Category: Novare

Top Tips to Set a Positive Tone for the New School Year
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Top Tips to Set a Positive Tone for the New School Year

Originally posted on by Janelle Cox

Around this time of year, classroom management is at the forefront of every teacher’s mind. You want to start the school year off fresh, with new expectations and a positive outlook. One aspect of a teacher’s job is to create a positive learning environment for their students; a place where students are not judged, and feel comfortable learning. Use the following tips to help you create a year of positivity.

Set the Tone from Day One

Begin the school year with a positive outlook. Do not complain to your colleagues about how many students you have in class or how you hate the grade you’re teaching. Don’t complain about trivial things like how you don’t have a refrigerator in your classroom, or how lunch is so late in the day. Start the year off on a positive note. Think to yourself how lucky you are to have a teaching job with the economy the way it is. Be grateful for your health and the health of your students. Start the year by greeting your students with open arms and a big smile.

Create a Prejudice-Free Zone

When students enter your classroom they must leave all prejudice aside, regardless of how they feel. Tell students it’s a requirement that once their feet step into your classroom, they are to leave all thoughts of stereotypes or prejudices at the door. Explain that in your classroom everyone feel safe and accepted for who they are. By implementing this plan ofclassroom management, it will set a positive tone for the rest of the school year.

The Power of Positivity

Create an atmosphere that would make it impossible for students to feel negative. Display positive quotes and messages around the room so that students are surrounded by optimism.  Create lessons and activities that incorporate positive messages. You’ll find that your students will learn to treat others with respect, as well as conduct themselves in a respectable manner.

Create an Outlet for Expression

Start the year off right by giving students the opportunity to express their needs or concerns in a positive way. Provide students with an anonymous box where they can address any concerns or thoughts they may have in a constructive fashion. Have students keep personal journals and provide writing activities that allow students to have a positive outlet of their expressions.

Build a Classroom Community

Creating a classroom community through positive ways of classroom management is a great way for students to positively relate to their peers. It gives children the confidence to make positive relationships, and provides them with the opportunity to have respectful interactions with their peers. During the few weeks of school, introduce students to their new classroom environment, and you will see they will slowly begin to feel a sense of community.

Make Personal Connections

One way to set a positive tone in your classroom is to create a personal relationship with each one of your students. Learn their names quickly and take the time to get to know each individual student. Plan an icebreaker or getting-to-know you activity where you will learn more about the child’s personal life. When you show your students that you are invested in getting to know them on a personal level, it will show that you value and respect them. This will help you in creating a positive learning environment in your classroom.

Make Discipline about Accountability

Oftentimes teaches focus on what students are doing wrong, and punish them without giving the student the opportunity to reflect on their behavior. Give students the time to cool off and think about what they have done. Then take the time to calmly discuss how they could have gone about the situation in a more positive way. Model the steps they should have taken to ensure the situation doesn’t occur in the future.

In order for all students to thrive it is essential that teachers create a positive learning environment — especially for the students who have suffered neglect, come from disadvantaged backgrounds, or are new to the school. Students thrive in an atmosphere where they are respected, feel safe, and are loved. When teachers create this kind of positive environment for their students, it is easier for each child to reach his/her full potential.

Fuel Creativity in the Classroom With Divergent Thinking
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Fuel Creativity in the Classroom With Divergent Thinking

Originally Posted on Edutopia by Stacey Goodman

Recently, I showed a group of students in my high school art class a film called Ma Vie En Rose (My Life in Pink), about a seven-year-old boy named Ludovic who identifies as female. Ludovic has an active imagination, but is bullied by both adults and other kids who are unnerved by his desire to wear dresses and play with dolls. The film challenged my students to broaden their understanding of gender and identity and led to a discussion about ways in which our imaginations are limited when we are forced to be who we are not. It also reminded me of other examples in which character is forced to choose an identity, such as the movie Divergent, based on the popular trilogy of novels by Veronica Roth.

In Divergent, a dystopian future society has been divided into five factions based on perceived virtues. Young people are forced to choose a faction as a rite of passage to becoming an adult. Tris, the story’s female hero, knows that the price of choosing faction might mean being cut off from family and friends forever, and wonders if she truly belongs to any one faction at all. Like the character Ludovic in Ma Vie En Rose, Tris feels compelled to hide who she is, and knows that her behavior and ways of thinking might put herself and family at risk. Tris also knows that the most dangerous people in this society are considered those whose thinking is unrestricted and cannot be easily categorized; those people are called divergent.

Defining Divergent Thinking

The word divergent is partly defined as “tending to be different or develop in different directions.” Divergent thinking refers to the way the mind generates ideas beyond proscribed expectations and rote thinking — what is usually referred to “thinking outside the box,” and is often associated with creativity. Convergent thinking, on the other hand, requires one to restrict ideas to those that might be correct or the best solution to a problem.

