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         an online forum for information from the Director of Elementary Education, Kelly K. Cartwright, Ed.D.

November 22, 2011

Effective Grading Practices

Filed under: K-12 — Kelly Cartwright @ 11:37 am
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The entire November issue of Educational Leadership (Volume 69, Number 3) was devoted to effective grading practices. This issue includes a number of excellent articles written by grading practices gurus such as Thomas Guskey, Robert Marzano, Ken O’ Connor, and Rick Wormeli on topics such as obstacles to grading reform, grades that show what students know, reporting student learning, and managing redos and retakes.

Here, I’ve summarized “Redos and Retakes Done Right” by Rick Wormeli, with the hope that you might find one or more of his ideas affirming or enlightening, and one or more of his practical tips worth a try.

Wormeli contends that:

  1. Allowing students to redo assignments and assessments is the best way to prepare them for adult life.
  2. Allowing students to redo assignments and assessments for particularly important standards and outcomes most of the time is highly effective.
  3. Our goal is for all students to learn the content. Curriculum goals don’t require that every individual reaches the same level of proficiency on the same day, only that every student achieves the goal.
  4. True competence that stands the test of time come with reiterative learning. We carry forward concepts and skills we encounter repeatedly, and we get better at retrieving them the more we experience them.
  5. It makes sense to expect different things of students during the learning process than we expect of them when it’s time to demonstrate final proficiency or become fully certified. Applying expectations to students who are in the process of coming to know content is counterproductive, even harmful.
  6. Adult professionals actually flourish through redos, retakes, and do-overs:
    1. Surgeons practice on cadavers before doing surgeries on live patients.
    2. Architects redesign building plans until they meet all the specifications listed.
    3. Pilots rehearse landing s and take-offs hundreds of times in simulations and in solo flights before flying with real passengers.
    4. Lawyers practice debate and analysis of arguments before litigating real cases.
    5. Teachers become much more competent and effective by teaching the same content multiple times, reflecting on what worked and what didn’t work each time.
  7. The best preparation for the world beyond school is to learn essential content and skills well. Every one of these assessments reflects adult-level, working-world responsibilities our students will one day face. Many of them are high stakes. People’s lives depend on these tests’ validity as accurate measures of individual competence. All of them can be redone over and over for full credit:
    1. LSAT
    2. MCAT
    3. Praxis
    4. Bar exam
    5. CPA exam
    6. Driver’s licensure
    7. Pilot’s licensure
    8. Auto mechanic certification exam
  8. We improve with practice, descriptive feedback, and revising our practices in light of that feedback, followed by more practice, feedback, and revision. It’s the way authors write great books, the way scientists discover, the way machinists solve problems.
  9. Providing feedback and asking students to redo assignments until those assignments match the standards set for them are the keys to thriving classrooms.
  10. Making students redo their learning until it meets high expectations demands far more of both students and teachers than letting them take a failing grade, but it absolutely results in far more learning. Maturation occurs in the fully credited recovery from unsuccessful attempts, not by labeling those attempts as failures.
  11. It makes sense to grade students according to their performance on standards, not the routes they take to achieve those standards.

If you’d like to see Wormeli’s 14 practical tips for managing redos in the classroom, I’ll send you a copy of the article, or you can look online @

October 28, 2011

What is Deliberate Practice?

Deliberate practice is the process by which

teachers attain incremental gains in teacher expertise

under the supervision and direction of their administrators

and through the support of their peers

in order to produce gains in student achievement from year to year.

Deliberate practice →Teacher Behaviors → Student Learning Gains

Dr. Robert J. Marzano

Learning Sciences International

October 4, 2011

Marzano’s Nine

In April, we were introduced to Dr. Robert Marzano’s framework and The Art & Science of Teaching. Through many years of research, Marzano has identified three components of an effective school: well articulated curriculum, safe and orderly environment, and – the most influential component – individual teachers. In addition, Marzano identified three characteristics of effective teaching: effective curriculum design, use of effective instructional strategies, and use of effective classroom management strategies, all of which he addresses in his Instructional Design Questions.

Marzano also identifies nine categories of high probability instructional strategies which have been proven, when used deliberately, to improve student achievement. The strategies are only part of a comprehensive view of teaching: Teachers must rely on knowledge of their students, their subject matter, and their situations to identify the most appropriate instructional strategies. The nine categories of high probability instructional strategies are listed below. Each category contains a number of specific strategies to utilize to meet certain objectives.

