Smarter Balanced Assessments 28

College Content Readiness

While preparing to draft yet another long overdue and perhaps forthcoming soon Smarter Balanced Assessments post, I stumbled upon Comments on Revised Achievement Level Descriptors dated February 21, 2013. This document contains comments from faculty at the University of Iowa, the University of Northern Iowa, Iowa State University, and Hawkeye Community College regarding the SBAC achievement level descriptors.

I have no idea if any of these comments have been, or will be, adequately addressed by SBAC as they work on setting cut scores for achievement level descriptors this fall, but they raise important issues about the value of the SBAC “college content readiness” designation.

The comments indicate that there is a significant mismatch between the SBAC definition of college content readiness in math (prepared for College Algebra, designated as Math:1005 (22M:008) at the University of Iowa) and Iowa regents institutions, at which many majors have higher level mathematics courses as expected entry-level, first year coursework (see a listing of here for the University of Iowa). The college content readiness mismatch is so great that UNI suggested that the term “high school fluent” be used instead (Comments, p. 9); ISU suggested that students be designated “proficient for 12th grade work” rather than college ready, at least until Smarter Balanced Assessments have been in use long enough to determine whether the assessments are in fact accurately predicting readiness for entry-level, credit bearing coursework (Comments, p. 18).

Another issue highlighted in the comments is that the Smarter Balanced Assessments will not be assessing the “Plus Standards”, which are the additional Common Core standards intended to prepare students for coursework in calculus, advanced statistics, or discrete mathematics (SBAC Math ALDs, p. x). Even if the Smarter Balanced Assessments level 3 and 4 achievement level descriptor cut scores accurately predict readiness for college algebra (which remains to be seen), they will provide no guidance to parents and students as to whether the student is adequately prepared for the higher level mathematics courses STEM/business majors are expected to be prepared to take their first semester in order to graduate in four years.

Your Robocall Needs Work

Scott McLeod is celebrating the 8th anniversary of his blog, Dangerously Irrelevant, with Leadership Day 2014. Last year I contributed a post on school and district websites, Your Website Needs Work.

I know that there are a lot of interesting discussions to be had about technology in the classroom, but as a parent, I would urge school administrators–as technology leaders in their buildings and districts–to allocate some time to thinking about how technology can be used to facilitate (or hamper!) communication with parents and the broader community.

Dear School Administrator,

Last night, for the first time since my child has been enrolled in your school, I hung up on a robocall from you. I hated to do it, but it was the third time in a week that you had called to remind me about the ice cream social and experienced technical difficulties with recording or transmitting your message. Specifically, part way through your message, the message began again at the greeting. Earlier in the week, I listened to your message restart twice(!) so that I could hear it all the way to the end. But last night, I’d had enough and suspected that there was no new information I would miss out on if I hung up.

I am genuinely sorry that it has come to this, that your number popping up on my caller-id screen is starting to leave me with the same feeling of dread with which I face calls from telemarketers and well-meaning campaign volunteers reminding me to get out and vote.

So I want you to know that my child has had a great experience at your school and we are looking forward to another great school year, which is another way of saying that we have positive feelings about you and your school and we want to keep it that way! Improving your robocall (and other technology-facilitated communication) skills should be on your to-do list this year, and here’s why: because my child is doing well at your school (and because I use Twitter but not Facebook and you use Facebook but not Twitter!), robocalls are the only communication I have ever had from you.

Even before the recent technical difficulties, your robocalls were overly long and overly frequent (though I admit, my perspective on this may have been colored by the sheer number of weather-related delays, early outs, and cancellations we had this past school year).

The length, quality, and frequency of robocalls seems like an ideal topic to take up with your PLN (you do have one, don’t you?). Perhaps they would be willing to listen to a few of your recordings and give you constructive feedback on how they might be improved. From my perspective, I will offer that while I appreciate your efforts to sound warm, friendly, and welcoming, that robocalls should probably be approached like all other voice mail messages–because this is essentially what they are–so please, be short and to the point.

Perhaps they would also be willing to share how often and for what purposes they find it effective to use robocalls to communicate with parents.

Perhaps, they could offer other suggestions for using technology to communicate with parents, like effective use of e-mail and Twitter, neither of which you use to communicate with me. (Hint: you can use Twitter to post links to the school’s Facebook page and e-mail is good for longer, more detailed messages).