Studies suggest that, as children, our divergence capability operate at a genius level, but that our ability to think divergently decreases dramatically as we become adults. Perhaps this is as it should be to a certain degree, and as teachers and adults we would be concerned if our middle and high school extended imaginative play into everyday life as would a four-year-old. Yet, many teachers at some point in their teaching career become frustrated by their students’ inability to think creatively, and others — as best exemplified bySir Ken Robinson’s famous Ted Talk, blame schooling itself for killing the imagination.

Divergent behavior is discouraged in school when students are scared to say or do the “wrong thing” in class. This is not surprising since schools often tolerate environments in which both teachers and peer groups keep in-check those who say and do things that are off-script, incorrect or inappropriate. This system of overt-convergence is enforced by a grading culture that systematically penalizes students for being “wrong,” and by allowing a school environment in which students tease those who exhibit non-normative behaviors. So, if divergent thinking is key to being creative, it becomes clear why our students find being open with their imaginations and divergent ideas inhibited.

It must be said that there are valid reasons why divergent thinking is discouraged in our classrooms. Divergent thinking treats all ideas equally regardless of context or applicability and disregards rubrics, criteria or any process for assessment. There are also situations when divergent behavior might actually cause physical harm such as in chemistry class or on the playground, and we expect our students to display good judgment — or convergent thinking strategies, so that can make correct decisions.

Teachers also might find divergent thinking and behavior a challenge when students ignore directions and rules, and if we are honest with ourselves, display personality traits that operate outside societal norms. These non-normative students, kids like the character Ludovic, who are transgender or who identify as atheists, for example, might be considered divergent in many of our communities. It is up to us as school administrators and teachers to ensure that good judgment extends beyond what might be considered current social norm and take into account what is best for our students’ spirits, humanity and ultimate sense of belonging.

In the Classroom: Strategies

Ideally, divergent and convergent thinking work in harmony with each other. The geneplore model diagrams this relation between divergent, generative thinking and evaluative, convergent thinking. Helping our students understand these strategies and how they compliment each other also encourages metacognitive learning so that students better understand their own thinking and creative abilities.

As an art teacher, my job is foster an environment for creative work, and I believe the following five strategies might be useful for non-art teachers as well.

Strategy #1: Reversing the Question/Answer Paradigm

Problem-based learning derived from an approach developed for training medical students in Canada but has since been used in K-12 education and other project-based learning environments. The premise of it is simple: Instead of asking questions to which there is a correct answer, ask students to create the problem. Students pose their problem by first tapping into their own wishes and goals that might have real-life results or be largely theoretical and in end in the modeling stages. Such questions such as “How can we grow vegetables without using pesticides?” And, “How can we feed the world’s population in a sustainable way?” Both encourage students to think divergently.

Strategy #2: Let the Music Play

In my classroom students serve as guest DJs and play their music while we are in the studio mode of our projects. I love the atmosphere that music creates. I also know how “tribal” adolescents often see each other in terms of musical taste, so I introduce the guest DJ at the beginning of the term as a strategy for setting norms in the classroom in order to create an environment in which judgment of each other is deferred, restrained, and more thoughtful. When students learn to defer judgment, the learning environment becomes open to other influences and ideas. When we are not afraid of being immediately judged by our taste, we are more likely to share ideas and opinions and therefore become less afraid to be divergent in our thinking and behavior.

Strategy #3: Inquiry-based Feedback

Instead of value-based feedback, inquiry coupled by deep observation encourages a more open-ended and in-depth approach for evaluating students’ work. Students are encouraged to minimize expressing their likes and dislikes, but to first spend at least two minutes silently observing, and then asking questions prefixed by phrases such as, “I noticed that . . .,” “why . . . ,” and “how . . .  .”

Strategy #4: Encourage Play & Manage Failure

When failure is framed by reflection and iteration and less by penalty and closure, we are more likely to loosen up in our efforts and be less afraid to make mistakes. Once we are less afraid to make mistakes, we open up the environment for play and experimentation. In my community art class, I prepare my students to take risks in their own projects by creating one-day exercises in which they engage with the public in a safe but unpredictable way. One example involves asking other students outside of class to have their photo taken. The scary aspect of being rejected is overcome, and students gain courage to open up and take risks. If rejection does occur, students have time to reflect and strategize in preparation for “scaling up” their ideas or projects.

