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Dr. Barry Bachenheimer is the Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment at Pascack Valley Regional High School District (NJ) and a 2014 NSBA 20 to Watch Education Technology Leader. He has been in education since 1993, serving as a teacher, social studies supervisor, principal and central office administrator. He also served as Director of Instruction in the Caldwell-West School System in Caldwell, NJ, prior to coming to Pascack.

Dr. Bachenheimer values personalized learning, student voice and thoughtful integration of technology in classrooms, and he recently supported Pascack Valley’s efforts in creating a “Virtual Day” to take the place of a snow day in 2014. He was kind enough to take time to share his thoughts on these and other issues, including implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

Public School Insights (PSI): Let’s start with your background. Where were you before you came to the Pascack Valley Regional High School District, and what positions did you hold that contributed to your current work in curriculum, instruction and assessment, as well as with technology? ...

By Sharon P. Robinson, President and CEO, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE)

Recently U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued a statement responding to widespread concerns about standardized testing—saying that “testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools” and offering to delay by a year the federal requirement that teacher evaluations include some “significant” influence from students’ performance on state assessments.

Reaction from the field1 to Duncan’s statement has been, as expected, profoundly respectful and professional. Unions, administrators and policymakers have expressed relief that the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has finally acknowledged feedback from the field as to the wisdom of policy. While the announced delay in tying teacher evaluations to these impact measures is very important, I am even more interested to see how consistent, congruent and powerful the Obama administration intends to be in its handling of similar policy questions. ...

Our frequently stated goal is for all US students to graduate from high school prepared for college and career. The current emphasis on standards-based education reforms reflects our belief that there are things students should know and be able to do that will help them in that endeavor. While one of the main purposes of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was to better identify and support struggling students, the law ultimately resulted in an overemphasis on high-stakes standardized testing and school performance (though fortunately, some policy leaders are beginning to take steps to reduce the emphasis on testing, particularly as many state transition to new academic standards). Ironically, educators, businesses and parents generally agree that test scores are a poor indicator of future success. ...

In April, the Learning First Alliance issued a statement urging states to take the proper time to implement the Common Core State Standards. Believing in the potential that the standards have to transform teaching and learning, we worry about rushing to make high-stakes decisions (such as student graduation, teacher evaluation and school performance designation) based on assessments of the standards before they have been fully and properly implemented. So we – in a call that has been echoed by others – urged a transition period during which such high-stakes are removed. And we are pleased to see that places like New York and Washington, DC, are heeding that call.

But when we get that time, how should we best use it to get CCSS implementation right and help students achieve these higher standards?

Last week, we hosted a Twitter Town Hall – hashtag #CCSStime – to start exploring that issue. We were overwhelmed with the participation – more than 600 Twitter users sent out nearly 2,000 tweets during the hour-long event. To quote Eduflack's coverage:

It was the beginning of a very important discussion, all of which can be found at #CCSStime. Why was it so important? Mainly because it was a productive talk on how to get it right, not on urban legends or dreaming ways to short circuit standards that are not going away.

See below for highlights from the conversation ...

By Amber Jimenez, American Federation of Teachers member and ELL teacher in Colville, WA

I like to take the first few weeks of summer vacation to do some serious reflection. I think about the school year and my successes and failures. This helps determine which books I read and classes I attend to help me prepare for the next school year. For the last few years, though, I have also thought seriously about teaching as a profession, how we as teachers are perceived, and how decisions and trends policy makers make affect my teaching practice.

Accountability seems to be the big buzz word these days. Starting with NCLB when I was a new teacher, districts began to take a closer look at student subgroups and became accountable for their success. As an ELL teacher I was happy to see a greater focus on my students’ progress. Yet NCLB’s focus on punishment in the end hurt my students. Because they needed more support, my elementary students lost access to the arts and even core subjects of science and social studies in the push towards reading and math. My high school students also lost out on elective opportunities because they needed to take resource and support classes to improve their test scores. My students were not well rounded and for many of them, the “fun part” of school was lost. Race to the Top wasn’t much better. States are relying on waivers from NCLB to retain funding. My new home state even recently lost its waiver. Our accountability system is up in the air. ...

