MCAS vs. PARCC for 2016

At our last PTO meeting, State Representative Sean Garballey joined us, and we had a discussion about where the state would be heading this spring in terms of assessments. The following is a letter from Commissioner Mitchell Chester & the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that I received yesterday:

“Dear Superintendents, Charter School Leaders, and Principals,

I am writing to update you on discussions I had with the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education at its meetings on October 19-20. As you know, we have reached the end of our two-year test drive of PARCC, and the Board is scheduled to vote on Nov. 17 on next steps for statewide testing. While I have not yet made my recommendation to the Board, I want to share with you what I have shared with the Board.

Until recently, I thought about this as a binary decision: whether to adopt PARCC or continue with MCAS. On October 19, I told the Board there is a third option worth considering: using the effort we’ve invested in PARCC to create MCAS 2.0. To this end, I shared three considerations that are guiding my reasoning.

First, MCAS has served the Commonwealth well. I can’t imagine that the success of our students and educators would have been possible without a high-quality assessment that provided feedback on student, school, district, and state achievement and progress. Now that we have the benefit of two decades of experience and have upgraded our curriculum frameworks and content standards, it is time to upgrade our assessments.

Second, in important ways, PARCC sets a higher bar than MCAS for student performance. This is particularly true as students move into middle and high school. This higher bar is not simply about being harder. PARCC is designed to assess our updated understanding of learning progressions in mathematics, text complexity and the interplay of reading and writing, research skills, and the academic expectations of higher education and employers. Many Massachusetts K-12 educators, higher education faculty, and DESE staff contributed to making PARCC a strong assessment.

In addition, the online assessment experience is qualitatively different than taking a paper-and-pencil test. The online environment is more engaging (students prefer it by almost a two-to-one margin); the introduction of video and audio increases accessibility for many students, including English language learners and students with disabilities; and the online setting mirrors the digital world that is ubiquitous in students’ lives and futures.

Third, while Massachusetts has exercised a leadership role among the consortium states, any path forward that includes PARCC must be a path over which we have control. To be confident that we exercise ultimate agency over the direction of the Commonwealth’s assessment program, I am considering options for taking advantage of our access to PARCC to build MCAS 2.0.

I will continue to develop these ideas in the coming weeks, and I look forward to sharing my recommendation to the Board with you in early November.”

As soon as the decision in made, I will share it with you.

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Highlights From Peirce This Year

Peirce Elementary School


Peirce has a healthy focus on activity this year. We have continued with our monthly “Walk to School Days” with great participation. We added a new bike rack out in front, and biking to school has become a regular family event. We are planning bike safety programs for the spring.

We started the BOKS before school fitness program for our students this year, and have continued to offer the “Fit Girls” running club as well. Look for us at the ‘Cause and Event’ 5K this May.


The Peirce students and community continue to show their generosity and community spirit all year long. We participated in the Cradles to Crayons collections, the November Turkey collection for the local families, pajama and coat drives, Pennies for Patients, and food pantry drives, just to name a few.


Our 4th Grade teachers and students will once again be donating their time to run the Peirce Baseball Store at Peirce, where all the profits go to the Alana and Joshua Fund, and “Pitching in For Kids”, a charity sponsored by the Red Sox.


Peirce is a very social community. The parents organize a Bottle Rocket exposition in the fall, a talent show, movie night, family dance, art show, International Night, and our Spring Fair, coming up in June. We added a new Lantern Walk in November this year, and also continued our traditional pumpkin decorating, cookie decorating, and ice cream social for the students.


Our teachers have been busy looking at students’ work and assessments. Grade levels hold periodic data reviews to track their students’ progress. They pour over MCAS data and district assessments to measure where our student’s strengths and weaknesses are. That information helps steer our instruction.


Most of our teachers have completed a RETELL course on behalf of our ELL students. They are also studying “The Behavior Code” with in-services from one of the authors, Jessica Minnehan.   “The Behavior Code” is collaboration between a behavioral analyst and a child psychiatrist, which offers a systematic approach for deciphering causes and patterns of difficult student behaviors, and matches them with proven strategies to get the student back on track.


