Tuesday, April 30, 2013

MindMapper for iOS: (Currently) Free and Easy to Use Mindmapping App

If you are looking for a mindmapping app for your iPad or iPhone, currently SimTech Systems has their MindMapper app for iOS available for free in the Appstore. With MindMapper, you have all the usual capabilities of mindmapping software, and you can save an image file of your maps to your Dropbox account. While you do not have access to editing maps on your desktop like you do with the Inspiration app I reviewed earlier ("Inspiration Maps: Excellent Mapping Solution for iPad"), this app is a fully functional alternative for the iPad. (Besides, the Inspiration app is not free.) The desktop app is available for purchase at Academic pricing from www.mindmapper.com. Though it isn’t clear what that price is.

MindMapper app for the iOS is an excellent fully functional mindmapping application. The fact that it is currently Free makes it even better.

2013-04-30 06.34.58
MindMapper iOS App

For more information about MindMapper, check it out in iTunes. (MindMapper in iTunes) Also, check out the SimTech Mindmapper web site for information about their desktop application.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Strategies for Teaching Students to Critically Validate Online Information

“With all these online searching aids at our disposal, we should be committing to teaching our children accurate and creative searching techniques that are applicable across every discipline.” Alan November, Who Owns the Learning: Preparing Students for Success in the Digital Age
Our students hold within the palms of their hands and with their laptops, access to all of the world’s information, updated continuously and free, yet like Alan November indicates, I am not sure we consistently teach our students “accurate and creative searching techniques” that they can use in all content areas and in multiple contexts, to validate information. As educators, we still too often leave students to their own devices when sorting through online search results. Also, we only critique their sources when we evaluate their end products, instead of helping them in-process. But in our 21st century classrooms we desperately need to employ specific activities and teaching strategies designed to foster our students' abilities to critically validate online information.

In his book, Who Owns the Learning: Preparing Students for Success in the Digital Age, Alan November advocates for turning students into researchers as a means to having them take ownership of their learning. For students to effectively take ownership of that learning though, we can ill-afford to turn them loose with Google and expect them to dazzle us with what they find out. Though many students use the Internet daily, they are still most often “web-illiterate” in that they do not know how to validate the information they find on the web. As educators, we owe it to them to teach how to examine the validity of what they find during their research activities.

If we want to begin today teaching our students to critically validate what they find on the web, what can we do immediately in our schools and classrooms to make this happen? Using Alan November's suggestions, here's some starting points.
  • “Train students to understand when, why, and how to use online content.” This means teaching students to know when turning to online sources will yield the information they want, and when going offline for information is more effective. For example, students might find a considerable amount of current information about the Boston Bombings on the Internet. However, if they want to find out what their local municipality is doing to address these kinds of dangers, there might not be much information available on the web. Instead, they might set up an interview with the town police chief or mayor to get information specific to their town or city. The reasons for using online content in the first place is to obtain the most current information available on a topic because the web’s information is quickly updated. Also, the web offers access to sources not readily available elsewhere.
  • Teach students as November suggests to “Assess Online Information Sources.” This involves three things:
    • Teach them to examine the purpose of the online information. The hidden message behind online content is not always apparent. Teaching our students to look for those hidden messages is important. Once they are able to critically examine why the content exists, they are also in a position to validate it. For example, too often content is provided by business, industry, and ideologically oriented sites to shore up their agendas. That does not make the information wrong or invalid, but it should caution students to further check facts. Why information exists on the web is an important consideration when trying to validate it.
    • Teach students to examine the author. Being able to search the web and elsewhere for other work published by the author is a key literacy skill for our students. Because anyone can publish anything checking out the author is important. The web makes it easy for students to verify the credentials of content creators. Once again though, they will need to verify in multiple ways those stated credentials and that other stated publications are valid too. Knowing the author of web content is a key way to determine web content's validity and our students need to know ways to do just that.
    • Teach students to examine the context of the online information. As Alan November points out, there are indicators of web content’s reliability by where that content is placed. For example, content on a personal web site is often not as reliable as content on a major university’s site, or the site of  a well-known, highly regarded publication. Still, students need to always be cautious. Even the most reliable web places can be wrong. Remaining skeptical until information can be verified in multiple ways with multiple sources is an attitude we should foster in all our students.
As we move toward getting our students to do more and more authentic, 21st century learning activities, it is vital that we focus more on the process of validating web information in our teaching. As November indicates, our students might use the web and Google every single day, but they do not often know how to validate all the information coming at them. As 21st century educators, we must teach students how to critically validate all the online information they encounter.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Great Resource for Helping Students Manage Their Online Reputations