  • Identifying Similarities and Differences
  • Summarizing and Note Taking
  • Reinforcing Effort and Providing Recognition
  • Homework and Practice
  • Representing Knowledge
  • Learning Groups
  • Setting Objectives and Providing Feedback
  • Generating and Testing Hypotheses
  • Cues, Questions, and Advance Organizers.

Like Anne Beninghof in her Engage ALL Students through Practical Differentiated Strategies sessions last summer, Marzano places great import on generating high levels of student attention and engagement as a result of deliberate planning and execution of specific strategies.

We have intentionally chosen to utilize Marzano’s strategies in order to continue our emphasis on the use of best practices and a common instructional language across the district. Throughout the 2011-2012 school year, we will focus on Design Question 2: What will I do to help students effectively interact with new knowledge?, Design Question 3: What will I do to help students practice and deepen their understanding of new knowledge?, and Design Question 4: What will I do to help students generate and test hypotheses about new knowledge?. These three design questions align directly with and support the concepts of Acquire, Make Meaning, and Transfer, respectively, from our previous Understanding by Design training.

As we return to the high probability instructional strategies after almost six months since our introduction and prepare for our first Professional Education day devoted to exploring the categories and strategies more deeply, I’d like to thank Mr. Matt Trout, Mr. Randy McCarty, and the elementary leaders group for helping us advance our goals with their involvement and investment of time and energy. Much planning has occurred to make Monday, October 10 valuable and meaningful for all staff members.

The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives.

Robert Maynard Hutchins (1899 – 1977)

August 18, 2011

Common Core Transition

Filed under: K-12 — Kelly Cartwright @ 8:48 am
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As I mentioned last September and October, the Pennsylvania Board of Education adopted the national Common Core Standards for English Language Arts (ELA) and Math in July 2010. The Common Core Standards were adopted with a three-year transition plan beginning in the 2010-2011 school year and full implementation by July 1, 2013. As of today, forty-four states have adopted the Common Core. Learn more about the Common Core Standards initiative by clicking here. The main goal of the Common Core was to create standards that are research and evidence-based, aligned with college and work expectations, include rigorous content and skills, and are internationally benchmarked.

On August 25, all elementary professional staff members will be introduced to the Common Core Standards with both a general overview and a grade level specific session. The Common Core Standards focus on Mathematics and English Language Arts and will replace Pennsylvania’s existing Academic Standards. Our challenge lies in the two-year transition period between now and July 1, 2013: We must shift our focus toward the Common Core Standards while  preparing students for the PSSA based on the PA Academic Standards through the 2013 administration.

We are blessed with two highly competent supervisors, Lisa Mumma and Michelle Trasborg, who plan to guide us through this transition every step of the way. Together, we will make the shift successfully. One benefit I recognize is that the Common Core underscores the importance of teaching reading and writing across the curriculum. Teachers in all disciplines will be expected to help foster literacy development, as research indicates that discipline-based instruction in reading and writing increases student achievement in all subjects. Anne Beninghof highlighted that concept for us this summer in her Differentiated Instruction sessions when she provided a number of strategies to help us make vocabulary instruction more effective by using vocabulary in a variety of contexts to improve students’ retention and comprehension.

At the elementary level, this interdisciplinary planning and instruction occurs frequently and fairly naturally, making this aspect of the shift a little easier for us. District initiatives such as the implementation of Marzano’s instructional strategies, common assessments, and Professional Learning Communities will remind us to use a variety of texts and writing assignments, provide scaffolding to students who need it, provide multiple forms of feedback, and reflect upon our practice in order to maintain our focus on student learning.

To change instructional practice in ways that yield real gains in student achievement, professional development needs to: extend across 50 hours, connect to a school initiative, foster collaboration among teachers, and focus on the teaching and learning of specific academic content. National Council of Teachers of English, March 2011

March 15, 2011

Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)

Filed under: Elementary,K-12 — Kelly Cartwright @ 4:23 pm
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I read Rick DuFour’s article, Work Together But Only if You Want To, in the February edition of Phi Delta Kappan recently. Rick and his wife, Rebecca, are well known for their work with Professional Learning Communities.

In his article, Mr. DuFour tells us that we must embed professional collaboration in the routine practices of our schools. We must expect and require this professional collaboration or it simply will not happen universally. Some teachers will choose to continue to work in isolation, even though “time spent in collaboration with colleagues is considered essential to success in most professions” in order to reach common purposes and goals interdependently.

