Sunday, December 6, 2015

Introducing MCAS 2.0

On November 17, 2015 the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education made the decision to support the recommendation of the Commissioner of Education to move forward with a next generation MCAS test for all students, MCAS 2.0.

For the past two years Massachusetts has been “test-driving” a new assessment called PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) which measures student performance on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  These are the standards on which Massachusetts modeled its 2011 Frameworks in Mathematics and English Language Arts. 

This next-generation assessment allows the state to retain control over the content of the questions and many elements of the test while also utilizing much of the PARCC tool that a Massachusetts team of PARCC fellows helped to build. 

The decision calls for online testing for all students in 2019 with a plan to help schools and districts improve their technology infrastructure in the meantime.  In order to best prepare for the next generation assessment, which is still in development, many districts in Massachusetts will be taking the PARCC assessment in 2016 for grades 3-8.  Schools will be able to choose computer- or paper-based assessment for the format of the test.

So what does this mean for North Reading?

       Having experienced PARCC in 2014 and 2015, North Reading students and educators are better prepared for the PARCC in 2016 and the style of the next generation MCAS in the future as all indications that this assessment will resemble PARCC in many ways.
       Computer-based testing is challenging in that it is an entirely new mode of test-taking for many students.  As we transition to all students using computers in 2019 we should understand the significance of this variable for students.
       Students in grades 3-8 in North Reading will take PARCC for ELA and Mathematics.  Grade 10 students will take MCAS in the spring of 2016.
       Science in grades 5, 8, and high school will also still be MCAS
       Students taking the Alternative MCAS (MCAS Alt.) and the ACCESS test for English Language Learners will continue to take those assessments
       Districts and schools taking PARCC 3-8 will be “held harmless” in terms of accountability during this time of transition.  This means that a level one school will remain level one and that a level two school can only move up.
       Low participation rates can negatively impact a school’s accountability level (example: move down from level one to level two if participation rates are too low)

North Reading educators in grades 3-9 will continue to look at data from the 2015 PARCC assessment in order to better understand the needs of our students and also the effectiveness of our curriculum.  As PARCC is a developing assessment there are many improvements that are still needed in order to make that assessment, or a next generation MCAS, meaningful for our students, teachers, and the entire school community.  Our district will continue to collect feedback from all stakeholders in order to have a voice in the conversation about the development of state assessments in order to create the best possible outcome for our students.

Up-to-date information about student assessments can always be found on our district website on the Assistant Superintendent’s page.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Welcome to the 2015-16 School Year

As we head into the 2015-16 School Year we are excited about the many new changes that await our students and staff.  Many initiatives, new hires, and our new and improved buildings have increased our capacity for digital learning and technology throughout the district.

One of the most exciting changes for this school year is the addition of Digital Learning Specialists and Digital Learning Paraprofessionals at each elementary school.  Middle school and high school students and educators  will also continue to have the support of a Middle School/High School Digital Learning Specialist and all schools will benefit from a district-wide K-12 Specialist.

Our Digital Learning Team will be providing students and teachers with support in their classrooms with new and emerging technologies as well as offering students a state-of-the-art curriculum in Digital Learning, Digital Citizenship, and Computer Science/Robotics.  

Many of our schools have received additional carts of mobile devices this year and several classrooms have been outfitted with SMARTboards for the first time.  There is increased wireless access in all of the school buildings and our Digital Learning team will be present in each school to support the integration of this new technology for student use.

You may also have noticed that we have updated our email addresses to the domain.  We encourage everyone to begin using the new addresses but will continue to support the old domain as we transition. This new address should prove to be easier for students and parents and more efficient than our previous domain and we look forward to this change.

We are also pleased to announce that a new North Reading Public Schools website will be launching in the coming days.  Our hope is that you find our website a useful place for the latest news and information and that it serves as a resource for providing connections to student work and achievements.  With links to the great photographs and videos, artwork, athletic accomplishments, extra-curricular activities, student projects, and more this new website will surely be the go-to place for connecting with the North Reading Public Schools.

Information on the site is communicated through mega-menus and easy to navigate links.  Of note:

--The "Families" menu includes information that is most pertinent to families and the school community
--Links to the district Twitter and (new!) Facebook page are embedded
--Expanding upon the school calendar link allows you to download our calendar to ical
--The Quick Links tab provides links to important information on our site as well as related sites

In the coming weeks each of the websites for our five schools will also be transitioning to the new format.  We thank you in advance for your patience as we transition and look forward to improved communication that this new tool will provide.

Finally, the North Reading Public Schools continues to have a presence on social media, with our schools and administrators using Twitter accounts to communicate important information to the school community.  We have also recently created a Facebook page as well as another means of communication and look forward to posting information throughout the school year.  