Strategy #5: Using Art Strategies

I use a few art strategies such as collage, readymade, and pareidolia to open up the divergent thinking part of the students’ brains. Students become less concerned by exact interpretation and more open to poetry, metaphor, and dream imagery in general. Here is a description of each one:

  • Collage: When artfully done, brings disparate images together and finds relationships based on aesthetics, absurdity, or spatial arrangements and not their literal meaning or function in the real world. Once the images are de-coupled from their literal role, this opens up to non-linear thinking in general.
  • Readymade: This involves taking ordinary objects and through language, playful renaming of what they are or re-imagining of how they function. Artist Duchamp’s most famous example is taking a urinal, flipping it upside down and calling it Fountain. I ask my students to do the same with the ordinary objects around them, and using the material, shape, or alternative functions of the object, they re-imagine the object.
  • Pareidolia: A phenomenon of looking at an object and finding semblance of something else that is not really there, much like seeing the shape of a dragon in the clouds, or noticing that a three-prong power outlet looks like a face. I show the students the short animated film, The Deep by the artist Pes, in which ordinary objects are turned into mysterious sea creatures. I then ask them to take photos of examples of pareidolia around them. Students have fun re-interpreting the world.

Divergent thinking strategies offer the possibility of doing more than fostering a creative classroom environment; they can also help us better understand and appreciate difference in all areas of our students’ lives. Young people like the fictional characters Ludovic and Tris might then find a world that is more accepting, and we could only benefit from the creative possibilities when young people are allowed to be who they are.

10 Conversations at #PBL World Focus on Students, Learning
On / by admin / in Novare

10 Conversations at #PBL World Focus on Students, Learning

Awesome post on by ! Check out #10, a special mention of Novare!

Yesterday at PBL World, a project-based learning conference hosted by Buck Institute for Education, we heard many interesting conversations that focused on the powerful teaching and learning happening across the globe.

1. All You Need in a Lesson

Brought to you by keynote speaker Dr. Ramsey Musallum (@ramusallam), this short list is maybe all you need to plan a successful lesson. Ramsey is a high school chemistry teacher–(see his Ted Talk here and blogs at His checklist has potential for all classrooms:

  • Does lecture happen later?
  • Are the products public?
  • Is feedback anonymous?

2. Bedtime Science

Ramsey Musallam (@ramusallam) has two daughters (ages three and six) and said he ,“Got tired of Pinkalicious and started doing bedtime science instead.” #SmartParents, take note. Inspire curiosity at home. Watch Ramsey’s videos of his two daughters as they talk about laws of physics and more science. And for more on activating student-centered learning (#SCLchat) at home, see our Smart Parents series (stay tuned! Our book Parenting for Powerful Learning will publish in August).

3. Seen and Heard

Deeper Learning partners New Tech Network (@newtechnetwork) presenting on college ready projects assessments into the PBL Classroom. ConnectEd (@ConnectEdorg) presenting on infusing rigor and tech in PBL.

4. The Posters Talk

There are lots and lots of project posters around the school that demonstrate project brainstorms from teachers – they are literally all over the PBL conference location – Napa New Technology High School in Napa Valley, California.

5. “If it’s not public, it doesn’t exist.”

This quote is brought to you Austin Kleon.

Student blogging is one way to make work public as we have written about here and here. Game changers: 1. Blogs are a medium that is changing the world. 2. Through blogs, all people can share and spread ideas. 3. Blogs provide a medium for reflecting on learning publicly.

6. Competency-Based Ed. “It’s all happening.”

We had a great chat with Dave Potter (@GlobalReady) from VIF (@VIFprogram) about their work to provide online professional development for teachers- badges and all! Look for more as this work partners with other organizations such as Digital Promise to provide microcredentialing. (And if you want to learn more about this, see our Preparing Leaders for Deeper Learning paper in partnership with Digital Promise).

7. Make It, Imagine It, Animate It

Destination Imagination’s (@IDODI) vision is “to be the global leader in teaching the creative process from imagination to innovation.” How does their program teaches 21st century skills? “We focus on skills for jobs that have not even been created yet.”

GoAnimate (@GoAnimate) showing teachers how students can animate anything and turn it into videos. We hear the kids love it.

Makey, Makey is cool (I can’t wait to order this for my daughter). Check out: Hack a banana, make a keyboard!

8. New Schools and Tools

Biz World (@bizworldorg) makes entrepreneurship fun for kids.

School4One (@School4one) allows teachers to post submit assignments, provide feedback & track student progress by standards all from one app. You can also read more about School4One in They Are Not Paperweights; an iPad Program That Works.

I ran into an old friend Amy who is starting the Valley School of Southern Oregon, a charter school based on the Montessori philosophy in Medford, OR. I’m excited to track Amy and the school’s progress as she opens in southern Oregon this fall for grades 6-8.

