Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Collegiality...and Perfection...

I had the pleasure of again watching a PLC in action that is changing the way education is performed.  Then, the drastic crash soon followed.  A PLC shared a task with me as they have been asked to do.  Overall, it wasn't bad but had a few background errors that would prevent students from truly relating to it.  If you have read any of my previous posts you should realize how important engaging students in the math is to a successful task.  

It is worth mentioning that the crash had nothing to do with the task being sent but the reaction to my email that had a suggestion that could improve the task.  The reaction was instant defense.  Why must we always try to make things better, improve every aspect, keep revising and reinventing?  Why...the answer is so simple it is scary.  

We have clearly broken down the walls of the classroom and are working collegial in PLC's.  However, should we not continue to smash walls.  We must work to communicate beyond our grade levels.  Vertical teaming not only will give all teachers a better understanding of levels of knowledge in other grade levels but also a different point of view.  We have to be willing to take others opinions in a constructive manner.  Isn't that what we expect our students to do every day?  Why should the same not be expected of us?

This post comes at a time of the year when we are at our most stressed.  In these times we have a tendency to close back into a shell, back into our classrooms.  We have a tendency to turn on each other instead of relying on each other for assistance and honest opinions.   This profession needs collegiality in order to be successful.  The one room school house didn't last for a plethora of reasons.  

Therefore, I will continue to respond to any emails with suggestions for improvement.  It is the collegial side of me that wants to help.  A need to make things as good as possible with the thought that a later look will probably force us to change again.  That is how we move forward.  How we make things work for all students.

Monday, November 25, 2013

What is a summative assessment?

Ok, I ranted in this post.  I didn't plan on it but it turns out I am pretty darn bothered by the state of what we call assessments.  The Big Idea in this post is "Lets fix our assessments or start being honest about what they actually are."

By definition a summative assessment is an assessment that is at the end of the learning.  I challenge ANYONE to find a summative assessment in education that is not an ACT, State  Testing, or final exam.  Isn't it true that a good teacher takes information from a topic/chapter assessment, which is typically considered summative, and discusses the issues the students had so they no longer have those issues...thus formative.  

Now that we know that almost everything in education is formative lets move on.  The idea behind a formative assessment is to get information that will directly drive instruction.  Therefore they should be quick, to the point, one topic, and emphasize learning at a DOK 1 or DOK 2 level.  The more of those basic level low rigor questions we get rid of on the formative assessments the more depth we can access on our summative assessments.  That means our summative assessments can ask quality questions that force students to think, to analyze, to combine thoughts so we can actually see how deeply they know the material.  What does this mean for all those who create "summative" assessments?  Lets make some rules to clarify further what a summative assessment is and is not.

1.  A summative assessment NEEDS to be more than a multiple choice assessment.  
2.  A summative assessment MUST ask students to explain, to clarify, to compare, to analyze different situations.  If we don't ask, we won't know.  
3.  A summative assessment needs to have a rubric to determine a students level of proficiency.  
...time to get my frustration out...
Why does a 11/11 correlate to a 4, a 10/11 go to a 3 and an 8/11 go to a 2...Because we insist on making everything a percent!  If we want a 4-point scale then lets make assessments that assess students properly and force students to demonstrate depth of knowledge that would confirm a 4.  If students cannot demonstrate a 4 it is up to us to create those assessments that allow students to do just that.  If we can't, grading better start at a 3.  

For those that are curious...this isn't even about math anymore.  We have problems with our assessments but we also have a fix in the process.  It will take time but we at least have the train on the tracks.  It is entirely to easy for teachers to say "I grade on a 4-level scale" when in reality, they don't.  They just grade on a percentage scale then fit it into a 4-3-2-1 according to 90-80-70-60.  

For more information check out some of my previous posts that all involve assessments and grading.
     Testing and Scoring Math
     Why do we Review EVERY chapter in Math???


Monday, November 18, 2013

An unfortunate epiphany

For the past several years I have read the CCSS, created tasks, wrapped PD around the mathematical practices and worked with teachers to understand Webb's DOK.  I have focused on getting resources in the hands of teachers to implement the CCSS in a manner that leads our students to the best chance of success.  

All that work leads our district into a position for success.  However, without changing instruction, not the style of instruction (guided math), group work, or project oriented instruction but deep down how we talk about math instruction...we are stuck.  We teach skills that are aligned to the CCSS but we teach them the same way we have for years....Without a deep understanding.  We as teachers have a tendency to focus on "tricks" that will make it easier to understand and show students immediate success.  When in the end the easy path is never the right path to choose.

We as a district need to focus on what it means to instruct math in terms of depth and engaging students in the meaning of math.  This doesn't need to be boring or teacher led.  This just means we need to make the small connections necessary for students to not just gain success but connect the dots from one topic to another.  To truly understand the meaning of the different topics we are trying to convey the meaning of.

This is going to be a slow and probably painful path.  Although, as discussed those are typically the paths that lead to success.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

At the MPES (Math Proficiency for Every Student) Conference

Attending the MPES conference in Oconomowoc.  I have to present most of the day but we start off with an update from the Director of Math for the SBAC.  Lets see what she says.