Together, all of the initiatives and advances related to technology and digital learning will continue to support and improve the learning experience for our students.  We look forward to the new school year and all of the many changes and opportunities ahead.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Parent Tips for the Common Core Mathematics

Many have likely witnessed the extensive media coverage over the past several months about the Common Core Standards and the assessments that have been designed to measure those standards.  From trusted news sources to blog posts to viral videos on Facebook it is clear that there are many questions about the new standards that have left many parents wondering why there seems to be a “new way” and an “old way” to solve mathematics problems.

In fact, these “new ways” have been around for quite some time.  It’s important for us to distinguish between a new way of teaching and learning and a poorly worded worksheet that has gone viral on the internet.

This article will help to frame some of the thinking behind the changes represented in the new 2011 standards and provide some helpful resources to parents to work with their students at home.

PhotoMath (

This smartphone application, available in the Apple, Windows, Amazon and Android Stores, has been a revelation for us in recent weeks since a professional development provider shared this application with our teachers.  According to the application’s website this app provides “instant results” as “PhotoMath reads and solves mathematical problems by using the camera of your mobile device in real time.  It makes math easy and simple by educating users how to solve math problems.”   By simply scanning your phone’s camera over any printed mathematical equation the application instantly solves the problem and with the push of a simple button the app completes a step-by-step “human like” problem solving of even the most complicated algebraic equations.  And, as the website states, they are “constantly adding new.”

The takeaway for teachers and parents could be the realization that classwork and homework needs to be assigned in a completely different way.  Much in the same way the calculator allowed us to arrive at the answer and the focus shifted for decades to making sure that you “show your steps,” we now need to think about the fact that a new technology provides the students with both the answer and the steps.

If this is true, then what does this mean for the student?  The argument is similar to those from History class.  If a student can easily google facts and dates then the shift in instruction needs to move from memorizing facts and dates to guiding the student to be an evaluator and thinker.  The student needs to recognize which facts can be verified and determine the reliability of the sources.  The mathematics student needs to become a mathematical thinker.  It is no longer sufficient to just solve the problem and show the steps.  The student must be able to explain and understand how she arrived at that solution.

PhotoMath has many great possibilities and could be very helpful for parents assisting students with their home assignments.

Massachusetts 2011 Frameworks

With the publication of the 2011 Massachusetts frameworks for Mathematics the state provided educators with the Common Core standards and added additional standards adopted by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in December 2010.  Many of the additional standards in Massachusetts are pre-kindergarten standards that were developed collaboratively by early childhood educators from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Department of Early Education and Care, and early childhood specialists from across the state.  According to the frameworks, “these pre-kindergarten standards lay a strong, logical foundation for the kindergarten standards.”

Any parent or educator who has questions about the new standards should first read through the 2011 Frameworks.  We have incorporated much of the information about the new standards into parent presentations and previous articles and shows on public access television because it is critical that all members of the school community understand the guiding principles and standards for mathematical practice that are now embedded along with the grade level standards for all students.

All current Massachusetts frameworks are available here:

Additional Resources

For more parent information about the common core we recommend the site Achieve the Core (  This site provides information for educators, administrators, parents, and students about the shifts in the standards and some of the research behind the decisions for these shifts.

Finally, a website that is designed to help parents to understand the grade level expectations is Milestones (  According to the site, Milestones is a “free online collection of videos aimed at helping parents understand grade-level expectations in grades K-5. Milestones show students demonstrating what success looks like in reading, writing and math, grade by grade.”

We hope that these tools and sources of information will assist parents in working with students to better understand the key shifts in grade level expectations for mathematics.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Providing a Safe and Supportive Environment for our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning (LGBTQ) Students

Providing a Safe and Supportive Environment for our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning (LGBTQ) Students

The mission of the North Reading Public Schools includes the charge to “provide a safe, supportive, and contemporary learning environment” for all of our students.  Recent updates to the Student Anti-discrimination Law that now include gender identity have led us to update our policies and practices in order to ensure that all students continue to be safe and supported.
In recent years our district has taken many proactive steps including creating a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) Club at the high school, providing professional development for educators, and addressing the concerns for the safety and well-being of our LGBTQ students through updates to our Bullying Prevention and Intervention Plan.
Our P.A.U.S.E. group (Public Awareness and Understanding of Social Education) has been at the forefront of exploring the recommendations of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and how best to introduce these recommendations in our schools.  

According to the Department and Elementary and Secondary Education release:
Massachusetts has been, and continues to be a leader nationally in creating
policies and practices to support LGBTQ students. Since 1993,the partnership  
between the Department and the Commission has resulted in groundbreaking
and innovative work.  The Department remains unique in housing a statewide, 
state-supported Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students and GSA Leadership 
Council. The recommendations proposed in this document continue this 
pioneering work.

