Three things to read this weekend

Now that Boston has broken the record for snowiest winter ever, I think I speak for all Bostonians in saying that we’re all ready for it to stop snowing, maybe forever. But Mother Nature has other ideas! So as we celebrate the official start of spring with a few more inches of snow, here are the three stories that should be at the top of your reading list this weekend.

What parents should demand about PARCC (The Boston Globe): As states around the country prepare for the inaugural administration of PARCC – the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or the Common Core-aligned standardized test that will replace individual state exams such as MCAS – the Globe’s Joanna Weiss has a few suggestions for what parents should be demanding of the system. The most interesting one to me was the notion that we have to separate the Common Core from the curriculum. As Joanna points out, the Common Core is a set of benchmarks for what kids should know and be able to do. It’s then up to districts what curriculum they want to use to get kids there. I wonder: how many of the problems people have with the Common Core actually have to do with the curriculum choices their school districts have made?

Eva et al. flunk the fairness test (Flypaper, a Fordham Institute blog): In this blog post, Mike Petrilli advances the argument that the move toward higher standards (e.g., the Common Core) requires an accompanying shift in how we think about school accountability. Under the “old” system, many states set the cut point for proficiency quite low, meaning that students could be deemed “proficient” yet still graduate from high school not remotely prepared for college. The “new” system sets the proficiency cut point much higher – at about the 70th percentile, according to Petrilli – which, of course, means that fewer kids are meeting this mark. However, Petrilli argues that it’s unfair to use this data to immediately label schools as “persistently failing” without also taking into account where students where when they started at those schools. In middle and high schools, some students may arrive four grade levels behind – should we slap a “failing” label on those schools if they’re not able to get their kids up to this new high bar immediately? Or should we also take into account how effective the schools are at improving their students’ performance – even if they still fall short of the elevated proficiency bar? (Spoiler: Petrilli is advocating for the latter approach.)

Four models of non-traditional schools at SXSWedu (The Hechinger Report): This report from the annual South by Southwest Education conference in Austin, Texas, highlights some of the non-traditional school models discussed this year. I loved the description of Beaver Country Day School, in Chestnut Hill, Mass., where all teachers in grades 6-12 are integrating computer coding into their classes (example – students in an English class using code to animate a scene from Macbeth). Teachers at the school worked with each other both to learn code and then figure out how to teach it. I think this is an interesting approach to exposing all students to coding, not just those who would self-select into a computer coding class. The Quest to Learn school in New York City also sounds fascinating. The whole school revolves around games and game design with the goal of making technology meaningful and purposeful to students. So how do games help kids learn? In one example from a sixth grade math and science class, students had to help a “shrunken mad scientist” navigate inside the human body and then report back to a research lab.