Major Point #1:  (from a colleague who is sitting next to me on the ACT redesign team)

  • ACT is remaking their assessment to align with the questioning levels (DOK) of the SMARTER Balanced Assessment.  Time constraints/lengths of assessments have not been determined but assessing claim 4 will be some form of a prompt given weeks ahead of time.
Shelby Cole - Director of Math for the SBAC - 
  • Going over the stuff we know from the SBAC.  The focus is tying the assessment to the things they want to see as far as instruction in the classroom.  
  • Summative Assessment is good for a snapshot of growth from one year to the other. It could be used as a screener but it is only one-time per year
  • Interim Assessments are used to give information at a different level.  It will allow teacher to build assessments on specific topics using questions that are in the same style as the Summative Assessment.  
  • Formative Assessment section is not more tests but great resources for teachers to help define students level of performance.  It goes way beyond just testing...into good practice.
  • The test will be adaptive.  All kids will be answering questions seeing items that are appropriate in level and difficulty for that child.  The score is based on the kinds of questions the students answers correctly.  
  • The test is shorter than a fixed form test to get the same results.  
  • Performance Tasks "reflect real-world task and/or scenario-based problem.
    • DCE is 100% accurate in our perception of tasks - we must make them happen regularly.
    • We might be a bit more aggressive in elementary but students are handling it.  Why would we back off?
    • Need to be feasible for the school/classroom environment.  They have also taken into account the CAREER PATHWAYS.  They want the tasks to span several pathways.
    • Two types of Tasks
      • Evaluate and Recommend
        • Write a letter to your school principal in regards to...
      • Plan and Design:
        • Plan a garden that....
  • The emphasis on the claims - although we haven't been specific in our terminology of "claims" is right now.  
    • Claim 1:  concepts and procedures - we are good at this one!
    • Claim 2:  Problem solving - doing well - for the most part
    • Claim 3:  Communicating Reasoning
      • reasoning on a number line
      • reasoning of fractions
      • Does not need to be embedded into context
      • This is NUMBER SENSE!
    • Claim 4:  Modeling and Data Analysis
      • These are our situations (weak tasks).  
      • We need to do more with "modeling" scenarios but our analysis is strong.
    • Performance Tasks:
      • These are our really good tasks.  Very open ended with NO scaffolding.  
  • Plus Standards:
    • In 2015 we will not have items to assess those standards
    • 2016 and beyond the plan is to have items that assess those standards.  These would not be reported in the "normal" reporting method but in a different reporting feature.  
  • How long will the test take?
    • Just math time for the total test is estimated at 1.5 hours for the performance task and about the same (could be 2 hours) for the adaptive test.  The pilot versions took about 3.5 hours total time.
  • There are NO calculators available prior to GRADE 6.
  • Accommodations
    • Universal tools are access features of the assessment that are available to all students.
      • The major one for DCE is handing out scratch paper and pencils for all students.  If we don't give it to them they won't use it.
    • Designated Supports and Accommodations are classified as either embedded or non-embedded.
      • Embedded - in the assessment
        • color, masking, text to speech, language, sign-language, braille, closed captioning,
      • Non-embedded - district provided
          • bilingual dictionary, color contrast, color overlay, seating, calculator, read aloud, ...
    • Translations:  some words have a very light box that have a strong relationship to the math they need to know will not have a translation available.  Other words will have a translation piece available using a "thesaurus."
    • Students CAN go back into their test and review old questions.  It will choose the next item based on current performance but students can change answers (highlight/flag questions they are uncomfortable with). 
    • Can strikethrough their answers to help narrow down/eliminate choices.
  • Comment from a student.
    • "On the CMP (Conneticut Mastery Test) I work and work and work and then my answer is not there.  This test let me explain how I did it."
    • This supports our districts focus on literacy in explaining their questions and reasoning.
  • In summary:  we are doing really well.  This made me feel very comfortable with our direction.  We need more implementation of what teachers know we should be doing.  This means, unfortunately, more time for teachers to develop and more PD on what scaffolding actually does to hinder student development.  For me, that means more concrete examples to give to teachers so they can see the clear distinction between a quality question and a good question that we made procedural.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The States decision on the CCSS

With the resignation of a Democratic Senator from the educational committee overseeing the decision of the CCSS in Wisconsin for reasons stated as not wasting his time on a committee that clearly has a alternative agenda and is not listening to the overwhelming majority of positive response to the CCSS, it appears the state is headed for a new process.  While at the hearing, there was a lot of mention of the Massachusetts State Standards and how much better they are than the CCSS.

I am not sure about you but when I looked at the standards from Massachusetts, they looked a whole lot like the CCSS.  So I made a little checklist.  Here is what is in the Massachusetts math standards.
     - 8 Mathematical Practices - check
     - K-8 standards by grade level - check
     - 9-12 standards not listed by grade level - check
     - Plus standards and modeling standards - check
     - An emphasis on application and depth of instruction - check

So what is different?
     - almost nothing - no standards have been removed
     - In all of K-12, only 16 standards have been added.  Of those, 9 of them are "clarification" standards.
     - That means that in all of K-12 there are only 7 added standards.  

What a great idea.  Lets get them.  If that is the difference that the Wisconsin wants I am all for it.  I will just keep doing what I am doing and be just fine.  8-)

What a tremendous waste of time this is!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

CCSS Hearing - Wausau - periodic updates (6:15pm)

I will be updating the blog periodically throughout the afternoon on the status of the CCSS hearing.  This is a very important time for educators to see if our state supports the decisions made by those who live in the trenches or is going to sacrifice our children to the viewpoints of non-educators.  

If you haven't guessed, I will be testifying in favor of the CCSS.  

The beginning of the hearing will be invited guests.  The state has asked specific individuals both in support and against to speak.  They will get the most time to talk.  After that is done (probably several hours) the floor will be open to those who registered to speak today.  

Pass this along to those who might be interested.  The hearing starts in about 40 minutes.  First update will more than likely not be for another hour at least.