Third grade parents and teachers are beginning preparations for “Colonial Day” in May, and educational day about life and learning back in Colonial Times.


Once again, the Peirce Chess Club, the ‘Castle of Chess’, has once again come back with a trophy from the Rhode Island Scholastic Chess Championship. Their yearlong practice paid off again!


We continue to celebrate ‘Peirce Pride’ every day in our Perseverance, Effort, Integrity, Responsibility, Cooperation, and Excellence, just as we celebrate our motto, “Strive to Shine, as a Student, as a Friend”.


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Great Things Happening at Peirce

I thought it might be a nice time to share some great learning moments I have seen here at Peirce recently:

Kindergarten – students playing math games in groups, working together, and learning about numbers.

First Grade – students breaking apart big numbers into 2’s, 5’s, and 10’s, in order to understand their value.

Second Grade – math centers using iPads, dice, ping pong balls, and game boards to add and subtract large numbers and TIME (that’s tricky!!)

Third Grade – students working on math strategies, and looking over their work and identifying their best work, reflecting on what made it their best.

Fourth Grade – students working in groups to discuss and identify character traits, and finding evidence to support their decision.

Fifth Grade – working in pairs to discuss word problems, and best strategies for solving those problems.

In art, 4th grade students are learning about pottery styles and ‘pinch pots’.

In music, students are learning types of music, and of course, new songs.

In gym, students are leaning about sports and nutrition (ask your 2nd grader about the food groups)

In library, students are browsing books and listening to stories that tie into their curriculum, like the 3rd grade making Pilgrim and Native American puppets after listening to historical fiction.

We are very busy and productive every day!!!

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Advice For Parents on Homework

This was an interesting summary I found on “The Marshall Memo”, I especially like the historical perspective on the reasons why homework exists:

8. Advice for Parents on Homework
“Homework has a branding problem,” says author Bruce Feiler in this New York Times article. “Or, to be a little less pointy-headed about it, everybody hates homework.” But this hasn’t always been so. “Parents have been having these battles since before electric lighting,” he says. In the 19th century, homework was popular because people viewed the brain as a muscle that needed to be strengthened by nightly exertion. At the beginning of the 20th century, there was a backlash against repetitive drills, and by the 1940s, homework was out of favor. Then Sputnik got people panicked about the U.S. falling behind the Soviets and lots of homework was part of the solution. There was another dip in the 1960s, and then A Nation at Risk caused yet another surge in the 1980s. Today we’re hearing from both sides: Chinese kids are doing six hours of homework before breakfast! No, play is more important than make-work and Google wants employees who are creative.
In Feiler’s own household, the homework wars come down to squabbles over several questions, and he went looking for answers from experts:
• Do children need to work at their own desks or is the kitchen table okay? Eva Pomerantz, a specialist on parent involvement at the University of Illinois, likes the kitchen table because a parent is usually around, increasing the chance of connections, but is busy preparing meals, which makes it less likely they’ll do the homework themselves. But it depends on your house, she says: “If you have a crazy, noisy kitchen, that’s probably not the place for your kids to be doing homework unless they have amazing concentration.”
• Is it okay for children to do homework sprawled on their beds? “It’s not about the kid being on their bed while they do their homework,” says Erika Patall, a University of Texas expert on motivation and achievement. “It’s about the extent to which they’re really engaged and attentive to their work.” Young people vary in their preference for bright or dim lighting and sitting up or lying down. If the kid is falling asleep, looking out the window, or on the phone, then bed homework is a problem.
• How about listening to music or doing FaceTime with friends? Patall says the research on multitasking is pretty clear: “People tend to be very bad multitaskers, even people who say, ‘I’m a great multitasker.’” Doing other things extends the time homework takes and erodes the quality of work.
• Should parents go over homework to check for errors? “If you’re concerned that imperfect homework makes you look bad, that’s problematic,” says Pomerantz. But regularly looking over homework may help students put in more effort and catch their own mistakes.
• Should parents criticize sloppy homework or stick to encouragement? “You don’t always have t
o be upbeat,” says Patall. “You don’t want to deliver critical messages that imply things can’t be fixed. So you never want to say things like, ‘You’re stupid.’ But pointing out a situation where they should try harder would certainly be justified.”
• What will make children more self-motivated? The key is to give them as much control over their homework as possible, says Pomerantz, who has to fight her own tendency to be controlling. She tells her children how hard she works and says she expects them to do the same. “If you give them space to be self-reliant,” she says, “they usually will take it.”

