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Category: Common Core

3 Reasons: Why Rapid Educational Changes Are Unlikely

Educational, K-12, Betsy DeVos, Every Student Succeeds Act, Common Core, SAT, Tutoring, Test Prep, College AdmissionsWhile many Americans vocalize optimism for the advancement of voucher programs and Charter Schools under the potential Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, or express fear of her lack of educational experience and diminished advocacy of public schools, the ultimate authority of public education will continue to reside with local control agencies and school districts themselves. According to FindLaw, “The city or district level school board, or “Local Education Agencies” (LEA), usually has the greatest authority to create, implement, and enforce educational policy.” Additionally, the 2015 bipartisan supported bill, the Every Student Succeeds Act, ensures “a significant transfer of power over education policy away from the federal government to states and school districts” according to US News’ analysis, “Education Shifts to the States.”

So whether parents are elated with or dismayed by DeVos’ cabinet candidacy, expectations that the nation will experience a sudden massive overhaul in K-12 education are unlikely.

Here’s why:

  1. Teacher’s Unions: Love em’ or hate em’, they exist throughout the nation, particularly in California, and they are mighty. According journalist Mario Koran’s November 2016 article, “Teachers’ Unions Maintain Grip on County, San Diego Unified School Boards” in the independent publication Voice of San Diego, “Despite unprecedented spending from a group backing charters schools, the two major education boards in San Diego County will remain filled overwhelmingly with union-backed politicians.”
  1. Common Core: While the implementation of Common Core standards has undoubtedly wreaked havoc on older students, the standards themselves and corresponding teaching methods are arguably preferable to the “teaching to the test” motto of the former No Child Left Behind policy, a test that inadequately prepared students for university entrance and attrition. Additionally, Common Core skills have already been readily adopted by the nation’s top college entrance testing service, the College Board’s SAT as well as strongly supported by universities as many colleges have voiced concern about the ill-preparedness of many freshmen college applicants.
  1. Universities: “Colleges report receiving record numbers of applications that push up their selectivity numbers and their rankings on lists of top colleges — and increase the anxiety for students.” Competition is fierce, and while many Charter Schools and Private Schools are successful in helping students achieve university success, so are many public schools. For example, the top 10 ranking high schools in California are a mixture of public district and charter schools according to US News; no private schools make the cut. In fact, San Diego’s own Canyon Crest Academy, a public district school, ranks at an outstanding number five. Additionally, public schools offer more options in terms of athletics, the arts, electives and specialized programs than do Charter and Private Schools. On the other hand, charters boast of higher test scores and privates maintain smaller student populations, and in certain, but increasingly rare circumstances, smaller class sizes.

Most importantly, regardless of school type, top-tier colleges will select undergraduate candidates from more competitive, higher ranking high schools, be they public, charter or private. Perhaps there are many issues of concern in 2017, but an immediate educational upheaval may not be one of them. The debate about which schools will receive greater educational funding or the effectiveness of a voucher system will rage on, and may or may not play out depending upon state and local education agency decisions. 

One objective is certain- providing the most comprehensive, college and career readiness education possible for the greatest number of students as well as protecting our effective teachers who work strenuously long hours in the service of their students are tantamount.

DeVos or no DeVos, educators, schools, districts, parents and students can band together to make the best choices for themselves at the local level, at least for now.

Vocabulary Proficiency for Younger Learners: Conversation and Engagement

#vocabulary #words #parenting #childdevelopment

“Just read!”

“Memorize 100 words by Friday!”

Even though most high school students miserably stare at one another just thinking about these daunting expectations in addition to every other demand of their academic work week, such dictates often reign supreme as the default vocabulary strategies of many educators and parents. Inundating teens with new rapid-fire academic and complex, content-specific words to cram for a multiple choice test may in fact work for some students in the short term. However, genuine comprehension and long term vocabulary retention will remain unattainable if these are the sole methods of vocabulary instruction. According to, “Students Must Learn More Words, Say Studies,” an article written by Education Week’s Sarah D. Sparks, vocabulary knowledge is haphazardly enforced in classrooms and homes, and therefore, largely ineffective.

