Friday, December 19, 2014

Suggestions for Systemic Change in Response to low NYSTCE Test Scores

             The new NYSTCE exams, including the ALST, EAS, CST, and edTPA, requires a balance between support for the teacher candidate, promotion of active inquiry, and committed engagement by faculty.  Initial testing results indicate the need to strengthen the academic and quantitative literacy skills of teacher candidates (Thompson, Case, Alvarado-Santos, 2014).  Additionally, the importance of data-driven instruction makes it vital for teacher candidates to exhibit competency in the collection, analysis, and utilization of data BEFORE becoming a certified teacher (Zarian, 2014). 

            NYSTCE exams are examples of trailing indicators of success.  The intent of increased rigor of these exams is to produce more professionally competent teachers.  To prepare teacher candidates for the increased rigor of the NYSTCE exams, effective teacher preparation programs will undertake an extensive curriculum mapping process (Ahuna, Batchelor, et al., 2014).  Curriculum mapping ensures the program’s leading indicators of success provide optimal opportunities for professional development.
            During the curriculum mapping process, faculty teams compare existing course requirements to CAEP Standards, revised state exam performance indicators, and the P-12 Common Core Learning Standards.  Revised courses with new assignments provide better professional alignment and learning progressions.  The result should exhibit greater success on rigorous certification exams and improved competencies within the teacher candidates’ future classrooms.
            Beginning with this post, this writer will examine one NYSTCE exam each month.  The primary purpose and framework of that exam will be identified.  This post will conclude with a presentation of five systemic suggestions for supporting teacher candidates and a template for developing a text set.  The five suggestions can be easily implemented by teacher preparation programs and interdisciplinary faculty.  Subsequent posts in this series will present concrete examples of a test set, thereby providing diverse opportunities for practicing critical thinking, academic comprehension, and persuasive writing.
            This month examines the Academic Literacy Skills Test (ALST).  The ALST was designed to measure the academic literacy skills needed to effectively teach within New York State public schools. The total testing time is 210 minutes.  The constructed response items and extended writing assignment account for 60% of the candidates total score.  Candidates can utilize 20 minutes each for the two constructed responses.  These are intended to contribute to the 60 minute extended writing assignment.  Obviously, writing efficiency and effectiveness is required for these sections.  Students are wise to confront these items and writing assignment first.  Thereafter, the 40 selected-response (multiple-choice) items, which account for 40% of the potential score, can be undertaken with the remaining 110 minutes.
            Administration of the ALST is through computer-based testing.  Crucially, this may be a new format for many teacher candidates.  Therefore, it is wise for the teacher candidate to access the computer-based testing tutorials prior to the day of test administration.  This planning for success will mitigate his or her stress and mental overload on the day of the actual exam.
Thus far, we discussed the ALST framework and study strategies.  However, the most effective programmatic approach for increasing and sustaining teacher candidate success is to follow up the curriculum mapping process with course assignments that promotes alignment with learning progressions.  Effective support of teacher candidates exhibit facilitated access to the provided ALST Preparation Materials.  The link provides access to study guides, videos, tutorials, and a full-length practice test with score report explanation.  Both ALST and EAS practice tests can be purchased in bulk through Pearson by contacting<>  
            Teacher preparation programs that purchase practice tests in bulk can provide teacher candidates with a structured study program based on results of the practice test.  Resources such as the ResultsAnalyzerTM have the potential to examine ALST, EAS, CST, and edTPA test data.  As part of Pearson’s score reporting system, the ResultsAnalyzerTM can encourage teacher preparation programs to efficiently examine test results and identify potential areas of program improvement.  Data analysis resources support teacher candidates by encouraging program improvement based on identified areas of need. 
            Teacher preparation programs need to embrace a change in the presentation of leading indicators of success to its teacher candidates.  Development of test sets for every course is an effective starting point, not an end goal.  Whenever much of the student body exhibits difficulty with analytical and quantitative literacy skill development, a campus-wide approach to elevating higher order thinking skills across disciplines will efficiently promote sustained success.  By embracing the following five activities, faculty become effectively engaged in the efficient process of student skill development:
  1. Opportunities for Analytical Literacy: Assignments requiring comprehension of, and written response to, point/counterpoint arguments, text sets, or class debates.
  2. Promoting Quantitative Literacy: Do Now interpretation of graphs and charts that begin class sessions.
  3. Addition of a writing dimension to any written assignment rubric: Clarity of high writing  expectations.
  4. Referrals to the Writing Center: As soon as a student exhibits less than college-level writing.
  5. Requiring evidence of the utilization of proofreading/editing strategies prior to submission of written assignments: Inclusion of score of >95 (screen shot) as an appendix to written assignments
            For the most part, the suggested activities provide rich opportunities for mitigating deficits in analytical and quantitative literacy skill development.  However, these solutions do not require faculty to develop additional skills.  Rather, a college-wide faculty embrace of these activities simply makes critical thinking, academic comprehension, and persuasive writing, an explicit expectation within the institute of higher education.  Collectively, these suggestions embrace the metaphor that a rising tide raises all ships.  This is a win/win habit (Covey, 1989), beneficial for all stakeholders.
            During a professional development workshop for CUNY, Dr. Gail Buffalo (2014) provided an excellent example of a text set.  The following text and sample prompt exhibits expectations found on the ALST.  All credit for the following sample belongs to Dr. Buffalo: 

