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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Read the blog post that PARCC doesn't want you to see

I've been a foe of the Common Core since I first had a chance to read the standards. I remain a foe of the Common Core, and am glad to report this information which I learned about via the New York Times:
Leaked Questions Rekindle Debate Over Common Core Tests

As you can see, Prof. Celia Oyler updated her blog post to remove the specific prompts and passage titles under legal threat from PARCC. But then where is the public accountability for PARCC itself? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?


Read the blog post that PARCC doesn't want you to see -- and then share it on your blogs!



The author of this blog posting is a public school teacher who will remain anonymous.
I will not reveal my district or my role due to the intense legal ramifications for exercising my Constitutional First Amendment rights in a public forum. I was compelled to sign a security form that stated I would not be “Revealing or discussing passages or test items with anyone, including students and school staff, through verbal exchange, email, social media, or any other form of communication” as this would be considered a “Security Breach.” In response to this demand, I can only ask—whom are we protecting?
There are layers of not-so-subtle issues that need to be aired as a result of national and state testing policies that are dominating children’s lives in America. As any well prepared educator knows, curriculum planning and teaching requires knowing how you will assess your students and planning backwards from that knowledge. If teachers are unable to examine and discuss the summative assessment for their students, how can they plan their instruction? Yet, that very question assumes that this test is something worth planning for. The fact is that schools that try to plan their curriculum exclusively to prepare students for this test are ignoring the body of educational research that tells us how children learn, and how to create developmentally appropriate activities to engage students in the act of learning. This article will attempt to provide evidence for these claims as a snapshot of what is happening as a result of current policies.

The PARCC test is developmentally inappropriate

In order to discuss the claim that the PARCC test is “developmentally inappropriate,” examine three of the most recent PARCC 4th grade items.
A book leveling system, designed by Fountas and Pinnell, was made “more rigorous” in order to match the Common Core State Standards. These newly updated benchmarks state that 4th Graders should be reading at a Level S by the end of the year in order to be considered reading “on grade level.” [Celia’s note: I do not endorse leveling books or readers, nor do I think it appropriate that all 9 year olds should be reading a Level S book to be thought of as making good progress.]
The PARCC, which is supposedly a test of the Common Core State Standards, appears to have taken liberties with regard to grade level texts. For example, on the Spring 2016 PARCC for 4th Graders, students were expected to read an excerpt from[deleted under legal threat by Parcc] According to Scholastic, this text is at an interest level for Grades 9-12, and at a 7th Grade reading level. The Lexile measure is 1020L, which is most often found in texts that are written for middle school, and according to Scholastic’s own conversion chartwould be equivalent to a 6th grade benchmark around W, X, or Y (using the same Fountas and Pinnell scale).
Even by the reform movement’s own standards, according toMetaMetrics’ reference material on Text Complexity Grade Bands and Lexile Bands, the newly CCSS aligned “Stretch” lexile level of 1020 falls in the 6-8 grade range. This begs the question, what is the purpose of standardizing text complexity bands if testing companies do not have to adhere to them? Also, what is the purpose of a standardized test that surpasses agreed-upon lexile levels?
So, right out of the gate, 4th graders are being asked to read and respond to texts that are two grade levels above the recommended benchmark. After they struggle through difficult texts with advanced vocabulary and nuanced sentence structures, they then have to answer multiple choice questions that are, by design, intended to distract students with answers that appear to be correct except for some technicality.
Finally, students must synthesize two or three of these advanced texts and compose an original essay. The ELA portion of the PARCC takes three days, and each day includes a new essay prompt based on multiple texts. These are the prompts from the 2016 Spring PARCC exam for 4th Graders along with my analysis of why these prompts do not reflect the true intention of the Common Core State Standards.

ELA 4TH GRADE PROMPT #1

[deleted under legal threat by Parcc]
The above prompt probably attempts to assess the Common Core standard RL.4.5: “Explain major differences between poems, drama, and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., verse, rhythm, meter) and drama (e.g., casts of characters, settings, descriptions, dialogue, stage directions) when writing or speaking about a text.”
However, the Common Core State Standards for writing do not require students to write essays comparing the text structures of different genres. The Grade 4 CCSS for writing about reading demand that students write about characters, settings, and events in literature, or that they write about how authors support their points in informational texts. Nowhere in the standards are students asked to write comparative essays on the structures of writing. The reading standards ask students to “explain” structural elements, but not in writing. There is a huge developmental leap between explaining something and writing an analytical essay about it. [Celia’s note: The entire enterprise of analyzing text structures in elementary school – a 1940’s and 50’s college English approach called “New Criticism” — is ridiculous for 9 year olds anyway.]

The PARCC does not assess what it attempts to assess

ELA 4TH GRADE PROMPT #2

[deleted under legal threat by Parcc]
It would be a stretch to say that this question assesses CCSS W.4.9.B: “Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text.”
In fact, this prompt assesses a student’s ability to research a topic across sources and write a research-based essay that synthesizes facts from both articles. Even CCSS W.4.7, “Conduct research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic,” does not demand that students compile information from different sources to create an essay. The closest the standards come to demanding this sort of work is in the reading standards; CCSS RI.4.9 says: “Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.” Fine. One could argue that this PARCC prompt assesses CCSS RI.4.9.
However, the fact that the texts presented for students to “use” for the essay are at a middle school reading level automatically disqualifies this essay prompt from being able to assess what it attempts to assess. (It is like trying to assess children’s math computational skills by embedding them in a word problem with words that the child cannot read.)

