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, 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.

Bilingual literacy & learning in Lexington, Ky.

This is the fourth and final part of our series about what’s going on in great schools near universities whose men’s basketball teams made the Final Four this year. Last but not least, the University of Kentucky, Lexington. The enrollment was about 29,000 in 2012, when the university accepted about 67 percent of its applicants.

The University of Kentucky, looking to better serve its Lexington home, has created a special office that is specifically responsible for seeing to the needs of first-generation college students. Many first-generation students are immigrants from low-income homes where English isn’t the primary language, the Huffington Post noted. Providing assistance to these students means, for schools, helping them master the content they need to learn to get into college.

Enter the latest trend: dual-language instruction.

Some parts of Lexington have become Hispanic-majority communities, and teachers at one elementary school are joining the dual-language party, offering instruction in both English and Spanish for all students, not just the Spanish-speaking ones, the Lexington Herald-Leader reports.

“For the first time we are going to be educating our kids in their native language and creating biliterate learners,” the paper quoted first-year principal Matthew Spottswood as saying at Cardinal Valley Elementary School. According to Mr Spottswood, three-fourths of the school’s students are Hispanic, 95 percent receive free or reduced-price meals, and about 400 of the approximately 600 students have language deficiencies in English.

There’s little doubt that fluency in two languages comes in handy when looking for a career, and the purpose of dual-language instruction is to develop literacy and learning for students in both languages, usually English and Spanish.

The basic idea is that kindergarten starts out mostly in Spanish—typically, about 80 percent of the instruction is delivered in Spanish. Then, within about three years, instruction is delivered half in English and half in Spanish, and this continues throughout each child’s elementary school years.

Dual-language instruction in other schools

We have covered these programs with some depth in the following related stories:

‘Raising A Reader’ launches in 7 Md. school systems

The Maryland State Department of Education launched a family engagement program today in order to spur early literacy and provide help for at least 1,500 prekindergarten students in Title I schools.

The current ‘Raising A Reader’ locator map

The nationally acclaimed “Raising A Reader” program is a family engagement and early literacy initiative with a track record of improving the reading readiness skills of children. The program helps families develop, practice, and sustain the habit of reading to their children. The Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant will allow Maryland to fund this program for three years.

Raising A Reader is a nonprofit organization that has served more than 100,000 children in 30 states across the country. More than a dozen independent research evaluations have shown the program to significantly increase parent involvement and improve early reading skills of children.

Seven Maryland school districts will kick off their participation in Raising A Reader during March: Cecil, Charles, Dorchester, Prince George’s, Somerset, Talbot, and Washington counties. Nearly 1,500 prekindergarten students in Title I schools will benefit from this initiative.

“Investing in early childhood development programs pays off for Maryland, and Raising A Reader provides families with the foundation for academic success,” said State Superintendent of Schools Lillian M Lowery. “This program will set our youngest learners on a very bright path.”

The Raising A Reader program includes

  • parent workshops
  • a connection with public libraries
  • a weekly book rotation

Parent workshops held throughout the year provide parents and other primary caregivers with opportunities to share and demonstrate practices leading to increased family bonding and language acquisition.

The connection with public libraries is promoted during special “Blue Bag” events with parents. Each family receives a blue bag to use when carrying books to and from the local public library.

The final component of the program is the rotation of books in bright red bags that children take home on a weekly basis, exposing each child to many award-winning books throughout the year.

SAT will be changed — again

In criticizing its own test and the ACT as being disconnected from what high school students are learning in school, the College Board announced extensive changes to its SAT coming in the spring of 2016.

  • The maximum score will be 1600 again, not 2400
  • 800 points on the math, 800 points on “evidence-based reading and writing”
  • A calculator will only be allowed on certain sections of the math test
  • The vocabulary words will be closer to those used in college classrooms
  • The penalty for incorrect answers will be removed
  • The optional essay will use a reading passage; students will analyze
    • the ways the author used evidence and reasoning
    • stylistic elements
  • Math will focus on the three areas of
    • linear equations
    • complex equations or functions
    • ratios, percentages and proportional reasoning

College Board President David Coleman also said the nonprofit would work with another nonprofit that is no stranger to these pages: the Khan Academy, launched several years ago by the incomparable Salman Khan as a site that featured video lessons in everything from place value to Pythagoras, from money to the mortgage crisis. It has grown into a site that offers students free practice in a wide range of subjects, and now one of those subjects will be the SAT.

Mr Coleman—and probably Mr Khan as well—have been disappointed by the quality of test prep programs that often promote themselves as holding the key to college for every kid and carry huge price tags. I’m quite sure the Khan Academy will put every single SAT test prep carpetbagger out of business within the first year, and that is as it should be. Parents of rich kids won’t get ripped off; parents of poor kids can help their kids perform at their best on the SAT.

