Dyslexia law signed in IL

Gov Pat Quinn, Democrat of Illinois, signed a new law on July 12 that the state hopes will bring more education services to dyslexic students, the Associated Press reports, here via WSIL-TV (ABC affiliate, Carterville).

The law will also create a reading instruction advisory group to train teachers on how to identify and work with students who have dyslexia.

HB 3700 passed the Illinois House on April 1 and the Illinois Senate on May 20, both by unanimous votes.

The new law requires the State Board of Education to inform local school boards about tests that can be given to help schools identify dyslexic students more easily and get them the intervention and supports they need. Screening for dyslexia and other reading disabilities will now be required in kindergarten.

The state will also have to keep local education agencies informed as to appropriate intervention strategies for students diagnosed with dyslexia or other reading disabilities and make sure those students receive a comprehensive assessment for the learning disorder and, in the event that a diagnosis is confirmed, an appropriate intervention strategy.

The law also requires schools to give educators professional development related to reading disabilities. Schools must, with that training, incorporate the International Dyslexia Association’s definition of dyslexia and administer an appropriate written test for certain educator licensure candidates.

The world headquarters for the International Dyslexia Association, based in Towson, Md., defines dyslexia as follows:

Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. Dyslexia refers to a cluster of symptoms, which result in people having difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading. Students with dyslexia usually experience difficulties with other language skills such as spelling, writing, and pronouncing words. Dyslexia affects individuals throughout their lives; however, its impact can change at different stages in a person’s life. It is referred to as a learning disability because dyslexia can make it very difficult for a student to succeed academically in the typical instructional environment, and in its more severe forms, will qualify a student for special education, special accommodations, or extra support services.

Pediatricians: Read aloud to children from birth

The American Academy of Pediatrics, at today’s meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in Denver, is expected to announce a new policy that asks its members to become powerful advocates for reading aloud every time a baby visits the doctor, the New York Times reports.

Representing about 62,000 pediatricians across the US, the AAP has long worked with programs like Reach Out & Read to promote literacy. For example, through the academy’s Illinois chapter, Reach Out & Read, an evidence-based nonprofit that promotes early literacy and school readiness during check-ups in pediatric exam rooms by giving books to children and advice to parents about the importance of reading aloud, serves more than 130,000 children and distributes more than 150,000 books annually in its 126 locations.

What’s new is that the recommendation from pediatricians to read aloud used to begin at 6 months of age, and in the new policy, written by Dr Pamela High, parents are going to be told to read aloud to their children from birth on. “It should be there each time we touch bases with children,” the Times quoted her as saying. Parents should be “reading together as a daily fun family activity” from infancy.

The Reach Out & Read organization, which says more than a dozen published studies show children served by its programs have larger vocabularies, higher comprehension skills, and more deeply engaged parents, has established a partnership for this new initiative with Too Small to Fail, a joint effort between the nonprofit Next Generation and the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation that is aimed at closing that word gap. Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to announce at today’s meeting that Scholasitc, the children’s book publisher, will donate 500,000 books to children through the Reach Out & Read program.

While the Reach Out & Read program trains doctors and nurses to advise parents about the importance of reading aloud, placing a special emphasis on children growing up in poverty, the Too Small to Fail organization will be developing materials that can be sent to doctors that will give some further advice on encouraging parents to read to their children.

Can this reduce the gap between rich kids and poor kids when it comes to literacy, knowing the joy of reading, or even having a few books in their homes?

Don’t decorate classrooms too much for young children

Maps, number lines, shapes, artwork and other materials tend to cover elementary classroom walls. However, new research from Carnegie Mellon University shows that too much of a good thing may end up disrupting attention and learning in young children.


Published in Psychological Science, Carnegie Mellon’s Anna V Fisher, Karrie E Godwin, and Howard Seltman looked at whether classroom displays affected children’s ability to maintain focus during instruction and to learn the lesson content. They found that children in highly decorated classrooms were more distracted, spent more time off-task, and demonstrated smaller learning gains than when the decorations were removed.

“Young children spend a lot of time—usually the whole day—in the same classroom, and we have shown that a classroom’s visual environment can affect how much children learn,” said Fisher, lead author and associate professor of psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Should teachers take down their visual displays based on the findings of this study?

“We do not suggest by any means that this is the answer to all educational problems. Furthermore, additional research is needed to know what effect the classroom visual environment has on children’s attention and learning in real classrooms,” Fisher said. “Therefore, I would suggest that instead of removing all decorations, teachers should consider whether some of their visual displays may be distracting to young children.”

