A Summer of Extra Reading and Hope for Fourth Grade

Here is an excellent article about the importance of mastering reading by the third grade. If your child is approaching third grade and is struggling with reading, you must do whatever you can to get him or her up to speed. I highly recommend that you work with the Reading Kingdom program that is part of your membership at www.TestingMom.com. To read this article on the NY Times website, CLICK HERE.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Educators like to say that third grade is the year when students go from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Yet one afternoon last month, there was Anthony, a 10-year-old whose small frame was highlighted by baggy black cargo shorts, struggling with “Tiny the Snow Dog,” a picture book with only a handful of words per page. “This is Tiny,” he read to his teacher, Holly Bryant. “He is my dog.”

Anthony is one of about 1,900 children from the Charlotte-Mecklenberg School District who failed the standardized reading test given to all North Carolina third graders in the spring. Under a recent law similar to those in more than a dozen states, such students in North Carolina may be required to repeat the grade. The law, being applied this year to third graders for the first time, poses a set of thorny educational challenges.

About 1,500 students — or one of every eight who completed third grade in Charlotte in June — ended up enrolling in literacy school, along with Anthony, who has been attending four days a week for the past six weeks.

Fourteen states in 2012 enacted policies either mandating or strongly recommending that schools hold back students who could not read properly by third grade. Districts in Arizona and Colorado also offered summer school for struggling third-grade readers for the first time this year, then will consider whether to hold back some of them before the new school year begins.

While the summer courses are likely to make some difference, teachers here and around the country say the third-grade laws are another example of lofty educational goals paired with insufficient resources. A six-week course, they say, cannot possibly make up for what Anthony and the others need: the extra help and focus should start in preschool.

“It’s like, O.K., we’re going to do this, and if kids don’t read at third-grade level, they’re going to be held back,” said Bill Anderson, a former principal and executive director of MeckEd, an education advocacy group in Mecklenberg County. “And, oh, by the way, there’s not going to be any money for this. School districts just have to figure this out.”

In North Carolina, the state provided some funding, but districts also relied on nonprofit foundations to supplement the costs of the summer reading academies. State budget reductions in recent years have led to larger class sizes and a reduction in teaching assistants, even in the youngest elementary classes. Fewer than a quarter of the state’s 4-year-olds are enrolled in state-funded preschool, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.

Although many of the new state laws do include provisions requiring schools to identify and support students who show signs of reading difficulties as early as kindergarten, the biggest focus does not come until third grade, along with the consequences for schools and students.

“The emphasis is in the wrong place, and it ought to be much earlier,” said Barbara O’Brien, policy director of the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, a nonprofit advocacy group, and a former lieutenant governor of Colorado. “I think it’s bittersweet that we have this almost national focus and agreement on what’s important, and it’s at a time when no one wants to spend money to do things the right way.”

Educators also say that many out-of-school factors contribute to a child’s reading ability. Research suggests and the American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued a policy recommending that parents read to their babies from birth.

The policies follow the pattern of many other educational reform efforts that impose consequences for failure to meet certain goals. “It’s sort of the hammer falls under certain conditions,” said Robert C. Pianta, dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. In the absence of a strong reading curriculum and teacher training between pre-K and third grade, he said, holding students back a grade seems “in some sense unfair to kids.”

In Florida, one of the pioneers in holding back third graders because of inadequate reading skills, all teachers are required to assess children’s reading levels starting in kindergarten and to offer extra support for children who have trouble learning to read.

“Principals did start looking at this as, ‘We’ve got four years to make sure this happens,’ ” said Mary Laura Bragg, vice president of advocacy at the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a nonprofit founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush, “not just, ‘Oh, we’ve got to start looking at this in third grade.’ ” Ms. Bragg served as head of reading initiatives with the Florida Department of Education under Mr. Bush, who backed the state’s policy on holding back struggling third-grade readers when he was governor.

Florida introduced its policy in 2002, and between that year and 2013, the percentage of fourth graders reaching proficiency in reading on national tests rose to 39 percent from 27 percent, one of the largest improvements in the country. Research using Florida’s test results has also shown that, on average, students who repeated third grade performed better on standardized reading tests through middle school than peers who had scored just a few points above the cutoff for moving up to fourth grade.

But lasting results are harder to document. The percentage of Florida eighth graders reaching proficiency in reading on national tests rose from 29 percent in 2002 to just 33 percent in 2013, similar to increases elsewhere in the country. Other studies show that students who must repeat a grade drop out of high school at higher rates than their peers.

In North Carolina, the law originally mandated a repeated grade and summer school for any third grader who could not demonstrate proficiency at reading either on the end-of-year standardized test or other measures, including portfolios amassed by teachers. The policy offered exemptions for students with learning disabilities or those who had been learning English for two years or less. After pressure from parents, teachers and advocacy groups, the Legislature modified the law to offer school districts and principals more flexibility in assessing students’ reading abilities and in placing them after third grade. Also, while districts had to offer the summer reading classes, struggling students were not required to attend.

With states starting to align standardized tests with the Common Core, new academic standards that have been adopted by more than 40 states, more students have fallen short of proficiency guidelines than in the past. That could mean many more third graders subject to the new policies about repeating the year.

The challenges for teachers were evident in Charlotte on a recent morning. In one classroom, Emily Hill, who teaches kindergarten during the school year, was instructing two 9-year-olds on how to pronounce vowel combinations like “ai,” “ie” and “ee.”

In another class, full of students who had tested at around a second-grade reading level at the end of third grade, Ullanda Tyler, a teacher with 11 years of experience, had moved beyond basic phonics to work on vocabulary and skills like inference.

Yet students still had trouble explaining definitions she had recently taught.

All students who attended the summer classes took a test at the end to measure their progress. Later this month, principals in Charlotte will decide which of the students must repeat third grade.

Reading experts said children should not be in such a position this late in elementary school.

