Saturday, September 28, 2013

Are America's Toddlers College and Career Ready?

In a move that surprises very few in the education field, the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) has decided to develop a college and career readiness test for toddlers. To be called the Toddler Intelligence Test (TIT), the development of the TIT is being overseen by a division of PARCC, the Toddler Assessment Team (TAT). A group of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, hedge fund managers and former tennis stars has been assembled to develop TIT for TAT.

A spokesperson for PARCC, Phil N. Blanks, said in a statement that the company is already well on its way to having standardized tests available for kindergarten and pre-school children, so the toddler test was the next logical area to target. “It’s never too early to develop college and career skills and we at PARCC will leave no child behind when it comes to being tested every year.” When asked why no early childhood education specialists or child psychologists were on the development team, Blanks noted that PARCC had found such experts were overly concerned with the negative impact of so much testing at such a young age. “These people just were not team players; they kept asking questions instead of developing questions.”

When asked what would be on the test, Blanks pointed to key areas of toddler knowledge necessary for college and career readiness. These include toilet training, large motor skill function (the specially designed answer sheet will have larger than usual circles to fill in), keyboarding, binary computer code and, of course, close reading of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Unable to determine how to measure toilet training proficiency on an answer sheet, the developers decided to make this a performance test. When finding volunteers to proctor this part of the test proved difficult, the entire test development was in danger. Luckily, according to Blanks, a group of eager young college graduates stepped in to fill the void. These students, known as Toilet Trainers for America (TTFA), received five weeks of toilet training over the summer, so they could effectively monitor the exam.

Buoyed by the success of the development of the TIT, PARCC has begun preliminary investigation into in utero college and career readiness testing.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Valuing the Professional Educator: Toward an Evaluation Plan that Works, Part 2

In an earlier post that can be found here, I argued for a more enlightened approach to teacher evaluation that recognized the value of each teacher and aimed at feedback that is both useful and led to further professional development. Such an approach would include observations, teacher collaboration, and systematic feedback, as well as artifacts of instruction to include pupil progress indicators.

In this post, I would like to add some detail to that proposal. Specifically, I would like to look at what student progress indicators make sense as a part of a teacher evaluation.

The corporate reformers of education are in love with Value Added Measures (VAMs) as a central pupil progress indicator. Value Added Measures attempt to determine the effectiveness of the teacher through student performance on standardized tests. The Gates Foundation’s ambitious and flawed study of teacher effectiveness called for one-third of the measure of teacher effectiveness to be determined through VAMs.

Research, however, does not support the use of VAMs for any significant part of a teacher evaluation. A report prepared for the Governor’s Task Force on Teacher Evaluation in New Jersey by EQuATE (2011), surveyed the research on VAMs and concluded the following.

            Research studies show that the teacher’s effect on value-added scores, based on [standardized] tests, accounts for only 3-4 percent of the variation. Fully 90 percent of the variation in VAMs is attributable to student characteristics and the interaction of learning/test-taking styles with the instruments used to measure achievement. To ascribe a weight to this measure that exceeds its explanatory power would be malpractice at best.

Linda Darling Hammond, et. al, (2011) cited the following concerns about VAMs.

            1. Value-Added Models of teacher effectiveness are highly unstable.
            2. Teachers’ Value-Added Ratings are significantly affected by differences in the students who are assigned to them.
            3. Value-Added Ratings cannot disentangle the many influences on student progress.

If VAMs are a notably unreliable measure of student progress, what can we suggest that would provide a better picture of student progress? Here is one person’s list of possible artifacts of student growth.

·         Samples of student work showing growth over time
·         Common or locally developed assessments
·         Student work samples scored on common or locally developed rubrics
·         Questionnaires, Checklists or rating scales to measure non-cognitive growth

Examples of student work showing growth over time can include student writing, student journals, classwork or homework assignments, pre- and post-performance on teacher developed quizzes and tests, even sample pages from books read at the beginning of the year and the end of the year.

Examples of common assessments could include establishing a reading level using a recognized format such as DRA or Benchmark, or assessments developed at grade or department level designed for all students in a particular grade or course.

