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The SAT’s Shifting Strategies

by Julie 27. March 2014 11:09

Standardized tests are changing left and right, and the SAT is no exception. The test is being updated to align more closely with what students are required to do in high school. While these changes are being made, others will be included as well.


Keeping the Common Core in Mind


Dave Coleman, president of College Board, was also the “architect” of the Common Core, so it is no wonder he has decided to align the SAT more closely to the new standards. This is a smart move. 

•  It makes the SAT more relevant to testing students’ knowledge. 

•  It also makes the Common Core more relevant because it will be used on the SAT, which colleges look at during the admission process.


•  If states actually follow the Common Core, their students should be prepared for the SAT, which leads into the next change.

Leveling the Playing Field

By keeping the Common Core in mind and making a few additional changes, the College Board hopes to reach more lower-income students than in the past. According to Coleman, this country needs more opportunities and the College Board is renewing its commitment to delivering them.
•  Because of the Common Core connection, students should be prepared for the SAT without outside tutoring, SAT-specific lessons, or practice books. (Although, those additional services can still increase test scores.)
•  To prepare test-takers who want more help, the College Board has partnered with Khan Academy to create test-preparation materials. (We have also partnered with Kahn Academy, including some of their lessons in our Show What You Know® Online programs to prepare students for the Common Core or for STAAR with online assessments, lessons, and games.)
•  Income-eligible students will also receive fee waivers to apply to colleges.

Updating the Sections

In order to make the SAT more accessible, some of the sections are being updated in ways other than keeping the Common Core in mind.
•  The dreaded vocabulary section of the SAT will be updated to align closer to what students should already know. This means that it will test their current knowledge. However, there is an advantage to also testing the peculiar and challenging words: it tests college readiness. Students will likely come across words that they don’t know as they read. The current vocabulary section tests their ability to strategize and connect the words to similar words and their context to determine the meaning. While students will love the updates to this section and it will test what they have learned, it takes the strategy out of the test and reduces the test of their college readiness.
•  In addition, the essay will be optional and will be paired with a reading selection. Students will need to explain how the author used certain techniques to get their point across. They will not need to write their own persuasive essay. Students will be recognizing the techniques rather than recalling them and putting them into practice. This decreases the value of the essay because it does not show that the students are able to use what they know, which is needed in college and in many careers.

Taking and Scoring the Test
•  Students will have the option to take the SAT on the computer.
•  Students will no longer lose a 1/4 point when they answer a question wrong. This will encourage students to select the best answer for each question rather than skipping questions.
•  The test will return to a 1600-point scale with the essay being scored separately.

Find out more:
•  At EdNet Insight
•  From the New York Times
•  More from the New York Times
•  From NPR

National Bullying Prevention Month

by Julie 9. October 2013 16:25

Have you ever heard the phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”? As bullying comes into the spotlight more and more, it becomes clear that this saying is not true. Although you may not see physical harm from name-calling or other types of verbal bullying, the effects are still very real. Bullying can negatively affect students’ physical and emotional health, lowering their self-esteem and even threatening their ability to learn.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, providing a perfect reason to discuss all types of bullying with children and teenagers. This topic is not always easy to approach, which may be why it is often discussed in response to something that has already happened rather than in advance as a way to prevent it. Use this month to get ahead of bullying by discussing these issues before they occur!


Teaching and modeling acceptance and compassion can help children understand that differences are not bad and not reasons to avoid or make fun of others. Bullying can occur because students don’t understand each other. Encourage students to interact with people who seem different from them. Introduce your students to students with special needs in your school or city (you could even make an event out of it and have a picnic lunch in a classroom or outside). You could also set up time to volunteer at a local shelter. The more students interact with others who seem different, the more they can connect with each other and accept these differences. Whether or not you can arrange these experiences, be sure to teach your students about various cultures and groups. If you don’t know where to start, you may want to check out our available character education books  (http://ow.ly/pC5L8 ) and culture books (http://ow.ly/pC5Zf ).

In addition to directly teaching about bullying and accepting others, it is a good idea to create a plan to respond to bullying if it occurs. Let your students know that they can come to you to discuss problems they are having with others. Explain to students how they should report bullying to you and how you will handle it (Will it be anonymous? Will you ask the bully to apologize? Will you make them do a good deed to make up for it or read a book about bullying?). Don’t forget to follow-up and make sure that the student has stopped their bullying behavior.