That informal style led to major discrepancies in both the number and difficulty of vocabulary words, with some teachers discussing only two words a day and others as many as 20. Moreover, because most words were chosen from the stories, they had little connection to other words being taught at the same time and were rarely words that students would need to understand instructions or academic content in later grades.

In fact, “prior studies have shown that students learn words better when they are grouped with related words.” Furthermore, All About Adolescent Literacy’s article, “Developing ‘Student-owned Vocabulary,” clarifies that students must interact with just one word up to 30 times before it becomes second nature. If language acquisition is such a challenge, what can parents and educators do to teach and reinforce basic, academic and discipline specific language that and professions demand?

Start earlier. Playing the procrastination game until 9th grade or high stakes college admissions testing is a catastrophic oversight. Forge environments rich with nuanced vocabulary as soon as your child can say “Dada.” Susan Canizares’ article, “For the Love of Words” in Parent’s Magazine featured on Scholastic.com observes that language acquisition or vocabulary competency begins when children begin walking. “Between the ages of 18 and 36 months, language growth occurs very quickly: babbling becomes more deliberate in tone, and children literally learn new words every day.” At this tender, but monumental age of developmental growth, children have the capacity to interact with thousands of words through listening, speaking, and creative activity. Reading comprehension and written skills tend to develop in kindergarten to second grade. As a result, parents and preschool educators should purposefully model and reinforce “adult” language through conversation, recreation and work with youngsters. Many effective instructional methods are available to boost your younger student’s vocabulary savvy at home, in a preschool Headstart classroom, or at an outdoor 6th grade camp.

  • Read a classic fairy tale or fable, such as Aesop’s “The Tortoise and the Hare.”
  • Ask your child active listening questions; “Why do you think the tortoise won?”
  • Repeat your child’s answer with correct grammar and academic vocabulary: “So you mean since the hare or rabbit was too proud or arrogant and the tortoise persevered, the rabbit napped while the tortoise finished the race.”
  • Paraphrase the first half of the tale and ask your child to summarize the ending.
  1. Use drawings, pictures or everyday objects as conversation starters to supplement vocabulary knowledge.
  • Board games like Monopoly Junior Board Game are wonderful ways to bond with your child and simultaneously combine conversation, visual illustrations and tangible symbols as students move their pieces around the board.
  • Household items, landscapes and infrastructure, walks in the park, a day at the beach, running errands and a number of other places and activities can be leveraged to support everyday and academic language acquisition.
  • Parents model- “Wow, those colorful chrysanthemums or flowers are really eye-catching!”
  • Ask questions- “What’s your favorite chrysanthemum? Why?”
  • Wait for your student’s response- ”I like the orange one because it’s big.”
  • Repeat their child’s answers with corrections- “Oh, so you like the tangerine colored chrysanthemum because it’s larger than the rest. What color is it? What kind of flower is it?”
  • Continue with this line of questioning and engagement until your child demonstrates the desired response.
  1. Encourage your student, particularly as they near kindergarten, to paraphrase your modeled responses in complete sentences!

While “just reading” and memorization will eventually play their roles to some extent, active engagement through listening, speaking, visual supports and kinesthetic or tactile activities are fundamental techniques that will assuredly foster your student’s lifelong pursuit of everyday and academic vocabulary achievement. And the younger parents and educators begin, the better!

Against All Odds- An Effective SAT Essay Introductory Paragraph

#testpreparation #highschool #writing #teaching #tutoring

Hawk Educational Solutions 2016 SAT Essay

Prior to the adoption of Common Core, the No Child Left Behind approach to education reigned for over a decade, “relying too heavily on standardized tests” according to many critics. One of the policy’s greatest deficits was the abandonment of writing curricula throughout the nation’s districts, charter schools, and other Local Education Agencies in order to focus on “teaching to the tests,” all of which were multiple choice. Unfortunately, the 21st century appears to demand effective writing skills, which are trending once again and in high demand, not only by the College Board, the engineers of the SAT, but also by college professors, universities and employers.

Furthermore, given the excruciating competition of college admissions, particularly with respect to top performing Ivy Leagues and the University of California system, 2016 SAT qualifying scores range between 1400-1600 and a formidable score on the new 2016 SAT essay of 7-8 is a must!

