education, cloud computing, technology, social media, leadership.

Mazlow’s Hierarchy – Teacher integration and implementation needs


Google Apps apps Let Google Schools Be Apple Schools

google drive docsAs schools and districts continue to debate the best course to reach a 1:1 device goal, one big question mark continues to be how Google Apps for Education will fit the model. To simplify the big question, most schools are debating between just a few devices: iPads (or iPad minis), Google Chromebooks, Microsoft Surface tablets, Apple laptops, or PC laptops. There are many considerations between these that will not be discussed here, Suffice it to say that iPads are the market leader for many reasons. Sure, some of the other options are more cost-effective or more powerful than Apple’s tablet, but the ease in use, the ease in multiple device management, and the sheer multitude of education apps make it a very popular choice despite its cost.  

The problem with schools who hitched on to the Google Apps bandwagon early is that they face a difficult quandary. Do we ditch the Google products our teachers and students know how to use well for different and less collaborative tools on the iPad? For years, Apple and Google didn’t play well together, and using Google Apps became bulky and frustrating on an iPad. Hence, Chromebooks became popular devices, despite their shortcomings, as a great device in Google Schools. 

Enter Google Apps…apps. In the past year, Apple and Google have collaborated to support dedicated apps (from the app store) for Docs, Sheets (Spreadsheet), and very recently, Slides (Presentation). The three most used tools in the Google Drive suite now have their own dedicated iOS apps, which allow for full editing and sharing, collaborative interaction, and a host of other useful functions more or less absent or at best, shoddy on the previous Drive app.  

What’s important to note here is that these three apps, in concert with a revamped Drive app, essentially make iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad a perfect fit for Google schools as well.  If the use of Google Apps was a major roadblock in deciding to go with iPads, there is no longer a roadblock. Google schools can now be iPad schools as well, which may just be the best bang for the buck. 

For certain, there is plenty of room for debate here, but it’s certain that these few apps will change the way we think of using Google docs on an iPad.

How to fight fear of change

Since almost all reform initiatives predicate themselves on changing people, systems, and events, it’s worthy to look at the most powerful mitigating factors in any change or reform situation: fear of change. I think a lot about fear of change in school. It seems to seep up and into every educational practice. We are all guilty, and we justify it and build walls of denial about it like champs. Fear of change is wired into our being. So how do we, as leaders, change agents, and innovators get people over the fear of change?

Sell it as something else.

Ok, bear with me here. I’ve put a lot of thought into this and I think this is a pretty important consideration. Getting people past fear of change is about selling change as power. We usually don’t think about change as power, but look at who the most powerful people tend to be: those who can control their own environments. In essence, fear of change is about fear of control over one’s world, but the great thing about most change is that if a person can usually only control one’s environment in the early stages of impending changes, not the later ones.

Here’s an example: Two veteran teachers realize that at some point the school they are working in will move to a 1:1 environment, which they both fear.  The first teacher, realizing that this change is inevitable, asks to be on the technology committee, and becomes an active voice in the technology decisions in her district. She becomes literate in the different devices and applications that are being discussed. She becomes a very critical voice in the pending change. She makes it clear that knowing what she does, that tablets would be a poor choice for her students, but that if they did go 1:1, laptops would be the best choice. She is ahead of the curve, and though she is still afraid and irritated at the change, she has now steered that change, and has given herself the power needed to own the change. She is invested and will be a great asset to the new system.

The other veteran has decided he will not have anything to do with the impending change. He pooh-poohs the suggestions of what might happen, and in the end needs to be forced to change. He is increasingly negative, panicked and, eventually, obstinate. He feels that if he drags his feet long enough, he will be able to avoid the unpleasantness, yet with every denial and negative action, he makes the change more and more unbearable. Once he is forced to change, he does so begrudgingly, and without investment.  He is likely to be a constant drag on the new system and a cancer on the morale of others.

These two people started in the same place, but ended in quite different states. The big difference here isn’t a positive attitude or any major personality traits. The first teacher simply understood that if she wanted any power over the situation, she needed to lead the change.