For more information about bullying, ways to talk about it, or ideas about how to handle these situations, visit http://www.stopbullying.gov/ or PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center at http://www.pacer.org/bullying/

WE WANT TO KNOW: Do you see bullying in your classroom? How do you handle it? Does anything in particular work well to prevent it or stop it from happening again? Leave a comment to let us (and your fellow teachers and parents) know!


Fighting School Absences

by Lauren 30. August 2013 16:37

 With schools across the nation now back in session, teachers not only have to focus on curriculum and lesson plans, but they also have to keep track of day- to-day classroom happenings- like students’ tardiness and attendance. Although schools have long promoted class attendance, especially with the overly familiar Perfect Attendance Award (hardly the coolest or most prestigious award to win), class attendance has dropped dramatically over the last few years. In a recent study by Johns Hopkins University, researchers found that up to 15% of American students are chronically absent from school, meaning they missed one day for every ten. 

Similar research has found that 90,000 elementary school students miss more than one month of school each year. Here’s the bottom line: when students miss class frequently, it makes teachers’ jobs much more difficult, and students lose out on the learning time they so desperately need.

To combat the growing problem of chronic absenteeism (missing 10% or 18 days of the school year), the Advertising Council and the U.S. Army have teamed up to form a new campaign to promote attendance. Ads show how frequent absences diminish students’ possibility of graduating. The campaign launched at a critical time. September is now Attendance Awareness Month, a nationwide initiative designed to show students how attendance contributes to higher grades and performance. Plus, since in September students are just getting familiar with classroom policies, it will be easier for teachers to stress the necessity of attendance at this time.

The campaign also appeals to parents, challenging them to think about why their kids miss school. Are their reasons for absences valid? Often parents don’t think attendance is really important until high school, while others don’t keep track of how many days students really miss. Going on vacation for a week, 3 or 4 sick days, and family emergencies all add up. It’s easy to see that parents have the biggest deciding factor in student absences; when 90,000 elementary students miss over a month of school, it’s hard to shift the blame to the youngsters, who have no control over transportation or family vacations.

Unfortunately, only six states and several larger school districts, including those in New York City & Oakland, California, measure chronic absenteeism. This means most schools across the U.S. don’t have the capabilities to track and follow up on student attendance. At most, a letter might get sent home with the student, but who knows if it actually ends up in a parent’s hands. In order to change the lax attitude about absences, students and parents need to have a shift in values, where class attendance and knowledge are a priority.

How is absenteeism handled in your school? If you’re a teacher, have you noticed student absences increase in the last several years? If you’re a parent, what reasons do you have for letting your child miss school? What are your thoughts about the Ad Council’s new campaign? Will it be effective?

For more information on the initiative to end chronic absences, visit BoostAttendance.org.  This website also has a Text2Track, where parents can track student absences.

Kentucky Aims to Approve Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

by Lauren 12. August 2013 09:01

After much resistance to the Next Generation Science Standards, the science equivalent to the Common Core State Standards for reading and mathematics, Kentucky education officials are now on their way to implement the NGSS state-wide. While in other states, accepting the NGSS has been standard procedure, Kentuckians voiced strong opinions against the standards, due to their emphasis on evolution. Clearly, the fight between evolution and creationism in schools is still very much alive.          

In fact, public opposition became so fierce that major news outlets, like The Huffington Post, published articles focusing on the evolution debate occurring in Kentucky. While the standards were being evaluated, the state received thousands of responses from residents. E-mails poured in, many of which claimed it was unethical to teach evolution to students “because it is a theory and not a fact.” Others claimed teaching evolution would ostracize religious students. Even more said teaching evolution interfered with students’ freedom of religion.

Although creationists pushed back, Kentucky education officials confirmed that evolution teachings are already a part of science curriculum in the state. Officials also told criticizers that much scientific evidence exists to confirm evolution. Ina recent statement, they said, “[evolution is] the fundamental, unifying theory that underlies all the life sciences.” They also stated, “there is no significant ongoing debate within the scientific community regarding the legitimacy of evolution as a scientific idea.” To confirm the validity of Kentucky educational officials, over 3,700 people signed a petition in support of the standards. Those who support the standards hope they will eliminate scientific ignorance and keep Kentucky on the right track for a competitive science education program.

As of now, it seems like evolution won out for Kentucky schools. Before the NGSS is accepted though, the standards have to be passed by the General Assembly, where they could reach further opposition.  As other states begin to focus on the NGSS, tensions between evolution and creationism are expected to rise. This is one of the most contentious debates in education curriculum. Many believe the two are in direct conflict with one another, an unbridgeable gap that defies any attempt at crossing.

