2013

Google Drive and Classroom Workflow in Woburn

This past weekend, ERC's Katrina Kennett and the Woburn Public Schools kicked off a year-long workshop series at the beautiful Woburn Memorial High School. Middle and high school teachers, across content areas and specialties, were interested in incorporating Google Drive into their classroom writing workflow. The afternoon included account setup, testing out various Google Drive platforms (Docs, and Spreadsheets among them), and considering how to construct a digital writing workflow to accept, grade, and return full-length essays.

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Painting With a Broad Brush

Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder, Superintendent of Schools, Voorheesville, NY

As we sit half way between closing last year and opening next, I feel I must comment on the recently adopted implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the new testing patterns which were rolled out this past year.  I feel compelled to do so precisely because I am fortunate enough to be Superintendent of this high performing district.  Our most recently posted graduation rate is 97%--the highest in the region.  Contrary to recent commentary by the Chancellor of the Board of Regents and the Commissioner of Education, our students do not arrive on college campuses under-prepared for their coursework.  Indeed, our feedback is that a great many of our students moving to college—some of the finest colleges in the country—are more than adequately prepared, academically and socially for the challenges they confront. Because of our standing, I believe that it is incumbent upon me to bear the standard for my colleagues in challenging the broad brush strokes tarnishing the field I cherish so mightily.

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NM Center for school Leadership’s Tony Monfiletto blogs on putting the “public” back in New Mexico’s public education

Exit, Voice and Loyalty by Tony Monfiletto

How do we grapple with our state’s failing education system? By “we”, I don’t mean the policy makers or state officials, I mean we, the parents, grandparents, neighbors and community members, and the students. By “we”, I mean New Mexicans.  

Albert O Hirschman is the recently deceased author of Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. Hirschman spent his lifetime going to unusual and challenging places, and thinking and writing about the ways that organizations can become more responsive to their clients.  Exit, Voice, and Loyalty is a classic economics book, but it has some interesting and important implications when considered in the context of public education in New Mexico—something we all need to bear in mind with New Mexico’s recent fall to bitter last in the Nation for child welfare.

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Going the Wrong Way on Public Education?

Going the Wrong Way? What the Public Says about Education Reform

Labor Day brings the end of summer, the opening of schools and a swarm of education polls. The number of these tallies has increased as groups from the left and right launch efforts that – not too surprisingly – tend to produce results favoring their perspective. The granddaddy, and most universally respected, of these is the Gallup poll sponsored by Phi Delta Kappa, which just released its 45th annual report.

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Common Core’s Testing Woes

Education Insiders: Common Core’s Testing Woes   

Fawn Johnson, National Journal

The Common Core State Standards for elementary and secondary schools weren't supposed to be controversial. They weren't supposed to incite active protests. They were supposed to be different from the unpopular, exacting tenets of No Child Left Behind. They were deliberately negotiated by consensus and carefully put together to stop the federal government from creeping in to the public school system. They carry with them a worthy goal that everyone can agree with: prepare our kids for real jobs in the real world with real skills.

So what's the problem? And why now? The answer to both questions is testing. Now that it's time for states to actually measure how their students are doing, it's a lot harder to gloss over the problems with feel-good talking points. Some states are going ahead with their first tests assessing how well students are learning under the new curriculum. Other states have dropped out of the testing, citing concerns about cost and effectiveness. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are questioning the Common Core, as this recent take from New Jersey illustrates. The tea party is mobilizing against it. Some parents are even pulling their kids from all standardized testing.

The backlash shouldn't be a surprise if you take a step back and think about it. Coming to agreement on the basic skills kids should learn is hard enough. Measuring the outcome in a meaningful way is even harder. No one wants to be the guinea pig. No one wants to be blamed for poor results.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has been unapologetic about pushing for Common Core. "Yes, it's going to be a hard and sometimes rocky or bumpy transition to higher standards," he said in a recent interview with USA Today's Susan Page on NPR's The Diane Rehm Show. "I think I speak for most parents that, you know, you want more for your children, not less. And I tell you the one thing I absolutely don't want is I don't want to be lied to. I don't want people to tell me my children are ready for success when they're not in the game."

The left-leaning Economic Policy Institute's Richard Rothstein was also a guest on the show that day (as was I and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute's Mike Petrilli). Rothstein's criticism of Common Core, as with all student assessments, is that they tend to narrow the teaching. "Teachers have had incentives to narrow the curriculum to the things that are tested. Students have been trained to take tests rather than to learn the underlying curriculum," he said.

Petrilli, a conservative and a staunch advocate of Common Core, noted that the administration's enthusiasm for the standards can dampen conservatives' abilities to promote it on their end. But he also agrees with Duncan. "The goal with this effort is to dramatically raise the bar and say, look, if you really want to be on track for college or career, it's a very high standard. And unfortunately right now, we're giving parents the false impression that everything is fine when it's not."