First Speaker:  

  • Rick Essenberg - Representing Law and Liberty dedicating providing legal support for education reform.  They are testifying against Tony Evers statement that he can direct the state to use the CCSS regardless of the legislatures vote. 
    • My take:  Tony Evers support of the CCSS is clearly noted but he cannot dictate that the CCSS are used throughout the district.  
    • Basically, the superintendent has no authority to make policy decision in regards to the CCSS.  That is a policy decision.  Furthermore, any power the superintendent does have can be revoked at any time.
  • He was grilled regarding the rigor of the standards.  Effectively, I don't believe he has read the standards and clearly doesn't teach children.  He wants the standards to "teach" kids.  That is the not the meaning of a standard.
Second Speaker:
  • Michael Trill - speaking in support of the standards
  • Discussed some of the fallacies in regards to ELA and math.  He did a pretty decent job.  Then nailed it on the cost of not-implementing the standards.  "Why stop the momentum.
    • My take:  great data on the costs - I believe him to be accurate.  However, gets grilled because he is a national speaker going all over to dispel the myths of the CCSS.  
    • Great summary of Michael Trill's speaking.  It seems the panel understood his purpose.  
    • It really annoys me when representatives just pick at where the guys money came from who is speaking.  I get why but it seems they ignore their message just to try to make the speaker look bad - It is just good that the Rep typically takes pie in the face after it is all done.
    • "These standards are more challenging than what most states had before.  However, that is typically not rigorous enough to go into a STEM field.  What is the goal?  Is it to prepare a student to do what they need to do or get all students into a STEM field."
      • Our goal isn't to get all students into a STEM field!  It is to give them the tools so all students can succeed in whatever they choose to do.
Third Speaker:
  • Ted Rebarber:  Accountabiilty Works - Speaking against
  • "The reason WI test results are so strong is due to its quality of teaching"
  • Lots of mythical errors with this individual.  
  • His examples are specific to one teachers poor instruction.  He also takes a look only at the standards with no respect to the practices.  
  • Mr. Rebarber is trying to discredit the non-standard algorithms.  He only supports the standard algorithm.  
    • My take:
      • Mr. Rebarber is attacking only math - not ELA.  He hasn't mentioned any of the Math Practices or the rationale for teaching specific things at certain times.  He is choosing one item from different, not correlated grade levels.  Of course things seem disjointed then.  Mr. Rebarber, it turns out runs an online testing business.  Could he have an alternate agenda since writing assessments for these standards is harder than writing a "traditional" assessment.
      • Mr. Rebarber is a money guy.  He is solely looking at this from a financial aspect on "expected" expenditures.  
      • Unbelievably Mr. Rebarber is still up!  However, just got called on the carpet for being here for a private business use.  He is toast.  His entire testimony (which was invited by the co-chairs) has been proven to be useless.
Fourth Speaker:
  • Bill McCallum:  Writer of the CCSS - Speaking in Favor
  • The standards focus on fewer topics at greater depth.  Basically, McCallum hit the history and the purpose of the standards.  Teachers know the standards will not be easy but are the right thing for students.  
  • Really good dialogue.  Lots of STEM questions which concerns me.  Why?  
    • My take:
    • It is really interesting that there were very few questions for Bill.  It didn't make any sense.  He is the sole math writer and almost nothing.  I believe it is  because they were made in sound principles.  You can't refute how the standards were made.
Fifth Speaker: (Final invited speaker!)
  • Didn't catch his name.  Speaking against - specifically math.
  • Speaking against "how" Geometry is being taught.  Wants to go back to traditional Euclidean Geometry
  • I believe he is saying its "too rigorous" in K-1 then it slows down too much in 3rd - 5th.  The number of inaccuracies is hilarious!  What he is saying is exactly opposite of what is actually reality. K-2 teachers say its too slow (depth) and 3-6 teachers say its too fast.
  • He is blaming the discrepancy between the minority success and white success on the CCSS when in fact this has been this way forever.  
    • My take:
      • This guy is just wrong - not much else needs to be said.  I can't explain it any more clearly than that.

My summary of the invited speakers...Only one was here that had background that was accurate with the common core and not here for a private financial reason.  This includes Michael Trill who spoke in favor.  Bill McCallum talked about the standards as they are.  Not money, but minimum expectations for student success.

We keep hearing that Calculus and STEM Math needs to be part of the CCSS.  These are STANDARDS!!!  A standard is something that is for everyone.  If a student wants to be in a STEM Career then we have courses that will help them be on track for that.

Guest Speakers:
1.  For - answering questions from previous hearings.
2.  Against - business person - Just finding out about the core.  Correlates it to a new
                   medical procedure that hasn't been tested...what???
3. Against - a nut - a true wack job.  Shouting into the microphone.  Wants us to do 
                 online only instruction.  All DOK 1.  Why do more???  What a nut!
4.  For - Super for Sturgeon Bay.
5.  Against - hard to tell though.  He plays both ends quite a bit.
6.  Against - special interest - I like to ignore them.
7.  For - higher education - loves the consistent nature of the CCSS.  Will help to close the gap.
8.  For - superintendent of Pulaski.
9.  Against - parent - claiming its too rigorous.  It is just crazy the polar opposites in the negative crowd.  She doesn't expect a Kindergartener to count by 5's...or by 1's.  Why can't they just play???
10.  For - "Best and most intense initiative that has hit education."
11. - Against - 

12 - ++++  Ok, I just give up.  Too much.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Common Core - My Thoughts

As I sit and consider what to say, more importantly, how to say what is needed at the public hearing this Wednesday in Wausau on the CCSS it makes me consider my thoughts.  I was reading an article in the City Pages by Peter Weinschenck who's take on the CCSS clearly has no expertise since he says it calls for all students to take Calculus and misses every major point emphasized by the CCSS, namely the thing all non-educators miss...the Math Practices.