This collaboration among other professionals – attorneys, doctors, architects, engineers – is expected and required. When teachers collaborate, all students benefit from the collective expertise of the entire grade level, department, or building. When teachers collaborate, we engage in a coordinated and systematic effort to support our students. In addition, a core strategy for improving student achievement is building the capacity of teachers to work as members of a collaborative professional learning community. DuFour cites a wealth of research linking high levels of student achievement to educators working in a collaborative culture of a professional learning community.

Professional collaboration includes:

  • developing a guaranteed and viable curriculum that ensures that all students have access to the same essential knowledge and skills regardless of who their teacher is
  • establishing clear benchmarks
  • implementing agreed upon measures to monitor progress
  • instituting a comprehensive, balanced assessment process that includes common formative assessments
  • gathering and jointly examining ongoing data regarding student learning
  • making informed decisions based on evidence of the most promising strategies for meeting the needs of students
  • creating a systematic, multi-tiered process that ensures that struggling students receive necessary time and supports
  • identifying the right work and creating processes to support teams so they can focus on improving student learning
  • enhancing our practice, individually and collectively

DuFour quotes the president of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF): “Quality teaching is not an individual accomplishment, it is the result of a collaborative culture that empowers teachers to team up to improve student learning beyond what any of them can achieve alone”.

At the elementary level, we are moving forward with a change to a four day cycle schedule for the 2011-2012 school year. We are striving toward creating the structure and culture and providing opportunities to ensure that professional collaboration and interdependence, with the purpose of improving our professional practice and improving student learning, become the norm.

To learn more about PLCs, visit and/or Google Rick Dufour.

The way organizations are now is a product of how we think and interact. We cannot change in any fundamental way unless we change our basic patterns of thinking and interacting so that learning can be a way of life. Peter Senge

January 22, 2011

Top Quintiles for Growth in Pennsylvania for Two or Three Consecutive Years!

Filed under: Elementary — Kelly Cartwright @ 3:02 pm
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Back in November, I shared that all six CVSD schools made the Top Quintile Schools list for growth and/or achievement in math, reading, and/or writing and in all but one of the tested grade levels for 2010.

This month we have additional news regarding Top Quintile Schools. The schools on this list have achieved in the top quintile, or 20%, in the Commonwealth for growth for two or three consecutive school years (2007-2008, 2008-2009, and 2009-2010). All schools were assigned to a progress group based on the rank of their estimated Mean NCE Gain for a grade and subject. A ‘5’ in this column indicates that the school placed in the top quintile. A school is listed if it was in the highest quintile for Mean Growth in both the 2009-2010 and 2008-2009 school years, and a ‘5’ is displayed for both years. If a school was also in the top quintile for Mean Growth in 2007-2008, a ‘5’ will be displayed for that year as well.

This list is much shorter than the one we received in November. In the state, fifteen schools in grades 6, 7, 8, or 11 achieved this in Math; sixteen schools in grades 2-8 or 11 in Reading; twelve schools in grades 7, 8, or 11 in science; and fifteen schools in grades 2-8 in Writing. This total of 58 compares to the 208 who made the list for achievement and/or growth for one school year. In CV, 14 grade levels made the Top Quintile for Growth and/or Achievement in the fall; 5 elementary grade levels in all four buildings, three in Reading and two in Writing, made the Top Quintile list for Growth for two consecutive years. It is quite an accomplishment to have achieved growth in the top quintile for two consecutive years, particularly given the numbers of students in the four subgroups listed on the charts.

Again, I congratulate every single person involved to make this happen. This success is a result of the hard work of many, many professional and support staff members from kindergarten all the way through the tested grade levels. Everyone contributes to this remarkable accomplishment!

Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work. Vincent “Vince” Lombardi (1913-1970); athletic coach


District Name School Name Grade Mean Growth Quintile


Mean Growth Quintile


Mean Growth Quintile


Percent IEP


Percent ED


Percent LEP


Percent Minority


Conestoga Valley SD Fritz Elementary School 6 5 5 8 31 5 27
Conestoga Valley SD Leola Elementary School 6 5 5 14 41 11 28
Conestoga Valley SD Smoketown Elementary School 6 5 5 9 37 5 31


District Name School Name Grade Mean Growth Quintile


Mean Growth Quintile


Mean Growth Quintile


Percent IEP


Percent ED


Percent LEP


Percent Minority


Conestoga Valley SD Brownstown Elementary School 5 5 5 11 21 5 20
Conestoga Valley SD Fritz Elementary School 5 5 5 8 31 5 27

January 8, 2011

Early Childhood Education

Filed under: Elementary,K-12 — Kelly Cartwright @ 1:53 pm
Tags: , , ,

An early childhood committee met monthly last year and made recommendations for a three year implementation of both full day kindergarten and pre-kindergarten (Pre-K) programs, beginning in 2010 and 2011 respectively. As a result of that committee’s recommendations, CV is piloting one full day kindergarten class at both Leola and Smoketown this year.

