Friday, March 15, 2013

PARCC Is Leading To Climate Change

I write this blog from my office near the shoreline of Lake Erie.  On any given day in March, I may look out my window and see snow, rain, sleet, sunshine, gusting wind, or total calm - all within an 8 hour work day.  In Cleveland, we have a saying that if you don't like the weather, just wait 10 minutes and it will change.

I have heard this saying used when talking about the shift to Ohio's New Learning Standards/CCSS and  our Next Generation Assessments/ PARCC  Assessments.  Some people believe that if we just hang tight, that the education "weather" will change and we won't have to make any of these shifts.  I was a science teacher for a good chunk of my classroom career.  Weather is defined as the daily state of the local atmosphere - as measured by temperature, barometric pressure and precipitation.  Weather is variable and can change quickly.  The Cleveland weather analogy doesn't fit with what is happening in Ohio or in education across the US.  Global Climate Change would be a better match.  Climate changes slowly.  It is the average condition of temperature, precipitation and wind patterns in a large region over an extended period of time, beyond even a year.  Human behavior is impacting global climate change. Climate change is happening and we need to adjust accordingly to what the new "normal" is going to be.   

I think that PARCC and the CCSS are helping to shape Educational Climate Change.   Let's look at the components of Educational Climate - student knowledge, assessment of learning, and educational infrastructure and how we can begin to define the new "normal" in education.

 Student Knowledge
  • CCSS/Ohio's New Learning Standards are designed to allow students to work on mastering a more focused set of grade level standards.   By vertically aligning these standards preK -12 and into college/career training, teachers will not have to re-teach material from prior years - but instead will be able to build on prior learning. 
    •  Educational Climate Change 
      • The first few weeks of a course or grade level will be focusing on new material, not review of the prior year.
      • Lessons will be designed to allow students more time to practice and explore new knowledge/skills.  
      • Students will have opportunities to apply their knowledge to real world problems.
      • Lessons will focus on being able to read more complex materials -both fiction and informational.
      • Assignments will focus on writing argumentatively using text based evidence to support ideas across all content areas.
      • Reading will also center around  building vocabulary in context.
      • There will be a balance of learning content and learning thinking skills like problem solving, modeling, analyzing, and questioning skills
      • The use of technology to acquire knowledge, collaborate to build knowledge and to share knowledge. 
Assessment of Learning
  • PARCC is the consortium of 22 states working together to build assessments around the new standards. Through the process of Evidence Centered Design - assessments will be based on "claims" of what a student should be able to do - these claims come from the standards.  Assessment designers and classroom teachers can look at the "Claims" and come to consensus on what "Evidence" they will look for to show that a student can do what the standards claim they should be able to do/know.  Assessments will be designed to be a tool to "Gather the Evidence" that everyone agrees shows what a student knows/or can do.
    • Educational Climate Change
      • Increased use of Formative Assessments (assessment FOR learning)  to help teachers and student monitor progress towards meeting the "Claims". Done on a regular basis, not just at the end of a unit (Summative Assessment).
      • More use of "Growth Measures" to gather evidence of where a student starts in their learning - and where they finish over a given period of time.
      • Technology based assessment tools - that allow for interactive questions, the use of simulations and modeling, built in testing accommodations and engaging questions.
      • Assessment results that are more timely and more detailed.
      • A balance of End of Course tests that measure content knowledge and Performance Tasks that measure mathematical and English "practices" as well as how well a student can apply knowledge to real world scenarios or problems.
      • Shift away from "Teaching the the Test" and toward "Testing to the Teaching"  Assessments that are truly aligned to the standards - so that a teacher who is teaching and assessing in a classroom aligned to the standards should not have to take "time out" to practice for the new assessments.
Educational Infrastructure
  • As the Educational Climate changes, we need to also change the way we think about what "school" is and what tools students and teachers need to be effective learners together.  Ohio's Next Generation Assessments/PARCC and  CCSS/Ohio's New Learning Standards both are helping to define these new infrastructures.
    • Educational Climate Change
      • Blended Learning classrooms where students and teachers use a mix of face to face and web based learning.  This can be done on a small scale, within the context of an instructional unit or on a large scale  within the context of a course by using Learning Management Systems (LMS) to organize student assignment folders, threaded discussion boards, resources and collaborative work.
      • Traditional worksheets, practice workbooks and textbooks are now mixed with eBooks, student developed texts and supplemental materials pulled from a wide range of sources.
      • Teachers who now have a common set of standards not only within a state, but across state boundaries working within collaborative teams - in district and beyond their district using technology as a communication tool.
      • A progression of learning that spans not only the traditional k-12 environment but the preK- College/Career environment.
      • Learning opportunities for ALL students, no matter where they are on the learning continuum. 
      • More technology integrated into the daily learning process.  To quote Marc Prensky - "Assigning the tasks and not the tools." 
      • Data driven decision making with the ability for district and building teams to work together to decide what data is important, how to gather it, where to keep it and how to use it to impact student learning.
As the "winds of change" blow across our state, we can choose to run down into the storm cellar, close the shutters and hope that once the wind stops, we will emerge to find everything just the way it was before OR we can acknowledge that the winds are part of a larger climate change and begin to plan for how to continue to help students grow as learners in our new climate zone.   

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