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2/23/2017

Locating Information: WorkKeys, Credentials and Graduation

By: Steve Gratz

Picture1.pngNearly 34 years ago, I started my career as a teacher of agriculture. One of the foundational instructional units all teachers of agriculture taught was “soils.” While teaching the soils unit, I would have students bring in a soil sample from their fields or gardens, and we would determine the soil texture of the sample. Soil texture is the fineness or coarseness of a soil—it describes the proportion of three sizes of soil particles: 1) sand—large particle; 2) silt—medium-sized particle; or 3) clay—small particle. Soil texture is important because it affects water-holding capacity—the ability of a soil to retain water for use by plants; permeability—the ease with which air and water may pass through the soil; soil workability—the ease with which soil may be tilled and the timing of working the soil after a rain; and the ability of plants to grow (for example, some root crops, like potatoes and onions, will have difficulty growing in a fine-textured soil).

Once we determined the percentage of sand, silt and clay, we would use the Soil Texture Triangle to determine the type of soil the student sampled. For example, if a student’s sample was 75 percent sand, 15 percent silt and 10 percent clay, the soil would be a sandy loam as determined by the Soil Texture Triangle. The Soil Texture Triangle might seem a bit difficult to read initially, but once you are instructed on how to use it, it becomes rather simple.

This blog post is not designed to teach you how to test soil or determine soil types, but rather to illustrate an example of a question that could be included on WorkKeys—an assessment that measures workplace skills. The WorkKeys assessment combined with an industry-approved, in-demand credential will result in a pathway to graduation for students.

The WorkKeys Locating Information assessment includes four levels of difficulty (3, 4, 5 or 6). According to ACT’s website, Level 3 is the least complex and Level 6 is the most complex. The levels build on each other, each incorporating the skills assessed at the preceding levels. For example, Level 5 includes the skills used at Levels 3, 4 and 5. At Level 3, examinees look for information in simple graphics and fill in information that is missing from them.

The soil texture triangle question is a Level 6 question because the question is based on very complicated, detailed graphics in a challenging format. Examinees must notice the connections between graphics, they must apply the information to a specific situation and they must use the information to draw conclusions.

Characteristics of Level 6 Locating Information items:

  • Very complicated and detailed graphs, charts, tables, forms, maps and diagrams;
  • Graphics contain large amounts of information and may have challenging formats;
  • One or more graphics are used at a time; and
  • Connections between graphics may be subtle.

Skills required of Level 6 Locating Information items:

  • Draw conclusions based on one complicated graphic or several related graphics;
  • Apply information from one or more complicated graphics to specific situations; and
  • Use the information to make decisions.

Recently, I have been engaged in conversations with school administrators about the rigor of the WorkKeys assessment since it can result in a pathway to graduation for students. Through conversations, I find that most school administrators are unfamiliar with the WorkKeys assessment since it is new to the graduation pathway conversation. The WorkKeys assessment has been around for more than two decades and is supported by data from 20,000 job skills profiles and rooted in decades of workplace research. The WorkKeys assessment is based on situations in the everyday working world. It requires students to apply academic skills to correctly answer questions. WorkKeys can certify that students are ready for career success by measuring their skills, which will then help employers find, hire and develop quality talent.

I first took the WorkKeys assessment in 1996 and I received a composite score of 18. A score of 13 is required for students to qualify for graduation for the classes of 2018 and 2019. For the classes of 2020 and beyond, students will need a composite score of 14 or higher. The composite score is unique to Ohio and isn’t used by WorkKeys or other states. The composite score was established to not only ensure students are prepared for career success, but also so they can advance within their chosen pathways where advanced skills will be necessary.

I would encourage all educators to take the WorkKeys practice assessment to become familiar with the test. The practice test is free through OhioMeansJobs. Make sure you review the instructions prior to taking the assessment. On the official assessment you will be allowed to use a calculator and will be provided with a formula sheet of conversions similar to the one found by clicking here.

By the way, you can access numerous videos on the internet if you really want to learn how to determine the soil texture in your garden. You also can try your hand at answering a Level 6 Locating Information question using the Soil Texture Triangle.

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2/16/2017

Ensuring Student Safety: Understanding Ohio’s Background Checks

By: Julia Simmerer

The vision of the Department’s Center for the Teaching Profession is that all students have access to qualified, effective educators in safe, nurturing learning environments. Requiring our licensed educators to submit to regular background checks is one of ways we can help ensure Ohio’s educators share that vision.

Our Office of Professional Conduct frequently receives questions about Ohio’s background check requirements for licensed educators. Navigating through statutory requirements can be tedious and does not always provide practical guidance. Licensed educators and those applying for a license for the first time want to know what background checks they need to complete and when they are required.

Before getting into the requirements, it may be helpful to define the different types of background checks. By background checks, we simply mean a fingerprint check. Fingerprints are forwarded to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation (BCI) for processing, where they look at the applicant’s criminal history in Ohio. This is commonly referred to as a BCI check. BCI then forwards the fingerprints to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to check a person’s criminal history in all 50 states. This is commonly referred to as a FBI check.