According to Matt Ivester in his book lol…OMG: What Every Student Needs to Know about Online Reputation Management, Digital Citizenship and Cyberbullying, “Many of today’s students are finding themselves with a very real permanent record---one that reflects every poor decision of their youth, and is stored online forever.”

Most of us remember those moments of major embarrassment in high school, and fortunately we are often the only ones who remember those incidents. That’s because the only record of those events are our memories.

Today however, our students engage in online behaviors that are recorded permanently. Their indiscretions and behaviors are recorded for posterity and the world to see. But how can we as educators help students engage in online activities without permanently damaging their lives and reputations with youthful mistakes? Ivester's lol...OMG is a book guaranteed to get the discussion about responsible online behavior started.

Ivester's book is a excellent resource for educating students in areas such as:

  • Understanding How Creating and Posting Online Content Is Both Global and Permanent
  • Understanding How What They Post Can Haunt Them for A Long Time
  • How to Avoid Engaging in Careless Content Creation
  • How They Are Creating Their Online Reputations
  • How to Become a "Conscious Creator of Content"
  • How to Engage in "Active Reputation Management"
  • Issues with Cyberbullying and Why It's a Problem
  • Becoming Responsible Digital Citizens

High schools are guilty of leaving students to their own devices when it comes to managing their online reputations, so should we be surprised when they end up as news stories in the national media?

The time has arrived for schools to teach students how to effectively manage their online reputations, be responsible digital citizens, and effectively deal with cyberbullying. To assist with that instruction, Schools will find Ivester’s book, lol…OMG an excellent resource for engaging students in conversations about their online behaviors. In a writing style that high school students should find easy-to-read, this book doesn't try to convince students avoid online activity because it is too "dangerous." Instead, it assumes students are going to be online citizens and gives them no-nonsense advice on how to survive online without permanently damaging their reputation.

Matt Ivester’s lol…OMG: What Every Student Needs to Know about Online Reputation Management, Digital Citizenship and Cyberbullying makes an excellent addition to your school’s reading list, or a great gift for any high school student heavily engaged in online activities.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Empowering and Educating Students About Cell Phones: Ending the Bans

School’s continuing to ban cell phones and smartphones are fighting a losing battle. In spite of administrative efforts to keep cell phones out of our schools, our students are becoming “cell-only” internet users according to a recent report, entitled “Teens and Technology 2013,” released by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project. The report continues:
“One in four teens are “cell-mostly” internet users, who say they mostly go online using their phone and not using some other device such as a desktop or laptop computer,”
Smartphone adoption among American teens has increased substantially and our students have “pervasive mobile access to the Internet.” Because our students now have this “pervasive mobile access” the time has come to pull the plug on cell phone bans entirely. Instead of keeping cell phones out, we need to get our students engaged in using them constructively. Where else are they going to learn about the potential for good or ill of mobile technologies?

Other interesting points from the report include:
  • 78% of teens now have a cell phone. Almost half of those are smartphones (47%).
  • 37% of all teens have smartphones, up from 23% in 2011.
  • 1 in 4 teens have tablet computers.
  • 3 in 4 teens (74%) say they can access the Internet on cell phones, tablets or other mobile devices at least occasionally.
In addition to getting rid of cell phone bans, we also need to reconsider our efforts to filter access as well. If our students are going to have unfiltered Internet access anyway through their mobile devices, would our energies not be better directed toward teaching them responsible access?