I had a chat with Shane Krukowski (@pblhq) about Project Foundry (@ProjectFoundry), where he’s the VP of Product Development. Project Foundry helps teachers scaffold project-based learning by providing tools to help manage workflow, portfolios and reporting tools.

9. #SmartThanks

At team Getting Smart, we have a tradition of giving kudos to others.

Thanks David Ross (@davidbie) for hosting and chatting about #globaled.

Thanks Bob Lenz (@pblbob)- I am looking forward to reviewing your book, Transforming Schools Using Project-Based Learning, Performance Assessment, and Common Core Standards (co-authored by Justin Wells and Sally Kingston).

Thanks to Ashley Auspelmyer (@AshAusp) for the discussion about what it means to be a leader in schools.

Thanks to Marcy Barton, Founder and CLO at for the sage wisdom around the book writing process.

10. Summing It Up

Thanks Molly Anderson (@beautiful5day) for the chat about parenting and your inspiration for Novareedu. (@novareedu), a platform that helps all stakeholders (teachers, students, parents) manage student-centered projects. She summed up project-based learning this way. “I truly believe the future of education is engaging students through project work by making learning meaningful.”

Mondays with Molly-YEAR IN REVIEW1
On / by admin / in Novare

Mondays with Molly: YEAR IN REVIEW

Hi Molly, so the school year is officially over!?

Yes. The classrooms have been cleaned out and we look forward to next year.

Wow. So what was new this year?

I’d say the debates have begun and it seems this year was THE year that real action is happening. There have been debates about Common Core, how it gets implemented, the good/bad of No Child Left Behind, High Stakes Testing… so many topics!

I know Common Core was a big conversation piece this year…

Well, it is huge this year, and the reason is because Common Core has begun implementing the metric to assess students using the Common Core criteria… and it’s stressful because they’re still vetting the tests… and well… you can’t vet something until you’ve used it! So there’s a lot of questioning and uncertainty regarding both implementation and authenticity of the test and results.

And those are the “high stakes” you have mentioned previously?

Yes. They’re high stakes tests… which control access to classes, resources for both schools and children, and used to evaluate programs. Parents and students have protested or opted out of testing.  It demonstrates a flaw in our system where we need to look closely at to remedy.

So when you say “remedy”, what do you mean?

Well, this year there has been some major responses to the system in real ways. We are working with several districts across several states who are implementing alternative ways of assessing students. At Novare, we see the change that is happening right in front of us. This year has been very special.

Ok, looking at the year, what would be the highlight and lowlight of education in America this academic year?

Hands down, I think one of the lowest parts of education this year that has come to the forefront is the stress that we put on children… I live in Santa Clara County, the heart of Silicon Valley, and am witnessing what is happening in the Bay Area with suicide rates among teenagers soaring.

This is terrible!

That’s horrible. How are schools dealing with this?

Schools are dealing with it by addressing how to deal with stress instead of focusing on what is causing the stress. It’s a systemic change. It’s not schools or parents… it’s really a societal issue with expectations on children being unrealistic … Soooo much stress that teachers are cheating and going to jail (which also happened this year), and children are throwing up on their bubble tests, and you know it just has to change.

Yes, agreed. Just awful. I’d love to switch gears and ask you about the highlight!?

Ha. Yes, well there are positive changes this year. The highlight of this year is the movement that is happening across the nation… to really look closely at education and to see what can we do to improve it. There is excitement with Project Based Learning, you can see the movement growing… you see it in other words as well…design thinking, 21st century skills, Competency Based Education, Reggio inspired… it’s happening!

This movement, to me, is incredibly exciting and you can see it’s truly happening in states like New Hampshire. The New Hampshire Department of Education is developing a state-wide performance assessment system that will balance local control with state-wide accountability and comparability. New Hampshire is working with the Center for Collaborative Education and The National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment to pilot this program in four districts this coming year. They are striving for a balance of assessment that will help students be college ready with a deeper understanding of learning. That means giving students projects and helping them develop communication and organizational skills. Along with these skills will be an ability to articulate and manipulate the content in a way that truly demonstrates mastery of learning.

I’d say that was a big win for students and teachers. I mean, you have got to love New Hampshire, they’re motto is “live free or die”!

Well that certainly is a positive thing. It’s really about looking at education from a fresh perspective.

Completely. Education isn’t static and change can be exciting. We are evaluating what we do and why. What is the best way to do something? What’s the best way teach? What’s the best way assess? What’s the best way to get the information we need? In the past there’s been tradition and you’re stuck with the way we’ve always done things and what we’ve always had… but now there’s this feeling that we don’t have to settle or use what we’ve used in the past, we live in a very technologically advanced society and if we approach it right, we can leverage all of our resources and steer education away from stress, cheating, suicide, teaching to the test and toward deeper learning… and I think that’s the most exciting thing this year…

Now that IS positive and exciting! What a great way to end the year! Thank you so much Molly for spending time with me each week.

