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    NWEA Study Shows Weak Relationship Between High Poverty and Low Rates of Growth

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Nov 08, 2018

    NWEA StudyWhen research consulting director Andy Hegedus toured the hallways of an urban school in Delaware, he saw all the characteristics of a high-performing school—dedicated teachers and responsive, motivated, and engaged students.

    “I thought the principal was on her game, the teachers were working hard, the energy was high, and the kids were happy—all the things you want to see in a school,” he says.

    But the numbers told a different story. Hegedus was surprised to learn that this school was named a “priority school,” a designation for the lowest 5% of Title I schools in the state, based on achievement on the Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System (DCAS), with a demonstrated lack of progress over the past two to three years.

    “I was like, this doesn’t make any sense,” he says. “There was a disconnect between my experience with the school and how the school got rated.”

    A study recently published by NWEA, a not-for-profit assessment solutions provider, suggests that these students are doing better than the data convey.

    Using NWEA’s MAP Growth data from 1,500 randomly selected schools, Hegedus investigated the relationships between student achievement and growth measures and school-level poverty variables, such as free and reduced-priced lunch status. By dynamically adjusting to each student’s responses, MAP Growth creates an individualized assessment experience that precisely measures what each student knows and tracks their growth over time.

    This achievement data are used to predict proficiency and determine college readiness. A student’s growth is also determined between testing events and can be fairly compared to national norms, regardless of starting achievement levels or instructional time. Educators can monitor improvement throughout the school year and across multiple years.

    The study shows that while there is a strong relationship between schools with high rates of poverty and low student achievement, there is a weak relationship between schools with high rates of poverty and low student academic growth. These findings suggest that the use of achievement measures to evaluate school performance fails to recognize schools that are making remarkable progress and biases the evaluation system against schools serving vulnerable populations.

    “What the studies show is that there are high poverty schools where kids learn a lot, and low poverty schools where they don’t, and vice versa” says Hegedus. “If we just reflect on achievement, and how ‘on track’ kids are, it only paints part of the picture.”

    Unlike the No Child Left Behind Act, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) allows states to include student growth as an indicator of school quality or success. When asked how these findings may impact state accountability plans, Hegedus says he hopes they will assign more weight to growth without losing sight of long-term achievement goals.

    Hegedus also hopes these results will help validate the hard work of teachers and administrators that isn’t always mirrored by achievement measures alone.  

    “Having a measure that more closely reflects the role of a school or the role of a teacher will help us do a better job of not only identifying schools performing well, but also helping people in that school see their work reflected one way or the other,” he says.

    Hegedus noted the importance of publicly reporting of “well-designed metrics of growth and achievement” that accurately describe how much students know when they arrive at school and how much it changes once they are there. He says this transparency, especially around low achievement, often triggers community attention and action.  

    “Knowing that students are not achieving as well as desired can create urgency, galvanize a community around a school, and force conversations about improvement,” he writes.

    The full study is available at

    Alina O’Donnell is the communications strategist at ILA and the editor of Literacy Daily.

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    Out of the Classroom and Into the Office

    By Nancy Veatch
     | Oct 26, 2018

    Out of the Classroom I wandered from room to room on the first day of school, feeling a bit lost without my own group of students to teach. I observed kindergartners as they wholeheartedly tried to listen to their energetic new teacher read a story aloud. I progressed to the other side of the building where seventh and eighth graders sat in a circle discussed their summers under the guidance of their industrious teacher, who ensured equity of voice.

    No matter which room I entered, literacy instruction was happening, and I felt at a loss for how I could help provide authentic literacy opportunities for students now that I was out of the classroom and in my office serving as the principal and assistant superintendent of educational services for the district.

    But physically leaving the classroom and moving into an administrative role does not mean the end of guiding instruction. Rather, it’s an opportunity to support more teachers and students. However, I’ve learned that leaders must be mindful of several practices as they transition into an expanded role.