“If I were a parent and I had a struggling third grader, I would get whatever help I could to help get them up to speed,” said Deborah J. Stipek, dean of the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University. “But if I were a state policymaker or superintendent, I would say, ‘What can we offer these kids in pre-K, kindergarten and first grade so they aren’t behind when they get to third grade?’ ”

Tests Lock in Learning – The Research is in!

This is a wonderful article that appeared in Today’s NY Times. CLICK HERE to read it at the Times website. It talks about the fact that frequent, short quizzes after material is learned helps to lock in that learning in ways that reviewing the material does not. Teachers should integrate frequent, low-stakes quizzing to help people retain more of what they learn.

How Tests Make Us Smarter, by Henry L. Roediger III

TESTS have a bad reputation in education circles these days: They take time, the critics say, put students under pressure and, in the case of standardized testing, crowd out other educational priorities. But the truth is that, used properly, testing as part of an educational routine provides an important tool not just to measure learning, but to promote it.

In one study I published with Jeffrey D. Karpicke, a psychologist at Purdue, we assessed how well students remembered material they had read. After an initial reading, students were tested on some passages by being given a blank sheet of paper and asked to recall as much as possible. They recalled about 70 percent of the ideas.

Other passages were not tested but were reread, and thus 100 percent of the ideas were re-exposed. In final tests given either two days or a week later, the passages that had been tested just after reading were remembered much better than those that had been reread.

What’s at work here? When students are tested, they are required to retrieve knowledge from memory. Much educational activity, such as lectures and textbook readings, is aimed at helping students acquire and store knowledge. Various kinds of testing, though, when used appropriately, encourage students to practice the valuable skill of retrieving and using knowledge. The fact of improved retention after a quiz — called the testing effect or the retrieval practice effect — makes the learning stronger and embeds it more securely in memory.

This is vital, because many studies reveal that much of what we learn is quickly forgotten. Thus a central challenge to learning is finding a way to stem forgetting.

The question is how to structure and use tests effectively. One insight that we and other researchers have uncovered is that tests serve students best when they’re integrated into the regular business of learning and the stakes are not make-or-break, as in standardized testing. That means, among other things, testing new learning within the context of regular classes and study routines.

Students in classes with a regimen of regular low- or no-stakes quizzing carry their learning forward through the term, like compounded interest, and they come to embrace the regimen, even if they are skeptical at first. A little studying suffices at exam time — no cramming required.

Moreover, retrieving knowledge from memory is more beneficial when practice sessions are spaced out so that some forgetting occurs before you try to retrieve again. The added effort required to recall the information makes learning stronger. It also helps when retrieval practice is mixed up — whether you’re practicing hitting different kinds of baseball pitches or solving different solid geometry problems in a random sequence, you are better able later to discriminate what kind of pitch or geometry problem you’re facing and find the correct solution.

Surprisingly, researchers have also found that the most common study strategies — like underlining, highlighting and rereading — create illusions of mastery but are largely wasted effort, because they do not involve practice in accessing or applying what the students know.

When my colleagues and I took our research out of the lab and into a Columbia, Ill., middle school class, we found that students earned an average grade of A- on material that had been presented in class once and subsequently quizzed three times, compared with a C+ on material that had been presented in the same way and reviewed three times but not quizzed. The benefit of quizzing remained in a follow-up test eight months later.

Notably, Mary Pat Wenderoth, a biology professor at the University of Washington, has found that this benefit holds for women and underrepresented minorities, two groups that sometimes experience a high washout rate in fields like the sciences.

This isn’t just a matter of teaching students to be better test takers. As learners encounter increasingly complex ideas, a regimen of retrieval practice helps them to form more sophisticated mental structures that can be applied later in different circumstances. Think of the jet pilot in the flight simulator, training to handle midair emergencies. Just as it is with the multiplication tables, so it is with complex concepts and skills: effortful, varied practice builds mastery.

We need to change the way we think about testing. It shouldn’t be a white-knuckle finale to a semester’s work, but the means by which students progress from the start of a semester to its finish, locking in learning along the way and redirecting their effort to areas of weakness where more work is needed to achieve proficiency.

Standardized testing is in some respects a quest for more rigor in public education. We can achieve rigor in a different way. We can instruct teachers on the use of low-stakes quizzing in class. We can teach students the benefits of retrieval practice and how to use it in their studying outside class. These steps cost little and cultivate habits of successful learning that will serve students throughout their lives.

Henry L. Roediger III is a professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis and a co-author of “Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning.”

New ERB Test – Admission Assessment for Beginning Learners – AABL Test

Here is another good article from Amy Zimmer at DNAinfo New York. To read the piece at that website, CLICK HERE. For practice questions to build skills for the AABL, visit www.TestingMom.com. Once you join, go to Select Practice Questions – NYC Private School and the practice questions are right there!

MANHATTAN — Some of the city’s most elite private schools will soon require 4-year-olds to take a new, harder admissions test given on an iPad and designed to assess math and literacy skills.

The educational services company ERB’s Admission Assessment for Beginning Learners (AABL) will be given for the first time in October and is a significant departure from the previous, IQ-like test most New York City private schools required for the past 45 years.

While the new test is much cheaper for families — it’s $65, rather than $568 for the old test, because the new test is taken by iPad rather than by a trained examiner — experts believe many parents will shell out even more on classes and books to prepare their toddlers for it.

“These are subjects that were not previously tested,” said Emily Glickman, president of Abacus Guide Educational Consulting, who advises parents on private school admissions.

“The AABL is supposed to identify a child’s ability and achievement,” Glickman said. “That achievement part — how much you learned — is totally new. You usually think of an achievement test as something you take in high school. It’s not something you think of for preschoolers.”

So far, only Horace Mann and Riverdale Country School have announced plans to use the new exam, but experts believe more may follow.

In the past, most private schools used the ERB’s IQ test for kindergarten admission. But this year the Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York (ISAAGNY) told schools they were no longer required to use that test and instead could use a different one, make admissions tests optional or ignore them entirely.

The coalition cited concerns that 4-year-olds were over-preparing for the old IQ exam.

