Educational Vistas, Inc.
Reading Power I and II: Grades 4 through 12 - October 2021 News & Notes
Sponsor Opinion Piece by Dr. Bruce H. Crowder, Educational Vistas, Inc.
The teaching of reading comprehension is the responsibility of all subject matter teachers. And, the process to be used depends on the nature of the content to be acquired. To ensure all students stand the best chance of understanding the content, regardless of reading level, the process of reading comprehension needs to be simulated or guided in a way that students internalize the skills in the process of reading.
The world of student reading changes after grade 3, it increases in sophistication, concept load is heavier, ideas are more abstract, and information load is more concentrated. Students are now challenged with content reading.
Point 1: Basic reading skills are not sufficient for critical reading
Point 2: The goal of instruction is simultaneous acquisition of content (concepts) and process (reading/reasoning skills) with neither being sacrificed.
Reading Power I and II are training programs for teachers in all subjects as teachers of reading: content reading in grades 4-8 and 9-12. It is based on the premise that all teachers are teachers of reading, not just reading teachers. A fundamental principal is at work in reading at these two levels: content determines process. The information source becomes the basis for determining how it is to be taught for the concepts to be acquired. To prepare teachers to deal with these reading challenges, they learn how to simulate the reading process in their subject with the use of comprehension and reasoning guides with respect for the importance of vocabulary. They are prepared to create the situation and conditions that approximate a reading process in their subject while their students experience reading comprehension skills in concert with content learning. In turn, students learn how to support the ideas expressed in text through guided engagement.
Point 3: NYS Next Generation Standards, super standards, are designed for the acquisition of knowledge and skills intended in a school curriculum.
Teachers benefit from the program by acquiring a deeper understanding of reading comprehension and learning a sensible approach to reading comprehension for their subject. Their students’ comprehension skills are strengthened as a part of content learning with the prospect of internalizing the process. Also, with a reading process that integrates NYS learning standards into its approach, students stand a better chance of performing at a higher level on State tests.
Professional learning for Reading Power I and II ideally should be done with teacher access to technology to capture the instructional materials (i.e. strategies) to be housed in a system for easy access by teachers in their respective subject areas.
Dr. Bruce H. Crowder is a senior researcher for Educational Vistas, Inc. His work is primarily focused on creating pathways for deeper learning for all students through strategic performances. His training, research, and work in reading comprehension has brought him to his current level of thinking in the realms of reading and curriculum. Dr. Crowder may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Fall Use a Growth-Assessment Model - September 2021 News & Notes
Sponsor Opinion Piece by Dr. Bruce H. Crowder, Educational Vistas, Inc.
The use of a growth-assessment model would be most appropriate for SY2022 to garner the level of learning loss and to move instruction on a productive path. While students need to return to school to an environment that is warm and supportive, there will be a point early in the new year when the focus moves to an increased level of learning. Students understand this and will respond appropriately.
After having spent a year and a half from in-person learning and limited measure of learning, it is time to move the education enterprise back on track. To do so will require data and information. A rare opportunity exists this school year for school districts to use the unsecured 2021 NYS Assessments for ELA and math in grades 3-8. The ELA and math State testing in the spring of the last school year only included Session 1, objective portion, and that was somewhat reduced in the number of items. Session 2 was not required which is the performance portion, requiring students to demonstrate their knowledge in addressing specific standards. In the case of ELA, it would completely short tasks and an extended piece of writing.
Both of the NYS 2021 ELA and math tests may be used as pre-assessments for incoming students in grades 3 through 8. The assessments could be given in mid-October and would serve as a diagnostic baseline, as well as the first point of measure for a pre-/post growth to determine learning growth. To computerize the process, EVI would pre-drill student answer sheets and prepare the tests to be administered on paper (PBT) or computer-based (CBT). Scoring of Session 2 could be done in-district or by EVI certified scorers. Assessment data would be housed in EVI’s DataMate Assessment Scoring and Reporting Software System from which a myriad number of reports would be available for staff.
State spring testing in 2022 would complete process, functioning as the second point of measure. With access to this data, EVI would provide reports on the testing results, but also show the growth from the fall to the spring with comparative reports. Growth reports would be generated in DataMate based on the comparative data (pre- to post-test) to highlight specific areas of challenge and growth.
This approach answers important questions: What impact has the pandemic had on student learning? What student growth has been made during the new school year? How do we best deliver continued instruction?
Dr. Bruce H. Crowder is a senior researcher for Educational Vistas, Inc. His work is primarily focused on creating pathways for deeper learning for all students through strategic performances. Dr. Crowder may be reached at email@example.com.
Thank You School Leaders - June 2021 News & Notes
Sponsor Opinion Piece by Kenneth A. Facin, Educational Vistas, Inc.
As the school year winds down, it is important to commend and thank school leaders for the immense work and heroic efforts that each of you have put forth this school year. Thank you! From remote, to hybrid, and in-person learning, there is no denying that the safe and effective functioning of our schools happened because of your leadership. Each of you contributed above and beyond so that our public schools could operate during a global pandemic that impacted every facet of our society. Your work and what you accomplished for our students, families, and communities is truly commendable. Educational Vistas and all of New York State extend our greatest appreciation and gratitude for all that you have accomplished. Thank you again for carrying the torch of learning during our most trying times.
How to Crosswalk SEL and Character Development - May 2021 News & Notes
Sponsor Opinion Piece by Dr. Bruce Crowder and Arthur Schwartz, Educational Vistas, Inc.
Across the state of New York, school leaders are striving to support, nurture, and foster the whole child. While some schools emphasize SEL, others have implemented a range of character development initiatives. The purpose of this article is to explain how SEL and Character Development are aligned and how both approaches can be integrated in your school or district.