In preparation for our work this year, I attended a conference on The Kindergarten Year in State College for two days in July and joined the Kindergarten Advisory Committee through PDE’s Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL). In addition, a Pre-K Community Partnerships committee has been meeting monthly this school year to further our goal of establishing a Pre-K program in the coming years. Our committee has been studying both the reasons for and benefits of implementing a Pre-K program by exploring research from a variety of sources as well as visiting model programs in the local area.

Research indicates that a child’s chances of success in school and life depend more on family circumstances than on any other factor. A substantial achievement gap appears long before children reach their first day of kindergarten. By the age of three, children with professional parents are already a full year ahead of their poorer peers; they know twice as many words and score 40 points higher on IQ tests. By the age of ten, the gap is three years. By then, poorer children have not mastered math and reading skills, and many never will. This is the age at which failure starts to become irreversible.

James Heckman, Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, contends that investing in early learning programs is the most efficient way to affect school and life success and to reduce social expenditures later. He further asserts that every $1 invested in early learning programs provides a seven dollar rate of return, or a 6-10% per annum rate of return. These returns are greatest for at risk children, and are actualized through lower special needs costs in K12 education, more students graduating from high school, more students pursuing a higher education degree, and a next generation prepared to enter the workforce.

At risk children are 25% more likely to drop out of school, 40% more likely to become a teen parent, 50% more likely to be placed in special education, 60% more likely to never attend college, and 70% more likely to be arrested for a violent crime. Risk factors include low income/poverty (qualify for free or reduced lunch program), English Language Learner, special needs (developmental or academic delays), living with a parent or guardian with less than a high school education, living in a single parent household, teen parents, migrant status, and lack of access to a consistent source of health care.

Children who participate in public pre-school programs seem to surpass children who don’t participate in basic learning programs before they enter kindergarten. Specifically, some studies have shown that preschoolers perform much stronger in vocabulary. PA Pre-K Counts graduates perform on par with or better than their peers in kindergarten and first grade: 98% of PA Pre-K Counts graduates showed age-appropriate or emerging age-appropriate proficiency in literacy, numeracy, and social skills in 2009-2010.

Research reveals that those who attended preschool earn more, have better jobs, are less likely to have been in prison, are less likely to have been divorced, are less likely to be involved in criminal activity, are less likely to use drugs, are less likely to become teen parents, and are less likely to require welfare assistance as adults. Early interventions for disadvantaged children raise the quality of the workforce; enhance the productivity of schools; reduce crime, teenage pregnancy, and welfare dependency; raise earnings; and promote social attachment.

Change the first five years and you change everything. The Ounce

December 16, 2010

Fair Assessment

Filed under: K-12 — Kelly Cartwright @ 6:47 pm

As previously mentioned in my December 8 post, Fair Assessments is one of the six elements that impact student achievement. Four types of assessments are defined in the SAS portal:

Summative Assessment: seeks to make an overall judgment of progress made at the end of a defined period of instruction. They may occur at the end of a school level, grade, or course, and are administered at certain grades for purposes of state or local accountability. These are considered high-stakes assessments and the results are often used in conjunction with No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). They are designed to produce clear data on the student’s accomplishments at key points in his or her academic career.

Formative Assessment: used by teachers during instruction to provide feedback to adjust ongoing teaching and learning to improve students’ achievement of intended instructional outcomes. In Pennsylvania, formative assessment is defined as classroom-based assessments that allow teachers to monitor and adjust their instructional practices in order to meet the individual needs of their students.

Diagnostic Assessment: ascertains, prior to instruction, each student’s strengths, weaknesses, knowledge, and skills. Establishing these permits the instructor to remediate students and adjust the curriculum to meet their unique needs.

Benchmark Assessment: measures achievement of important grade level content periodically during the year in order to provide feedback about how students are progressing toward demonstrating proficiency.