    You can be everywhere, be nowhere, and accomplish nothing

    I am confident that this feeling of aimlessness is familiar to other leaders who have transitioned into an administrative role from working 180 days a year providing instruction for students. On that first day of school, I spent the entire day  assisting in classrooms, helping serve lunch, meeting with parents, supervising recess, and checking in with students. By that evening, I confirmed that this was an absurd way for me to spend my time; I had burned an entire day. All the teachers and staff were fully qualified to instruct and provide services for these students. I had spent the day being present everywhere, but actually being nowhere, and at the end of the day I had accomplished nothing.

    No leader will be productive in his or her role unless he or she makes a balanced, intentional plan to support the teachers and students on a daily basis. Effective leaders must schedule a specific time each day to visit classrooms and check in with teachers, as teachers need to know leaders are present, involved, and supportive of their efforts. Additionally, leaders must devote periods of the day to ensuring that the management and leadership of the school are attended to with a focus on helping the system move forward.

    Don’t forget what it feels like to be a teacher

    I believe that teaching is the most rewarding occupation that exists. Teachers are responsible for helping children to develop the skills they need to become productive citizens who will make a difference in the world. It can be hard, exhausting work, riddled with challenges that can come from addressing varied groups of students with unique needs, but anyone who has witnessed a child begin to read knows that it is well worth the effort.

    Teachers need support in their work with students as they strive to meet their academic, social–emotional, and physical needs and challenges. This does not equate to the leader doing the work for the teachers but, rather, the leader providing the teachers with opportunities to expand their own professional learning so that they can most effectively attend to their students’ needs. It also includes empowering teachers by providing them with the space to exercise their teacher leader capabilities and lead initiatives. An effective leader understands and appreciates that if you grow teachers, they can excel and better serve their students and school community.

    Build reciprocal relationships based upon trust

    Years ago, I heard an insensitive administrator who I overheard criticizing what was perceived as teachers’ lack of knowledge. I was highly offended by this remark and to this day cringe whenever I hear anyone echo this sentiment. While there are consistently mounds of new initiatives and expectations placed on teachers, they are running as fast as they can to address the needs of the students before them each day. It is the leader’s responsibility to weed through this clutter and provide teachers with the guidance and information they need to adjust their instruction as the changes occur.

    Effective leaders must guide teachers in their new learning and provide continued support, affirmations, and suggestions as needed along the way. This is impossible to do unless both parties have established a reciprocal relationship based upon trust.

    Notes to self:

    • Intentionally set aside time each day to be visible and available for teachers with equal time devoted to the management and leadership of the system; don’t burn a day wandering.
    • Support and empower all teachers in their work; serve them.
    • Be the master teacher you wish you had.

    The world of education often is so harried and scattered, but it does not need to be. By leading with intention and focusing on priorities, school leaders who work outside of the classroom can ensure they are growing teachers who can provide quality authentic literacy and learning experiences for all the students they serve.

    Nancy Veatch is assistant superintendent of educational services and principal at Bend Elementary School.

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    Should a Book Be a School Supply?

    By Justin Stygles
     | Sep 18, 2018
    Classroom Library

    For years I have wondered if a book should be considered a school supply. Recently, I posed this question to parents, educators, and “friends” on social media.

    As a research question, I must concede that clarity is lacking; the question is rather open-ended. I expected the respondents to assume I meant an independent reading book. I posed the question because I sought to evaluate what parents think about ensuring students come to school with their own independent reading book.

    Twenty-four hours after posting my question, I gleaned two major observations.

    First, either due to vagueness or the open-ended nature of the question, many people considered a “book” to be synonymous with a textbook. Second, most educators agreed that a book should be a school supply. Parents and community members felt that books should come from the classroom, or at least a library.

    Before I discuss the results, I would like to share some information. I am not a data analyst; I am merely making conclusions based on the information posted. Second, I posted my question in two forums: my personal Facebook page and a closed group representing parents. My “friends” consisted of colleagues and coworkers from my current career fields and several previous jobs as well as friends and acquaintances from high school, college, and today. Many of the responses on my personal page were from current educators. The closed group included parents from a rural community whose children were enrolled in the local school system.

