GV BOCES School Improvement

October 2022 Newsletter

News You Can Use

Embedded in the School Improvement (SI) newsletter you will find important updates, information, and resources from the New York State Department of Education (NYSED) & your regional Joint Management Team BOCES (Monroe 1 BOCES, Monroe 2 BOCES, Genesee Valley BOCES & Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES). Below are direct links that assist with staying current regarding news and changes at the state level.

Upcoming GV BOCES Featured Speakers

Dr. Paul Riccomini

Title: Boost Your Students Retention of Essential Mathematical Concepts and Skills

Description: Teaching new content is a major responsibility of teachers at all levels and all subject areas, but also supporting students’ retention is equally important. Do your students continue to struggle with remembering important concepts and skills? In this session, you will learn three powerful yet simple instructional strategies that can significantly boost your students’ long-term retention (also known as durable learning) of important mathematical content.

Date: October 19, 2022

NYSED Transitions to Computer -Based Testing

In the June 16, 2022 memo, Statewide Implementation of Computer-based Testing, NYSED provided the timeline for the transition to computer-based testing. Full implementation of computer-based testing for Grades 3-8 ELA, Math, and elementary- and intermediate-level science will take place over the next several years according to the following timeline:

    • 2024 – Required CBT administration in Grades 5 and 8 ELA, Math, and Science
    • 2025 – Required CBT administration in Grades 4, 5, 6, and 8
    • 2026 – Required CBT administration for all Grades 3-8

Any schools that have not yet participated in computer-based administration of the Grades 3-8 tests are strongly encouraged to participate in CBT for field testing in Spring 2023. Schools will continue to have the option of participating in operational CBT in any grade/content area prior to its requirement. Paper will continue to be available to students with an IEP or 504 Plan that requires it. Paper will be available to Religious and Independent Schools that due to religious beliefs do not make use of the technology required for CBT.

Office of Standards and Instruction Newsletter

Beginning this fall, the Office of Standards and Instruction will publish a newsletter to share important news, notable developments, helpful advice, and interesting information relating to standards-based instruction across all content areas. Available on the Standards and Instruction homepage, the newsletter will present timely and relevant updates on topics including learning standards, awards, conferences, and instructional resources.
To be notified of new editions or to receive other updates from the Office of Standards and Instruction, please subscribe to the Content Area Notification Service.

Performance-Based Learning & Assessment Networks (PLAN) Pilot

NYSED is launching a webinar series for the Performance-Based Learning & Assessment Networks (PLAN) Pilot. Registration is now open for our first LIVE webinar featuring special guest presenter, Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond of the Learning Policy Institute. See the attached flyer for more information.

Topic: What is Performance-Based Learning & Assessment?

When: Tuesday, October 4th at 3:00 PM ET

Once you register, you will receive an automated invitation with the information on how to join the webinar. If you do not receive that email in your inbox after you register, and it is not in your spam folder, contact WebEx support at webex@neric.org.

This webinar will be hosted on WebEx with our colleagues at Capital Region BOCES. We encourage you to download the WebEx application ahead of time to be sure your device is ready to connect!

All webinars will be recorded and posted on the PLAN Pilot website following the live event. Submit questions in advance by emailing us at plan.pilot@nysed.gov.

Continue Your Professional Learning

The School Improvement (SI) newsletter also strives to continue professional learning for school administrators, teachers, and staff even from afar. This section of the newsletter will provide readers with timely and relevant learning aligned to evidence-based practices. If you would like more on topics outlined in the newsletter, please contact the SI department. Our contact information is located at the bottom of the newsletter. Enjoy!

Critical Assessment Design: Guidelines for Practice & Application

Last month’s assessment-oriented article focused on creating or revising a test blueprint as a means for improving clarity, alignment, and validity. This effort works to Popham’s ideal articulated in the title of his 2003 text Test Better, Teach Better. The author articulates this well when he argues most people realize that “if a teacher does a great instructional job, that teacher’s students will usually perform better on tests. It’s the other side of the equation that’s less often understood, namely, that how a teacher tests– the way a teacher designs tests and applies test data– can profoundly affect how well that teacher teaches” (p. 1). In order to design tests and apply testing data effectively, it is critical to be able to understand and apply characteristics of quality as they apply to item writing.