What are your thoughts on the evolution vs. creationism debate? Can harmony ever exist between the two-where evolution is in science class and creationism in religion class? How does your school deal with teaching evolution and intelligent design? Is one promoted over the other?

Reinventing Summer School

by Lauren 19. July 2013 11:34

 In the past, summer school has been  used solely as a  remediation tool, where  students who have  failed classes or  missed much class time come  to make up their work in order  to proceed to the following grade level. Not so today. 


Many large school districts, like New York City,Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, Providence, Charlotte, and LEP’s nearby Cincinnati Public School System, have decided to use summer classes as a means of preventing summer slide, bolstering knowledge, and reaching students in a more fun and relaxed learning environment.

In these reinvented summer schools, students cover the basics, like reading, writing, and mathematics, but they also benefit from creative activities, like art and music classes, as well as trips to local museums or theaters. This gives teachers the opportunity to truly make learning “fun” and work without the constraints they have placed upon them during the school year. In Jacksonville, a large number of students attend summer school not to make up classes, but to continue their education and prevent falling behind their classmates.

To fund these programs, many schools, especially fiscally challenged districts in Baltimore, Chicago, or Pittsburgh, have looked to philanthropic organizations. In Jacksonville, schools used federal stimulus dollars and a Wallace Foundation Grant to fund summer school programs. They also partnered with several nonprofit organizations, which helped the school set up a variety of field trips. It’s clear that many of these schools have had to get creative with funding, but no matter the source, students will reap the benefits.

In fact, summer slide can be truly problematic for teachers and students. Research shows that summer break causes students to lose at least one month of instruction per year. Low-income students are often disproportionately affected by summer slide. While students from higher economic backgrounds are often able to travel, go to camp, or even enroll in educational classes over the summer, low-income students might be stuck at home or daycare, where they often experience little to no educational stimulation.

With these factors in mind, many educators have long been pushing for a year-round school year, where students have short breaks throughout the year. Having the summers off was logical when students were affected by harvest time, but honestly, it doesn’t make much sense any more. Now, many students live in large cities or suburbs and both parents hold a full-time job, so summer break means sleeping in and spending the day at the pool, watching cartoons, or playing video games. However, summer break seems to be so ingrained in our society, it might be hard for students or parents to give it up. In the meantime, it looks like summer school may be students’ and teachers’ best bet to level the playing field and increase knowledge and engagement.

What do you think about reinvented summer school programs? How will they help students? What are the downsides to summer school? Is year-round school something our government should consider?

How Helpful is Advanced Placement?

by Lauren 14. May 2013 09:40
This week, high school students across the country are taking their AP (Advanced Placement) exams. AP classes are offered in most high schools, and they allow students to earn college credit before darkening the doors of a university. High-achieving students can choose between a wide variety of AP classes; English Composition and American History are the two most popular courses. Depending on the institution, colleges usually offer class credit if a student scores a 3, 4, or 5 on the AP exam. Oftentimes, the credits allow students to skip out on introductory English, mathematics, or history classes. Although the popularity of AP classes continues to grow, some professors are questioning the classes’ ability to provide students with the academic foundation they need to succeed in college.

In fact, Dartmouth recently decided to stop honoring AP test scores. In other words, a 5 on the English Composition exam will put you in the same Dartmouth freshman English class as everyone else. According to an article by Jay Mathews in the Washington Post, “Dartmouth College faculty, without considering any research, … voted to deny college credit for AP, International Baccalaureate and Advanced International Certificate of Education courses and tests, all taught by those high school teachers who can’t be as good as they are.” Since the Dartmouth professors are experts in their fields, they don’t believe any high school class can possibly match up to what they have to offer in an ivy-league college course. Of course, Dartmouth still recommends their students take AP courses to prepare for college, but it won’t get students out of taking any fewer classes.

Other prestigious universities like Georgetown still give credit for AP courses, but many professors there are also worried students are missing out on important skills taught in freshman classes. Many introductory college courses focus on critical thinking, analyzing and synthesizing sources, and research. AP allows students to miss out on these skills, skills that will be necessary throughout their college careers. Professors are particularly worried about students’ research abilities, and many believe AP should further emphasize the importance of research. In many high schools, students are not required to compose extended research papers, which could put them at a disadvantage in college.

While some schools like Dartmouth can afford to be picky about AP exams, many state schools try to offer as much AP credit as they can. For these schools, AP credit can be a major draw for students. An incoming freshman might easily choose the less expensive state school that will offer them 6 credit hours verses a private university that will offer them none.

