Archive for August, 2015

Common Core Test Results

As teachers have focused on the reading and writing strands of the Common Core State Standards the past three years, the Language Strand Standards have been given short shrift. As the testing data from the 2015 SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium), the PAARC (Partnership of Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), and other state tests has been or soon will be released, teachers and district personnel are identifying the instructional gaps and rediscovering why a balanced literacy program, including explicit instruction in grammar, usage, spelling, and vocabulary is so essential.

As of August 30, 2015, full or preliminary scores have been released for these states: Connecticut, Idaho, Missouri, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia. Each participated in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). The second testing group, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PAARC) has not released any results. Several other states that developed their own exams tied to the standards have been released. Many states have adopted a cafeteria model, using some of the two consortia online assessments plus their own paper ad pencil achievement tests.

A Brief Case Study

In Elk Grove Unified School District, the fifth largest school district in California, teachers have received extensive training, including over a week of all day sessions at the district office in the Reading (Literature and Informational) and Writing Strands. Teachers have learned and practiced Close Reading strategies, text dependent questions, and analyzed district-created writing rubrics in the narrative, argumentative, and informational/explanatory Writing Standards. A passing nod has been given to the Speaking/Listening Strand, but only minimal professional development has been delivered in the Language Strand. Until now.

Elk Grove Unified and all districts in California have now received the assessment results for the CAASPP (California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress) mix of online and paper-pencil assessments, including the online SBAC English language arts/literacy (ELA) tests. The district results? Not nearly as good as expected for this high performing school district.

Parents will soon be receiving the CAASP test results.

CAASP Test Results for Parents

Elk Grove is not alone. At Los Angeles Unified School District, Cynthia Lim, executive director of the Office of Data and Accountability, said the preliminary results received by the nation’s second largest district are “lower than what people are used to seeing.” Christine Amario AP

The current mantra? “It’s just a baseline year for us.”

The game plan to improve overall and sub-group scores? Focus on the Language Strand.

The Big Picture

It’s the Language Strand that provides the tools of language, that is the grammar, usage, spelling, and vocabulary that makes reading and writing intelligible. Now as teachers and district personnel, such as in Elk Grove Unified, have begun to deconstruct what the Common Core tests actually assess, it is evident that the whole is made up of many parts. Part to whole instruction is making a comeback.

In the words of the Common Core authors:

To build a foundation for college and career readiness in language, students must gain control over many conventions of standard English grammar, usage, and mechanics as well as learn other ways to use language to convey meaning effectively. They must also be able to determine or clarify the meaning of grade-appropriate words encountered through listening, reading, and media use; come to appreciate that words have nonliteral meanings, shadings of meaning, and relationships to other words; and expand their vocabulary in the course of studying content. The inclusion of Language standards in their own strand should not be taken as an indication that skills related to conventions, effective language use, and vocabulary are unimportant to reading, writing, speaking, and listening; indeed, they are inseparable from such contexts.

When most teachers and district personnel think grammar, usage, spelling, and vocabulary, they think about writing. The performance-based writing assessments evaluate students’ abilities to 1. Develop ideas 2. Organize their writing and 3. Craft their grammar and language usage to narrate, argue, or inform. Teachers have done a wonderful job on 1 and 2. Students now understand the difference between the writing domains (genre). However, as the 2015 SBAC and PAARC assessment results show so clearly, it’s the ability to use the tools of language that our students lack.

But these relative weaknesses are not solely found in the performance-based writing components. The language tools are critically important in every testing component. It’s time to give attention to these tools.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Teaching the Language

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary  Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary Grades 4-8 Programs

Strand Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary Standards. Diagnostic assessments and targeted worksheets help your students catch up while they keep up with rigorous grade-level direct instruction.

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Common Core Diagnostic ELA Assessments

As a teacher-publisher, I get quite a few questions about my products. It is heart-warming to see the recent re-kindled interest in assessment-based learning. Specifically, teachers want diagnostic assessments to determine which of the Common Core ELA/Literacy Standards their students do and do not know to be able to plan effective direct instruction and remediation in prior grade-level Standards. Teachers are particularly interested in diagnostic assessments for the grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary Standards found in the Common Core Language Strand because of the level of instructional rigor required in these Standards. Here’s a set of questions from a potential customer on Teachers Pay Teachers re: my Common Core diagnostic ELA assessments. My answers should provide interested readers with the assessment-based resources they want to meet the needs of their students.

