Common Core test items ready for online practice

PARCC, one of two state consortia designing online Common Core exams, has posted sample test items for students to experience by computer

online-testTeachers in 18 states and the District of Columbia have new resources to help them prepare their students for online Common Core testing: The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), one of two state consortia that are designing online Common Core exams, has posted sample test items for every grade level on the testing platform that students will use when taking the field test later this spring.

That means teachers, students, parents, and others will be able to try sample test items using computer-based tools such as drag-and-drop, multiple select, text highlighting, and an equation builder. PARCC also has released online tutorials that demonstrate how students will navigate the exam; how to use the computer-based tools; and features that make the exam more accessible for all students, including those with disabilities and English language learners.

“This spring’s field test will allow us to try out PARCC test questions, ensure the questions are aligned to the content area they cover, and build the best test we can,” said Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell D. Chester, who serves as chair of the PARCC Governing Board.

Chester said the Jan. 22 release of fully functional sample PARCC test questions “will allow schools and students to experience and become comfortable with the new testing format in advance of the field test.”

The sample questions previously were available only as downloadable printouts. They are similar to the types of test items that students will see when the online exam is fully operational in spring 2015, PARCC says. Users are encouraged to try out items across all grade levels and provide feedback; the sample items will not be scored.

The PARCC field tests, slated to begin in late March, are designed to make sure the test items and the technology function correctly, and to work out any glitches that might occur.

The 18 state members of PARCC are Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Tennessee.


Students need stronger college, workforce skills

Elementary, middle school students could develop better research and critical thinking skills

students-skillsStudents are comfortable using technology, but they often lack important research and information literacy skills, according to a new survey that aims to gauge students’ skills in areas critical to college and workplace success.

Statistics from previous surveys indicate that U.S. students may not be well-equipped to compete with their peers from other countries.

In fact, The College Board’s 2013 SAT Report on College and Career Readiness indicates that 57 percent of high school grads do not meet the college- and career-readiness benchmark.

(Next page: How students performed)


What everybody should know about online learning environments

Creating blended/online learning courses is now easier than ever, but there is a growing problem. The diversity of resources now available will actually hamper effective teaching, and thus learning, in the near future.


Blended learning requires an effective delivery system. A web based solution that allows courses to be structured effectively, is easy to use and has a range of educationally useful features is vital.

Products that meet these needs have evolved rapidly, and have grown well beyond what used to be called Learning Management Systems (LMSs). Some are probably better described as Online Learning Environments (OLE).

Online resources have also proliferated and matured. There are now many, many useful resources to extend and supplement learning. These range from simple resource repositories to adaptive learning sites that shape themselves to the needs of the individual student.

Hence the problem. Organizations that use a range of these specialist sites usually have to duplicate their management of students and teachers; they have to create independent logins and passwords for each student and teacher, and also have to organize these users into courses or classes. This is not a problem from a vendor viewpoint.

However, for an educational institution it is a growing management problem. Imagine a student who studies four courses/subjects. Imagine that each course/subject uses two additional online resources to supplement the courses in their OLE. This is eight additional user names, passwords and web sites to remember. Additionally, an organization may have dozens of sites requiring user management as faculties increase their resources…and the number will grow.

(Next page: Blended/online learning solutions)


7 ways to prepare incoming teachers for blended learning

Expert tells teachers it’s not about technology; blended learning is a mindset

teachers-blended-learningIn keeping with the recent professional development reform of focusing less on technology skills that are constantly changing and more on mindset and 21st century pedagogy, the key to training incoming teachers for a school utilizing blended learning is not how to use the software, but more ‘what does the school hope to accomplish with blended learning?’

“What you’re basically training pre-service teachers to do is plan schooling backwards,” explained Dr. Tim Hudson, senior director of curriculum design at DreamBox Learning and former K-12 math curriculum coordinator and district strategic planning facilitator at Parkway Schools.

According to Hudson, there are eight things incoming teachers should consider for the implementation and use of blended learning in schools, and none of them have to do with Step 1: Turn on computer.

(Next page: 8 ways to prepare incoming teachers)


Schools need models for linking data, practice

Data-driven decision making must be an ongoing process, a new federal report says.

Data-driven decision making must be an ongoing process, a new federal report says.

States and school systems are making significant progress in building educational data systems and are starting to use these systems to improve student achievement, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Education (ED). But school leaders are still searching for examples of how best to connect student data to instructional practices, the report says.