In truth, the people who are on the front-end of change suffer least the whiplash effect of change. If leaders and change agents can sell this fact, rather than the rationale for the change, we suggest to people that there is power in proactivity and pain in reactivity. We need to understand that part of the reason many of the leaders and change agents don’t fear change is because we are often the ones controlling the change itself. Loss of control is a scary thing. We need to help people understand that in many cases, the difference between easy transitions and grueling, punishing, excruciating change is  whether or not one is at the front of the change, or at the rear of it.

My transition – personal post

I haven’t blogged much lately. It’s not for lack of things to say or things to wonder about, but about the busyness of life itself. I am in transition, and if you like, I will tell about it.

In December, I completed a doctorate in Educational leadership. I was excited to search for jobs in higher education, but my lack of higher education experience hampered my search. I was unsuccessful in my search. My degree is unique in that I did not earn it to become a principal or superintendent, but to teach 21st century leadership at the higher ed level. This niche is pretty slim, and without a lot of experience, I wasn’t qualified for a lot of the openings. As we entered spring I had no viable leads or responses, yet I still felt that I should be doing something more connected to my goals. I began looking for positions in instructional technology. While I did try for a few director positions, most were long shots because, again, I lacked direct relevant experience. I became interested in several opportunities to work as a tech integration specialist. One of particular interest was in a city where I already knew someone in the district. He and I discussed the position, and I applied. I interviewed and was hired.

People have asked me why I didn’t just teach another year, since the new job is no significant monetary advantage (it’s comparable to what I would have made teaching English next year). I guess I felt that I was standing with one foot on each side of the river. One was firmly planted in the classroom, and the other was planted in the realm of educational technology and 21st century learning. That’s where I really wanted to be, and most of my learning and experiences have been in pursuit of an educationally innovative field. I just didn’t see much more room to grow in the English classroom, or at least not as much interest). I took the job because I want to put to practice all I have learned over the past five years. To some extent, I feel like I have been doing a lot of the things an integrationist does as a peer leader and trainer in my district, so I thought it would suit me to do that full time.  I am pretty excited…

…and nervous. Well, maybe nervous isn’t quite it. I know I will do fine in the job; in fact I suspect I will really excel once I get my feet under me. However, one part I am having a hard time with is that I will not have my own classes anymore. This has been my life’s joy, and as I pack up my things here at BPHS, I get sentimental about the fact that I may never teach anyone about iambic pentameter or Perseus again. I know my new job will have me in the classroom a lot, but none of them will be mine. I think I will miss the rapport I build with students over a year. Furthermore, even though I have transitioned through teaching jobs before, the setup is essentially the same. Moving from one school to another to teach the same types of classes isn’t a real stretch. Sure, there are new people and systems, but once the door is closed, it’s just a bunch of kids and me, and that has always been something as natural to me as walking.

In this case, everything is new. I need to learn an entire ecosystem BEFORE I can really do anything of real value. I started today with a bunch of survey data, and that gave me a lot of ideas, but without having even set foot in any of the school buildings and not having met really anyone, I have no clue where I will begin. My current principal and longtime friend passed along a bit of advice he had heard a few years earlier when he started as a principal: “let the position come to you.” He said the questions get answered, problems present themselves that you’ll know how to solve, and the relationships and trust form. I’m trying to remember that.

The other thing is the physical move. The new position is a good hundred miles from where I currently live, so we will be moving closer. Looking for rental properties while deciding what to do with our current place is draining. We would like to get settled by the first week of August, but that task and timeline are becoming challenging.  We’ve lived where we do for almost ten years. The thought of going through all of that, packing it up, and schlepping it up the highway makes my stomach turn. My wife is great at these sorts of operations, but between this and the kids, who alternate between excited and nervous, it is just quite an experience. Oh, and I forgot, I am leading 30 people on a tour of London and Paris at the end of July. Yeah, right before we move. Should be so much fun, but right now, it just seems like too much to do in four weeks.

