November 2016 Articles

11/18/2016

Connecting Dots: Standards, Tests and Preparing Students for Success

By: Chris Woolard

When I talk to my family and friends about the work we do at the Ohio Department of Education, it usually only takes a few minutes for their eyes to glaze over. And while I believe that technical conversation about curriculum, standards, assessments and results is important, that conversation doesn’t always capture the reality of what is happening in schools and what it means for our kids. That is why it is so important to think through some practical examples and how the system builds toward students’ future success.

As I did in my previous blog post, I find it helpful to think of this through my role as a parent. So in non-technical terms…what is all this stuff parents are hearing about? Standards are the things that my kids need to know and be able to do, and these things are important to their future success. The curriculum is the way a school chooses to teach that important information and is selected by teachers, schools and districts — not the state. Schools in different parts of the state may choose to teach this information in different ways. State tests are an important marker in gauging how well students are learning this info. School and district report cards give parents and communities information on how well schools are doing. And all these pieces build on each other.

So, let’s look at some real examples…

Ohio's Learning Standards are essentially statements of important things that we think that all Ohio students should know and be able to do. There are some really important things that 4th graders need to know. The fourth grade math standards have a focus on measurement and data. Some of the specific standards include:

Solve problems involving measurement and conversion of measurements from a larger unit to a smaller unit.

This includes:
  1. Know relative sizes of measurement units within one system of units including km, m, cm; kg, g; lb, oz.; l, ml; hr, min, sec.
  2. Use the four operations to solve word problems involving distances, intervals of time, liquid volumes, masses of objects, and money, including problems involving simple fractions or decimals, and problems that require expressing measurements given in a larger unit in terms of a smaller unit
  3. Apply the area and perimeter formulas for rectangles in real world and mathematical problems. For example, find the width of a rectangular room given the area of the flooring and the length, by viewing the area formula as a multiplication equation with an unknown factor.

So in fourth grade, students should know the various measurement units and be able to apply them — this is an important real-world skill. Many schools are now implementing standards-based report cards that give parents feedback on how well students are progressing on these standards.

Then at the end of fourth grade, students take Ohio’s State Tests, which examine how well fourth graders can demonstrate knowledge of those standards. Here is an example from the spring 2016 fourth grade test:

In that example, students are demonstrating their knowledge of these measurement units.

But that is not the end of the story, the system builds on these concepts as students progress through their school years. In seventh grade, middle schoolers are performing more complex calculations. In this example from the spring 2016 seventh grade test, students are asked to apply knowledge of measurement to a circle:

As students continue to progress, the standards help them prepare for life after high school. All students will be taking the ACT (and/or the SAT), and many will be moving on to college. Here is a practice question from the ACT:

Remember that standard from fourth grade where students must “Apply the area and perimeter formulas for rectangles in real-world and mathematical problems”? Here they are, demonstrating that exact same knowledge on the ACT.

The skills and knowledge that students gain early in their school lives builds and prepares them for success. Standards-based report cards give feedback on progress along the way. The state gives school report cards that let parents and communities know how well schools and districts are doing with these important content standards. So for example, the community can see how well students are doing on those fourth grade standards such as working with units of measurement of distance, weight and time. In this example, the school is meeting expectations in fourth grade math:

My middle child is now in fifth grade, but he worked on those important skills last year and I am glad he did. He is going to need them.

Sometimes, discussion of education policy is technical, but education is really personal. It is about our kids and making sure they are ready for the future. Visit these links for more information on Ohio’s Learning Standards, assessments and report cards.

Chris Woolard is senior executive director for Accountability and Continuous Improvement for the Ohio Department of Education. You can learn more about Chris by clicking here.

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11/10/2016

GUEST BLOG: What is Computational Thinking and Why is It Important? A New Role for Students — Megan Brannon, Garaway Local Schools

By: Guest Blogger

Computational ThinkingIn today’s technology-driven world, the role of the student is changing. Teaching used to be focused on learning facts, but now we are changing how we teach so that students can do more than just learn information…they use the information! Students today are less fact-memorizers and more innovators, creators and thinkers. They are learning to think outside the box and apply that to real-world problems. Because of this, we have seen a recent influx in the last four to five years in the amount of “computer programming” seen in both elementary and secondary schools.