For the study, 24 kindergarten students were placed in laboratory classrooms for six introductory science lessons on topics they were unfamiliar with. Three lessons were taught in a heavily decorated classroom, and three lessons were given in a sparse classroom.

The results showed that while children learned in both classroom types, they learned more when the room was not heavily decorated. Specifically, children’s accuracy on the test questions was higher in the sparse classroom (55 percent correct) than in the decorated classroom (42 percent correct).

“We were also interested in finding out if the visual displays were removed, whether the children’s attention would shift to another distraction, such as talking to their peers, and if the total amount of time they were distracted would remain the same,” said Godwin, a PhD candidate in psychology and fellow of the Program in Interdisciplinary Education Research.

However, when the researchers tallied all of the time children spent off-task in both types of classrooms, the rate of off-task behavior was higher in the decorated classroom (38.6 percent time spent off-task) than in the sparse classroom (28.4 percent time spent off-task).

The researchers hope these findings lead to further studies into developing guidelines to help teachers optimally design classrooms.

The Institute of Education Sciences, part of the US Department of Education, funded this research. Last fall, CMU launched the Simon Initiative to accelerate the use of learning science and technology to improve student learning. Named to honor the work of the late Nobel Laureate and CMU Professor Herbert Simon, the initiative will harness CMU’s decades of learning data and research to improve educational outcomes for students everywhere.

Racist remarks follow Indian-American spelling champs

Shortly after two American boys whose families come from India were declared co-champions of the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee on May 29, racist comments were made on talk radio and on social media, the Times of India reports.

Sriram Hathwar of Painted Post, N.Y., and Ansun Sujoe of Fort Worth, Texas, hold their trophy at the end of the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee competition in National Harbor, Md. Hathwar and Sujoe were declared as co-champions after 22 rounds of the competition. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

Comments saying only “Americans” should participate in the Spelling Bee were common in the hours after the victory.

But racism aside, Sriram Hathwar, 14, and Ansun Sujoe, 13, made history by winning the most American of academic competitions. Their victory, which came after a final list of 25 words was nearly exhausted, marked the first time in 52 years that two participants have won the contest.

Americans of Indian descent are on a streak at Scripps: Starting with Sameer Mishra, who won in 2008, Indian-American students have successfully reached the pinnacle for seven consecutive years.

Congratulations, Sriram and Ansun! Thanks for another dramatic finish as we showed some of our nation’s most uneducated people on ESPN that some of us do care about education, working hard, and learning.

And just remember: All these people who say you aren’t American, sometime a few years from now, when you need to grab a quick Shamrock shake, they’re going to be asking you if you want fries with that.

Alliance for Young Artists & Writers awards

The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers will present their national awards to hundreds of seventh through 12th graders across the country at Carnegie Hall next month, including Lisa Su, 18, a student at Washington Carver School for the Arts and Technology in Towson, Md., who was one of only eight national Gold Medal winners in the Art Portfolio category, the Baltimore Sun reports.


“I think the quiet sensitivity is there in the work, but it still has a presence,” the paper quoted Joe Cypressi, one of her teachers and the department chair for the visual arts department at the school, as saying.

For a complete list of winners, click here.

Ms Su said she will attend the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence next fall, where she expects to continue to develop her three-dimensional work, which she began as a child.

About the awards

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards has an impressive legacy dating back to 1923. Over the years, the awards have grown to become the longest-running, most prestigious recognition program for creative teens in the US, and the nation’s largest source of scholarships for creative young artists and writers. For her gold medal, Ms Su will receive a $10,000 cash scholarship.

A noteworthy roster of past winners includes Andy Warhol, Sylvia Plath, Truman Capote, Richard Avedon, Robert Redford, Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King, John Updike, and many more.

Each year, the Alliance partners with more than 100 visual and literary-arts organizations across the country to bring the awards to local communities. Teens in grades seven through 12 can apply in 28 categories of art and writing for the chance to earn scholarships and have their works exhibited or published. Submissions are juried by luminaries in the visual and literary arts, some of whom are past award recipients. Panelists look for works that best exemplify originality, technical skill, and the emergence of a personal voice or vision.

In the last five years alone, students submitted nearly 900,000 original works of art and writing. During that period, more than 60 top arts institutes and colleges have partnered with the awards to make $40 million in scholarships and financial aid available to regional and national Scholastic Award winners.

A little reading over summer?

Find a Book, Illinois” is a fun and easy way to select books based on a child’s Lexile measure and interests. You can use this free search tool to build custom lists for readers at all ability levels, and then locate your selections at the local public library.


