Fix That Graph – Student Enrollment

102709_1320_FixThatGrap1.pngIt’s your turn.  You get to make the enrollment graph for the next meeting of the School Board.  Yippeee!

Here’s what you’ve come up with.  Ugh!  You’re just not satisified.  But don’t worry.

There’s a fix.  Just download the pdf below and you’ll have it in your squeaky-clean,  germ-free hands.Fix That Graph, 02

The Virginia Department of Education Gives Nod to Draft Science Standards

It’s time to update curriculum in our state – and I’m glad to see the work that has gone into revising the science curriculum.  I also applaud a local resident, Dr. Jim Batterson, for his support and initiative in improving science standards.

Here’s an article about the standards:


 This is good time for Virginian’s to take a look at the standards and give additional comments.  Don’t be shy about reviewing the document and sharing your good ideas.

Science Standards, Virginia – Proposed

MEAP Writing Rubrics

In September 2009, the Michigan Department sent out a listserve message to solicit feedback and comments about the new MEAP writing rubric for compare and contrast.  I could hardly wait to look at it.  I want you to know what I submitted.

Debs Comments for New MEAP Writing Rubrics

I think it’s great that the folks at the State are encouraging this kind of information, so don’t forget to send along your own good ideas and suggestions to them.

Unpacking the Compare and Contrast Standard for the New MEAP Writing Test

Comparing and contrasting are thinking skills.  It just so happens that in Fall 2010, the Michigan Department of Education will assess students in their ability to write a compare-and-contrast paragraph.  In my blog, I’ll be providing ideas that I hope will be useful to you.  I also hope that you’ll consider adding ideas.  If there is something you think we could post, just email it to me and I’ll take care of it.  Please visit my blog frequently – and tell your friends about it so they can visit it, too!

Here are THREE things for you to download today.

Unpacked MEAP Standards, Grade 3, ELA, HORIZONTAL FORMAT This is a twenty-two page document in which I’ve put a number of things.  I’ve unpacked the standard (ya-hoo); put together a list of core vocabulary words and descriptions for this standard; provided ideas for prompts; and created charts that show where the thinking skills of compare and contrast are already embedded in the Grade Level Content Expectations (GLCEs).

I designed these by content area (e.g, one for reading, writing, math, science, and social studies that show natural compare-and-contrast connections by grade level).  I also designed charts by grade levels, K-5.  If you want a 2nd grade teacher to quickly see how compare-and-contrast is addressed across the content areas in grade 2, these charts might be just perfect for your use.

I also designed a content card for compare and contrast.  Print this out; it’s ready to use!

Compare and Contrast, Apples to Oranges This is not a lesson, but I’ve included a number of ideas for your review, consideration, and use.  I’ve included some ideas for the prompt:  Compare and Contrast Apples and Oranges.

Compare and Contrast, Apples to Oranges in NOTES FORMAT Download this pdf file and you’ll see the powerpoint slides I created above in the Notes Format – with my notes on each slide.

Please tell me what you think!  All thoughts – the good, the bad, and the ugly – are welcome.

Quick Review – Virginia’s SCIENCE SOL

Quick Review – Clarity, Specificity, Alignment

Proposed Revised Science Standards of Learning for Virginia Public Schools

October 2009

By Dr. Deborah Wahlstrom

Citizen reviewer

download a pdf copy of this review.

The purpose of this quick review is to take a look at the clarity, specificity, and alignment of Virginia’s science standards as they are presented in the Proposed Revised Science Standards of Learning. I always appreciate the opportunity to provide input related to curriculum. We are fortunate to live and work in a state with a comprehensive review process that encourages public input. So here goes.

I used the document noted below for this review. This document was presented to the Virginia Board of Education on October 22, 2009.

Source Document: Virginia Department of Education, Proposed Revised Science Standards of Learning for Virginia Public Schools – First Review, October 22, 2009.


These standards have already been through a content analysis, so for my quick review I’ll focus on the clarity of the standards. There are four major elements in the science standards document as shown in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1

Major Elements of Proposed Science Standards of Learning

I’ll be looking at several of the items in the first bullet of Figure 1 for the major elements of the proposed revised standards. More specifically, I’ll focus on the clarity, specificity, and alignment of the skills and content.

 In addition, as part of looking at the science standards, I’ll refer to the range of rigorous science skills and knowledge levels – that as written – are embedded in the science standards as shown in Figure 2 below.

Figure 2

Explanation of the Use of Investigate and Understand in Virginia’s Science Standards

We always want to encourage district staff to develop curricula that meets and exceeds that of the state standards, but in an era of accountability, we also want to be very specific about minimum level expectations to which students will be held accountable. I want to encourage state-level staff to better communicate the specific levels of thinking expected around the content standards. Doing so is key to tight alignment at the classroom level. Following are several examples of how to do this.

Example 1

 Since I’ve got to start somewhere, I started with the first standard in the entire standards document which follows.


A key issue I see with the standards document is that it is written in the passive voice. I highly recommend writing the components of the standard in the active voice. So this component:

Becomes this:

  • Identify characteristics of objects by direct observation.