Thank you. And I want to truly thank all of the trail blazers out there making things happen. It’s not a top down scenario, every person is important and it is because of every single one of us that this shift is happening.

Mondays with Molly-Report Cards
On / by admin / in Novare

Mondays with Molly: Report Cards

Hi Molly! So it’s June! Are teachers pretty much wrapped up now?

If not, they are close. It is the final mad rush of finishing projects, finalizing reports and celebrating the year.

What makes it such a mad rush as teachers finish up the school year?

Of course the rush is unique for each teacher and depending on the grade levels they teach. However most teachers are wrapping up assignments, reports are finalized or getting close. There are end of year awards to distribute for students, teachers, volunteers, and school leaders. Also last minute field trips and end of year celebrations add to the mayhem of schedules, excitement and pressure on time. It is a rush for everyone. But it’s also some of the most fun times for educators, parents and kids.

How so?

As curriculum is finishing, it can be an opportunity to explore … without the pressure and limitations of assessment and testing. It is also a time to celebrate what has been learned over the year.

Such as…?

Well for me personally, let’s see this week, there was a presentation about first and second graders studying “Is change good or bad?”. In the process, they studied seasons and migration. They decided to build a hummingbird garden and learned about irrigation and how to help animals. They planned a presentation for parents and dedicated the garden to the school. This week, as projects were winding down they explored bubbles and surface tension. My middle school student is wrapping up projects about Octavia and Cuttlefish and going to Blackberry Farm with classmates. This weekend, my freshman had a group at my house practicing their presentation for Romeo and Juliet and preparing for finals. My Senior has been swamped preparing for graduation, beginning with an award ceremony last week, projects and celebrations that are culminating next week. And teachers have to organize everything!

Oh that sounds like so much fun!

It is. I see the energy associated with projects and how much students benefit from being able to manipulate and talk about what they are learning. It would be great to make this possible throughout the year.

What’s stopping it? It sounds like a positive learning environment.

Well, It is. But it is challenging. Understanding new standards, what students should learn and how to facilitate that learning is only one challenge. And it takes time to develop and organize it.

Is this the first year many teachers have used a different set of standards? or Common Core?

Yes. As for Common Core, most states who adopted it have rolled it out via incremental adoptions, but I’d say this year was the first year it is being fully implemented. And for many schools across the country, whether it was Common Core or state standards, there has definitely been an attempt to change the way we grade, assessment has been the focus.

Does this pose problems for teachers?

Understanding what you want students to learn, and how you will evaluate them will drive what happens in the classroom. Changing standards and assessments is stressful as teachers work on how to implement them and communicate them.

What would help with the end of year “rush”?

Well, not to sound simplistic but what I hear the most is “I wish there was an easier way to do report cards!”  Wanting detailed report cards that explain what children understand in a way that is easily managed will help. Although technology can be a cumbersome idea to some teachers, new platforms are attempting to solve this frustration.

What is one solution?

At Novare, report cards were first and foremost on our priority list. That is, finding out how we can take this portfolio driven assessment and connect it toward actual standards, or rubrics, or even learning goals. In fact, I’m excited about this years reports cards because we have implemented a new format.

Can you explain the new format?

If you input information throughout the year… you know, after presentations, projects, lessons, etc., the platform can then compile that information quickly, literally with one click! That’s it! Then you can add notes to personalize how each student is doing.  We are making it easier all the time by listening to teachers about the features they want. It makes it so much easier at the end of the year.

Do other programs have this feature?

Well some platforms may aggregate information over time, but then I see responses that look like “not included in final report” which tells the teacher they have to go back and look through their assessments and then they have to review and select and create another one…

I see…

I know that the features that make ours easier is that it’s one click away and ours allows narratives, which are really important. You can create your reports at a class level, group level, individual level.  You can add narratives both at a group level an personal details under the group narrative, moving easily from one child to the next on the same screen page.

I think you’re on to something! Well, thank you so much Molly. I know our readers love spending their Mondays with you.

Thank you. And I want to say a BIG THANK YOU to all teachers!! I appreciate you so much. And to those who want to learn more about this change, check out organizations like Competency Works and the Buck Institute. Or, if you are interested in what I’m doing, you can talk to me anytime. My email is ping me and we can schedule a chat anytime!

Mondays with Molly-High Stakes Testing II – Solutions
On / by Terra Casteleyn / in Novare

Mondays with Molly: High Stakes Testing II – Solutions

So, last week we talked about high stakes testing… this week I want to talk about solutions. Can you sum up last week?