Do I think the CCSS are a good thing?

  • Yes, without question.  
    • The Math Practices alone are enough to put me clearly on that side.  Even if teachers only focused on Math Practice #1 (Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them) we are further along than with the previous standards.  However, just the fact that if the standards are implemented in all states then the knowledge that students will be coming in with the same minimum expectations no matter where they are coming from.  For those who work in the school district understand how big of a deal this is.  Not to the same level as the Practices but big.
    • The Practices are much more sound at the elementary level focusing on depth of instruction and an understanding of concepts.  In the middle school they clear up several issues but really not a whole lot of changes post 6th grade.  The changes in the CCSS are centered around 4th - 6th grade.  The high school...well lets just call those standards unfinished.
    • The emphasis on tasks that demonstrate conceptual understanding forces teachers to apply their knowledge.  Can this be screwed up...certainly.  That is why we have curriculum people to make sure it doesn't.  
Do I think there are issues?

  • Of course, as with most anything it can be improved.
    • My issues with the CCSS are centered almost entirely around the high school standards.  In the appendix they offer the standards by course but it is frustrating to see the quantity of standards necessary to "cover" the CCSS.  
    • Geometry is still just Geometry.  If any course in the high school has an opportunity to be a new 21st century course I believe it is Geometry.  However, there is just so much of the same old in the standards that it makes it more difficult to change it.  That said, it can be changed with the right amount of attention.  If teachers truly realized how much Geometry is in the earlier grades they would realize they have about a semester to apply math.  We have some work to get there.  
    • The largest issue I have is NOT ALL STUDENTS NEED ALGEBRA 2.  There, I said it!  Whew...I feel so much better...
      • Many of our students need application through a CTE course that integrates math with a focus on the skill leading to the application.  
      • Personally, all students need Algebra 1.  All students need Geometry (the application form...not necessarily the proof form of Geometry.  Inductive proof can go a long way towards math practice #1).  After Geometry, most students will be Juniors.  By then, don't we have a responsibility to our students to prepare them for their future, college or a career.  There are LOTS of students who have no business going to college (4-year university).  However, all can go to a 2-year or technical college and have great futures.  By the time students are Juniors we know those that are headed towards a career in a CTE field vs. those in a  "math" field.  Why not prepare them the right way for those careers by showing them how the math they know will help them while pushing them a bit more into the CCSS and demonstrating those applications also. 
So, where do we go from here...I don't know.  Ask your legislatures.  Maybe they can give us an idea.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Why do we Review EVERY chapter in Math???

Why do we review?  What should it look like?  What is the real issue...

I have been teaching math for 17 years and at the end of every chapter we go through a review of questions.  Early in my career this looked like a "test" that wasn't "the test."  Now, it looks like a writing assignment.  My latest review was designed to have students working in groups discussing questions geared at conceptual understanding.  It them forced them to write in sentences describing what they knew about the questions.  

My theory, if they can explain in depth about the topic, they can perform the skill.  

But why do we even review?  

The focus in education is on formative assessment to drive our instruction.  Lets assume our assessment is quality - asking depth questions in support of skill, forcing students to explain their understandings.  If we teach a lesson or two, give a small formative assessment and determine student needs.  Then meet with these students that are struggling to remediate.  Continue this process...through the end of the chapter.  Under this scenario would two things clearly happen...

1.  Our students would understand the depth and skill we need throughout the chapter.  When they reach the summative assessment it would just be confirming what we know they already know allowing us to extend the summative assessment into a performance task (essentially making the summative assessment moot other than extending learning).

2.  Students who could struggle on the assessment...we would clearly know who they are and be able to meet with them to "review" topics, and put the interventions in place in order for this child to have the best opportunity to succeed.  

I know it isn't this easy but are we making it harder than we have to.  By reviewing we are "allowing" students to not necessarily pay attention or do what is necessary to learn the material until the very end.  Thus we are partially setting them up for failure because if they do wait until the end to "learn" the material...they will more than likely fail the assessment.  Would we have this problem if we didn't review...or would we have additional problems?

Why do we review?  Because our students don't have the academic behaviors to succeed without the review.  We have built a system that not only allows a student to not prepare themselves but encourages it.  Think about that for a little while...

By not reviewing will this change...I doubt it...but test scores will fall.  Not reviewing is one piece that we should be able to implement but at minimum lets start with changing out review.  Don't make it a pre-test.  Make it conceptual.  Make it something students need to think about.  Make it different and group oriented.  Make it about depth and don't necessarily concern yourself with "will they get an A on the test tomorrow (or pass)?"  Worry more about - how can I help them know this for the next 10 years?  

Maybe a small step will slowly move things forward.

Traditional or Constructivist???

We, as is the case with a lot of districts are grappling over new textbooks.  This year, it is the 6th - 8th grade years to decide.  Currently CMP2 is used as our foundation in all classrooms.  Foundation is the key word.  It is what our curriculum is based off, not what it is!  However, the 6th grade teachers have been working diligently over the past 2 years to align their teaching to the CCSS and add in differentiated tasks to engage all learners.  We have come a long way.  Our assessments in tiered and assess at different levels of Webb's DOK to show true understanding.  We have come a very long way.

Now it is decision time.  Do we go with stick with our modifications or go with a new foundation which would essentially mean taking what we really like and supplementing it into something else.  If we go with a new foundation do we lean towards a more traditional program or a more constructivist.  Here is my rationale for each one.