Now why do I recommend this? A key to alignment at the classroom level is to match instructional activities and assessments to the cognitive level of the standard. In order to do this, the cognitive level must be very clear to teachers. By writing the standards in the active voice, you move the cognitive level of the standard so it is front and center – supporting a greater likelihood of alignment.

As I’ve written about in three of my books, we help ensure higher student achievement when we ensure alignment. Alignment happens at the classroom level and everything we do at the state level should support tight alignment at the classroom level. When you’re working on alignment, you’re always working on the cognitive level of the standard. When you write the standard as I have done above, you put the cognitive level at the very beginning of the statement and this quickly clarifies the learning expectation for students.

Now why is that important? Think of a teacher in the classroom who needs to design and/or choose lessons for this part of the standard. This standard clearly relays – in the first word – that students will identify the characteristics. Think of someone who is writing test items. I’ve just made the likelihood of having aligned test items higher since test items should be at the same level of cognitive thinking as the standard.

Now let’s apply this thinking to examples with other science standards.

Example 2

There are three interactions here that students must know. Here’s how I would rework the three interactions.

  • Differentiate/Distinguish between liquids that will separate when mixed with water and those that will not.
  • Explain that some solids will dissolve in water and some will not.
  • Explain that some substances dissolve more readily/quickly in hot water than in cold water.

Example 3

6.5.a water as the universal solvent


6.5.a Recognize water as the universal solvent.

Example 4

LS.1.a        Organize data into tables showing repeated trials and means.

LS.1.d        Construct models and simulations to illustrate and explain phenomena.

Example 5

Now, let’s take one from physics. I can see that in PH.1, there is an addition of experimental and product design processes. I recommend being more clear about the reiterative part of the design process – which may be new for many teachers.

PH.1.a        Define the components of a system.

PH.1.b        Select and use instruments to extend observations and measurements.

PH.1.c        Record and present information in an organized format.

Again, I encourage staff to tweak the standards so they (1) indicate the expected cognitive level of thinking and (2) are presented in the active voice. These are two critical actions that will lead to tighter alignment – and higher student achievement – at the classroom, school, district, and state levels.

Graduation Rates Improve in Suffolk Public Schools

In Suffolk, our district staff are working hard to improve graduation and dropout rates.  Of course the idea is to help ensure that more students are successful in school.  And that’s where I sometimes get a bit bothered by the direction our district takes.

So let’s take a look at a couple of things including the article in today’s Suffolk News Herald, that sparked this post.  First, is that the improved graduation rate puts Suffolk Public Schools in the “middle of the pack” in our Hampton Roads area.  Certainly a better standing than last year, but not yet good enough to help lure significant new business and economy to our area.  Second, while the percentage has improved from 72 percent of students earning some type of diploma in 2008 to 77.8 percent in 2009 (a difference of 5.2 percentage points) we still have over 21 percent of our students who are not earning a diploma within four years.

In Suffolk, the graduation issue is mostly addressed as a high school issue.  If we truly want to help more students graduate, we’ve got to start much earlier than that.  Parents are a child’s first teacher and we’ve got to start there.  Then we’ve got to stay with students from the first day of school until their last.  We need to continue to fully focus on students through elementary and middle schools so our high-school teachers aren’t expected to catch up a quarter of our students.   If we wait to deal with the issues when students get to high school, we’re already too late.

Unpack Those Standards

I have the opportunity to work with terrific educators almost daily.  And they ask me a lot of questions, one being, “Why doesn’t the state unpack the standards for us?”  I have to say, “I don’t know.”  Because the state could unpack the standards, especially if state staff really want to help teachers get to tighter alignment.  Most states leave this undaunting task to district staff and teachers to figure out – so I’m including ideas for unpacking standards on my site. 

I want you to know a few of my current beliefs related to standards – and the unpacking of them. 

  1. Most states ask teachers to cover way too much content.  I’m not saying that we should limit the content students learn; I’m saying we should limit the content that STATES want students to learn – and give more flexibility to the professionals at the local levels.
  2. Since not everything we learn is equally important, states should figure out what is most important – so when they cut the number of standards, they can keep the most important ones.
  3. Some states make it exceptionally hard for students to perform well on the curriculum – as measured by the state tests.   Would you teach a grade-level curriculum, give the students the summer off, and then six weeks into the school year give students a criterion-referenced test on last year’s curriculum?  Michigan does that and it doesn’t make sense.  Stop doing that!
  4. Since the state determines the curriculum and the assessment that determines learning toward that assessment, then the state has a moral obligation to ensure our teachers know what in heck it is that students are supposed to learn.  It is not fair for teachers to work from standards that are not clear – and it is not fair for districts to have to use their own financial resources and teacher talent to try to figure it out.  It’s okay for the state folks to tell us exactly what they want our students to learn.
  5. States should be very sure that the materials and resources they recommend tightly align to the standards that students are expected to learn.  Oh, and this is much easier to do if the standards are unpacked.

Are there other things?  You bet there are – and I’ll be sure to post them as well.  Until then, click here for additional examples and ideas for unpacking standards.