Assignment 1: Use Passages A & B to respond to the following assignment.

In a response of approximately 100-200 words, identify which author presents a more compelling argument. Your response must:
·         Outline the specific claims made in each passage;
·         Evaluate the validity, relevance, and sufficiency of evidence used to support each claim; and
·         Include examples from both passages to support your evaluation

Your response should be written for an audience of educated adults. With the exception of appropriately identified quotations and paraphrases from the sources provided, your writing must be your own. The final version of your response should conform to the conventions of edited American English.

Assignment 2: Use Passage B and the Graphic to respond to the following assignment.

In a response of approximately 100-200 words, explain how the information presented in the graph can be integrated with the author’s central argument about the impact of the new Interpretive Rule in the Clean Water Act and Passage B. Your response must:
·         Explain how specific information presented in the graph either supports or counters the author’s claims, reasoning, and evidence with regard to the Clean Water Act’s New Interpretive Rule.
·         Include examples from the passage and the graph to support your explanation.

Your response should be written for an audience of educated adults. With the exception of appropriately identified quotations and paraphrases from the sources provided, your writing must be your own. The final version of your response should conform to the conventions of edited American English.

Assignment 3: Use Passages A and B to respond to the following assignment.

Should the New Interpretive Rule to the Clean Water Act be rescinded, or should it remain in effect?   

In an essay in your own words of approximately 400–600 words, present a fully developed argument that introduces and supports a claim that assesses the impact of the Clean Water Act’s new Interpretive Rule.  
·         include a knowledgeable claim that demonstrates an understanding of the topic;
·         use valid reasoning that draws on and extends the arguments in the sources provided;
·         support your claim with relevant and sufficient evidence from all three sources; and
·         anticipate and address at least one counterclaim.

Your essay should be written for an audience of educated adults. You must maintain an appropriate style and tone and use clear and precise language throughout. With the exception of appropriately identified quotations and paraphrases from the sources provided, your writing must be your own. The final version of your essay should conform to the conventions of edited American English.
Passage A Excerpts: fromAnother EPA and Army Corps Power Grab: Limiting Exemptions for Agriculture Under the CWA”

1             Agricultural activities will likely be far more costly ‌and difficult, at least if the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) get their way. In addition to their controversial “waters of the U.S.” proposed rule that would expand the waters that the federal government can regulate under the Clean Water Act (CWA), the EPA and Corps simultaneously released an interpretive rule with the proposed rule. An interpretive rule, unlike this specific interpretive rule, is supposed to be a non-binding interpretation of law that makes no substantive changes to the regulations.

2             This so-called interpretive rule allegedly helps agriculture by expanding CWA exemptions from permitting requirements for agricultural activities. As the EPA argues, “The IR [Interpretive Rule] does not eliminate or limit any existing exemptions, it only adds to the existing exemptions.” Despite this claim, the interpretive rule as written will actually narrow the existing exemptions for agriculture.

Existing Law (The “Normal Farming” Exemption)
3             Generally, property owners have to secure a CWA Section 404 permit when they discharge dredged material (material excavated or dredged from waters of the U.S.) or fill material (“material placed in waters such that dry land replaces water—or a portion thereof—or the water’s bottom elevation changes” into a “water of the U.S.” An important exemption from this permitting requirement exists for “normal farming” activities.

4             Under Section 404(f)(1)(A) of the Clean Water Act (the “normal farming” exemption), dredge-and-fill permits are not required when the discharge into a covered water is “from normal farming, silviculture, and ranching activities such as plowing, seeding, cultivating, minor drainage, harvesting for the production of food, fiber, and forest products, or upland soil and water conservation practices.” The examples of “normal farming, silviculture, and ranching activities” that are listed are not exhaustive. Despite this broad language, the interpretive rule puts the “normal farming” exemption at risk.