ELA 4TH GRADE PROMPT #3

[DELETED UNDER LEGAL THREAT BY PARCC]

Nowhere, and I mean nowhere in the Common Core State Standards is there a demand for students to read a narrative and then use the details from that text to write a new story based on a prompt. That is a new pseudo-genre called “Prose Constructed Response” by the PARCC creators, and it is 100% not aligned to the CCSS. Not to mention, why are 4th Graders being asked to write about trying out for the junior high track team? This demand defies their experiences and asks them to imagine a scenario that is well beyond their scope.
Clearly, these questions are poorly designed assessments of 4th graders CCSS learning. (We are setting aside the disagreements we have with those standards in the first place, and simply assessing the PARCC on its utility for measuring what it was intended to measure.)
Rather than debate the CCSS we instead want to expose the tragic reality of the countless public schools organizing their entire instruction around trying to raise students’ PARCC scores.
Without naming any names, I can tell you that schools are disregarding research-proven methods of literacy learning. The “wisdom” coming “down the pipeline” is that children need to be exposed to more complex texts because that is what PARCC demands of them. So children are being denied independent and guided reading time with texts of high interest and potential access and instead are handed texts that are much too hard (frustration level) all year long without ever being given the chance to grow as readers in their Zone of Proximal Development (pardon my reference to those pesky educational researchers like Vygotsky.)
So not only are students who are reading “on grade level” going to be frustrated by these so-called “complex texts,” but newcomers to the U.S. and English Language Learners and any student reading below the proficiency line will never learn the foundational skills they need, will never know the enjoyment of reading and writing from intrinsic motivation, and will, sadly, be denied the opportunity to become a critical reader and writer of media. Critical literacies are foundational for active participation in a democracy.
We can look carefully at one sample to examine the health of the entire system– such as testing a drop of water to assess the ocean. So too, we can use these three PARCC prompts to glimpse how the high stakes accountability system has deformed teaching and warped learning in many public schools across the United States.
In this sample, the system is pathetically failing a generation of children who deserve better, and when they are adults, they may not have the skills needed to engage as citizens and problem-solvers. So it is up to us, those of us who remember a better way and can imagine a way out, to make the case for stopping standardized tests like PARCC from corrupting the educational opportunities of so many of our children.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Summer 2016 1. Growth Mindset!

Although the end of the semester had some moments of intense weirdness and we've had some family challenges (very elderly father-in-law is really having trouble), the summer has gotten off to such a good start. I am really glad that this summer is going to evolve week by week, going in whatever direction seems best! I think I'm going to need that flexibility for family reasons, and I've earned it too, ha ha: the past two summers I spent doing huge course designs (Indian Epics last summer, and Myth-Folklore the summer before that)... plus, I'm on a 9-month year to year contract, so it's not like the university even pays me during the summer anyway! So, this summer is the great SUMMER OF READING, and it's all about regrouping and reorganizing, just seeing what attracts my attention and lets me have fun! I'll be writing up these little weekly notes because the aimlessness (in a good sense) of the summer means that I might even forget what I was doing back in May by the time August rolls around!

1. Canvas. I signed up for migrating my courses to Canvas this Fall, so I am learning about Canvas this summer. I'm not really anticipating anything good about moving my courses, but it's hard to believe it could be any worse than D2L. My use of the LMS is totally limited (quizzes for students to declare their work, gradebook, and homepage), and it looks like my homepage is going to work with the same Blogger solution I used in D2L, so the next question will be figuring out the quizzes (especially changing the dates semester to semester and reusing the same questions across multiple weeks), and then the gradebook. I'm also carrying on with #OU_LMS16 at Twitter, and I Storify that every week: #OU_LMS16.

2. Canvas Growth Mindset Playground. Even though I am not a fan of the LMS, I realize that the LMS migration is a big opportunity for talking about course design, perhaps the last really big opportunity I will have for that in my career at OU. So, I would really like to be part of that conversation, and I want to lobby for two things: growth mindset as a design strategy itself, plus the use of live content in Canvas that is built with real tools on the open Internet (especially Twitter and YouTube). I've built a course in our sandbox, but I just learned that the sandbox will go away, so I'm waiting until our real course space is set up (next week?) and then I will be working on Canvas.MythFolklore.net more intensively. So far, though, I am really happy with the kinds of live content I am able to demonstrate there!