On May 6, 2015 in the Distance Learning Lab at North Reading High School we will providing an opportunity for parents and the community to learn more about this topic.  Our guest presenter will be Jeff Perrotti, the Director of the Massachusetts Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ students, which is a joint initiative of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth.  He is the co-author, with Kim Westheimer, of the book When the Drama Club is Not Enough.  Jeff has led countless workshops with students, staff, administrators, and has worked closely with our P.A.U.S.E. group and presented to North Reading educators during our February 6, 2015 Professional Development day.

Our hope is that many parents and educators join us on the evening of May 6th at 6:30pm to learn more about gender identity and to hear from Jeff Perrotti and his guest presenters who have truly made a difference in North Reading through their very well-received prior workshops and presentations.  

Monday, February 2, 2015

Professional Development for North Reading Educators

Each year educators in North Reading spend a great deal of time and effort continuously improving themselves professionally.  Goals are developed at the district, school, and educator level that lead to the exploration of a great many topics relevant to those working in our schools.  Many professionals enroll in graduate courses and attend conferences where the latest trends and best practices are explored.  There are professional development days sponsored by the district, opportunities for educators to attend presentations and workshops, as well as online opportunities for extended learning.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has developed standards for High Quality Professional Development (HQPD) that North Reading looks to follow:

The ten standards that make up the Massachusetts Standards for Professional Development:
  1. HQPD has clear goals and objectives relevant to desired student outcomes.
  2. HQPD aligns with state, district, school, and/or educator goals or priorities.
  3. HQPD is designed based on the analysis of data relevant to the identified goals, objectives, and audience.
  4. HQPD is assessed to ensure that it is meeting the targeted goals and objectives.
  5. HQPD promotes collaboration among educators to encourage sharing of ideas and working together to achieve the identified goals and objectives.
  6. HQPD advances an educator's ability to apply learnings from the professional development to his/her particular content and/or context.
  7. HQPD models good pedagogical practice and applies knowledge of adult learning theory to engage educators.
  8. HQPD makes use of relevant resources to ensure that the identified goals and objectives are met.
  9. HQPD is taught or facilitated by a professional who is knowledgeable about the identified objectives.
  10. HQPD sessions connect and build upon each other to provide a coherent and useful learning experience for educators.
This year North Reading educators have participated in several exciting opportunities for professional growth.  In the fall many educators took part in a "Fed Ex Day" which invites educators to explore areas of interests in small groups and work on that project throughout the day and then "deliver" a product back to the larger group by the end of the day.  Inspired by the concept explored in Daniel Pink's Drive, the idea stems from Australian software developers who are instructed to work on anything they choose, provided it is not a part of their regular job.  This allows the participants to be creative and explore ideas and resources that they might not have otherwise considered, leading to innovation and the development of exciting new possibilities in the classroom.

Several educators this year are also taking part in an online learning opportunity from the department of education entitled Teaching and Developing an Online High School Course- Fundamentals. According to the course description, this course will empower teachers to build their own online course from start to finish on a learning management system (LMS) through a combination of asynchronous and synchronous elements including independent reading, discussion forums, and webinars.

On February 6, 2015 North Reading educators will participate in a full-day professional development day.  Teachers in grades Kindergarten- 2nd grade will have the opportunity to hear from one of the leading speakers on mathematics in the country, Dr. Andrew Chen.  Middle school educators will hear from Bill Atwood, author of How Did You Get That?  Seven Strategies for Improving Written Responses in Math.  Science educators will explore the new Next Generation Science Standards. Others will choose from presentations from the Middlesex Partnership for Youth on Teen Dating Violence and Underage Substance Abuse or technology workshops offered by our Digital Learning Team and other North Reading educators!

This spring our Digital Learning Team hopes to provide a series of workshops such as "Technology Tuesdays" that would allow participants to attend one or more in a series of professional learning opportunities.  A similar program will be provided for all educators in the areas of Special Education and working with English Language Learners.

In addition, North Reading educators have come together recently to discuss professional development and to lead a committee to improve the opportunities for educators in the district.  This committee will have representatives not only from the teachers and nurses but also from the paraprofessionals, secretaries, administrators and all educators in the district.  Many ideas are also being discussed about offering trainings for parents and students outside of the school day, especially in the areas of technology and digital learning.

More information about professional development in North Reading can be found on the district website under the Assistant Superintendent's page.  Any ideas or suggestions for increased opportunities for growth and development can be shared with me at any time via email at or by calling 978-664-9557.