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, 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.