It’s that Testing Time of Year!

Well, the holidays are over, and it’s the standardized testing time of the year! As a teacher and a learner, I wish with all my heart this wasn’t necessary….that students’ understanding and progress could be measured by individually through completely authentic strategies, such as portfolio analysis or a variety of testing formats differentiated to fit diverse types of intelligence strengths.

The struggle is real

The struggle is real

However, authentic assessment is time consuming, labor intensive, difficult to do electronically and, therefore, not feasible for the yearly measurement of progress demanded by government entities and taxpayers who fund public schools.

Standardized testing in schools has been conducted for as long as I can remember, way back when I was the kid filling in bubbles with a number 2 pencil. Those multiple choice tests were extremely limited in their ability to authentically assess students’ understanding of content or progress in academic skills.

Today’s Smarter Balanced Assessments ( are a great improvement, in terms of authentic measurement, over standardized tests of previous decades. There are still many multiple choice test items, but both the English Language Arts and Math tests have an adapted component that changes test items, getting harder or easier depending individual student’s performance on each question. There is also a ‘performance task’ component for both English Language Arts and Math which require writing and problem solving, which are inherently more authentic ways to demonstrate students’ understanding and knowledge of content.

There are challenges associated with this more differentiated, authentic type of assessment; students as young as 3rd grade must be able to type. They must also have at least basic computer using skills such as navigating, clicking, and clicking-dragging with a mouse. Many children, especially those from lower socioeconomic households, may not have much experience with computers and other digital tools, which can create test bias. Test bias was discussed in scientific literature in the 70’s in regard to test design and content that resulted in many minority students’ abilities and aptitudes being underestimated, largely because test item content often related to the dominant, mainstream culture and not to minority cultures (Reynolds & Suzuki, 2003). While there has been much improvement in this regard, with test designers striving to create assessments that are culturally relevant to many cultures, the fact that the current assessments are conducted completely online may make them more challenging for students with less digital experience and expertise.

Dr. Ardys Reverman and me, Dr. Lisa Rodriguez, have recently unveiled a new, 100% online course offered through Portland State University by CTCourses, SBAC Success: Preparing Students for the Smarter Balanced Test , gives teachers and their students a sneak peak at the tests, including test taking strategies, online games and tools to develop necessary skills, and video guidance through each component: English Language Arts and Math Computer Adapted Tests and Performance Tasks. Not only does the course prepare teachers and help them prepare their students for the SBAC tests, 5 units of undergraduate or graduate credits can be earned for degree or licensure.unnamed (3)

Comments, questions, and suggestions in regard to the course and the topic of SBAC assessments are appreciated! Teachers who have administered the SBAC to students previously, share your experiences and insights….let’s help each other help our students perform at their maximum potential.

SBAC Success: Preparing Students for the Smarter Balanced Test

Reynolds, C. & Suzuki, L. (2003). Bias in psychological assessment: An empirical review and recommendations. Retrieved from  

21st Century Skills – Communication


“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that is has taken place.”       ~George Bernard Shaw

Every morning, the moment we wake up, we begin to communicate. It may be with an exuberant yawn, or a disparaging grunt. We stumble to the kitchen to make ourselves a cup of coffee or tea either in silence or small talk with our families. We choose the outfit we will wear for work. We get stuck in traffic, perhaps honk our horns, or yell obscenities at other drivers. We arrive at work. We have bosses and subordinates. There is verbal communication and even written and then we go home, go to sleep and do it all over again the next day.

We are communicating every moment of our life in some away or another. Everything we do and say, even our expressions, and actions are communication with others, and often others will respond in kind.

There is no escape from communication, especially as human beings are highly social animals. It is not just that we “communicate” it is how.

Communication starts with self-awareness. Am I having a good day? Am I happy? How do I feel? If we cannot understand ourselves and communicate our internal feelings, how is it possible to communicate with others? It is so easy in conflict with others to blame the other person for misunderstanding your point, but think on it…How were you speaking? How were you standing? What were your choice of words?

It is lack of communication that destroys relationships and opportunities. It is also the lack of understanding how we are communicating. Therapists and experts of written books and gave seminars on best communication practices but the core factor is understanding the self.

communication 21st century

Communication is a vital skill in the 21st century especially in lieu of digital technology. That personal touch is often lost as we hide away behind computers, talk to one another via text messages and chats.

The paradox of today’s world is that communication is expanding through solitude. We can sit in the privacy of our homes and communicate with hundreds of people around the world. In doing so, it is easy to lose our true identity, create new personas with little responsibility for our actions and words.

Positive communication however is vital to progress and peace. We need to learn to understand ourselves and others in order to communicate in such a way that we are not creating more harm and havoc.

Classroom Technology – Learn Before You Leap

Businessman running with blue screen computer error

Technology is expanding faster than our society’s evolution. Much of these new technologies have consumers spinning and craving the next trend or fad and it makes it even hard to for educators to decide what is needed in the classroom. Before we can even entertain bringing technology into the classroom, we have to have more than just knowledge of digital technology, we have to understand the foundations and platforms for which it is built.