So what's the final score? Now that most of the country has adopted the standards, is Common Core failing on its second lap around the field? Will we ever be able to test how our kids are doing? Will there be consensus on whether testing is worthwhile at all? How can the tests be crafted such that they are more like Advanced Placement exams rather than fill-in-the-bubble tests? Should parents have the right to yank their kids from these tests? How do we muddle through this mess?

Fawn Johnson is a correspondent for National Journal, covering a range of issues including immigration, transportation and education. Johnson is a long-time student of Washington policymaking, previously reporting for Dow Jones Newswires and the Wall Street Journal where she covered financial regulation and telecommunications. She is an alumnus of CongressDaily, where she covered health care, labor, and immigration. Johnson first covered Congress at BNA Inc., where she covered labor, welfare, immigration, and asbestos liability. She has an M.A. from the Annenberg School for Communication at University of Pennsylvania and a B.A. from Bates College.

Performance Assessment Network kicks off Pilot, linking schools for smarter accountability

New Mexico Performance Assessment Network Kicks Off Pilot Study

There is no standardized test for music performance, but that doesn’t prevent listeners from knowing a quality performance when they hear one. Music performance is a frequently used analogy among a group of New Mexico educators who are working to find new ways to assess  academic learning.

Their work is part of a growing national movement called “performance-based assessment,” centered on the idea that student learning can be systematically measured on the basis of what students can do, not what they can demonstrate on a standardized written test.The educators from the New Mexico Performance Assessment Network(PAN) say their work is important because so many reforms – teacher evaluations and school grades, for example – rely heavily on standardized tests to measure what students learn.

What it looks like

Principal Gabriella Duran Blakey offered an example of how performance-based assessment will look at Health Leadership High School in Albuquerque, which has a focus on health professions. She said students might do a unit of study on “food deserts,” or areas where healthy, affordable food is difficult to obtain. Based on demographic and other research, students might decide an area needed a new grocery store, and then would have to explain and justify where they would locate it, how they would advertise for it and develop a business plan for how they would operate it. They would simulate its construction plan, decide which products to stock and what to charge. Students would then defend their work to a panel of professionals, which might include store owners, nutritionists and doctors who work with diabetes patients. The panel would then assess the students, deciding the extent to which each student demonstrated mastery of particular skill levels and curriculum standards.

Their aim is to build a better test. Tori Stephens-Shauger, Principal of ACE Leadership High School and Founder and Facilitator  of the PAN, says that the Network is not starting from scratch. Its efforts are based in part on the work of 28 schools called the New York Performance Standards Consortium. These schools only take one (English Language Arts) of New York’s many Regents standardized tests for graduation and have been assessing their students based on performance since 1997. Several dozen schools await membership in the Consortium, which cites lower dropout rates and higher rates of college acceptance than the overall rates for New York City.

Stephens-Shauger adds, “The benefit from having a network that is focused on doing high quality performance assessment is that we can build capacity within our state to do this kind of evaluation of student learning. The PAN is made up of schools with different missions, methods of teaching and basis for curriculum but sharing a core belief that students should be assessed in the way that they learn best. Though there are expectations for network schools around some specific commitments such as the practice of performance assessment and the professional development required to do it well, standardizing the schools is not one of them.  Schools like Cottonwood Classical Preparatory School uses a rhetoric-based program called Paideia to prepare their high school students for college. The Native American Community Academy emphasizes the importance of the community, including Native leaders, to prepare middle and high school students for college. Media Arts Collaborative Charter School uses their emphases on media arts as a tool to not only build skills within the content areas but also prepare middle and high school students for careers in the media arts industry. Mountain Mahogany Community School is an elementary school that focuses on emotional intelligence and infusing learning with movement, art and the natural world. This richness in expertise and perspective enhances the PAN’s opportunity to think critically about what learning looks like through performance assessment at all grade levelsand  in different contexts.”

 “It’s more important that when kids go to college or when they go into the workforce, that they have  skills that go beyond conventional classroom learning,” said Duran Blakey. To ensure this, for example, the “test” at the end of a unit of study might be a group presentation of a research project and model that the students created. Duran Blakey is part of the PAN’s piloting of performance-based assessment in their schools this year. Their students will still be required to take New Mexico’s standardized tests and their schools will still be evaluated in conventional ways by state authorities. But the PAN schools, including Health Leadership and ACE Leadership charters, also will experiment with other ways to assess learning.