So, how can parents, teachers, and students themselves prepare for the SAT essay after the prolonged absence of sufficient public school writing programs?

Familiarize yourself with the SAT Essay directions prior to taking the exam.

Know that the prompt; it will always be the same, except the author and passage will always be unique.

As you read the passage below, consider how Dr. King uses

 

  • evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims.
  • reasoning to develop ideas and to connect claims and evidence.
  • stylistic or persuasive elements, such as word choice or appeals to emotion, to add power to the ideas expressed.

 

Practice reading various test released essay passages, annotating and constructing a brief outline of quotes for a five paragraph analysis.

Craft your introductory paragraph. Let’s use  Dr. Martin Luther King’s, “Beyond Vietnam,”  speech as an example to illustrate how to compose an impressive, emotionally potent introductory paragraph:

I. “Hook” the reader:

  • Poignant observation
  • Rhetorical Question
  • Reference to the Constitution
  • Personal anecdote
  • Quote from the passage
  • Combination of all of the above

 

Example Has the U.S. consistently upheld the civil liberties of every American citizen? Some might question the United States’ credibility as the enforcer of democratic ideals around the world when it has not always defended the Constitutional rights on its own citizens at home.

II. Present a relevant summary of the author’s argument with:

 

  • Title, author and genre (TAG)
  • Powerful quotes from the passage

 

Example: In his 1967 speech, “Beyond Vietnam,” civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. argues that the United States, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” has undeniably failed many of its civilians, particularly the poor and African American communities. Furthermore, he claims that such hypocrisy has “crippled” our nation’s ethical and literal health.

III. Establish your thesis:

 

  • Use your outline
  • Answer the SAT Essay Prompt: “Write an essay in which you explain how Martin Luther King Jr. builds an argument to persuade his audience that American involvement in the Vietnam War is unjust.”
  • Use unique verbs- replace uses with maneuvers, applies adopts, employs, etc.

 

Example: Dr. King maneuvers expert emotional appeal or style, and reasoning to build his argument that the US government’s involvement in the Vietnam War is an unjust constitutional violation which Americans must ardently “attack” with free speech to promote a healthy and free society.

Stay tuned for more information about how to build an effective SAT essay outline!

 

Cumulative Review Part II: The Roller Coaster of Learning Styles

When last we met in “Cumulative Review Part I- Time Management and the Spacing Effect,” I discussed the the significance of reviewing educational study materials at consistent and scheduled times prior to an assessment. Developing time management strategies is the initial essential step toward bolstering learning and test scores. However, once we’ve plotted our scholarly trajectory, how do we “review?”

Teachers, test preparation instructors, administrators, parents, students and the educational community at large must consider a crucial imperative to support effective cumulative review of conceptually challenging content: an individual’s learning style or VARK modalities, which arguably sounds like an epithet for a vicious fire breathing insect. Alas, the acronym stands for something far less fantastic and far more practical: Visual, Aural/ Auditory, Read/Write, Kinesthetic. In reality, most of us require a mixture of learning or retention VARK modes to remember and apply knowledge.

So how do we integrate our knowledge of learning style into potent study plans unique to every student? Let’s simplify with a concrete example, shall we?

Visual Learners (and Multiple Modalities): Notes, questions, equations and text are accommodated by diagrams and drawings, charts, color coded concepts, short films and online presentations. Visual aids are nothing new, so let’s apply them to cumulative review.

Example:  Calculus and Common Core Integrated Math focus heavily on polynomial functions.

Prezi's Polynomial RollercoasterWhy not reinforce recall and illustrate this complex subject matter by referencing Prezi’s online video presentation of a roller coaster constructed with polynomial expressions?

I wish my high school math teachers had contextualized math this well for me! Learning math for the sake  of learning math is a hard sell for many, but once we “see” its application, purpose and potential, not only are we likely to remember it, but we are also likely to use it!

Stay tuned for more to come on Cumulative Review and other educational and academic topics!

SAT Math: Integrated Multi-step Mayhem and Reading Reinforced

 

sat-exam-multiple-choice-mini-graduation-cap-47044907“Math is supposed to be math!” so some insist.