    As educators, we should consider the implications and questions that need to be raised beyond this very informal study. I wonder how many students, past and present, consider reading to be an act performed in a textbook?  Is this why a certain number of students do not read beyond school? Does this suggest that students who have experience reading independently outside of the classroom are more likely to become lifelong readers? 

    Because I did not define a book as a trade book or an independent reading book, I can see why many parents revolted at the notion that a book be considered a school supply. What parent wants to invest in a basal reader or a textbook? However, if they believe I am the sole supplier of independent reading, I am quite concerned about that value of reading in a maturing reader’s life. There is a strong reality that, although we impart the value of reading, our students might be resistant because reading is not prioritized in the child’s overall existence. This also places a tremendous, and honorable, responsibility to ensure the best books are available to my students for independent reading so that they may be inspired to read beyond the limitations of our school day.

    My question did not consider whether one book constitutes a school supply for an entire year, much like a package of pencils. Nor did my question suggest an invitation for consistent participation in the class book order.

    To conclude, regardless of socioeconomic circumstances, the idea of a reading book as a school supply was met with heavy resistance. Although reading is the integral component of education, books are materials that many people consider a responsibility, if not an obligation, of the school. Although I agree that our schools and district have a fiduciary (or moral) obligation to stock and maintain classroom libraries for the sake of readers, I am left to wonder how invested families are (again, disregarding those who do not have the time or resources to support independent reading habits) in the development of reading and lifelong reading outside the classroom.

    If I can take anything away from my tentative, informal research, it’s that we have no greater responsibility than to show our students that reading is more than a practice performed in a classroom and to help readers develop their relationship with an individual text and the desire to seek reading beyond our brick and mortar walls. Our responsibility begins with an earnest commitment to curate classroom libraries.

    Justin Stygles is a fifth-grade teacher in Wiscasset, Maine. He’s taught for 15 years in various settings. You can follow him on Twitter at @justinstygles.

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    The Greatest Gift We Can Give Our Youth Is a Passion for Literacy

    By Warren Adler
     | Aug 30, 2018
    The Greatest Gift

    I believe that literacy provides our youth with the soul of education and allows them to attain a deeper understanding of what makes us human—the joys, perils, and insights of our experience. I applaud and celebrate those who understand the importance of instilling a passion for literacy in our young people, and I am a firm believer that it can start with just a single spark.

    Looking back to my childhood, which took place in Brooklyn in the 1920s, the memory of my mother’s reading habits takes root. When she finished her chores for the day and I returned home from school, she would be sitting and reading, waiting to serve the evening meal. She was a prodigious novel reader and I watched her read day after day, getting her books out of storefront lending libraries for what I think was 10 cents a day.

    It has taken many years to discover this as the seed that grew my own obsession to read and write, but that image of my mother living in a parallel world of fictional characters has stuck with me throughout my entire life. It is almost as if I am writing my stories and novels for her, and I think that is my biggest tribute to her.

    As a very young child, before I was able to read on my own, my parents read to me from storybooks. My parents’ gift to me one holiday when I was 6 years old meant more to me than they could know, and it was absolutely essential to my grounding in literature. They bought me a set of My Bookhouse by Olive Beaupré Miller, which was six volumes of stories and rhymes chosen from international literature for children. The offerings in these wonderful books began with nursery rhymes and progressed to material for children as they grew.

    I loved those books. I read them over and over again. They were gorgeously illustrated, and I never grew tired of reading them. It was like crossing a moat from the reality of a world of struggle and strife, to a paradise of storytelling, which opened infinite possibilities and aspirations in a young boy confronting a strange and scary future.

    When I had my own children, the set had been moved so many times that I had unfortunately lost track of it. But one day when my oldest child was about 5 years old, I found them in the book section of Marshall Field’s in Chicago during a business trip. Honestly, I had the feeling that I had struck gold and the discovery brought a rush of memory and stirred deep emotion and heartfelt tears. Of course, I immediately had a set shipped home for my children.