Cell phones, smartphones, and tablets are becoming the Internet access devices of choice among our students, yet we still engage in policies that try to limit or filter that access. Instead of ban and filter, let’s empower and educate students to use that access for good.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

21st Century Perspective on Creating Innovative School Schedules

“If time is not fixed, there are lots of possibilities to make schooling more responsive to the individual needs of students and teachers and more economical to operate.” Frank Kelly, Ted McCain, and Ian Jukes, Teaching the Digital Generation: No More Cookie-Cuter High Schools
Why do high schools keep the same master schedule from one year to the next? One of the most difficult lessons I have learned as principal of an innovative high school is that there is no law or policy that prescribes what the school’s master schedule should look like from year-to-year. In fact, innovative high schools see schedule-flexibility as a must in order to fit the schedule to student needs, rather than fit students to a schedule.  This is my fourth year in my current position, and the master schedule has changed every year, and it looks like it will change again this year. Our master schedule is truly responsive to the individual needs of our students and our staff and that is how it should be.

Most high schools define themselves by their schedules. For example, a four-by-four high school defines itself by consistently having 4 periods of instruction a day in classes that last for one semester. In contrast, a traditional schedule high school defines itself as having 6 or 7, possibly 8, discrete periods of instruction a day that last for a calendar year. Then there’s blended models that incorporate aspects of both, as well as schedules that include some even shorter blocks of time for enrichment periods or advisory periods. The bottom line though is that most high schools do define themselves by their schedules, and that schedule is a fixed entity.  They see their schedule  as something that cannot be changed from year to year. But what if that schedule were seen as a flexible component that could be adapted to fit the needs of students from year to year? I submit that 21st century high school leaders view master schedules, not as a fixed entities to which students are fitted, but instead view schedules as just another tool to meet the needs of students.

For example, one of our commitments as a high school is to try to keep our class sizes down. In an age when individuals like Bill Gates argue that “Class size doesn't matter” my staff and I believe wholeheartedly it does matter. While it might not matter if your only yardsticks are test scores, we know from our personal experience the size of a class does matter when it comes to teachers being able to form significant relationships with the students they teach. These relationships are more than just about making our students get higher scores on the latest standardized tests. Smaller classes are about relationships and making our school a humane place to learn, instead of a factory that churns out “high-test scores” each year. And, to keep those class sizes down in the past several years, we have changed our schedule so that we do not have 35 students sitting in classrooms.

The bottom line about scheduling should be simple. School leaders need to change their perspective on schedules and master scheduling, and be flexible. Twenty-first century learning demands it. Instead of viewing the schedule as a fixed element that is not subject to change from year to year, why not view it as simply another tool in the tool chest to better meet the needs of your students? That’s being a 21st century leader in innovation.

Just to give you an idea on what we’re doing. Here’s our proposed schedule this year. I have to thank my guidance counselor for coming up with this one.

Period Times
1st Period (Semester-Long Class? 7:40-9:10
2nd Period (Year-Long Class) 9:12-10:02
3rd Period (Year-Long Class) 10:04-10:54
4th Period (Year-Long Class) 10:56-11:46
Enrichment Period (Also advisory Period) 11:48-12:33
Lunch 12:33-1:05
5th Period (Semester-Long Class) 1:10-2:40

Monday, April 15, 2013

4 Principles for Designing 21st Century Learning Spaces

“School buildings must change because instruction must change. We need creative new designs that will support 21st century learning.” Frank S. Kelly, Ted McCain, and Ian Jukes, Teaching the Digital Generation: No More Cookie-Cutter High Schools
A great deal of the reform talk that we engage in focuses on changing how teaching and learning should change to better fit the needs of 21st century learners, but how much of that talk focuses on how we can better redesign our schools so that they better facilitate 21st century learning? Kelly, McCain, and Jukes point out one really sad fact about school construction in the 21st century:
“We are currently spending millions of dollars building new high schools that will last 40 years or more that are designed on ideas that date back to the early 1900s.”
In other words, the high schools we currently build are monuments to obsolescence, and instead of asking ourselves the critical questions about what should a high school in the 21st century should look like, we just keep building them the same way we always have. Then, we shake our heads with wonder when we can’t reform the kinds of teaching and learning that occurs in those schools. As Kelly, McCain, and Jukes so aptly point out, “We are victims of TTWWADI, or That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