According to these “resistance forces,” integrating or “muddling” content matter results in the unnecessary pollution of an untainted or “pure” subject, and merely confuses young test takers who are muscling their way through the brawny bearers of high standards that fastidiously guard the gates of our nation’s most competitive colleges.

Despite the clamoring of these educational “purists,” the clear-cut compartmentalization of content simply isn’t the reality of life’s demands and, more importantly, is no longer the assured path to classroom or test taking success.

Common Core and the corresponding SBAC and/or CAASPP testing systems are on the move with or without the approval of students, parents and teachers, and the College Board, among other college entrance test makers, clearly understand it. The new 2016 SAT and the implementation of Common Core in school districts such as San Diego Unified School District, require the synthesis of interdisciplinary or cross curricular skills and concepts, heavily concentrated on reading, writing and listening, in order to accomplish a task or goal. Gone are the days when English was English, geometry was geometry, and arithmetic was arithmetic. The integration of reading and math has permanently arrived.

The new 2016 SAT Math No Calculator and Calculator sections are merely two illustrations of the skill-based consortium that is required of our future generations. Author Rebecca Safier of the PrepScholar’s, “What’s Tests on the SAT Math Section?” accurately portrays SAT math as a wordy hybrid of algebra and data analysis with a limited number of geometry and trigonometry questions.

Since I’ve been personally providing SAT math instruction over the course of the last year to predominantly 11th grade males who are current Calculus students, I’ve discovered that their greatest challenge is effectively reading, annotating and identifying the question. Why? The fundamental pieces of medium and difficult “math” problems are often obscured in a sea of 40 or more words per question! In layman’s terms, the new SAT is half English!

The Problem:

Let’s examine a College Board sample, shall we? Consider the following 40 word Calculator Section (this is deceiving as a calculator is not required) example:

A radioactive substance decays at an annual rate of 13 percent. If the initial amount of the substance is 325 grams, which of the following functions f models the remaining amount of the substance, in grams, t years later (t is an exponent)?

  1. A) f (t) = 325(0.87)t
  2. B) f (t) = 325(0.13)t
  3. C) f (t) = 0.87(325)t
  4. D) f (t) = 0.13(325)t

The Approach

  1. Thoroughly read the whole text first.
  2. Work backwards- Identify the question, which is not the entire 40 word text, and Underline the keywords in the quesiton only.

A radioactive substance decays at an annual rate of 13 percent. If the initial amount of the substance is 325 grams, which of the following functions f models the remaining amount of the substance, in grams, t years later (t is an exponent)?

  1. A) f (t) = 325(0.87)t
  2. B) f (t) = 325(0.13)t
  3. C) f (t) = 0.87(325)t
  4. D) f (t) = 0.13(325)t
  1. Work backwards once again- Return to the given information and identify only the most essential information.

A radioactive substance decays at an annual rate of 13 percent. If the initial amount of the substance is 325 grams, which of the following functions f models the remaining amount of the substance, in grams, t years later (t is an exponent)?

  1. A) f (t) = 325(0.87)t
  2. B) f (t) = 325(0.13)t
  3. C) f (t) = 0.87(325)t
  4. D) f (t) = 0.13(325)t
  1. Analyze (break down the text) and label its pieces, which are fundamental English Language Arts procedures.

Decays- 13% or .13

Initial Amount- 325 (will never change)

Remaining Amount- what stays each year is 100-13 or 1-.13

t years- unknown length of time in years

  1. Use the answer choices to guide you. Notice, select the accurate equation, but do not solve it. Do only what is required, nothing more!
  1. A) f (t) = 325(0.87)t
  2. B) f (t) = 325(0.13)t
  3. C) f (t) = 0.87(325)t
  4. D) f (t) = 0.13(325)t

The Solution

1.Employ the power of logic and the process of elimination.

Step 1: Since the initial amount of 325 is constant, 325 cannot be part of the exponent, t years. For instance, if t =2, then over the course of two years, the initial amount would be (325)(325) or 105625. Understanding the principle that an initial amount is fixed or unchanging allows the student to eliminate choices C and D.

  1. A) f (t) = 325(0.87)t
  2. B) f (t) = 325(0.13)t
  3. C) f (t) = 0.87(325)t
  4. D) f (t) = 0.13(325)t

Step two: Return once again to the question; what is the remaining amount, which is 100%-13% or 87% each year. This is not the decay rate of 13%. Therefore, the test-taker can eliminate B and select A.