Gov Pat Quinn, Secretary of State Jesse White, and State Superintendent of Education Christopher A Koch encourage all students across Illinois to access free online tools designed to promote reading, maintain math skills, and inspire learning outside the classroom. The state leaders agree that summer vacation should not signal a break from learning for Illinois’s two million students.

“Summer is a great break to enjoy outdoor adventures but it shouldn’t signal an end to learning,” Mr Quinn said. “With online resources and parent support, children can keep up with their studies and maintain the gains they accomplished during the school year. This free tool can make sure our students are ready to succeed right from the start when the school bell rings again in the fall.”

“Libraries in Illinois promote reading year round, and the ‘Find a Book’ search tool complements those efforts,” Mr White said. He also serves as State Librarian. “I urge parents to read with their children every day to help them develop a lifelong love of reading and learning. This year I also encourage parents to enroll their second through fifth graders in the summer math challenge. Practicing their reading and math skills over the summer will help ensure a smooth transition when students return to school in the fall.”

The online “Find a Book” utility provides a way for parents and children to quickly and easily search books that match a child’s reading level and interests as well as locate a local library carrying each title. The summer math challenge is a free math skills maintenance program targeted to students who have just completed second through fifth grade and is designed to help children retain math skills learned during the previous school year. From June 23 through Aug 1, parents who enroll their children in the program will receive daily emails with fun activities and links to educational resources.

Summer learning loss is particularly evident in reading and is most pronounced among students from low socioeconomic backgrounds who may not have access to books but it can be an issue for children of all socioeconomic backgrounds. Studies show children who read through the summer months retain more of their academic skills and are better prepared to learn at the start of the school year.

Librarians, who have long promoted summer reading, are also encouraged to use “Find a Book.” Library staff can assist parents and students with the “Find a Book” utility and Lexile measures to help them find appropriate books.

The Lexile® Framework was used in the development of the reading standards for the new Common Core State Standards, which schools across the state are in the process of implementing. The new standards replace the outdated Illinois State Learning Standards and ensure students leave high school ready for college and careers.

Users of the “Find a Book” search tool can also find appropriate books without a Lexile measure through a search using the child’s grade level and comfort with the typical reading materials at that grade level. The search utility will produce a starting Lexile range that can be further refined.

“Good reading habits and a love of learning begins at home,” Mr Koch said. “Parents are their children’s first teachers and they can help their children develop strong reading skills by using the Find a Book site to find age-appropriate materials that will keep their students engaged and excited about learning. Likewise, they can incorporate the summer math challenge into their summer activities.”

Spellers en route to Md.

Two-hundred eighty one champion spellers, 139 boys and 142 girls, are on their way to Washington, D.C., for next week’s Scripps National Spelling Bee. All events take place at the Gaylord Hotel in National Harbor, Md. Times in the schedule are Eastern Daylight Time:

  • Computer-Based Test (Preliminaries), Tuesday, May 27, morning
  • Round Two (Preliminaries), Wednesday, May 28, 8–11:45 AM
  • Round Three (Preliminaries), Wednesday, May 28, 1:15–4:45 PM
  • Computer-Based Test (Semifinals), Wednesday, May 28, 7–8 PM
  • Semifinals, Thursday, May 29, 10 AM–1 PM
  • Championship Finals, Thursday, May 29, 8–10 PM (ESPN)

They range in age from 8 to 15 years, are enrolled in second through eighth grade, and attend all sorts of different school types:

High-stakes tests ignore both ends of the spectrum

Writing yesterday on a Huffington Post blog, two high school teachers say high-stakes testing is a problem not because teachers will use it in their evaluations or because there’s too much of it, but rather, because it forces teachers to whittle what they teach down to the minimum criteria necessary to increase the number of students in their classrooms whose scores are most likely to increase from basic or below basic to proficient.

One Possible Self-Sustaining Cycle of NCLB

Tests aren’t very good at differentiating A+ students from A students or F+ students from F students, because the federal government doesn’t care how high or low students are performing. Our laws are written so that all that matters is whether students or subgroups of students are performing at or below grade level, and standardized tests used in our schools were designed with those laws in mind. And since tests focus on kids at the boundary, teachers focus on kids on the bubble.

Helping gifted and talented students will not improve the proportion of students who are designated as proficient, and low-performing students aren’t likely to achieve proficiency no matter how much help they get, goes the argument.