Don’t overlook teacher-librarians, either, if you don’t have any in your PLN. The ones in our district are tech-savvy and probably could offer some suggestions for improving your technology-facilitated communication with parents–I know, because I follow several of them on Twitter!

Finally, without delay, please talk to someone to resolve your technical difficulties with robocalling before you record your next message. Then I can look forward to answering my phone to find out from you what’s going on at school.

Sincerely, Karen W

Follow Leadership Day 2014 on Twitter at #leadershipday14

Comments on Common Core

Cranberry on Common Core at Joanne Jacobs:

I think the ed reformers perceived the nation’s school system to be a unified whole, which could be ruled from above. That’s not true, as they’re now discovering. From a great height, lowering the standards for the most able children may seem to be an adequate tradeoff for raising the standards for the struggling and neglected.

Unfortunately, they didn’t try to get parent buy-in on that point. Do you think it would have been possible to get parents to agree to short-change their children? I don’t. All the condescending assertions in the world can’t cover up the fact that the Common Core does not raise standards for the children for whom the current system works. And assertions that schools are not required to treat the Common Core standards as a ceiling, that they are free to offer more advanced courses, ignores the pragmatic facts that schools will never have enough money, and that the very idea of tracking is anathema to many school personnel.

The most advanced children tend to have the most educated parents. The most educated parents pay attention to their children’s curricula and school systems. They know how to organize. They know how politics work. All politics are local.

Steve H on Common Core at Kitchen Table Math:

Unfortunately, there are a number of very different reasons why people don’t like CC and that confuses the national discussion. It’s stuck. Nobody wants to go back and study the philosophy and assumptions of CC.

The biggest flaw of CC is that it’s one-size-fits all – “college readiness”. Staring them in the face are all of the high schools that offer different levels of courses where college readiness is not just one thing. In fact, now that everyone is supposed to go to college, college readiness really only means graduating from high school so that you don’t have to take remedial courses in college. Gates (etal) can provide the “and beyond” to their kids, but not worry about others because they get “college readiness.”

I think there is an awful national mindset towards relative improvements in education. Educational leaders see the job as improving average statistics, not providing individual opportunities. This is a control and status quo issue. They don’t want to let parents into the process, but parents care about individuals while others care about statistics.

Smarter Balanced Assessments 27

Iowa has withdrawn from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. Now what?

Aside from the fact that Iowa will not be participating as a governing state in establishing achievement level cut scores this fall, as a practical matter, not much has changed.

Neither the Governor nor the Director of the Iowa Department of Education has the authority to choose the statewide accountability assessment. The Iowa Legislature has retained the authority to choose the statewide accountability assessment and is awaiting recommendations from the Assessment Task Force, established by HF215, which are due by January 1, 2015.

The Smarter Balanced Assessments and the Next Generation Iowa Assessments, being developed by the Iowa Testing Program, are the two assessments that remain under consideration by the Task Force.

The Smarter Balanced Assessments item bank can be used by non-member states; withdrawal from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium does not preclude the Iowa Legislature adopting either the Smarter Balanced Assessments or an assessment created using Smarter Balanced items.

As a political matter, it seems that something has changed, it just isn’t yet clear to me what. Has executive branch support for the Smarter Balanced Assessments actually weakened or is something else going on? I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.

Shane Vander Hart at Caffeinated Thoughts broke the news on Iowa withdrawing from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. He plans to update his blog post as new information comes in.

EdWeek reported on this story at Iowa Announces Withdrawal From Smarter Balanced Testing Group.

See the Iowa House Republican Newsletter (page 6) for additional coverage.


Montessori in Iowa

The Iowa State Board of Education is scheduled to consider an application from the American Montessori Society to be approved as an independent accrediting agency for Iowa nonpublic schools at 1:45 pm today.

The Department of Education has recommended that the Board approve the application and “grant AMS authority to accredit nonpublic schools in the state of Iowa.”

A Montessori presentation was made at the April 11th meeting of the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners. From the Board minutes (page 5, lines 8-12):

The board will further discuss Montessori programs, including practitioner preparation, licensing and nontraditional preparation options. There will also be future discussion about the possibility to adopt criteria for Montessori education program practitioner endorsements.

Montessori has been part of Iowa’s education landscape for over fifty years, with Montessori programs located in communities across the state from Council Bluffs to Davenport and Dubuque. Iowa has one public Montessori program, Des Moines Public Schools’ Cowles Montessori, which serves students in preschool through grade 8.