Friday, August 10, 2012

The Common Core and PARCC Assessment, Part II

This blog posting is part 2 of what I learned during my week in Chicago with the RI leadership contingency.  The following are the changes as they relate to literacy and how it supports social studies, science and English/Language Arts.

Building knowledge through content, rich nonfiction
Building knowledge through content rich non-­fiction plays an essential role in literacy and in the Standards. In K-­5, fulfilling the standards requires a 50-­50 balance between informational  and literary reading.  Informational reading primarily includes content rich non-­fiction in history/social studies, science and the arts; the K-­5 Standards strongly recommend that students build coherent general knowledge both within each year and across years. 

In 6-12, ELA classes place much greater attention to a specific category of informational  text, literary nonfiction, than  has been traditional.  In grades 6-12, the Standards for literacy in history/social studies, science and technical subjects ensure that students can independently  build knowledge in these disciplines through reading and writing.  To be clear, the Standards do require substantial attention to literature throughout K-12, as half of the required work in K-5 and the core of the work of 6-12 ELA teachers.    

Reading, writing and speaking grounded in evidence from text, both literary and informational 
The Standards place a premium on students writing to sources, i.e., using evidence from texts to present careful analyses, well-defended claims, and clear information. Rather than asking students questions they can answer solely from their prior knowledge or experience, the Standards expect students to answer questions that depend on their having read the text or texts with care.   The Standards also require the cultivation of narrative writing throughout the grades, and in later grades a command of sequence and detail will be essential for effective argumentative  and informational writing.  Likewise, the reading standards focus on students’ ability to read carefully and grasp information, arguments, ideas and details based on text evidence. Students should be able to answer a range of text-dependent questions, questions in which the answers require inferences based on careful attention to the text. 

Regular practice with complex text and its academic language.  
Rather than focusing solely on the skills of reading and writing, the Standards highlight the growing complexity of the texts students must read to be ready for the demands of college and careers.  The Standards build a staircase of text complexity so that all students are ready for the demands of college-¬‐ and career-¬‐level reading no later than the end of high school. 
Closely related to text complexity—and inextricably connected to reading 
comprehension—is a focus on academic vocabulary: words that appear in a 
variety of content areas (such as ignite and commit).   

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Common Core and PARCC Assessment

This past week, I was invited to be a part of a leadership cadre representing the State of Rhode Island with about 20 other great teachers, administrators and the Rhode Island Department of Education to learn about the new Common CoreStandards and the PARCC assessment that will be replacing the NECAP in 2015. 
I learned quite a bit and I am enthusiastic for the 21st century thinking presented for education in the United States.  I wanted to share some advisories on what I learned so that we keep the awareness level high and information coming to all stakeholders.  I have divided what I learned into three parts.  Summaries were developed with our partners PARCC and Achieve.  

For the next three weeks, I will post information on mathematics, literacy and information on the PARCC assessment itself.  I hope this information helps.  Please do not hesitate to let me know if there is anything that you would like to learn more about.  I will work with our cadre to answer those questions.  Thank you again. 

The main differences in Mathematics: 
Focus strongly where the Standards focus:

The Standards call for a greater focus in mathematics.  Rather than racing to cover topics in today’s mile-­wide, inch-­deep curriculum, teachers use the power of the eraser and significantly narrow and deepen the way time and energy is spent in the math classroom. They focus deeply on the major work* of each grade so that students can gain strong foundations: solid conceptual understanding, a high degree of procedural skill and fluency, and the ability to apply the math they know to solve problems inside and outside the math classroom. 

Coherence: think across grades, and link to major topics* within grades
The Standards are designed around coherent progressions from grade to grade. Principals and teachers carefully connect the learning across grades so that students can build new understanding onto foundations built in previous years. Teachers can begin to count on deep conceptual understanding of core content and build on it. Each standard is not a new event, but an extension of previous learning linking to major topics. Instead of allowing additional or supporting topics to detract from the focus of the grade, these topics can serve the grade level focus. For example, instead of data displays as an end in themselves, they support grade level word problems. 

