Five Reasons Why NAEP is Still Relevant


I arrived in D.C. just in time for the Cherry Blossoms 

Recently, I was honored to be appointed to a national Principal’s Panel to look at the future development of The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), otherwise known as the Nation’s Report Card. Ten Principals from across the country met on April 12 at a downtown hotel on Capitol Hill and we were reacquainted with many details regarding NAEP. 

What is NAEP? 

It’s a national test given in all 50 states to random students in Grades 4, 8, and 12. There are a number of disciplines tested including math, reading, science, writing, the arts, civics, economics, geography, US history and beginning in 2014, technology and engineering literacy. Frankly, as expressed in my meeting, NAEP is a complicated venture. Click here to get the full scoop.

The US Department of Education, which is ultimately responsible for the assessment, is scrambling a bit as they are witnessing the advent of the Common Core State Standards, the closest thing we have had to a national curriculum, and the resulting Smarter Balanced or PARCC assessments that are now being piloted throughout the country for official implementation in the spring of 2015. 

Yet, NAEP is still relevant to students, educators, and parents:

1. NAEP is still a solid method to hold states accountable for their students’ academic progress.

The 2009 study of states and their cut points demonstrated a real discrepancy in how each state defines “proficient”. Certain states were performing much lower than others but this was not discovered until NAEP results were released. Kudos to the state of Tennessee, for example, for accepting the truth of the data and making changes. 

2. NAEP tests in areas other than ELA and math.

While NAEP will never be a tool to drive instruction for teachers or even give assessment guidance for schools or districts, it can provide data on non-Common Core (or Child Left Behind) subjects.

3. Common Core testing is “untested” while NAEP has existed since 1969.

Simply put, NAEP has longitudinal data for 45 years that is valuable in determining trends. 

4. NAEP makes it easy for your school.

While this may not last forever, the NAEP team currently brings in their own laptops (soon to be Windows tablets), sets everything up, administers the assessment, then breaks everything down and goes home. Outside of corralling the kids together and some scheduling, schools have to do very little work. All the while, they use an internal wifi network that will not tax your school’s technology. 

5. NAEP disseminates valuable educational and demographic information not found anywhere else.

Students and teachers fill out questionnaires that yield important information such as:

  • From students: demographic characteristics, experiences and support that exist in the classroom.
  • From teachers and administrators: training data, instructional practices, school policies, specific information from ELL or special education students.

I was encouraged by the professional and friendly nature of the USDOE staff. In a world where student assessment has perhaps taken up too high a percentage of student time (You don’t fatten the calf by weighing it), NAEP is one program that should continue.

From Old School To Bold School

9 Cs

A slide straight from Will Richardson’s  NHASCD workshop on  April 4, 2014

The ease of rhyme in Will Richardson’s workshop title (old to bold) doesn’t diminish the difficulty of Will’s challenge for all of us in education. In 2014, we are faced with pressures from many directions creating enormous inertia against doing the right thing. We live in a land of compromise where we have to be satisfied with partial wins. For example, Common Core is probably better than what we had for standards, but most of us aren’t crazy about the way it rolled out. And, isn’t it irritating how the educational behemoths are profiting from Common Core? We also know that poverty is still the greatest impediment in student achievement, but most of us feel powerless to influence the broken government to fix this. 

Will spoke last Friday as part of NHASCD’s workshop series in Concord, NH. He presented to his choir, a solid crowd indeed, but compared to more conventional speakers we have had such as Lucy Calkins and Grant Wiggins, it was disappointing more district leaders weren’t present. Meeting local, state, and federal requirements and staying out of trouble is a priority for all of us and boldness takes a back seat.

A major theme throughout the day was the traditional education that his two children are receiving, much to Will’s chagrin. (I wonder why he hasn’t considered taking them out of their school…which ironically is the one he used to teach at.) He was careful to not criticize the teachers themselves; in his estimation, it’s the system that is at fault. As he mentioned to me before the conference, it’s leadership that makes the difference in becoming bold. That’s just not happening where he is. 


His simple but compelling argument is that due to “abundance” (see graphic above) we are faced with a new set of challenges:

Do we stick with the traditional areas of content, knowledge, and information or move forward to Will’s Big 9?

