The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) supporting school leaders in helping all students become college and career-ready and to succeed in post-secondary education and training
A study of computer essay-scoring software finds some "capable of producing scores similar to human scores" on thousands of essays.
Under the new Common Core English standards that nearly all states have adopted, USA school kids will soon produce millions of new long- and short-form essays in most subjects. The standards take effect in 2014 and schools must figure out how to grade all that writing soon.
Computers could supplement — but not replace — teachers. - Tom Vander Ark
"I want to see kids writing a lot every day in every classroom across the country and I want teachers, students and parents to have the benefit of more critical feedback," he says.
"I want teachers to be able to spend more time on teaching writing and not mechanics of grading."
But computer-scoring advocates, many of whom are also educators, say critics misunderstand the basic undertaking. Computers stink at judging high-level writing achievements, such as whether a writer has a unique style or can present sophisticated ideas. Most auto-graders aren't even programmed to capture that, no matter what critics say.
"They really don't understand that most kids are having a hard time communicating at all," says Mark Shermis, dean of education at the University of Akron. He agrees that timely, individualized grading by a human reader would be great, but given the scale of writing that schools envision, it's unlikely. "If every kid in the country had that kind of individualized attention, we might not be having this conversation."
Building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction and informational texts. At the elementary level, the standards call for a 50-50 balance between informational texts and literature. They shift the emphasis to 55 percent informational by middle school, and 70 percent by high school. Such reading includes content-rich nonfiction in history/social studies, science, and the arts. Informational text is seen as a way for students to build coherent general knowledge, as well as reading and writing skills.
2. Citing Evidence
Reading and writing grounded in evidence from text. The standards place a premium on students’ use of evidence from texts to present careful analyses and well-defended claims. Rather than asking students questions they can answer solely from their prior knowledge or experience, the standards envision students’ answering questions that depend on reading the text or texts with care. The standards also require the cultivation of narrative writing throughout the grades. The reading standards focus on students’ ability to read carefully and grasp information, arguments, ideas, and details based on text evidence.
3. Complex Text
Regular practice with complex text and its academic vocabulary. The standards build a “staircase” of increasing text complexity to prepare students for the types of texts they must read to be ready for the demands of college and careers. Closely related to text complexity—and inextricably connected to reading comprehension—is a focus on academic vocabulary: words that appear in a variety of content areas (such as “ignite” and “commit”).
Nine testing companies recently demonstrated that "machine scoring engines did as well or better than the human graders," as reported by Dr. Mark Shermis.
"To be a better writer, you need a lot of practice, you simply have to write more. " We think if students have to write more on state tests, they will write more in classrooms. When every teacher has an automated scoring engine and every student has an access device, we'll see a dramatic increase in writing across the curriculum in American schools.
Focus strongly where the standards focus. Rather than racing to cover topics in a mile-wide, inch-deep curriculum, significantly narrow and deepen the way time and energy are spent in the math classroom. The standards focus deeply on the major work of each grade so that students can gain strong foundations: solid conceptual understanding, a high degree of procedural skill and fluency, and the ability to apply the math they know to solve problems inside and outside the math classroom.
Think across grades, and link to major topics within grades. The standards are designed around coherent progressions from grade to grade. Carefully connect the learning across grades so that students can build new understanding onto foundations built in previous years. Each standard is not a new event, but an extension of previous learning. Instead of allowing additional or supporting topics to detract from the focus of the grade, these topics can serve the grade-level focus.
In major topics, pursue conceptual understanding, procedural skill and fluency, and application with equal intensity.
Emphasize conceptual understanding of key concepts, such as place value and ratios. Teachers support students’ ability to access concepts from a number of perspectives so that students are able to see math as more than a set of mnemonics or discrete procedures.
Help students build speed and accuracy in calculation. Teachers structure class time and/or homework time for students to practice core functions, such as single-digit multiplication, so that they have access to more complex concepts and procedures.
Use math flexibly for applications. Teachers provide opportunities for students to apply math in context. Teachers in content areas outside of math, particularly science, ensure that students are using math to make meaning of and access content.
"The biggest potential pothole, by far, is failed implementation." It's a huge, heavy lift if we are serious about teachers teaching it, kids learning it, curricula reflecting it, tests aligned with it, and kids passing those tests." - Chester E. Finn Jr.
The implementation stage brims with possibilities both promising and threatening, depending on one's perspective.
Whether the standards succeed will depend largely on how well they are translated from expectations to classroom instruction.
"One shared set of standards doesn't dictate content or pedagogy, because content is not prescribed, and there are many ways to teach the specified skills."
Math teachers face having to teach skills to which they're unaccustomed, since some concepts have been moved to lower grades in the new standards. They're also being asked to focus longer and more deeply on fewer concepts and to emphasize conceptual understanding and practical applications of math. In many places, such as Howard County, Md., that has resulted in a flurry of activity as teachers brainstorm about how to design curriculum and pedagogy that embody the standards.
English Language Arts
The English/language arts standards present challenges of their own. More than most states' own standards, they insist on students building content knowledge and reading skill from independently tackling informational texts. They demand better analysis and argumentation skills, and they involve teachers from all subjects in teaching the literacy skills of their disciplines. Teachers in Kentucky, among other places, are experimenting with new templates that attempt to capture these key shifts.
Professional development remains a central area of concern as the standards are implemented, and many in the field say the success of the initiative rests on it. "Teachers are not accustomed to teaching the way the standards envision," said Barbara A. Kapinus, who helped shape the standards as a senior policy analyst at the National Education Association before retiring this month. "We have a whole group of teachers out there who have come in in the last 10 years, under No Child Left Behind, who have been given scripts to follow and have marched kids through those scripts and through sequences of little, teensy skills. What we're talking about with the [common] standards is a completely different kind of teaching."
"The biggest potential obstacle is the tests," he said. "Because of their experience with NCLB, teachers want to know, what are the tests going to require? Will the tests back up what they are supposed to do with the new standards? If they don't, then the entire effort is lost."
Jeffrey Mirel is an historian of education at the University of Michigan. Simona Goldin is a research specialist at the same university working on the Teacher Education Initiative.
In his classic 1975 book, Schoolteacher, Dan Lortie described teacher isolation as one of the main structural impediments to improved instruction and student learning in American public schools. Lortie argued that since at least the 19th century teachers have worked behind closed doors, rarely if ever collaborating with colleagues on improving teaching practice or examining student work.
In Finland and Japan, where students outperform those in the U.S. in international tests such as PISA and TIMMS, collaboration among teachers is an essential aspect of instructional improvement.
Nearly 90 percent of U.S. teachers believe that providing time to collaborate with colleagues is crucial to retaining good teachers. (Scholastic and the Gates Foundation)
A state consortium that is designing tests for the Common Core State Standards had been planning to design model instructional units for the standards, but it has decided not to do that, officials said at a meeting of states today.