Friday, August 31, 2012

Literacy Assessment Connections for the 2012-13 School Year

In accordance with the 2011 ELA Framework, students in grades 4 will be assessed in one of the following modes: narrative, expository, or opinion. Students in grade 7 will be assessed in one of the following modes: narrative, expository, or argument. For instructional support, consult pages 27-28 Download PDF Document Download MS WORD Document of the ELA Framework for grade 4 and pages 54-56 Download PDF Document Download MS WORD Document of ELA Framework for grade 7. The scoring guide and rubric will remain the same.

last updated: August 15, 2012

Above is from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's web page on assessable standards for MCAS for this school year. It is also the message delivered as part of the Commissioner's Welcome Letter for this school year. The gist of it is that the expectation is that teachers are using the 2011 ELA/Literacy Framework exclusively. In doing so, they are emphasizing three modes of writing - argument, expository/explanation, and narrative - with students throughout the school year. In the spirit of the standards, each of these writing modes is connected to reading some text, preferably more than one. In the case of classroom instructional activities, the reading should involve opportunities for academic conversations as well. Based on the reading and discourse, students would be prompted to write in one or more of the three modes.

It is not my understanding that the MCAS test itself will look very different from the way it has looked in the past. However, this is a first step toward an assessment that reflects the 2011 standards. I hope that you share my belief in our teachers and their students. That belief is certain that robust instructional practices that provide lots of opportunities for students to write in all three of these modes, will adequately prepare the students to respond proficiently.

As the MCAS years have rolled on, the tendency to narrow the focus and in turn, the curriculum has severely limited students' perspectives with regard to performance and creativity. In addition, some students who do well on the MCAS are so MCAS-focused that they fail to perform well in other assessment situations - the SAT and ACT arenas, for instance.

So, as we start the new school year, we have an exciting opportunity to widen the focus and increase our own as well as our students' engagement with our 21st Century literacy standards.  Happy new school year!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Starting School with CCSS

As we start the new school year, it is important to plan right from the start to work differently this year. First, consider how you will facilitate academic conversations. Furniture arrangement is crucial. Students cannot talk to one another if desks and chairs create barriers. In addition, you will want to think about ways to easily provide changes in groupings. One way, is to set up the room so that everyone can see everyone else, for instance in a U-shape. By leaving some spaces every few seats, students can move chairs inside to create other formations. This arrangement provides respectful, whole-class discussions - a way for everyone to communicate with one another. Other ideas can be found in Content-Area Conversations by Fisher, Frey, and Rothenberg. Whatever you decide, make the reasons and goals clear to the students.

The Speaking and Listening Strand (S/L) standards require classrooms to develop many ways to promote academic conversations. The range of conversations includes pairs, small groups and whole-class opportunities. However, the basics must be taught; students do not come prepared to have quality conversations. The rigor and communicative skills needed for routine academic conversations must be taught, assessed, and reinforced. PARCC has said the S/L standards will be assessed and will count as part of the summative assessment. All the more reason to get good at teaching them as soon as possible.

Today, PARCC has released prototypes of assessment items for review and for use as tools. Review the item prototypes and other PARCC resources associated with them at

Prepare for and plan for a success-filled school year!

Fisher, D., Frey, N., Rothenberg, C. (2008). Content-area conversations: How to plan discussion-based lessons for diverse learners. Alexandria, VA. ASCD.