Notes from the Middle: Formative Assessments, ELA and SED

Spent the weekend mulling over what I learned at the Fall meeting of the NYS Middle Level Liaisons. Here are some notes and thoughts (remember - this is my interpretation of what I heard and think about what I heard!! If you were there - feel free to correct/add/disagree!)

Ira Schwartz - Coordinator, Accountability, Policy and Administration
Ira remains my favorite SED speaker by far - he is open and honest and I really believe that he is working very hard against incredible odds to make sure that all the accountability pieces that have been put upon us are interpreted in the best possible way for kids and school districts. Ira spoke to us about the Growth Model that is currently before the USDOE and what NYSED hopes will happen, as well as a "growth for all" component that is not a part of accountability measures but makes good sense. In this model - schools will be rewarded (but not penalized) for the growth that students who have already achieved proficiency may make. This is pretty powerful as many of the districts in my region that participated in the Battelle for Kids model noted that the students who made little to no growth were indeed those who had been labeled proficient. I am thinking this is a great step forward in thinking and using the data. I still don't know exactly how they are determining growth - but I will leave that to people far wiser and more astute with numbers! Ira's PowerPoint can be found here.

Howard Goldsmith (Executive Coordinator for the Office of Curriculum and Instructional Support) presented with Nancy Noonan (Assistant Superintendent, ONC BOCES) who has served on the ELA Standards Review Committee to update us on the status of the ELA Standards review. This was a pretty brilliant move on Howard's end as we were able to get the perspective of "the field" with Nancy reporting out. Basically - in terms of the schedule that was reviewed again, the ELA standards are now moving from the review to the revision stage - with a first draft of the new standards hopefully available in January for public comment. (No worries - we reminded them that January is a bit of a rough month for ELA teachers in NYS!)

Folks can read the initial report put out by the team here and the PowerPoint slides from the presentation last week are here. Some interesting tidbits:

1. "Without a doubt, NYS is behind regarding standards." Howard made this comment as he was sharing the process the committee used to review the standards and I don't think that it comes as a surprise to anyone, particularly those who have worked at any length with our ELA standards!! What is interesting is that the committee spent a great deal of time reviewing what other states have done and Nancy acknowledged that the group was pretty impressed with those of West Virginia. I have to admit that a cursory glance at them is impressive to me as well! We were also reminded that the regional forums came out with the contradictory charge of fewer Performance Indicators but more specificity. Dealing with that will be interesting! Nancy indicated that at first blush, about 50% of the current PIs will be retained.

2. Which came first - the standards or the test? Howard reminded us once again that it is the standards that drive the curriculum, not the assessments. And when teachers state that they are teaching to the test, they are doing a disservice as it is impossible for ALL standards to be represented on individual tests. No matter how many times I hear this (and this is not the first time I have heard SED representatives say this) and how many times I bring this back to the teachers - I still hear this when I am working in districts. Not sure what else to say on this topic!

3. Literacy needs to be embedded in all content areas - each teacher must be considered a teacher of literacy. I am very grateful that they didn't call them teachers of reading and writing!! I have long held the notion that each content area has it's own "literacy" - as a social studies teacher I have seen this first-hand! Yet, not all teachers see their content area in that way. I have tried for 3 years to run a content area literacy course around this idea just for social studies and I never get enough folks to come. But - with ELA being first up in the review cycle and laying the groundwork for the other content areas, I am hopeful!

4. Viewing and Representing will be included as standards - not too much specificity here but I like the notion of embracing the fact that technology is quickly changing and so the standards will be relatively vague here. Howard was asked about the 21st Century skills and told the group that SED had a contract with the group but that we would be working on integrating those skills into our standards, not necessarily becoming a 21st Century Partner state. Discussions have been held with the group about focusing on things like appropriate use of social networks, understanding audience, validity of sources, and the ethics of communication. IMHO - these sound like pretty interesting conversations at the state level and I am really hoping they translate into the new standards!

5. Assessment, assessment, assessment!! Nancy spoke about the fact that the field seemed to prefer teacher-created (versus vendor created tests) and that the committee would continue to recommend that. Howard reminded everyone that the test development process takes 3 years and that a new RFP would go out after the new standards have been approved. It was here that Nancy commented that we need to use formative assessments on a "minute by minute" basis and Howard added that formative assessment was a misnomer in that formative assessments are a process, not one assessment. I was thrilled to hear those comments from state leaders and am desperately hoping that message filters down - like yesterday!

6. Early childhood development, specificity on text strategies, developing a common terminology and conventions & grammar were all also mentioned but not in great detail. I can't wait to hear more about how these are playing out in the standards revision.

I've tried to weed out the other notes to capture just what started conversation and isn't what folks might already know. We had many other speakers and topics but still digesting those!! Any comments or questions - add them to the comments below!!

Reflections on Social Networking

I had to laugh as I was searching this blog's archives to link in a new post on Plugging In. What a difference a year makes!

LAST YEAR: "I don't have a FaceBook or MySpace account - mostly because I am old (or at least feel like it) and because I maintain several blogs. I network and connect through those."
THIS YEAR: What on earth was I thinking? I have a Facebook account now and while it is not as addictive for me as for some of my friends, it has been great fun to connect with high school and college friends as well as with my current friends. While I have recently been forced to think about the presence of my family on Facebook (Do I really need to know what my godson is doing in Arizona? Rather - do I want to?), nothing gives me more joy then throwing sheep at people! It is the casual side of my networking.

And having a blog, or two or three or eighty, doesn't mean that I am networking and connecting! The ClusterMaps on the blogs show readers and where they are located but the comments aren't always there. Blogging still feels like a one-way conversation (and fortunately, one I still enjoy having!)

LAST YEAR: "I also am concentrating on tools that I think I can help teachers translate into practice - ones that are worth their time learning. I have to confess - I just don't get the Twitter craze. Who cares what I am doing RIGHT NOW?"
After the post I just wrote on Plugged In - I am sure many of my friends (real and virtual) are laughing out loud right about now. I am a Twitter junkie and have found it to be such a valuable resource that I am blushing at my comments from last year. "Ones that are worth their time learning" - how arrogant was I? Sigh.

LAST YEAR: "But I also need to reach those who struggle with the technology and might not have the courage to stray from the traditional. To admit that we are now teaching in a very different world from that which taught us. How do I slow it down and make it more comfortable for them?"
THIS YEAR: Realizing now that teachers don't need to stray too far from the traditional to make use of the powerful tools out there. And have also realized that it isn't about the tools or slowing down (again - who do I think I am?) Instead, it is about bridging the gap between what we as teachers are good at and what many of our students are very good at - meeting them half-way if you will. And it isn't about teaching them, it is about modeling for them. I am not great at this - but I am more transparent in my learning about this.

Now that I have had a hefty helping of humble pie, I am realizing in finding and reflecting on this post how much I have grown and how much more I need to grow. I have become so comfortable with some of these tools and have integrated them into what I do, I realize that I might make some assumptions about the learners around me and their comfort level. I am very comfortable with the tools I know well but my increased networking has helped me realize how much I don't know as well as to start to ask in a very public way.

Funny - I wonder what blogging about my classroom practices (back in the day) and then finding those thoughts a year later would have done that simply reviewing my plan books didn't.