Rigor: in major topics* pursue conceptual understanding, procedural skill and fluency, and application with equal intensity.
Conceptual understanding:   The Standards call for conceptual understanding of key concepts, such as place value and ratios. Teachers support students’ ability to access concepts from a number of perspectives so that students are able to see math as more than a set of mnemonics or discrete procedures.
Procedural skill and fluency: The Standards call for speed and accuracy in calculation. Teachers structure class time and/or homework time for students to practice core functions such as single-¬‐digit multiplication  so that students have access to more complex concepts and procedures.
Application: The Standards call for students to use math flexibly for applications. Teachers provide opportunities for students to apply math in context. Teachers in content areas outside of math, particularly science, ensure that students are using math to make meaning of and access content.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


Portions of this  Blog post is courtesy of Amanda Karhuse @akarhuse (Director of Government for the National Association of Secondary School Principals)

This past June, I was fortunate enough to attend an orientation at the national headquarters of @NASSP.  My principal colleagues in Rhode Island have nominated and voted me President-Elect of the Rhode Island Association of School Principals @riasp6 #riasp and the first part of my new responsibilities was to become acclimated with the priorities of the organization.  I met with the RI delegation and was able to advocate for education on behalf of all of our students.  One of the newest vocabulary words that I learned was sequestration.    The following briefing addresses the word and what it means for K-12 education as of January 1, 2013.  I believe that it is an important issue that needs to be addressed between now and the end of the calendar year.  I personally fear that if this issue is not dealt with by Congress, we will have a disruption of great magnitude to the type of education our students need.  Please read below and feel free to act in a manner that best suits you.    

(As a reminder, sequestration is the drastic, across-the-board cuts to education that are scheduled to occur on January 2, 2013. These across-the-board cuts will occur-unless Congress acts to stop it-as stipulated in the August 2011 Budget Control Act. Congress put this measure of sequestration in place in case a 12-member Congressional committee was unable to approve a plan to reduce another $1.2 trillion from the federal deficit; this committee failed, triggering sequestration.
Sequestration would impose the largest education funding cuts ever, chopping funding for programs in the Department of Education by roughly $4 billion, or 8.4%, which would have a devastating impact on state and district budgets.)
In May, the House passed H.R.5652, the Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act of 2012 in a near party-line 218-99 vote. The bill was supported by nearly all Republicans — only 16 opposed it, and no Democrats supported it.
As The Hill explains in a May 10 article, “The House voted Thursday to override steep cuts to the Pentagon’s budget mandated by last summer’s debt deal and replace them with spending reductions to food stamps and other mandatory social programs.
While doomed in the Senate and opposed by the White House, the legislation, which would reduce the deficit by $243 billion, is a Republican marker for post-election budget talks with the White House.”
NASSP is strongly opposed to this bill and feels that this legislation does not come anywhere near the balanced deficit reduction approach we must take to address our federal deficit.
NASSP encourages you to tell your legislators that sequestration is unacceptable by signing this online petition at Join with thousands of other education stakeholders and sign this petition! NASSP Government Relations staff is also leading the efforts around grassroots activism to urge Congress to not let sequestration occur, and will be implementing key grassroots activities in the next quarter to attempt to stop the sequester. Please look for our emails in the coming months on ways we ask you to advocate against sequestration, and we thank you in advance for your participation.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

My reaction to the movie "Bully"

Recently, I went to see the movie “Bully" in Rhode Island.  The venue was nice.  The Avon is a throwback to an earlier time for movie viewing.  I went to the movie for two reasons:  first to be informed and second to see if I can learn anything new to help me with understanding bullying/harassment situations.  I learned a lot concerning how bullying behavior effects students.  It seemed that the students who were sharing felt more comfortable sharing in front of the camera than they did with their family and/or school.  I thought the best way to share my reaction was to provide thoughts for certain situations without giving away the movie.  I also believe that you should not go strictly by this review.  All interested parties should experience the human emotion that takes place throughout the movie.  Those human emotions that are observed on screen and those felt by the viewer. 

Random thoughts:
Administrators need to act on all actionable intelligence concerning bullying/harassment situations as they present.  The overwhelming feeling that the assistant principal in the film felt, and the relative inaction she exercised concerning bullying /harassment situations perplexed me.  She did not strike confidence in the families and students that she worked with that she would do anything in her power to proactively assist victims and their families.  This is not an acceptable response and families and students should demand more. 
Students need to look out for each other.  Bullying/harassment situations are always public because the aggressors need an audience to gain attention and approval from their social peer group.  When this is noticed, witnesses/bystanders/up standers need to take action.  They should try and remove the victim from the situation and then get help from a trusted adult.  In Cumberland Public Schools, this can be done anonymously through the Report and Incident Form:
Students need to know that they can safely access assistance while helping a student in need.  Our students live in a global society that encourage electronic communication and research is showing more and more that students feel more comfortable communicating in that manner.  Once it is reported, administrators need to act and secure families and students confidence that it will be dealt with accordingly and that all students are supported. 