So that’s what I have going on. I have no doubt that as I reflect on this summer around, say, Thanksgiving, it will seem like a cakewalk. I know the pieces will fall into place just fine. I am coping with all this uncertainty by reconnecting with some of the professional networks I have been absent from for the past few weeks, and by making lists. I have no idea why, but making a list of my questions or concerns just seems to align it in a way I can deal with, even if I have no control over it.

I have always loved change. I see myself as spontaneous by nature, but that isn’t exactly true as it once was. When you have children, a home, and a full-time job, you get used to the day-to-day rhythms of life, even if they aren’t that great. I am so excited to flip the page and do something new, but it is stressful just the same. We look forward to a new community and I for a new job and new responsibilities. It’s exciting. I just hope I survive the transition!

If you made it to the end of this rambling personal commentary, you have my condolences. I don’t usually blog about myself, but I had the feeling I should a post something since I hadn’t in almost a month. This is all I could really focus on right now. The next one will be back to business, I promise. Thanks for reading.

Screen-free week is stupid

Have you and your family gone screen-free for a week yet? Have you taken the challenge?  As some would suggest, getting away from technology is key to re-establishing relationships, freeing the mind, and even repairing the soul.


I propose that we also institute appliance-free week. You know, no refrigerators, dishwashers, mixers, washing machines, dryers, or air conditioners. I think it would help people learn how to work together, to rediscover the more traditional way of doing things, to build family trust and self-reliance. Plus, it would be good for the kids!



Screen-free week campaigns are stupid. They suggest that since our society uses a lot of technology, and since technology is inherently bad for us, that we should set aside one week a year (or more often, depending on who is prescribing), to prove that it’s possible, and to realize the many benefits.  Then, presumably, you can go back to the way you used to do things, guilt-free, because you have proven you CAN if you HAVE TO.

All of this seems very artificial. It seems to offer a disease and then offer a cure. Screen-free week campaigns are the brainchildren of concerned citizens who know there are dangers to too much screen/technology time, and want you to be aware of them. However, they represent a decidedly anti-screen, anti-technology ideology  These movements are, as almost all social movements are, grounded in logic. The basic tenet, that too much screen time can be detrimental to people, especially youth, is inherently sensible. Few would disagree, and I certainly don’t propose anything to question this. However the notion is a bit more than simply awareness. it is part of the demonization of technology underlying much of our polite society.

Technology backlash has predicted everything from mindless, robotic youth to the fall of western civilization itself. The problem with most of these movements is the presumption that consumption of technology equals abuse. Let’s take a look at a recent study that has earned a lot of attention lately:

RESULTS: Forty caregivers used devices during their meal. The dominant theme salient to mobile device use and caregiver–child interaction was the degree of absorption in devices caregivers exhibited. Absorption was conceptualized as the extent to which primary engagement was with the device, rather than the child, and was determined by frequency, duration, and modality of device use; child response to caregiver use, which ranged from entertaining themselves to escalating bids for attention, and how caregivers managed this behavior; and separate versus shared use of devices. Highly absorbed caregivers often responded harshly to child misbehavior. –Journal of American Pediatrics

The article itself is interesting, but it spawned hundreds of news bits and helpful posts regarding parenting. It is not uncommon to use words like addiction, obsession and neglect along the way of summarizing the article in a way to make it clear that technology is the culprit. The general perception, then, is that cell phones are bad.

Can we consider that some parents are not very attentive to children, and the device is irrelevant? In my youth, adults frequently admonished and sometimes severely punished children who bothered someone who was reading the newspaper or watching a television show. I am not entirely sure, but I doubt there was a social concern over parents’ reading of the newspaper in the presence of children. That is not to say that it made one a good parent, they just didn’t blame the existence of the newspaper.

As technology advances in our society, alarmists see the disruptive nature of technology as the source of all sorts of ills, while rarely considering the notion that technology brings different ways for some of the same ills to manifest themselves. What if it were the person using the technology who is to blame?

