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Maine leads once again with Common Core pilot

The pilot uses online double-blind scoring to grade student essays.

With Common Core State Standards (CCSS) now on 44 state agendas, it’s time to start thinking implementation. But leaders are saying it takes more than vendor press releases and simple classroom curriculum supplements—it takes research and a focus on teaching—and one state is leading the way in 21st century learning…again.

Maine, already known for its Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) and successful 1-to-1 computing program, is now in a unique collaboration with the University of Southern Maine’s research center and a Portland-based educational software company, AcademicMerit.

The collaboration will explore the use of technology-based solutions to help schools meet the demand of the CCSS through a pilot involving more than 23 schools, more than 30 teachers, and almost 1,500 students from districts all over Maine.

“Last year was frenetic, with states and districts making promises and submitting proposals left and right,” said Ogden Morse, chief executive of AcademicMerit and an English teacher on leave from Falmouth High School in Maine. “This year is what I refer to as ‘the pregnant pause,’ with many of those same folks asking, ‘So how are we actually going to do what we promised?’ As a result, right now, there are a lot of people in search of ‘what works.’ This pilot is an opportunity for the rest of the country to point in our direction and say ‘Well, look at what’s going on in Maine…’”

And though ultimately the goal of CCSS implementation is to improve student learning outcomes, one of the pilot’s main professional development goals is to help teachers assess student work.

During the pilot, which began in February and ends in early June, classes use AcademicMerit’s products, called Literary Companion (LC) and Assessments21 (A21)—a suite of online tools targeting English/Language Arts in grades 7-12.

LC aims to help students deepen their understanding of literature and non-fiction, vocabulary, and reading and writing skills by offering interactive, technology-based supplements to the curriculum. Classes use LC for an entire literature unit, and the program also can be used outside of class for homework.

Assessments21 generates classroom-based formative and summative assessment data that help teachers inform instruction. It is this assessment process that truly makes the program unique, company reps said.

“In the CCSS era, we teachers essentially have to know the anchor standards for both reading and writing (and their grade-specific benchmarks)—and then make sure we are improving student performance on them,” Morse said. “Well, the only way to know whether students are improving is to be able to measure their performance on an ongoing basis against those anchor standards. That’s a challenge.”

Double-blind method

The revolutionary part of the pilot comes from the double-blind scoring and A21 assessments.

Both students and teachers are asked to create an account through AcademicMerit, with a login name and password. When the first essay is assigned, students submit the essay through their accounts.

The student essay is then graded by scorers who are part of AcademicMerit and who do not know specific student information. A first scorer grades the essay based on the CCSS specifications of thinking, content, organization, style, and mechanics. Each category has a six-point scale, and a four or better is a passing grade.

Then the essay goes to a second scorer, who doesn’t know student information or the first score given to the essay. The essay is then delivered to the teacher. Each score for each specification includes a detailed explanation as to why the score was given.

After this first round of assessments, teachers are required to go through the online score-calibration system, or AcademicMerit’s beta PD program. Here, the teacher is asked to grade an essay provided by AcademicMerit based on the accompanying rubric. The teacher’s scores must generally align with other authorized scorers’ assessments of the essay.

Once the teacher’s scoring of an essay matches those of AcademicMerit’s authorized scorers, the teacher then becomes an authorized scorer for AcademicMerit.

Each teacher is required to score the number of student essays equal to twice the number of students he or she has participating in the study.

According to Peter Vose, English chair at Falmouth High School and pilot participant, seeing the scores of the other readers helps to maintain fair and objective standards by which to judge and grade student work.

“I found that I did not agree with all of the scores, and my eMail to the company asking for clarification was answered quickly and persuasively. I asked my student to reflect on their work and their scores, and nearly all agreed with the scorers’ assessments,” said Vose.

He continued: “The other assessments we have used, such as SAT’s NWEA’s and Accuplacer, simply provide a number with little of the detail that AcademicMerit scores provide.”

“The consortia working on the common assessments due to launch in 2014 have stated clearly that they see classroom-based interim assessments as a key element of the larger system,” said Jeff Mao, learning technology policy director at the Maine Department of Education. “AcademicMerit’s tools have the potential to be a model of just that for 7-12 ELA. What better place than Maine to evaluate that potential?”

Research and beyond

Throughout the pilot, student and teacher progress will be monitored and teachers will be asked to complete comprehensive surveys and possibly participate in focus groups.

The aim of the research will be to understand how technology can best improve learning in conjunction with the CCSS, and, also, to provide a working example of how states and schools can collaborate with private companies to embrace the CCSS.

The results of the study are expected in late June or early July.

“Since the data in our programs generate…practical value, I foresee opportunities for us to collaborate on a more formal basis with states, like Maine, seeking to test or implement the sort of system we represent,” said Morse. “Already, we are in discussions with large districts like Cobb County, Ga., about implementation plans that could be a model for others.”

“Simply put, this is the next step,” said former Maine governor Angus King, whose administration championed the state’s laptop initiative. “Computers in the classroom alone were never going to transform learning and instruction. These programs will, because they use that technology to deliver outstanding academic content that is better than anything I’ve seen to date.”

Mao said this type of pilot is inspiring because AcademicMerit began with a teacher–Morse–who saw an opportunity.

“Part of MLTI’s mission is to spur economic development for the state, and if other student-centered, comprehensive resources develop, and the data is good, we’ll of course, try to leverage these types of resources,” he said.

Already, vendors around the country are promoting their resources for the implementation of the CCSS: iParadigms’ Turnitin, dataMetrics’ TestWiz, Ascend Education’s Ascend Math, and Key Curriculum Press’ Key Math Strategists.



AcademicMerit’s CCSS alignment analysis (PDF)

Turnitin’s CCSS alignment (PDF)

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