New Common Core tests may overwhelm some students, seriously challenge others, the CGCS predicts

Excerpted from an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer by Patrick O’Donnell on April 17, 2014

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The new Common Coretests coming to Ohio next year will force students to answer questions in ways they have never faced before on state tests.

Thoughts for Principals:

“A lot of people don’t understand how fundamentally different the work is that these standards require,” said Michael Casserly, executive director of the organization representing the country’s largest urban districts. “It appears that a lot of our kids are not adequately prepared for the kinds of complex problem-solving response that they’re being asked for.”

 “We will have do to a great deal in changing how we think about instruction in the classroom.” – Eric Gordon, CEO, Cleveland Schools

Two areas of concern:

  1. Students not knowing how to solve problems involving multiple steps,
  2. students not knowing how to cite evidence from readings to support answers.

Everyone will feel the effects of these new assessments!

even highly-rated suburban schools report students are experiencing new challenges with them.



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A Dress Code We Can All Live With


by Mel Riddile

As Spring finally arrives, school dress codes are once again front page news. Last year it was “yoga pants.” This year, the controversy revolves around a middle school principal for restricting the wearing of leggings — “popular fashion items that are tight-fitting pants to some, and glorified tights to others”.

No one is immune from the criticisms leveled by the so-called fashion police. Even First Lady, Michelle Obama, has been chastised by the likes of the Washington Post fashion writers, who reminded readers that “none of them (previous first ladies) revealed as much leg as the current first lady.” And that “avoiding the appearance of queenly behavior is politically wise. But it does American culture no favors if a first lady tries so hard to be average that she winds up looking common.”

Some ask “Where Should Schools Set Limits?” In fact, that is the question that many principals are asking. School principals are not fashion experts. They are educators. However, many principals will be forced to become experts on fashion and to enforce student dress code policies, many of which are unenforceable.

Believe me, as a high school principal, the last thing that I wanted to do was worry about dress code policies. The reality of life is that some students will push the envelope and dress so provocatively or inappropriately, often without parent knowledge or approval, that they distract their peers to the point that they disrupt the educational process.

I can remember a prominent legislator confronting me because I had the audacity to send his daughter home to change from her pajamas and slippers into appropriate school attire. I reminded him that, not only did I not discipline his daughter, but that I had personally warned his daughter and her friends not to wear pajamas to school for an upcoming school event.

There are those who argue that the best way to handle the dress code dilemma is to mandate uniforms, such as the blue pants and white shirts worn by Chicago Public Schools students.

Some school systems make a difficult and unpleasant task doable by having policies that are specific enough to be enforceable. In Fairfax County Public Schools (Virginia) student services representatives annually meet with principals and ask for feedback on the current policy. The policy is kept up-to-date, and principals have specific, identifiable behaviors to enforce. The Fairfax County policy is clear and reasonable.

“FCPS respects students’ right to express themselves in the way they dress.  It is important,
however, that their appearance is tasteful and appropriate for a K
12 school setting. 

Clothing and accessories should not:

  Display vulgar, discriminatory, or obscene

language or images

  Promote illegal or violent conduct

  Contain threats or gang symbols

  Promote the unlawful use of weapons,

alcohol, tobacco, drugs, or drug


  Expose cleavage, private parts, the midriff,

or undergarments, and in the case of pants

the waistband should not fall below the


  Contain studs

  Be seethrough or sexually provocative

  Include caps or other head coverings unless

required for religious or medical reasons.”

Other school systems take the easy way out and leave the dress code issue totally up to the principal’s judgment. Instead of taking a position, they put the principal on the chopping block. For example, one school system’s policy stated,

“A student’s dress and appearance shall not cause disruption, distract others from the educational process or create a health or safety problem. Students must comply with specific building dress regulations of which students will be given prior notice.”

Upon reading this, I concluded that the local school board was taking the easy way out by passing the buck to the school principal. In addiont, given some of the current attitudes about dress, a student would literally have to run through the hallways naked to cause the kind of disruption that would warrant action by the principal under this policy. Perhaps I am overstating the issue, but there is simply too much subjectivity in the application of this policy to ensure consistent and fair enforcement. In other words, the policy is unenforceable.

That wouldn’t stop a school board member from calling me to complain that my alleged students, who were walking down the street in the middle of the day, were dressed inappropriately. Nor would it stop another official from calling to complain that a constituent objected to the principal’s interpretation of the dress code. Caught in the middle again!

It is the responsibility of the building principal to create a context or culture in which teaching and learning can best take place. A safe, orderly, and organized school environment is minimum expectation. It is essential that the learning environment be free of distractions and disruptions to the learning process and that everyone has a consistent, clear set of expectations regarding appropriate decorum so that teachers can move beyond behavior to a focus on learning.

What feedback is and isn’t

The following is excerpted from an article by Grant Wiggins:

“The research is clear: good feedback is essential to learning at high levels.”

“Feedback is useful information about the effects of an action in light of a goal.”

  1. Feedback is Not praise and Not advice
  2. Feedback focuses corrective measures and specific actions that the learner can take.
  3. The purpose or what is expected is clear. Clarity promotes self-regulation.
  4. Exemplars and models of both excellent and subpar work are provided. 
  5. The feedback is timely
Wiggins points out that, on standardized tests and final exams: there is NO feedback.

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3 Steps For Creating A Culture Of Learning

3 Steps For Creating A Culture Of Learning

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The Opt-Out Outrage: Is it legal to opt your child out of state tests? Should it be legal?

The following is excerpted from an article By Chester E. Finn in Education Next

April 14, 2014

“The opt-out-of-state-testing movement has notched more wins lately. “Thousands,” we read, are refusing to take the tests in New York alone. And tons more interest and attention are being devoted to this topic in states and communities far and wide.”