What are some principles to guide us in designing 21st century learning spaces? Borrowing from Kelly, McCain, and Jukes, here’s some to consider.
  • Instruction should drive construction. Instead of automatically assuming we need classrooms separated into subject-area departments, perhaps we need to ask what kinds of instruction and learning will be happening in those spaces. Too often, the people designing our schools are totally disconnected from those designing 21st century instructional and learning models. We need to design learning spaces that facilitate 21st century learning, not try to fit 21st century learning into 20th century Industrial Age learning spaces.
  • Question everything. No preconceived notions about instruction and learning spaces are sacred. For example, do we have to have classrooms that place teachers front and center? Does learning have to even take place in classrooms? Do these learning places have to have the capacity to hold 25-30 students? Can they be larger or smaller, or do we need both? Does learning have to fall within a 9-month school calendar and during a 4-period, block-scheduled school day? In designing true 21st century learning spaces, we must question all of our preconceived notions about what these spaces should look like and how they are organized.
  • Design learning spaces that capitalize on technology. Instead of fitting technology into existing classroom and school designs, how can we design classrooms and schools that capitalize on technology’s strengths? In other words, let's fit our schools to the technologies. For example, how does the potential for global connections and collaboration fit into high school design? Maybe we need a conference room with global video-conferencing capabilities. Designing learning spaces that fit the technologies means rethinking those spaces to capitalize on technology.
  • Think about designing a school to fit the needs of 21st century learners rather than fitting 21st century learners into existing school designs. We know a great deal about how this digital generation learns and wants to learn, so why not incorporate those into our school designs? Don’t build lecture halls or classrooms with row after row of desks. Instead, build both places where students can engage in collaborative projects and places where they can explore and learn individually. Learning spaces should be designed to fit the needs of today's digital learners.
As Kelly, McCain and Jukes, point out, “What is currently lacking from the school design process is a way to set aside old assumptions about teaching and learning in order to allow people to develop new visions of the future.” School leaders are still designing and building schools not fundamentally different from schools designed and built in the Industrial Age; yet, we expect students to engage in Information Age activities. If we truly want instruction to change, we need schools and learning places designed for 21st century learning.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Blueprint for Moving to 21st Century Student-Centered Schools and Classrooms

“Too many organizations---not just companies, but governments and nonprofits as well---still operate from assumptions about human potential and individual performance that are outdated, unexamined, and rooted more in folklore than in science.” Daniel Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us
It’s not just businesses that are still caught in outdated assumptions about performance and motivation. Schools are caught in that same time warp too. Much of how our classrooms and schools are structured and operate are designed to take advantage of extrinsic motivation, and we are finding that in the 21st century, this structure and way of operating no longer works.

But the question is, how can we transform our schools so that they no longer operate under these outdated assumptions about student potential,  student performance, and student motivation? If one were to make a list of how our schools still operate and what these faulty and obsolete assumptions about education and schooling are, that list would look somewhat like this.
  • Students are motivated by grades.
  • Students are incapable of directing their own learning.
  • Classrooms (and schools) must operate under strict control with specific rules and consequences governing student behavior.
  • Teachers are the primary dispensers of learning in the classroom.
  • Education is something “done to students” rather than something in which they engage.
If these basic assumptions about classroom operations and education are faulty, what would would 21st century assumptions about how classrooms and school operations look like? In other words, what would a classroom or school operating under the principles described in Daniel Pink’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth  about What Motivates Us look like? Perhaps educator Mark Barnes provides with some answers to that question in his new book ROLE Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom.

In ROLE Reversal, Barnes describes what he terms a Results Only Learning Environment or ROLE. As the name implies, in a ROLE the focus is entirely on results, or student work. Also, in this environment, the principles of fostering intrinsic motivation described by Pink are implemented fully. According to Barnes, a ROLE basically upends many of the traditional assumptions about education and learning. Here’s some of ways these traditional assumptions are upended.