    Literacy is a prize to be savored and a path to insight and wisdom. Lack of literacy is a creeping danger, and neglecting the teaching of literacy to children through indifference, impoverishment, and neglect is a travesty that can condemn them to a life of ignorance and enslavement. To truly appreciate the power of literacy is to understand its ability to empower.

    My own love affair with reading inspired my dream to become a novelist by the time I was 15. After high school, I went to New York University and pursued a degree in English literature, where I was introduced to the roster of great American novelists, becoming bewitched by the works of Hemingway, Faulkner, and Fitzgerald. My freshman English professor, Dr. Don Wolfe, inspired me, and I later went on to study creative writing with him at the New School, along with Mario Puzo and William Styron.

    As a writer of the imagination and a reader of works of the imagination, I believe reading and writing have given me the necessary insight, understanding, and greater comprehension of the human condition on all levels. It has taken me out of the living moment into the mind and motivation of others, both past and present, and showed me a path to empathy and potential wisdom.

    No matter who it is that first sparks that flame, dedication to instilling the values and wisdom that come to us through literacy is sublime, offering a lifetime treasure trove for the soul, the most valuable gift that someone can provide a young person as he or she navigates life.

    Watch his video, "For the Love of Reading: How Books Shaped My Destiny," here.

    Warren Adler is the prolific author of over 50 works of fiction including his iconic The War of the Roses, Private Lies, and Random Hearts. You can read about his latest film/TV developments here. He recently launched Writers of the World, a campaign featuring aspiring and established writers. He has been featured in The New York Times, EntrepreneurPublishers Weekly, and Pfizer and is a regular contributor to Lit Hub, Huffington Post, and The Daily Beast. With a growing fanbase of over 600,000 fans on Facebook, Adler regularly shares advice to aspiring writers and is considered a pioneer in the digital publishing world.

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    Celebrating Open Education

    By Todd Bryant
     | Mar 29, 2018

    Open EducationEarlier this month, educators, technologists, and learners across the world celebrated Open Education Week, a global event that seeks to reduce barriers, increase access, and drive improvements in education through open sharing and digital formats. 

    Organized by the Open Education Consortium, the event showcases open projects, resources, and ideas and encourages the further creation and dissemination of educational resources. While OEW may have passed, advocates can continue to celebrate and advance open education all year long. Here’s the why and how:

    What is open education?

    The open education movement started in response to two critical issues facing educators and students. Most are aware of the rising costs of learning materials; a study published by U.S. Department of Labor found that the cost of textbooks increased by 88% from 2006–2016. Eliminating these costs can significantly reduce financial barriers for our most disadvantaged students.

    Furthermore, open resources have the additional advantage of being published under a Creative Commons license. This means teachers can take portions of open texts or digital materials, add their own material or include them within a lesson, and share with other teachers. One example of this is the Mixxer Language Exchange site hosted by Dickinson College, which connects language learners with native speakers as part of a mutual language exchange. Users can practice via Skype or submit a short writing piece and ask for corrections. The site also provides “lessons” that integrate materials from the Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning (COERLL) to support and guide exchanges.

    Next steps

    We believe that education should be open and free, and there are several resources to help teachers interested in collaborative learning. Those just getting started may want to check out  MERLOT, an open educational resource project from the California State University. Anyone can contribute or use materials from the repository, which includes whole courses, open textbooks, small instructional modules, and more. Those looking for open textbooks should browse California’s Cool4Ed library, Minnesota’s Open Textbook Library, OpenStax from Rice University, and aggregators of these resources, such as OER Commons’ hub.

    Finally, institutions and governments are becoming proponents of openness in education. The Cool4Ed library was established by California legislation that called for the establishment of an open educational resources council and a digital open source library. Community colleges have started an OER Degree Initiative to create entire degree programs that exclusively use open textbooks and online resources. The open education movement has also for the first time succeeded in allotting federal funds for the creation of open and free textbooks. Open education still has a long way to go, but it’s slowly becoming a reality.

    Todd Bryant is a language technology specialist at Dickinson College.

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