Some consultants, though, were perplexed by the shift to the new, more difficult AABL test.

“The AABL is really requiring more from preschoolers. That is in line with what we’re seeing in public schools,” Glickman said, referring to changes in the Department of Education’s gifted and talented admissions test. “We all know that some of the brightest people are late bloomers, yet more and more schools are rewarding the early achievers.”

To prepare kids for the AABL, parents should work with their youngsters on basic early literacy and math skills, said Karen Quinn, best-selling author of “Testing for Kindergarten” and co-founder of online test prep service TestingMom.com.

“We’re looking at things like knowing letters, numbers and shapes, knowing letter sounds, recognizing rhymes, counting, adding, subtracting and more,” she said.

The ERB’s IQ test was more subjective, especially on the verbal section, in which the examiner could award partial credit, said Bige Doruk, founder of test prep company Bright Kids NYC.

“For example, if the question stated ‘What is a mouse?’ and the kid answered ‘animal,’ he or she would get 1 point. If the kid said ‘a gray animal that is small, has a tail and likes to eat cheese,’ the kid would get the full 2 points,” Doruk explained.

If a child just said “animal,” the tester would reply, “Tell me more,” giving the child another chance to earn the full 2 points, Doruk said.

In addition to a numerical grade, the old test also included a written narrative from the examiner describing the child’s behavior during the test, such as whether the toddler seemed to be focused or easy to work with.

It’s unlikely that the AABL will include a report on the child, because the child will take the test independently on an iPad, Doruk said.

“It favors those with more reading skills and who’ve gone to more academic preschools,” said Doruk, whose company began offering one-on-one tutoring, ranging from $140 to $200 a session, for the AABL about a month ago.

Horace Mann and Riverdale declined to comment on their choice to use the new test, but Horace Mann explained its rationale on its website.

“While the score report is only one element of a child’s application,” the school said, “it is the only piece of the application that is consistent and objective for our applicants, who come from many schools and many different backgrounds and include children who do not come to us from formalized preschool settings.”

In the past, many parents would sign their kids up to take the test in the spring and summer before applying to schools. Registration for the AABL, however, doesn’t open until Sept. 15, and testing starts Oct. 15, according to the exam’s website.

Some consultants raised concerns about the use of an iPad test, saying toddlers shouldn’t spend so much time in front of a screen. But Doruk said her company has been using iPads in tutoring sessions for the past two years.

“Kids know how to use the iPad. They like the iPad. It’s more engaging to them. It looks like a game,” Doruk said. “But they still have to answer the questions correctly.”

Little Children and Already Acting Mean, By SUMATHI REDDY

I love anything that Sumathi Reddy writes. This is such an important subject for parents to be aware of. If you would like to read it at the Wall Street Journal website, CLICK HERE.

Little Children and Already Acting Mean, By SUMATHI REDDY
Children, Especially Girls, Withhold Friendship as a Weapon; Teaching Empathy

Children still in kindergarten or even younger form cliques and intentionally exclude others, say psychologists and educators who are increasingly noticing the behavior and taking steps to curb it.

Special programs are popping up in elementary schools to teach empathy as a means of stemming relational aggression, a psychological term to describe using the threat of removing friendship as a tactical weapon. Children also are being guided in ways to stand up for themselves, and to help others, in instances of social exclusion. Though both boys and girls exhibit relational aggression, it is thought to be more common among girls because they are generally more socially developed and verbal than boys.

“I think it’s remarkable that we’re seeing this at younger and younger ages,” said Laura Barbour, a counselor at Stafford Primary School in West Linn, Ore., who has worked in elementary schools for 24 years. “Kids forget about scuffles on the playground but they don’t forget about unkind words or being left out.”

Relational aggression is a relatively new term in psychology, devised to distinguish it from physical aggression. There is no research showing that relational aggression is increasing or manifesting itself earlier, experts say. An increasing awareness of it, however, may be what’s fueling educators’ perception that it is starting earlier and becoming more common.

Generally thought of as a middle-school phenomenon, relational aggression is less explored among young children. Experts say it often goes under the radar because it is harder to detect than physical aggression. The behavior is similar to verbal aggression but revolves around threatening the removal of a friendship. Examples include coercing other children not to play with someone else or threatening not to invite them to your birthday party if they don’t do what you want them to do.

“It actually works so well because of the child’s limited cognitive abilities,” said Jamie Ostrov, an associate professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Dr. Ostrov, who has conducted observational studies of relational aggression in 3-to-5-year-olds, said he has detected signs of the behavior in children as young as 2½ years. It isn’t clear why some children are more inclined to relational aggression than others. There is evidence that children can learn these behaviors by observing parents or older siblings, as well as from media, Dr. Ostrov said.

Unlike physical aggression, relational aggression increases with age, often peaking in middle school, said Charisse Nixon, chair of the psychology department at Penn State Erie. Some research indicates that girls are more affected than boys by relational aggression as they perceive it as more damaging to their social relationships, she said.

Dr. Nixon’s research has found that an average of 50% of children and adolescents—grades five through 12—have experienced relational aggression at least monthly. About 7% of children report experiencing physical aggression on a daily or weekly basis.

Experts say children engaging in high levels of relational aggression can have other conduct problems. It is also linked to health problems, such as depression and anxiety, Dr. Nixon said.

Laurel Klaassen, a counselor at Sibley-Ocheyedan Elementary School in Sibley, Iowa, says she has seen first-grade girls make a list of who can play with whom at recess.

“They’re already thinking at that age about being popular, being the queen of the classroom, or the queen of the playground and vying for that position,” said Ms. Klaassen. With boys, episodes of relational aggression seem to roll right off them, she said. “I’ve had girls that have come in and said to me, ‘I remember back in kindergarten when so-and-so did this to me.’ ”

Mark Barnett, a developmental psychologist at Kansas State University, says affective empathy, or vicariously experiencing the emotions of someone else, is what needs to be encouraged to reduce relational-aggressive behavior. If a child does something negative to someone, the parent should say, “Imagine how it would feel if someone did that to you?” Dr. Barnett also recommends parents and teachers talk about feelings of characters during story time. They also need to model empathetic behavior.