“The College Board cannot stand by while some test-prep providers intimidate parents at all levels of income into the belief that the only way they can secure their child’s success is to pay for costly test preparation and coaching,” Mr Coleman said in a speech Wednesday in Austin, Texas. “If we believe that assessment must be a force for equity and excellence, it’s time to shake things up.”

The SAT has been used increasingly by recruiters for job placement, the Wall Street Journal reported a few weeks ago. The College Board has never made any claims about the exam’s use in recruiting, holding all along that it’s designed mainly to predict success in a student’s first year of college. As such, the College Board hasn’t really investigated any other use of the test. “It is a little confounding how a test somebody took when they were 17 predicts success in a competitive workplace when they’re 22,” the Journal quoted Kevin Monahan, a career-services dean at Carnegie Mellon University, as saying about the practice.

Yes, the Common Core found a way into the SAT

As Mr Coleman was a key player in the development of the Common Core standards, it might be expected that the new SAT design would look a little like the tests coming from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). And that’s exactly the case, as the New York Times reports:

Every exam will include, in the reading and writing section, source documents from a broad range of disciplines, including science and social studies, and on some questions, students will be asked to select the quotation from the text that supports the answer they have chosen.

Every exam will include a reading passage either from one of the nation’s “founding documents,” such as the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights, or from one of the important discussions of such texts, such as the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”

The question type where students highlight text from a passage that supports a multiple-choice answer is very similar to several items on the PARCC tests. As for including passage-based support in discussions, it’s true that high school students have been doing that since before standardized tests made news headlines, but the Common Core has focused on passage-based support for points of argument more than standardized tests have done in the past.

Jock tweets he made out with teacher & is suspended

A school district in Minneapolis suspended a Rogers High School senior, the captain of the school’s football and basketball teams and a National Honor Society student with a 3.8 grade point average, because he tweeted in January that he had made out with a teacher at the school, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports.

Reid Sagehorn, 17, was suspended for seven weeks and has since transferred to another school in the Elk River Area School District (ISD 728), the paper reported.

Actually, yes

His two-word tweet, in response to a question asking whether he had made out with a 28-year-old female teacher at the school, was determined to be untrue. He said he tried to apologize as soon as he returned to school, but the teacher didn’t report to work that day.

“I never meant to hurt anybody,” he was quoted as saying. However, written communications like tweets or status updates, intended to be sarcastic or humorous, most often miss the mark.

Citing insufficient evidence of a crime, the county attorney declined to pursue criminal charges, but the matter may still be open for civil claims if brought by the teacher.

Misinterpreting tweets and status updates is common

In an article published online in December in the journal Information, Communication & Society, Kjerstin Thorson of the University of Southern California looked at how the social ambiguities concerning audience and reception of posts on Facebook shape the forms of political interaction among young citizens on the site.

She finds that some users increase their level of involvement in social media by “inventing modes of … interaction.” This is what Mr Sagehorn did, fabricating the details of an interaction between himself and a teacher. Others “suppress opinion expression by creating the sense that talking … on the site is a high risk endeavor,” which is probably what he should have considered before tweeting that he made out with a teacher.

The case in Minnesota concerns interactions of a social nature, not political, but the likelihood that tweets will be misinterpreted and interactions invented by young people is no less acute.

Ways to use humor in writing

There are two effective ways to use humor in writing:

  • Make it clear from the context that the statements are not true
  • Make sure all the statements are, in fact, true

An example of the first type, as the Supreme Court found in the case of Falwell v Flynt, might be to make what you write so unlikely that no reasonable person would ever believe it’s true. Rev Jerry Falwell sued Hustler Magazine and Larry Flynt, its publisher, for (a) libel, (b) invasion of privacy, and (c) intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The definition of libel requires some strict standards about actual malicious intent, applied from a New York Times case. Based on his statements, malice appears to be absent in Mr Sagehorn. Also, invasion of privacy has a different set of rules when the suit concerns a public figure like Mr Falwell, so that clearly doesn’t apply here. Nobody in this case is a public figure.

But on the question of intentional infliction of emotional distress, the Fourth Circuit and the Supreme Court disagreed. The Supreme Court said Mr Falwell was not entitled to damages because Mr Flynt never represented the untrue statements he had made about Mr Falwell as “facts.”

I know neither Mr Sagehorn nor the teacher he said he had sex with, and I would interpret his tweet as a statement of fact. There is no context of humor or sarcasm, and the very short tweet must be taken at face value, which asserts that an act happened when it didn’t. Furthermore, Mr Sagehorn knew his statement was false when he made it, and it shows a bit of recklessness.