In a ROLE, or Results Only Learning Environment:
  • Grades and grading systems are replaced with a “narrative feedback system” that focuses specifically on student work and improving that work. In Barnes’ result-only classroom, teachers do not use numerical grades to provide feedback because numerical feedback systems fail to provide feedback students need to improve their performance. Instead, students are given extensive, comprehensive, and ongoing narrative feedback on their work. This feedback is specific and can be used by the student for work improvement. In ROLE Reversal, Barnes shows teachers how to provide this kind of feedback.
  • Instead of teacher-directed learning activities, students are given broad, long-term projects to complete, and they make the daily decisions on how to complete those projects. The intrinsic motivation model described by Pink demands that autonomy be employed to engage people in the tasks at hand. Under Barnes’ results-only classroom model, students engage in six-week long projects that provide a great deal of choice, or autonomy, on how and what is learned and when. Autonomy is a built-in component of his results-only classroom practice.
  • Classroom rules and consequences are jettisoned and the use of opportunities to engage in meaningful work, collaborating with peers, and trust/respect are used instead to manage classroom behavior. Too often, classrooms become more about focusing on the enforcement of rules rather than the learning students are being asked to do. In Barnes’ results-only classroom, behavior is managed through well-designed, engaging, and collaborative learning projects that leave students little time to engage in problem behaviors. Also, the results-only classroom described by Barnes fosters a high-level of respect and trust that makes having rules and consequences less necessary.
  • Teachers are no longer the “dispensers of information/learning.” According to Barnes, in a ROLE, teachers become coaches and facilitators of student learning. In the results-only classroom, teachers step away from the front of the classroom and spend more time facilitating student learning and coaching students on their work. Teacher-centered activities like worksheets, quizzes, and homework are jettisoned. Instead, students engage in long-term, meaningful activities that challenge them.
  • Education and learning moves from being something done to students to something in which students actively engage in on a daily basis. The 20th century traditional model of education is very much still with us. The heart of that educational philosophy and model sees education as a process by which we subject students to, in order to add value determined by test scores. Under Barnes’ result-only model, education and learning is something students actively engage in every day. They are active participants in their learning.

Mark Barnes, Role Reversal

For the teacher and school leader looking for a model of learning that truly captures Daniel Pink’s principles of intrinsic motivation---autonomy, mastery, and purpose---Barnes’ book ROLE Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom offers just such a model. Best of all, Barnes results-only classroom offers the kind of classroom in which students achieve at higher levels. I highly recommend Mark Barnes’new book, ROLE Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom published by ASCD. This book would make an excellent book study to foster discussions in schools about how we can move toward the student-centered schools and classrooms we so desperately need in the 21st century.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

7 Must-Read Resources on Social Media for School Leaders

There are obviously quite a few social media resources available to school leaders on the Web, but finding high-quality information can be difficult. Here are some books that I consider vital for school leaders seeking to learn as much as they can about its potential to enhance leadership and education. Each of these books are excellent sources of information for the school leader trying to learn about social media and potential in educational leadership.
Why Social Media Matters: School Communication in the Digital Age by Kitty Porterfield and Meg Carnes 
Porterfield and Carnes' book is one of my personal favorites. As the title suggests, it focuses on providing school leaders with the "know-how" of using social media as a communications tool. School leaders, however, are not encouraged to use Facebook, Twitter and other social media tools as a 21st century announcement system. Porterfield and Carnes encourage school leaders to use social media's most powerful feature, the ability to engage stakeholders in a multi-way conversation. This book equips school leaders with the tools necessary to communicate effectively using social media in the 21st century.

The School Leader's Guide to Social Media by Ron Williamson and J. Howard Johnston
Williamson and Johnston's book offers school leaders a complete panoramic view of social media. They give one of the most comprehensive views of both the potentials and the pitfalls of engaging in social media use. Williamson and Johnston provide such timely information as: Concerns and Benefits of Social Media Use, Encouraging Responsible Use of Social Media, Creating Acceptable Use Policies Governing Social Media Use, Overview of the Social Media Tools, and Social Media Skills to Be Taught. The School Leader's Guide to Social Media is one of the most comprehensive resources available on social media.

