Wednesday, April 7, 2010

UPDATE: Implementing the Nat'l Core in Utah!


In a year of constant change, more lie ahead! And the rumors have been flying fast and furiously for months. While decisions have been made about some national, state, and district concerns, mandates, etc., others are still being deliberated. With that in mind, I'll share what language arts representatives from throughout the state learned last Wednesday when we met with Dr. Reed Spencer, USOE Language Arts Curriculum Specialist.

National Common Core State Standards (NCCSS)
  • Dr. Spencer said that the proposal to adopt the NCCSS would be presented to the State Board of Education for approval in June. Speaking confidently, he added that in all likelihood, the board would adopt the standards.
  • He surmised that it would take about 2 years for Utah to fully implement the national core, with the exception of math, and that will take 3 years. IN THE MEANTIME, the USOE, districts, and schools will start bridging together the current and future cores. (What fun.)
  • Adoption allows for states to add up to 15% more content to the standards if USOE curriculum leaders feel there are holes. (As I compared the two, I saw similarities, but also noticed Greek and Latin roots are not specified as part of vocabulary and word study. Nor is inquiry a separate strand but is embedded throughout the language arts core. We'll have to wait and see if the state plugs in any additions.)
Assessments: UBSCT, CRT's, 
DWA, and ????
  • Yes, it's true, starting next school year, UBSCT takes a leave of absence for at least 2 years, but Dr. Spencer does NOT see its return. Instead, he predicts it will be replaced with a version of the ACT that is "a grade-appropriate, curriculum-based assessment that measures what students have learned in school" (ACT News, Mar. 31, 2010).  
  • Criterion-Reference Testing (CRT), however, is NOT going away for grades 3-11 until a national assessment that aligns with NCCSS is developed. In the meantime, the CRT will test Utah's current core.
  • The Direct Writing Assessment (DWA) will still be administered to 8th graders, BUT the GOOD NEWS is that those students will NOT have to undergo the agony of the Iowa Basic Skills Test! YaY!
    • Speaking of DWA, Margaret Young, who oversees this venture, said the student interface could NOT have gone more smoothly! And she said THAT HAPPENED BECAUSE OF WONDERFUL TEACHERS!  Margaret also asked me to tell you how much she appreciated all your efforts! Some 83,201 5th and 8th graders took the writing test, and of that number, only 69 were non-scorable. Margaret was SHOCKED and THRILLED! That has not happened before.
    • In order to validate results, this year's essays will be computer AND hand scored. Measurement, Inc. will release those results by the end of the school year.
    • One last DWA topic is whether or not to change the prompt for 8th graders. Margaret is taking this under consideration, and she would like to know what 8th grade LA teachers think about that. PLEASE WEIGH IN BY REGISTERING YOUR OPINION ON THE L2L POLL, (top-left)!

  • The NCCSS Assessment will take at least 2 and maybe 3 years to create, according to Maureen Cunniff, State CRT Coordinator. She said that a 26-state consortium will combine efforts to created FORMATIVE and SUMMATIVE assessments. Utah, through the office of education, is one of the states that will be involved. Representatives will submit questions from their states' cores that support NCCSS. The tests will then be created from that item bank.
So what does this all mean in terms of change? There are some "interesting" aspects of all these modifications/transformations/reformations, etc. Here are just a few:
  1. FEWER STANDARDIZED TESTS - for the time being. We have all been concerned about the time these tests take away from instruction. Now we can utilize the extra time for TEACHING! 
  2. Because of national education reforms being enacted, U-PASS, the annual report of assessments and behavior indicators and the state's accountability plan, is also defunct! Whether this is good or bad depends upon what eventually replaces it. Remember that U-PASS "scores" included CRT and DWA results, and without that report ...?
  3. Some testing pressures may be eased, but we must still dedicate ourselves to teaching the core - including those NON-tested items - via evidence-based practices and also tend to Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) - the heart of the core. 
While accountability is important, we need to show the state and federal government that student learning does occur in classrooms without the overkill of mandated standardized tests checking up on schools. Instead, let's use formative assessments to course-correct and differentiate our instruction.

Granted, this is an "interim" time, but we can do some good things while we wait for the other shoe to drop.

Best wishes,

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