Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Post for the week of November 26, 2012

Post for the week of November 26, 2012

The MCAS Transition is an issue close to all of us.  Please take a look at this information from our Assessment folks here at DESE.  Feel free to email me at if you have any other questions!

Regarding MCAS Changes in Grades 4 and 7 in Writing

Students taking the Composition assessment will NOT be writing in response to text on the 2013 or 2014 ELA Composition assessment. (It’s true that the previous transition chart said they would be. But that is not the case.) It remains the case that students at grades 4 and grade 7 may be asked to respond to any of the modes (narrative, expository, or opinion/persuasive) listed in the new framework, and that we are not identifying that mode in advance of the Composition assessment. (More on that below.)

Please note that the Grade 10 Composition assessment will continue to focus on literary analysis.

The testing experience for students taking ELA MCAS will be very similar in 2013 and 2014 to what it’s been in years previous. The shifts, to the extent that they will be manifest on MCAS, will be virtually imperceptible to most students—as teachers will be able to see when we release the 2013 test items.

This is not to say that the new standards won’t change anything at all in ELA. In keeping with the emphasis of the new framework on the importance of exposing students to informational texts across all grade levels—and to fostering literacy explicitly in Science and History/Social Science—the character of what were formerly viewed as “non-fiction” passages will be tend to become more “informational” over the course of this transition period.

Our Reading Comprehension assessments will continue to test students’ comprehension through items that assess explicit comprehension and inference-making; recognition of author’s purposes and craft/technique (in grade level appropriate ways); vocabulary and conventions (in grade level appropriate ways), and require students to support answers on open-response items with support drawn from the passage. This is what we’ve always done.

At Grades 4, 7, and 10, as you know, students are also be required to take the MCAS Composition assessment (i.e., “long comp”). We have posted an updated transition chart for ELA here.  It contains information about the changes we’re making in keeping with the new framework. Please note that nothing about the Grade 10 test will be changing. As the competency determination assessment, that test is remaining as it’s been since the program’s inception, and the Grade 10 Composition will continue to assess literary analysis.

At Grades 4 & 7, as the transition chart notes, we are maintaining the position than the writing prompt may involve any of the three modes of writing listed in the new standards. The Department will not be posting sample prompts or student work beyond what’s already on the website from previous years. The scoring guides and the scoring process will remain the same.

Whether the mode is being assessed narrative, expository, or opinion (at G4)/persuasive (at G7), the expectation will remain that students will develop responses based on the own views and experiences. Scoring will remain focused on 1) how well they develop their ideas (i.e., topic development) and 2) the command of conventions they demonstrate in their writing (i.e., English conventions). Students will not be scored on how well they “write to the mode.” No additional criteria will be added to scoring process.

The overarching point here, as noted generally, is that the students’ writing experience this year will be vastly more similar to than different from the experiences of students in previous years.

We have followed all of the established MCAS procedures in developing item and writing prompts for the 2013 and 2014 tests. All of our Composition prompts (like all of our other MCAS test items) have been reviewed and approved for use by the teachers on our grade level Assessment Development Committees; that is, they have been deemed by Massachusetts public school educators at that grade level to be prompts that students at that grade level will be able to respond to effectively. The prompts have also been field tested to validate those judgments. Again, this is in keeping with long-established MCAS development procedures.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Post for the week of November 19, 2012

Post for the week of November 19, 2012

I just got back from the NCTE National Convention in Las Vegas.  It's in Boston next year, so save your money for all the books from the exhibitors!

This year, you can browse all the materials from the conference online!  Visit and search for any topic you want.
For example, here is 100 Ways to Teach Shakespeare in Middle and High School. Very practical and timely!  Shakespeare and "Foundational American Documents" are the only texts mentioned specifically in the new Frameworks.
You can also go to Twitter and search #NCTE12 for all the tweets from the conference with links to materials and references.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Post for the week of November 12, 2012

Post for the week of November 12, 2012

The Common Core State Standards provide us with new levels of text complexity.  On this site, the authors provide us with suggested texts for the high school grade levels:

What do you notice about this list?

  • The Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare (1592)
  • “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1817)
  • “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe (1845)
  • “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry (1906)
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)
  • The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (1975)

  • “Speech to the Second Virginia Convention” by Patrick Henry (1775)
  • “Farewell Address” by George Washington (1796)
  • “Gettysburg Address” by Abraham Lincoln (1863)
  • “State of the Union Address” by Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1941)
  • “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr. (1964)
  • “Hope, Despair and Memory” by Elie Wiesel (1997)
  • “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats (1820)
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1848)
  • “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson (1890)
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1937)
  • A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry (1959)
  • The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (2003)
  • Common Sense by Thomas Paine (1776)
  • Walden by Henry David Thoreau (1854)
  • “Society and Solitude” by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1857)
  • “The Fallacy of Success” by G. K. Chesterton (1909)
  • Black Boy by Richard Wright (1945)
  • “Politics and the English Language” by George Orwell (1946)
  • “Take the Tortillas Out of Your Poetry” by Rudolfo Anaya (1995)

Someone I was with recently noticed that the suggested texts don't align with a particular "curriculum:" they are a mixture of World Literature, American Literature, and British Literature.

This mixing leads me to believe that the student outcomes articulated about the Common Core can be reached with ANY text, so the traditional plan of studying literature in the old categories no longer exists!  This realization might be a shock to the system, but it actually is freeing because teachers have more choices. 

In short, enjoy teaching the texts you know, experiment with new texts, and keep the rigor high.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Post for the week of November 5, 2012

Post for the week of November 5, 2012

I've been doing some work on informational text (used to be called "nonfiction") and why it's important that we change to reading more of it.  The Common Core really creates a shift in terms of how much information text students should be reading at all levels.

Since assessment drives everything (in good ways and in bad), how much informational text is on our assessments?  This is what I figured out when I looked at it recently.

MCAS—at least 50%
AP English50% (AP Language—11th grade)
SAT Subject Tests—95%
PARCC Sample Items—about 50%
NECAP—11th grade is 50%
I would conclude that the push for informational text will help students on current assessments and make them more prepared for college and career!