Computer programming allows students to learn programming languages, which are integral to many jobs of the future. Programming (also known as “coding”) allows students to learn skills like explanatory writing, problem solving and a plethora of other skills applicable to the real world as a 21st century student. It also lets students refine their mathematics abilities. With coding, students are using computers to create worlds where only their imaginations can limit them.

Computational thinking is a cornerstone in all coding programs today. This step-by-step cognitive strategy is important for students to learn in order to become successful. It is a method that teaches students to think as if they are computers. With computational thinking, students are taught how to approach new information and new problems. Trust me…this strategy is not just for computer science classrooms! It is broken down into four steps: decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction and algorithms.

Decomposition

Decomposition is when you break something down into its basic parts. This is an important skill because it teaches students how to become better learners by breaking large pieces of information into small chunks. It’s like taking small bites of a steak instead of trying to eat the entire steak in one gulp.

Pattern recognition

Pattern recognition is when students find order to something and then analyze (follow) the pattern to the logical answer. Pattern matching teaches students to look for commonalities between things. Then, once students see what is the same in the problem, they also can look for differences that might lead them toward an answer.

As humans, we tend to search for patterns in things in order to make sense of them. I find that this step is the easiest and most natural to teach to students. We teach children to sense and continue patterns from an early age.

Abstraction

Abstraction is taking the differences that students have found in the last step (pattern recognition) and then discounting them because they didn’t fit the pattern. Abstraction is important because students typically assume that all the information they have been given in a problem is typically going to be used to solve the problem, which isn’t necessarily true.

Removing unfit or unhelpful information is truly a valuable skill for students to have. It’s not only teaching them to double check information; it’s also teaching them to edit themselves and look for true solutions to a problem.

Algorithms

An algorithm is basically a list of procedural steps to complete a task. With this process, after figuring out the problem, students create steps to solve the problem set before them. Students should be able to write algorithms so that anyone can follow their directions to complete the task or solve a problem.

Why the computational thinking method?

As a K-6 computer teacher, I was first introduced to the concept of computational thinking through the Code.org curriculum that teaches computer science skills to students in grades K-5. Since then, many more learning modules have been added to cover more grade levels, but the foundational skills remain the same. All of my computer science students in grades K-5 learn the basics of computational thinking as well as giving step-by-step directions (algorithms) with this program.

I can honestly say that the first introduction to this lesson was difficult for even my higher level of students. As educators (myself as well), we tend to give students problems without teaching the method of problem solving explicitly. This method not only helps students with math and science challenges, but it helps them to become better thinkers across the board. Additionally, teaching students this cognitive strategy gives them something (in my experience) that is lacking in education today: dedication. The steps involved with computational thinking help students to “keep working” or “keep trying” to solve a problem. Our society tends to deliver information and solutions at the speed of light, so our kiddos aren’t used to sitting down and working toward a solution for an extended period of time — or sitting down and working at a problem that takes longer because it could have multiple solutions. Dedication and conviction to one’s work is most definitely a skill of the 21st century.

Why the four steps?

After teaching this method for a few years now, I have found that my students are much more detail oriented because they have learned how to decompose a problem. Breaking a problem into parts allows students to better explain their thoughts and ideas to both myself and each other. In that way, students also turn into better explanatory writers. This also is true for the algorithm step in the process. Breaking down a problem (decomposing) and then turning it into directions (algorithms) are key skills that can be used across subjects.

Additionally, the concepts of pattern matching and abstraction are ideal for an educational setting, especially when you understand how the brain works. When we learn a new topic, we put it into a category in our brain (activate a schema/prior knowledge). This is like pattern matching — we are looking for other things with the same pattern somewhere in our memory bank. Research says that activating schema helps students understand and remember information better because it fits into a pattern or category we already comprehend. In this way, I believe that teaching students to pattern match and abstract teaches them to put things in categories in their brains so that they cannot only comprehend and remember the problem at hand, but they can process it easier as well.