Creativity: The Common Core gets this. It’s no longer what we know, especially since information is almost entirely ubiquitous and nestled online. The goal for our students is to establish a routine of creation – the ability to make the world a better place because we have the skills to gather information and mold our content knowledge and skills into something constructive. Daniel Pink’s research also backs up the motivating nature of creativity. As he quotes from his book Drive:

“The ultimate freedom for creative groups is the freedom to experiment with new ideas. Some skeptics insist that innovation is expensive. In the long run, innovation is cheap. Mediocrity is expensive—and autonomy can be the antidote.”   Tom Kelley, General Manager, IDEO.

Critical Thinking: As an Elementary/Middle School teacher in the 80s and 90s, I heard critical thinking often as a goal for our students. I’m not sure how well we did it. Most of us still relied on lower levels of Bloom’s or Level 1 activities within Webb’s Depth of Knowledge as the common regimen. This has to finally change.

Collaboration: While infinitely more tiring and rarely more effective, a lecture or teacher-directed lesson is certainly safer and controlling for one’s classroom. But without collaboration with each other and on a variety of tools, we are cheating our students out of the skills they will need to be successful long after their P-12 experience is over. 

Communication: Web 2.0 has allowed this to be nearly immediate and pervasive. Our job is to guide our youngsters in communicating with the vastness of an abundant world. 

Computing: The days of having to write HTML code are gone. Yet, there are many computer skills students need despite their “digital native” status, including researching, parsing content, and ethical standards, those included within the NETS Standards for students

Connections: We worry about our children’s digital footprint, and rightly so. But as Wesley Fryer says, when it comes to the Internet, we simply have to teach kids “how to swim”. Being in the water can be deadly but with the proper training, swimming can be one of the healthiest activities we can engage in. Same with our technological resources. 

Continual Learning: Lots of lessons here. First, teachers have to be the lead learners and show that example to their students. Second, as Will often states, learning really happens 24/7. Here’s one of my favorite Richardson quotes I use in workshops all of the time:

“This is a very challenging moment for educators. Our children are headed for a much more networked existence, one that allows for learning to occur 24, 7, 365, one that renders physical space much less important for learning, one that will challenge the relevance of classrooms as currently envisioned, and one that challenges our roles as teachers and adult learners.” Will Richardson.

Change Mindset: Carol Dweck’s book Mindset quickly became a must read in the education field. Will we choose a fixed mindset or a growth mindset to rule our life? Clearly, a growth mindset allows us to take risks and embrace challenges

Curiosity: Will talks about our society’s adverse reaction to failure which often leads to a lack of curiosity. In his words:

Too few schools are incubators of curious and creative learners given their cultures of standardization, fear, and tradition. No doubt, external pressures exist that drive that culture. But if there ever was a time to shift gears, this is it. 

Overwhelmed yet? Will ended the workshop smartly with a call to all of us to start small and plan for whatever changes we can make fairly quickly in our classrooms, schools, and districts. Which of the Big 9 motivate you to change what’s happening in your educational world?

Using Omnifocus…but Be Careful Who’s Lurking

OmniFocus’s iPhone interface
In an era of high expectations for all educators, having a handle on productivity is becoming increasingly critical. Balancing home and work responsibilities, managing emails, delegating tasks, planning projects, and not forgetting minutiae is immensely challenging.
Mostly out of necessity, I became a student of productivity. The job of Principal is not necessarily more difficult than other positions in our field but it is very scattered in terms of projects and to-dos. Years ago I looked toward technology as a way to cope with the ever increasing demands of the job. One of the linchpins of my workflow became OmniFocus (OF), a productivity management program – sort of a to-do list on steroids, and years ago I became a beta tester. OF is the leader in the field, one of the most expensive solutions, and it is only on the Mac platform and not web based. Thus, it has its limitations. However, after trying Things, Wunderlist, ToodleDo, Nozbe, and Remember the Milk, I settled on OF and I now use it on my MacBook Air, iPhone and iPad. In looking at my productivity tools over the last five years (and my blog post from 2-15-09), OF is only one of two apps that survived in my “Top 10”. 
In a future post, I will explain why OF is the best program for school administrators. In the meantime, one of the Internet’s primary proponents of OF is the two man productivity team at Asian Efficiency who expound on why they feel OF is the best program in its genre. My advice is to give one of the above mentioned programs a try and see your productivity increase or invest your money in OF. Also, check out my slides from last year’s presentation at IntegratED in Portland, Oregon on Productivity for School Leaders. 
As I was getting in the productivity weeds with a fellow OF user, we were surprised that the CEO of the Omni Group, Ken Case responded to our discussion as it got a tad critical:
Ken Case
You see, @felixc and I were whining a bit about the lack of a web interface and the time it is taking for OF2 to come out. To be sure, we are fanboys of OF, but one has to be careful.. the CEO may be lurking. 
Give your laptop, smartphone, and/or tablet a chance to make you more productive. Love to hear how it goes. 

