Published Online: August 27, 2013
Published in Print: August 28, 2013, as Blogs of the Week

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| NEWS | CURRICULUM MATTERS

Consortium Previews Tests With Sample Questions

Teachers all over the country are wondering what new tests for the common standards will look like when they make their debut in 2015. One of the two consortia working on those assessments has come closer to providing an answer by releasing sample items for its test.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, announced the release this month of the new sample questions in math and English/language arts.

In contrast to the item prototypes it released last summer, which were intended as guides for item development, these sample items "represent the current state of PARCC item development and provide users a snapshot of what the 2014-2015 assessments will look like," according to PARCC . As the 2013-14 school year begins, the test items are intended to help educators identify critical content in the Common Core State Standards and how it might look on the test.

This round of items will be followed by another in October, to round out the representation of items at all grade levels in both subjects. The items are being released for now in paper form, but will be re-released in November on the technology platform that students will use to take the field tests in the spring of 2014.

PARCC has set up a special page on its website for the sample math items, and another for the sample literacy items. Each is accompanied by background material.

—Catherine Gewertz


| NEWS | INSIDE SCHOOL RESEARCH

Middle-Class Kids Benefit From 'Pushing' for Help

There's a fine line between being persistent in asking for help and being pushy and entitled, but a new study suggests middle-class children find that occasionally annoying the teacher still pays off in the long run.

In more than two years' worth of observations at elementary schools, as well as interviews with teachers, students, and parents in grades 3 and 5, sociologist Jessica McCrory Calarco of Indiana University Bloomington analyzed how children of different backgrounds managed constantly shifting teacher expectations. She found few classrooms lay out clear procedures for when and how students should ask questions or request help.

Rather, from one day and class to another, Calarco observed teachers shifting between the poles of "it's important to ask if you don't know" to "figure it out for yourself." Even during quizzes or in-class assignments, teachers differed in the amount of explanation they were willing to give, and students who pressed or negotiated for more help often received it.

"In situations where teachers felt pressed for time, or when they felt students were not listening or were not reading the directions first, they were more likely to say, 'figure it out for yourself.' However, they did not explicitly explain why they were making this distinction," Calarco said. "These cues put the weight on students to figure out what the teachers wanted."

"The Inconsistent Curriculum," which previewed at the American Sociological Association conference in New York City earlier this month, followed up on Calarco's ongoing research. That research found middle-class parents trained their children to be "squeaky wheels," seeking help rather than waiting for others to offer help, as working-class students were more prone to do.

The full study is expected to be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Social Psychology Quarterly.

—Sarah D. Sparks


| NEWS | RULES FOR ENGAGEMENT

The 'Moral Imperative' of School Climate

School climate has the potential to shape students in many ways: the temperature of the rooms they inhabit, the quality of their vision, the nutrients coursing through their arteries, the friends they talked to before class. All of it can make a difference in how students do in class.

Some schools nail it. Others don't.

The Alliance for Excellent Education issued a report this month that offers a road map for addressing school climate problems. The alliance plans for the report, "Climate Change: Creating an Integrated Framework for Improving School Climate," to kick off a series of papers that dissect various issues pertaining to school climate.

The central issue is equity: what the best schools have that the worst ones don't.

The idea behind the series, as this report makes clear, is to support a kind of Venn-diagram approach to student engagement, recognizing the numerous reasons that children stay in school and succeed.

"School climate—the totality of factors that affect a learning environment—is talked about much less often than any of these individual factors, despite research showing that a school's climate, whether positive, negative, or somewhere in between, is connected to the level of students' engagement in their coursework and, consequently, to student success," the report says.

The series plans to investigate equity in discipline, in rigor, and in instruction, with special emphasis on how school unfolds for minorities and children in lower-socioeconomic conditions.

"Preparing all students to succeed in life is both a moral and economic imperative," the report continues. "High school graduates earn more, have better health and longer life expectancy, are less likely to engage in criminal activity or require social services, and are more likely to be engaged in their communities, including higher rates of voting and volunteering, than those who do not graduate from high school."

But, ya know ... no pressure.

—Ross Brenneman

Vol. 33, Issue 02, Page 11

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