Weekly Thoughts


Good Morning Leaders!!!

I'm trying something new. This is a SMORE flyer site. I'm going to try it out as a means to send you my weekly thoughts. It may take a bit more time at first, but may be more pleasing to your eye and it will run 'analytics' on the viewing of the 'flyer.' It also allows the viewer to print off a very clean look.

We shall see. One mistake I made for this one is I had typed it somewhere else then copied and pated into the SMORE. Formatting issues occurred because of that.

SMORE is free up to a certain usage. You can chose different color schemes and designs. Since we have snow, I chose what you see.

Trivia (answers at the end of the SMORE):

  1. Topeka is the capital of which US State?
  2. What is the name of Pink Floyd's new album?
  3. What year did Christopher Columbus make landfall in the Caribbean?
  4. The word 'pays' is French for what in English?
  5. If a piece of music were played andante, what pace would it be played at?


I cleaned up the following data, added a 2014 v previous 4 year average column, and added by test view. The data below is how many schools did we beat. There are over 1000 elementary schools, over 600 middle schools and over 500 high schools. Again, I realize the state went down in many elementary and middle school scores as a whole, but you can see from the charts below, we were passed up by many schools. However when comparing 2014 to 2010, we are so much farther ahead outside of 8th grade science. Similarly positive views of 2014 vs 2010-13 average, with 3rd and 4th grade math taking a hit compared to previous 4 year average. Interestingly, Shawn recently stated that the tight implementation of EnVisions had become looser. Is that the cause of the drop? Remember, 2014 was still under the GLE 2.0 standards. Looking at 7th grade ELA over the past 5 years, you can see the power of a teacher. In 2012-13, we hired a teacher from a neighboring district and she stayed just one year...landing a job in 2013-14 in a building that her sister also worked. The bump up was tremendous. As we move toward retention and hiring season...no single data points out the importance these decisions have than this one.

Please look over the data. Next time I'm in your office, let's pull this up and see what your take-aways are from trends. How does this compute with your common assessments this year? What are your concerns? What are you excited about? What changes are being made, if any?

(first issue with SMORE...I cannot get the table from excel nor from google spreadsheet to stay in format here. I thus have included the table in the email to you)


Student Learning Objectives (SLO) that some of you went to the first part of Module 5 training for, is a hot topic now. This was not part of the state model when it was approved...I was one of the 9 Design Team members (also called the State Consortium for Educator Effect). I assume this is being leveraged by the feds. Regardless, there is apparently enough buzz that they are considering postponing part 2 of the training as they get some things worked out. I also hear that NEE districts (MU eval model) have received the o.k. to do this in their Unit of Study. This is a 3 week deep look at a unit. They are using their pre- and post-test portion of that to satisfy the SLO. I asked about how they will track, and one large district told me they don't...there will simply be a toggle box that they had a pre- and post-test. Hmmmm... I like the idea of making this as simple as possible, as this evaluation system has our folks stretching in ways they have never stretch before...I don't want to pile on for compliance sake. I will dig into this for clarification.


Nuts and Bolts is Thursday. BOE meeting is Thursday.

PDC has almost completely expended their funds for the year.

TNT Day #4 will be on December 4th at the HS Library. We really could do a 5th day. Montgomery County is asking us to extend to a 1 / quarter next semester. The issue is sub costs of course. This is something we can discuss at IL next time.

2015 Assessments

Counselors are getting worried about headphones for the new MAP test. I guess a teacher passed along a company flier stating they are required and requesting they buy them from that company. Are they required? We don't know yet. No tech standards have been released. CTB won the contract. Then, their subcontractor was not doing well, so DESE pulled the contract and rebid. CTB won again, but with a new subcontractor. The new subcontractor is building MAP off the EOC online model, so we are told it will be very similar to EOC technology requirements. That being said, they just signed the contract and have yet to pay the bill since there is an anti-CCSS lawsuit against them (trying to say there is to be no testing in 2015 based on the re-writing standards legislation). When those come out, we will dig into them, and if we need to buy some headphones, we will. However, at this time, we will simply ask kids to bring their own much like they do for Sue Gaskill's class now.