Some questions I feel need consideration:

  • Why is a child’s time building with Legos valued far greater by some than the same time building with Minecraft?
  • Why does a teen who spends hours chatting away on the phone seem typical, but those same hours on social media seem frivolous and dangerous?
  • A child who reads books for hours is applauded, yet a child who accesses information on a computer draws concern.
  • Why are textbooks still seen as more academically important than tablets?
  • Why is whiling the time away watching television more socially acceptable than whiling the same time away playing a video game?
  • Why is a parent thumbing through a magazine while her child plays at the park considered normal, even pleasant, yet if the parent thumbs through the same magazine on a phone or tablet, they seem to be neglectful?

In truth, some parents are neglectful. Some children get too immersed in social media. Some children play video games too long. Some students may get overwhelmed with distractions. This is about the person, not the technology. Most of the time, modern technology is a replacement. People surf the net rather than watching television. They use social media rather than talking on the phone. Excess in anything can be detrimental. We just need to make sure we are demonizing the behavior, and not looking to scapegoat the behavior with the technology.

Technology is like a hammer, it can be a tool or a weapon. It all depends on who is wielding it.

If your family needs a screen-free week, by all means, do so of your own choosing. But make sure it’s because everyone in the family could use a break from technology, and not because the anti-screen movement has convinced you that technology is bad. Kids need to use less technology? Perhaps. Determine a problem and solve it. Not enough exercise? Yup, that’s a problem. Deal with that problem. Grades slipping at school? Yeah, that’s a problem. Deal with it.  Family uses a lot of technology? Not inherently a problem. Might be a strength.

Need to unplug? Go camping and make it an experience. If a family uses too much technology to the point that relationships are strained, then it is stupid to think that one week off will solve the problem. If you need to make a change so you are more available to your children, then do it! You don’t need a contrived challenge week to do so.

Denying the family some technology that is part of ordinary American life, simply to see if it is difficult, is foolish. It would be even more difficult to go appliance-free, and I think we would find ourselves quite dependent on those types of technology without demonizing them. Don’t let screen-free week or any other techno-shame drive your decisions. Use common sense and identify real problems and deal with them with real solutions. Let’s just keep some perspective.


Before cell phones and laptops, socialization was much different.

Is school is the worst place to learn?

One of my favorite parts of my day is watching my son, Nick, learn. He is our youngest at 8 years old, and to him, the world is the classroom. Here are just a few of the many things I’ve watched him learn on his own in the past few weeks:

  • What a tunnel boring machine is and what it is used for (from his Lego set)
  • What the skin of a Zebra shark feels like (trip to the zoo)
  • That shell of an egg is semi-permeable (he noticed Easter egg dye that seeped through onto the white part)
  • What a Chinese Yuan is and what it looks like (friend gave him one)
  • How the angle of a golf club head affects loft (stole a few clubs from the shed and was hacking away)
  • The life cycle of the sun (YouTube)
  • That a football flies farther when it spins, because it “cuts” the air
  • What the “beat” of a song is (he was trying to stomp along)
  • What the inner workings of a clock look like, and how gears work together (he took an old one apart)
  • Who Steve Jobs was (saw a video on YouTube)
  • That dogs dream just like people do (our pooch growling and barking in his sleep)
  • That England, France, and Germany are in Europe, which is across the Atlantic Ocean (Sherlock, Doctor Who)
  • How to divide complex numbers by continuing to cut amounts in half (Minecraft)
  • That rain collects dirt and dust sometimes before it hits the earth (observed by tasting some yucky tasting rain)
  • What an Iguanadon and a Compsognathus are (Jurassic Park game)
  • What a Senator does (Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace)
  • The words “cabeza” and “pimento” (SkippyJon Jones Book)
  • How erosion works (observed how some parts of the bricks near our house are worn down)

Bmz02SeIAAAf6sTNick plans his own curriculum and learning targets. He realizes there are many ways to figure something out and to know things. Left to himself, his mission is to find out anything he wonders about, and he wonders about a lot.  Sounds like a pretty bright kid, huh?