Current research shows that it is essential for young people to develop a range of social and emotional skills and competencies (Weissberg et. al., 2015). All schools need to provide opportunities for students to understand and express their feelings, manage their anxiety or frustration, empathize and take the perspective of others, establish and maintain healthy relationships, and make responsible and ethical decisions.
As former teachers, we also know that teachers want their students to be honest, caring, and curious. We call these qualities character strengths. In fact, we believe it’s important for students to learn and practice the skills associated with social-emotional learning because these competencies are essential to helping our students be trustworthy, compassionate, self-disciplined, respectful, and fair.
Character.org has developed the “Model Standards for Character and Social-Emotional Development” (CSED) to give schools specific indicators to assess the extent to which they are inspiring their students to understand, care about, and consistently practice the SEL skills and character strengths. We believe these standards, based on the five SEL competencies and the four dimensions of character, offer school leaders what we call a “unifying vehicle” (See Table 1).
Below are 7 ways for schools to integrate and crosswalk SEL and Character Development:
- Begin with the end in mind
All educators want every child in their school to feel safe and valued. But educators also want their students to consistently practice honesty, caring, respect, and responsibility, and other character strengths that affirm human dignity and serve the common good. In other words, begin with the end in mind: as a school leader you to need to honestly assess whether you and your staff are intentionally communicating to students and families specific core values and character strengths that are essential to the mission, climate, and culture of the school. If not, your challenge is to figure out how to identify and “make visible” these character strengths so all your students have access to a vocabulary that helps them understand and practice the guiding principles that will soon form their moral compass.
- Be intentional and comprehensive
Some school leaders make a mistake when they think they can integrate SEL or Character Development into a weekly 30-minute activity or a school assembly. While “stand-alone” programs can be useful, the research is clear: the most effective schools integrate SEL and Character Development into all areas of the school community, including all aspects of teaching and learning, staff development, sports, clubs, the cafeteria, halls, playground, library, and buses (Brown et. al., 2013). Ultimately, your challenge as a school leader is to clearly signal to your teachers and staff that they are empowered to use spontaneous “teaching moments” to bring the language and skills of SEL and Character Development into every classroom, hallway, and school experience.
- Focus on thinking, feeling – and DOING
There is an old adage that character development is about “knowing the good, desiring the good, and doing the good.” Too often SEL and Character Development initiatives transmit or teach students pertinent skills (and words) but are far less effective in providing opportunities for students to practice what they are learning. What often results is that students get really good at parroting what teachers want to hear, rather than doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons. Of course, there are also situations when students know what to do, but fall into the “decision-action gap” (those times when they know what is the right thing to say or do, but they don’t say or do it). Your challenge as a school leader is to ensure that your school is offering students ample opportunities to reflect on their own behavior and choices (e.g., through journal writing or adult-student conversations) in ways that will equip them to consistently use and apply their social-emotional skills and character strengths.
- Be sure your initiatives are developmentally-appropriate
We know from the research that there are essential “building blocks” of development, ranging from a child’s cognitive and physical growth to how teenagers learn to manage their emotions and navigate relationships (Lerner, et. al, 2019). The science also tells us that a child’s development is nonlinear; no two children or teens are alike. We also know that every young person has a different set of skills, interests and motivations that informs and shapes their unique pacing and developmental pathway. In short, the most effective SEL and Character Development initiatives are developmentally-sensitive. For example, understanding what honesty is and how to be honest is dynamically different for a 3rd grader than an 11th grader. You should also critical examine whether your school, when equipping students with the skills to resist peer pressure, is employing developmentally-appropriate tools and resources. Table 2 offers a sampling of developmentally-appropriate indicators that are sensitive to a student’s cognitive and emotional growth.
- Emphasize student goal-setting
All educators recognize that school-aged children and especially teens are active agents in their own learning, which is why every school needs to provide opportunities for their students to internalize and “own” their social-emotional learning and character development. Your school should be challenging every student to set a personal goal related to a specific SEL skill or character strength (e.g., strategies to be more patient or to express more gratitude). If you’re not perhaps it’s because your school has adopted the mindset that the SEL skills and character strengths are either “taught” or “caught” (caught in the sense that teachers and staff are expected to model empathy and responsibility, among other character strengths). Yet we know these skills and character strengths can also be sought. Every student at your school should have the opportunity to set their own goals (and to identify how he or she will hold themselves accountable to reaching their goal).
- Engage parents and families
Communicating with parents and families about your SEL and Character Development initiative – via newsletters, emails, family nights, parent workshops, the school website, and parent conferences – is essential. But especially during this Covid-19 moment, we urge you to take every creative step you can to encourage parents and families to emphasize kindness and service to others. Perhaps one of your newsletters can focus on why it’s important for parents and families to practice gratitude. The current reality is that during this pandemic many families are dealing with enormous stress and anxiety. Now is the time for you as a school leader to offer strategies for parents and care-providers to recognize, express, and regulate their own emotions.
- Develop a “Portrait of a Graduate” for your school
One day soon we will return to the traditional graduation ceremony. Imagine hearing the name of a student as she walks across the stage to receiver her diploma. You know this student, and you suddenly experience the emotion of pride. In part, you’re proud because she’s met the academic requirements to graduate. But you also feel proud because of the person she’s become. Honest and trustworthy. Caring and compassionate. But how do you really know she’s developed these character strengths? For the most part, schools don’t require these abilities, skills, and strengths to graduate from elementary, middle, or high school. That’s why we recommend that every school develop their own “Portrait of Graduate.” Your school portrait would include the range of SEL skills and character strengths that each student should be able to consistently practice and demonstrate. We encourage you to talk to your staff about ways to have each graduating student present a developmentally-appropriate portfolio that creatively highlights how they practice (and strengthened) their SEL skills and character strengths. Indeed, during this period in our nation’s history, high schools should focus particular attention on fostering the civic character of our high school students (See Table 2). Every high school senior should be able to demonstrate that he or she has taken the responsibility to shape, influence, and strengthen an aspect of our democracy.
