Monday, February 11, 2008

Song of the Week: The Moldy Peaches

I haven't had a chance to see Juno yet, but its soundtrack sure is a good listen, especially if you like quirky folk music. Anyone Else But You is a silly, but still catchy song.

OAT: Grade 4 Overview

A month or so ago I posted a neat little document that Cleveland Heights schools posted on their website that was an item analysis of all released test questions from the OAT. I took the results of their count and put into a chart format that shows what items the state tends to test more than others. There is an old saying..."what is most important is what is measured". You can use this document to help you "predict" where future emphasis on the test may be based on past emphasis. Reading Process is the most tested standard in that category they seem to test summarizing and responding to questions. They have never tested self-monitoring. I'm not even sure what a self-monitoring item would look like. More than half of the Vocabulary standard is context clues. There are plenty of opportunities in any text we read to model that important skill for children. Character analysis seems to be the most important of Literary Text while main ideas and summarizing are most important for Informational Text. Hopefully you can put this information to work and get the most bang for your buck. These skills will not only help your children perform better on the test, but also become better readers. Isn't it great when they all align like that.

The Rules Have Changed

We work in a great school district. We have wonderfully supportive parents and a community that supports education. We have students that are eager to learn and put forth their best efforts on almost all occasions. Upwards of 90% of our students pass the state mandated tests. We have one of the highest performance index scores in the state.

Why worry now? Why change anything, when we are doing such a good job?

Well, dig a little below the surface data and you’ll find that we did not meet AYP in reading and that our initial data on Value Added was not as green or yellow as we would have liked.

While it is still important for a certain percentage of students in any grade level of subgroup to pass the OAT, the rules have now changed, and the criteria has been ratcheted up. Starting next year each student in the state of Ohio from grade 3-8 will need to show one year’s worth of growth. While the means of measuring this is still somewhat fuzzy to me (and I’ve tried to understand it) the fact remains that this important measure becomes public next year.

The fact that is becomes public worries administrators as it should, and it should worry teachers for other reasons. No teacher wants to be told that a student they were responsible for did not grow one year during a year of instruction as compared to “similar” students in the state of Ohio. Teachers put their heart and soul into their job and knowing that they failed a student even when measured by perhaps questionable means will nonetheless be upsetting.

So what can we do now, this very day to start working towards that goal?

We need to continue to define our own internal measures of student growth. For reading (and it is all about reading) we have basically two different types of measures that we need to be using. We need to be measuring a student’s ability with the various indicators. We have a great start on that with the QRA but we need more “in between” or even “before” measures. We need to see what our students already know/can do via pretests, we need to assess as we teach and record detailed results for each learner, we need to reteach when needed, and then we need to use the QRAs as the more summative measure.

But this isn’t the only type of reading measure. We need to use what many call a Curriculum Based Measure (CBM) which isn’t linked to the indicators. Rather it is linked to the overall skill of reading. Many schools do this thru the Dibels tool. Dibels is an oral fluency tool used mostly K-2 but they have norm referenced reading assessments that go thru grade 6. Aimsweb is another (for pay…Dibels is free) measure that not only makes uses of oral reading fluency but also tries to gauge some comprehension levels to help identify the student who reads fluently but has little idea what they’ve read. Countless studies have shown that stronger readers are more fluent readers.

Another benefit of using the CBM measure such as Dibels is that it would help us more easily or systematically identify students who need additional reading support since tests of this type fit nicely with the response to intervention method of identifying students. Dibels will also show more growth detail. For example, a student can show growth from one Dibels administration to another administration in as little as a week. The QRA might show growth...but not in the same detail and remember different content makes up each QRA test although some of the most important (ie context clues) are repeated throughout.

I hope to work with staff this quarter to put one or both of these measures into place in their classroom. The last step and this one may take the most time because I don’t think we are used to always doing it is to document what works best instructionally.

As we teach our content, sometimes modify our content, and then reteach our content we need to keep detailed records of what we tried, what worked, and what didn’t’ work. We need to share our results (both good and bad) so other teachers on our team can learn from each other. Over time we could build a resource of what works with various types of learners. The work is hard and time consuming but the payoff is huge.

I’m looking forward to being a part of that work.

Reading 101

I’ve shared articles from the Reading Rockets website before. Reading 101 is a primer for anyone interested in reading instruction. The article gives basic definitions about key reading terminology such as phonemic awareness, fluency, text comprehension and the gives additional articles related to each topic. Great review of information and a chance to find some articles you might not have read yet.

Buzzwords for 2007
In the spirit of growing our vocabulary I thought I would share this wonderful article published in the NY Times a few weeks ago. While these words aren’t necessarily in the dictionary quite yet, they still show us how the English language is always growing and morphing. Take a look at the article and you will not only learn a few new phrases and words…you’ll also get a chuckle on a few of these.

Try my simple matching quiz. Match the definition with the term or phrase listed below.

1) In military jargon, the site of an explosion, severe gunfire or a destructive engagement.