Steph Jensen, a presenter at “Mean Girls” seminars run by training group AccuTrain, of Virginia Beach, Va., said she has been seeing more participation from elementary-school teachers and counselors. And Simone Marean, executive director of the Girls Leadership Institute, a nonprofit based in Oakland, Calif., said the group started a program aimed at kindergarten and first-grade children addressing relational aggression three years ago in response to parent demand.

Trudy Ludwig, a Portland, Ore.-based author of books on children’s social and emotional learning who does presentations at schools, said she engages in role playing with the children to teach them both empathy and how to stand up for themselves. Last week she read one of her books, “The Invisible Boy,” to kindergarten, first- and second-grade students at Sue Buel Elementary School in McMinnville, Ore., in a program funded by the PTA.

The children were invited to insult Ms. Ludwig, as she showed them how to respond in a dignified and nonviolent way. In another role-play game, she demonstrated how to be a good bystander by comforting children who are bullied or including them in a group activity.

“A lot of kids don’t understand that manipulating friendships and relationships is bullying and that’s what I’m trying to educate the kids and the staff about,” Ms. Ludwig said.

When Ms. Ludwig asks students whether they find relational or physical aggression more hurtful, over 90% of the children will raise their hands for relational aggression, she said. “They’d rather be punched in the stomach,” she said.

Experts say parent involvement is important. A 2012 study in the journal Early Child Development and Care found that parents of preschoolers believe children should seek out adult assistance for physical aggression but not relational aggression, which they think children should work out on their own.

Samantha Parent Walravens, a mother of four children in Tiburon, Calif., said she was alarmed one day in January when her daughter Genevieve, a kindergartner, woke up crying. The girl complained of a stomach ache and didn’t want to go to school because some girls on the playground were being mean and wouldn’t let her play with them.

“I was shocked,” said Ms. Walravens, a 46-year-old writer. “You think about the mean-girl stuff going on in middle school. But in kindergarten?”

Ms. Walravens found out from the teacher that Genevieve was in a best-friends triangle with two other girls, which sometimes led to hurt feelings. The teacher “nipped it in the bud,” including telling Ms. Walravens to encourage her daughter to have other friends.

“I’m trying to teach her empathy,” Ms. Walravens said. “How did you feel when those little girls didn’t allow you to play with them? What do you do if you see someone who’s feeling sad on the playground? I always tell her you can go to me or the teacher and we will help you work it out. A lot of the stuff they can’t work out on their own.”

Building Focus in our Children

I am very excited to see that Daniel Goleman has written a book called “Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence.” It is one I will order just as soon as I finish posting this article about the book on my blog. [To read this article at the NY Times Website, CLICK HERE.] Being able to focus is critical to a child’s ability to do well in school and beyond. You may remember that Daniel Goleman is the author of books about Emotional Intelligence or EQ, qualities that are also critical to a child’s success in school and life.

Exercising the Mind to Treat Attention Deficits
By DANIEL GOLEMAN MAY 12, 2014, 3:56 PM

Which will it be — the berries or the chocolate dessert? Homework or the Xbox? Finish that memo, or roam Facebook?

Such quotidian decisions test a mental ability called cognitive control, the capacity to maintain focus on an important choice while ignoring other impulses. Poor planning, wandering attention and trouble inhibiting impulses all signify lapses in cognitive control. Now a growing stream of research suggests that strengthening this mental muscle, usually with exercises in so-called mindfulness, may help children and adults cope with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and its adult equivalent, attention deficit disorder.

The studies come amid growing disenchantment with the first-line treatment for these conditions: drugs.

In 2007, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, published a study finding that the incidence of A.D.H.D. among teenagers in Finland, along with difficulties in cognitive functioning and related emotional disorders like depression, were virtually identical to rates among teenagers in the United States. The real difference? Most adolescents with A.D.H.D. in the United States were taking medication; most in Finland were not.

“It raises questions about using medication as a first line of treatment,” said Susan Smalley, a behavior geneticist at U.C.L.A. and the lead author.

In a large study published last year in The Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, researchers reported that while most young people with A.D.H.D. benefit from medications in the first year, these effects generally wane by the third year, if not sooner.

“There are no long-term, lasting benefits from taking A.D.H.D. medications,” said James M. Swanson, a psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, and an author of the study. “But mindfulness seems to be training the same areas of the brain that have reduced activity in A.D.H.D.”

“That’s why mindfulness might be so important,” he added. “It seems to get at the causes.”

Depending on which scientist is speaking, cognitive control may be defined as the delay of gratification, impulse management, emotional self-regulation or self-control, the suppression of irrelevant thoughts, and paying attention or learning readiness.

This singular mental ability, researchers have found, predicts success both in school and in work life.

Cognitive control increases from about 4 to 12 years old, then plateaus, said Betty J. Casey, director of the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology at Weill Cornell Medical College. Teenagers find it difficult to suppress their impulses, as any parent knows.

But impulsivity peaks around age 16, Dr. Casey noted, and in their 20s most people achieve adult levels of cognitive control. Among healthy adults, it begins to wane noticeably in the 70s or 80s, often manifesting as an inability to remember names or words, because of distractions that the mind once would have suppressed.

Bolstering this mental ability, specialists are now suggesting, might be particularly helpful in treating A.D.H.D. and A.D.D.

To do so, researchers are testing mindfulness: teaching people to monitor their thoughts and feelings without judgments or other reactivity. Rather than simply being carried away from a chosen focus, they notice that their attention has wandered, and renew their concentration.

According to a recent report in Clinical Neurophysiology, adults with A.D.D. were shown to benefit from mindfulness training combined with cognitive therapy; their improvements in mental performance were comparable to those achieved by subjects taking medications.