Both SEL and Character Development offer school leaders a roadmap to inspire children and teens to practice and embody the core values and ideals that produce goodness-in-action (e.g., the Golden Rule, taking responsibility, being a friend, being honest, developing a growth mindset).
The ultimate home run is for every young person to develop a striving mindset – an active commitment to becoming their best possible selves who deeply understand, care about, and consistently practice the SEL skills and character strengths that will enable them to flourish in school, in relationships, in the workplace, and as citizens.
Dr. Bruce H. Crowder is co-founder of Educational Vistas and a former NYS Assistant Commissioner and superintendent of schools for the Highland Falls-Fort Montgomery CSD. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Arthur J. Schwartz is president of Character.org, a national organization that advocates for character development and administers the National Schools of Character program. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Brown, P., Corrigan, M., and Higgins-D’Alessandro, A. (2013). Handbook of Pro-Social Education.
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Lerner, R., Geldholf, J., and Bowers, E. (2019). The science of learning and development:
Entering a new frontier of human development theory, research, and application. In,
Applied Developmental Science, Vol. 23, #4.
Weissberg, R., Durlak, J., Domitrovich, C., & Gullotta, T. (Eds.). (2015). Social and emotional
learning: Past, present, and future. In J. Durlak, C. Domitrovich, R. Weissberg, &
Gullotta (Eds.), Handbook of social and emotional learning: Research and practice. The Guilford Press.
Honesty & Integrity
Caring & Compassion
Courage to take initiative
The ability to recognize, understand, and express your own thoughts and emotions, mindsets, and personal strengths, including how emotions can affect thoughts and actions.
The ability to consistently manage and regulate your impulses, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in different situations.
The ability to empathize and take the perspective of others, including demonstrating awareness of cultural differences and respect for human dignity.
Contributing to the Common Good
The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups, to communicate clearly, actively listen, collaborate and cooperate, manage conflict constructively, seek and offer help when needed, and resist inappropriate peer pressure.
Responsible and Ethical Decision-Making
The ability to make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical principles, safety concerns, appropriate social norms, respect for self and others, and the likely consequences of your decision.
Do Your Students Understand
and Demonstrate Honesty
as a Character Strength?
Do Your Students Understand
and Demonstrate Social-Awareness
as a SEL Skill?
These indicators are from the Model Standards for Character and Social-Emotional Development, developed by Character.org.
A System to Grow Student Learning - May 2021 News & Notes
Sponsor Opinion Piece by Dr. Bruce Crowder and Kenneth A. Facin, Educational Vistas, Inc.
The joy of students returning to school will make for a refreshing start to Autumn this coming September. Schools are preparing agendas for their summer curriculum projects and work as they set new norms, structures, and learning models that will welcome students in the Fall. The close of the current school year is being welcomed by many in the field. Consistent and engaged student learning was challenging at all grade levels this year despite heroic efforts by teachers and school leaders. Remote learning also challenged prior instructional practices and contemporary pedagogical methods. School leaders and teachers have had to create new methods and practices to reach learners. Student growth and learning outcomes over the past year may not be fully assessed until this Fall when all students return. Cancelled and reduced NYS assessments in grades 3-8 and at the Regents level will present a new set of student learning uncertainties as well. This has also created new energy opposing standardized testing and its value. School leaders and teachers should be cognizant of the current push back against testing so that their assessments this coming Fall focus more on diagnostic results that drive student leaning growth. De-emphasizing our sole pursuit of student proficiency levels will serve our learners and parents well. Determining each student’s learning status should be an essential practice for every school leader, teacher, student, and parent this coming school year. How schools do this will matter immensely for this generation of learners. Returning students will need personalized learning plans and support. Formative diagnostic assessments designed and centered around student learning growth will be essential in creating a classroom and school growth mindset for everyone to achieve. Educational Vistas has designed such a system for school leaders and teachers aptly named the Learning Assessment Portfolio.
LEARNING ASSESSMENT PORTFOLIO (LAP)
Students who are engaged in their learning and aware of their status work more successfully in a classroom environment and perform substantially higher academically. Engagement in learning contributes to student motivation to stay on a learning path and progress in attaining personal goals. A Learning Assessment Portfolio (LAP) is a tool and means to support a student’s growth mindset.
A LAP is a diagnostic, digital learning record of a student’s measured achievement, based on motivation and ability in reading, writing, and math. The LAP uses formative assessments that allow teachers to ascertain performance with recommended learning strategies and content so each student and class can reach their academic potential. It is designed for students, parents, and teachers to monitor personalized learning over time in support of student growth as well as serving as a tool to strengthen curriculum instruction and assessments. Formative data and information are collected, selected, and analyzed. Specific evidence of student learning (writing samples, reading passages, assessments, reports, and more) are maintained for illustrative purposes. The structure encourages students to take ownership of their learning with the prospect of growing their portfolio. A reporting system improves communication with parents to inform them of the learning status of their child(ren) and how they may participate in the growth process.
LAP is powered by a software system that provides elements reflective of student learning contributing to measured growth within a student’s ELA and math instruction for the school year. It displays the results of diagnostic testing as the basis for benchmarking a student’s learning status and preparing a growth path toward progress in literacy (reading/writing) and math. The status representation at the beginning of a school year would designate the student as emerging, proficient, or above.