Rubric scored work may employ national or state rubrics used for determining writing quality or locally developed rubrics designed to assess student ability in a range of performance tasks.

Ideally, measures developed to assess non-cognitive factors related to student growth can be developed locally, but many commercially developed questionnaires and checklists are available.

In this vision of an evaluation model, the teacher takes the lead in gathering materials over time that demonstrate student growth in the classroom. This material is then shared in a collegial give and take with supervisors. The teacher has the opportunity to demonstrate effectiveness and the supervisor has the opportunity to provide feedback and make recommendations for continued growth.

Does this model demand time of the teacher and the supervisor? Absolutely. Does it demand time for teacher colleagues to develop common assessments? Yes. Is it idealistic? Perhaps. More importantly though, it values the classroom teacher as the best observer of pupil progress, the local supervisor as the key audience for this information and provides a more reliable measure of teacher effectiveness than that darling of the reformers, the VAM. Most importantly, these suggestions have the potential to impact student learning in a positive way.


EQuATE (2011) Creating a Better System: Recommendations for a Systemic Approach to Improving Educator Effectiveness. Report Delivered to the New Jersey Governor’s Task Force on Teacher Evaluation.

Darling-Hammond, et. al (2011) Getting Teacher Evaluation Right: A Background Paper for Policy Makers. Research Briefing, AERA

Friday, September 20, 2013

Banning Books Southern Style

Ironically, as the Common Core calls for more instruction in critical reading, this North Carolina school board strikes a blow for ignorance and narrow mindedness.
North Carolina school board bans Ralph Ellison’s ‘Invisible Man’ (via Raw Story )
A North Carolina school board has banned Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel Invisible Man from its reading list on Monday, citing a lack of “literary value.” The Asheboro Courier-Tribune reported that the Randolph County Board of Education voted 5-2 to…

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Round Robin Reading Must Die

Recently while searching for videos of Guided Reading practice to share with teachers at a workshop, I was shocked to find so many of them employed Round Robin Reading as an instructional strategy despite the explicit direction from the chief proponents of Guided Reading, Fountas and Pinnell (1996), that all children read the complete text at the same time silently or in whisper voices.

I was further shocked when I did a presentation to teachers this week and said, “Of course in Guided Reading all students read the full text at the same time, Round Robin Reading is not to be used.” I could tell by the hush in the crowd that I had struck a nerve. A brave soul raised her hand and said, "But that’s how we all do it.” I responded, “Not anymore.”

For the uninitiated, Round Robin Reading is a practice that all of us will recognize from our own schooling. At its most basic, one student is assigned the reading of a paragraph or a page, while the other students are asked to listen and follow along. The class then repeats this one after the other.  I personally remember a social studies class back in the dark ages where this was a dominant form of instruction. While some poor sucker was asked to go first, the smarty pants among us followed closely, ready to pounce on any error so that we could shout out a holier than thou correction to general snickering throughout the room. The less confident in the class were busily trying to count desks to see which paragraph they would be assigned, so they could practice reading their paragraph and avoid the embarrassment of being corrected. I cannot remember ever understanding what was being read by someone else in this class.

Round Robin Reading has been thoroughly discredited as an instructional practice for many years. Here is the case against Round Robin.

1. Round Robin Reading can cause unnecessary sub-vocalization. Those students who are following along tend to sub-vocalize while others are reading aloud because oral reading is slower than silent reading. This can lead to ingrained slower reading rates.
 2. Round Robin Reading lowers the quantity of reading. Oral reading is slower, so kids read less. Only one child is reading, so kids read less.
3. Round Robin Reading does not provide an accurate view of reading for kids. It assigns too much emphasis to correct pronunciation and not enough on comprehension.
4. Round Robin Reading can lower self-esteem. Students do not gain confidence as readers through this practice, because it is an unrehearsed performance task where your errors are corrected, either by the teacher or other students, in a public way.
5. Round Robin Reading denies students the opportunity to self-correct errors, a critical reading skill.
6. Round Robin Reading can cause discipline problems as the rest of the class, bored by the practice, may stop following along and start goofing off.
7. Round Robin Reading takes time away from other more productive instructional activities. A great deal of time is spent in keeping children focused and because oral reading is slower, children may actually be encountering fewer words than they would with more enlightened practice.
8. Round Robin Reading can hamper listening comprehension. The students who are supposed to be listening are often either looking ahead or fooling around. As a comprehension activity this practice is completely unsupportable.
9. Round Robin Reading can be a source of anxiety and embarrassment for children. Reading aloud without the opportunity to rehearse takes the focus off comprehension and places it on avoiding embarrassment.
10. When others jump in to “help” in Round Robin Reading, they are robbing the reader of one key to learning to read well – the ability to self-monitor and use repair strategies when you make a mistake.