Some assessments can be categorized as two or more types of assessments contingent upon how they are used. At the elementary level, we use all four types of assessments:

Summative: unit tests, chapter tests, project, PSSA, WIDA-Acess, District Writing                                                                     Formative: homework, classroom guided and independent practice, project, intervention assessments, District Writing                                                                                                                                                                                                               Diagnostic: DIBELS, STAR Math                                                                                                                                                                         Benchmark: DIBELS, STAR Math, 4Sight

In this day and age, we are inundated with data.  Data comes not only from assessments, but also from teacher interactions with and observations of students: classroom academic performance, classroom participation, behavior patterns, grades history, homework completion rate, attendance rate, discipline infractions, social/emotional skills, extracurricular involvement, etc. Every teacher has a variety of data at his/her fingertips. The key is to know what the data means and how to use data to inform, adjust, and tailor our instruction and to make decisions about students. Best practice means that we use our data to serve each student by meeting his/her academic, social, emotional, and physical needs. We don’t do this alone. Meeting students’ needs requires the engagement of all adults in the building who have a vested interest in the student: teachers, counselor, nurse, specialists (reading, math, psychologist, speech, gifted, special education, technology), parents, and principal.

Excellence in education is when we do everything that we can do to make sure they become everything that they can. Carol Ann Tomlinson

December 8, 2010

Pennsylvania Standards Aligned System (SAS)

Filed under: K-12 — Kelly Cartwright @ 5:35 pm
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This week I attended my third (at least) multi-day conference over the past year during which the SAS portal was the focal point. PDE unveiled the SAS portal about a year ago, and continues to add to and update the site as changes occur. One important change that must be incorporated into the site will be the transition from the Pennsylvania Academic Standards to the Common Core Standards.  

If you have not visited the site yet, I strongly encourage you to do so. There are a variety of resources available to educators and it promises to keep getting better. You may easily register ( as a user by providing your name, e-mail address, and a password. Once you have explored the site, I encourage you to continue to visit in order to stay abreast of the changes, particularly with regard to the Common Core Standards.

The Pennsylvania Standards Aligned System (SAS) is a collaborative project of research and good practice that identifies six distinct elements that ensure student achievement and provides a common framework for continuous school and district enhancement and improvement.

Clear Standards describe what students should know and be able to do. The assessment anchors clarify the standards assessed on the PSSA. Eligible content identifies how deeply an anchor should be explored and specifies the range of content to best prepare students for the PSSA.

Fair Assessment is a process used by teachers and students before, during, and after instruction to provide feedback and adjust ongoing teaching and learning to improve student achievement. The four types of assessment include summative, formative, benchmark, and diagnostic.

Curriculum Framework components include big ideas, concepts, competencies, essential questions, vocabulary, and exemplars.

Aligned Instruction includes teaching topics aligned with the standards, ensuring the right level of challenge, focusing teaching based on the learning needs of each student, and implementing instructional strategies to increase student achievement.

Materials & Resources includes the Voluntary Model Curriculum (VMC) incorporating learning progressions, units, lesson plans, and content resources aligned to the standards in curriculum frameworks for the four major content areas (math, science, social studies, and reading-writing-speaking-listening). Learning progressions span grades K-12 and include what all students should know and be able to do as a result of successfully moving through grades K-8 and taking specific courses in grades 9-12.

Interventions ensure students are provided with supports they need to meet or exceed grade level standards. A comprehensive system of interventions involves a graduated set of safety nets aligned to specific student needs and Standards.

As a district, we are planning to include information and training on the Common Core beginning in April 2011 and into next school year. You will be hearing much more about SAS and the Common Core Standards, which go into effect on July 1, 2013. Learn more about the Common Core Standards initiative by clicking here.

When we treat a person as if he already were what he potentially could be, we make of him what he should be. Goethe

November 22, 2010

Waiting for Superman

Filed under: K-12 — Kelly Cartwright @ 9:36 am

I saw Waiting for “Superman”, a documentary by Oscar winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth), yesterday afternoon.

The film follows five students and their families in their diligent quests for the best education possible amidst challenges in major metropolitan areas: the District of Columbia, Los Angeles, and New York City.

It is poignant – both thought and emotion provoking. I strongly recommend seeing it. I won’t give anything away here, but I’d love to discuss it with anyone who sees it.

Waiting for “Superman” is playing at the Point of View Cinema in Millersville (121 West Frederick St. 872-4131) through Wednesday, November 24 @ 7PM each evening.

See a trailer and learn more at

Young people who thrive have encountered deep connection. They feel they belong – that people know them.

Rachael Kessler: The Soul of Education

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