Philosophy not Technology

“It is philosophy not technology that should make the difference in the classroom?”  ~Dr. Allen Glenn

In the Technology Toolkit course, practical tips were advised in regards to introducing computers (Mac/iPads) to the classroom. As reviewed in the comments, many teachers requested learning more about Microsoft PC’s, while others recommended the use Chromebooks. All of which have their pros and cons but at the heart of this course is understanding not just how technology works and which one to use, but what is its place in the classroom? Which technology is right for my curriculum and how should we use it.

Some may approach technology as an all or nothing event, yet careful consideration needs to be taken when introducing it not just into the classroom, but into our lives.  We need to look beyond the curriculums, beyond our subject matter and understand the student body. We need to understand their socio-economic status, their overall digital literacy and their abilities. Some classes may be ready for technology in the classroom and others may need the slow approach.

Connecting with Nature

Beautiful young happy Woman playing with butterfly outdoors

“In nature we never see anything isolated but everything in connection with something else, which is before it, beside it, over it and under it.” ~ Goethe

Connecting with nature is different from learning about nature. Here we will reintroduce our human connection to nature. Where did it start and how did it end?

The theory of the big bang and evolution divulges all of life on this planet and it comes from the sun’s energy. All of life was born in the seas as single-celled organism and evolved to what we have become today. In a sense, Mother Nature, or Mother Earth actually did give birth to mankind. We were born of her salty, ocean womb, slithered out onto land and eventually evolved into human beings. Within this context, we are a kin to nature and not separate. All of nature could be considered our siblings.

As homo sapiens evolved through time to the beings we are today, we have gone through radical changes in order to survive. We didn’t have the speed as some of our predators or prey. We couldn’t outrun a Saber Tooth tiger. We would have likely been lunch. We weren’t small enough to escape into tiny crevices to escape, we didn’t have wings to fly away and we didn’t have a thick fur to keep us warm. What homo sapiens developed was cognitive power. We had the ability to build, create and invent. It was our evolving brains, which led to our survival as a species.

Building shelters, inventing weapons, and discovering fire may have been the first steps in disconnecting with nature. Our powers of thinking, innovation and invention created the separation. We no longer had to bear the elements. We could build houses for shelter. We built wheels to escape, walls to keep nature away. We could kill without getting close to the animal or even another human being. Life for humans grew at a distance with nature.

Humanity continued this innovation power through the centuries giving rise to great civilizations. The more inventive we became the further away from nature we grew. Everything we created was designed to keep nature at bay. Today, we have conquered most frontiers where there is no place for nature to go. We have separated ourselves from nature to an extreme that when we see it in our back yards, our instinct still is to hunt and kill. We exterminate insects and bees that are important for pollination. We kill weeds with pesticides to keep our lawns pristine and any critters, fearful their tiny presence may interfere with our comfortable existence.

No matter how much we try to squeeze nature out of our lives, we need it desperately. We need nature to survive. We need clean air to breath and clean water to drink. We need plants, not just for food but for photosynthesis. We need the wildlife, the birds, the fish, the bees, and the plankton in the sea. As the human body is perfect within it’s biology, so is the world nature provided. Life as we know is dependent on the success of the entire biosphere. When we destroy the tiniest of cells, plants, insects or birds we are killing a part of ourselves.

“But I’ll tell you what hermits realize.  If you go far, far into the forest and get very quiet you will come to understand you are connected with everything.” ~ Alan Watts


Is IQ Destiny?

A lot has been made of IQ. But how important is it? Not nearly as much as we once thought.

Our view of human intelligence is far too narrow. It ignores a crucial range of multiple intelligence abilities.

Mental dexterity is not the only measure of higher-order thinking. Self-awareness, self-discipline and empathy are different–but important–ways of being smart.

Recent groundbreaking behavioral research shows how much multiple intelligence abilities matter. These studies explain why people of high IQ may flounder and those of modest IQ can do surprisingly well in their lives.

The first step in applying these insights to your teaching is to shift mental models. Mental models are beliefs that drive what we do and how we do it. These beliefs are so deeply ingrained that we often aren’t even aware of them.

Consider two different mental models that a teacher could have about her students.

In one case, a teacher believes that her students are blank slates. Here are some of the ways a teacher who holds that belief might think and behave:

  • I must present the material correctly.
  • I can tell when my students have learned because they know the right answers.
  • The more information the child can absorb, the better teacher I am.

Another teacher believes that students are active meaning makers. This teacher will have a different set of behaviors/thoughts:

  • I have to create learning experiences that allow children of many styles and ability levels to benefit.
  • As much as possible, the children need to be challenged to ask their own questions and research the possible answers.
  • I can tell that my students have learned when they can actively describe what they know to others.

Mindshift: What IQ Tests Miss explains how educators can shift from one mental model to the other. This is crucial to prepare children for a future that requires more creativity than ever before.