Personalized school environments are key for students to feel accepted by a learning environment and to build trusted relationships with the key stakeholders of that school.  Students  need to know who those key people are for them, schools cannot dictate who to trust.  Students will identify pretty quickly who they can trusted, we need to recognize when that moment occurs and acknowledge our important role with that student.  This kind of trust also needs to extend to families. 

One claim in the movie was that “it’s a complicated issue to deal with”.  I do not find it complicated that we have expectations in society that our students will go to school and learn academic and social skills that are designed to prepare them for a complex and global society.  Students should not have to deal with the students trying to gain social and emotional power over them.  Victims will never be able to learn in this environment and nor should they have to.  I also believe that the alleged aggressor has a few social skills that need to be taught to help them navigate the social expectations of school and society.  We have adopted the social skills curriculum of 2nd Steps.  This is a research based curriculum that has been implemented in other areas of the country and has proven to be helpful.  In the end, it is not complicated to support students and families.  In most cases, they are looking for it.

Finally, our victims need closure to the situation.  I watched an interaction between a victim and the assistant principal.  The assistant principal asked the student if they had confidence in them that they would deal with the situation.  The student said “I don’t know, because I came to you for other things and you didn’t do anything”.  She challenged him by asking “how do you know?”  He said “because you didn’t tell me”.  She challenged him again by asking “did it stop?”  He said “yes”.  She came back with “see.”  I observed this exchange and realized that I have not been great at providing closure to a student because of the fear of breaking student confidentiality.  I have always thought that I couldn’t talk about how I intervened with the alleged aggressor.  After viewing this exchange, I am going to immediately change my procedure to provide that closure.  If a student had the confidence to come and see me, then I need to validate them with closure.  It’s not enough to attempt to put a student at ease by telling them “I will take care of it” or “I will handle it”. 
I believe that any student, family or school staff member should absolutely take this movie in to have a new perspective on the issue of bullying/harassment.  If you haven’t experienced a bullying/harassment situation, the movie helps you feel like a part of the families and help give you perspective.  I do not believe that watching this movie will change a school culture or behavior by itself, but may be a launching point for developing culture through social expectations and responses in a school setting.  I would recommend this movie to a middle/high school student with a family member.  There is one scene with unexpected language, but it should not hold anyone back from experiencing the movie.  I am more than available to anyone who would like to ask me questions about the movie or my reaction.  We need to keep the conversation going and act proactively in the best interest of students, even for the hidden curriculum, social skills.  

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Cinnamon Challenge

A teacher brought this story to my attention last week concerning a new game that children are taking part in called the Cinnamon Challenge.  I have attached a link to a segment that aired on the Today show last weekend.  Please take this opportunity to talk to children about ramifications for the choices they make.  As the video will demonstrate, there could be long term health complications.  One girl now has an inhaler because she participated in this challenge and the cinnamon made it into her lungs.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Reaction to Rutgers gay-spying case: From ’vengeance’ to ’precedent-setting’

Reaction to Rutgers gay-spying case: From ’vengeance’ to ’precedent-setting’

This situation should make everyone take notice.  First, we lost another student way to young because of a social embarrassment or public shunning in this case due to his sexual orientation.  Second, that this type of behavior that led to this unfortunate result will not be tolerated in a court of law.  All members of our civilized society need to think before they act.  Then, consider the fall out of their action.

It is for this very reason that we in Cumberland Public Schools have taken a strong stance with the passage of our anti-bullying/harassment policy.  We are promoting pro-social behavior and intervene when our students are not meeting our expectations.  We assist our students in making responsible decisions.  We also provide them multiple ways to get help.  We have trusted adults, responsible bystanders, and an anonymous reporting system.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to all the families who have lost a loved one too soon as a result of bullying/harassment.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Online Safety Discussion with Facebook | Congressman David Cicilline

I will be attending this meeting concerning online safety. It is important that if you have questions or would just like to learn more about how you can educate your child concerning social networking, feel free to join me. There will be Facebook personnel on hand to present and answer your questions. Feel free to call the field off of Congressman Cicilline. This is closely aligned to the Anti-bullying/harassment work that we completed in Cumberland over the last year.

Online Safety Discussion with Facebook | Congressman David Cicilline