Sure. Last week we focused on the problems high stakes testing causes: it’s the only metric to gain access to high level classes, the only metric used to decide if a school is successful, thus forcing teaching to focus on test taking skills, and causes teachers to mainly focus on kids teetering the border with less attention to high and low performers, and finally it stresses everyone out.

Ok so if these tests are so catastrophic, why don’t we just eliminate them all together? Are there anything good points to be made about these tests?

We can’t eliminate tests all together. We do need a way to compare student progress and a metric is an excellent way to streamline that across the county. Having a metric is necessary to evaluate how schools and children are doing. And we do want to evaluate programs.

We do?

Yes we do. What and how we choose to evaluate will drive the day to day happenings in the classroom. A national metric should give an unbiased look at what is happening in classrooms. And based on what is happening, guide schools to look at programs and strategies to help children.

So it’s less about discovering the ineffective teachers and more about finding the areas that need help?

Yes, one reason is testing identifies students that need resources and justify qualification for special programs. Students need another window into performance to ensure they are learning and if they are not, getting the necessary resources. Districts only need to provide resources when a need is demonstrated… that doesn’t always happen in the classroom. Testing provides another source of data that districts may not have otherwise identified.

This data can help evaluate programs, teachers, and discover/support student needs…

,,, and not only is it a tool to evaluate children and programs, It holds the school accountable. If a school is not doing a good job, then a process needs to be followed to improve the program and school. If no progress is made, again there is a process to change leadership to make new changes for students. We owe it to the students to have data to make changes so children get the education they deserve.

How can we then balance the accountability needs with the needs of the schools, teachers, and children?

First, evaluate the metric. Right now we use standardized tests. But in my opinion, we don’t need to use basic bubble tests to determine student success. We could have students submit portfolios that are evaluated using a national rubric by a group outside of the district.

How can this be done?

We need to start tapping new resources that are available to us in the 21st century… For example, organizations like The National Center for Fair and Open Testing help evaluate the tests and provide useful information about them. Utilizing organizations like FairTest to ensure the metric is fair for all students is one way.

And I’d imagine technology is on that list?

Absolutely. Technology has dramatically changed the landscape in our country in many industries… to not use it in education is borderline irresponsible. With today’s tech, we shouldn’t need to evaluate children based on traditional bubble tests. Technology has enabled  multiple ways for children to demonstrate learning. We could set up assessments that demonstrate learning throughout the year, not limited to a single week of testing.

How would you use new tech?

I would recommend a portfolio metric… this way we eliminate the stress of one week of high stakes testing and focus on meaningful learning throughout the year. Students could create portfolios based on tasks similar to New Hampshire’s PACE program. This would promote multiple ways to demonstrate learning and be engaging to students. Students could even defend their portfolios to an outside panel of evaluators that would be able to ask questions.

Is this PACE program actually happening now?

Yes! It is happening right now! New Hampshire is leading the nation in developing and piloting Competency Based Education. Four districts are reducing standardized tests and using Performance Assessments of Competency Education (PACE). They use a task bank supported by Stanford research with problems for students to solve at different grade levels. Here is a real-life example:


New Hampshire sounds like it’s truly blazing a trail, are there any other examples?

Yes, Envision High Schools are spearheading truly innovative project based education in California. They have students defend their portfolios to a panel of evaluators that can ask questions. As freshman, they start building the skills needed for the defense of their senior portfolio. They learn to problem solve and use deeper learning skills by analyzing, synthesizing and articulating their thoughts. They have specific guidelines to help them learn the needed skills and timelines to let them revise and resubmit if needed, reducing the high stakes and focusing on learning. So the “test”, so to speak, is happening throughout the entire year, not in a “one day will determine your fate” scenario.

So in essence teachers would still be “teaching to the test” because the tests will always remain important…

Well of course. We’ll never take the importance out of these tests, they are crucial in so many ways. But if the tests themselves shape learning in a better way, a real way, then it’s a win win even if teachers “teach to the test”!

How so?

The tests would be students creating portfolios, demonstrating the needed skills for college and beyond. They would present projects that are engaging and demonstrate deeper learning. This ensures the students truly understand the material because the tests themselves, showcase true learning. There’s nowhere to hide!

Are there programs out there today that can support this model?

Yes. Platforms that integrate portfolios with standards are what you are looking for. Novare is built with this model in mind. Novare helps students and teachers organize many types of work including multi-disciplinary projects. It also helps communicate expectations and provides opportunities for discussion and revision of work. Novare connects the work to learning goals and standards. Systems like Novare will help change education.

Wow that is so exciting. Where could someone go to learn more?

Competency Works and The Buck Institute for Education are amazing resources for educators and schools. They provide guidelines and resources to implement this type of program as well.

Thanks so much. I will go check this out right now!