As a result, what Josie Malone and Wagma Mommandi, who teach at a public high school in Washington, D.C., have noticed is that at low-performing schools, teachers focus on what they call “basic skills,” taking instruction time away from teaching critical thinking and problem solving. Problem solving ability can only be measured with projects, extended responses or papers, and other instruments that are a long way beyond any standardized test in a state’s arsenal, so teaching kids how to think critically won’t help test scores and therefore won’t move the school from below some arbitrary boundary to above it.

New tests, aligned to the Common Core, focus more on the high and low ends of the spectrum, so tests now being field tested by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career may be able to provide more information about student growth for a teacher’s high-performing and low-performing students. But the law still requires improvement only at the grade-level boundary.

We asserted the same point in January 2013, when we compared the courses available to Chicago high school students at a low-performing school with those at a regular high school. Testimony before the US Department of Education showed that low-performing schools focus on math and reading at the basic-proficient boundary more than they can focus at either the low or high end.

This phenomenon—the narrowing of the curricula at low-performing schools—is an artifact of turnaround and intervention schemes mandated under the No Child Left Behind law. We can’t say it too often: Cutting out the study of literature and the arts may have long-term detrimental consequences for our youngest generation. The arts and humanities put the world in context for children, and taking those subjects away from our low-performing schools puts the students in those schools at greater risk of failure.

Why should we maintain strong curricula in the arts and humanities? Because “we come to understand that the world has been different and could and will be different again,” writes Harvard President Drew Faust. “Literature and the arts enable us to see through a new lens, to look at the world through others’ eyes. Students in the humanities learn how to think critically and communicate their ideas clearly, and those transferable skills lead to rewarding lives and careers in every field of endeavor.”

Sure, there are snapshots of graduates in English making less money than graduates in accounting, and we have even reported some of those snapshots ourselves. Our point, though, wasn’t to suggest that studying the arts and humanities was somehow less important, since (a) the earnings differential for people with college degrees is less than 1 percent on average, according to Ms Faust, and (b) kids relate to the world through music, through Harry Potter books, through art, and so on.

So, our snapshots, while accurate, are just that: snapshots of school history. If we are to consider the entire narrative, in the context of kids’ lives, we would have to talk about a lot more than math and reading. But math and reading are just about all NCLB has to talk about, so we’re calling a spade a spade—again! School officials who “spin” test results before releasing them to the public or who tout the Common Core standards as something they are not or who insist on tests that are neither reliable nor valid nor fair are guilty of covering up part of the narrative of our children’s lives.

Considering the whole narrative, in other words, is a two-way street. For example, we can no longer call an increase in NAEP scores a “jump” when the US government reports that the gain being referenced isn’t even statistically significant. It’s all part of covering up part of the narrative of our children’s lives and the quality of our schools, and school leaders are just as guilty as anyone else of covering up the truth.

But so are we guilty of hiding part of the narrative, of seeking answers about school and teacher quality from metrics that have nothing to do with the arts or literature. The Common Core standards, as they reduce literature to an analysis of text, fall short of being anywhere near a valid measure of the quality of education, because any mention of the “whole narrative” of education must include studies of literature as literature, not as a list of evidence statements.

They’re good for what they are: minimal standards in math and English language arts. But for school leaders to stand in front of us and spin the tests aligned to the Common Core as being valid measures of the quality of our schools is to omit an important aspect of the narrative.

We need to fix this, now, please, starting with the reauthorization of NCLB so we can put testing and teacher evaluation in its proper place and get on with the business of learning.

Common Core transforms writing at a La. school

In article in the Hechinger Report shows how the Common Core State Standards are getting students to write about many different subjects.

In the early elementary school grades, … classmates at Belle Chasse Primary School in suburban New Orleans wrote almost entirely from personal experience: describing their ideal vacation, trying to convince readers that a longer school year would be a good (or bad) idea, penning a letter about their adventures during summer break.

That all changed this school year [with the Common Core].

As fourth graders, [students] more rarely write stories or essays based solely on their experience or imaginative musings anymore. Instead, it’s all about citing “textual evidence.”

The article claims that the Common Core has kids writing using “textual evidence.” This is not exactly accurate.

News flash: My fourth-grade teacher taught me to support arguments using textual evidence 40 years ago. Before the Common Core. Before the standards that came before the Common Core. Before even the standards of learning in English language arts that came before that.

I bring readers’ attention to the article not because the Common Core had any role in getting students to write using text-based evidence, but rather because I found some of the examples used in the article, by the wonderful teachers in a Louisiana elementary school, fascinating and helpful. I hope you’ll read about them and discover an idea or two that would work with your own students.

The article quotes Lucy Calkins, the founding director of the Teachers College Reading & Writing Project, who said the Common Core calls for an equal weight on narrative, opinion, and informational writing. “It’s been a huge wake-up call that writing is important,” she said, adding that in the past some schools failed to teach writing at all since it wasn’t prioritized under No Child Left Behind.