2) A person who eats no meat, uses no animal-derived goods and prefers not to have sex with non-vegans.

3) An odd or funny picture of a cat given a humorous and intentionally ungrammatical caption in large block letters

4) Employment discrimination against a woman who has, or will have, children.

5) No Income, No Job or Assets. A poorly documented loan made to a high-risk borrower.

A) maternal profiling
B) ninja loan
C) post-kinetic environment
D) vegansexual
E) lolcat

You will have to read the NY Times to see how well you did. :)

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Grade 3 OAT Multi-year Item Analysis

A couple of weeks ago I found a school in Cleveland that did an item analysis of every released item (including the practice test) for the Ohio Achievement test. I thought the information was interesting and valuable for teachers that I posted about it.

As our training with Pat Terry several years ago revealed that not all indicators are of equal importance. All of the indicators are important and students should be accountable for all of them...but the fact remains that the state tests certain indicators more than others. I would like hope that these indicators or the most important ones for students to know in order to be better readers...not the indicators that are most easily tested.

I took the item analysis which was basically a table. I took that information from multiple years and plugged it into a spreadsheet to see if I could find any anything of interest.

As you can see Reading Process makes up the majority of the points on the test and Acquisition of Vocabulary makes up (just barely) the smallest % of the points. Within RP, compare/contrast,summarizing, and drawing conclusions are big. Central ideas (sorry for the Excel typo) appear to be overwhelming the most tested indicator at 60% of the points for that standard. Within Literary text, main idea and characters account for close to 70% of the points for that standard. Context clues are the biggest indicator for Aquisition of Vocabulary. What does this all gives us some idea where to spend our most time getting ready for the test. Not that we forget the other indicators....we just want to really make sure the kids "get" these indicators and have experience answering them in the same format that the test uses. Too often the test format trips up a student when we know they know the content. A teacher may sometimes accuse another teacher of "teaching to the test" when they use a strategy like this. In Ohio, I'm not sure how applicable that is...since the test is the standards is our curriculum. So if you teach our curriculum you are teaching to the test....which is exactly what we should be doing. However, don't beat a dead horse...if you students have shown mastery in these indicators then it is time to move on and work on others. I will put the results of my grade 4 and grade 5 spreadsheet work up shortly.

"Reading is the Key to Everything"

I'm more of a "Car Talk" guy when listening to NPR while driving around on Saturdays getting the weekly errands and delivering the kids to what seem like weekly birthday parties. I do sometimes catch a few minutes of Lake Wobegon with Garrison Keillor. Mr. Keillor has written an article for concerning some Democratic candidates promising to dismantle NCLB if they are elected. He is more concerned that they are making this promise simply because the program came into existence under the guidance of a Republican president rather than whether or not the program has worthwhile goals. Certainly worth a read....for a concerned educator or parent.

We're Failing Our Kids

Wikis....speaking of Collaboration

A Wiki is a group based website. The software resides on the server so there is nothing special to install. Rights to author are shared so basically whoever the creator of the wiki wants to be able to edit it can edit. However, they can also be locked down. Wikipedia is an example of a collaborative website that we have all used at one time or another. IF you haven't, then you need to go there right now so you can see what they are all about. Well, now educators are starting to do just the same thing. One of the big players in the Wiki business has just made its product ad-free for educators. The product has been free but to have a free wiki you had to accept whatever advertisement Wetpaint happened to load at the time someone looked at your page. You had no say over what the ad was....and for an educator not knowing what a student might read or see in an ad is a bit (and rightfully so) scary. Now teachers can get ad-free Wikis....meaning no more potentially bad ads. What a great way for students to share their thinking with each other or you the teacher.

I've posted this before but to get a better idea of just what a Wiki is I would recommend that you watch this video.

A Whole New Mind

I just starting reading Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind. It
covers same of the same material that Friedman covers in the World is Flat. According to Pink there are three factors (abundance, Asia, and automation) are changing the way life is and will be in the future for citizens of the United States. He believes that in order to be successful in the future (not too distant) people will need to be right brained...that is creative, open minded, designer types. If this is the case (and when we will know?) then we as teachers need to remember to balance the mastery learning of NCLB with more open-ended assignments that get students using the right side of their brain. The Partnership for the 21st Century is basically asking our nation's schools to start trying to do the same thing. Their aim is to have students gain more collaborative, problem solving skills. There are only a handful of state department of education offices that have embraced 21st Century Skills. I would encourage you to look at them and see how they might fit/enhance the good things we already do.

Learning about the Human Body

The human body is fascinating and amazing. The newspaper has been covering the controversy regarding the Bodies: An Exhibition showing at the Museum Center. There is some concern that the people who are on display never gave consent to have their body on display in the way it is.

If you still want to learn about the human body and don't want to look at polymer covered bodies then perhaps you might enjoy National Geographics online presentation on the human body. This one doesn't require the expensive parking since it is online.

National Geographic: Explore the Human Body

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Visual Math

Quite an interesting way to solve a math problem visually. Isn't it neat how the algorithm works.