3. Growth Mindset Curation. I am having so much fun (re)organizing my growth mindset content and collecting new materials to share with my students. I reorganized my Growth Mindset Memes blog, and I set up a new blog: Growth Mindset Zone, which is both for the Canvas project but also as a resource center. I also decided that I was doing enough with growth mindset now that it justified having a new Twitter account: @OUMindsetPlay. I am excited about connecting with new people and building a new part of my PLN that is specifically focused on growth mindset. The more I learn about that, the more I want to learn, which definitely sounds like a reason for building a PLN. I've got a good daily routine going on with my blogs, Twitter, Diigo, YouTube, Flickr, and Pinterest so that by the time next year begins, I will have a much broader and deeper collection of resources to share with my students! And more cats, of course.


4. Reading. I listened to Proust and the Squid this week, which was excellent, and on my Kindle I am reading Devdutt Pattanaik's My Gita. I'll be starting a new Audible book today, but I have not picked it out yet. Too many to chose from!

What's up next week... no VCU AltFest but Autumm and I are doing a hangout on Wednesday... Rob and Bucky's learning design webinars start on Thursday... and I think I am going to tackle curating my other video resources this week, based on the great results I saw when cleaning up growth mindset videos last week. I'll report back next weekend when I see what actually happens! :-) 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

My "What Can I Learn Today?" Spreadsheet

So, at the risk of appearing totally nerdy (Gotta stop myself I'm so nerdy), I thought I would share a screenshot of the spreadsheet that rules my life this summer. Unlike the spreadsheets that ruled my life last summer and the year before, I don't have a course redesign this time... instead: just reading, exploring, collecting, and having fun online!


I've actually been using this spreadsheet during this past school year, and it's been a lifesaver! During the school year it's really hard to stay on schedule with my curation projects, but during the summer. So, right now it's mostly just a reminder list, as opposed to an alerts list letting me know where I have fallen behind.

Here's how it works:

I have a list of projects I am working on: blogs, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube, along with my big Growth Mindset project (separate sheet of its own). For each project, there's a link or sometimes two links that can give me what I need to check on my work and add to it; having the links right there allows me to do my work directly from the spreadsheet.

There's also a formula for each project where I identify the "ideal" frequency at which I work on that content stream. During the summer, they are all daily or every-other-day, but during the regular school year, they are more like once or twice a week projects. In addition to that ideal frequency, there is also a "limit" where I start counting days behind. So, a project might have an ideal of every-other day, but I cut myself some slack and don't nag until three days have passed.

As I work on each project (adding a tweet or a blog post or a pin as the case may be), I update the date column (today's date appears in bold so I can quickly see which ones I've worked on today). There's a formula that then compares the date in that column and gives me the "gap" between the ideal and the actual date of activity. Then, based on the "gap" and the "limit" I get a prompt about whether or not I need to work on that area right now (either "..." or "maybe" or "today"). Finally, there's also a "delay" column that tells me how many days I am behind the actual limit I set for myself.

During the school year, I usually get behind enough that every day I'm scrambling to take care of things that are delayed (which is why that column comes first, on the far left). Then, I take care of the "today" items. And I'm lucky to do all that during the regular year.

But during the summer, oh, I have time for things! So not only can I keep up, I can even change a lot of the ideal frequency items to daily. And it's really just based on what I enjoy most, not because of any external imperative. I have so many fun things to work on.

What I really like about this system is that it is totally forgiving. If I get behind, well, all I have to do is post something that day and, presto, no worries! The spreadsheet has no memory: it just looks at everything in terms of today.

It's also highly automated with formulas. I can change the ideal and limit for any item when I want; everything else is formula-driven. I just enter the date, and the spreadsheet does its magic. It's kind of scary if I am online at midnight because that change in date updates all the formulas. So, especially during the school year, my nicely caught-up spreadsheet can turn to a bunch of "today" messages right at midnight, ha ha. If I remember, I'll add a screenshot later to this post that shows what it looks like when I am not all nicely caught up as I am now.

Call it a "What Can I Learn Today?" spreadsheet. It is very dorky, I know... but it works for me! :-)

Update: Here's what the sheet looks like after midnight (since I have a lot of daily goals during the summer, a lot of "today" messages pop up):





Sunday, May 1, 2016

Canvas Question: Pinterest Widgets

Don't ask me why, but the only way you can display a Pinterest Board is to create your own HTML file, insert the javascript, and then upload that file. The javascript in the file works, but the same javascript in a Canvas page will not work? Perhaps a Canvas guru can enlighten me about that!

This link takes you to the file so can see what I mean: pinterest.html.


FWIW you can also see that the Pinterest Board renders if it is inserted into a Blogger blog post which is embedded via iframe.

But when I put the exact same content of the HTML file into a Canvas page, the Pinterest Board does not display. You can see the result here: Pinterest test page.





Canvas: Why Live Content?

This post has moved.

Canvas Question: content display area

Is there anything I can do about the top of the screen in the Pages section of a Canvas course where the big blue "all pages" link sits now? It would be great if users could at least pop that space closed the way they can pop the left-hand nav bar closed.

Do the numbers: if the user doesn't learn to suppress the left nav bar (which they have to do with EVERY NEW PAGE; it is not persistent), then that means out of 800x1200 visible pixels, only 550x800 pixels are my content. So, that is 440K pixels out of 960K pixels: I am getting to use less than half of the visible screen. Ouch.

My actual content is in the red box below: