Prove It: Ensuring Efficacy in Digital Learning, Part One

Guest post by Eric Sheninger

I’ll never forget the day I presented my digital transformation plan to our superintendent at the time. I had spent days preparing and rehearsing all of my points, explaining the rationale for each new tool and making a strong budget case to secure the necessary resources. At the end of my presentation, the superintendent asked me point blank, “Can you prove it? What evidence do you have to demonstrate that all of this works?” These were fair questions that I had not fully anticipated. But at that moment in time, they provided the grounding that my school and I really needed.  (more…)

Raising Test Scores: One School’s Story

Guest post by Amy Mims

When I became an assistant principal of Independence High School in Charlotte, NC, our school’s test scores were low. As I started observing classrooms, I saw talented teachers hard at work designing and delivering interesting lessons that utilized a number of instructional best practices. I also saw motivated students who were engaged in lessons, completed assignments, and did well on assessments. I wondered: What was causing our school’s low test scores? (more…)

Finding Your Path Toward Competency-Based Learning

Guest post by Brian M. Stack

Imagine trying to go somewhere for the first time without having access to a map. Worse yet, imagine being the great explorers Lewis and Clark who crossed the western part of our country for the first time in 1804 with no map, no roads, and little knowledge of what it was going to take to get to their destination. In education, early adopters often feel like trailblazers too, using research, trends, and sometimes their guts to forge new ways of thinking and doing. If you are a school leader looking to move your school to competency-based learning today, you may feel a daunting sense of helplessness as you embark on your journey. The good news is (more…)

Empowering Students to Aspire Higher

Guest post by Kasey L. Teske

All students have dreams of success after high school, but for some students, their dreams are merely wishes that never come to fruition. How can schools empower more students to aspire higher and reach for their dreams? At Canyon Ridge High School (CRHS) in Idaho, we have made it our mission to help students dream and find success both during and after high school. Our three-part approach focuses on (more…)

Improving Quality and Reducing Duplicative Assessments Under ESSA

Spring is here, which for students, educators, and parents means testing season has officially begun. In 2015, several states across the country witnessed the growing opt-out movement, where parents are withholding their children from assessments in protest of the Common Core State Standards and the inclusion of student test scores in teacher evaluations, as well as the overbearing standardized testing culture.

Last year in New York, more than 200,000 third through eighth graders sat out of standardized tests, and the movement has shown no signs of slowing down in 2016. In February, the NASSP Board of Directors stated its opposition to state and district opt-out (more…)

Common Core: Delaying Sanctions is not Delaying Implementation

States like Florida and Louisiana are not delaying Common Core implementation; they are delaying using test scores to rate schools and to punish teachers and principals.

We know that students thrive in a school with a focused school wide literacy initiative–purposeful reading, writing, and discussion in every classroom and across all content areas. By my count only about 1% of all high schools have or are attempting such a program, which, just so happens to be a foundation of successful implementation of the Common Core State Standards. A lack of content-based literacy instruction is not due to a lack of desire on the part of schools, but to a lack of training and practice on the part of the teachers and school leaders. It takes years to build teacher capacity to integrate literacy effectively into their content areas. Keep in mind that literacy is but one of many school wide instructional shifts that the CCSS are bringing to schools.

Let’s be clear. States are proceeding with CCSS implementation but delaying levying accountability measures while schools are building teacher capacity.

In fairness, neither consortium will have a fully operational assessment system–pre-assessments, mid-year assessments, performance assessments, summative assessments, and timely feedback to schools–for at least two more years. Schools will receive no feedback from the field tests. How can we possible hold schools and teachers accountable for assessments when they have no way of receiving any feedback and no way to predict student success until after the summative assessments administered in May 2015?

It is almost like asking schools to hit a moving target while blindfolded. A fair system would allow for at least two years of testing and feedback under a fully operational assessment system before holding teachers, principals, and schools accountable.

PISA Results: Good, Bad and Ugly

By Stuart A. Singer, author of The Algebra Miracle

The latest numbers from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) have been released and not surprisingly the handwringing began before the ink was dry. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan used the word “stagnation” in his appraisal. Others were even more pessimistic. On the surface the performance of the U.S. students was dreadful. There was little joy to be found in being ranked 20th in reading, 23rd in Science and 30th in mathematics among the sixty-five tested groups. All of these results were either the same or worse than the previous test three years ago.

Fortunately a more careful analysis of the statistics revealed that some of the worst case scenario conclusions were misleading.

The scoring was hardly comparing apples to apples. In many cases it was not even apples to oranges. Contrasting the U.S. scores to those coming out of Singapore which had the best in the world was more like apples to aged Kobe beef. Singapore is a city not an entire country. Making the outcome even murkier was that low performing students and their families are often sent elsewhere in order to maintain the city’s lofty status. It was the equivalent of taking the highest scoring school district in America and claiming it represented the achievement level in all fifty states.

The bad

But before anyone begins chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A” the numbers coming out of PISA are worthy of deep concern. When Latvia and Viet Nam rank above you in measurements of academic prowess there is little room for rejoicing. The United States spends huge sums of money on education in comparison to many of the countries that performed (more…)

States accelerate shift in student testing. The good, the bad, and the ugly!

As reported in the L.A. Times, “in a major shift in how California’s 6.2 million public school students are taught and tested, state officials plan to drop the standardized exams used since 1999 and replace them with a computerized system next spring.”

The Good

California (and other states) are eliminating “double testing” and moving up the timetable for the new Common Core computerized tests by a year. This means more “at bats” for students and more feedback for teachers.

The Bad

Until now, state standardized tests (in some states) were conducted entirely with pencil and paper. Transitioning from paper and pencil tests to computerized assessments is a huge undertaking. Some states have taken the better part of a decade to make this shift. While there are many advantages to online assessments, making this transition in one year ensures that there will be glitches in the testing process. Experience tells us that school leaders should prepare themselves for every eventuality.

The Ugly

Schools must have enough computers available on each campus to handle the testing. For example. Oklahoma recently announced that the state would not/could not participate in the PARCC assessments because only 15% of OK schools had sufficient hardware and infrastructure.

The Bottom Line

Behind virtually every failure in education we find the best intentions coupled with poor implementation. There is no lack of great ideas or programs. There is, however, an absence of effective implementation.

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