I was at a meeting with Janet Duncan (DESE's lead data person) and TJ Spalty (new director of MSIP at DESE). Here are a few highlights:

  • In MOSIS, there are/will be a few pre-fab reports that we can dig into to check data prior to APR. April is a particularly good one to dig into.
  • If we change a kid's 180 day follow up status, we need to put in a comment box on the Feb MOSIS for that kid of where they are attending / doing. Shawn B/Doug, please share this with John/Abby. I will share with Laura.
  • Big news that undid previous big news. You may have been told that new legislation was passed saying that employed meant employed. DESE informally had stated that this meant that the grad follow up data in 3.5 and 3.6 would look much different...that if you had a job, you were a positive mark, regardless of the job type and career ed completer area match. Well, yesterday it was stated that is not the case. They will continue to calculate in the same manner. They acknowledged the bill but said the bill said nothing about 'for accountability purposes.' I'm sure this will go over well with legislators if they notice.
  • Speaking of grad follow up. I already gave John Clark the National Clearinghouse data by kid so he can start digging for corrections. The data for 3.5/3.6 will be up in March, and at that time, we can find corrections before our counselors leave instead of taking over their back to school time.
  • The graduation rate and attendance will also be up earlier...right after June Core Data certification.
  • APR will be delayed release next year...later timeline.
  • Optional EOCs...sounds like they will not use them despite the Technical Advisory Committees request to use them. Their fear is some gaming the system. I stated they can put safeguards in place to prevent gaming (require a certain % of kids taking the course to take the EOCs for them to count). I promised to bring this back up at the TAC meeting on Tuesday of next week (assuming I can make it...need to move a PT appointment if possible).

Digital Library

At this meeting, I asked my peers present if anyone was excited about their use of Digital Library yet. Jefferson City says their elementary teachers are using it quite a bit. When asked how, they stated that they were using the cross walk (this is the same cross walk that has been on DESE's website) and the 'lessons.' Digital Library says it does not have lessons, but it does. They also said that teachers are rating things on the Digital Library, and this helps them weed out the not so good items to look at. No one else at the meeting gave specifics. Are you and yours using it?

On The Web

This remarkable website shows all one day’s airline flights on a world map and also has links explaining the growth of air travel in the last century: http://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2014/aviation-100-years

In this School Library Journal feature, Richard Byrne suggests apps to help students get started with their writing. Here are three that are free:

• Write About This http://ow.ly/CwmbT

• WordWriter http://www.boomwriter.com/wordwriter

• StoryToolz http://storytoolz.com

Articles via K. Marshall

  1. “Amy Cuddy Takes a Stand” by David Hochman in The New York Times, September 19, 2014
  2. “Speaking Volumes” by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey in Educational Leadership, November 2014 (Vol. 72, #3, p. 18-23)
  3. “Grading Standards Can Elevate Teaching” by Joe Feldman in Education Week, November 12, 2014 (Vol. 34, #12, p. 22)
  4. “A Response to Carol Burris and Rick Hess on Common Core Math in the Elementary Grades” by Robert Pondiscio and Kevin Mahnken in The Education Gadfly, November 12, 2014 (Vol. 14, #46)

1. Can Body Posture Change a Person’s Level of Confidence and Efficacy?

In this New York Times article, David Hochman reports on the work of Harvard Business School social psychologist Amy Cuddy, whose research shows the surprising impact of body posture on self-assurance and success. Cuddy, whose phenomenally popular TED talk on this subject is available in the link below, has demonstrated that a confident, expansive, “Wonder Woman” stance is not only an outward manifestation of confidence; striking such a pose can create self-assurance that wasn’t there before.

Conversely, a number of less-confident body postures are common among those who are worried, have low self-esteem, or don’t think they really deserve to be there – for example:

- Shoulders hunched inward;

- Arms crossed;

- Legs crossed;

- Ankles tightly entwined;

- Touching one’s face or neck;

- Raising one’s hand only half-way up in class.

These are part of a self-reinforcing cycle of low confidence and decreased efficacy. Women are particularly prone to less-confident body posture, says Cuddy.

But if a person about to walk into a high-stakes situation – an interview, a date, a stage performance, teaching a class – takes a couple of minutes alone to strike a confident pose, there’s a boost in confidence and success. Cuddy and her colleagues have measured significant increases in testosterone (a hormone associated with high efficacy) and decreases in cortisone (a stress hormone) after only a short amount of time standing up straight, shoulders back, head up, arms on hips, legs in a wide stance.