Constructivist Pros
Currently we have a more constructivist program in CMP2.  I love the group instruction, the engaging problems, the themed progress through the program, and the writing involved.  I don't like the fact that the book is useless to parents.  They cannot help their kids which also means it serves as nothing more than a workbook for the kids.  The new CMP3 doesn't look any different.  However, it has online tools which poses a whole added dimension that is harder to discern.

Constructivist Cons
Where is struggle is in two basic areas.  Our test scores are always low in the middle school regardless of the assessment (State testing, ACT Style, etc...).  This is NOT due to the teachers.  Some of the finest teachers in the district are working really hard to make things better.  The other part that ties to this is later years teachers are always frustrated due to lack of skill retention from 5th - 8th grade.  They don't point fingers at the teachers because they know they are working.  Right now, the blame is on the kids effort but is that the case?

Traditional Pros
I feel that traditional books are better for the bottom third of students and work find for the middle third.  The upper third is utterly bored.  However, they are strong in skill development and tend to be weaker in application.  However, we as a district are strong in application, partly because we have had a constructivist program for so many years.  Our teachers think that way.  These books also tend to allow parents to be able to read them (which means the kids can) and refer to examples to help at home.  This has been a rather large issue.

Traditional Cons
They are traditional...they tend to be boring, filled with a bunch of stuff that is not needed and don't offer engaging activities for the top third of our students.  Like above, strong in skill but weak in application.


Can we do both.  Can we purchase a traditional foundation and implement our constructivist teaching strategies over the top thus helping our lower students with a solid foundation and offering our upper students engaging learning activities?  Would this help to fix the problem.

For those that know me understand I am all about the application.  But if there is a lack of skill development the application fails and the student will "top out."  To breach this subject with my staff will be really difficult.  Personally, I don't feel there is any better curriculum than the one made by the teachers.  Would this force that to happen with quality.  Giving teachers the skill support they have so long desired but allowing them to tailor instruction in a constructivist group oriented way?

Let me know your thoughts...

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Testing and Scoring Math

Much of what I do throughout the day deals with summative test creation and assessment.  Listening, helping, doing...it doesn't matter.  In one way or another it is always interesting.  The beliefs about tests vary greatly from one grade level to another and from one PLC to another.  

There are a number of teachers who are still holding fast to the "100 point" test where points are assigned to each problem to add up to 100.  This makes for easy grading, fairness throughout all the assessments, and easy student understanding of scoring protocols.  Lets just make it easy and say I disagree with all 3 statements.  There are other teachers who want to make the assessment standards based but want points assigned to the assessment for each problem (seems to be a theme here).  Finally, there are others who want nothing to do with "points" but want to focus on understanding.  This is clearly the group I like to hang out with.

Since the "fairness throughout all the assessments" comment doesn't fit anywhere else in this blog lets address it here.  Throughout the year some topics are more important than others.  I would challenge any teacher to debate that the first topics of the year in math are more important than content taught in the 2nd semester.  Why then should all topics have the same weight.  In fact, don't put them in one group.  Make them standards based and this whole debate is moot.

Lets be clear, none of the teachers are inherently wrong in their stance but are on different stages in the growth process towards understanding how a test can help drive instruction.  Trying not to waste time or digital paper, here is what I see as a quality assessment and scoring process.  

  1. The assessment needs to assess different levels of understanding.  We use Webb's DOK levels as our benchmarks.  A student needs to be able to perform well on DOK 3 questions in order to earn what is recognized as an A.  Note, it is not perfect performance but performing well that is used for terminology.  I'll explain that in more depth later.
  2. The assessment can offer few DOK 1 (basic) level questions but cannot be dominated by them.  We need our students to think analytically.  Just performing the skill level of the question isn't going to help them apply it in the future.  Is this necessary...absolutely.  However, not on the summative assessment.  It needs to be on formative assessments that will help determine if students understand what we were teaching.  Checking this for the first time on the assessment means the teacher is not teaching to the students but is teaching topics.  We have to make sure students understand these questions prior to the summative assessment.  If we have done that, we don't need them on the summative assessment.
  3. The best are standards based but I am giving in that at the 9-12 grade level this is much harder than in earlier grades.  Even if we ignore the terminology "standards based" and make it topic based the result is the same.  We need to have questions that will demonstrate understanding at different levels of Webb's DOK to a specific topic.  This is an easy way to determine if students know the skill, can apply the skill, and can explain or demonstrate their understanding of the topic.
  4. Grading/Scoring needs to give a clear perception of how students are doing.  I struggle when we take a point off for an addition error if the topic was finding the perimeter of an object.  Are we assessing addition or understanding perimeter?  Now, I know that the error is an issue and needs to be addressed.  Therefore, look over the whole test.  If the student is making many of these "oops" errors throughout the test then they don't deserve an A.  However, it tells us they understand the topics but are probably going too fast, not checking their work, or losing focus after the problem has been started.  These are good things to know.  Here are some basic scoring guidelines.
    1. A student that can do the DOK 1 questions has demonstrated they understand the skill we need them to understand.  This student will probably earn at least a C.  
    2. A student that can do the DOK 1 and DOK 2 questions has demonstrated they understand and can begin to integrate several concepts into one.  Students at this level are proficient, They have confirmed they should earn at least a B.      
    3. A Student that can do the DOK 1, DOK 2 and DOK 3 questions has demonstrated they should earn an A.  They get the skill, can apply it, and can explain it.  What wouldn't they get an A.
    4. Don't assign points to the problems.  Instead, look at the questions that apply to a topic.  How did they do.  Then think about that in terms of #1 - #3 above.  Where would the student fit?  This portion takes a good deal of training to understand but makes grading not only more accurate but easier.
Testing is immensely important.  However, too many teachers see it as the end when in reality should be the beginning.  It is important for students to do well but in the end, don't we need to alter our instruction to fix issues students have had.  Having a test that encourages that is a major step in moving education forward.  

