Scott McLeod has posted four big questions to ask about a lesson, unit, or activity. Here’s the third one:

C. Authentic work. Did it allow students to be engaged with and/or make a contribution to the world outside the school walls. Did it really? [If not, why not? Our graduates need to be locally- and globally-active so that they can be positive citizens and contributors to both their community and the larger world.]

There doesn’t seem to be any point to this question unless we assume that studying isn’t inherently the authentic work of students (and why wouldn’t it be?). And that the study of music, art, literature, geography, history, language, math, and science isn’t engagement with the world (it is, isn’t it?). Or that contributions to the community within the school walls don’t count somehow (they do, don’t they?).

Skills That Stand the Test of Time

Or why I’m not caught up in 21st century skills hysteria.

I read Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris a few weeks back. It was a fun read for a person who happens to keep paper dictionaries, pencil sharpeners, and a stash of pencils close at hand. As a reader, and a person who punctuates by ear, I appreciate that there are copy editors out there somewhere, with knowledge of restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses, debating the placement of commas.

[Here’s an article about the importance of a particular comma and a use of quotation marks that gives me pause:


What are we to make of “experts” rather than experts, if anything? Intentional snark or other commentary, or just a proofreading oversight?]

I particularly enjoyed the comparison of the editorial process to making sure that the “tag on the back of your collar isn’t poking up” (page 36). No doubt mine is frequently poking up around here, as blogging (for me) tends to be a bit of a publishing a first draft sort of enterprise.

Norris makes the case for copy editors in a world with spell-checkers. When it isn’t unusual to see educators question the need for teaching computational skills in a world with calculators and general knowledge (“mere facts”) in a world with Google, I hope educators take heed that spelling, grammar, and usage are still worth teaching.

Here’s a snippet from my college writing textbook, The St. Martin’s Guide to Writing (2nd Edition), getting at the same idea, in a somewhat hilarious, in hindsight, pitch for using computer word processors, “a valuable new tool for writers” (page 15-16):

As useful as computers may be, however, it is important to remember that they cannot do the work for us. They can neither compose nor make decisions about revising and editing, although they certainly can make the work easier for us.

Funny now to think that we might have needed to be convinced to give word processors a try!

Interesting, if also somewhat hilarious and familiar, is this caution (page 3):

The United States is now an “information” society, one in which the ability to organize and synthesize information and to write intelligently and effectively is even more important than it was in the past.

As it happens, what you can do with what you know being more important that just what you know isn’t strictly a new 21st century concern. Also not new to the 21st century? Critical thinking, understanding, and active learning.

From pages 2 and 3 of St. Martin’s:

Writing also contributes uniquely to the way we learn. When we take notes during lectures or as we read, writing enables us to sort out the information and to highlight what is important. Taking notes helps us to remember what we are learning and yields a written record that we can review later for tests or essays. Outlining or summarizing new information provides an overview of the subject and also fosters close analysis of it. Annotating as we read by underlining and making marginal comments involves us in conversation–even debate–with the author. Thus, writing makes us more effective learners and critical thinkers.

But writing makes another important contribution to learning. Because it is always a composing of new meaning, writing helps us to find and establish our own networks of information and ideas. It allows us to bring together and connect new and old ideas. Writing enables us to clarify and deepen our understanding of a new concept and to find ways to relate it to other ideas within a discipline. Thus, writing tests, clarifies, and extends understanding.

Writing does still more: it contributes to personal development. As we write we become more potent thinkers and active learners, and we come eventually to a better understanding of ourselves through the recording, clarifying, and organizing of our personal experiences and our innermost thoughts.

Besides contributing to the way we think and learn, writing helps us connect to others, to communicate. The impulse to write can be as urgent as the need to converse with someone siting across the table in a restaurant or to respond to a provocative comment in a classroom discussion. Sometimes we want readers to know what we know; we want to share something new. Sometimes we want to influence our readers’ decisions, actions, or beliefs. We may even want to irritate or outrage readers. Or we may want to amuse or flatter them. Writing allows us to overcome our isolation and to communicate in all of these ways.

It wouldn’t take much to update this for the 21st century, perhaps a reference to the impulse to respond to provocative blog posts and internet comments, and definitely striking suggestions to keep an extra typewriter ribbon handy and the use of scissors and tape, paste, or staplers for revising (page 9).


Questions for Candidates

The candidate filing period for the school board election ends next week (July 30th). Here’s a few things I’m thinking about right now:

In the past year or so, recommendations by the administration for major changes (school start and end times, millions in budget cuts) were announced shortly before decision-making deadlines, leaving little time for public comment or board discussion before they needed to be approved. What is the proper role of the school board (versus the administration) in making these sorts of decisions and what role, if any, does public comment play in ensuring good decisions are made on behalf of the community?