One of the most ubiquitously used test-item “formats” is the multiple-choice question (MCQ). MCQs are part of the “selected response item” family that also includes: True/False, Matching, and Fill-In Items. While there are many obvious benefits to using MCQs in the classroom assessment environment (i.e. many items can be used in a single testing occasion, MCQs are time efficient for test takers and raters, rating is objective) there are less conspicuous benefits as well (i.e. decreasing the teacher-student feedback loop, using MCQs as a learning tool within the classroom, using the discrimination between plausible distractors to facilitate class discussion). Regardless of the intent for the use of MCQs as part of classroom assessment, there are some specific “best practices” regarding their construction.

Table 1 reflects common best practices frequently discussed across the literature. Educators looking to design classroom assessments should consider the guidelines and rules articulated below as a means for ensuring the quality of MCQ items. Additionally, these same best practices can be used as the lenses through which to evaluate existing items. While some of the guidelines may seem logical, others might reflect novel criteria for many teachers. For example, the concept of plausible alternatives may not be new to classroom teachers, while the exclusion of the use of “all of the above” may be somewhat revelatory to teachers’ assessment practice. The best practices noted herein are intended to improve the quality of multiple-choice items as a tool for making the most accurate inferences regarding students’ learning.

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So, in order to Test Better, Teach Better, it is important to actively consider the quality of assessment items from which instructional and evaluative decisions are made. Given the proliferation of assessments employing multiple-choice questions, it is critical for teaching staff to have a high degree of understanding regarding the best practices for creating MCQ items, as these tasks can be tremendously useful in the classroom context. Butler (2018) articulates the effectiveness of MCQ items in this way: “An effective multiple-choice item will both require students to think in a way that is productive for learning and provide a valid measure of whether the target skill, knowledge, or both has been acquired” (p. 329). This two-fold impact should drive instructional staff to look at potentially mundane items in a new light.

School Improvement Spotlights

School Improvement (SI) takes great pride in the work we do at the state level, regionally, and when working directly with component districts. This section of the newsletter offers insight into the work SI does and provides recognition to local districts that strive for continuous school improvement. Partnerships and collaboration are the key to everyone's success!


This summer, Tom Schimmer, the author of Grading From the Inside Out: Bringing Accuracy to Student Assessment Through a Standards-based Mindset (2016), visited Council Rock Primary School in Brighton, NY. Here, he lead teachers and administrators on a two-day learning journey about standards-based learning and effective grading practices. Attendees, from the Genesee Valley BOCES region, listened to Tom reflect on his own journey as an educator. He began by referring to the “A word”... Assessment, and told his very own assessment story; one that involved a lot of learning and change over the years because of his lack of formal assessment training. Many of the assessment and grading practices that he used in the past were no longer relevant within the curricular standards movement. Tom also talked about his realization that few discussions in education elicit the kind of polarizing discourse as those about grading. Grading is an emotionally-charged aspect of education because grading practices are often built from long traditions. Therefore, it can become personal when someone may suggest any change to the practice. Schimmer (2016) elaborated on this point by saying, “The goal of any change effort is not to eliminate any sense of autonomy, but to create alignment and consistency so that teachers, while exercising their personal professional judgments, are consistent with how they assess and report student proficiency” (p. 30).

Standards-Based Grading = Grading Based on Standards

The move to standards-based grading is intended to create a culture focused on learning, where students receive more information about what they know and understand and what they need to specifically learn (Schimmer, 2016). Typically, we report grades in order to communicate achievements at school. Whereas, standards-based reporting identifies essential standards, or descriptions of what is intended for students to learn, and reports a certain level of proficiency on each of those standards. The process of unpacking standards is meant to identify specific criteria necessary to create a learning progression toward success. We unpack and operationalize the standards for teaching purposes, and we repack the standards for grading purposes. Teachers spend time intentionally planning ways to help learners dig in deeply, and think critically about the concepts they want students to learn (that are informed and guided by the standards). Standards-based learning is about gaining clarity in describing the qualities of what we want students to achieve. Then, we plan instruction, assessment, and reporting accordingly. In a blog titled, Assessment is the Engine, Schimmer (2019) states, “...our grades are only as accurate as the assessments they are based on…so we must be solid and consistent in our approach to verifying learning in order to align the messages that both students and parents receive” (p. 1).

