An On Demand Note About On Demand Writing

Each day, my son enters school with a smile. My hope is that he returns home in the same great spirits. I am afraid with endless quest for data, this simple hope is too much to ask.

In addition to the countless other assessments my second grade son is asked to take, the latest really has me scratching my head. Each student (K and up) is being asked to “on demand” write for 45 minutes on a genre that has not been taught. Imagine 5 , 6 and 7 year olds being asked to start every writing unit demonstrating something they have never been taught? Then, these students will spend a month or more working in that genre. They will use the writing process to develop and publish amazing pieces of writing and each unit will culminate in a Writing Celebration. The celebration ends when they are asked the very next day to write another “on-demand” piece to demonstrate their growth in this genre. I find this practice to be redundant and unnecessary. The issue is further complicated on the following day when the cycle resets and they are asked to write another “on demand” piece without receiving a single day of instruction in the next genre. Here is how each unit will present itself:

  •  On demand writing without receiving any lessons in the genre. 45 mins
  •  Lessons are given in genre. 1-2 months
  • Piece is published. 1 week
  •  On demand piece after receiving lessons. 45 minutes
  •  On demand piece in new genre without receiving any lesson in the genre. 45 minutes

What drives quality instruction during these writing units is the continual conferring that occurs between student and teacher as well as small group instruction to target any needs children may have. I do not see the value in adding beginning and end of unit “on-demand” pieces when our writing workshops are already structured to show student growth. A challenging part of teaching writing is getting students to love it and I fear that adding these many on-demand writing assignments will stymie that love for my son and his second grade friends.

Rather than demanding writing of 5, 6, and 7 year olds, we should be encouraging and inspiring them to write. Through a multiple year portfolio system, we can discuss and plan based on what our students can do instead of what they can’t.

On demand writing provides the same prompt for 5 year olds as 13 years olds (picture below). Clearly, not much thought went into this and there is no way this can be researched based. I hope somewhere along the way they realize that on demand writing is not supported by a single Common Core standard in the lower grades. This is test prep at its finest and writing at its worst.

My 45 minutes are up.


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Teacher to Parent

Dear Parents:

As we begin another school year, we would like to set your minds at ease about a few things.  First and foremost, please know that we are not upset about going back to work.  We love teaching and consider it the most rewarding profession in the world.

We look forward to meeting your children.  We know that everyone has quirks.  Some people are cranky in the morning.  Some people are nervous to speak in front of people.  Some people need an extra smile of reassurance every now and again.  We promise to do our best to understand your children and make our classrooms places where they feel comfortable, appreciated, and happy.

It is the needs of the students in our classes that dictate the pace and content of our lessons. “One-size-fits-all” is for ponchos, not education.

We see you as teammates, not adversaries, and we hope that you see us the same way. We know that you know your children best, and we appreciate when you share your observations about how your children are managing the demands of our classes. An open dialogue between us is necessary for success.

We take cues from the students about what works and what doesn’t work and adjust our methods accordingly.  Our goal is not to simply get through a lesson.  Our goal is to make sure your children are engaged every step of the way.

We are concerned about the future of public education and we are taking active roles in preserving what we believe to be the right of all children to have high quality, meaningful education that will prepare them for their own unique long-term goals.

Take a deep breath, parents. Have faith in our ability to maintain our focus on educating your children in the face of the many obstacles being thrown in our way.  We have not given up.  We will continue to support your children in the classroom and fight for them outside of the classroom.  Most of all, we thank you for trusting us with your babies—whether they are in kindergarten or twelfth grade—and we promise to take good care of them.



Lace to the Top Response to Daily News Op-Ed

In Gregory Cizeck’s article, he makes many claims.  After he is done telling us how wonderful he is, he prepares readers to be amazed by his analysis of NYS Common Core testing.  Instead of wowing us with data, he tells a bizarre story about… baseball. He then gets way up on the soap box and tells us NYS Pearson Common Core tests”are unquestionably the most accurate, least biased, time and cost-efficient tests…”  Having never seen the tests and without access to technical reports, I wonder how he can make such claims?     

Although Greg seems more concerned about the color of my laces than the actual data presented, I would like to offer additional support for the blog that Gregory referenced. Greg may claim that NYS is simply “equating” and that the scores are tweaked to compare tests across multiple years.  Well, riddle me this one Greg- why is “equating” only done on the pass/fail cut score of 2/3.  Take a look at the third grade ELA.  No equating done on level 1 or 4.  Why only equate levels 2 and 3?  Ohhh that’s right, this is the level that determine if a student is proficient or not.  

Greg, you are always welcome to join our group and wear green laces. Seriously.


(2013 on the left and 2014 on the left)

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More than a Slogan

king of core-page-001School reformers will be rejected so long as four groups exist: disconnected reformers, demoralized educators, dismissed parents, and disinterested students.

John King has not worked for what students, parents, and teachers want in their schools during his time as NYSED Commissioner. He has ignored the impassioned and informed voices of parents and teachers. He has increased the amount of time students spend taking HST. He has withheld the test questions and their answers on HST. He has sold not wavered on his support of Common Core. He has denied culpability and has responded with half-hearted attempts at appeasement with the hopes of compliance.