The training led to a decline in impulsive errors, a problem typical of A.D.D., while the cognitive therapy helped them be less self-judgmental about mistakes or distractedness.

Mindfulness seems to flex the brain circuitry for sustaining attention, an indicator of cognitive control, according to research by Wendy Hasenkamp and Lawrence Barsalou at Emory University.

For a study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, they imaged the brains of meditators while they went through four basic mental movements: focusing on a chosen target, noticing that their minds had wandered, bringing their minds back to the target, and sustaining their focus there.

Those movements appeared to strengthen the neural circuitry for keeping attention on a chosen point of focus.

Meditation is a cognitive control exercise that enhances “the ability to self-regulate your internal distractions,” said Dr. Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco.

His research seeks to duplicate these effects with video games that “selectively target the key circuits without the kind of side effects you get with drugs.”

With colleagues, he designed NeuroRacer, a game for older adults in which they respond to traffic signs that appear suddenly while driving on a winding road. The game enhanced cognitive control in subjects ranging from 60 to 85, according to a study published in Nature.

Stephen Hinshaw, a specialist in developmental psychopathology at the University of California, Berkeley, said the time was ripe to explore the utility of nondrug interventions like mindfulness.

Dr. Swanson agreed. “I was a skeptic until I saw the data,” he said, “and the findings are promising.”

Coding is now joining the ranks of reading, writing and arithmetic

I was so excited to read this article in the NY Times earlier this week. It shows how the world and school curriculums are beginning to change and keep up with today’s technology. We have added a program to teach young children coding on www.TestingMom.com – it’s called Tynker and kids just love it! You might want to go over to the site and check it out. Coding is becoming a more important than ever subject to learn about. My own son, who is in college now, is taking a coding course – something he never learned in school – because he feels he can’t go into the job market without a rudimentary understanding of what makes computer programs sing. Check it out! To read the article at the NY Times website, CLICK HERE.

Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and Lately, Coding
By MATT RICHTEL MAY 10, 2014

MILL VALLEY, Calif. — Seven-year-old Jordan Lisle, a second grader, joined his family at a packed after-hours school event last month aimed at inspiring a new interest: computer programming.

“I’m a little afraid he’s falling behind,” his mother, Wendy Lisle, said, explaining why they had signed up for the class at Strawberry Point Elementary School.

The event was part of a national educational movement in computer coding instruction that is growing at Internet speeds. Since December, 20,000 teachers from kindergarten through 12th grade have introduced coding lessons, according to Code.org, a group backed by the tech industry that offers free curriculums. In addition, some 30 school districts, including New York City and Chicago, have agreed to add coding classes in the fall, mainly in high schools but in lower grades, too. And policy makers in nine states have begun awarding the same credits for computer science classes that they do for basic math and science courses, rather than treating them as electives.

There are after-school events, too, like the one in Mill Valley, where 70 parents and 90 children, from kindergartners to fifth graders, huddled over computers solving animated puzzles to learn the basics of computer logic.

It is a stark change for computer science, which for decades was treated like a stepchild, equated with trade classes like wood shop. But smartphones and apps are ubiquitous now, and engineering careers are hot. To many parents — particularly ones here in the heart of the technology corridor — coding looks less like an extracurricular activity and more like a basic life skill, one that might someday lead to a great job or even instant riches.

The spread of coding instruction, while still nascent, is “unprecedented — there’s never been a move this fast in education,” said Elliot Soloway, a professor of education and computer science at the University of Michigan. He sees it as very positive, potentially inspiring students to develop a new passion, perhaps the way that teaching frog dissection may inspire future surgeons and biologists.

But the momentum for early coding comes with caveats, too. It is not clear that teaching basic computer science in grade school will beget future jobs or foster broader creativity and logical thinking, as some champions of the movement are projecting. And particularly for younger children, Dr. Soloway said, the activity is more like a video game — better than simulated gunplay, but not likely to impart actual programming skills.

Some educators worry about the industry’s heavy role: Major tech companies and their founders, including Bill Gates and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, have put up about $10 million for Code.org. The organization pays to train high school teachers to offer more advanced curriculums, and, for younger students, it has developed a coding curriculum that marries basic instruction with video games involving Angry Birds and hungry zombies.

The lessons do not involve traditional computer language. Rather, they use simple word commands — like “move forward” or “turn right” — that children can click on and move around to, say, direct an Angry Bird to capture a pig.

Across the country, districts are signing up piecemeal. Chicago’s public school system hopes to have computer science as a graduation requirement at all of its 187 high schools in five years, and to have the instruction in 25 percent of other schools. New York City public schools are training 60 teachers for classes this fall in 40 high schools, in part to prepare students for college.

“There’s a big demand for these skills in both the tech sector and across all sectors,” said Britt Neuhaus, the director of special projects at the office of innovation for New York City schools. The city plans to expand the training for 2015 and is considering moving it into middle schools.

The movement comes with no shortage of “we’re changing the world” marketing fervor from Silicon Valley. “This is strategically significant for the economy of the United States,” said John Pearce, a technology entrepreneur. He and another entrepreneur, Jeff Leane, have started a nonprofit, MV Gate, to bring youth and family coding courses developed by Code.org to Mill Valley, an affluent suburb across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.

Parents love the idea of giving children something to do with computers that they see as productive, Mr. Pearce said. “We have any number of parents who say, ‘I can’t take my kid playing one more hour of video games,’ ” he said. But if the children are exploring coding, the parents tell him, “ ‘I can live with that all night long.’ ”

The concept has caught on with James Meezan, a second grader. He attended one of the first “Hour of Code” events sponsored by MV Gate in December with his mother, Karen Meezan, the local PTA president and a former tech-industry executive who now runs a real estate company. She is among the enthusiastic supporters of the coding courses, along with several local principals.

Her son, she said, does well in school but had not quite found his special interest and was “not the fastest runner on the playground.” But he loves programming and spends at least an hour a week at CodeKids, after-school programs organized by MV Gate and held at three of Mill Valley’s five elementary schools.