  1. A) f (t) = 325(0.87)t
  2. B) f (t) = 325(0.13)t
  3. C) f (t) = 0.87(325)t
  4. D) f (t) = 0.13(325)t

What We’ve Learned

In this two-step, easy to medium problem, students are required to demonstrate astute reading comprehension and sound logic in combination with basic algebraic knowledge. Most notably, students must separate given or “background” information from what the question actually demands. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen even my most advanced math students select B because they assume the equation should include 13% since it’s mentioned first in the text. Hence, they select incorrectly and their score plummets!

Students often avoid a close reading and careful annotation of the text, skills that have often previously been taught in English and history courses; many have insisted over the generations that reading simply shouldn’t be categorized as a mathematical skill. However, as one 11th grade test-taker acknowledged, “The (new SAT) math problems are more wrapped in narrative” than in the previous SAT, according to the New York Times article, “New, Reading-Heavy SAT Has Students Worried.”  So, now what?

Should students and parents be worried?

Absolutely not. Read carefully, work backwards by identifying the question first, then consult the given information and answer choices. Once all the pieces are understood, then apply the math, logic and process of elimination as needed. As a veteran G.I. Joe fan, the trope, “And knowing (that an integrated approach to SAT math) is half the battle,” just might be the moral of the evolving SAT story.

 

Common Core- What’s the Deal?

Parents, teachers, students, and schools in California are in a state of frenzy because the questions are mounting:  What’s the deal with Common Core? What is the SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium)? Why weren’t we told sooner? Why are our students boycotting exams or literally throwing up because of the intense, high pressure atmosphere to perform well? Why aren’t districts and teachers prepared? Why were parents informed, in many cases, just two weeks prior to this new standardized test?

Let’s take a deep breath because at this point, there is no need to panic. There are three essentials to know that will restore parents to sanity.

This year’s SBAC, like its predecessor the CST, will not have bearing on college acceptance.

At least not yet. The SBAC was administered last year as a “field test” or test of the test only to a select group of California schools, and neither the results nor the questions were released. This year, although the results will supposedly be released to the public, the SBAC is still scrambling to find “graders,” many of whom are likely unqualified, to score written sections of the exam. The good news- colleges didn’t request CST scores and they’re not requesting SBAC scores. A combination of SAT/ ACT scores, quality college applications and GPA is still the primary determinant of college acceptance and success.

Parents can prepare, somewhat, with students online.

SBAC practice questions are available online athttp://sbac.portal.airast.org/practice-test/.

1. Scroll down to the bottom of the page, click on “Student Interface: Practice and Training Tests,” and sign in as the preset guest.

2. Then, select the appropriate grade level and all of the preset information on the following pages.

3. Once you choose, “Yes, Start My Test,” you’ll begin with question #1 presented on the screen. Once finished, move your cursor to the top left and click next to move to question #2.

4. You must answer every question, or you will not be able to move on.

5. There are some nonsensical pitfalls: the ELA sections don’t always work (the audio, if malfunctioning, will not grant you access to the test) and your results for these practice tests aren’t available. What’s that you say? Yes, you can take the test, but you will not get a score. You and your child can only familiarize yourselves with the testing interface and question types, but will have no reference to test performance.

Curriculum is coming, albeit, painstakingly slowly.

At a snail’s pace, but Common Core curriculum is on the move, no thanks to the SBAC. While the test makers provide example questions, student responses, and performance tasks to teachers and districts, the assignments themselves must be generated by educators. This is a tedious and time consuming process because we have to piecemeal various texts, video clips, and graphic media together to create the documents that accompany the SBAC tasks. In some cases, we actually have to write the articles or short stories that serve as sources. However, there are an increasing number of free resources available online while schools get it together.

Creditable websites such as  http://www.k12reader.com/ allow parents to download a wealth of reading comprehension, spelling, writing, and grammar worksheets and projects that provide answer keys. While we nervously wait for the curriculum to catch up to the exam, parents can get a head start at home. Reading with your child at home, discussing why something is happening in a story or newspaper article, and getting to know the SBAC portal are a start!

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