The problem is it takes a long time and a lot of training to do right.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Moving Forward!

I just had a meeting with the DPI where we were discussing things from a research committee in Boston.  The talk is clear - Mathematical Thinking and Higher level enrichment's.  We are on the right track.  This was followed by an excellent inservice with teachers where we were weighing the pros and cons of different programs - skills based that we need to add thinking to or project based where we will more than likely need to supplement skill.

These discussions are immensely important.  I am just glad they are happening in the district.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

What is Wisconsin thinking?

In response to the craziness that is happening on capital hill in regards to the CCSS and at watchdog.com...

  • Everyone needs to understand that we had our own set of standards. These are more rigorous. Significantly at the upper end in that ALL students need to essentially pass Algebra 2 which is the top math course required by all 4-year schools not named Madison (which wants pre-calc...not calculus).
    The standards do not dictate instruction or impede students from moving "faster" than the core. In fact, in the Appendix of the CCSS for math the even direct an advancement course that would allow all students to get to calc (even though only 8ish percent of college majors require calc. It integrates statistics because almost all majors require stats.
    This is good for schools and Wisconsin. With the mobility of the nation we need a national set of minimum expectations for all students. That is what we have.

    Wednesday, September 25, 2013


    After tough days trying to figure it out today was a day of success.  In the past week 4 of the PLC's all tried strong math tasks to find huge success.

         - Pre-Algebra used a version of Dan Meyers taco cart
         - Algebra 1 created a task using Goliath.  Great Americas new coaster.
         - Algebra 2 created a task dealing with different shipping rates.
         - AP Statistics created a task that involved the game show "Minute ti Win It."

    Those fully completed noted tons of engagement and really good questioning.  One even said "kids who didn't really talk thus year became leaders!"  This us why we do TASKS.  Now, the great questions that followed:

          - how long is too long to use class time for a task?
    Depends on its purpose.  Is it a review of knowledge?  Then not too long.  However, if ur is increasing depth and the level of engagement and knowledge still being gained is deep, then keep going.  Can it serve as a summatives assessment?  Most teachers fight this due to the need for skill but uf the skill is embedded in the task then doesn't that make it ok?

          - how much information should we give students?
    The less the better.  However, more at the start of the year than the end.  Students are still mostly new to tasks.  We need to train them how to do them are what our expectations are of the product.

          - how far should we take the task?
    Simple, as far as students allow you to take it.

    All these tasks will soon be posted on the blog site. Check them out and key me know how we Dan make them better!

    Thursday, September 12, 2013

    It's all a big pile of knowledge

    I had the opportunity to walk the halls today talking to teachers fighting through the learning process of a new curriculum.  Mostly great reviews, "just a lot of really good options to choose from and not sure which to choose."  However, as I talked to more teachers and updated a few Principals it became more evident how vital PD is.  

    This may seem obvious but PD time is extremely hard to come by.  In math, especially in Elementary we are always working with ELA for PD time.  But can we do it better?  We need to teach everyone (teachers and administration) what it really means to have a standards based assessment.  That math assessments aren't always correct or incorrect,  that there are degrees of accuracy within those ranges.  That if teachers don't expect a specific level of quality in students mathematical writing they won't see the growth in writing they are looking for and with the new assessments students scores will be sacrificed.  That learning math doesn't just mean fluency, it means thinking in a manner that allows students to understand how to become fluent.  That enrichment should happen to all students, not just the those performing well.  That projects are not designed to be an end of topic item but something that students can slowly work on throughout an entire topic or set of topics.  

    Is this just Math PD?  Absolutely not.  This is just high quality instruction at its best.  Too often we get stuck in a manner of teaching that tends to be how we were taught.  It is doubtful that we were instructed through the lens of the mathematical practices, yet that is exactly what we have to do.  The CCSS has changed the game for the better.  It is up to districts to find a way to give teachers the time to catch up.  

    In reality, math is easy.  Teach to the mathematical practices while assessing to the standards and meeting the needs of our students through remediation and enrichment.  

    Sounds easy...to bad it isn't.

    Tuesday, September 10, 2013

    WMC 2013

    In a google search for Math Tasks I ran into a video of myself doing a presentation at the WI Math Conference in 2013.  Not sure my thoughts on me,  but I liked the content enough to post it.

    Tuesday, September 3, 2013

    What exactly is Mathematical Thinking?

    One of the comments I receive is, "Mathematical Thinking, what is that?"  I am going to steal part of a blog at Delvin's Anlge.  

    "What is mathematical thinking, is it the same as doing mathematics, if it is not, is it important, and if it is different from doing math and important, then why is it important? The answers are, in order, (1) I’ll tell you, (2) no, (3) yes, and (4) I’ll give you an example that concerns the safety of the nation. If you had any difficulty following that first paragraph (only two sentences, each of pretty average length), then you are not a good mathematical thinker. If you had absolutely no difficulty understanding the paragraph, then either you are already a good mathematical thinker or you could acquire that ability pretty quickly. "

    Mathematical Thinking is not doing traditional math problems or doing higher arithmetic. It is logic, it is sequencing, it is patterns, it is being able to think your way out of a box. Mathematical Thinking is a skill that is so highly sought that employers will pay decent money to anyone with a math major or minor. It is also something that is becoming so rare that those majors/minors are 14 of the top 15 majors on a recent ThinkAdvisor article declared as "Hot Majors." It is problem solving at its core. Not book problem solving but life problem solving.  