Key points on opting-out:

“In the months ahead, states will have to clarify what is and isn’t required and how test participation is to be enforced.”

“…when they (parents) expect the state to educate their children at public expense, the public has a right to know whether those children are learning anything.”

“Our schools need to become more effective and our children need to learn more. Test results advance the public interest.”

“Better tests are coming, but that doesn’t excuse “opting out” now. It’s not a legitimate form of civil disobedience. And it’s probably not legal, either.”

“If you really find state tests odious, put your money and time where your mouth is—and stop asking taxpayers to educate your children.”

My Thoughts

The opt-out movement is unnecessarily placing building principals in the middle of a conflict between parents and the state. States must clarify exactly what is and what is not required and make it easy for local school boards and district leaders to enforce that policy. Without a clear, enforceable policy on testing and opting-out, principals and teachers cannot be held accountable for student test scores.


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Practice Retrieval and the Testing Effect: Should the quiz match the test? Assessment for Learning

Instructional leaders need to differentiate between “assessment of learning” and “assessment for learning.

Assessment of learning helps us decide ‘do students know it?’

Assessment for learning informs future instruction, focuses review, and targets remediation efforts.

Testing (assessment) for learning works and improves long-term retention of knowledge.

Key Point:

This study reveals that the format of the quiz need not match the format of the test.


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What’s New in the SAT Redesign

Excerpted from an Education Week article by Caralee Adams on April 16, 2014

The new SAT will require students to cite evidence in support of their understanding of texts in both reading and writing and will emphasize evidence-based reading and writing.


1) command of evidence, and 2) relevant words in context.

The reading test drills down, more specifically, asking students to answer questions based on what is stated and implied in texts across a range of content areas and determine which portion of a text best supports the answer to a given question.

Rather than having students try to memorize lists of “SAT words” that are obscure, the new test measures vocabulary knowledge by asking about use of a certain word in the context of a science or social science passage.

Writing and Language

The writing and language test will also report two additional subscores for: 1) expression of ideas; and 2) standard English conventions.

In the writing and language section, test-takers are asked to develop, support, and refine claims in multiparagraph passages—some with accompanying graphics—and to add, revise, or delete information.


The New SAT will have students apply their math knowledge, not just do equations.

“The whole idea behind this is to have an assessment that really gets at the math students’ need to be college ready … changing the focus away from general mathematical aptitude.”

My Thoughts on the New SAT:

If one removed the reference to SAT and The College Board from the discussion, the article would appear to be describing Common Core aligned assessments, which emphasize the following:

  • Complex text
  • Academic Vocabulary
  • Text-based evidence
  • Application of math concepts, not just working problems
  • Writing from Sources while making claims and citing evidence
You may recall that the ACT contends that these changes have already been made to their assessment.
So, the two major college admissions tests, the SAT and the ACT, are fully aligned with the new Common Core Standards. So, how can we, as school leaders, prepare our students for admission to two and four-year colleges and universities if our states and/or districts have chosen to ignore the Common Core Standards?

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Carol Dweck on Performance Assessment

When students have a growth mindset they are motivated to learn. Watch as psychologist Carol Dweck describes the growth mindset and ways to nurture it. Ms. Dweck references the Envision Education videos on Deeper Learning.

Key Points from the Video:
  1. Contribute to the motivation to learn
  2. Encourage students to embrace challenges not avoid them
  3. Develop self-discipline and perseverance
  4. We believe in you! Set high standards and assure students that we will support them in achieving those standards. We set very high standards but we are committed to helping you reach and exceed them (support)
  5. Send the message that “you can join the ranks of the ‘best and brightest’ through work and effort on challenging tasks
  6. Encourage students to take ‘ownership’, which is a critical factor
  7. When students make choices and have a big ‘why’ their motivation increases
  8. Ikea Effect – the longer students work on a challenge, the more committed they are to the project
  9. Help students understand that intelligence is not something you were born with, but something you create
  10. Continual growth and improvement over time is the central focus of learning
  11. Help students understand that they can contribute
  12. Cause students to believe that they belong here

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Carol Dweck on Struggle and Deeper Learning

Students who embrace struggle while learning and solving problems develop skills that others may not. Learn how Expeditionary Learning has incorporated struggle and the growth mindset into their school.

Key Points from the Video:

Growth Mindsets:

  1. relate directly to ‘Deeper Learning’ and Expeditionary Learning
  2. orient the student to a focus on learning not knowing
  3. teach students that taking on challenging tasks helps the brain make new connection and, thus, they get smarter
  4. students embrace challenges because “work hard and get smart”
  5. learn that “easy is a waste of time”
  6. students are proud of tackling and resolving challenging problems
  7. instead of avoiding and covering up mistakes, students embrace them
  8. mistakes motivate and increase student interest
  9. students gain self-confidence by taking on challenges
  10. students develop a sense of purpose and a belief that they can make a difference

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Coach K’s “Ah-ha moment” and his secret to sustainable success

Coach K clearly articulates a “Connection Culture” — where shared identity, empathy and understanding move individuals toward group-centered membership.

“Coach K’s “ah-ha” moment, his epiphany about the importance of connection and relationships, transformed his coaching style.”

The teacher-student relationship continues to be the best in-school predictor of student achievement. Every teacher has a different personality. I always advised teachers to ‘just be yourself.’

Students want to know that you care about them and believe in them. Show that you care by frequently pausing instruction to check for understanding. Show that you believe in them by having high expectations, providing support, and by rewarding hard work and effort over ability.

Coach K recognized that what he lacked in terms of innate ability to read the emotional states of his players could be offset by using the talents of his wife, Mickie, and his daughters to keep him clued in. Teachers can use keystone students to help them read the emotional states of their classrooms.

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