Classroom resources

Below I have listed some links for resources on this concept. Check out the Code.org Lesson on Computational Thinking as an introduction. There is an accompanying video that helps to explain the concept very well!

Teachers Pay Teachers Products

Adult Literature

Children’s Literature (K-5)

Megan Brannon is a K-6 computer teacher at Garaway Local Schools. You can contact Megan by clicking here.

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11/3/2016

Credentials Count: Identifying Ohio’s Industry Credentials and How You Can Get Involved

By: Emily Passias

IRC.jpgSeveral weeks ago, the Ohio Department of Education released the 2016-2017 list of approved industry-recognized credentials, and I shared a little about why credentials are important for students, schools, businesses and communities. The credentials allow students to qualify for high school graduation through the credential and WorkKeys pathway, as well as give schools and districts credit for their efforts to prepare students for careers on their report cards. Today, I want to dig a little deeper into how we identify credentials for the list and how you can get involved in the process.

Which industry credentials?

All credentials are not created equal. Some credentials are the gatekeeper to employment — if you don’t have it, you’re not getting the job. One example of this is a state cosmetology license. If you want to work in Ohio as a cosmetologist, you must obtain the license first. It’s necessary for employment.

Other credentials fall into the “nice to have” category. These credentials validate that potential employees can perform particular tasks or have particular knowledge and skills. Employers use them in their hiring processes and may give applicants preference over those without the credentials.

And yet other credentials exist that, frankly, don’t have much value in the labor market at all. Employers don’t use or value them, and some aren’t even aware of them.

So, how do we decide which credentials to include in our system? We don’t want to encourage students to spend time, energy and money earning credentials that aren’t valued by employers — that doesn’t serve our students or our Ohio businesses well. The key is to encourage credentials that are in demand by Ohio employers.

When reviewing and updating the approved industry-recognized credential list, we identify those in-demand credentials in two ways. First, we use Ohio’s in-demand job list to identify Ohio’s most pressing labor market needs. Tying the industry credential list to Ohio’s in-demand jobs is key — as I mentioned above, earning credentials that aren’t valuable in the labor market doesn’t serve Ohio’s students or Ohio’s businesses.

We then scour job ads for those in-demand jobs to identify credentials that Ohio employers are asking for. Once we’ve identified the credentials tied to Ohio’s in-demand jobs, we do additional research on those credentials. What are the requirements to get the credential? Is it used as a standalone credential or as part of a stackable series or bundle of credentials needed for employment? We use that information to finalize the industry credential list and the point values associated with those credentials within the graduation pathway.

The second way we identify credentials for addition to the list is via application. Educators, business people and community members at large are invited to submit applications to the Department for credentials to be considered for the list. The main criteria, as set by the State Board of Education, is that credentials added to the list have evidence of significant and ongoing employer demand, at least at the regional level. The application window to submit credentials for consideration for next year’s list is open through Dec. 31. 

Between our identification of credentials tied to Ohio’s in-demand jobs and credentials added via the application process, Ohio’s approved credential list contains more than 200 approved industry-recognized credentials!

In my next post, I’ll discuss new and innovative opportunities to build programs that help seniors earn industry credentials as part of their pathways to graduation and success in their future careers.

Let’s keep the conversation going!

  • I’d love to hear your thoughts on industry-recognized credentials and helping students be prepared for success.
  • How are you communicating with families about industry-recognized credentials and the credential pathway to graduation?
  • What are you doing locally to help students earn credentials?

How can we restructure the high school years, or the delivery of career-technical education programming, to ensure that students have the time and opportunities to get the critical, work-based learning experiences needed to qualify for many credentials?

Dr. Emily Passias is director of the Office of Career-Technical Education at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on state policies aimed at preparing students for college and careers.

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