Tony Monfiletto, who was involved in founding ACE and Health Leadership High Schools, said he hopes the findings can eventually be incorporated into New Mexico’s current education initiatives.“The long-term idea is that performance assessment [would] be seen as an evaluation process of equal if not greater value than the standardized tests, so that schools can  choose to use performance assessment  as a valid indicator of their quality” he said.

The New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) expressed cautious support for the group’s efforts.“We have had preliminary exposure to their work and it is intriguing, but questions concerning validity are currently unanswered in the state,” PED spokesman Larry Behrens said in an email. “After a fair amount of research and stakeholder input, we will always be open to discussing valid and reliable measures and possibly adding them into our reforms.”

The PAN schools, in partnership with a University of New Mexico (UNM) professor, Vanessa Svihla, will study whether their assessments hold up under scrutiny. Svihla, has a grant to study performance-based assessment at Health Leadership and other charter schools. Her aim is to help the schools develop consistent measures, and to study whether and how they are valid and reliable. In other words, she is studying whether the assessments are viable in determining whether students learned what they were supposed to and whether the scoring system is clear enough that a variety of judges would come to similar conclusions about the same performance.

Svihla used the music analogy to explain assessment reliability.“If eight people look at a musical performance and all agree that it was a really great performance, that’s how we often evaluate music,” she said.

Duran Blakey said the schools will work with UNM to develop guidelines for teachers about what makes a good assessment.“You can’t just have it be that any teacher can make any assessment and that counts,” she said. Svihla said she plans to carefully study and document a few schools that share common leadership, cultures, and philosophies.“We’re taking a very careful look at a few schools,” she said. “These are schools that have experimented with doing this kind of assessment previously. They’re not taking this on as a completely new practice.”

Both Health Leadership and ACE Leadership High Schools are founded largely on partnerships with businesses seeking an educated workforce in particular areas, like health, architecture and construction. Several employers said they are excited about the effort because it will assess the skills they need from workers in ways a standardized test cannot.

Maria Guy, vice president of J.B. Henderson Construction, said test scores don’t show her important skills like teamwork and communication.“It’s not necessarily that we want to eliminate any of the current things, but a student has more to offer than just a test score,” Guy said. “From an employer’s perspective, I have different needs from my employees. From some of them I need someone who can really work with a team … someone who’s a problem solver, a good communicator and just has that ability to bring a lot of folks together on an issue. How could a standardized test ever measure anything like that?”

Guy added that there are multiple ways to measure a student’s skills and knowledge, and standardized tests are just the easiest way.“That would be to say the only way to measure something is to weigh it. But what about the length, the volume?” she said. “We’ve chosen the way that is the easiest for us.”Guy also acknowledged that measuring learning through performance is difficult, calling it “messy,” but said she believes it is worthwhile.“I think it’s worth wrestling with, and I recognize that it’s hard,” she said.

Tools for Teacher Sanity

by Katrina Kennett

Mr. Tolstoy could have written: “Organized teachers are all alike; every unorganized teacher is unorganized in their own way.” For me, organization is the key to preserving my sanity as a classroom teacher. There are a dizzying number of people and tasks to keep tabs on - meetings, absent students, papers in and out, the list could be longer than this article. Technology is supposed to help streamline that chaos, but too often, using the tools takes up just as much time as what they’re supposed to be streamlining.

I have three main platforms to keep myself digitally sane. Best of all? Each of these platforms work across the devices I use them on - my computer, my iPad, and my phone - allowing me to collect, send, jot down, and access whatever I need on the go. These tools address the ongoing work of being a busy teacher, allowing me to devote my attention where it needs to be spent.

“You’re so organized!” All you need: an account, a folder system, and a naming convention

I use Dropbox as a ‘keeping space’ for files, documents, images, handouts, unit plans, etc. Basically, it’s a cloud version of a USB drive (only I don’t constantly lose it). It’s organized in the same way though - a traditional folder system - and I can retrieve documents on an as-needed basis on any computer.

That “just-in-time” access happens effectively when I do two things: create folders and maintain a consistent naming convention. For unit documents, I start with a unit folder, say, “1984”. Then, each document is labeled: Unit - Project/Chapter - Document. Ex. 1984 - Ch 15 - Vocabulary List. Or, 1984 - Propaganda Analysis - Critical Literacy Questions. While it takes an extra step to label the documents when I download them or create them, the payoff happens every time I’m able to easily find what I need.

One other significant feature of Dropbox is how easy it is to share files and folders. Documents and their folders are assigned a unique URL, meaning you can share them as a hyperlink. This means I can take a digital handout, shorten the URL (using bit.ly or goo.gl), direct all of my students to that link, and (within a few taps) everyone in the room has access to the document. This process is significantly easier than photocopying multiple class sets. Professionally, I can share unit folders or documents by email. This is a great solution to the dusty curriculum binder - department or grade-level teachers can share a dynamic, working curriculum binder.