The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in the Digital Age by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall
This book provides school leaders with a complete review of what it means to engage in the use of social media as a "connected learner." Nussbaum-Beach and Hall take readers through the whole idea of engaging in social media as a means to learn 21st century style. Using the tools of social media allows school leaders to expand their connections to a world beyond the classroom. This book provides a complete model to make global learning and connecting happen.

What School Leaders Need to Know about Digital Technologies and Social Media edited by Scott McLeod and Chris Lehmann
In this collection of essays, edited by educational technology experts Scott McLeod and Chris Lehmann, school leaders get one of the most complete descriptions of the tools of the social media toolbox. This book takes readers through a complete survey of all the tools---from blogs to social bookmarking to even gaming. Readers will find this comprehensive overview of social media tools extremely useful and they plan and development social media strategy.

Personal Learning Networks: Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education by Will Richardson and Rob Mancabelli
Richardson and Mancabelli’s book is one of the most comprehensive and engaging reads yet on the potential of “Personal Learning Networks” as a transformative force in education. This book focuses less on the social media tools and more on the strategies educators can use to foster, not only the development of their own personal learning networks, but also the personal learning networks of the students they teach. As a part of the school leader’s library, this book is an excellent strategy guide for engaging in social media as a means to foster personal learning.


Radically Transparent: Monitoring and Managing Reputations Online by Andy Beal and Judy Strauss
While this is the only book on the list not written specifically for educators, Radically Transparent: Monitoring and Managing Reputations Online is the best guide for school leaders who want to move beyond just using social media as personal learning network tool or as a communication tool. This book provides strategy on how to proactively engage in social media use to foster a positive online reputation. In the 21st century, school leaders can ill-afford to ignore their school or school district’s online reputation. This book provides school leaders with the tools in which to engage social media as public-relations tool and become completely transparent, which is an expectation for 21st century organizations.

Social Media for School Leaders by Brian Dixon
Dixon’s book is another excellent resource on social media for the 21st century school leader. This book gives another comprehensive overview of the social media tools, including some not found in the other books. It also provides readers with a comprehensive framework for understanding how to use social media effectively. Dixon’s books is excellent combination of introduction of the social media tools and the strategies to use to engage in their use effectively.

These seven resources provide school leaders with the most comprehensive view of social media possible. By reading these and referring back to them often, as well as engaging in the use of the tools and the strategies, school leaders can effectively become social media leaders in their schools or districts.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Blogging Applications for Beginning Bloggers

For those school leaders just now venturing into blogging, you can easily use the web application offered by services such as Blogger, Edublogs, or WordPress. These apps will get your posts done, but if you are just starting to blog and want an application that might make the act of posting a blog a bit more painless, Microsoft's Live Writer and ScribeFire are two options to consider. Livewriter, which is available as a free download, and the App/Exyension Scribefire both give bloggers, and I would add first-time bloggers the tools to get started. I have used both of these apps and found them a practically "glitch-free" approach to blog posting. Both are availble for free as well.
Microsoft Livewriter
  • Includes a blog post editor that allows you to see exactly what your post will look like on the web site.
  • Works with multiple blog platforms. (I use it with Blogger.)
  • Interface is quite familiar to current Microsoft product users.
  • Save blog posts locally. (On Your Hard Drive)
  • Extensive formatting control of text

Windows Liver Writer Interface
To get more information and download Windows Livewriter, check out the web site.
Windows Live Writer Web Site

ScribeFire is a blog post composing app for use within FireFox, Google Chrome, Opera and Safari Browsers. While not as "featureful" as Live Writer, it is still fully functional, and for the novice blogger, it will do everything you need to do.
  • Fully featured in sense that it will do just about everything you would want to do in a blog post: insert photos, insert YouTube videos, insert tables, etc.
  • Interface has a simple layout that works right within your favorite browser.
  • Font Choices and sizes along with basic text formatting

For more information on ScribeFire, check out their web site.
ScribeFire Informational Web Site

Both of these blogging apps are good, solid choices for the school leader just venturing into blogging.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

North Carolina's Massive Increase in High Stakes Testing: Fair? Not Hardly!