The type(s) of fingerprint check(s) required is determined by whether the person is an initial applicant, renewing a license or permanent license holder.

Initial Applicants

A person applying for an initial license must complete both the BCI and FBI checks at the time the application is made. The checks must be no older than 365 days at the time they are used for initial licensure.

Renewing a License

Those renewing a license are only required to have an updated FBI check every five years, as long as the following two conditions are met: the person has previously completed a BCI check and the person has lived in Ohio for the last five years. If these conditions are not met, the applicant must complete both the BCI and FBI checks for their application. When the applicant submits to renew a license (and this applies to permanent license holders as well), the date the application is submitted determines whether the applicant has completed an FBI check within the preceding five years or whether the person needs to update that check.

Permanent License Holders

Any person who holds a permanent license is only required to have an updated FBI check every five years, as long as the person has previously completed a BCI check and has lived in Ohio for the last five years.

Hopefully this information provides a quick and easy to understand overview of background checks. If you want to explore this topic further, you can find detailed information about the process by clicking here.

Julia Simmerer is senior executive director of the Center for the Teaching Profession at the Ohio Department of Education, where she oversees the implementation of policies and programs that support Ohio’s teacher and leader corps. You can learn more about Julia by clicking here.

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1/25/2017

GUEST BLOG: Innovation Begins with the Problem — Dr. Susan Tave Zelman, Ohio Department of Education

By: Guest Blogger

Straight-A-Fund.pngIn four years with the Straight A Fund innovation project, I have been gifted with the experience of seeing some highly creative and effective changes to the way we do school across the state. Ohio’s Straight A Fund supports ideas from local educators to promote better learning and cost savings within schools and districts. Working with our projects has led me to understand not only what works on the path to improvement, but also some of the pitfalls and distractions that may interfere with solid innovative thinking.

Successful change starts by defining a problem. A problem may be some nagging area that demands a solution, but a problem, in innovation terms, may also be something that is currently working but could be improved. Defining a problem before we look for solutions may seem quite simple, obvious even. However, without thinking about what we want an innovation to accomplish, it is very easy to become sidetracked into adopting some shiny new solution that does wonderful things—but is not a good fit for our situation. In education, just as in our personal lives with things we purchase, new bells and whistles can sometimes be very appealing. But like a Christmas toy that is only played with for a few moments before it is cast aside, some attractive new education toys also fail to live up to expectations. They may be too difficult in comparison to their value, poorly understood by the students who use them or offering a solution to a problem we don’t have.

As an example of innovation working well, the Straight A Fund has created a number of technology solutions. These projects have purchased hardware and software and trained teachers to be able to use them. As we consider how well these projects put their new technology to use, it is clear that the ability to successfully use these innovations and keep using them over time is increased by understanding the distinction between technology “toys” and technology “tools.” Successful projects have put technology tools to use in solving a problem they identified up front. Problems that have been addressed using technological tools include the need to teach students in a classroom who all have different strengths and abilities or the need for small and rural districts to connect their students to a wide variety of courses.

Defining a problem may require that we take a careful look at the way things are—even things that have always been and seem to be working as expected. Transporting students to and from school is an example. One of our innovative projects has improved transportation at a lower cost by merging across districts and using software to lay out the most efficient routes, compute idle time and even track when students are picked up and dropped off. This first required them to think outside the box of what they were accustomed to (that every district must have their own transportation system). A bonus associated with that project was the launch of a mobile app to communicate with parents on whether their student’s bus is on time, running late or on the way. And, the savings they experience from innovation can help expand on other education programs.

One final understanding that is helpful to the identification of a problem is look at it locally. Research and data can help us spot general trends in education to be on the lookout for. But, they may still need to be considered in terms of how they impact our own district. As an example, the cause and strategies to address chronic absenteeism will vary for each district.

In 2017, we hope to see continuing innovation in schools across the state, building on what we have learned in the Straight A Fund innovation program.

Dr. Susan Tave Zelman is an executive director at the Ohio Department of Education and oversees the Straight A Fund. You can reach her at Susan.Zelman@education.ohio.gov.

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1/10/2017

Reflecting on Our Practice: Setting Goals

By: Virginia Ressa

As a new year begins, many of us set goals for improving ourselves or accomplishing something we have always wanted to do. Yet, so many of these New Year’s resolutions end up unfulfilled. I’ve asked myself, year after year, was I not committed enough? Did I pick the wrong goals? Did I not try hard enough? Did I just get lazy or distracted?

Research tells us that setting clear goals that are “SMART” is important to our success. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely. Though the acronym can be defined multiple ways (the A can be attainable or achievable), the big idea is that we set goals that are clear and within our reach. When we set a goal that is too far beyond our current ability it is likely that we will lose our focus and commitment before we meet the goal. Is running a marathon a realistic goal for you? Or should you start with the goal of running a 5K?

video1.jpgWe also need to know exactly what we are working toward – goals need to be clear and specific. “Get more exercise” is vague and can’t be tracked and measured. A more specific goal would be: “Build up to exercising three times a week by the end of March.” That is more specific, measurable, time-based and likely achievable.

