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…

Lace to the Top 

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Put on green laces & let students know they are more than a score.

NYS 3rd Grade-page-001

John King Is Our Leader, But Where Is He Taking Us?

NYSED Commissioner John B. King, Jr.  is the founder of Roxbury Prep in Massachusetts. 

According to the Roxbury Prep Report Card 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 57% compared with similar schools.

They have a 94% attendance rate along with an 59% suspension rate.

Is this really what we want for the children of NY?

Stop repeating his rhetoric and start questioning everything.

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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.

Put our focus on educating children- not constantly testing them.

Today, my laces and I ran up a mountain. I didn’t race- I went at my own pace and stopped when I had to. I think we all need to apply the same strategy to the next school year.

Teachers need to dismiss the notion that these tests count. Resist the urge to order those terrible Coach books, sing ridiculous test prep songs or put pressure on kids. Test prep is not a standard!
Parents need to let go of that perfect score. These tests are designed so that 60-70% of your kids will fail. Absolutely nothing will be done to influence instruction based off of these scores.

All others need to understand that this broken system is costing an estimated 20-50 billion dollars per year. These costs will rise considerably as the test moves online.

Please join Lace to the Top so we can put our focus on educating children- not constantly testing them.

On Facebook: Lace to the Top

Twitter: @lacetothetop

On students, teachers, parents, and admins: green shoelaces



Last year’s devastation has become this year’s hope

Another school year is about to end. Last year, we left feeling devastated knowing that many of our students would receive letters labeling them as failures and stripping away their self-confidence. If we sat back and did nothing a love of learning would be lost forever. But we did not sit back- we united. Teachers and parents fought back against billion dollar corporations and corrupt politicians. They had their “theories”, but never bothered or even cared to see the impact to the classrooms and dinner tables. In the age of supporting claims with evidence, we were asked to use blind faith to follow an education policy that would benefit corporations at the expense of the students.   Their rhetoric has lost its magic, their numbers simply don’t add up, and it turns out their King is nothing more than a jester.


While we continue to fight the attacks from outside our communities, the goal must be to rebuild from within.


Last year’s devastation has become this year’s hope.




The formula for NY teacher evals is revealed!

A study from the Bookings Institute concludes what many have already known for quite sometime, student test scores play a significant role in determining the value of homes.

Now that test scores have fallen across the state of NY, they will no longer factor into the value of homes as they have in the past.  Imagine a realtor trying to use a district’s 46% passing rate as a talking point to prospective homebuyers?

If test scores can no longer be a dominating factor in determining the value of homes, what will replace it?  NYSED Commissioner John King has the answer- teacher ratings!

On October 22, 2013 John King claimed, “the state will release the breakdown of teachers’ scores by district in “late fall or early winter,”  along with a more detailed analysis of scores of every teacher in NY.  In a false accountability scale, most teachers made the grade.  With 70% of students failing the tests, many districts have taken it upon themselves to increase the “rigor” of teacher evaluations so that teachers’ ratings more accurately reflect student scores on flawed high-stakes tests.  Teachers are left with the herculean task of having more students pass and by much greater margins.  Ultimately, teachers’ ratings will fall because they have no control over constantly changing cut scores.

As John King continually points out during his forums, so much of the responsibility is in the hands of the local districts.  In an effort to produce minimal/short-term gains through a “rigorous” resetting of expected student growth, districts are about to cause long-term damage to the value of their homes.  Would you move into a district with 100% effective and highly effective teachers or 78%?  Districts need to resist the urge of falling on their own swords for a king that will not support them.

For 2013-14 and 2014-15- if a teacher is rated “ineffective” or “developing, Governor Cuomo has agreed to remove the state tests (20%).  The locally selected test moves up from 20% to 40% of the teacher evaluation.  If a district uses state tests for local scores (many did this to save students from having to take additional tests, especially in the K-2 range), they will use observation for 100% of the scores.

None of this makes sense, but it makes lots of dollars for corporations.  Through these unfunded mandates, we are removing the funding for instruction/class sizes and placing it into a system of accountability that clearly does not work for students.


Twitter: lacetothetop


One child’s rigor is another child’s mental breakdown

The most valuable assessments in schools today is the running record. Running records measure both fluency and comprehension for each student. From this data, teachers can determine the appropriate level to instruct a child in reading. Teachers can also determine the child’s “frustration” level. “Frustration” is determined when a child’s accuracy falls below 90% or there is a complete lack of comprehension. Testing young children to the point of “frustration” may sound inhumane, but it is for a very brief moment in time and the assessment is done in a 1:1 setting. The teacher can end the assessment at any point.

Teachers are well aware of the reading levels for each child in their classroom. They are also aware of each child’s “frustration” level. While it is good practice to instruct students at or above their reading levels, it makes no sense at all to test a child for 3 days and over 500 minutes with text levels that are clearly defined at or above “frustration” level. Yet, that is exactly what the NYSED Common Core tests are all about. While Pearson and NYSED continue to produce costly and time consuming assessments, classroom teachers and parents have all the data they need. In the quest of rigor, we have abandoned common sense and the best teaching practices.

One child’s rigor is another child’s mental breakdown.

Forget the Politicians & Get Your Schools Back

NY school children will start the year with Cuomo as their Governor, Common Core as their standards, high-stakes testing as their measuring stick, John King as their Commissioner of Ed (?) , and their teachers will be tied to a system that no one can make sense of.

We have been screaming, “HELP” but the politicians are not listening. If we keep waiting for politicians to save us, we will continue to be disappointed. The change we seek can only come from within.

The success we have seen this year has been on the local level. Rather than walk away broken and discouraged, green laced students were prepared for the year. Green laced students started the year feeling brilliant and spent every school day proving it. Green laced teachers refused to see their students as tests scores. Instead, they saw their students as the hope and promise of this country. Green laced teachers refused to enter a competition with their colleagues and instead embraced collaboration with a focus on best practices- not flawed test scores. Green laced parents didn’t doubt their children because of test scores and many refused to have their students subject to them. In a system designed to show our students as failures- parents, teachers, and students have united in a bold and impossible symbol to ignore- green laces.

This movement desperately wants to swing for the fences and hit a homerun. Homeruns gather attention, but don’t always win games.  Forget the politicians and get your schools back.

As one

Good Neighbors

The grass is not greener on my neighbor’s lawn. He has crabgrass, bare spots, and clover. A few years ago he did not put Christmas lights up. Sometimes he does not say hi to me when I am outside. We are on opposite ends of the political spectrum on some issues. We come from different types of families. We raise our kids differently. He went to state school. He is a Jets fan. He is short. He is awesome.

Our conversations which are often mumbled grunts and distracted waves from our driveways coming from or going to someplace with three kids in tow are not a measure of what it is like to live next door to my neighbor. After Sandy, we worked together to protect our neighborhood against looting. When they heavy snows fell, we shoveled together through the night. He mows all the way to my driveway, not to the end of his property line, and I fertilize his lawn whenever I do mine.

We push each other to cross experience off our bucket lists. While he was training for an Ironman Triathlon, I was working on my dissertation. He was inspired to take the next step in his career and I was inspired to not be out of shape.

Good fences make good neighbors. Good neighbors with boundaries and respect make good neighborhoods. Good neighborhoods make great kids. Great kids will remember the fun they had on lawns in their green laces. They won’t remember who fought the crabgrass, bare spots, and clover.Image


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