Colleagues -- My hope is that you find this little blog a useful reminder of our work together, as it will continue to inform us all; it will help us to have some touchstone of the shared experience as a point of reference. Please help clarify and add insights, responses, nuanced clarifications, etc. as you see fit.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


On Location! 
Good morning from Baltimore! The American Federation of Teachers has invited about 50 members from various states to a three-day teacher workshop focusing on drilling deeper into the Common Core State Standards. This first session looks like it will consist of an overview of the standards lead by one of its principal authors, David Coleman, followed by an address by Doug Sovde, an instructional support provider at the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). After that, Mr. Coleman will lead us into the "Achieve the Core" website, and we'll hear from Sue Gendron from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. The bulk of our work lies in our teacher collaboration teams tonight, all day Saturday, and Sunday morning before we get distracted by the goings on in gridironlandia.

Opening comments by Dalia Zabala, AFT Educational Issues Department. 
  • History of this as an initiative that started way back in 2008. 
  • About 30 teachers were part of the original work team, many here today. 
  • In 2010, an ad-hoc committee was created to develop recommendations that would help guide the process. 
  • Take a close look at what the AFT has set forth as the 38 recommendations -- they include the categories of Standards Design, etc. from the recommendations. 
  • Goals for the session include innovation fund grant winners, linking national and state affiliates, and learning from each other.

My Reflection:  What has been deemed 'college ready' by ACT has been meeting test score benchmarks -- for example, an 18 on the English text says that there is an 80 percent chance of succeeding in an average freshman composition class, or thereabouts. However, I've heard contradictory arguments that the stronger indicator of college preparedness is actually high school GPA.

1. It seems to me the goal is here is to ramp up academics to the point at which a high school graduate is pretty much guaranteed to be prepared for post-secondary education or career training -- a gap that has been well-defined and is extremely costly.  Some assessment companies seem to have locked down what it means to be ready, however.  So, I'm wondering how can we maximize the efficacy of the new assessments to provide useful data to better inform our work? 
2.  Once there is a network of states with great P-20 data streams, doesn't it make sense to get more granular with the data and make a matrix / profile that would pull in all kinds of indicators, such as attendance, GPA, standardized test scores, new formative assessment scores, etc. to be able to gain a more helpful indicator for placement (not admission, as Ms. Gendron later made the contrast)? As a former adjunct community college instructor, I have seen first-hand how time and resources drain young people who struggle to get on track for college credit once "graduated" out of HS.  
3. With #2, how are current classroom teacher leaders being tapped to help guide the feel for these needed new indicators, if a shoring up is seen to be the central concern of the CCSS -- increasing effectiveness of academic preparation? But can't we also square the circle and design useful tools to measure not only more precisely but more helpfully to get a true pulse of what's been loosely called "college readiness"?

Monday, February 6, 2012

1. Notes from Doug Sovde, Director, Instructional Supports & Educator Engagements

Bio here.
Essentially, this:

  • The conversation needs not to be about making a slick test, but about what works best for kids and teachers. 
  • He is worried about the viability of our democracy and "our survival"; asks: will the standards make our democracy better? 
  • Discussion about close reading, arguments based on evidence. 
  • With PARCC, changes --  first there were 4 required assessments, now there are two and two optional. Their first step has been domain analysis -- content area examination. 
  • Item development -- next. Will involve close examination of prose, go deep into constructed response, evidence based elective response, tech- based constructed response (for ELA).

Sunday, February 5, 2012

2. Notes from David Coleman

A founder of student chievement partners, as well as Grow network. 5 years at McKinsey & Co., a Rhodes scholar and a Ph D. Described as an effective listener; chocolate example came later.

Three topics: in literacy, what are the three shifts, and what ought to be the priority. Second, assessment and curriculum. Third, the roles of others in this room.

A founding member of Student Achievement Partners, the standards authors, "a small organization." Three principles: no money from publishers of curriculum, second we will never ... [missed this .. anyone?] . Third we will not have any intellectual property of our own.