QUESTION: I notice that Pennington Publishing offers comprehensive whole-class diagnostic assessments with corresponding progress-monitoring matrices in grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling for grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. How many questions are on the tests, and how long do the tests take to administer? I teach sixth grade in a K−8 school. Are the diagnostic assessments different for each grade level? Also, if you don’t mind my asking… Why are you offering all of these assessments for only $3.00 if they are as good as you describe?

ANSWER: I’m happy to answer your questions. Even the last one. The grade 6 diagnostic grammar and usage assessment consists of 44 multiple choice questions and takes students about 25 minutes to complete.

The sixth grade mechanics assessment has 8 sentence answers with 32 discreet mechanics skills measured. (Students rewrite unpunctuated sentences.) The test takes about 15 minutes to complete.

The spelling assessment is comprehensive, not random samples as found in qualitative spelling inventories. It covers each of the sound-spellings students should know up to sixth grade. The assessment has 89 words to be dictated in the word, word-sentence-word format. I just gave the eighth grade spelling assessment to my own class. It has 102 words and it took 26 minutes to administer. We took a short stretch break half-way through. *Suggestion: Record the test on your phone and upload to your desktop, so you won’t have to re-dictate for test make-ups, new students, etc.

Yes, the grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 diagnostic assessments are different for each grade level in that they build upon each other. The assessments are based upon the Common Core grade level Standards and the recommendations of the Common Core authors in Appendix A of the English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects. As you know, Appendix A includes the research base supporting the key elements of the Standards. So, the grade 8 assessment will have more assessment items than the grade 4 assessment.

Once teachers diagnose the specific deficits, e.g. you as a sixth grade teacher find out precisely which K-5 grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling skills your students know and do not yet know, you and other teachers will want your students to master each of the relative deficits. Although veteran teachers will have some of the resources to remediate these deficits, most will not want to reinvent the wheel. So…

Pennington Publishing’s Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 programs have corresponding worksheets for each of the assessment items. The worksheets are fantastic with clear definitions, examples, practice, and a short formative assessment in which students apply what they have learned. Notice that these are not “drill and kill” worksheets teaching skills in isolation from the writing context. Answers included, of course. Plus, the Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary programs all provide direct instruction lessons for each of the grade-level grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, vocabulary, and knowledge of language Common Core State Standards lessons with both print and digital teacher’s edition and accompanying consumable student workbooks. With the Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary program, students “catch up” while they “keep up” with the rigorous grade-level Common Core Standards.

These worksheets have been written by a teacher for teachers and their students with a built-in management system to keep students productive and to minimize teacher preparation and correction. Different students will be working on different worksheets to practice the concepts and skills each needs to remediate. The students self-correct their own worksheets from the answer booklets to be able to learn from their mistakes (and save the teacher time). Then students complete the WRITE formative assessment in which students are required to apply what they have learned re: the focused concept or skill in a sentence or two.

Once completed, the student visits the teacher for a 20-30-second mini-conference. The teacher skims the practice and corrections and reads the formative assessment. If mastered, the teacher (or student) marks that mastery on the progress monitoring matrices. Teachers, students, parents, (and, yes, principals) love to see that measurable progress on the matrices. It’s simple and effective individualized instruction with a built-in management system to maintain a productive and orderly learning experience.

Oh, by the way, teachers are licensed to place the worksheets on their class websites for parents and their children to access at home.


Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Programs

What’s included in the value-priced Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 BUNDLES? These grade-level programs include both teacher’s guide and student workbooks and are designed to help you teach all the Common Core Anchor Standards for Language. In addition to the Teaching Grammar and Mechanics program, each BUNDLE provides 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 the grammar, mechanics, and vocabulary components.

The program 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.

Check out the brief introductory video and enter DISCOUNT CODE 3716 at check-out for 10% off this value-priced program. We do sell print versions of the teacher’s guide and student workbooks. Contact for pricing. Read what teachers are saying about this comprehensive program:

The most comprehensive and easy to teach grammar, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary program. I’m teaching all of the grade-level standards and remediating previous grade-level standards. The no-prep and minimal correction design of this program really respects a teacher’s time. At last, I’m teaching an integrated program–not a hodge-podge collection of DOL grammar, spelling and vocabulary lists, and assorted worksheets. I see measurable progress with both my grade-level and intervention students. BTW… I love the scripted lessons!

─Julie Villenueve

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