This is a child who is on an IEP and he struggles in school. When it comes to school, he feels stupid. What breaks my heart is that this kid is a sponge. He is constantly asking questions, performing experiments, reading or looking through fiction and nonfiction books. It is common to watch him greedily seek knowledge actively for 4-5 hours straight…

..but he hates school. Maybe not every minute of it, but he dislikes enough of it to tell me daily that he wished he never had to go to school. Everything is so boring, he tells me. He’s not too smart, he tells me. His teacher explains that he generally works hard and learns, but it’s clear talking to him that he goes through the motions at school so he can eventually come home and learn. He is not gifted and talented (in a school sense); his boredom comes from some other place. To him working from a sheet while sitting in a desk in a row in a quiet room isn’t learning, it’s punishment.

How many other students bide time through school until they can learn from the world? The longer I teach, the more I think engagement and fun are the keys to positive school reform, rather than learning targets or common assessments. School has, in many ways, become a business, and kids all over the country have noticed. Nick’s experience isn’t rare. As Common Core standards, benchmarks, and testing have swept the nation, it isn’t the school that is being reformed, but the learners themselves.

My hope is that strong administrators and creative, caring teachers can find the strength to preserve the fun of learning in the sea of standards. I hope that experiential education and project-based learning make a comeback, and that at some point education can become about learning and not about performing, achieving, or scoring.


As more teachers embrace digital learning, resources in non-1:1 districts become scarce

Do-not-get-frustrated-in-direct-salesIt’s a strange time in education, for many reasons. One of which is the evolution of digital technologies that aid instruction and learning. What once were fringe methods only a few teachers used to enhance learning experiences, have now become expected and even mandated in most schools. This is creating a pinch for resources for those districts not yet fully invested in 1:1 or BYOD initiatives. Here’s how it looks in my school:

For the past several years, I was probably one of the most frequent, perhaps the most frequent user of our school’s technology. For the past few years, we have had access to two iPad carts, one and a half laptop carts, an iPod cart, two computer labs, and at least a few dozen computers in the library. In truth, I was pretty spoiled. I have, until this year, had pretty much free reign over any technology I wanted to use with my students. In fact, at one point, I had a class that met in the computer lab because it was blocked out for me. Things were good. Without hoarding anything, I was pretty confident that I could get something into my classroom nearly any day, even if on short notice. I started checking in the morning to see if something was open, feeling like it was a waste to see those resources sit unused for a day. I was able to pilot many web 2.0 tools, the flipped classroom, and some other app-based tools.

Simultaneously, our administration has been really pushing digital technology (as well they should), and more and more teachers have been using said technology. I couldn’t be happier, and the students are all the better for it.

The problem now is that I can’t reliably get access to technology for more than a day or two at a time reliably unless I have things checked out weeks in advance. I have reserved one lab for Fridays, and I feel guilty even hoarding that for my students, but it is a necessity. Additional time is scarce, and if I were to block things out for a longer period of time, it would be unfair to other teachers.

The odd and ironic result of the increased interest in digital learning (some of which I had preached, helped, and trained others to do), is that I am not really able to do the things I would have been able to do in previous years due to greater demand. If anything, I have used less technology in the classroom this year. That saddens me.

There is a lot of talk and planning going into the somewhat imminent decision to move to 1:1 in the near future. Many in our district believe that could be next year, but the decision has not been formally made as yet.  In the meantime, I find myself taking meticulous notes about how I would do things next year in a 1:1 environment, while at the same time using more traditional techniques this year in the absence of more access to technology.

I can only assume this is an interesting transition in many districts that are stretching the infrastructure of their districts without having fully committed to the 1:1 investment. I can only think it’s a good thing overall, but it does create some growing pains for those of us who have been teaching with technology for some time.