    But how do we do that in the classroom. We engage students in activities that entice them into thinking they are doing one thing when in reality they are developing a way of thinking. Many would correlate these to logic puzzles, Ken Kens, Zupelz... But they are so much more. Here is a very simple example that a 4th grader should be able to do. A beginners version of Mathematical Thinking for this prompt would be counting 6 books for each box and adding them. A better Mathematical Thinker would setup a multiplication array. In this example, students are asked to play a game. A student who shows basic Mathematical Thinking would realize they need to leave their opponent with 4 coins. A student showing strong Mathematical Thinking realizes they already won when there are 16 coins left, or better, declares winning after the first move (It happened to me, note - not by me!).

    As a teacher, what can you do to get students to think this way? That is actually the easy part.

    1. Expose students to this style of problem.
    2. Don't scaffold problems beyond the learning. Typically, we want to help every student. So much that we have a tendency to take the learning steps out of the problem entirely.
    3. Allow students to struggle. Note - struggle, not get frustrated.
    4. Allow students to work in groups. Talking among others helps connect their thoughts together.
    5. Help students when struggling by giving them one prompt. Then walking away to let them think some more.
    This is hard to do because, like stated earlier we like to help students. Seeing them struggle and sometimes fail ultimately makes us feel like we haven't done our job. On the contrary, it probably means we just need to find the right prompt to get the student to move forward.

    Wednesday, August 28, 2013


    This may sound a little like venting but I truly don't mean it to.  We have recently adopted a national publisher for grades 3-5 mathematics.  I love the program because it provides us with strong number sense building blocks but force fluency.  This program does an excellent job with remediation but as with all programs, it does an OK job of enrichment and thinking mathematically.  

    Therefore we are doing what anyone would do with a "program."  We are making it our own.  We are adding pieces such as Mathematical Thinking, true DOK 3 Enrichment and pieces called Writing to Learn.  This can be found under the Mathematical Tasks link on the right (it is a new page - there is not a lot there yet).  We are also reorganizing our assessments to be truly standards based and having the ability to determine if a student understands and can demonstrate understanding at the standard level (3) or above the standard level (4).

    So, as we unveil these modifications I continually hear, "Why did we buy the program if it wasn't good enough?"  I just want to ask "What does it mean to be good enough?"  Does it mean that we cannot make it better?  Does it mean that we will accept a base level of understanding?  Does it mean that we will accept the results we get even though we know we can do better because we can customize to our own students?  

    We are producing these options because they provide us with true differentiation in the classroom.  Teachers can choose how best to meet the needs of their different learners without having to create the resources.  Most of the enrichment in this program is decent - but too scaffolded.  We just tear it apart.  Nationally based programs serve as a foundational program.  They are something to build off of not something that should be the "holy grail" of math.  They are not designed for that.  They are designed to meet the needs of as many districts as possible making sure they hit all the "Hot words" that are in education at this time.  Our job is to turn these programs into something outstanding.  Basically, don't screw up what they have but make it better.

    So for all those out there saying "why are we changing" the answer is "Why not!"  Its whats best for kids!

    Monday, August 26, 2013

    Calculator or not to Calculator...That is the Question

    While training with Elementary teachers last week I brought up the idea of having no calculators in Elementary Grades.  This was met with depressed faces, shocked expressions, and a few smiles.  This just goes to show the varying feelings on such a simple tool.  
    Here are my thoughts...A calculator is nothing more than a tool.  Tools, as with anything when used in the appropriate manner are useful.  If not, they inhibit the actual progress.  Both the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium and the PARCC have decided to not allow calculators up through grade 5.  In grade 6 they each allow a 4-function calculator on specific questions.  The TIMMS test bans calculators in grade 4 and the NAEP only allows calculators on specific questions.  So, if all those assessments that have been developed by massive consortium's with all the best minds working together don't allow calculators, why do we?
    Here is why we might.  If we eliminate the calculator from the assessments, why would we allow one in the classroom?  This in turn will force our questions to involve lower numbers for easier calculations making the problems less rigorous and far less "real."  There is merit to this argument.  Real, honest merit.
    The compromise...we use calculators only for those problems that involve realistic problems that the size of the numbers is inhibiting the learning.  For example, data analysis on a large set of numbers where the goal is the process of the analysis not the number crunching.  That is, if the standard you are assessing deals with calculations...no calculator.  If the standard deals with a process of understanding...calculators may be allowed if the problem is in a real-world context.  Math Practice 5 states calculators as one of the tools of mathematics.  We cannot ignore the importance of a calculator.  However, the more calculator use we allow, the less fluency we will see.  This has to be a planned implementation of the tool.  

    To sum everything up:

    • No calculators on elementary assessments except for the SBA Collaborative Question (that is the only question that is "real" enough.
    • No calculators for homework.
    • Calculators can be used on the Enrichment,  Projects, and the SBA Collaborative question.

    Thursday, August 8, 2013

    "The Standard Algorithm"

    While presenting in Stoughton, one of the teachers mentioned that last week at a math conference they talked about "the standard algorithm" noted in the CCSS is not what is perceived as the traditional algorithm.

    I am struggling with this interpretation in that the language specifically used by the CCSS (which they were VERY careful with their language) states "the" which means one and standard which would imply it is used by everyone. The WI DPI states that "the best clarification is 'efficient'. The point is that students understand number and place value, not just digit manipulation." While I agree 100% that the point is to understand the concept not just manipulate a procedure, it seems to arbitrary and hopeful that the traditional algorithm is not the standard algorithm.