The case has been made. Round Robin must die. But what are the alternatives?

In Guided Reading, of course, the gold standard practice is to have all children read the whole text silently, while the teacher listens in to one student reading orally, prompting at the point of difficulty. The teacher then moves on to another student and another student. For students not yet reading silently, the students are taught to read aloud quietly while the teacher listens in one at a time.

There are times when we want students to read aloud. On reason would be for diagnostic purposes, but that is done privately. Genuine reasons for having children read aloud include Reader’s Theater, Radio Reading and other performance based oral readings. This oral reading is always done after ample rehearsal. For a wonderful list of oral reading activities for children please read, Good-Bye Round Robin Reading by Tim Rasinski and Michael Opitz, Heinemann, 1998.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Valuing the Professional Educator: Toward an Evaluation Plan that Works, Part 1

By the time a teacher receives the first evaluation of his/her performance, the school district has already invested a great deal of time and money in that individual. First of all there were the recruiting costs involved in finding the candidate. Secondly, there was the time and effort put in through interviews, demonstration lessons and background checks to determine that the candidate was a good fit for the district and the position. Next there was the hiring process itself and the paperwork and man hours involved there. Finally, the new teacher received some sort of orientation training that may vary from a few hours to several days. In other words, the school district has chosen and created an employee of value, an asset to the district as indicated by time and money invested.

Any system designed to evaluate the performance of this employee must first recognize that this teacher is an employee of value. Acknowledging this brings an entirely new orientation to the evaluation process. Instead of an evaluation system that tries to find teacher shortcomings, evaluation becomes a process of recognizing the value of teachers to the organization and helping professionals consistently improve performance.

This gotcha’ model of evaluation is where the education reformers have made a critical error. The main purpose of the evaluation system is not to catch out underperformers (of which there are far fewer than reformer rhetoric would suggest), but to help teachers become better at what most of them already do pretty well. A sound evaluation system, focused on teacher development, will identify those who are not able to improve performance, but its first goal will be to help the valuable professionals in their own pursuit of continuous improvement.

The reformers do have one thing right, evaluation of teachers needs to get better, but not primarily because we must weed out the underperformers. What we need is to provide valuable feedback to the professionals who can use it to improve performance. The darling of the reformers, Value Added Measures (VAMs), fail as an instrument of teacher evaluation for many reasons, mostly because there is no way to come up with a reliable score as Darling-Hammond, have shown here.

Another failure of VAMs is that they do little to move the profession forward. They provide little information that would be useful to a teacher trying to improve performance or an administrator trying to provide meaningful feedback to a teacher.

What would an evaluation scheme look like that valued teachers and provided the feedback they needed? Here is an outline of the basics.
  1. Teachers and school leaders are empowered to jointly customize, adapt, and implement an evaluation framework.
  2. Observations are a mix of a few full period visits and several shorter visits. All observations involve feedback to the teacher in some form aimed at professional development.
  3.  Feedback is provided on all domains of professional practice including planning, instruction, developing a learning environment, meeting professional responsibilities and professional development.
  4. A variety of pupil progress indicators including those designed and scored by the teachers themselves in conjunction with the limited use of some standardized measures.
  5.  Collaboration among teachers as a part of a continuous improvement model.
In a future post, I will expand on each of these ideas and how they can work in a school or school district.