Assessment data and information are rich sources to inform teacher action. Degrees of Reading Power (DRP) and Degrees of Math Power (DMP) with its multiple domains, which may be paper- or computer-based, are reliable measures for benchmarking student learning at any point in the school year. Both have a close relationship with NYS Learning Standards for ELA and math. These diagnostic assessments help focus and guide essential learning to ensure student growth. By contributing to an understanding of a student’s status and how it relates to the standards and expected skills, these measures assist in formulating a growth path that aligns with the annual NYS testing in the spring of each year and determining readiness for the challenges of a subsequent grade.
Within the LAP, a teacher can establish a student and/or class learning plan from displayed data and information in a structure that supports individual and cohort instruction. There is a consistent link from assessing to standards and skills. Where standards and skill deficits arise as challenges, corrective strategies are available to embed in instruction. Throughout a school year, the selected evidence of a student’s work may be captured to provide a richer, deeper, and more accurate picture of what a student has learned or is able to do. This takes place in a formative manner to instill the importance of owning ones learning and in communication with parents.
Good People Doing Good Work - April 2021 News & Notes
Sponsor Opinion Piece by Kenneth A. Facin, Solutions Facilitator, Educational Vistas, Inc.
School leaders across the state are finalizing budgets and in doing so are making strategic decisions that will define student learning and resource allocation for the 2021-2022 school year. The American Rescue Plan funds have helped New York State schools immensely during this challenging economic time. The budget decisions being made now will define your district’s post pandemic student learning and support systems and architecture. There are some really good people doing some really good work in education that are worth exploring as you make these important decisions. I have personally worked with all four of these people on student social emotional development, school redesign, community building, and leadership development.
Dr. Gil Noam and his team at Partnerships in Education and Resilience (PEAR) are doing wonderful work with schools as they reconstruct and transform their current and post pandemic learning environments. Dr. Noam’s new book; Ten Big Bets: Transforming Education During the Pandemic and Beyond is a must read for school leaders. Roger Weissberg, Chief Knowledge Officer at CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), describes the book as “beautifully written, scholarly, and practical. Every reflective educator who aspires to help their students and colleagues learn and grow socially, emotionally, and academically should read and be inspired by it.” More information about PEAR and Dr. Noam’s book can be found at www.pearinc.org.
Schools will need to fully develop supportive learning communities that build on safe and strong relationships and practices when students return. Ralph Singh and his Wisdom Thinkers Network are doing incredible work with culturally diverse stories that connect students, teachers and schools to community. Ralph currently consults to develop curricula and resources to bring an understanding of shared values into schools using teachings and stories of wisdom from the world’s spiritual traditions and cultures. His latest project, Stories to Light our Way, Journey to the World of Good draws from eleven different traditions through shared values of honesty, trust, empathy, compassion, and the importance of relationships and community. More information about Ralph and his work can be found at www.wisdomthinkers.org.
Dr. Larry Myatt, co-founder of Educational Resources Consortium (ERC), applies the science of school renewal to transform learning rather than the usual business of school reform practices. By focusing on coaching, relationships, and analytical tools, Dr. Myatt and his team help school leaders and teachers identify actionable insights that deliver improved outcomes and results. The importance of collaboration and strong relationships are the cornerstone of ERC’s work and enable sustained transformational and cultural learning shifts to occur even with the most strident staff and schools. Myatt’s truly amazing work is worth a look at www.educatuonalresourcesconsortium.org.
Kim Marshall and his weekly Marshall Memo are a must for every school leader and teacher. Kim, a former principal, reads 150 or so articles a week and chooses 8-10 that offer the greatest potential to improve teaching, learning, and leadership. The 50 issues a year will increase your knowledge and understanding of best practices and challenges in the field with just one weekly read! More information on the Marshall Memo and a free sample can be found at www.marshallmemo.com.
Next Generation Assessments - March 2021 News & Notes
Sponsor Opinion Piece by Kenneth A. Facin, Solutions Facilitator, Educational Vistas, Inc.
New York State’s federal testing application waiver seeking not to assess students in grades 3-8 ELA and math and on high school regents tests this school year has been denied by the US Department of Education. The decision was not what was expected by the field. How will the decision impact the already sinuous and meandering school year that students, teachers and administrators have experienced? Assessments are good teaching tools have been accepted pedagogy for years. Demonstrating knowledge, skills and understanding is essential to establish student learning and comprehension. The pandemic has exposed our educational system’s strengths and challenges. Teachers and school leaders have been remarkable in demonstrating flexibility and ingenuity throughout the past year in meeting the learning needs of their students. School leaders and teachers will ensure that NYS testing resumes with the best interest of their students but challenges remain. We need to reflect on assessments and reimagine their intent by merging academic understanding with student’s social emotional development and growth. Using newly designed assessments presents an opportunity to improve how and what we measure and value from our students. There is promising research on test question wait time, guessing and other student test patterns that may illuminate student resiliencies, motivation, and engagement; however, more research is needed in this area. President George W. Bush and Senator Ted Kennedy sponsored the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation that led to school, teacher and student accountability, and a proliferation of state standardized testing. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NEAP) scores in math and reading from 1978-2012 and 1992-2012 respectively show very few gains, despite the billions of dollars we have spent. We know that the skills, attitudes and behaviors that employers and successful people possess are not measured in our current assessment platforms. The attributes of good communication skills, resiliency, empathy and the ability to work collaboratively and be reliable are of great value but are only measured when we survey students to allow them to voice who they are as a person. The values and behaviors that we seek in our relationships with others are the social emotional skills we don’t measure as a part of a student’s knowledge, skills and understanding in math and ELA standardized assessments. This should not diminish our academic pursuits in reading, writing, science, history and math, but we never realize the full child in student assessments of these subjects. The one thing that we all agree upon is how much we have missed our own relationships with friends and family and the yearning we have for in-person contact. We must continue to measure literacy and math skills but we should also expand our assessments to measure the social emotional skills that we seek in all people. Each child deserves for their voice to be heard in describing themselves as we help them become the good people we seek in our lives at work, in relationships and in our families. The math or reading teacher that grows a student’s prosocial skills and empathy should be commended as much as for a rise in student scores.