First Steps

Establishing a standards-based mindset allows for the gradual introduction of standards-based grading practices. In a standards-based culture for learning, the first step to clarity and meaningfulness is to ensure that we only grade the learning in relation to the standards (Schimmer, 2014). Grades will be meaningful when they reflect the evidence of levels of proficiency, derived from clearly articulated success criteria. They will be as meaningful or as meaningless as we make them; their existence is not the greatest issue. You can begin to develop a standards-based learning mindset by having conversations about foundational issues, not the details. Productive conversations about grading must deal seriously with educators’ long-standing beliefs and entrenched practices.

If you are looking to start a conversation in your district, below are a few discussion points, derived from Schimmer’s Six Tenets for Assessment and Grading (2019). They can be useful in opening dialogue about the purpose, audience, and personal beliefs of assessment and grading practices.

ASSESSMENT PURPOSE: When I assess my students, I am clear on the purpose of the assessment and how I intend to use the results.

WHAT DO THE GRADES REFLECT? Grades should reflect the achievement of intended learning outcomes–whether the school is using a conventional subject-based report card or a report card that represents these intended learning outcomes as standards.

ASSESSMENT ARCHITECTURE: Assessment architecture is most effective when it is purposefully planned, designed, and intentionally sequenced in advance of instruction.

ASSESSMENT INTERPRETATION: The interpretation of assessment results must be accurate, accessible, and reliable. The items and tasks in our assessments must accurately reflect the standards we are gathering information on.

STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT: Grades should reflect a particular student’s individual achievement. Group and cooperative skills are important, but they should be reflected elsewhere, not in an individual’s academic grade.

COMMUNICATION OF ASSESSMENT RESULTS: The communication of assessment results (whether formative or summative) generates productive responses from learners.


Schimmer, T. (2019, September 24). [web log]. Retrieved September 22, 2022, from https://allthingsassessment.info/2019/09/24/assessment-is-the-engine/.

Schimmer, T. (2016). Grading from the inside out: Bringing accuracy to student assessment through a standards-based mindset. Solution Tree Press.

Schimmer, T. (2014). Grading with a Standards-based Mindset. Retrieved September 22, 2022, from www.amle.org.

Daniel Willingham: Why Knowledge Matters

This past September, Daniel Willingham, a cognitive scientist and author of Why Don’t Students Like School?, visited the LeRoy Service Center. The purpose of his visit was to work with regional educators to better understand contemporary, cognitive research that explains how the brain works and what implications this has on education. Willingham earned his B.A. from Duke University in 1983 and his Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from Harvard University in 1990. He is currently Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, where he has taught since 1992. Until about 2000, his research focused solely on the brain basis of learning and memory. Today, all of his research concerns the application of cognitive psychology to K-16 education.

Willingham writes the “Ask the Cognitive Scientist” column for American Educator magazine, and is the author of Why Don't Students Like School?, When Can You Trust the Experts?, Raising Kids Who Read, and The Reading Mind. One throughline from his great body of work centralizes on the notion that we only learn what we think about.

On this level, most educators agree that the goal of education is effective thinking: being able to solve problems, engage with new ideas critically, and generate new, creative ideas. Over the last forty years, cognitive psychologists have gathered increasing evidence that these mental processes depend on and are intertwined with factual knowledge. In other words, it's much easier to be a strong problem-solver when the question concerns a topic you know a lot about. Similarly, this phenomenon also applies to reading comprehension, as noted by “The Baseball Study” whereas poor readers performed better than skilled readers given a sample text utilizing baseball jargon, in which the poor readers were privy to the terminology but the skilled readers were not. In his talk, Willingham explained the relationship between knowledge and thinking processes, as well as comprehension, in reading, math, and science; focusing especially on the classroom implications throughout schooling.