The School Spirit of Valentine’s



 The Carozza Homestead in the midst of snow-blowing a foot of snow

Today is a snow day. The Valentine’s Parties have to put be put off until Monday.

Valentine’s Day, like Thanksgiving, is one of those holidays that is nearly perfect. It’s free from the controversy of religious holidays, it doesn’t celebrate an historical figure who may not be universally respected, and it gives each of us a chance to care for one another. It can be overdone through overspending or reliance on material gifts, but generally…who doesn’t like love?

I see lots of love every day in my school. We don’t always call it that, afraid of entering into the creepy zone, but I’m in favor of using that word more often. I tell my New England College students that to be an effective teacher you really need to love your students. It’s not enough to be nice. Somewhere in the semantics we must cross over to realize that love is not an emotion or a feeling – love is a verb. 

It is a balance of course. I’ve seen teachers become too attached to students and forget the line that is hard to define but mostly understood. But this is the exception.

The current mission of our District is Above All, Care. These three words, written and promoted by our Superintendent, is clear (in my words-not the District) that to truly meet this mission we must care enough to:

  • Hold students accountable for their actions, behaviorally and academically, for to do otherwise is not caring.
  • Educate the whole child and realize that each student comes to us with a variety of strengths, weaknesses, genetics, and experiences. 
  • Listen to each child’s story and be willing to give them the gift of time.

This is also the spirit of Valentine’s Day.

How Can I Support the Shift?



During my time in education, our focus in schools has changed dramatically. While our main wheelhouse has always been academics, the laser focus on teaching and learning has never been sharper. In the “old way” we focused largely on intuition to figure out if kids were learning. Now we utilize data to ascertain if a student is not only reaching “grade level” but also where on the continuum he is landing. We take that data from numerous sources and plan for our next stage of instruction. Our teaching doesn’t drop in the middle anymore; it lands at numerous instructional points so that we differentiate instruction, (defined by educator Carol Ann Tomlinson), by varying content, process, product, and the learning environment.

However, this shift is not without its consequences – to shift one’s teaching in this way is difficult. The importance of utilizing regular, natural formative assessment to guide our practice is crucial in knowing our students and understanding the next step of instruction. No longer is our expertise only grounded in content knowledge. We need to be experts at pedagogy.

We are also asking teachers to make the shift while opening their classroom doors and student rosters so that their colleagues can share the load. This is a cultural adjustment that can be large even for the very effective teachers I work with daily. We are trying to shift from professionals with friendly, caring, and supportive relationships to teachers who also share best practice with each other and at times, even the responsibility for teaching each others’ students.

I feel the stress in my building as we shift a bit faster and a bit harder. Am I doing what I can as a leader to soften the blow a bit? 

The 50-ish staff members at Harold Martin are essentially my classroom. I can confidently say I care about them more than any administrator could but sometimes that’s not enough. Pressures from the Common Core, a new math program and approach, technology expectations, more challenging students, and a fresh approach to reaching students who are struggling, via RTI (Response to Instruction)…that’s a full boat. It’s not just the number of initiatives – it’s the ability to see how they are interrelated and relevant to each other. It’s communicating the vision and finding the message that will ring true to the staff that the effort they are putting in makes a difference. It’s finding victories to celebrate and opportunities to laugh. It’s the leader convincing the teachers that he too is struggling with them and the “juice is worth the squeeze”. 

Do you have practical suggestions on how to support the shifts in your life?



Lucy Calkins – Straight From the Teacher’s Voice


Download  1

NHASCD had the pleasure of hosting Lucy Calkins, one of education’s leading voices on literacy and the Common Core, on January 10 in Concord, New Hampshire. In fact, we had our largest gathering of participants in our organization’s history, with over 450 educators in attendance.

As part of registration, we also gave out a copy of her book Pathways to the Common Core, which landed at number 7 on the New York Times Best-Selling Education Books of 2013.

