Shifting Gears
Using the CCSS, PARCC and Educator Evaluation to Drive Student Achievement
(PowerPoints and Videos)

FAQs from Parking Lot Questions generated at Shifting Gears Conferences

General questions:

Q:  What are the 3 - 4 most valuable and helpful books and / or articles to start a district conversation on Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and / or Teacher Evaluation?

A: The number of books and articles on the CCSS, assessment and teacher evaluation is steadily growing. The best way to find a book or article that will meet your needs on these topics is to click on any of the major bookseller websites (i.e., Amazon.com), enter the appropriate term (i.e. Common Core, PARCC assessments, teacher evaluation etc.) and peruse the list of suggested titles.

 For appropriate articles, look to national professional development organizations (i.e. ASCD) or education associations (i.e. NEA or AFT). You may also find helpful book reviews by other educators and/or researches at these sites.

 Also, you can find references to books, articles and website resources on many of the educator blog sites connected to professional development websites or individuals who have posted comments and content for others to use.

English Language Learners:

Q:  How can I prepare my English Language Learners (ELL) to succeed on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) Math assessments if their reading comprehension is behind grade level and may affect their performance?

A:  English language learners face the challenge of developing their academic language proficiency in English at the same time that they must master challenging academic subjects and are held to the same standards as their grade-level English speaking peers.  The challenge for teachers is to understand their students' linguistic needs and how to develop "undiluted" subject matter understandings by using effective learning scaffolds across language proficiency levels that make the math concepts comprehensible.  For teachers preparing ELL students for the PARCC Math assessment, this involves helping students to acquire the language to explain their problem solving and reasoning and providing multiple visual and language-reduced formats through which they may explain and justify their solutions to math problems.  Some strategies that teachers may use include the following:

  • Providing opportunities for active participation in the classroom by drawing on various resources, including use of native language materials, and having mathematical discussions in their  native language;
  • Using scaffolds to facilitate students' communication;
  • Maintaining the high cognitive expectations demanded of all students; and
  • Providing students with multiple, scaffolded opportunities to engage with and understand complex, unadapted mathematical text.

Q:  What resources and supports are available for English Language Learners (ELL) to help them succeed with Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)?

A:  Resources have been developed by the NJDOE and also by the organizations involved in the creation of the CCSS.

The NJDOE has created ELL Model Curriculum scaffolds that are based on the CCSS.  These scaffolds provide teachers with tools to meet ELLs at varying levels of proficiency.  They are specific to grade level and can be found under the "English Language Arts" and "Mathematics" tabs on the NJ Department of Education website at http://www.nj.gov/education/modelcurriculum/.  Spanish-translated math assessments are also available for each unit.

The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers have provided a guidance document to assist teachers as they support ELL students during the implementation of the CCSS.  This document lists suggestions and best practices for ELLs in English Language Arts and Mathematics.  It can be found at: http://www.corestandards.org/assets/application-for-english-learners.pdf.

Stanford University's "Understanding Language" website contains a set of resources that address language and ELL issues and examines the critical role that language plays in the Common Core State Standards http://ell.stanford.edu/about.

Q:  How do I present the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) to my students who are from multiple entry points?

A:  Educators need to maintain the cognitive demand of a task as they differentiate the language of instruction and assessment regardless of their students' level of language proficiency.    Teachers must ensure that English Language Learners' (ELL) master the academic student learning objectives and corresponding mental processes, and that they are given the opportunity to engage with concepts and express themselves with their current language skills.  For example, students may have to compare and contrast different points of view in a narrative. The mental process involved in doing so is analysis. At an entering level of language proficiency, although students can analyze, they do not yet have the language necessary to process extended texts. They can, however, locate familiar words and phrases in context and then analyze whether they indicate a point of view. (WIDA 2012 Amplified ELD Standards http://wida.us/standards/eld.aspx)

WIDA's CAN DO Descriptors are a resource for understanding the language acquisition process and for differentiating classroom instruction and assessment in a way that is aligned to students' current English language proficiency (ELP) levels. The CAN DO Descriptors contain ideas for providing instruction in English that are matched to each student's grade and ELP level in each language domain.

Special Education

Q:  What are the modifications allowed for my special education students to help them master the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)?

A:  Modifications for instruction of students with disabilities in the CCSS are determined by each student's IEP team.  Students receiving special education are expected to learn the CCSS with whatever modifications the IEP team determines appropriate to facilitate the student's progress.  Sources for accommodations, modifications and interventions to facilitate mastery of the CCSS may be found at http://www.state.nj.us/education/specialed/program.shtml.

Regarding PARRC assessments, a group of educators from PARRC member states developed a manual of accessibility features and accommodations that will be allowed for use during the administration of the PARRC assessments.  All students will be able to select accessibility features that they wish to use during the assessment. Accommodations will only be available to students who receive special education or services through Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.  The accommodations manual may be found at http://www.parcconline.org/parcc-accessibility-features-and-accommodations-manual.

Q:  What are the provisions for students with IEPs with regard to PARCC assessments?

The provisions in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and New Jersey Administrative Code regarding participation for students with IEPs in state assessments will apply to the PARCC  in the same way they apply currently to participation in the NJASK, HSPA and the APA.  All students with disabilities must be included in all general state assessment programs with appropriate accommodations or alternate assessments as necessary and indicated in their IEPs.  The Dynamic Learning Maps assessment (DLM) will replace the APA as the state alternate assessment for those students whose IEP teams determine that the PARCC is not appropriate.  Criteria for IEP teams to use in determining whether a student should participate in the PARCC or the DLM are being developed.

PARCC Assessment:

Q:  What website contains resources that can help me prepare my students for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)?