Additionally, when thinking about AP, money also comes to mind. If students aren’t given credit for AP courses, more courses have to be taken, and more money goes to the university. Some students (like those who would be accepted at Dartmouth) might enter freshman year with 15-30 credit hours to their name. Thus, it’s more advantageous to the university to be selective about the AP scores they honor. Today, it is more common to only honor higher scores, like a 4 or 5, and pass over scores of 3.

Do you think AP exams prepare students for college? Do you think colleges should continue to honor AP scores? Do you think money plays a big part into honoring test scores? Do exempt freshman miss out on important information in their introductory classes?

The Return of Performance Testing?

by Lauren 25. April 2013 16:33
Thanks to the Common Core Standards, performance testing might be making a comeback. Since the Common Core Standards encourage states to test students in a variety of ways, some states have decided to reintroduce performance testing. (Performance testing gained momentum in the early ‘90s, but No Child Left Behind made the assessments too costly for most schools). Instead of having students fill in bubbles on their answer sheets, performance testing forces students to show their understanding of the learning material, typically by producing an essay, a portfolio, or a presentation. Students are required to demonstrate their knowledge about a particular subject. For many educators, performance testing is a superior method of examination because it allows students to show they’ve attained the critical thinking skills needed to advance to the next grade level.

In fact, educators believe the reintroduction of performance testing could alter the landscape of American public schools. In order for performance testing to be profitable, though, teachers must learn how to score/rate the assessments. Teachers must agree on what a particular score means and apply that rubric to every student. This will also lead to additional teacher collaboration. Teachers will need to discuss the qualities of excellent, mediocre, or poor work. At several charter schools, collaboration has been extremely important for performance tests. There, groups of teachers will meet and design projects that will allow their students to demonstrate their knowledge.

Additionally, one Boston-based educational center has put forth several necessary qualifications regarding performance testing.  The Center for Collaborative Education has emphasized the importance of aligned instruction, task design, and data analysis. Performance tests must be aligned to Common Core Standards, so students can accomplish the tasks they need to succeed in both college and the workplace. Likewise, the performance tests must be designed in such a way that students are clear about all the demands that are being placed on them. Finally, teachers must be able to analyze performance tests and glean information about student learning outcomes.

Add your voice! Is performance testing a boon to students and teachers? How can they be regulated? Is it a good idea to integrate them in with Common Core testing?
Check out eSchool News’ Report on Performance Testing.

Controversy and the Common Core

by Lauren 20. February 2013 11:59
While Common Core seems to be pushing forward full-steam ahead, there could be trouble lurking on the tracks. During the past few weeks, Common Core has been making headlines, but mostly all take a negative view on the new standards. In The Huffington Post, 2010 Teacher of the Year Sarah Brown Wessling questions if the Common Core “demoralizes” teachers. The state of Indiana is working on legislation where they could ensure the standards are no longer taught in their schools. Former Texas Education Commissioner, Robert Scott, has made it his personal mission to speak out against the Common Core. GED students are also being encouraged to complete their degree in 2013, before the test is drastically changed to the Common Core version. So, with all the negative press, it is clear that many educators are concerned about the inability of the standards to meet the needs of students.

For example, in her article, “Does the Common Core Demoralize Teachers?,” Wessling hashes through some of the major concerns surrounding the standards. She lists her concerns as follows: teachers already have too much to worry about, and the standards just add to the pile; the standards were written by people who are clueless about how a real classroom works; the standards ignore the needs of the student as a whole; and the standards take away teachers’ creativity. Wessling acknowledges the legitimacy of these concerns, especially for teachers who work in districts where funds and resources are limited.  Her article, however, takes a different tone when she encourages teachers to not let the Common Core get them down. Although it is bound to cause some issues, she gives some pointers for making the Core work in the classroom.

Other news, however, has been much more severe. Robert Scott, a past Education Commissioner in Texas, (one of the states that did not accept the Common Core), has been speaking against the standards. He believes the standards are not right for Texas, and he has been encouraging other states to follow suit. In fact, he once called the Common Core a “perversion” of what a real education should look like. In a recent testimony in Georgia, Scott said that he was pressured to sign on to the standards before they were even written. He feels the standards are more of a power grab by the national government and that the Common Core lacks transparency, since it was written behind closed doors. You can see his speech on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=WcpMIUWbgxY In fact, this entire YouTube channel is dedicated to appealing the Common Core, where individuals hope local government will obtain control over local schools.