While some scholars argue that the Supreme Court misapplied the test for intentional infliction of emotional distress in Falwell, Mr Sagehorn’s case doesn’t seem to fit even that classification.

A tweet, which only allows 140 characters, doesn’t give the writer much space to establish a sarcastic context. That means, if you’re going to try to be funny in a tweet and want to make sure everyone knows you’re being funny, your only option is making sure all the actual representations you make are true, such as these, quoted from Thomas R Peltier’s Information Security Policies, Procedures, and Standards: Guidelines for Effective Information Security Management, available from Google:

  1. Avoid alliteration. Always.
  2. Contractions aren’t necessary.
  3. Avoid clichés like the plague. (They are old hat.)
  4. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.

If you can’t use one of these two approaches in your writing, my strong recommendation is to stay away from humor, and if you must say something funny, make sure it’s not something negative about another person.

Home page backdrop: Read Across America in March

Maryland State Department of Education’s Division of Library Development and Services and the Division of Instruction will join with the Governor’s Office to celebrate the kick off of Read Across Maryland, an annual event in March to highlight the importance of reading by setting aside thirty minutes a day to read. With the slogan, “Thirty Minutes for Thirty Days,” students and library customers are encouraged to download a Read Across Maryland reading log, record their progress for the month and then upload the log to the Read Across Maryland website.

Feb 28 was the kick-off at the Spauldings Library in Prince George’s County, where elected officials and library staff along with students from Samuel P Massie Academy will gather for refreshments and orientation to the program. Throughout the month, special book clubs will be held with a local radio celebrity, and Tray Chaney, actor from The Wire, will perform his song “Radical Readers.”

A Green Eggs and Ham breakfast will be served on March 3 with a life-size Cat in the Hat, and Thing One and Thing Two commemorating the beloved children’s author Dr Seuss. Lt Gov Anthony Brown will read to the students.

An exciting new event has been added to the calendar on March 4. Through a grant from the National Education Association, the Maryland State Education Association will host the “All about the Kids—The Clara Floyd Early Literacy Project,” a book distribution to over 200 children at Samuel P Massie Academy, District Heights Elementary School and the Francis Scott Key Elementary School. These students will come to the Spauldings Library and enjoy a puppet show, eat some pizza, receive a book on the way back to school and a library card to encourage further reading opportunities.

The finale of the Read Across Maryland month is set for April 8 with a special pizza party for the outstanding students. The Governor will be on hand to congratulate the students and their families.

Throughout the month, as part of Read Across Maryland, the Maryland State Department of Education will collect new books in a book bin provided by the Weinberg Library project. These books will be delivered to one of the libraries currently being built by the Weinberg Library project. Another way to give will be online through the website. Just $7 will buy a brand new book for one of the new Baltimore City libraries. The Weinberg Library Project has remodeled six Baltimore City Public School Libraries with three currently under construction.

Join us in focusing your attention on reading in the month of March and giving to the book drive. More information can be found at here.


In Illinois:

If you wonder what it might be like to see the world through a child’s eyes, the Belleville News-Democrat runs a story with answers from the works of Dr Seuss. His writings, the paper says, “bring colorful simplicity to the world through the eyes of a child. His books have shaped the way children learn, read and even think.” Belleville East High School presented Seussical the Musical last month and sang about many of the acclaimed author’s more than 60 books.


Are you hearing the language of love?

Not that I ever put more stock in dating someone because they drove a fast car, paying more attention instead to someone’s musical or writing ability for a first impression, but now researchers at Texas Tech have made it official: People who use the same kinds of function words, like conjunctions and pronouns may stand a better chance of hooking up than those who like the same cars or even have a strong physical attraction to each other.

Via press release:

Conjunction junction, what’s your function? Hooking up people using similar phrases, according to one Texas Tech University researcher.

Molly Ireland, a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Psychology who studies human dialogue, said people who use the same kinds of function words are more likely to find a match.

Function words include personal pronouns such as he, she, it, articles such as “a” “an” or “the” and conjunctions such as and, or, but and nor.

Rich Slatcher at Wayne State University and James Pennebaker and Paul Eastwick at University of Texas at Austin also participated in the study.

“Conversations between romantic partners make up some of the most important dialogue in most adults’ lives,” Ireland said. “Romantic relationships have a huge influence on our health and well-being, and I think that conversation is a big part of what makes those relationships succeed or fail at every stage — from first dates to marriages.”

More Than Looks and Appearance

In a recent study, she and others looked at 40 speed dates between heterosexual males and females and analyzed the daters’ language using special computers.