The Interpretive Rule Narrows the “Normal Farming” Exemption [and] Imposes Conditions.
5             The interpretive rule, along with an accompanying memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the EPA, Corps, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), has identified 56 Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) agricultural conservation practices that fall under this “normal farming” exemption. However, to be eligible for this exemption as it applies to the 56 conservation practices, farmers and ranchers would have to meet very detailed conservation standards. Under existing law, as written, the “normal farming” exemption would likely already exempt many of these 56 practices without any detailed conservation standards.

6             The 56 conservation practices consist of normal farming activities, such as building a fence, mulching, and grazing cattle. As can be seen from these examples, many of the conservation practices are common and critical activities that farmers and ranchers engage in unrelated to conservation, making the impact of the interpretive rule even greater. The potential overreach is alarming. Farmers who build a fence, for example, could be subject to Section 404 permit requirements unless they meet the required standards…

Excludes Conservation Practices.
7             There are over 100 other NRCS conservation practices that have not been listed. The MOU explains:
The NRCS conservation practices standards considered as of the date of this MOU to be “normal farming” when conducted as part of an ongoing operation and thus exempt from permitting under CWA section 404(f)(1)(A) are listed in Attachment A to this MOU. Note that the agencies expect this list to evolve over time as NRCS modifies or develops new conservation practice standards.

8             This language suggests that the 56 listed practices are the only ones exempt from permitting and are the exhaustive list of practices that are “normal farming,” at least until the agencies make changes to the list. Therefore, the other NRCS practices, such as water wells and sprinkler systems, would likely not be considered “normal farming” and could be subject to Section 404 permitting requirements.

Unintended Consequence
9             Farmers and ranchers will likely avoid engaging in conservation practices, as much as feasible, if it will involve new and complicated technical conservation standards or having to secure a Section 404 permit. The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture wrote in a comment on the interpretive rule, “We are concerned that the Interpretive Rule could unintentionally result in a reduction in conservation program participation and the installation of fewer water quality-enhancing conservation practices.”

10           The proposed “waters of the U.S. rule” is bad for farmers and ranchers; the interpretive rule only makes matters worse. Farmers and ranchers should not have to be concerned about engaging in normal farming activities under the “normal farming” exemption, yet this interpretive rule would create justified concern when carrying out even the most basic agricultural practices. This would not only affect agricultural producers but also everyone who relies on the agricultural sector for food—in other words, all Americans.

—Daren Bakst is a Research Fellow in Agricultural Policy in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies, of the Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity, at The Heritage Foundation.

 Passage B: With Water Quality, Big Problems Start in Small Streams
Source: St. Louis Today (online)

1             Missouri is a water-rich state, but clean water is getting harder to find. When it comes to water quality, big problems start in small streams. Small streams and wetlands are vital for keeping our waters clean and reducing flood impacts, but in Missouri we still lack basic water-quality protections for these essential waters.

2             A new rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers could change this by clarifying that small streams and wetlands are protected by the Clean Water Act.

3             For years, small streams and wetlands have fallen victim to inconsistent protections. In the absence of clarity, millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent litigating over which waters are protected from dumping.

4             Tens of thousands of miles of rivers and streams do not have water quality protections because Missouri has not implemented the basic requirements of the Clean Water Act. Wetlands are in worse shape owing to the fact that Missouri does not currently have any water-quality standards for wetlands and we have already lost 87 percent of them to drainage and development. 

5             The new Clean Water Protection Rule would require Missouri to set pollution limits on these currently unprotected waters. The Missouri Coalition for the Environment supports this rule because small streams and wetlands are vital for maintaining clean water. It is essential that the EPA and the corps adopt the clarification and enforce its implementation in Missouri.

6             The proposed rule is under attack by polluters who are trying to minimize these resources by calling them “ditches” and suggesting that the government is overreaching in protecting them. Opponents of the Clean Water Protection Rule fail to recognize that small creeks, streams and wetlands are significant water resources on which all of us depend.

7             In addition to supplying the vast majority of our drinking water, these streams help generate over $11 million in Missouri state revenue each year through permits and licenses for fishing, waterfowl hunting, and boating.  Plus there’s an additional boost to local economies that depend on tourism dollars from floating, kayaking and canoeing.

8             The proposed rule takes into account water usage by agriculture and private businesses and has been endorsed by many farmers and water dependent businesses, people who understand first-hand the critical importance of water. The deadline for public comment is Oct. 20. Submit yours at

Heather B. Navarro  •  St. Louis
Executive director, Missouri Coalition for the Environment

Source: Environmental Protection Agency