If we are serious about implementation of CCSS, we have to think about it in terms of the complicated situation that it is upon us. So ...

Key Quote:  "It is time to simplify ruthlessly. Focus on a few things that are extremely powerful." 

Be wary of perversions and unintended consequences.
Focal Point: Three shifts, they should be "like guardrails...to help avoid confusion."He is urging us to be "spokesmen."

Key Quote: "what is not needed is quantity, it is shocking excellence in quality."

1. Building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction and informational texts.
Why? In elementary school, only 7-15 percent is nonfiction, it's overwhelmingly fiction. There is now a fifty fifty balance drawing heavily on Mass. as a model. The coherent foundation gained through reading widely in science and social studies as well.

Example of Federalist Papers, no. 51 -- what we often do is give the overview with the teacher summary of the main points of the text, but that lesson would be stronger aligned to the standards if the teacher shifted to focus students on a close examination of a 1 page excerpt accompanied with the heuristic what does this document say and not say about factionism? That would promote close reading and analysis, not content retention perse. as the lesson goes and students reading is driving the show, the teacher can then backfill. It means a lot more time, often with shorter pieces of text. It's really selecting text that deeply gets at knowledge, and focusing on the author's craft of "beginning well" -- such a focus "will always payoff."

2. Reading and writing grounded in evidence from text.
Think about 80/20 split -- the bulk of response should emerge through the text. Read one paragraph carefully! Read with thought and care, reference the text. Write to sources, using sources to base a response. We need students with an ability to argue and inform. This can happen in Ela, science, and social studies. That's the single shift they are urging us to adopt immediately. Gradually, the other areas will grow. This is the most important shift. Asks: what would it mean for most teachers to do something? Will they know that evidence is our watchword? If it is happening throughout our classrooms, and we're focused on the text at hand, it's going to be so much easier as they become habits. Asks us: "Can we make 'based in evidence ' a watchword?"

3. Regular practice with complex text and its academic vocabulary.
Why is it a shift? The level of text students can handle is the single biggest predictor of college success. Vocabulary needs to go beyond the domain specific and into cross-referenced words like evidence, synthesis, argument, etc.

Remember, the 12th grade NAEP reading scores have continually declined, 8th grade flatlined. See this summary for more on the variations among the grade levels and reading / writing.

Threes three are reflected in high stakes testing, and it is an obligation to make these exams worth reading and doing. Questions should be worth answering. There should be time to slow down and read carefully. Writing to sources is at the heart of this. MC passages should invite students to select the evidence that informs their choices. Fight for writing to sources. There will be a revised set of publishers criteria for curriculum writers.

Intriguing quote of the morning, for me, and something I'd like to discuss more in depth:
"Our first obligation is to make sure the assessments are worth the time." -D. Coleman

Saturday, February 4, 2012

3. Notes from Jason Zimba, Founding Partner, Student Achievement Partners

Jason Zimba, founding partner, Student Achievement Partners.
One of the authors of the first draft of the standards (how accurate is this?)

Simple, but urgent in his address:

"Three shifts:
Focus. Strongly where the standards focus
Coherence. Think across grades and link to major topics within grades
Rigor.  Require conceptual understanding fluency and application."

On "Focus." TIMSS data reveals that curriculum has been a mile wide and an inch deep.
On "Coherence." Progressions / math is a subject about things making sense.  Focus teach deeply / teach things based on foundations. Standards make explicit connections at a single grade.
The starting point is focus. The Hong Kong story comparison -- held up to show a stark difference in that in-depth mastery of a smaller set of things pays off.  Asks us to pay special attention to p. 3 of the math standards, their introduction.

Achieve the Core website. Steal these tools (the three shifts are there, standards and publishers criteria are linked here). You've got to read this (blog entries, research, American educator article by that math professor). By teachers for teachers (description of voices of educators doing the work of the core).

Friday, February 3, 2012

4. Notes from Sue Gendron from Smarter Balanced

Sue Gendron, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

They're asking how an assessment system will help meet the goal of making students college and career ready.  "Proficiency will be defined together, so a common definition will be achieved." [Help here -- what was probably meant by this?] Measures of student growth will also be provided, these will inform educational decision making and pd.