Overall, I use Dropbox to archive and access curricular materials, organize professional documents, and share digital files with students and other teachers. For extensions and other workflow solutions, Dropbox syncs with apps, and with automation platforms like WappWolf or ITTT, etc., but these are more to address particular problems. It’s free to set up an account, up to a certain storage amount, then it’s up to you whether or not you like to lose your USB.

“From meeting notes to that smudge on your hand that used to be a reminder”: Evernote

I write myself notes on any and every surface. Post-its, envelopes, handouts, all get lost in pockets or slipped into my bag, while meeting notes are never where I need them to be. So, my rule of thumb has become: “if I might need to search for it later, it goes into Evernote.” While a clunky mantra, it’s served to store so many notes and notes-to-self that would have otherwise become lost in the shuffle.

It actually took me years to ‘convert’ to Evernote. There were way too many people proselytizing about how it had transformed their lives and how they couldn’t do anything without it. Their enthusiasm was unnerving. However, I have come around to my own particular set of purposes, mainly as an ‘ongoing keeping space.’

Evernote is set up akin to a spiral-bound notebook, only you can keep anything on those ‘pages’ (notes, images, pdfs, audio recordings), and you can have multiple notebooks. A note can also be tagged with different keywords, a helpful feature I use to characterize the notes (e.g. ‘Next year,’ or ‘ask department head’). I usually name the note ‘what it is and when it is’ - “meeting with Mrs. Thompson - 9/5/13” or “ELA Department Meeting - September - 9/18/13.” If you allow it to, Evernote syncs with your calendar and will auto-insert events into the note title.

Keeping and composing notes is nice and all, but Evernote's most salient feature is the searching function. You can search in any text you’ve typed, but the search engine also looks within images. So, if you took a picture of a poster titled ‘Summer Reading Picks’ and then searched for the word ‘Summer’ - Evernote will include that note in its results. If you’ve used the ‘to-do’ buttons, you can search for notes with unchecked boxes. My best advice for Evernote is still what I followed: realize it’s a very robust platform, establish an ‘in’ for your purpose (mine was a place to take department meeting notes), and then figure out how it will help you in all of that ongoing work.

“I need to make a ___________”: Personal, Professional, and Collaborative Uses for Google Drive 

Since Google is such a pervasive platform, I’ve found many useful ways to leverage its tools. Before you set up accounts for personal/professional/student use, it’s important to establish how comfortable you are giving that account email out. Also, if your school has Google Apps for Education, it might be useful to figure out what account permissions they have enabled (sometimes education accounts have limits on who can view the file).

Basically, using Google Drive (formally Google Docs, but Google wanted to emphasize that they do more than word document composing), you can create word documents (Docs), spreadsheets, presentations, images, and surveys (called Forms). These functions parallel Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Paint, and survey creation platforms like Survey Monkey.

I use Docs for in-process writing (because I can access it on any browser) that I want to share for feedback, and for documents I want to embed in my blog (each doc has an embed code). I have spreadsheets that are formatted into rubrics, so I can change the language in the cell and print off customized rubrics for students. I use the collaborative Presentations to synchronously and asynchronously plan conference presentations with colleagues. I’ve set up a survey in Forms and the results file directly into a Spreadsheet for easy reading (for example, if it’s an independent work day, I’ll have my students fill out the form to tell me what they’re doing, then I can see all their tasks at a glance). Each of these functions are more basic than their Microsoft counterparts, but you’ll notice that in each of my examples, the social context is key. I’m able to share or access intellectual work because I’m using Google Drive.

A quick searching note: the naming conventions for Google Drive are as important, if not more important than in either of the other two platforms. It’s easy to search by file name, but if you have 50 ‘Untitled Documents’ it will be impossible for you to find what you need. Name your files correctly, and right away. If students are sharing files with you, establish a naming convention that you’ll all use. Otherwise, this tool for sanity will quickly “Drive you crazy” (hah!).

There are many helpful tutorials on permissions for different files, embedding in a blog, publishing to the web, etc. As you start to get more adventurous, there are also add-ons for taking notes within YouTube videos, and yes, you can real-time collaborate on various devices and apps.

 Summary

Organized teachers are alike in that they have figured out what tools and processes work for them, so they’re never doing work they don’t have to do. Dropbox to keep polished documents and resources, Evernote for ideas and notes, and Google Drive for ongoing and collaborative documents. These categories work, so I’m able to focus on what I need to. As the school year gets up and running, establish what general category will be the most helpful for you to organize first – I’m betting these tools will help keep you a bit saner.

 Katrina Kennett is ERC’s Consulting Practitioner in

digital technology, instructional planning and performance assessment.