Aha!! Now the truth comes out! Writing was in our curricula since — forever — but the Common Core gave us a “wake-up call,” also known as a high-stakes test, that all of a sudden made writing important. Whew! I’m so glad we finally figured this out. All sarcasm aside, as important as writing has always been, it really wasn’t tested under the federal NCLB law.

Now, of course, with the Common Core, writing is going to be tested. And those standardized tests could bring about the death of the Common Core. It has been pointed out that the biggest reason “textual evidence” is required in the Common Core is that it makes writing test questions easier. The real value of literature is not so much in the words of the text itself but in the allusions and references in the text. Of course, that really can’t be tested, so the Common Core reverts to a strong reliance on texts, which we can easily put in front of students taking a high-stakes standardized test.

The high-stakes testing movement is a disaster, and it would be an even bigger disaster if we have to kill the Common Core in order to get rid of bad standardized tests. The standards in the Common Core need revision, and if they’re linked to specific test questions, the standards can’t be changed. That will be their demise.

That is, if we are to put the Common Core to good use, we must decouple the standards from the tests, so we can rearrange the Common Core into something that works for our students. If that is not possible, the national standards movement and the good fight fought by so many good people will be lost.

It’s the only way. If we can’t save it, the writing emphasis will wither away, at least on documents and records seen by bureaucrats in Washington. (I hope, beyond hope, that our nation’s fourth-grade teachers will still realize the value of writing, even if it’s not tested on a high-stakes standardized test.)

A full Hersey team sweeps the IL debate championships

Congratulations to the debaters from John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, who swept the top three places at the state finals in the Congressional Debate Division on March 21-22. Our report comes from Correspondent Live, the school’s student newspaper.


The school advanced six debaters to the final round of 16, making it the most represented school in the finals. Furthermore, the top three places in this event have never gone to debaters from the same school.

“Their speeches in the final were the finest example of intellectual discourse that I have ever witnessed,” assistant coach Angie Weiner was quoted as saying. Ms Weiner joined the coaching team this year and, with her background in speech, was assigned to improve the delivery and style of the speeches, the paper wrote.

Louisville high school reviews young adult literature

Based on the frequency of book reviews in student newspapers across the country, it seems many teenagers are reading the book Anatomy of a Single Girl by Daria Snadowsky. This also could be evidence of a marketing push by Ms Snadowsky’s publicist, who seems to have sent copies of the book to several student newspapers.

This is the second article in a series about what’s going on in the great schools that are located near colleges whose women’s basketball teams made the NCAA Final Four. On this page, the University of Louisville in Kentucky. Its 2012 enrollment was a little north of 22,000 and the university accepted about 76 percent of its applicants.

Karen Chandler, an associate professor in the English Department at Louisville, studies children’s and young adult literature written in America, with a special emphasis on African-American literature and art dealing with jazz.

Alexis Gainey, a reporter at what is called the Louisville Male High School, writes in the student newspaper Brook N Breck that Anatomy of a Single Girl features “a lot of insightful thoughts into the teen mind.” But maybe, Ms Gainey wrote, the book is missing something. “After every chapter ended, I questioned whether it was truly relevant,” she wrote.

(The book has strong sexual content, so discretion is advised. The reading level’s easy, though, and the book would probably make a good escape, Ms Gainey wrote. She says the following excerpt is representative of the teenage love lives and drama in the book: “After a breakup there’s a momentary relief that you’re free again. But that’s quickly eclipsed by all the good memories you had together and the realization that there won’t be any more of them.”)

The Louisville Male High School was founded in 1856 for male students only, but since 1953, it has been coeducational and simply maintains the name. Before 1923, the school granted bachelor’s degrees to graduates and master’s degrees to the top of the class, but today, it serves students in ninth through 12th grades.

The high school was wrapped up in an investigation by ACT Inc and the Kentucky Department of Education in January involving scores on the COMPASS test, which is used for determining what college courses would be appropriate for high school students who take the test and want to attend college. Records pertaining to the investigation were requested by a reporter at WDRB.com, but the department of education determined the records were exempt from disclosure.

The investigation is believed to be in progress, and records won’t be released until the conclusion of the investigation. The school is being investigated, WDRB believes, because activities at the school during COMPASS testing may have violated state regulations. “More than 86 percent of Male’s 377 graduates last year were college or career ready, compared to 51 percent for Jefferson County Public Schools as a whole, according to state data,” WDRB reported.