Leave a comment below! What do you think about the controversy surrounding the Common Core? Is the Common Core too much of a top-down approach, where the national government dictates what schools must do? Or is it necessary for the national government to have a set of standards that keeps education the same for all students? Would local government be able to better meet the needs of a local school?

STEM to STEAM: The Advantages of Art in the Classroom

by Lauren 6. February 2013 16:09
For years, teachers have heard over and over again that STEM classes are vital to students’ success in the real world. STEM courses, which emphasize the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, are said to prepare students for available positions, particularly those that will bolster the U.S. economy and keep Americans competitive in the global market. Unfortunately, this focus on technical-related fields has caused art to be left by the wayside. Recently, the Rhode Island School of Design has started a movement to change STEM to STEAM, where art and design are considered equally important to a student’s education and to the American job market.

Proponents of STEAM believe art ignites the spark of the American creative spirit, which has helped Americans take the lead in innovation in the past. Likewise, art and design aid the development of new technology and can help consumers differentiate between American products and competitors. Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are also major components of art and design, which can help students think outside of the box.

In fact, the ideas behind STEAM are already taking root in schools across the nation. In Chicago, public schools are implementing new arts education programs, while also focusing on college and career readiness. Charter schools in Atlanta, Georgia are also adhering to the STEAM plan. Educators must focus on STEM courses, but they are also required to concentrate on design and problem-solving, with real-world applications. In Maryland, educational researchers compared schools that emphasized art (AIMS-Art Integration-Focused Schools) to schools that did not stress the importance of art. Interestingly, schools that focused more on art and art integration had higher reading scores over the three-year testing period.

Although it seems there is not much backlash against adding more art into schools, however, it remains to be seen if art will actually be emphasized. With Common Core getting ready to take over, teachers are already feeling pressure about educational standards and curriculum. Unfortunately, teachers only have a certain amount of class time, and only so much can be squeezed in.

What do you think about STEAM? What are some of the other benefits of adding art? Will it positively affect students? Since many schools have tight budgets and
specific curriculum requirements, will art ever be equally weighted with math or science?

More Class Time for Children in Five States

by Lauren 19. December 2012 15:37
In order to keep U.S. education competitive, five states have recently decided to extend classroom hours. As part of a three-year pilot program, certain schools in Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Tennessee will all see longer hours, a drastic change that will affect 20,000 students in 40 schools. In fact, starting in 2013, these schools plan on adding over 300 learning hours to the calendar, either by extending the hours of a normal school day or by adding extra days to the calendar. This change stems from the desire of educational leaders, who believe spending more time in the classroom will give students access to information they might not have received before, particularly in more “critical” areas like math and science.

For the past several years, discussions have revolved around the quality (or lack thereof) of the American public school system. Education Secretary Arne Duncan believes American students have fallen immensely behind their counterparts in China and India, who spend much more time in class. Earlier in his career, Duncan mentioned that American schools should be open six or seven days a week and run 11 or 12 months out of the year. It is clear that other educators feel similarly. With the rise of charter schools, new student testing (like the Common Core Standards), and teacher evaluations, it is clear that some educators and parents want reform.

Additionally, education officials also believe that extended school hours are the best way to prepare students for success in the workplace. With extra time, teachers can craft a well-rounded education plan. For instance, instructors can emphasize the importance of art and music and aid students who have fallen behind. Educators also hope students will be able to become intensely familiar with technology by learning specific software programs or receiving training on how to write computer code.

However, these extra hours can be costly. In general, federal, district, and state funds are covering these schools’ extended hours. In Massachusetts, schools are also getting funds from the state’s expanded-learning program, and in Connecticut, a recent education reform law will help provide extra support. Not only is it more costly, but extended hours have also been a major point of contention for teachers. Earlier this year, the teacher’s strike in Chicago was due in part to longer school hours. Eventually, Chicago schools’ hours were extended.  It remains to be seen how teachers’ unions will work with these extended hours. Perhaps, if teachers were paid and valued more, like in many European countries, American schools would not have to worry about extending hours at all.

Is It Worth the Money?

While extending hours is clearly pricy, others question the actual benefits for students. In the high-performing countries of South Korea, Finland, and Japan, students spend much less time in the classroom. These schools often use unique approaches to learning, where quality is emphasized over number of hours.

What do you think about extending hours in the classroom? Will it be more beneficial for students? Will it make the American education system more competitive? What would you change about U.S. schools?

For more information, check out this article about education in Finland, one of the world’s top-performers in educational testing: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/12/what-americans-keep-ignoring-about-finlands-school-success/250564/
 

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