Social media has applied tremendous pressure for John King to do what parents and teachers know is right for their children. In spite of his missteps, mishaps, and mistakes, mainstream media has largely ignored the commissioner’s lack of accountability in his failed attempts to meet the challenges of the Common Core roll out.

John King is entangled in an attempt to bamboozle the public with data, while suppressing a clear and simple truth; our children are more than a score. “More than a score” is more than a slogan. It is love for students’ individuality. It is nurturing students’ talents. It is support of exceptional teaching. It is decision making based on the best interest children. It is trust in local school district leadership. It is passion for meaningful classroom lessons. It is faith in the power of democratic control over public education. It is changing pedagogical acronyms and statistics into meaningful dialogue between school houses and homes. It is confidence in the smartest generation yet. It is embracing the whole child. It is inspiring people to make better schools. It is listening to the needs of students and parents. It is action to bring joy and curiosity to the lives of children. It is reflection on what works and what does not. It is honesty. It is humanity. It is humility. It is even humor. These are what should be the guiding principles in the hearts of minds of those who have assumed control of education and more specifically, invaded our classrooms without substantial time teaching or children in public education.

What will matter for students years from now will be times the adults in their lives showed them they matter. What they will remember are the teachable moments and acts of genuine compassion they experienced. If we support schools and inspire teachers to love their students as their own and do everything for the child, we may remove the need for reliance on the fallacy of HST from schools.

Educators and parents understand overreliance on standardized tests reveals an under appreciation of the relationships that exist in classrooms. Plummeting support of Common Core and exponential growth in the opt-out movement can be seen as evidence.

Energy is needed to focus on creating great classrooms and preparing students for life, not meeting false expectations of unaccountable, inexperienced, bureaucrats. Our kids are more than a score and we know the crisis in education is the invention of the reformers who sell the cure.

We matter. Disconnected reformers are running for fertilizer factories. Teachers are inspiring one another. Parents are embracing stronger connections to their children’s schools. Students are recognizing they are the smartest generation yet. We can send in letters on the first day of school to opt-out our children from high stakes testing, SLOs, and field tests. We can inform our friends, neighbors, and the parents of our children’s classmates of what we are doing and explain why. We can wear green laces to make sure when our voices are not heard, our beliefs can be seen in bold and impossible to ignore green. We are the reform our children need and want.

As one.

Only 15% of NYS Standards are tested on NYS Common Core ELA

NY parents were told their children (as young as 8) were taking a test that would measure college/career readiness,  while reformers paraded the Common Core as the path to college/career readiness.  The visions seemed aligned, right until NY unveiled its translation of the Common Core through its high-stakes tests.

Out of the 86 combinations of Common Core standards & strands (ELA 3rd grade ), NYS only chose to test 15% of them on the 2014 ELA .  This leaves teachers, administrators, parents, students and colleges/careers wondering if these 15% can truly be the measure of college/career readiness. 


13 of 86 of standards-page-001


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NYS Common Core Tests Expect More From Students Than The Questions Require

If you ask 8 year olds how two things are similar and different, most will respond in a few sentences.  When NYS asks 8 year olds how two things are similar and different they expect students to respond with a well constructed essay that includes an introduction & conclusion (among several other criteria).  

Teachers are all for teaching essay structure in their writing workshops.  When it is time for students to demonstrate their writing skills, it is the responsibility of the teacher to clearly define the expectations of the essay- especially for an 8 year old.  Teachers wouldn’t penalize students for not including something in their essay if it wasn’t in the criteria  to begin with.  Yet, that is exactly what NYS does.    


Here is the question NYSED asked third graders.  After reading the passage, most third graders could answer this question in a few sentences:

The author provides many details about how sea turtles are similar to and different

from each other. How is a leatherback sea turtle similar to a green sea turtle? How are

they different from each other? Use details from the passage to support your response.

In your response, be sure to

• explain how a leatherback sea turtle is similar to a green sea turtle

• explain how a leatherback sea turtle is different from a green sea turtle

• use details from the passage to support your response


Here is the Common Core Standard Map for the question.  Notice how the question only asks students to demonstrate one READING standard. It makes sense given the simplistic nature of the question.  

Screen Shot 2014-08-23 at 5.44.21 PM 


And here is the rubric scorers are given to assign a value to student responses (o-4). Notice how student responses require multiple READING & WRITING Common Core Standards to be demonstrated in order to receive full credit (even though the question is only mapped to one reading standard and much of the criteria was not asked in the question).  


Screen Shot 2014-08-23 at 4.57.17 PM



If New York State Education Department wants students to demonstrate more in their responses, NYSED better learn how to explain what their expectations are to begin with.   


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Inspired 0.1%

Jedi Mind Tricks1

Maybe I should use cut scores this year in my classroom to assess students. I am not sure what the cut score will be, but I can guarantee a 70% failure rate.