“Data should be part of a feedback loop used to drive improvement at every level of the education system. This study helps us understand the kinds of data that need to be available for teachers and school leaders if they’re going to use data to improve their practice,” said Carmel Martin, assistant secretary for ED’s Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development.

In “Use of Education Data at the Local Level: From Accountability to Instructional Improvement,” researchers surveyed officials from 529 districts, conducted in-depth site visits to 36 schools in 12 districts that are leading the way in data usage, and analyzed secondary data from a survey of more than 6,000 teachers to get a national view of current data-use practices at the local level.

Major findings from the report include:

(1) Districts are much more likely to have electronic systems with data such as student demographics and test scores than to have the ability to combine data from different types of systems or to link instructional resources to achievement data.

More than 90 percent of the districts surveyed reported having electronically stored data on student demographics and attendance, student grades, student test scores on statewide assessments, and student course enrollment histories. In contrast, less than half of districts have electronic data systems that allow them to link outcomes to processes as required for continuous improvement.

For example, only 42 percent of districts can generate data reports showing student performance linked to participation in specific instructional programs, and just over a third (38 percent) can execute queries concerning student performance linked to teacher characteristics.

(2) Schools in districts that emphasize the use of formative assessments were more likely than other schools to show an increase in data use from year to year, and they also provided the most striking examples of positive changes in teachers’ instructional practices.

(3) School leaders said the most common barriers that keep them from using data to improve instruction include a lack of time to analyze the data, systems that are difficult to use, and the inclusion of data in the system that are not useful. In addition, they said strict district policies regarding the pacing of curriculum coverage can prevent teachers from going back to reteach content that their students have not yet mastered.

(4) Teachers who were surveyed identified the following problems with the quality of the data available to them: delays in receiving information on their students, lack of alignment with standards, lack of alignment with the school’s instructional approach, and a lack of longitudinal data on their students.

(5) Having a common set of assessments that everyone teaching the same content gives to their students at about the same time encourages teachers to sit down and share both their data and their teaching strategies.

When several teachers have given the same recent assessment to their students, they can compare their results to identify strengths and weaknesses at the class level, the report says—something that isn’t possible if teachers assess different content at different times.

The report’s recommendations include the following:


Why support for Common Core is sinking

“Hit the delay button.”  That was the message New York’s senators sent to state Education Commissioner John King during last week’s hearing, the Washington Post reports. Education Committee Chairman John Flanagan made it clear that if King did not act, senators on his panel would.  Senator Maziarz observed that the only Common Core supporters remaining are “yourself (King) and the members of the Board of Regents.”  To make his position crystal clear, Senator Latimer emphatically smacked the table while calling for a delay, likening the rollout of the Common Core to “steaming across the Atlantic” when there are icebergs in the water…

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Teaching the essential skills of the mobile classroom

Think back 20 years, Edutopia reports. Pay phones still worked, and only doctors carried pagers. Laptops weighed as much as bowling balls, and few of us had Internet access. In fact, much of what we now consider commonplace — Google, email, WiFi, texting — was not even possible. If that was 20 years ago, where are we going in the next 20? We are all going mobile! Tablets, smartphones, Chromebooks — and yet, these devices only serve as the most recent iteration of mobile technology in the classroom. Remember Netbooks? How about those old-school Macbooks that looked like toilet seat covers? What if we go back further? What about chalk and slate?

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50 reasons it’s time for smartphones in every classroom

There are many ways to use a smartphone in the classroom, but it continues to be a touchy subject, TeachThought reports. Privacy, equity, bandwidth, lesson design, classroom management, theft, bullying, and scores of other legitimate concerns continue to cloud education’s thinking about how to meaningfully integrate technology in the learning process. To be clear–learning can happen in the absence of technology. Integrated poorly, technology can subdue, distract, stifle, and obscure the kind of personal interactions between learner, content, peer, and performance that lead to learning results…

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Low-income California Latinos get computers from Latino Community Foundation for health, education

As part of a campaign to help increase low-income and monolingual Latinos’ access to online education, as well as health care information, some groups in California are providing personal computers and internet access, the Latino Post reports. One group in the San Francisco Bay Area have made strides, helped by a holiday-time campaign and fund drive. As we’ve reported previously, the Latino Community Foundation partnered this Christmas season with other Latino community nonprofits, as well as the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) with the goal of raising $30,000 to provide low-cost, internet-ready computers to monolingual and low-income Latino families in California…

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