The new assessment will be delivered online, and multiple measures will be used as well. The data will help us determine to what degree students are college and career ready. [Did she qualify how this is fundamentally a value-added proposition from existing measures? Any help in clarifying would be good to know?]

Note about "diverse advisory panels." -- apparently SB is asking what higher ed. needs for 100 level couses and defining / backmapping those proficiency levels.  See the handout ... Long detailed slide show, previously linked earlier in this blog.... The colleges said they would look at placement policies and make changes based on what the data say. advocating for an evidenced based approach.

Sue Gendron highly recommends reading John Hattie on Visible Learning (mentioned twice). Lots online about this guy.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

5. ELA Group Review of the Anchor Standards

We spent the first part of Saturday reviewing the anchor standards in reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language, briefly pointing out the gist of each and their implications for changes or modifications in teaching and learning.

Content area standards do not call on those teachers to teach reading, but to use reading as the vehicle for not an add on, it's a way to structures how they read and write in ways that are specific to your discipline. History teachers read history texts differently than science teachers read science, so the anchor standards. ... not expected to teach students foundational skills, but to read write and communicate within the domain (art, health, music, chemistry, math). This explanation promoted good questions of clarification and some discussion.

"One of the paradigm shifts inherent in the standards is the way we adults in a building interact with each other." - Darion Griffin

Key Takeaway: Part of our work as a team is a way to communicate that is not a gotcha and not more work on top of other work. There's no script for that, and we may have to spend more on creating the kinds of resources to build the needed bridges.

Qriting standards in the content areas:
Write subject specific arguments, use data / evidence and reasoning to support claims, use domain specific vocabulary.

Activity with a partner: read the anchor standards with grade level partner, look vertically, see the scope. Specifically: take a closer look examine the gr 6 ela standards for reading p 39 to writing p. 44 to the grade 6-8 literacy standards for reading and writing p 61, 65. Identify the similarities and differences. And record your findings. Share out. Discussion.

Because there is so much opportunity for coherent alignment, there may arise a natural feeling of connection once we get into the use of practicing the standards in our classrooms.

For homework, read the walk through the standards over the grades, read the appendices B and C.
The document is loaded and intended for you to discover connections.

Key Takeaway: The message is not throw out everything you've ever done and put on these new clothes, it is to assess the degree to what it is you do reflects the standards. These standards are rigorous, and we have now to make substantive changes in our assumptions, practices, and it is a push back against the reductionist standardized test approach. Critical thinking is at the heart, but it is the close examination and analysis of text that makes up the core. My analogy: a heart without a pulse is just cardiac tissue; similarly, the standards without our vigorous work scaffolding instruction up to them is just a string of words.

Inherent in this work is the substantial time for teachers to get this work, curriculum developed, planning at the macro level haas morphed into an immense task... And collaboration can't be optional.

Link to a second draft of the publisher's criteria.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

6. ELA Group: Making Meaning of the Standards

Unpacking the standards with Darion's expert help.

The shifts can't occur until teachers and administrators understand and unpack the standards. It is not a crosswalk, just to be checked off. It's not paraphrasing, either.

Ex. Unpacking grade 2 Reading Informational Texts, Standard 1 .

Students must ...
KNOW: ...
DO: ...

Group work on unpacking a standard "KUD Tool for Unpacking the CCSS"? It's on the Delaware website. Engage New York is also helpful (check it out for PD resources you might adopt.) This is a really a fine example of what it is to unpack the standards in a simple way.

"This is the answer to the problem of 'I already do that... That's where the depth comes and the change comes, ... The value is there. The process of drilling down into the standards using these tools will enlighten or illuminate the shifts required to approximate the intent of the standards. When first reading them, it's easy to miss how they're essentially different." 
-Sandy Orth, AFT Local 250, Toledo Federation of Teachers

AFT colleagues collaborate to unpack the standards.