James, 8, explained that programming is “getting the computer to do something by itself.” It is fun, he said, and, besides, if he gets good, he might be able to do stuff like get a computer to turn on when it has suddenly died. His mother said he had found his niche; when it comes to programming, “he is the fastest runner.”

Other youngsters seemed more bewildered, at least at first. “The Google guys might’ve been coders, and the Facebook guys — I don’t know,” said Sammy Smith, a vibrant 10-year-old girl, when she arrived at the coding event at Strawberry Point.

But well into the session, she and her fifth-grade friends were digging in, moving basic command blocks to get the Angry Bird to its prey, and then playing with slightly more complex commands like “repeat” and learning about “if-then” statements, an elemental coding concept. The crowd had plenty of high-tech parents, including Scott Wong, director of engineering at Twitter. His 7-year-old son, Taeden, seemed alternately transfixed and confused by the puzzles on the laptop, while his 5-year-old brother, Sai, sat next to him, fidgeting.

The use of these word-command blocks to simplify coding logic stems largely from the work of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, which introduced a visual programming language called Scratch in 2007. It claims a following of millions of users, but mostly outside the schools.

Then, in 2013, came Code.org, which borrowed basic Scratch ideas and aimed to spread the concept among schools and policy makers. Computer programming should be taught in every school, said Hadi Partovi, the founder of Code.org and a former executive at Microsoft. He called it as essential as “learning about gravity or molecules, electricity or photosynthesis.”

Among the 20,000 teachers who Code.org says have signed on is Alana Aaron, a fifth-grade math and science teacher in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. She heard about the idea late last year at a professional development meeting and, with her principal’s permission, swapped a two-month earth sciences lesson she was going to teach on land masses for the Code.org curriculum.

“Computer science is big right now — in our country, the world,” she said. “If my kids aren’t exposed to things like that, they could miss out on potential opportunities and careers.”

Correction: May 10, 2014
An earlier version of this article used the wrong pronoun in referring to the founder of Code.org, Hadi Partovi.

One of the Best Discussion of Common Core I Have Read – a Column by David Brooks

This is one of the better discussions of Common Core I have read of late. David Brooks makes a great point. There is such a circus of misinformation surrounding the introduction of Common Core that what they’re about, why they were put in place, and how they might help our kids graduate with better skills has been lost. To read this at the NY Times website CLICK HERE. I recommend you read the piece there in order to see the responses, many of which I agree with, some I don’t. But it is good to read a more rational, thoughtful discussion about these standards, as opposed to the hysteria and hyperbole that appears most often.

When the Circus Descends, by David Brooks

We are pretty familiar with this story: A perfectly sensible if slightly boring idea is walking down the street. Suddenly, the ideological circus descends, burying the sensible idea in hysterical claims and fevered accusations. The idea’s political backers beat a craven retreat. The idea dies.

This is what seems to be happening to the Common Core education standards, which are being attacked on the right because they are common and on the left because they are core.

About seven years ago, it was widely acknowledged that state education standards were a complete mess. Huge numbers of students were graduating from high school unprepared either for college work or modern employment. A student who was rated “proficient” in one state would be rated “below basic” in another. About 14 states had pretty good standards, according to studies at the time, but the rest had standards that were verbose, lax or wildly confusing.

The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers set out to draft clearer, consistent and more rigorous standards. Remember, school standards are not curricula. They do not determine what students read or how teachers should teach. They are the goals for what students should know at the end of each grade.

This was a state-led effort, supported by employers and financed by private foundations. This was not a federal effort, though the Obama administration did encourage states to embrace the new standards.

These Common Core standards are at least partially in place in 45 states. As is usual, the initial implementation has been a bit bumpy. It’s going to take a few years before there are textbooks and tests that are truly aligned with the new standards.

But the new initiative is clearly superior to the old mess. The math standards are more in line with the standards found in the top performing math nations. The English standards encourage reading comprehension. Whereas the old standards frequently encouraged students to read a book and then go off and write a response to it, the new standards encourage them to go back to the text and pick out specific passages for study and as evidence.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which has been evaluating state standards for more than 15 years, concluded that the Common Core standards are “clearly superior” to the old standards in 37 states and are “too close to call” in 11 more.

But this makes no difference when the circus comes to town.

On the right, the market-share-obsessed talk-radio crowd claims that the Common Core standards represent a federal takeover of the schools. This is clearly false. This was a state-led effort, and localities preserve their control over what exactly is taught and how it is taught. Glenn Beck claims that Common Core represents “leftist indoctrination” of the young. On Fox, Elisabeth Hasselbeck cited a curriculum item that supposedly taught students that Abraham Lincoln’s religion was “liberal.” But, as the education analyst Michael J. Petrilli quickly demonstrated, this was some locally generated curriculum that was one of hundreds on a lesson-sharing website and it was promulgated a year before the Common Core standards even existed.

As it’s being attacked by the talk-radio right, the Common Core is being attacked by the interest group left. The general critique from progressives, and increasingly from teachers’ unions, is that the standards are too difficult, that implementation is shambolic and teachers are being forced into some top-down straitjacket that they detest.

It is true that the new standards are more rigorous than the old, and that in some cases students have to perform certain math skills a year earlier than they formerly had to learn them. But that is a feature, not a bug. The point is to get students competitive with their international peers.

The idea that the Common Core is unpopular is also false. Teachers and local authorities still have control of what they teach and how they teach it. A large survey in Kentucky revealed that 77 percent of teachers are enthusiastic about the challenge of implementing the standards in their classrooms. In another survey, a majority of teachers in Tennessee believe that implementation of the standards has begun positively. Al Baker of The Times interviewed a range of teachers in New York and reported, “most said their students were doing higher-quality work than they had ever seen, and were talking aloud more often.”

The new standards won’t revolutionize education. It’s not enough to set goals; you have to figure out how to meet them. But they are a step forward. Yet now states from New York to Oklahoma are thinking of rolling them back. This has less to do with substance and more to do with talk-radio bombast and interest group resistance to change.

