacrifice the strongest aspects of our education system

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.

Americans worry, with good reason, about our nation’s position in today’s global world. The U.S. has long been a world power, and with American students trailing in math and science compared to many Asian and Nordic countries there is a fear we are losing our edge. Since children are the future, education is key to our country’s long-term success.

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) comes out with reports based on an international standardized test ranking the competitiveness of most industrialized nations on an international scale. The most recent round of PISA testing revealed that American 15-year-olds fall 27th out of 34 countries in mathematics proficiency.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently administered a new exam to international college graduates. This test, the Piaac, found that Americans with Bachelors degrees placed 16th out of 24 nations in numeracy–well below the international average score. While it is universally agreed upon that the United States is home to the majority of the world’s best higher education institutions, on average U.S. college grads are also lagging. Common Core learning standards have focused the nation’s attention to K-12 education and how the U.S. compares globally. College graduates have never before been compared internationally in the same way high school students have. Perhaps with the new OECD test results, higher education will be the next front.

As a two-time study abroad student, I learned a lot about globalization, foreign cultures and foreign education. Spending three semesters in two different European countries opened my eyes to the education systems, values and techniques in different countries. My first experience was in a country that consistently ranks below the U.S. on these international exams, Italy, and my second was in a country that typically outranks us and performs slightly above average, France. Of course, my experience was only at the college/university level, which differs from primary and secondary education. However, I did notice some cultural and educational differences that I think are connected to the performance on these exams.

My friends and I often conversed and compared our experiences abroad to what we were used to at home. There were many cultural contrasts between the three nations, but there were also differences between my educational experiences and those of the other Americans I knew while studying abroad. People thrive in different learning conditions, personal lifestyle and learning style preferences impact American students’ perceptions of international education.

In Italy my professors were relaxed, unconcerned with schedules and lesson plans. The class sizes were smaller, but there was not always more individualized attention. I attended an international school, with primarily Italian professors and students from the United States, South and Central America and other European countries. It was a different experience from the U.S. education system, but not nearly as extreme as my time in France.

Italy’s scores usually fall towards the bottom of the ranking on the PISA test just below the U.S., while France outranks us on this test. From my experience this makes sense, however that does not necessarily mean that these education systems are better or worse. Many of the differences come from varying cultural values and a different education system structure.

The French public education system is run at a national level. This means that the curriculum is basically universal. This is very different from the U.S. system, where there are general guidelines nationally, more specific ones like starting age requirements and graduation requirements at a state level and then the very specific decisions are made within the district. It makes our education system more customizable, but it can also allow for inequalities in education. Our system also makes more room for fun and learning from non-academic experiences. While these things can contribute to happier and more well rounded children, they can also mean that some of our students are very internationally competitive and prepared for college, but others are not. These things, while beneficial in their own way or for certain students, do not make for overall higher standardized test scores.

My professors in Paris, though nice people, were often quite harsh. There was no such thing as “sugarcoating” and often criticism did not feel so constructive. They demanded perfection without actually believing it was possible, but graded as if it was. In the French school system, from primary education through higher ed., they grade on a system of 0-20, but anything above 16 is almost entirely unachievable. In the American system, getting a grade of A or above 90% is achievable. Even though a grade that high is considered excellent work, students are considered capable of excellent work.

France’s negative reinforcement system makes people study very diligently and become very knowledgeable, but it also can take away from the joy of learning and can make students feel inadequate too pressured. French students acquire a lot of academic knowledge, but their teachers and professors put little value on creative thinking and individual strengths and weaknesses. France is a very formal nation and its residents value implicit understanding. For my American friends and me, studying at five different French schools, this made for a strict and confusing school system. Did my American education prepare me for this experience? Yes. I had all of the knowledge and skills I needed to make it through the semester, I had just never needed to apply them in that way or under those conditions before.

While France does outrank the U.S. on these international exams, it is not an international leader. They only fell one point above average on the college graduate numeracy test and typically hover just around average on international competiveness. I admired many of my French friends for the impressive references they made in conversation and their fluency in English. There was no doubt they were well educated and those who spent time as exchange students in the U.S. knew that. Yet, they all had extreme doubt about their English proficiency and were not very optimistic about their job prospects.

The American education system is trailing in math and science and these are extremely important for the future success of our nation. From my experience with the French system, I think it is important to remember that the countries that outrank us may have better test scores, but they are not superior in all ways. There is more to a good education than being able to pass a math test. The PISA and Piaac tests cannot truly capture this distinction.

There are unique things done right and wrong in every education system I’ve experienced. The United States’ education system has issues to fix, but it is important to find solutions that do not sacrifice the strongest aspects. The ability to compete is important in today’s global economy, but we cannot compare our education system to those of our neighbors’ and expect to find all the answers. Top ranked Shanghai has issues with equity in education that are believed help to raise the province’s scores – unlike the American educational inequities which are based on funding and trying to offer high quality education to all.

International competiveness, equality for all income levels and college/career readiness are essential to the success of the United States. Now is the time to look inward at our country’s issues and focus less on how other nations are educating children. High scoring countries can be useful models, but we cannot forget that we have offerings that they cannot or do not provide. Every student I have met –American, Italian, French, Swedish, etc. – that has experience in multiple foreign education systems, agree that there are positive and negative elements of each system. During this time of education reform in the U.S., we must consider our large and diverse population, which is fundamentally different from top performing nations like Singapore, Finland and South Korea, as well as our nation’s diverse strengths and weakness, which shape our students and therefore, our future.

Friday Rundown 8.1.14

The first round of test scores since Common Core’s implementation have been released.  This prompted the State’s release of a parent “bill of rights” to clarify how the data could be used and privacy requirements pertaining to the results. Now, people are wondering how schools are going to utilize the new feedback and whether students and teachers can rise to the curriculum. The challenges that districts face, such as integrating the standards into Special Education and the new TASC exam requiring high school equivalency students to meet the standards, are also making headlines this week.

The lawsuit against teacher tenure was filed Monday and has the potential to bring about big changes in the New York State education system.

School is getting more expensive and so are school supplies. As back to school season approaches are you ready to spend a little extra? If not, maybe your community is doing something to help families out like the communities in the news this week:

Other news:

Officials look to educate local teens for future nano jobs (Utica Observer Dispatch)

A teacher asks Arne Duncan a gutsy question. Here’s the answer. (Washington Post)

Utica’s King school benefiting from extended days (Utica Observer Dispatch)

More Schools Open Their Doors to the Whole Community (Wall Street Journal)

Friday Rundown 7.25.14

Schools are thinking outside of the box to try to offer the best to their students. Districts have been faced with funding challenges and state and national mandates that have made it difficult to provide things such as learning technology, healthy foods that students want to eat and alternative programming for non-traditional students. Districts and students have been forced to be creative to find solutions.

The usual topics of Common Core, tenure, state aid, and national and international student competitiveness have not gone away. Here’s some other interesting news from the week.

The problem with how we talk about poverty and kids (The Washington Post)

State awards $11M in after-school grants (Capital New York)

Setting the record straight on tenure (New York Daily News)

Investing in early learning (Buffalo News)

Middle school principals discuss Common Core, technology and promoting identity formation (Albany Business Review)

US teens are flunking financial literacy test (Middletown Times Herald Record)

New York schools have lower dropout rates than national average (Watertown Daily Times)

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.


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.


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)