Do you support recent changes to the public comment policy at board meetings?

Do district technology policies adequately protect students? See, for example, Google data-mining of student e-mails and one-year suspension and police referral for use of password provided by teacher. Any concerns about who may have access to all the student data collected for data-driven decision-making?

When budget cuts put priorities in competition with each other (say instructional coaches versus class sizes versus 4th grade orchestra), which priorities will you champion? Or will you rely on recommendations from school administrators?

Legislative priorities and advocacy tend to focus on school funding issues. What other issues, if any (statewide assessment, data privacy?), should the school board be taking a position on and lobbying legislators about.

Are you willing to revisit past school board decisions and, if so, which ones?

What is the most important characteristic of an effective school board member?

Considering a Run For School Board? [updated]

It’s almost time for candidates for school board to start filing nomination petitions and the Iowa Association of School Boards has resources for prospective candidates and has also reposted the video, So You Think You Want to Run for the School Board?

Update: IASB has taken down the video I originally linked here, but has now posted a video of the IASB webinar Ten Tips for the School Board Candidate.

Key dates for 2015:

  • Monday, July 6th is the fist day to file nomination petitions.
  • Thursday, July 30th is the last day to file nomination petitions.
  • Tuesday, September 8th is School Election Day.

Nomination papers are to be filed with the secretary of the Board of Education of the school district (not the county auditor’s office).  Check the county auditor website for signature requirements (generally 1% of the registered voters in the school district or 50 signatures, whichever is less).

Here are links to the Johnson County Auditor’s school election pageICCSD’s school election page, and an old post from this blog, Proper Role of the School Board.

Smarter Balanced Assessments 37


Journalists have been getting an inside look at the process for hand scoring common core exams in recent months:

  • EdSource, on Educational Testing Service’s work scoring SBAC exams in California.
  • EdWeek, on scoring PARCC and SBAC exams, and Pearson’s work scoring PARCC exams in Columbus. [Note the Pearson’s scoring speed expectations: “Those reviewing 3rd grade math, for instance, are expected to score 50 to 80 answers per hour, while raters for 3rd and 4th grade English/language arts responses are expected to complete 20 to 40 per hour, and those scoring high school English/language arts responses are expected to complete 18 to 19 per hour, Pearson officials said.” ]
  • The New York Times, on scoring PARCC and SBAC exams, and Pearson’s work scoring PARCC exams in San Antonio.

In scoring related news, see The Seattle Times on unexplained delays in SBAC scoring, resulting in student scores not being available three weeks after completion of testing as promised (HT: Truth in American Education).


Here is what SBAC reports might look like, courtesy of the California Department of Education, by way of EdSource:

The graphic above shows a sample pre-SBAC report, with sample SBAC reports shown below. The Iowa Assessment reports I receive contain more information than any of these sample reports. College and career readiness information won’t be available until eighth grade (see SBAC models here, HT: Joanne Jacobs).

Technical glitches and participation rates.

EdWeek reports that following technical glitches this spring, only 37% of Nevada students and 76% of Montana students completed computer-based SBAC tests in ELA and math, and only 88% of North Dakota students completed paper or computer-based SBAC tests.

As for participation by states in SBAC, EdWeek reports that Missouri and Maine are dropping the Smarter Balanced assessments, and Connecticut may no longer require high school juniors to take the Smarter Balanced assessments.

Down But Not Out?

The Hawkeye Caucus is highlighting Cathy Welch from the Iowa Testing Programs this week, in an article sent out under the subject line “This Hometown Hawkeye is a national expert in student assessment”. The article describes Welch as a “leader in developing the new assessments that have been proposed to serve her home state and keep up with trends in testing and education.”

Then the article shifts to making the case for the Next Generation Iowa Assessments:

The Next Generation Iowa Assessments are aligned with the Iowa Core. The tests will take students less time to complete and will save Iowans millions of dollars compared to competitor tests.

Iowa Testing Programs (ITP) is a research, development, and outreach unit in the University of Iowa College of Education. For more than 85 years, it has been recognized as one of the world’s best large-scale assessment and educational measurement programs.

Its national and international prominence is a boom to Iowa as it is able to offer the assessments to the state at a subsidized rate, saving taxpayers upwards of $6 million a year.  In addition, its long history of successfully assessing Iowa’s students allows Iowa educators to benefit from extensive longitudinal comparative data.

The Next Generation tests will be available both in traditional paper and pencil form as well as online to adapt to school preferences and resources. ITP also delivers a variety of other assessments at no cost to Iowa taxpayers.

ITP exams are created with help from Iowa teachers. Teacher reviewers are called in each time ITP initiates a new development cycle. ITP leaders invite a diverse group, recruiting teachers from a variety of locations within the state–from small, medium, and large-sized districts; from urban and rural districts; and from teachers with different ethnic backgrounds.