Posts Tagged ‘IEP’

Common Core State Standards Fear-mongering

Standards and Accountability

A recent discussion on my favorite site, the English Companion Ning, made me take a critical look at just what has engendered the recent demands for increased accountability in our public schools. Both Democrats and Republicans are playing the blame game and teachers are the easiest targets. As a public school teacher, my initial response has been defensive; however, upon a bit of reflection I’m thinking that teachers may well largely be to blame–not for the “sorry state of public education” as our critics claim, but for the very accountability movement that is being used to attack us. We teachers are often our own worst enemies.

A bit of history helps put things in perspective. Back in the 1970s and early 1980s teachers felt that our norm-referenced testing, such as the ITBS, SAT, CTBS, MAT, provided data that did not measure what we are teaching. We used sophisticated psychometric criticisms such as sampling and measurement error and socio-political criticisms such as bias to largely rid ourselves from the nuisances of these exams. We teachers went wild. Authentic assessments, multiple-measure assessments, and no assessments ruled the educational landscape. I once taught a sophomore world history class for an entire year without giving any traditional tests.

However, with teacher-created assessments, testing manufacturers lost money. Educational Testing Services and others do not like to lose money. So, the test manufacturers changed tactics. They asked for and gave teachers what teachers said they wanted–tests that purport to test what we teach. In other words, criterion-referenced standards tests. And the standards-based movement was born.

Teachers were even asked to develop their own subject area standards. A seemingly bottom-up initiative. How inclusive! Each state department of education, county office of education, and most school districts funded the creation of these subject area content standards documents. I joined other colleagues in spending countless hours developing the English-language Arts Standards for my own school district.

Now the test-makers were happy. They had the basis of a new revenue stream. And, now because the tests ostensibly test what teachers teach, administrators, politicians, and even billionaire do-gooders can hold us accountable and measure teacher/school/district/state performance. The zenith? Our Common Core National Standards.

Teachers helped create this mess. We enabled the accountability movement that is choking teacher creativity, teacher autonomy, and teacher initiative. And our students are the ones who are paying the greatest price. In replacing normed-reference testing with criterion-reference testing, we replaced something bad with something worse. “Meet the new boss.” Not the same as the old boss. Apologies to Pete Townshend.

And now the standards-based movement is so endemic that any challenges to teaching to the test or resisting accountability standards are viewed with wonderment by many in our profession. The standards-based movement with its frame of accountability is fully entrenched. Newer teachers have known nothing else. With the new PAARC and Smarter Balanced Common Core assessments, the tail is wagging the dog once again. Teachers are spending valuable class time test prepping and changing instruction to be more test-friendly. The tests themselves take an inordinate amount of class time. Last year at my middle school, we English-language arts teachers had the task of testing all subject area. It took two weeks out of our teaching schedule to administer all of the tests.

Sigh. More on Valerie Strauss’ Washington Post site.

Response from Maja Wilson, author of Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment (Heinemann, 2006) and the recent article, “First blame the teachers then the parents”  in the Washington Post.


This is why I argue that trying to get and maintain a “seat at the table” is ultimately counterproductive. The meal served at the table of power is unhealthy, the conversation is stilted (actually, there isn’t much conversation–lots of orders given and followed) and those who partake leave with indigestion. That’s what happened when teachers created standards–following orders at the table–that were then used against them as the basis first for high-stakes standardized tests, and then as a springboard for national standards created by a corporation created by governors and business interests (Achieve Inc).

Instead, we should create, set, and decorate another table, then serve a tasty and healthy meal there. We could invite as many people to join as possible, and then enjoy a rich conversation and lots of laughter together as we dine.

Michael (another poster to Maja’s initial post) may be right that the problem is that we can’t agree on what to serve at that table. But hey, even a potluck would be tastier, healthier, and more socially edifying than the cardboard and nails currently on the Department of Education’s menu.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.


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What Effective and Ineffective RtI Look Like


Response to Intervention (RtI) is a K-12 site-level decision-making process designed to facilitate and coordinate early and flexible responses to student’s learning and behavioral difficulties. RtI promotes data-based decision-making with respect to service placement and on-going progress monitoring. RtI was introduced as special education policy in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004). It is the law of the land. However, how that law is implemented at school sites will differ widely. Following are a few indicators of what effective and ineffective RtI can look like.

What Effective RtI Looks Like

An RtI team meets regularly at a school site. Composed of resource specialists (special education, reading specialist, EL coordinator), teachers, counselors, psychologists, and administration, most teams designate (or hire at large schools) an RtI coordinator. Typical responsibilities include the following:

Gatekeeping/Decision-Making- The RtI team may review recommendations of Student Study Teams (SST), or replace the SST as program gatekeepers. The team attempts to reduce unnecessary referrals to special education by ensuring that all students in the general education setting have access to appropriate curriculum and instruction at their own levels of need.

Diagnostic Assessment- The RtI team approves appropriate academic and behavioral diagnostic assessments and develops a process for efficient implementation and evaluation of the diagnostic data.

Placement- The RtI team typically follows a three-tiered approach to service placement akin to the Pyramid Model (Fox, Dunlap, Hemmeter, Joseph, & Strain, 2003): Tier 3 includes students requiring intensive instruction; Tier 2 includes at-risk students requiring strategic small group instruction; Tier 1 includes students requiring differentiated instruction within the core class.

Progress Monitoring-RtI requires specific procedures for regular documentation of progress at each assigned level of placement. The RtI team approves appropriate formative assessments and develops a process for efficient implementation and evaluation of the formative data. The RtI team applies this data to adjust tiered placement of students and recommends specific interventions and/or instructional practices to service providers.

Instructional Materials-The RtI team recommends the purchase of instructional materials suitable to the three-tiered instructional design.

Instructional Coaching-The RtI team works with site and district administration to coordinate professional development to ensure that service providers are equipped to deliver the research-based interventions appropriate to student needs.

What Ineffective RtI Looks Like

RtI can certainly look like “the same old sow with new lipstick.” New terms can substitute for old ones and the process for delivering instructional and behavioral support to students can remain essentially the same. Following are a few pitfalls to avoid in developing the RtI process:

We’re Not on the Same Page-All team members need to be thoroughly acquainted with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004) and related research.

Not Everyone Is Involved-RtI will fail if it is or is perceived as a “top-down” decision-making entity. Teachers are key to RtI success. Parent buy-in is essential.

Too Much Time and Overwhelming Paperwork-RtI needs to be efficient. Ironically, many of the old, inefficient means of individual diagnostic and formative assessments and record-keeping for progress-monitoring are promoted in much of the RtI literature. To secure long-lasting support, time and paperwork have to be minimized without sacrificing accuracy.

No Professional Development-Without the investment of quality site-based in-service training and support, the RtI process will be compromised.

No Budgetary Support-The three-tiered model requires purchase of instructional materials appropriate to each intervention. Resource specialists and teachers cannot be expected to re-invent the wheel or simply “water-down” the core instructional materials for service delivery.

Following are free diagnostic reading assessments, created by a team of reading specialists, that are user-friendly, simple to score and analyze, and designed to enable resource specialists and teachers of all levels of expertise to differentiate reading instruction: 

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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