 I will inform my new principal that I will increase the difficulty of my class to exceed the rigor required to earn a masters degree. This will ensure (For the students who pass my class) they will be ready for post-secondary work (If they can afford it) in 4 – 10 years.

I will substitute students’ names for numbers. I will no longer use webfolios, project-based learning, or blogs to assess students. Instead I will read scripted modules and use test prep to prepare students to know 100% of the standards then test them on 15% of them. If all goes well, a video recording of one of my lessons may make it to one of King’s emails of how great the reform is going.

The school year will be set up like the four days of a golf tournament. Students’ scores from the first two quarters will be used to determine who moves on to the last two quarters based on the cut score (Which has yet to be determined). Students who do not make the cut will get an extra period of my class, lose their electives (whichever ones they love most), and be told the school is bad because they did not meet the cut score (Which, I can predict will leave only 30% of kids feeling good about themselves).

Finally, I will hold a celebratory press conference in June to congratulate myself for a new benchmark and at that point predict a 0.1% increase in my students’ scores for the following year…

Nah. I’ll just keep fighting for kids and my laces green instead.

NYS Common Core Tests Show Increase Through… Lowered Cut Scores

Stop the celebration! The 0.1% increase on NY ELA tests may not be the result of our hard work & grit, but simply the result of lowered cut scores.

New York State constantly changes the score needed to pass (cut scores) on ELA and Math tests.  Only AFTER the tests are graded, a score needed to pass is established. All questions go through extensive field-testing before the tests go live.  Why is this practice is needed?  Perhaps it might have something to do with fulfilling the NYSED Commissioner’s prediction for ‘incremental’ increases in years to come. When Commissioner King declares ‘incremental’ increases August 2013, he delivers ‘incremental’ increases August 2014

NY promised to leave the cut scores unchanged and decided this year that they did not need teachers to be part of the process (as explained here).

Results of the Math tests are up 4.6%, but the cut score was lowered by 3% (3rd grade). In 2013, students needed to receive 44 out of a possible 60 points in order to achieve a passing score of 3. In 2014, students needed to only receive 42 out of a possible 60 points in order to receive a passing grade of 3. 

Results of the ELA tests are up 0.1%, but the cut score was lowered by 2% (3rd grade).  In 2013, students needed to receive 35 out of 55 possible points to achieve a passing score of 3. In 2014, students needed to only receive 30 out of a possible 49 points to receive a passing grade of 3.  

Info provided by NY raw score to scale score and performance indicator chart here.

So much for a celebration…

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NYS 3rd Grade-page-001

Why is John King the NY Commissioner of Education?

Despite the very touching story NYSED Commissioner tells about his life, John King was a boy from Brooklyn born of great privilege. He attended New York City schools and went on to attend a $48,000 a year high school, where he rebelled against the strict curfews and cut class. He was expelled as a junior. He resented adult authority and claimed, “he felt like adults had let me down in my life.” He was going to get his revenge.

John B. King, Jr.  went on to become the founder of Roxbury Prep in Massachusetts. According to the Roxbury Report Card, the school is still listed as not meeting gap narrowing goals (receives a 2 in a 1-5 scale).  It currently performs at 57%  compared with similar schools.  Roxbury has a 94% attendance rate along with an astounding 59% suspension rate.

At 36, he became one of the youngest leaders in education.  Since then, has been charged with the abysmal implementation of the Common Core and has done very little to fix it. He keeps his own children clear of his mismanagement as they attend a Montessori school that does not teach the Common Core.

John King is the Commissioner of Education in NY, but for how long???

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(Photo by Jennifer Scott)



Bad Days Mean You’re Human

derek lace I have had hundreds of bad days at work as a teacher. Some happened inside my classroom. There was the day my lesson for Les Miserables was cut short by a fire alarm pulled by a student. There was the day less than 50% of the students submitted their research papers. There was the day the Internet was down on the day of my observation and my lesson relied on the students accessing their work from their webpages. What I learned from those days was how to adapt to things outside of my control, change my approach to research paper writing, and always have a plan B when lessons rely on technology. Some of my bad days happened outside of my classroom. There were the days when my colleagues were excessed. There were the days when I had to argue with my principals. There were the days when my district’s test scores were published in the “hometown” newspaper. Those days have taught me to never lose focus on compassion, patience, and dedication regardless of outside pressures. But my worst days are the ones that have taught me the most. There was the day I learned my student committed suicide. There was the day I found out that my sleepy student was abandoned by his parents and was sleeping on the couch of a destitute family that had taken him in. There was the day the student I home taught passed at the age of 17 after battling cancer for five years. There was the day an angry student stood with a four inch knife surrounded by kids from a rival gang. There was the day a student told me something about her home that no child should ever experience. These days taught me why it is that I teach and it has absolutely nothing to do with numbers and everything to do with humanity. After 18 years in the classroom, I still have bad days. Bad days remind me to appreciate the good days. The bad days remind me that the most important part of my job is the emotional investment that I make with all of my students. The day I stop having bad days, I should remove myself from the classroom and take the green laces out of my shoes.


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