The Potential for Post COVID-19 Learning - February 2021 News & Notes
Schools have done an amazing job of trying to reach all children during the pandemic but the reality is that many students have fallen behind with grade-level learning. Recent studies, including the McKinsey Report, estimate 30-40% of students may have as much as a 5-12 month reading and math learning gap by the end of the school year. We know that many students have inconsistently participated or have not participated at all educationally despite our best efforts to connect them to school. Many teachers and school leaders are frustrated with high failure rates among students, with many students not producing any evidence of school work. The learning crisis is going to have dire consequences on our nation and will need a herculean effort and a multitude of resources to properly address. Unlike any other crisis in our history the pandemic impacted the learning of all of our children in the country at the same time.
This crisis needs our fullest attention and the fact that President Biden has called the current state of education a national emergency truly illuminates the situation. To meet this moment for our children we will need to redesign our current school architecture and practices for learning. School budgets for the 2021-2022 school year are currently being developed with many focusing on preserving the status quo. We need to use the September 2021 re-start as an opportunity to rethink our approach. School leaders and teachers have already been collaborating during the pandemic to create new dimensions for learning for students going forward. We need to keep what is working; a robust cyber learning platform, known effective practices including assessments and a more meaningful relational approach with students and their learning. Social emotional well-being of students and staff matters.
There are many pathways to explore as we prepare for post pandemic schooling. Cyber learning may be used to address student attendance issues, project-based learning opportunities across and within grade-levels and/or accelerated learning. Are snow days gone? At the high school level where many students have fallen behind in graduation credits, we should invest in Vocational Apprenticeships along with rigorous TASC (Test Assessing Secondary Completion) programs to move students into high paying trade careers and secondary school completion. At the elementary level schools will need to work within their communities to enlist and train retired professionals to serve as tutors and mentors for students. All SUNY and private colleges in New York should be engaged to bring college students into classrooms as well. What a wonderful opportunity to merge our youth and elders together serving students in their communities. The time to think about how we can address all of our learners as schools restart in the Fall should begin now.
The Importance of School Communities - January 2021 News & Notes
How schools function, teachers teach, and students learn has been on public display throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. School leaders and teachers are under intense scrutiny from politicians, parents, and the public as they try to keep their students safe, healthy, and learning. Many schools have adjusted their original September reopening plans to the reality in their communities, resulting in a modified form of in-person, remote, and/or hybrid learning. Changing how students learn has been problematic since schools closed in-person learning last March. Individual student participation and engagement challenges continue to be immense as the pandemic continues. Why are these issues so significant with students?
School socialization is arguably one of the most important learning experiences that students are exposed to outside of their families. It is also the most significantly reduced learning experience for students during this crisis. Many students attend school because of the strong human desire for socialization. Most schools, for better or worse, by their organizational grade-level structure, provide an opportune environment for students to learn and develop their social-emotional skills and values. A myriad of school socialization experiences bond and connect all children, regardless of socioeconomic status. These experiences are powerful and sometimes life-changing for students. Since the pandemic, students have not been exposed to many of these socialization communities which provide strong networks and supports for learners to thrive back in their classrooms.
Most schools get students involved in social communities by providing engaging voluntary outside the classroom learning environments and activities. These student learning opportunities are significantly important and combined with school day assemblies and field trips are essential to developing student socialization skills and attitudes. Numerous examples in schools illuminate how students connect with these essential supportive learning communities:
- An art teacher who hosts a daily 20-student lunch drawing group
- A school drama production connecting cast members, production crews, and teachers through their shared performances
- Student choral and instrumental music communities
- Student government
- Teacher-led student volunteerism at individual, class, and school-wide levels
- Student learning groups with teachers before and after school
- Actor-led assemblies espouses that every child experience theater
- Athletics, teams, coaches, pep rallies, pep bands, fans, and school pride
- Teacher-led robotics, debate, journalism, chess, yoga, and so many more school club opportunities connecting students and learning
Important social learning communities supporting student classroom learning are not fully active in most schools today. The lack of these communities has compounded the challenges that schools face getting students involved and engaged in their learning. Perhaps we should pay attention to the social development needs of our students by providing new opportunities in some modified form to reconnect our students in 2021.
Harris Education Solutions
Inform your Teaching with Benchmark Assessments - September 2021 News & Notes
To help your students grow and thrive, you start every school year by getting to know them. At Harris Education Solutions, we recognize that understanding where your students stand academically is more crucial this year than ever. The typical span of academic progress widened last year because of the different ways everyone adapted to the educational challenges of COVID-19. Many students learned far less in 2020-21 than they would have in a typical year. A few students benefitted from the different learning environments and learned more. Detailed information about where students are beginning will help you plan appropriate instruction and differentiation.
The Importance of Adequate Beginning of the Year (BOY) Benchmark Assessments
Benchmark assessments, sometimes called “interim assessments,” are one of the best ways to evaluate students’ current level of competency. Data from BOY benchmark tests help you catch knowledge gaps and identify mastery of advanced topics. This information allows you to map out your first months of targeted instruction and differentiate instruction. As learning progresses through the year, additional assessments will help you monitor progress and modify plans.
Your school district likely provides and requires specific benchmark assessments, such as the Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) and, in K-3, the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELs). These mandated assessments will give you an idea about where your students’ skills in some core subjects. However, many teachers who teach subjects other than math and language discover that these assessments do not provide enough information to guide instruction.
Teachers wanting more in-depth evidence about students’ skills often give additional benchmark assessments. These BOY benchmark assessments should not be confused with pretests. While both assessment types provide valuable data about student knowledge, benchmark assessments focus more on foundational knowledge. In contrast, pretests show teachers the background knowledge students related to a specific upcoming unit. Last year’s broad spectrum of growth might make pretests inadequate, even if they were sufficient in the past.
Let’s use physics and world languages as an example. Most physics teachers expect students to start with a solid algebraic foundation. However, some students who took algebra last year may not have learned as much as students in previous years. You know those knowledge gaps would impact their success in physics, so you want to help them learn the requisite algebra skills. Your benchmark assessments will tell which students, if any, need significant educational supports. World language teachers may find that their second-year students lacked enough practice to master basic tenses and need to adapt their plans accordingly. These types of scenarios would likely play out in all grades and subjects.
Creating and Adapting BOY Benchmark Assessments
Hopefully, you or a teammate already have a BOY benchmark assessment. Some secondary schools may have placement assessments for English language arts and math that you can adapt for your classroom use. If you already have a BOY benchmark test or placement test, consider uploading it onto a cloud platform such as eDoctrina, to take advantage of using the software features. Due to the wide range of educational experiences last year, you might decide to add a broader range of skills to existing BOY benchmark assessments.
Creating an assessment from scratch is a bigger endeavor than adapting an existing one; however, collaboration and question banks make the task less daunting. The sharing features on the Harris Education Solutions platforms enable you to share questions and even entire tests with your colleagues.
eDoctrina and Castle Learning offer a search selection by standard, skill, and level. The software platform will provide test questions that match your selected criteria. You can then choose the questions that will assess the specific skills you decide are most important to success. Secondary teachers love using the questions banks from the New York Regents exams to build benchmark assessments. (Hint: These resources are also great for creating formative assessments!) Of course, you are not limited to questions in the bank. Feel free to make questions to fit your precise needs.
Computer-Based Assessments Streamline Testing, Grading, and Data Collection
Administering benchmark assessments from the cloud makes everyone’s life easier. Students can test remotely or in class. The Harris Education Solutions platforms even include the capability to adjust how you administer the tests. You might give students with learning differences the ability to hear the question and more time to take the test. Likewise, you may allow English Language Learners to use the translate feature. The software automatically grades most types of questions, such as multiple choice and true/false, for you.
Finally, you will love the powerful data capabilities of Castle Learning, eDoctrina, and edInsight. You can generate reports that dig down into details of student knowledge at the individual, group, and class levels. These reports are instrumental in data-driven instruction.
Formative Assessments Throughout the Year
While BOY benchmark assessments will help you plan and implement the best educational support for starting on the right path, they are not a “one and done” solution. As with any year, frequent formative assessments will help you monitor progress. The same Harris Education Solutions software platforms that help make benchmark assessments are great for formative assessments too.
While most students and schools are back to being in the classroom full-time, there’s no denying that the last year and a half continue to have an impact. As you plan to help all students thrive, please visit the Harris Education Solutions Tool to see how we can become your partner in improving student achievement.
The Real Value of an Early Warning System is Saving Students (and Has a Bonus of Saving Time and Money) - April 2021 News & Notes
All Harris Education Solutions’ products qualify under the NYS Education Department’s 2021-2024 Learning Technology Grant Program.
Life is full of early warning systems alerting us of the need to intervene to avert major problems. A child comes to you crying because she fell off her bike, scraping herself. You clean her abrasions, knowing that dirty wounds get infected. Her crying was an early indicator. Your car temperature gauge lets you know when to pull over and add coolant before destroying the engine. By intervening in each situation, you save time and money. More importantly, you also save the child from unnecessary pain.
Students also signal when they need an intervention. Unfortunately, students’ cries for help often get lost in the noise of a busy school. You oversee many students’ education. Sometimes students’ clues that they struggle are subtle, and you don’t want to risk missing the signs of struggle with even one student.
With an Early Warning System (EWS), educators notice early at-risk indicators, provide targeted support, and students’ flourish.
Without an EWS, teachers and administrators do not have the essential tools to support students effectively. They end up spending too much time accumulating and interpreting a dizzying array of data. Teachers who are busy collecting and aggregating data have less time to plan lessons with appropriate scaffolds. They can also feel demoralized because aggregating data typically isn’t one of their core skills. They like that an EWS eliminates the inefficiency of the folder system.
Likewise, administrators prefer to provide leadership and resources than chase data. Educators hunting for data lose time, but hopefully, they see students decline before they get to a desperate place.
The inefficient use of educator time is not the worst part of not having an EWS. Students suffer when overworked educators miss early indicators of them disengaging. Missing early indicators is likely because educators have a lot to manage. The longer students languish without sufficient support, the further down the path of disengagement they go. Students who “slip through the cracks” are at risk of dropping out of school. Hopefully, the school notices and provides intense interventions before the students give up because dropping out of school decreases a person’s opportunity in the job market. Delaying these interventions invariably cost more than early interventions. Even worse, students suffer emotional pain during the years they are struggling.
Early Risk Indicators
Research shows that students who are starting to disengage show academic struggles, behavioral problems, or poor attendance. Sometimes students have early indicators in all three areas. Tracking data in these three categories has proven to be effective at helping educators provide appropriate early interventions. Some schools also look at factors that affect students globally, such as their health and home environment. You might also consider tracking remote versus in-school learning to evaluate the effect the pandemic had on students. Problems not corrected in elementary school usually become more severe as students progress into middle school and high school.