You’ve probably already guessed where I’m going with this line of thinking – we can apply this same to setting goals with students. “Do better in math” is not the same as “earn an average of 80% correct on math facts practice sheets.” When we help students set goals that are specific and measurable they are more likely to achieve those goals. One of the most effective strategies is to make learning intentions clear. When learning intentions are clear, students understand what the expectations are and can track their progress towards those expectations. Consider our math facts example: a student who improves from 50% correct to 65% correct on their practice sheets can see progress and know they are moving in the right direction. If the goal had simply been to do better in math, the student would have seen some progress but without the benefit of knowing what the measure of better would be. Has she met her goal at 65%? Does she need to get 100% correct to be better? This confusion is akin to our adult who makes a resolution to get more exercise – there is no clear goal to tell them when they are successful.

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As with every teaching practice or strategy we talk about, this one is not fool proof and will not work in every situation. However, it is a strong guideline to keep in mind when setting goals. If we want our students to be successful and meet high expectations, we need to be clear with them about what success looks like and what those high expectations are. Otherwise they are muddling through a vague set of criteria, trying to do better, not knowing if they are improving and lacking a clear destination.

Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.

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12/21/2016

Teaching Students to Think for Themselves, Solve Problems and Think Critically

By: Steve Gratz

I spent most of my teenage years working on the farm. My experiences there naturally taught me how to solve problems, and we referred to this as “common sense.” We would even use the term to describe our more astute neighbors and friends who used good sense and sound judgment in practical matters.

As I think about my days working on the farm, I realize the agricultural way of life was built on a solid foundation of solving problems. Confronted with a unique problem, I could engineer a solution or temporarily jerry-rig it until I could get back to the shop for a permanent solution. I also remember the time one of my friends made a delivery of construction materials to a client and during the delivery he realized that he forgot a large box of nails. Instead of driving 30-miles back to the company, he simply purchased the large box of nails at a competitor’s store. He used good sense and sound judgment – common sense.

Like many of my friends, I developed my problem-solving skillset through work-based learning experiences throughout high school. In fact, I can’t remember a time during high school where I wasn’t working and serendipitously honing my ability to solve problems in the context of real-world situations.

In my 30+ years of education, I have participated in my fair share of philosophical conversations. Most of these conversations focus on the teaching and learning process, but the conversations often bleed over to a more holistic discussion on education. Some of those conversations focus on how to teach students deeper thinking skills and the ability to solve problems.

One of the most authentic ways to help students develop deeper thinking skills and the ability to solve problems is through work-based learning experiences. Recently, I was meeting with education and business leaders at the North Central Ohio ESC. A local physician shared that one of his recent hires earned her medical assistant credential through her work experience and not through the traditional path of attending medical assistant training program.

Absent of the ability to have work-based learning experiences, educators can help students develop deeper thinking skills and the ability to solve problems by requiring them to solve realistic problems. This can be done easily by using the project-based learning approach promoted by organizations like the Buck Institute. Another example is the Southern Region Education Board’s Advanced Career model. Most project-based learning approaches call for designing and implementing challenging, authentic projects and assignments in the context of realistic problems, ideally with employer and business involvement.

The passage of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) marked a major step toward ensuring all students are prepared to graduate from high school ready for college and careers. For example, districts may support efforts to integrate academic and technical content in the classroom that lends itself to students developing deeper thinking skills and the ability to solve problems. This can be done simply by developing and implementing coordinated instructional strategies that may include project-based learning and experiential learning opportunities for in-demand careers and occupations.

Here’s an example that provides a real-world application using the Pythagorean theorem. The picture below shows the formula for the Pythagorean theorem. In the picture below, side C is always the hypotenuse. Remember that this formula only applies to right triangles.

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Students may be taught the Pythagorean theorem as illustrated, or the lesson could be enriched by making it a real-world application or, better yet, as part of a project-based lesson.

And here is how the theory is applied to roof framing in the construction industry where the Pythagorean theorem is referred to as the 3-4-5 rule.

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This example is overly simple, but it is used to illustrate how connecting academic content standards to real-world applications can make the teaching and learning process more engaging and relevant for students. By helping students solve more real-world problems, students should begin to think more deeply about the standards they are learning.

One of the tenets of project-based learning is that the teacher helps students navigate through the learning process and assists students in solving problems, allowing them to take more responsibility for their learning – effectively teaching them to think for themselves. Teaching students to think more critically and to solve problems is a life skill that is immeasurably valuable to students.

I’m indifferent if it is called common sense, good sense and sound judgment, or the ability to solve problems; it is a life skill that needs to be integrated into all aspects of student’s education. It can even instill a sense of confidence in students, especially as they learn to apply this life skill to other aspects of their life.

Let’s teach students to think for themselves, solve problems and think critically.

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