The results of Maryland’s annual reading and math assessments were recently announced – and scores are at their lowest level in seven years, according to The Washington Post. Why? In large part, because the state is currently teaching to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), but the tests are not aligned to them. So ultimately, as social studies teacher and Maryland state legislator Eric Luedtke said, “The scores mean nothing at all. You are testing kids on content that they are no longer learning.”

Maryland education officials were prepared for this situation – both State Superintendent of Schools Lillian M. Lowery and Maryland State Department of Education Chief Academic Officer Jack Smith are quoted in the Post article acknowledging it directly. And the results had “no bearing on school accountability measures or principal and teacher evaluations” – appropriate, given that the tests did not reflect what was happening in the classroom.

But the Maryland situation is far from unique. Across the country, schools, districts and states are in different phases of Common Core implementation. In some places, the standards have been adopted, but the curriculum not yet aligned. In others, the curriculum has been aligned, but the assessments have not. In still others, the standards and assessments have been aligned, but the curriculum has not. In all, educators are working hard to implement, but they are not done yet. ...

By Jodi Alligood, American Federation of Teachers member and middle school science teacher and AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) coordinator at New Smyrna Beach Middle School in Volusia County, FL

Productive struggle. These are the two words that come to mind when thinking of my experiences with the Common Core in my classroom. And I am not just thinking of the students. If you are anything like me, your desks are straightened between periods, your stapler and tape dispenser have a home (and they are lined -up) and your students know that you don’t “do chaos.”  So, for me learning to let go of the reins and embrace the organized chaos that accompanies inquiry-based and problem-solving type learning was a struggle. Seeing what happened when I let the students inquire, speak to each other and bounce ideas around, and “steal” from other groups, I realized that my productive struggle had been worth it.

As far as the students go, their version of productive struggle was much different than mine. After all, if being social and chaotic was the goal for middle schoolers, my job would be much easier.  The students’ struggle came from the assignment of rigorous tasks and complex readings; and in understanding how to transfer what they learned in a given lesson to other tasks and even assessments. I can remember spending almost a full period on one short paragraph while reading about endothermic and exothermic reactions in science class. We spent time highlighting, underlining, making connections ...

By Jenn Kauffman, NEA Health Information Network

For middle school and high school communities, May can often bring anxiety and stress in the form of year-end testing and senior projects.

Stress isn't just limited to adults. A survey by the American Psychological Association found that teens experience stress, too - and their stress levels rival that of adults.

Even positive events can be stressful. And while stress can help people achieve peak performance - too much stress can impair performance and be harmful to health. ...

By James C. Kaufman, for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)

“As we all know, true creativity comes from simple formulas and the memorization of data”

- Eric Hoffman and Gary Rudoren, Comedy by the Numbers

I am a creativity researcher. It is both a boon and annoyance to study something that is of (some) interest to the general public. One common reaction from skeptics is that it is impossible (and, perhaps, foolhardy if not a bit deluded) to measure creativity.

I have my ready-made answer. It usually involves the fact that we have many well-established, commonly-used creativity tests that have been around for more than 60 years. But the secret is that there is more truth than I would like to admit in this criticism. Creativity measurement is creativity’s Achilles heel.

Consider what assessment means in some common constructs.

  • Intelligence and personality tests have a major impact on our lives. Personality tests are standard components of job applications. Those who score low on emotional stability or conscientiousness will probably not get a follow-up phone call. Further, many people have internalized basic (if outdated) labels for themselves, taking social media tests to see if they are an INTJ or if their Star Wars personality is Yoda or ...

Technology can be a powerful tool for change, but in the excitement of doing something new, important planning aspects may fall by the wayside. In order to support long-term success and systemic change, technological integration benefits from piloting, community buy-in, visionary and consistent leadership, and a diligence to build on successes over time.  Vail School District in Vail, Arizona exemplifies these attributes, and the district staff is proud of the collaborative culture they’ve created. As they put it, they do the hard work of getting along, and they’ve established a strong foundation for their relentless pursuit of innovative practices that support student achievement and learning in the 21st century.  ...

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