“Without these common exams, we have no objective way to measure the value teachers give their students, and this is an important part of North Carolina’s teacher evaluation model.” Rebecca Garland, Chief Academic Officer, NC Department of Public Instruction
In a recent post to the Charlotte Observer entitled “Newly Required Tests Aren’t as Numerous as You Think”), North Carolina Public Schools Section Chief, Rebecca Garland, defended that state’s massive increase in the number of high-stakes testing. The main gist of her argument is students were going to be taking teacher-made exams anyway, which would be true if these Common Exams or MSLs (missiles as we like to call them) were on the same level as teacher made exams, but they are not.

North Carolina is elevating the importance of these tests to “high-stakes level” because teacher performance will be judged based on them. In the end, North Carolina has massively increased the number of “high stakes tests” it is administering under its “Common Exam Project.” So Garland's remarks are misleading at best.

Garland defends these tests as well by using the common “buzzwords” used by politicians and other policymakers. Judging from her statements in the above post, in one fail swoop she declares these tests:
  • Objective:
  • Fair
  • Accurate
  • Reasonable
Are these Common Exams “objective?” Too often, policymakers and politicians view “objective” as meaning “multiple-choice” or otherwise limited to answers that can’t be verified or constructed. I submit that these common exams are not objective, nor could they ever be. Because these tests were developed by teachers far-removed from the classrooms in which they will be administered, they are not objective. In developing these tests, teachers and state-level test developers make SUBJECTIVE judgments about what would be included on these tests and what would be discarded. This process, by default, is a subjective value judgment on what exactly is worthy of being tested and what is not. The tests might be “objective” in the sense that there may be no room for variability in student answers and do not require the judgment of teachers in determining right and wrong, but the way the tests were developed is a subjective process.

Are these Common Exams fair? Throughout North Carolina’s development of these Common Exams, state level policymakers have used this word repeatedly, as if by declaring these exams "fair" makes them so. There are so many question marks regarding the “fairness” of these tests and how the state has chosen to use them that whether they are “fair” has never been established. For example, take the whole idea of using “value-added” measures. North Carolina has chosen to use this way of evaluating teachers in spite of the fact that statisticians and test designers have cautioned against using such models. In addition, Garland and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction make the argument that they are only using it for a fraction of the evaluation. But if using value-added measures have flaws at all, should they be used in decisions that determine the individual livelihood and futures of educators? Another question of fairness has to do with the tests themselves. Normal final exams are teacher-designed for a reason. That teacher knows the content that was covered and the students to which that content was taught. That means that teacher is able to design tests that measure what they taught and to tailor those tests to the needs of their students. Using the common exams, teachers are forced to give tests developed by others far removed from their classrooms, making them hardly true measures of what was taught.

Are these Common Exams accurate measures of how good a job teachers are doing? We've been trying to judge school performance based on test scores for years. After No Child Left Behind flopped, it was a natural progression for North Carolina to move to the next flop---using test scores to judge educator effectiveness. North Carolina has not done any studies correlating the use of test scores to determine whether teaching improves. But then again, they define "effective teaching" as having "high test scores." Never mind whether those tests have any validity or quality.

In the end, in spite of what Garland and NC DPI assert, North Carolina’s “Common Exams” is a massive increase in the number of “high stakes” exams our students will be subjected to and to simply say they are like the final exams students usually take is misleading. These tests which have been hurriedly assembled, kept in secret, and developed to appease the United States Department of Education are not the salvation of our North Carolina education system. There is a real problem when our own state department of education turns into a propaganda machine, incessantly trying to sell a testing program that no one wants, rather than assisting and serving the educators and students in this state. In the end, our students are the ones that suffer.