Mondays with Molly-High Stakes Testing I
On / by Terra Casteleyn / in Novare

Mondays with Molly: High Stakes Testing I

Hi Molly, I hope you had a great Mother’s Day! You get a Happy Mother’s Day x4!

I did! Thank you. I had a great weekend.

Fantastic. So today’s topic is High Stakes Testing. I see a lot of talk in the news about high stakes testing… perhaps since we’re nearing the end of the school year, but it seems there is a big debate. Can you tell me what high stakes testing is?

Sure. High Stakes testing are tests that students take that have significant effects based on the their performance.

So effect on the students themselves?

Right. So for example, the SAT or ACT is considered ‘high stakes’ because the student’s performance on the test plays a large role in which colleges they will attend.

Other examples are tests like CAASPP (California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress), ITBS (Iowa Test of Basic Skills) and PARCC (The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers). Performance on these tests can determine student placement in classes… or how much support a student receives.

So these scores can really affect students’ educational career, from elementary school on.

Yep. And the effects don’t stop at students, for schools, not meeting goals or having too many students opt out provide some punitive consequences.

What kind of consequences?

Let’s talk about K-12 schools public schools for example. If 95% of the students do not take the test or the students in the school do not score in the areas needed to show improvement or be satisfactory… the school is then considered failing and gets a mark of not meeting its AYP (adequate yearly progress). Then steps need to be taken to fix the issues. After five years of not meeting the goals, one of the following must occur.

  • Chartering: Closing and reopening as a public charter school
  • Reconstitution: Replacing school staff, including the principal, relevant to the failure in the school.
  • Contracting: contracting with an outside entity to operate the school.
  • State takeovers: turning the school operations over to the state education agency
  • Any Other major governance restructuring: engaging in another form of major restructuring that makes fundamental reforms.

No wonder schools put so much importance on these tests! Are there any other factors that add to creating these “high stakes”?

Well, take funding for example. Schools want high API (academic performance index) scores to have more flexibility in funding, sometimes merit pay, prestige in the community, not needing to do major shifts in how the school operates… and how schools can spend money, like Title One funds, which is also connected to testing… all of that is really important to schools.

I’ll bet it gets murky when money is involved!

And you’d be surprised how far the impacts hit, if a school has a high API score, then the school is perceived as “good” and the value of housing in those areas increase. So Real Estate is effected.

I can already see the problems… I would imagine cheating may come into play.

Well look at the Georgia situation. Those teachers are in jail for cheating… because the people who they’re hurting the most is the students. This really messes it up for them.


But teachers aren’t the only ones. Students may not be placed in appropriate classes or get the resources they need. If this test is the only metric to determine placement or do an initial identification for resources, it can set students up for failure. All based on ONE WEEK of testing! Obviously this can be frustrating and stressful for them

Wow, real estate, funding, stress, cheating… that all makes sense but you don’t really think about that when you consider you are just trying to gauge where children are at.

Yes, that’s why it’s so complicated. The idea behind NCLB is truly wonderful… Having a standard metric to ensure every student is learning.  And if students aren’t learning, putting steps in place to reform schools.  But the unintended consequences are startling; more standardized tests, losing the creative aspect of teaching and learning, focusing mostly on students on edge of passing or failing without attention or resources given to students performing really well or very poorly.

How are people reacting to this pressure?

Actually, many parents are opting out of the testing. And some teachers are refusing to administer the test. They worry about how the long hours of testing and added stress and pressure without giving an accurate look at student performance.

When you say that, you mean that the focus then becomes solely on the test?

Well yeah. If these tests are sooooo important, then the whole year becomes one big preparation for these tests and a focus on test taking skills and not necessarily about learning! Teachers actually want their students to learn, retain, understand, and process… they don’t care as much about these “high stakes” test scores.

That makes sense. Is this why you often talk about different ways of assessing students… like not with standardized tests…? Is this part of the reason?

Oh, Novare doesn’t think all tests are bad! Obviously it’s bad when teachers are going to jail for cheating on tests because those scores mean so much… but we offer a way to showcase understanding and learning in different ways. Many teachers and schools have wanted to incorporate other forms of assessment, but let’s face it, it’s super hard to scale it.

What about Novare makes it easier?

We offer a platform that organizes this information, provides evidence of learning with multiple ways to look at the data… it’s super visual and easy to change perspectives with just a click.  We also have a very innovative way of connecting data from portfolios… to standards. We want to focus on deeper learning, knowing those are the skills students need to be successful in life.

Ha! You can’t get away from standards!