When children start school, it is completely up to the teacher to see to it that students learn. In this regard, it is imperative for educators to determine what students know, what they do not know, and position the next sequence of learning appropriately so that learners can achieve cognitive pleasure. This so happens to be exceedingly more important than determining relevance, which is undeniably a fad in education. As learners grow older, they become increasingly responsible for their own learning. They must learn how to read complicated texts independently, and not just for comprehension, but to remember the content as well. They must learn to avoid distraction, commit content to memory, take notes, judge when they have studied enough, avoid procrastination, and more. Sadly, studies show that most college students use very inefficient strategies for most of these tasks. Willingham summarized research from the last twenty years on a subset of these tasks, focusing on practical applications that can be communicated to students so that they can regulate their learning more efficiently.

In truth, it is practically a disservice to attempt to summarize Willingham’s facilitation. Therefore, for those who were unable to join, here is a condensed list of probing questions participants were able to investigate:

  • The human brain is designed to remember, not to think, so what environmental conditions must occur to think?

  • Humans are afflicted by limitations of working memory, so in what ways can we get around those limitations?

  • We are prewired to speak, but not to read. So then, how do we get meaning out of sentences and text and in what ways can we improve our comprehension?

  • How do we most efficiently get knowledge and commit it to long-term memory and what are the implications of obtaining it?

  • The brain will constantly strive for affirmation to stop thinking - how can address this issue and introduce learning and studying approaches to keep the process of thinking going?

In summation, Willingham’s facilitation and content knowledge were successful in creating an environment of deep thinking. He presented topics for rich analysis and reflective challenges. He bridged gaps between psychology and education that naturally became a catalyst for authentic questioning of practice. If you're curious to learn more, and experience these psychological phenomenons for yourself, then SIT invites you to explore one of Willingham’s publications.

Getting to Know All About APPR!

New teachers are hired every year across the Genesee Valley Region. Elba CSD ensures that their new teachers are well equipped to start the year by providing an overview of the evidence-informed teacher practices that are articulated in their teacher evaluation tool. On August 29, 2022, the School Improvement Team (SIT) traveled to Elba CSD, to work with 10 new instructional staff members. Elba CSD has future plans to continue these conversations throughout the school year as well. Below, you will find pictures of Elba staff discussing what a highly-effective teacher looks and sounds like, as well as identifying what an observer would hear/see in a highly-effective classroom.

Spoiler alert- teachers do not need to be new/novice to have these conversations. As Wiliam (2012) suggests, “[Imagine] if we create a culture where every teacher believes they need to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better, there is no limit to what we can achieve” (SSAT Keynote Lecture). If your district wants to learn more about highly-effective teaching or APPR, please feel free to contact the SIT for support.


Regional Administrative Curriculum Council Meetings Are Back!

Each year, Genesee Valley BOCES (GVB) offers quarterly Regional Administrative Curriculum Council (CC) Meetings in an effort to: collaborate with other Instructional Leaders in the region, hear updates from various departments/guest speakers, and continue professional learning. Standing updates typically include hearing from GVB School Improvement Team (SIT), GVB School Library System, GVB Model Schools, GVB Enrichement, Edu Tech, Genesee Region Teacher Center, and Tri-County Teacher Center. GVB SIT also sits on various committees at the state level, throughout the year, and often will use the CC meetings to turnkey important updates and professional learning topics. It is highly recommended that each component district ensures participation at council meetings. Below, you will find our save-the-date flyer and a link to register for your convenience.

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School Improvement Professional Learning for 2022-2023

Don't forget to check out the PLS 2022-2023 Catalog!

Follow School Improvement on Twitter

Don’t forget that you can follow the School Improvement Team (SIT) on Twitter. The team is often posting information about upcoming professional learning opportunities, educational resources, and strategies for the classroom. You can stay in tune with what is happening at Genesee Valley BOCES and the SIT by following #gvbocessit.

Need Support?

Please direct all requests for service to the Director of School Improvement, Stephanie Burns at 585.344.7923.