Here are some relatively cryptic notes from the event.

General thoughts:

  • Due to the rise of the Internet, overall knowledge has risen exponentially. 
  • Writing has the power to change the way people think, due to the ability to publish so easily. 
  • Schools that used basel programs through the years showed flat academic progress. 
  • Private companies are taking over much of education. 

Common Core

  • Cost can be a problem if the CCSS assessments take too much money from other instructional needs. 
  • The problem is not the standards themselves. The problem is the way CCSS is being implemented. 
  • It’s important that educators maintain a healthy optimism.
  • CCSS is asking for greater comprehension and deeper meaning. 
    • We can’t do it alone. We need to have a coordinated approach to literacy-text complexity matters. Reading is about assessing children in their reading and moving them up in terms of text complexity. 
  • Reading will be assessed by writing. 
  • Michael Fullan says that the problem with education is the fragmentation of too many innovations that are uncoordinated with ongoing work. Only innovations that have high fidelity lead to academic achievement. 



  • Close reading: teachers have to spend more time on text. While there has to be balance here, it is no longer sufficient for students to simply give their impression of how the story “makes them feel” or how they are connected to the text. Students have to engage in close reading in order to comprehend the text itself. This video from Lucy’s Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project is a nice elementary view of this. 
  • The number of minutes that children actually read is quite important. 


  • Curriculum dilemma…What’s the promise that we make to kids regarding writing? Other areas (such as math) are more curriculum centered. 
  • Writing…
    • should be a separate subject
    • should be taught explicitly
    • should have expectations for volume
    • is full of genres such as Narratives (personal realistic fiction, science fiction, narrative memoir), Informational (Fact sheets, brochures, reports, lab reports, research projects), Opinion (persuasive letters, speeches, petitions, editorials, personal essays, debate, argument). 
    • is so important that writers must have an audience-be sure we celebrate and publish writing. 


Feedback on Lucy and her work? Please comment. 

Toll Booths and Changing the World

Toll booth

Courtesy of 

My daughter Abby and I were driving together this morning when we passed through the tolls heading onto Interstate 93 here in New Hampshire. We noticed an elderly gentleman manning the tolls, the same person who was present on Christmas Eve when we drove through. Abby conveyed some sympathy for the man but my selfish thoughts went to the relative mental ease his job requires compared to the complicated nature of a school administrator. To think that I wouldn’t bring work home or have to worry about filling my life with scores of projects provided me with a brief vision of serenity and simplicity. But after about 10 seconds of mental bliss, I realized, of course, that I have to embrace the larger vision as part of my life calling.

Ironically, my Superintendent sent me a post today from Bongani Sibeko entitled The 4 Common Habits of World Changers which reminded me of my responsibility to maximize my time, talent, and energy – for we pass through this life just once.

Sibeko has four simple habits he sees from those who changed the world, such as Mandela, Mother Teresa, JFK, and Lincoln:

1. Have a purpose

A purpose is what you were born to do here on this earth, only you were assigned this purpose, you do not share it with anyone and when you know it and live by it, you can’t help but transform your world.

If we have any sense of fate or destiny, we must recognize that we have a purpose in this world to serve others and make a positive difference. 

2. Have a conviction

World changers have an unswerving sense of conviction.

What is it that drives you? Do you have passion for children with disabilities or the urban poor? Have you recently taking over the leadership of a school with a staff full of risk-takers? Perhaps you want to develop a flipped school with emerging technology? Do the members of your community feel disenfranchised and you feel convicted to change that impression?

3. Have a vision

Vision inspires passion and inspiration in these people and when they communicate their visions to the rest of the people, you can’t help but be inspired.

Vision is hard to grasp. For we administrators there’s times when it’s difficult to find the time to be a visionary when we are worried about keeping the “trains running on time.” Nonetheless, we must strive to carve out precious time to think and reflect. 

4. Take action

World changers are action-driven; they act on their passion, purpose and dreams. To them merely talking about their dreams is never enough and acting on them is a prerequisite to creating a desired change in the world.

Plans are but optimistic dreams if not acted upon. This is where productive leaders make a difference utilizing research and tools for productivity and ensuring that every minute matters.

All of this is good advice as we head into 2014. Let’s live our lives with mission and passion knowing that we have been given the honor to improve the lives of children within our responsibility.