5 things teachers & students need to do during & after state testing

… and here we go again.

That time of year that everybody loathes.. state testing.  Here in the great state of New Jersey, the NJASK (New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge) starts with 7th & 8th graders next week.  Some good news and bad news.  The good news?  This is the last year of NJASK.  The bad news? It’s getting replaced with a new assessment, PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College & Careers).

The build-up, from every angle, is ridiculous.  Scads & scads of student kill-n-drill activities, stressed out teachers, testing coordinators and that nervous wrecks, and all of this extram emphasis on eating well and getting good sleep (which really should be happening everyday, not just for four days).  While I have expressed my views on here before on why I hate yearly assessment, it’s not going away, and I have to deal with it.

The very least we can do is try to have some fun during the week.  Here are five ways I have broken up the testing misery for both students & staff:

1. If you’re in school for a full day session, lighten up the academic load.  Everyone is tired and stressed from hours of testing. Use the afternoon to try some lessons or activities that don’t need much structure, heavy thought, and can be fun.  The afternoons are perfect times for assemblies, presentations, or that movie that you wanted to show but could never fit it in during the year.

2.  Faculty Food!  Now is the perfect time to arrange a pot-luck in the faculty room.  We all know free food brings everyone  in droves… and we also know that you can have dirt on a plate in a faculty room and someone will take / eat it.   Something simple like this also livens up spirits and is easy to arrange.

3. Student collaborative fun projects. Over the years, I’ve seen some great projects that take place after testing.  One of my favorites was when students developed their own board games relating to a historical unit. It wasn’t just developing the rules, it was actually making the game and playing it.

4. Grade-wide outdoor activities. I saw an entire grade play ‘capture the flag’ after a morning of testing.  What a great way for everyone to release!  I also observed some teacher take their classes out and sit under a tree to read.  What a great way to relax!

5. Remember, it’s just a test.  Yes, it dictates where students are placed, and yes, these scores will be tied to your evaluation in the upcoming years, but IT”S STILL JUST A TEST! Don’t let it ruin all of the hard work and effort that you and your students achieved this year.

Best of luck to all during this time period.  I hope you get to enjoy some time your students and co-workers during the week.  After this, time flies… and before we know it… we’re getting ready for the next school year.




The break-things-into-bits mistake we have been making in education for centuries – happening today with standards

Are you still unpacking standards? Are you writing new curriculum this summer? If you are, read this.

Granted, and...

In the just-released Math Publisher’s Criteria document on the Common Core Standards, the authors say this about (bad) curricular decision-making:

“’Fragmenting the Standards into individual standards, or individual bits of standards … produces a sum of parts that is decidedly less than the whole’ (Appendix from the K-8 Publishers’ Criteria). Breaking down standards poses a threat to the focus and coherence of the Standards. It is sometimes helpful or necessary to isolate a part of a compound standard for instruction or assessment, but not always, and not at the expense of the Standards as a whole.

“A drive to break the Standards down into ‘microstandards’ risks making the checklist mentality even worse than it is today. Microstandards would also make it easier for microtasks and microlessons to drive out extended tasks and deep learning. Finally, microstandards could allow for micromanagement: Picture teachers and students being held accountable for ever more…

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#stuvoice – a movement that officially initialized over this weekend

A few weeks ago, Jeff Bradbury asked me if I wanted to participate in a student conference in NYC.  With a lot going on in my own life right now (more to come in about two weeks), I was a bit hesitant; being in Manhattan by 6:30 AM on a Saturday, driving home after a 12 hour day, and another conference.  Yes, I said it… just another conference.  And yes, I was dead wrong.  This wasn’t just another conference.

The conference was held at the Microsoft Building, with sponsorship coming from Dell.  The conference floor was amazing; a DJ, about 200 computers / tablets to use, visual story tellers, and an array of media interaction.  The event was hosted by Monique Coleman of the High School Musical fame (who is doing all kinds of amazing things all over the world… google “gimme mo”) and featured a keynote by Andrew Jenks (the young adult who has a show on MTV about real world issues, not uber-dramatic teen pregnancy or fighting at the shore).

The highlight? Having the chance to sit in on or interact with panels led by national speakers, educators, and journalists.  Let it be known… this conference was flooded with the rainmakers in education; Randi Weingarten, Nick Goyal, Eric Shenninger, Chris Lehman, Barry Scheckenel, Angela Meiers, Snow White (yes, her real name is Snow White – her parents, according to her, had a real sense of humor), and scads of others.

The most important attendees: students of all ages.  Students shared a myriad of experiences on how they are taking control of their education, how they are joining all students together, and how they plan to change the world.  Jilly from MO – who started an entire grassroots campaign via FaceBook & Tiwtter to allow an open campus for lunches with upperclassman; Jack from CA, who brought students together to have the right to read what they want to read in school, and eleven year old Mike from NY – who has campaigned to get a student council meeting once a week with his Principal.

There’s much to take away from this – – most importantly, that students have a voice and it should not be ignored.  Students are not just numbers – they are people like all of us, and deserve the best opportunities we can offer.  It was an excellent ‘grounder’ for me – I left reminded of why I’m here as a school leader.  I’m here for them.

So yea, students, you were heard.  And you will continue to be.  You have a voice.

When Smart Academics Say Silly Things

Diane is pretty spot on. Occasionally, all of us make mistakes..but if you do make a mistake… make sure you correct it when moving forward.

Diane Ravitch's blog

A teacher in Nevada sent me this article, which was printed in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

He said he would have laughed at how clueless this Harvard professor was but for the fact that the local opinion makers no doubt would read it and take it seriously.

I started reading it and the first statement was that “The most important determinant of educational quality is teacher quality.”

I thought at once, that’s not true because economists agree that family has a much larger impact than teachers.

Also, he is making the mistake of assuming that “educational quality=test scores.”

Then the author, Edward Glaeser of Harvard, totally confused me by writing: “In an influential paper published in 2005, economists Steven Rivkin, Eric Hanushek and John Kain examined administrative data in Texas and found that 15 percent of the differences in students’ math scores were explained by variations in teacher quality.”


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An excerpt from our just-released book on Essential Questions

Grant Wiggins is the man. Seriously. Read this; I hope many of you have your A-HA! moment!

Granted, and...

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 4 of the just-released book Essential Questions: Opening Doorways to Student Understanding, written by Jay McTighe and me, and published by ASCD.

Now that you have a better sense of the characteristics of Essential Questions and ways of designing them, we turn to the question of implementation. How, then, should Essential Questions be put into action to ensure meaningful student engagement, persistent inquiry, thoughtful deliberation and the necessary re-thinking to lead to understanding?

In this chapter, we explore practical tips and techniques for helping you get the most from your Essential Questions. And although in Chapter 6, we will engage in a detailed exploration of ways to establish a “culture of questioning” in your classroom, we need to comment on its importance here as key to successful implementation.

No initiative, practice or policy is guaranteed to succeed. As with any seed…

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