A:  The PARCC website provides the most current and comprehensive information regarding the PARCC assessment (http://www.parcconline.org/).   If you register (see the "Stay Informed:  Keep up with what's happening at PARCC") you will receive automatic updates every time new information is posted.

Q:  Which grade levels will be taking the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) in 2014-2015?

A:  PARCC tests will replace NJASK and HSPA in school year 2014 – 2015.  For grades 3-8, there will be English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematic assessments. There will also be end-of-course exams for English 9, 10, 11 and Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II. (Please note:  For members of the graduating cohort of 2015 who did not pass the HSPA on their first try as juniors during school year 2013 – 2014, HSPA retakes will be available during school year 2014 – 2015).

Q:  What level of proficiency in keyboarding will be needed by students to take the PARCC assessments?

A:  Students in all grade levels will be expected to use a keyboard to enter their answers, so students should be familiar with the keyboards on the devices that they will use in testing.

Q:  Will high school students take the end-of-course (EOC) as well as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)? Will it depend on what courses they have completed?

A:  The PARCC assessments at the high school level are the EOC exams.  Districts will schedule students for the EOC exams based on when the student has covered the content.

Q:  Will we be able to pilot test the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) with our staff with sample online tests, test limits, practice with procedures, prior to administering to our students?

A: There will be an extensive PARCC field test in 2013 – 2014 across the state.  Additionally, a full practice exam will also be available in the spring of 2014 for all schools.  Also, PARCC began releasing prototype items on its website in August, 2012, with new items released in August, 2013 (see http://www.parcconline.org/samples/item-task-prototypes).

English Language Arts

Q:  How do I find publishers that provide the complex texts for various grade levels to meet the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) reading standards?

A:  One way to find appropriately complex text is to use an Internet search engine to locate the major English Language Arts (ELA) publishers. Then, preview the major publishers' websites to see the availability of complex text for each grade level. The reading series from major publishers are also aligned with the Common Core.

In addition, you could review the Council of Chief State School Officers' (CCSSO) report, "Supplemental Information for Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards" (http://www.corestandards.org/assets/E0813_Appendix_A_New_Research_on_Text_Complexity.pdf).
There, you will find a list of companies that quantitatively rate texts according to grade level. For example, you can navigate to the "ATOS Readability" by Renaissance Learning (http://www.arbookfind.com/). At the ATOS site, you can search a wide selection of texts used in schools, both literary and nonfiction, to match texts with grade levels. ATOS even allows you to search their collections per grade level. ATOS Readability is just one of numerous companies that evaluate the readability of texts. You can search through the list of companies in the CCSSO's document and find one that works for you and your school district's needs.

Q:  How do I provide complex texts for students in my 8th grade classroom whose reading levels range from first to seventh grade?

A: The reality of having students with a wide range of reading levels in one class can raise a teacher's level of concern. However, with the appropriate resources and instructional approaches, teachers can meet the needs of all students and move them to mastery of the CCSS. Three instructional approaches that have been shown to work with mixed-ability classrooms include: a.) Differentiated Instruction; b.) Guided Reading; and c.) Targeted Intervention.
Educator Carol Ann Tomlinson (1999) emphasizes that differentiation in the classroom means "seeing students as individuals." Tomlinson suggests that teachers differentiate in three primary areas:

  • Content (what students need to learn);
  • Process (how they will learn it);  and / or
  • Products (how they will show what they have learned).

For example, if the curriculum requires that students read the Common Core exemplar text, The Diary of Anne Frank: A Play, by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, the teacher could provide the struggling students with a lexically simpler version of the text to read for homework. Then, in class, those students who read the lexically simpler text could also be exposed to the Goodrich and Hackett version.
In terms of process, a teacher might employ the following reading strategies:

  • Provide graphic organizers to assist with reading comprehension;
  • Preview academic vocabulary before reading begins;
  • Model for students how to conduct a close reading of text;
  • Teach students to monitor for meaning;
  • Teach students to generate questions while reading;
  • Teach students to determine what's important while reading;

With regard to products, in addition to a narrative, expository, or argumentative essay, a teacher could offer students various ways of showing they know content through the formative assessment process.  For instance, a teacher could design formative assessments according to Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences (resources listed below).

A second instructional approach for helping students in a mixed ability classroom is "guided reading." Fountas and Pinnell (1996) defined guided reading as "small-group reading instruction designed to provide differentiated teaching that supports students in developing reading proficiency."  In the guided reading method, a teacher forms small groups of students with similar reading abilities.  In these small, homogenous groups, a teacher is able to target reading instruction and scaffold students' reading capabilities.   For students, guided reading means "reading and talking (and sometimes writing) about an interesting and engaging variety of fiction and nonfiction texts."  For teachers, guided reading means "taking the opportunity for careful text selection and intentional and intensive teaching of systems of strategic activity for proficient reading" (Fountas and Pinnell, 1996).

A third approach to assisting struggling students in a mixed ability classroom is "targeted intervention," a subset of guided reading.  One system of targeted intervention is called the "Response to Intervention" or (RTI) approach.  RTI is defined as "a multi-tier[ed] approach to the early identification and support of students with learning and behavior needs" (RTI Action Network, 2013).  In the RTI approach, a classroom can be thought of as having three reading tiers.  In Tier 1, all students receive quality, research-based reading instruction.  In the Tier 2, "students not making adequate progress in the regular classroom in Tier 1 are provided with increasingly intensive instruction matched to their needs on the basis of levels of performance and rates of progress."  Lastly, in Tier 3, the most intensive level, "students receive individualized, intensive interventions that target the students' skill deficits."  In this last tier, students receive very personalized attention in terms of improving reading comprehension.

For more resources on effective reading instruction, you might wish to review the following: