Category Archives: Uncategorized

Opting In: Teaching to the Test (Part 2a)

One of my readers, who is also a school administrator,  sent me a link to a useful article from Inside Higher Education, called “Teaching to the (Right) Test”.

The authors discuss the interaction between standards, testing, and curriculum design, and how assessments play a critical role:

Are there generally accepted aspects of good curriculum design? Yes. Step 1 is to decide what we want our students to learn: the learning goals. Step 2 is to devise ways to determine whether (and how well) our students are accomplishing these goals. And Step 3 is to design our curriculums and teaching strategies around gaining mastery of the learning goals.  …

Educational innovation is an iterative process. Preparing our lectures and designing our curriculums aren’t the end; they’re closer to the beginning, in fact. We must demand evidence that education — in general and in each course we offer — is “working.” When we have articulated the learning goals and designed tools for assessing their attainment, we are in a position to get that evidence.

In assessing our students, we can determine how well our curriculums and teaching strategies are helping them meet the learning goals. Importantly, we can also use the evidence from the assessments to modify and improve the efficacy of our lesson plans and teaching strategies. This evidence from assessments guides us toward the more effective methods, and helps us revise the less effective ones.

The authors also recognize that the “teaching to the test” slogan has led us down the wrong path:

Bad tests are not helpful. And teaching to bad tests is counterproductive. These facts, however, do not compel a conclusion that testing itself is bad or that teaching to tests is bad. This erroneous logic, unfortunately, has hijacked the national conversation about educational reform, and hindered innovation in higher education.   …

How did we get stuck in this flawed logic?  They believe one of the causes is that  teacher education programs (for both K-12 and higher education) don’t train teachers on why and how to use assessments to inform instruction:

A disastrous reality is that most teachers in higher education today receive little or no training in assessment. This mirrors the situation among K-12 teachers. A 2012 report by the National Council on Teacher Quality revealed that only “3 percent of teacher preparation programs adequately build teacher’s skills in the crucial area of student assessment.” We all can use help and we all can improve.

Their conclusion about testing and instruction?

When learning goals are clearly defined and reliable assessments are aligned with them, “teaching to the test” is not only good, it is exactly what we should be doing.

The whole article is worth a read.

We have a new contract with our UCF teachers!

Last night the school board voted 8-1 to approve the Fact Finder’s report.  The UCFEA approved the same report last week.  As result, the two sides have effectively agreed to the terms of a new four-year contract, covering the period July 1, 2015 to June 30 2019.  (More info on the Fact Finding process, under the PA Labor Relations Board, is here),

(I expect more information will be released on the District’s website soon, including the full fact finder report, which, under the Byzantine laws and regulations of Pennsylvania, could not be released to the public prior to the board vote.)

I have reproduced below my full remarks delivered at the board meeting.   The short version:

  • The compensation provided to our teachers is affordable within the taxation limits of Act 1
  • By approving this agreement, we can turn our energy toward initiatives to further improve our schools
  • Although the settlement is more generous than might be necessary, it is a fair compromise

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Welcome Back!

Another school year begins, full of new opportunities!  Welcome back students, teachers, and support staff!

Thank you parents for entrusting your kids to the district.  Thank you to our administrators for leading our district to greater heights in 2015-16.  Thank you to our classroom teachers for engaging and encouraging our students.  And thank you to our tax payers for funding our excellent educational program.

Working together, let’s make this a great year for our students!

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2015-16 UCFSD Tax Increase vs. Chester County

The UCFSD school board recently approved a tax increase (average across Chester and Delaware Counties) of 2.28%.   And our board and community had a lively debate about how to meet our present and future fiscal requirements, challenges, and risks.

Across Chester County, other school districts faced similar challenges and questions.  How many exceptions above the Act 1 index should be taken?   Should we draw down reserves or increase reserves?  How do we cope with the escalating costs of PSERS and medical insurance?

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“I’m not good at Math”

One of the more harmful constructs in American culture is the belief that natural ability, rather than hard work, is the path to success.  And in the field of education, the attitude of “I’m not good at [blank]” can be quite harmful and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

24-year old Sam Priestly, a not-very-athletic English writer, was chosen by table tennis coach Ben Larcombe to demonstrate what hard work can accomplish.  Ben, convinced he could turn anyone into a top-tier player, coached Sam for one hour each day for a year.  The goal was to turn Sam into a top-100 table tennis player.   Continue reading

An Truly Innovative Way to Teach Tech

When public schools get “innovative” on technology, we offer a high school course on Java, talk about 1:1 computing, promote a “day of code” or buy carts of Chrome books so that kids can interact with digital content for a couple of hours each day.

But that’s not what real innovation looks like.  How about a school where every class includes coding as part of the curriculum, even Art?  Where teachers are coached by Google engineers and IDEO designers?  Where students spend full trimesters in lab setting solving real-world problems?

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