Cuddy’s own story is testament to this phenomenon. She once worked as a roller-skating waitress and while in college in Colorado, was seriously injured in a car accident and given little hope of recovering full mental capacity. She persisted, graduated from college, went through graduate school at Princeton, all the time thinking she was an impostor, and worked her way into a professorship at Harvard and finally felt she belonged. “Fake it till you become it,” is Cuddy’s rallying cry for people who struggle as she did.

“Amy Cuddy Takes a Stand” by David Hochman in The New York Times, September 19, 2014, http://nyti.ms/1sFpldD

2. Fostering High-Quality Classroom Discussions

(Originally titled “Speaking Volumes”)

“Students love to talk. So do teachers,” say Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey (San Diego State University) in this Educational Leadership article. But classroom talk is not always productive, and in many classrooms, especially those with low-achieving students, teachers are talking as much as 80 percent of the time. Fisher and Frey suggest a number of ways to maximize the quality of small- and large-group classroom discussions and their impact on thinking, reading, and writing:

Offer meaningful and complex tasks. The prompt for a discussion should be relevant, interesting, and engaging, not just completing an assignment or activity.

Model behavioral cues. Teachers often need to explicitly teach and then carefully monitor the body language of good group work – students leaning in, gesturing, with attentive facial expressions. Videos of groups are helpful, as is a fishbowl in which students observe an effective group at work.

Encourage argumentation, not arguing. Students need to learn how to disagree without being disagreeable – making claims, offering evidence, seeking clarification, using accountable talk, offering counterclaims, agreeing to disagree, or reaching consensus.

Use the best format. For whole-group discussions, a circle or U-shape allows students to see each others’ faces, which makes a big difference.

Provide language support. Some students are shy and rarely give voice to their ideas. Teachers can help students take part in discussions by providing sentence frames, language charts, word walls, audio devices, peer support, or teacher modeling.

Find the right group size. Small groups ideally have 2-5 students, say Fisher and Frey, and don’t all have to be the same size; some students work best with one partner, while others thrive in a larger group – but not more than five. Heterogeneous groups can be formed by making a list of all students in order of achievement, cutting the list in two, and forming each group with students from the two columns.

Listen, question, prompt, and cue. Teachers should tune in on student talk and intervene strategically, say Fisher and Frey: “In addition, teachers should be aware that their comments can build students’ sense of self – their self-esteem, agency, and identity – or damage it.” Here are some helpful prompts:

- Can you tell us more?

- Would you say that again?

- Can you give me another example so we can understand?

- I’d like to hear what others are thinking about Robert’s comment.

- Take your time. I can see you’ve got further thoughts about this.

- Why do you think that?

- Where could we find that information you just brought up?

- I’ll restate what you just said. Listen to make sure I got it right.

- That’s a great question. Let’s pose it to the rest of the class. What do you think?

“Speaking Volumes” by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey in Educational Leadership, November 2014 (Vol. 72, #3, p. 18-23), http://bit.ly/1vj7z7l; Fisher can be reached at dfisher@mail.sdsu.edu, Frey at nfrey@mail.sdsu.edu.

3. Improving High-School Grading Practices

In this Education Week article, California professional development consultant Joe Feldman lists some of the possible meanings of a B on a report card: “That a student mastered the standards, but came late every day? That the student understood half the standards, but persevered to complete every assignment and extra-credit offering? That the student aced major assessments, but was often disrespectful?”

Most principals know their teachers’ grading policies are all over the map, and yet few give their teachers clear guidelines on how to count different aspects of students’ performance. “A high-school student who sees five to seven different teachers a day has to navigate five to seven different grading systems,” says Feldman. “When a course is taught by several teachers (for example, Algebra I or English 9), two students who performed equally in different classes could receive entirely different grades.” And inevitably there’s subjectivity, even when assessing what seems to be the same student behavior – participation or effort, for example.

Grades matter. They influence how students feel about different subjects (Am I “good at” math?), the need for additional support, athletic eligibility, promotion, graduation, college admission, scholarships, and employment. So why is there so little dialogue on this subject? “Discussions that ask teachers to talk about grading are hard, emotional, and confusing,” says Feldman. “To many teachers, asking them to change their grading practices suggests a challenge to their autonomy and professionalism – a reaction that reveals how tightly grades are tied psychologically, emotionally, and philosophically to their deepest thinking about their practice.”