I, Parent

If you are both a parent and a teacher, you probably have noticed a certain discomfort as the deeply held philosophies and attitudes you hold as a parent sometimes clash with those you hold as a teacher. I think a lot about this, and I feel that more and more often my feelings in these two roles are drifting ever further apart.  Here are a few examples:

I, parent, do not care about his test scores. Unless they are low. Then I care, but not if it shows growth. As long as he’s in the middle of the pack. No, I don’t want you to teach to the test, just show me numbers that make me proud.

I, teacher, hate to teach to the test. I loathe it, actually. I try to embed the standards well enough that the students do well on the test, which I really don’t care about. Unless the scores are low. Then I need to teach that standard MUCH more. But it’s only a test.

I, parent, do not want there to be lots of homework. I have my own job and we have work to do at home. We have many other rich, important things to do in our home time, except when we don’t, in which case it would be great if there were something she could work on. But for sure no projects. There is nothing worse than the drama that goes with projects. However, we would like to see many more real-world projects and engaged learning. Is there anything we can work on at home to help her learn?

I, teacher, want the richest possible learning environment possible, so I try to institute project-based learning as often as possible. I love seeing the way the approach the projects. Except the ones they actually finish. Those are horrible, rushed, and often done by parents. If only they could be done fully in class. I hate sending homework home, because most kids don’t do a good job on it, but yet I still send plenty home because we can’t get it all done in class. I would love the parent to help her, but make sure she does it all on her own.

I, parent, want him to be a great citizen in class and to be generally pleasant around others. I want you to help reinforce manners and friendly behaviors, except when it’s my job. I would like my kids to behave well at school, but if they don’t, I hope you will help them learn, except that I don’t because I’d rather you helped them with math. I can handle the social stuff at home, or not. It really depends.

I, teacher, want to assist you in helping your child to be a great friend and school citizen. Except when he isn’t, then we should talk about your part in this. We can reinforce the positive behaviors, but you have to teach those. Except when we do it. That’s important.

This mass of contradictions is an important part of the concept of home/school relationships, and a conversation I don’t think we have often enough. Do we as educators have a specific understanding of what parts of education are fully on the shoulders of the parents? Do parents understand the areas of education they have the most influence?

I see a fairly wide disconnect between what education asks of parenting and what parents ask for from education. I also feel a heartfelt sadness for those students whose parents don’t, can’t, or won’t do the things that are inherently expected of them. Does the student pay the price for this? Is it fair that they do? Is a parent who works two jobs a bad parent because they don’t help with the glue and paste project? Can reading be taught well without the parent?

Perhaps this conversation needs to be had more often. It seems that the more complicated a child’s home life is, the more the system in school is stacked against them, and I think that is a problem. I’ve been on both sides. I understand the frustration of minimal support of my students from their parents, yet I, too, have been a busy parent trying to hold together the complicated life we sometimes lead. Sometimes I ask parents to study spelling with their child, or to help with a project, and in the same day forget to go through my child’s backpack and help him study his spelling because we ran out of day.

Is there a solution? Perhaps. A greater empathy between parents and the school would be a great building block. What would probably make the biggest impact would be the idea of an IEP for every child. In that agreement, parents could honestly indicate how much time and resources they have available for at-home learning, and a plan could be built around that. I think an accord could be struck for almost every situation. Individual family needs should dictate this conversation, not a single expectation. I’d be interested to see what that kind of compassionate conversation might produce, and how it would value the child at the center of the learning.

Common Core Testing Backlash – Beginning with principals…

I have grave concerns about the Common Core movement and the doors CCSS opens toward pushing a test-dominated, packaged-curricula world for our students. The initial promise of alignment and common sense standards has already evolved into a texting frenzy, as states and districts aim to prove the new reforms are bearing fruit.

I offer a recent open letter to parents of the students of New York State by the administrators themselves. I applaud these brave leaders who are willing to stand up for what is best for students, even though it may directly oppose the wishes of NY state and regional boards of education and the NY state government itself.