In elementary school, look out for the following indicators:
- Low scores on achievement tests
- Significant problems decoding in 3rd grade and beyond
- Poor reading comprehension skills
- Below grade level in math
- Chronic absenteeism or tardiness
- An extended absence
- Multiple behavioral referrals
- Not getting along with peers
Health and Environmental:
- Unstable home life such as loss of parent, homelessness, abuse, and food insecurity
- Mental or physical health issues
In middle school and high school, continue to look for the same indicators as elementary school and add the following indicators:
- Below a C in math or English
- GPA below 2.0
- Not earning enough credits to graduate
- Getting in fights
- Getting in trouble with the law
- Being the victim or perpetrator of cyber-bullying
- Becoming parents
- Substance abuse
How an EWS works with MTSS
The edInsight EWS automatically tracks key indicators, aggregates data points, and shows the results graphically. Having it done automatically is especially critical for educators in medium to large schools.
Each indicator comes from a body of evidence. For example, low reading comprehension would show up in the data as assessment scores, poor grades, and teacher observations.
Some data points carry more weight than others. For example, unexcused absences would be more heavily weighted than excused tardiness. You can use the default settings for each indicator’s weight or customize them to meet your needs.
The EWS monitors all the input and creates indicator report cards for each student, ranking them in order of need. These reports guide your MTSS interventions. Students with a lower risk indicator score are your Tier 1 students and will show up as green. Students needing Tier 2 support are highlighted in yellow, and students needing Tier 3 support in red. You choose the cutoff criteria for each tier based on your student population.
Helping students who are starting to slide from Tier 1 to Tier 2 is as important as seeing those who are slipping from Tier 2 to Tier 3. Their beginning struggles might go undetected in schools without edInsight’s EWS. The edInsight dashboard shows you in real-time who needs what type of help so you can immediately implement interventions. With proactive support, you get them back on track. It feels great to see students progress and return to Tier 1. Providing early interventions spares resources and heartache.
Hallmarks of an Effective EWS
According to On Track for Success, an effective EWS, such as edInsight, has multiple layers and capabilities. Any decent EWS has the following qualities:
- The dashboard shows students in the different tiers for academics, behavior, attendance, and holistically.
- The reports are easy to generate and read.
- It integrates with your other systems.
- The reports are customizable to align with your MTSS criteria.
- It encourages collaboration.
- It includes progress monitoring.
- It has built-in workflows, alerts, and process management.
The edInsight Advantage
The edInsight EWS fulfills all the criteria as an effective EWS and has some fantastic perks. You can add notes about a specific student, and the dashboard alerts all the educators associated with that student. Teachers like this feature when they have a breakthrough with a student because they can communicate and collaborate about strategies and next steps.
The EWS works well with other solutions in the edInsight Student Performance Suite. By bringing all your data into one place, you see a complete view of your students. You know the instruction students received with the Curriculum & Lesson Planner Module. Using that knowledge, you can assign interventions using the RTI/MTSS Module. You may also want to build a group and analyze data points in the Data Management Module.
In addition to using default criteria, edInsight EWS allows you to customize the criteria you track. Customization quickly identifies at-risk students using data points that are especially important in your district. For academic indicators, you can use grades, formative testing benchmark assessments, and standardized assessments to identify and close learning gaps. Use the Assessment Builder Module to build special assessments for groups at risk. You can customize criteria by grade-level too, so you only see the information you need.
Administrators like that edInsight tracks district-specific intervention plans and RTI/MTSS Meetings. It improves progress monitoring which helps administrators evaluate the value of various interventions.
Request a demo of the Student Performance Suite to see how the EWS will save your district time and money and improve students’ lives.
Helping Students Navigate Their Emotions When Returning to the Classroom - February 2021 News & Notes
It’s been almost a year since the start of the pandemic, which precipitated the move to some type of remote learning for many students and teachers. Blended learning is still prevalent today, with schools moving from in-person to remote at a moment’s notice. This article focuses on helping your students adjust to returning to the classroom, whether from a short- or long-term absence from the physical classroom.
Harris Education Solutions offers products that provide answers to the many academic challenges faced in today’s educational environment. Click here to watch a short video outlining our products’ features and benefits.
Ms. Conner guarded the door, which was ajar, so seven-year-old Mark would feel safe changing his rain-soaked clothes. As Ms. Conner discretely ensured Mark’s privacy, she pondered his destructive tendencies and realized that they were his way of expressing and releasing emotional turmoil. Now his stress and grief were manifesting as a fear of being alone, even for a few minutes. Admitting this vulnerability and asking for help was out of character for Mark. Despite his usual bravado, this little boy needed emotional support as much, if not more, than other students did. Mark is hardly alone in having a big emotion overwhelm his ability to regulate behavior.
No child escaped repercussions from the pandemic. Some students suffered catastrophic losses. Many students dramatically changed their lifestyle. Every student had to adapt to differences in the community and at school. New thoughts and conversations about safety permeate every aspect of daily life.
Students returning to the classroom after remote learning or a holiday break will have varying responses. Returning to school can be an emotional experience, even in regular times. In addition to all the typical emotions, students returning in 2021 may also be suffering grief, depression, fear, disappointment, anxiety, guilt, loneliness, and more. No one expects you to act as a counselor. However, your daily interactions provide an opportunity to help students develop socio-emotional skills.
Teaching Empathy and Emotional Intelligence
Feeling emotionally safe in the classroom improves learning. As the teacher, you set the tone. However, students affect the emotional climate as well.