Feldman describes how he guided a group of teachers in a Northern California district to look at research on grading, reflect on their own grading practices, pilot some new ideas in their classrooms, share how things went, refine the changes, and repeat the cycle several times. The results were remarkable:

- Teachers enjoyed the process of questioning long-time assumptions about grading.

- The accuracy of students’ grades got better.

- Trust between students and teachers improved.

- Students’ passing rates went up significantly.

- Students and teachers said the new system more accurately reflected their work.

One teacher spoke for others when he said he could never go back to the old way.

“Grading Standards Can Elevate Teaching” by Joe Feldman in Education Week, November 12, 2014 (Vol. 34, #12, p. 22), www.edweek.org

4. Is Common Core Math Too Confusing and Too Hard?

In this Education Gadfly article, Robert Pondiscio and Kevin Mahnken respond to criticisms of Common Core’s elementary math standards made recently by Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute and New York principal Carol Burris:

The standards confuse children and parents. Burris quoted this first-grade standard: “Use strategies such as counting on; making ten (e.g., 8+6 = 8+2+4 = 10+4 = 14); decom-posing a number leading to a ten (e.g., 13-4 = 13-3-1 = 9)… and creating equivalent but easier or known sums (e.g., adding 6+7 by creating the known equivalent 6+6+1 = 12+1 = 13).” Pondiscio and Mahnken make three points.

First, standards are written for professional educators, not for students. “A teacher would no sooner read this kind of guidance to a seven-year-old than a waiter would recite food-handling procedures to a diner who merely wants to know what’s on the menu tonight,” say Pondiscio and Mahnken.

Second, Burris left out the first sentence of the standard: “Add and subtract within 20, demonstrating fluency for addition and subtraction within 10” – a clear and manageable expectation for first graders.

Third, the instructional examples quoted by Burris are preceded by the words “such as” – they are examples of many possible ways to teach this standard, all of which are in the repertoire of lots of teachers, especially in high-performing countries like Singapore and Japan.

Some standards are too advanced for young students. Critics of elementary Common Core standards say that some are “developmentally inappropriate” – that children are simply not capable of achieving them. One example is asking kindergarten students to count to 100. Pondiscio and Mahnken say this level of knowledge is already in a number of states’ standards and is entirely appropriate for kindergarten – provided it’s interpreted as it’s written: counting to 100, not grasping all the components of fluency, conceptual understanding, and application.

Social psychologists like Daniel Willingham have shown that children don’t develop in rigid stages but rather in continuous flow and are often capable of more than we give them credit for. He and others believe the Common Core standards are manageable and appropriate – in the hands of good teachers. “How to get them there is part of the art and science of teaching and involves making sure that I know what my students know and can move them to where they need to be,” says California kindergarten teacher Robbie Torney. Pondiscio and Mahnken take the long view: “If we know where we want kids to be at the end of 13 years of schooling, delaying learning is the intellectual equivalent of a balloon payment on a mortgage. Sooner or later, it’s got to be paid up.”

There is too much emphasis on abstract mathematical concepts. “Common Core certainly does challenge students to comprehend math at the conceptual level – the broad strokes of composing and decomposing numbers, for instance – but only in concert with, and not opposed to, mastering standard algorithms,” say Pondiscio and Mahnken. “[K]ids need both the ability to compute with speed and accuracy, to understand the answer they got, and to know whether it makes sense.” It’s up to teachers to implement the standards in a balanced way.

“A Response to Carol Burris and Rick Hess on Common Core Math in the Elementary Grades” by Robert Pondiscio and Kevin Mahnken in The Education Gadfly, November 12, 2014 (Vol. 14, #46), http://bit.ly/11jQZGl

Trivia Answers

  1. Topeka is the capital of which US State? Kansas
  2. What is the name of Pink Floyd's new album? The Endless River
  3. What year did Christopher Columbus make landfall in the Caribbean? 1492
  4. The word 'pays' is French for what in English? Country
  5. If a piece of music were played andante, what pace would it be played at? At a walking pace

The End!

So...thoughts on the SMORE version?