New York State Principals

“An Open Letter to Parents of Children throughout New York State

Dear Parents,

We are the principals of your children’s schools. We serve communities in every corner of New York State — from Niagara County to Clinton, Chautauqua to Suffolk. We come from every size and type of school, with students from every background. We thank you for sharing your children with us and for entrusting us to ensure that they acquire the skills and knowledge they need to achieve their dreams and your hopes for them.

This year, many of your children experienced the first administration of the newly revised New York State Assessments. You may have heard that teachers, administrators, and parents are questioning the validity of these tests. As dedicated administrators, we have carefully observed the testing process and have learned a great deal about these tests and their impact. We care deeply about your children and their learning and want to share with you what we know — and what we do not know — about these new state assessments.

Here’s what we know:

1)    NYS Testing Has Increased Dramatically: We know that our students are spending more time taking State tests than ever before. Since 2010, the amount of time spent on average taking the 3-8 ELA and Math tests has increased by a whopping 128%! The increase has been particularly hard on our younger students, with third graders seeing an increase of 163%!

2)    The Tests were Too Long: We know that many students were unable to complete the tests in the allotted time. Not only were the tests lengthy and challenging, but embedded field test questions extended the length of the tests and caused mental exhaustion, often before students reached the questions that counted toward their scores. For our Special Education students who receive additional time, these tests have become more a measure of endurance than anything else.

3)    Ambiguous Questions Appeared throughout the Exams: We know that many teachers and principals could not agree on the correct answers to ambiguous questions in both ELA and Math. In some schools, identical passages and questions appeared on more than one test and at more than one grade level. One school reported that on one day of the ELA Assessment, the same passage with identical questions was included in the third, fourth AND fifth grade ELA Assessments.

4)    Children have Reacted Viscerally to the Tests: We know that many children cried during or after testing, and others vomited or lost control of their bowels or bladders. Others simply gave up. One teacher reported that a student kept banging his head on the desk, and wrote, “This is too hard,” and “I can’t do this,” throughout his test booklet.

5)    The Low Passing Rate was Predicted: We know that in his “Implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards” memo of March 2013, Deputy Commissioner Slentz stated that proficiency scores (i.e., passing rate) on the new assessments would range between 30%-37% statewide. When scores were released in August 2013, the statewide proficiency rate was announced as 31%.

6)    The College Readiness Benchmark is Irresponsibly Inflated: We know that the New York State Education Department used SAT scores of 560 in Reading, 540 in Writing and 530 in mathematics, as the college readiness benchmarks to help set the “passing” cut scores on the 3-8 New York State exams. These NYSED scores, totaling 1630, are far higher than the College Board’s own college readiness benchmark score of 1550. By doing this, NYSED has carelessly inflated the “college readiness” proficiency cut scores for students as young as nine years of age.

7)    State Measures are Contradictory: We know that many children are receiving scores that are not commensurate with the abilities they demonstrate on other measures, particularly the New York State Integrated Algebra Regents examination. Across New York, many accelerated eighth-graders scored below proficiency on the eighth grade test only to go on and excel on the Regents examination one month later. One district reports that 58% of the students who scored below proficiency on the NYS Math 8 examination earned a mastery score on the Integrated Algebra Regents.

8)    Students Labeled as Failures are Forced Out of Classes: We know that many students who never needed Academic Intervention Services (AIS) in the past, are now receiving mandated AIS as a result of the failing scores. As a result, these students are forced to forgo enrichment classes. For example, in one district, some middle school students had to give up instrumental music, computer or other special classes in order to fit AIS into their schedules.

9)    The Achievement Gap is Widening: We know that the tests have caused the achievement gap to widen as the scores of economically disadvantaged students plummeted, and that parents are reporting that low-scoring children feel like failures.

10) The Tests are Putting Financial Strains on Schools: We know that many schools are spending precious dollars on test prep materials, and that instructional time formerly dedicated to field trips, special projects, the arts and enrichment, has been reallocated to test prep, testing, and AIS services.