    Personally, I am a much larger fan of partial sums and partial products. However, those are by no means "standard."  That said, I would encourage teachers to teach both methods.  Students need to understand concepts and the method they most understand a concept through will not be consistent with all students.  Differentiation is the key.  

    Sunday, August 4, 2013

    Starting to put it together

    Finally, it seems that in the process of preparing PD for districts and setting up things for my own I have started to put together the summary sheet I have been trying to do for a year.  It can be found on this blog under Collection of Mathematical Tasks.

    On the sheet are tasks, lesson enhancements, projects and other instructional tools that I have vetted.  It is organized by grade level and CCSS Standard.  Also, I am working on a rating system that all can view.  If you have something you want to add, feel free to send it my way.  Also, let me know your thoughts.  It has a long way to go.  Throughout the year more items will be added.

    Wednesday, July 24, 2013

    Ramping up to the starting line

    In trying to get my blog up and going effectively, I need to know what would work for posting tasks.  My thought is to attach them to a CCSS standard so they can be cataloged for easy reference but in doing that it may make it too narrow.  That is, someone may not see the item because the standard isn't linked even though that item may jog their brain to be creative in a different way.

    Not sure which way to do it.


    Wednesday, May 15, 2013

    Ramping up for Professional Development

    As I plan and get ready for summer PD, I can't help but think there needs to be much more PD.  We can setup the best program in the world but without proper instructional techniques to back up the program, what is the point.  We are getting ready to implement a new elementary program for next year and prior to it going into place I want to see all the assessments created, enrichment at multiple levels (that is of good quality), enhanced writing skills, and strong remediation.

    For most elementary teachers, the remediation is easy to do.  It is typically what they are best at.  However, enrichment is seen as an after thought and the instructional release of responsibility that goes with all of it is a tough road to climb.

    So my question is this.  What is more important. 
         A strong instructional program that the best will soar with and the average teacher will do just fine.
         Strong instructional techniques that all teachers know what to do but how they do that is very inconsistent.

    I choose both but fight this fight on a regular basis.

    Friday, May 3, 2013

    WMC Day 2

    Just got home from the WMC.  Some really strong offerings this year.  I especially like NCTM president Linda Gojak.  She spoke about the mathematical practices.  It confirmed my thoughts and only allowed to take things a little deeper.  I strongly believe in tasks as entry points in a classroom, as enrichment, and as application.  However, while walking through the vendor area it is amazing what they feel are still tasks.

    I want to see literacy, engagement, visuals, etc...  Publishers still give make believe problems sets.  I would think that would be harder to do than actual tasks.  Maybe they will get there someday.  Until then, send me your tasks and I will gladly add them to the database being developed.  I might modify them or reformat but I will get them on there.

    Wednesday, May 1, 2013

    WMC 2013

    Saw some great Ignite sessions tonight - a rap to the different levels of DOK, lots on engaging students with tasks and great discussion about the SBAC.  The common theme is reading,  reading, and more reading.  If we don't engage students in reading math,  then they will not succeed on the SBAC.

    More to come tomorrow.  Hopefully seeing sessions on more tasks, the  daily 5 for math and presenting my own on we to begin and focus on when moving towards the CCSS.

    Monday, March 18, 2013

    As more and more articles on the CCSS come out, it pains me to see peoples reaction.  Mostly due to the fact that they are not reacting to the CCSS but to the SMARTER Balanced Assessment. I agree, the SBAC is going to be painful.  However, on page 6 of the ELA Standards it states that the "Standards define what all students are expected to know and be able to do, not how teachers should teach."

    While I may not agree with everything in regards to the CCSS and its alignment.  I like it.  It makes sense.  It pushes kids farther and in a manner that I can assess especially in grades K-8ish.  We recently were revising our 3rd grade curriculum to meet the standards and what I felt was the rigor the grade should be at.  The rigor was determined by reading the CCSS, lots of released articles and yes the SBAC.  However, it was mostly determined by what kids needed to know and the depth that would help them move forward with that information.  Teachers questioned the rigor level.  What is needed to be known is that the rigor was embedded in quality mathematical tasks.  We heard things like "they can't think at that level," or "they are never even going to know where to begin."  Now, after having the teachers go through it we hear things like "I never thought it possible but I am not going back to what we had."

    Kids can meet the needs of the CCSS and the SBAC.  Just don't let the SBAC drive your instruction.  Do what you feel is right for them and most importantly engage them in something that is useful.

    Friday, January 4, 2013

    How to enrich kids lives in math?

    I spend a lot of time, probably more than is healthy, thinking about making math class more engaging, more exciting and most importantly more of a learning experience.  To that end I talk to professionals about incorporating application (Tasks) as the start of the learning process, not just the end project.

    As a K-12 coordinator and supervisor of teachers, this is such a drastic shift that the timeline to incorporating front loaded tasks into the curriculum is painfully slow.  Is this because the CCSS, RTI, etc... have all hit big at the same time?  Is this because teachers teach what they have always taught?  Is this because the expectations in a classroom are so tight in regards to timelines that teachers physically cannot fit it in?  Is it because in certain years of math the application is not the easiest to re-create or to even come up with (the stepping stones in Algebra 2).

    We could come up with hundreds of excuses but the plain truth is that enabling students to see where and how the math could actually be used is, to steal from commercials, "priceless."  Without that authentic application students struggle to retain information.

    I could go on, it is a frustrating day and my venting is always the need for better instruction quicker.  Any thoughts?