A student who has not experienced stress from the pandemic at home may start feeling it in the classroom. Students likely echo their family’s response to the pandemic, which may be quite varied among different students.
This convergence of perspectives and feelings offers an opening to explore empathy and emotional intelligence. Without such instruction, many students will be oblivious to the feelings of their classmates.
Consider the differences between Marie and Mason. Marie had regular social interactions outside of school during the pandemic, including attending group events. Mason stayed home except for a few brief outings in which he always wore a mask and stayed six feet apart from others. At recess, Marie repeatedly invites Mason to play, and Mason continually declines. Marie may inadvertently be pressuring her friend to engage in a way that makes him uncomfortable, and Mason may be unwittingly hurting Marie’s feelings by rejecting her invitations.
Open conversations about what feels safe to each student help mitigate these types of situations. Reading and discussing literature is another great way to explore different emotional responses. Teaching children to respect the feelings and differences of other perspectives not only improves class culture, Harvard Business School considers emotional intelligence essential to a person’s professional success.
Happy, Sad, Excited, and Nervous – All at Once
Human emotions are rarely orderly and logical. Students often experience cognitive dissonance because they have conflicting feelings about the same situation. Let students know that an onslaught of coexisting mixed emotions is normal. Mason’s anxiety about the virus does not negate his excitement to see his friends.
Helping students identify each feeling and its source helps them make sense of how they feel. According to the experts in emotional intelligence, naming and admitting fear and anxiety helps people face them. Emotional check-ins also give students practice identifying their emotions and aid in forming a trusting relationship.
Like learning any skill, learning to identify and cope with tricky emotions requires seeing someone doing it. Some of your students may lack a model of emotional health in their home environment. You could act as the model or invite a guest speaker to address the class. Talking about a time you experienced conflicting emotions normalizes how they feel. The Disney movie Inside Out does a great job showing the purpose of negative emotions and could be used as a light-hearted entry point to the discussion.
Of course, keep your discussions and resources appropriate for the students’ developmental level and the classroom. As you teach students to identify authentic emotions, including healthy coping strategies, will help your students through tough times. These conversations invite your students to increase their awareness and manage their feelings.
Providing Comfort and Calm
Even in the calmest, most nurturing classroom environment, students may have emotional breakdowns. Emotional breakdowns look different in different individuals because emotional expression varies by culture, gender identity, developmental level, personality, and temperament. Whereas one child might destroy property, another might cry or withdraw. If possible, try these strategies to help the student in crisis.
Help calm students so they can think clearly. Human touch is healing, and your first instinct may be to hug the child. Now, a simple embrace may not be allowed or safe. Suggest students hug themselves – the pressure and skin-to-skin contact of a self-hug mimics the feeling of a real hug. The self-hug will release oxytocin to aid in calming the child.
Once the student relaxes enough to think and talk, ask them what caused the intense emotions. As you listen, help the child find places they can take control of the situation. Unfortunately, there are circumstances where the only thing they have the power to control is their thoughts. Luckily, improving the positivity of one’s thoughts cultivates positive emotional responses.
In the revolutionary work, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” it says,
Whether they’re aware of it or not, all people keep a running account of what’s happening to them, what it means, and what they should do. In other words, our minds are constantly monitoring and interpreting. That’s just how we stay on track. But sometimes the interpretation process goes awry. Some people put more extreme interpretations on things that happen-and then react with exaggerated feelings of anxiety, digression, or anger. Or superiority. (p. 215) Carol S. Dweck
For example, a child who incorrectly answers a question could think, “I am dumb.” or “I need to study this more.” The first thought demonstrates a fixed mindset, whereas the second thought shows a growth mindset. The growth mindset fosters an improved emotional response because it puts the thinker in control of the situation. Dr. Dweck emphasizes the critical role teachers play in helping students develop a growth mindset. There are plenty of growth mindset resources available for the teachers.
Sometimes an event becomes catastrophized in the child’s mind. For example, a child may touch another child who is fearful of germs. While the event may seem small to an onlooker, the scared student may jump to the conclusion that they now have a fatal infection. The thought induces a panic attack.
Acknowledge the student’s authentic emotion. The way a student perceives the situation may, or may not, have its basis from accurate information. Either way, the feelings triggered are genuine. After verbally acknowledging their feelings, you may help the child reframe their negative thoughts and perceptions.
As much as you care for your students, you do not have to shoulder all their emotional needs yourself. Ask a mental health professional to teach some lessons on coping strategies. Refer children who need it to the next level of support.
Being back in the classroom may present some emotional challenges for you too. Remember to take time to address your own emotional health needs.
We’re all still adjusting to the new way of teaching our children, and there will be many challenges ahead as we continue to evolve to new norms in the world of education.
OECD Test for Schools: Empowering Schools to Drive Excellence for All Students - September 2021 News & Notes
Move This World
Move This World is the leading provider of SEL multimedia experiences for PreK-12 students, educators, and families - October 2021 News & Notes
Move This World is the leading provider of social-emotional learning (SEL) multimedia experiences for PreK-12 students, educators, and families. Each piece of educational content is delivered through short interactive lessons and is grounded in the goal of empowering students to navigate the rapidly-changing realities of their world – both in the classroom and throughout their lives. Designed for implementation that is both impactful and simple, the MTW platform allows educators and families to incorporate SEL into their students’ schedules every day, without planning or prep. The extensive multimedia library provides a robust and engaging daily curriculum- experiences designed to empower students by strengthening the skills that foster wellbeing and establishing a common language among students, educators, and families. These multimedia experiences are rooted in creative expression and participatory movement. Move This World has already impacted the lives of over 2 million students across 42 states.