11) The Tests are Threatening Other State Initiatives: Without a doubt, the emphasis on testing is threatening other important State initiatives, most notably the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Parents who see the impact of the testing on their children are blaming the CCSS, rather than the unwise decision to implement high stakes testing before proper capacity had been developed. As long as these tests remain, it will be nearly impossible to have honest conversations about the impact of the CCSS on our schools.

Here’s what we do not know:

1)    How these Tests will Help our Students: With the exception of select questions released by the state, we do not have access to the test questions. Without access to the questions, it is nearly impossible to use the tests to help improve student learning.

2)    How to Use these Tests to Improve Student Skills or Understanding: Tests should serve as a tool for assessing student skills and understanding. Since we are not informed of the make-up of the tests, we do not know, with any level of specificity, the content or skills for which children require additional support. We do not even know how many points were allotted for each question.

3)    The Underlying Cause of Low Test Scores: We do not know if children’s low test scores are actually due to lack of skills in that area or simply a case of not finishing the test — a problem that plagued many students.

4)    What to Expect Next Year: We do not know what to expect for next year. Our students are overwhelmed by rapidly changing standards, curriculum and assessments. It is nearly impossible to serve and protect the students in our care when expectations are in constant flux and put in place rapidly in a manner that is not reflective of sound educational practice.

5)    How Much this is Costing Already-Strained Taxpayers: We don’t know how much public money is being paid to vendors and corporations that the NYSED contracts to design assessments, nor do we know if the actual designers are educationally qualified.

Please know that we, your school principals, care about your children and will continue to do everything in our power to fill their school days with learning that is creative, engaging, challenging, rewarding and joyous. We encourage you to dialogue with your child’s teachers so that you have real knowledge of his skills and abilities across all areas. If your child scored poorly on the test, please make sure that he does not internalize feelings of failure. We believe that the failure was not on the part of our children, but rather with the officials of the New York State Education Department. These are the individuals who chose to recklessly implement numerous major initiatives without proper dialogue, public engagement or capacity building. They are the individuals who have failed.

As principals of New York schools, it is always our goal to move forward in a constant state of improvement. Under current conditions, we fear that the hasty implementation of unpiloted assessments will continue to cause more harm than good. Please work with us to preserve a healthy learning environment for our children and to protect all of the unique varieties of intelligence that are not reducible to scores on standardized tests. Your child is so much more than a test score, and we know it.”

EduCanon might just be the key to flipped accountability

A brilliant math teacher walked in to my room yesterday and said she thought she may have found the answer to her struggles with her flipped advanced math courses: knowing who viewed what, and for how long.

She has been fully committed to the flipped concept for most of the past two years, but she still faces struggles and pushback.

Some students claim to have watched the videos, but complain that they didn’t learn anything, so they don’t want to do them anymore. Others claim that the videos go too fast.  Some others simply refuse to do them. While this is only a small portion of her classes, is a group large enough to take notice. This isn’t an access issue, mind you, it is about a withdrawal from traditional sit and get instruction. Being forced to interact with the material directly for understanding is an effort some students simply are not yet willing to step to.

One of the problems is accountability. The teacher uses YouTube, which doesn’t offer much for feedback beyond a hit count. Were those 50 hits from 40 kids or 10?

She also does not grade notes. I know many others do this, but she believes note-taking and other such work is a natural part of learning and shouldn’t be graded on a scale. She’s going for authentic grading. It’s a good thing.

The solution she found was a product called EduCanon. Though we only tinkered with it for a little while, the promise is golden: Upload your videos to the site, and get stats on who viewed, how long, how long per page, and as a bonus, can embed questions, files, and other documents to specific pages.  She was excited to try it out.

I haven’t messed much yet with this or any other such product yet, but I’m interested to see if the feedback helps the teacher connect a student’s efforts to their understanding, and helps them build more intrinsic motivation in those students who just want to hand in a worksheet.

I would be very interested to learn more from others who use similar strategies and software for student accountability in high school classes.


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