The circus has come to town.

Revised SAT Won’t Include Obscure Vocabulary Words, by Tamar Lewis

According to the New York Times, obscure vocabulary words will not be present in the new SAT Test. I know this test seems far away to you now, but believe me, it will be upon you (and your child) before you know it. What I find interesting is that the test seems to be a continuation of Common Core in so many ways. This means, if your child is going to public school and learning how to take Common Core tests from 3rd grade on, he or she will have an advantage when it’s time to take the SAT. Although, who knows if the SAT will be required by that time! To read this article at the NY Times website, CLICK HERE.

Revised SAT Won’t Include Obscure Vocabulary Words, by Tamar Lewis

The College Board on Wednesday will release many details of its revised SAT, including sample questions and explanations of the research, goals and specifications behind them.

“We are committed to a clear and open SAT, and today is the first step in that commitment,” said Cyndie Schmeiser, the College Board’s chief of assessment, in a conference call on Monday, previewing the changes to be introduced in the spring of 2016.

She said the 211-page test specifications and supporting materials being shared publicly include “everything a student needs to know to walk into that test and not be surprised.”

One big change is in the vocabulary questions, which will no longer include obscure words. Instead, the focus will be on what the College Board calls “high utility” words that appear in many contexts, in many disciplines — often with shifting meanings — and they will be tested in context. For example, a question based on a passage about an artist who “vacated” from a tradition of landscape painting, asks whether it would be better to substitute the word “evacuated,” “departed” or “retired,” or to leave the sentence unchanged. (The right answer is “departed.”)

The test will last three hours, with another 50 minutes for an optional essay in which students will be asked to analyze a text and how the author builds an argument. The essays will be scored for reading, analysis and writing, and those scores will be reported separately from the other sections of the SAT. The current test includes a required 25-minute essay in which students are asked to take a position on an issue and which is graded without regard to factual accuracy.

The new test will have a 65-minute critical reading section with 52 questions, a 35-minute written language test with 44 questions, and an 80-minute math section with 57 questions. The language and math sections will each be scored from 200 to 800, and the top composite score will be 1,600. While the current test allows calculator use, the new one will have some sections that do not. Also, instead of five multiple-choice answers, the new test will have four.

Interpreting graphs will be an important part of the test, not just in math, but in analyzing science and social science texts.

Many of the college admissions officers who will be using the test results praised the effort to align the test with what students should be learning in high school, and what they will need to know to do well in college, but cautioned that it would be years before there was any evidence that the new SAT does a better job of predicting college performance than the current one.

“I like the desire on the part of the exam to assess students’ analytic skills, and the direction they’re taking with the changes in the essay,” said Christoph Guttentag, Duke University’s admissions director. “But we’ll still have to examine the evidence to see if there’s any change in the predictive validity within our context.”

David Coleman, who is president and chief executive of the College Board, and spearheaded the process of revising the test, was a key architect of the Common Core state curriculum standards for schools, a set of guidelines being introduced — and often stirring controversy — in classrooms throughout the nation. And to some extent, the College Board’s vision of the new SAT continues that alignment.

William Dingledine, an educational consultant in Greenville, S.C., said, “It’s a positive step that they’re trying to align the test with what students should be learning in school, and what they need for college, since the current SAT doesn’t do that very well, but it’s going to be interesting to see the SAT align with the Common Core standards while there are lots of states now trying to get rid of the Common Core.”

Many college admissions officers expressed skepticism about the College Board’s claim that the new SAT would narrow the gap between rich and poor students’ scores, and eliminate the edge gained through test preparation courses. Nor do they expect that the new test will hold any less stress for students.

Even if everyone becomes familiar with the format, said Jim Rawlins, director of admissions at the University of Oregon, “there’s still going to be a lot of anxiety, since it’s still a high-stakes test.”

So what will be the effects of the new SAT?

“It’s like that SAT response: ‘cannot be determined with the information given,’ ” he said.

The Redesigned SAT
Sample questions from the new SAT to be introduced in spring 2016

question 1
question 2
question 3

Bilingual Kids See Gifted Scores Drop After Test Changes, Parents Say, by Amy Zimmer

If you live in NYC and you have a bilingual child and your child will be taking the G&T tests next year, be sure to build up the English you are speaking to your child over the next year. Those are the recommendations after seeing scores drop for bilingual kids after the DOE changed the weighting of the two tests it uses to determine qualification for gifted programs. To read this article at the DNAInfo website, CLICK HERE.

QUEENS — Tim Wang wishes he’d spent more time speaking English to his son at home.

Wang’s 4-year-old recently scored in the 97th percentile on the city’s gifted and talented exam — a very high score, but likely not high enough to earn him a spot in the city’s most elite G&T programs, like the Upper West Side’s Anderson School and the Lower East Side’s NEST+m.

Wang’s son, who learned English as his first language, but now primarily speaks Mandarin at home, did better on the nonverbal section of the exam, which asks kids to identify patterns and shapes and draw logical conclusions, than he did on the verbal section, in which an adult reads a question out loud to a child once and then asks for an answer.

That wouldn’t have mattered as much last year, when the nonverbal section held more weight in determining a child’s overall score — but this year the Department of Education changed the scoring to give the two sections equal weight.

Scores fell sharply across the city, and test prep experts and families said children who speak more than one language had a tougher time achieving top scores this year.

“I was very proud of my son, especially what he did in the verbal,” said Wang, a 41-year-old software engineer who moved from Taiwan to Flushing in 2000.

But if Wang had known about the grading changes, he said, “I may [have] spent a little bit more time to read English stories for my son.”

The score drop in immigrant communities was most apparent in three school districts in Queens — a borough where nearly half of residents are foreign-born, according to city data — where scores of children trying to test into kindergarten G&T programs plummeted more than anywhere else in the city.