When analyzed, researchers discovered a positive correlation of function-word similarity with speed-daters’ odds of going on a second date and long-term couples’ odds of still being together three months after the study, Ireland said.

Language similarity became an even better predictor of relationship stability when compared to other related variables such as the perceived similarity with one’s date, perceived relationship quality, and how many words people spoke to each other during each conversation.

“We were surprised by how well language similarity predicted relationship stability above and beyond these other variables,” she said. “People also aren’t very good at predicting ahead of time what they’ll find attractive on a date. So in a way, language predicts what people want in a partner better than they do themselves.”

Ireland said the study highlights the importance of language and language style with social behavior, she said, and content might not be as important. She and other researchers think language-style matching reflects attention to one’s conversation partner as opposed to oneself or the surroundings and similarity between partners’ thinking styles.

“It’s easy in relationships or on dates to focus on superficial things like your own appearance or the topics your partner is talking about,” she said. “But the fact is that most first dates have pretty similar content. People talk about their likes and dislikes — music, hobbies and majors for college students. None of that really matters though if you’re not paying attention to each other or adopting similar mindsets.”

National World War II Museum essay deadlines approach

The deadline is 5 PM CST on March 28 for students to submit essays to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans for its annual high school and middle school essay contests. This year marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day, and the themes focus on the situations soldiers faced as they approached the beach in northern France on June 6, 1944. For more information, consult the contest website, here.

Troops in an LCVP landing craft approach Omaha Beach on D-Day. Note helmet netting; faint “No Smoking” sign on the LCVP’s ramp; and M1903 rifles and M1 carbines carried by some men. (Photo: Army Signal Corps Collection/US National Archives via Wikimedia)

High school contest

The high school contest is open to all high school students in the United States, US territories, and military bases. Essays must be 1,000 words or less. Only one essay per student may be submitted. The museum will accept the first 500 properly formatted entries only. The website will indicate when we are approaching 500 submitted essays.

The first-place prize is $1,000, second-place $750, and third-place $500.

On June 6, 2014, the world will celebrate the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion to liberate Europe from Nazi rule. To commemorate the importance of this event, The National WWII Museum asks you to think about a time in your life where you have had to make important plans for success in spite of uncertainty.

For your essay, please address the following questions: How did you plan to achieve success in the face of the unknown? How did you handle any challenges to reach your goal? How does your story connect to those of other people, past and present, who have had to face and overcome tremendous odds to obtain their goal? Use WWII as a starting point and base your essay in part on America’s involvement in WWII. But don’t stop in the past. Use specic examples from your own experiences that support your ideas.

This is NOT a research paper. Your essay will be judged foremost for its originality, clarity of expression, and adherence to contest theme, as well as its historical accuracy, grammar, spelling and punctuation. Museum staff will read and evaluate the entries.

All essays should:

  • be double spaced
  • have 1 inch margins
  • include page numbers
  • include an essay title
  • be typed in [use] 12 point font
  • be in Microsoft Word or a compatible format

Middle school contest

The same content, formatting, and deadline rules apply as with the high school contest, but the prizes are different. One winning essay will be selected from each middle school grade, and the winner will receive a $250 prize.

Good luck to all writers. For starting points for your research, see the page here.

Anne Frank book vandals in Tokyo cause concern

More than 250 copies of books about Anne Frank, the Jewish girl who hid with her family in a small apartment in the Netherlands during the Holocaust but later died in a Nazi concentration camp, have been vandalized in more than 30 libraries in Tokyo, CNN reports.

Antisemitism is quite rare in Japan, although occasional magazine articles appear that deny the Holocaust ever took place, the New York Times reported. But that has not stopped Jewish leaders from declaring a growing concern over the targeting of these books in Tokyo.

“The geographic scope of these incidents strongly suggest an organized effort to denigrate the memory of the most famous of the 1.5 million Jewish children murdered by the Nazis in the World War II Holocaust,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper in a statement. He’s the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a leading Jewish human rights organization, which also houses a major exhibition on Anne Frank at its Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

The BBC cited Professor Rotem Kowner, an expert in Japanese history and culture at Israel’s University of Haifa, as saying that sales of Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl in Japan are exceeded only by those in the US. For Japanese readers, he said, the story transcends its Jewish identity to symbolize the struggle of youth for survival.

“In the 1950s and the 1960s, there were competitions in which Japanese teenagers had to reflect on the experience of Anne Frank. Thousands of teenagers sent their submissions to such competitions,” the BBC quoted Professor Kowner as saying. “It was a book about a war tragedy and the way youth experienced war. … For many Japanese they would view this as a tragic development.”