Having standards isn’t bad.  Knowing the skills you want students to attain makes sense.  Ensuring your teaching that deeper learning with standards takes skill.  Many schools must adhere to the Common Core Standards, which is already in our system, so it makes it easy to connect portfolio data to them… You can truly have a Common Core Report Card made in one click. But you know, some independent schools have other types of standards… they often call them learning goals. But yes, in the end, all of this data needs to be pointing to some sort of conclusive outcomes! This way we know… did the child learn or not?! To me, it’s still holding both students and teachers accountable to learning goals or standards or whatever you want to call them… but Novare allows alternative routes to getting there…

Thanks so much Molly, have a great Monday!

The Teacher Dashboard
On / by Molly Anderson / in Novare

Feature Release: The Teacher Dashboard!

Ok, this has got to be one of the coolest features we’ve released yet! Introducing… The Teacher Dashboard! Now, when teachers log into Novare, they will see their classroom dashboard. Not only are Groups easier to find when you are collaborating with other teachers, everything is now in one spot:

  • You classroom’s latest activities are updated in real time.
  • One click to the Groups button lets you see your classroom’s Groups.
  • One click to the Students button lets you see student details.
  • And just one click on the View Class Reports button lets you see your Reports as well as add narratives, goals and portfolios to complete your Report Cards!

We hope you enjoy seeing everything in one place and exploring your new dashboard.


The Past, Present And Future Of High-Stakes Testing
On / by admin / in Novare

The Past, Present And Future Of High-Stakes Testing

originally posted by Anya Kamenetz on 2015

After a long stretch as the law of the land, annual standardized tests are being put to, well, the test.

This week, the Senate education committee held a hearing on the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law and, specifically, on testing. The committee’s chairman, Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has released a draft bill offering a lot more leeway to states in designing their own assessment systems.

But Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the committee, have dug in their heels to say that annual tests should remain mandatory.

All this comes as parents, students and educators around the country are asking serious questions about the number of tests children are taking and the reasons they’re taking them.

I’ve just written a book on this topic, The Test: Why Our Schools Are Obsessed with Standardized Testing — But You Don’t Have to Be, and Steve Inskeep sat down with me to ask me a few questions about it.

How much more widespread are standardized tests than they were 10, 15 or 20 years ago?

Since No Child Left Behind became federal law, every state has been required to test every child every year in third through eighth grade in math and reading, plus once in high school. And districts have added many tests to follow on to state-mandated tests.

Why would they do that?

Well, the state tests are tied to consequences for districts, schools and teachers as well as students. Districts are adding on benchmark, practice and interim tests, and that’s how they get these multiplying and ballooning requirements. That’s why the Council of the Great City Schools found that students are taking 113 standardized tests in grades K through 12.

I heard from an elementary school teacher recently that she felt like she wasn’t doing anything other than preparing for, or administering, tests.

I hear that from educators all around the country. Even the ones who want the data and the information, they lament the fact that the whole school experience is increasingly becoming defined by testing and test prep. And I’ve walked into lower-income schools around the country where test scores are posted right in the front entryway and the message is very clear: That we care about you as a person and everything, but what really matters is the score that you post in April.

In talking with teachers you even hear stories of the entire school experience being distorted by these tests because the school is worried only about kids who are just on the edge of passing or failing the tests. They don’t seem to care about the kids who are doing really well or really badly.

What you’re describing is an example of perverse response to incentives. And everybody does that to some extent. And researchers have documented what your friend noticed, which is called educational triage or rationing. More and more attention goes to students just on the verge of passing, and schools don’t have capacity to focus on students who are doing really well or really badly.

This is in some ways an old debate. We’ve heard about it for decades. We are in this data-driven world where people want information and accountability for schools. How do you get beyond that?

Well, this is an interesting inflection point in the debate. On the one hand you’ve got parents and teachers saying, “This is too much.” But the other question is, What can we do instead? I talk about a couple of different approaches in the book, like statistical sampling and “big-data” approaches [see this story for more details].

So how open is the political system to some kind of reform?

Well, this is a really interesting moment, Steve, because the political alignments around education are always confusing, but right now you have a situation where Sen. Lamar Alexander is proposing a draft bill to eliminate annual testing requirements and really leave it up to the states to have much more flexibility.

But Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Democratic leaders in Congress are saying we must protect annual testing at all costs — this being the policy initially introduced by George W. Bush.

OK, what is the case in favor of annual tests?

Well the core argument in favor is that NCLB forced schools to report the performance of historically disadvantaged groups — minorities, students with disabilities, English language learners and low-income students. So instead of hiding those students behind the average, schools were made responsible for the welfare and success of every single child. And so some civil rights groups are saying that equity must be ensured by testing every child every year.

Then you have groups on the other side saying equity isn’t just about measuring students, it’s about ensuring equal outcomes and equal access and equal opportunities, and we don’t really believe that more testing is really going to do that.