District 30, which encompasses Astoria, Long Island City, Jackson Heights and Woodside, saw the number of top scorers drop by 58 percent compared to last year. In District 25 — Wang’s district — which includes Flushing, the number of top scorers dropped by 54 percent.

And District 26, which covers Bayside, Fresh Meadows and Jamaica Estates, saw the number of top scorers fall by 52 percent. Because of the district’s strong schools, many immigrant families from South Korea, China, India and Japan have moved to the area, according to Insideschools.

The drops are even more striking considering that hundreds more children across the city took the G&T qualifying test this year compared to last year, records show.

Deb Alexander, who sits on District 30’s Community Education Council and is a parent of a G&T student, said families in her neighborhood complained the new test is “disadvantageous” to English learners.

“Our district has an incredibly high number of homes where English is not the first language,” she said. “The child may be a native English speaker, but it’s what they’re used to listening to.”

The DOE declined to comment on the impact of the testing changes this year on kids who speak English as a second language. A spokesman released a statement saying, “The tweak in the weights was designed to improve the psychometric balance across the two tests based on the data from the previous year, when the DOE first introduced this particular test combination.”

The Department of Education does provide translators for English language learners on the verbal and nonverbal portions of the test in Arabic, Bengali, Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish and Urdu.

But many families said the quality of translation services varies. In addition, they say, the verbal part of the G&T exam wasn’t designed for non-English-speaking children — leaving nuances to get lost even with a translator, said Michael McCurdy, co-founder of test preparation website Testing Mom.

“For example, even in the Department of Education gifted and talented handbook they have questions that use traditional American boy names and foods that are American, like pizza,” McCurdy said. “If a child is growing up in a household that only speaks Mandarin, for example, and has never eaten or seen pizza, they would be at a disadvantage.”

Bige Doruk, founder of test prep company Bright Kids NYC, analyzed data from her students’ scores after the changed G&T test this year. Though the scores were still high overall, she said, “Our ELL [English language learner] kids definitely scored much lower this year.”

Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center education professor David Bloomfield said the results highlight the “mutability” of test scores.

“You switch to this 50/50 arrangement [equally weighting the verbal and nonverbal sections], and you change who’s considered gifted or not,” he said. “It just seems to me one more example of how the almost arbitrary changing of metrics creates huge differences in the lives of children.”

We Need to Talk About the Test, by Elizabeth Philips

Here is why New Yorkers and are protesting the Common Core tests. To read the opinion at the NY Times Website, CLICK HERE. I recommend that you take a look at the article on the site just to see the reader comments.

We Need to Talk About the Test
A Problem With the Common Core

I’D like to tell you what was wrong with the tests my students took last week, but I can’t. Pearson’s $32 million contract with New York State to design the exams prohibits the state from making the tests public and imposes a gag order on educators who administer them. So teachers watched hundreds of thousands of children in grades 3 to 8 sit for between 70 and 180 minutes per day for three days taking a state English Language Arts exam that does a poor job of testing reading comprehension, and yet we’re not allowed to point out what the problems were.

This lack of transparency was one of the driving forces that led the teachers at my school to call for a protest rally the day after the test, a rally that attracted hundreds of supporters. More than 30 other New York City schools have scheduled their own demonstrations.

I want to be clear: We were not protesting testing; we were not protesting the Common Core standards. We were protesting the fact that we had just witnessed children being asked to answer questions that had little bearing on their reading ability and yet had huge stakes for students, teachers, principals and schools. (Among other things, test scores help determine teacher and principal evaluations, and in New York City they also have an impact on middle and high school admissions to some schools.) We were protesting the fact that it is our word against the state’s, since we cannot reveal the content of the passages or the questions that were asked.

In general terms, the tests were confusing, developmentally inappropriate and not well aligned with the Common Core standards. The questions were focused on small details in the passages, rather than on overall comprehension, and many were ambiguous. Children as young as 8 were asked several questions that required rereading four different paragraphs and then deciding which one of those paragraphs best connected to a fifth paragraph. There was a strong emphasis on questions addressing the structure rather than the meaning of the texts. There was also a striking lack of passages with an urban setting. And the tests were too long; none of us can figure out why we need to test for three days to determine how well a child reads and writes.

Teachers and administrators at my school have spoken out against the overemphasis on testing for years, but our stance is not one of “sour grapes.” Last year we were one of the 25 top-scoring schools in New York State. We have implemented the Common Core standards with enthusiasm, and we have always supported the idea that great teaching is the best test preparation. But this year’s English Language Arts exam has made a mockery of that position.

It is frightening to think what “teaching to the test” would mean, given the nature of the test. We won’t do it, but some schools will, or at least will try, despite a new state law that mandates that schools limit test prep to 2 percent of instructional time. How does one even begin to monitor or enforce such a mandate?

Over the past few years, as higher stakes have been attached to the tests, we have seen schools devote more time to test prep, leaving less time and fewer resources for instruction in music, the arts, social studies and physical education. This is especially true for schools with a high proportion of low-income students, who tend to do worse on the test, and whose teachers and principals have to worry more about the scores.

At Public School 321, we entered this year’s testing period doing everything that we were supposed to do as a school. We limited test prep and kept the focus on great instruction. We reassured families that we would avoid stressing out their children, and we did. But we believed that New York State and Pearson would have listened to the extensive feedback they received last year and revised the tests accordingly. We were not naïve enough to think that the tests would be transformed, but we counted on their being slightly improved. It truly was shocking to look at the exams in third, fourth and fifth grade and to see that they were worse than ever. We felt as if we’d been had.

For two years, I have suggested that the commissioner of education and the members of the Board of Regents actually take the tests — I’d recommend Days 1 and 3 of the third-grade test for starters. Afterward, I would like to hear whether they still believed that these tests gave schools and parents valuable information about a child’s reading or writing ability.

We do not want to become cynics, but until these flawed exams are released to the public and there is true transparency, it will be difficult for teachers and principals to maintain the optimism that is such an essential element of educating children.

Elizabeth Phillips has been the principal of Public School 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, for 15 years.

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