“The Homework Squabbles” by Bruce Feiler in The New York Times, September 14, 2014,

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The First Full Week

We are now in 7 (or day 3 for Kindergarten) and it feels like we are in a good routine.  As I walked through the classrooms today, I saw kindergarteners holding hands, helping each other read, and answer,  the “Mystery Question” of the day.  I saw first graders reciting the pledge of allegiance, and second graders sorting out the difference between asking and telling sentences.  Everyone seems happy and engaged in their work.

Thank you all for your help in starting this year on a happy, positive note!!

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Thank You!

Hi all!
It’s been a long, cold month and I think we’re all hoping that little groundhog gives us some good news this weekend!
We owe a big thank you to all of our families and students for the outpouring of support in for library this month. After some third floor pipes burst on January 4th, we lost hundreds of books and materials in our ELL room, reading room, and library. Thanks to some hard working and dedicated 5th graders, who organized the book drive, we have replaced just about every library book that was destroyed, in only a few weeks. Mrs. T had some credits and donated money that she will use to replace the rest. This was a huge undertaking, so thank you 5th graders, Mrs T, families and community members, your support was priceless!

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The Happiest of Holidays

It has been a crazy few weeks here at the Peirce school, but it is reflective of the hustle and bustle of the season.
I just wanted to share a few nice moments; practicing our writing in Kindergarten to classical music, show and tell with some sweet holiday treasures in first grade, and a wonderful school assembly in the gym.
If you did not hear about it, ask your child to tell you about Rob Serrett. He shared messages of perseverance, kindness, and triumph. I especially like the way he shared the results of Dr. Emoto’s water experiment (you can You Tube it too) as a reminder of how our positive energy can effect those around us.
I wish you the happiest of holidays, a Happy New Year, and a wonderful break with your family.

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An Update for November

Hi Families!

It was great to see so many of you at the Micheal Thompson presentation on the 21st.  I hope you took away as much insight and advice as I did.  If you missed it, I recommend reading any of his books.  He has a lot to share about the social development of children.  A few things I took away:

It is ok to raise our expectations for independence in our children.  In other cultures, such as Japan, students in Kindergarten go on overnight field trips with their teachers.  They also successfully navigate the subway system at this age.

Children learn a lot of their social skills in school.  Support your child’s teacher(s) in helping them learn how to navigate in a social world on their own.

Let them play!  Playing is their job, it’s their work.  It doesn’t have to be structured all the time.

We also just had an assembly called “The Power Of One” on Wednesday.  Ask your child to share the clear message – bullying is not ok, and if you see it, you ‘HAVE TO TELL A TEACHER!!!!”  If they yell that part, that’s because that was how we said it!

Tomorrow (Friday) is our Peirce Pride assembly for ‘Perseverance’, as well as our kick off for the Peirce Savings Bank.

Oh yes, and we’re still reading, writing, and doing math every single day!

Happy Fall!!!

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RETELL for teachers

You may notice that our teachers are very very busy this year, even more so than usual. Beyond the new teacher evaluation system, and the usual daily grind of teaching the most wonderful students in the world, there is another huge undertaking on their plate: RETELL.

The state has mandated that all teachers who have ELL students (English Language Learners) must be properly trained to do so. It is up to Arlington, as a district, to ensure that happens by 2016. The following is from the Massachusetts Department of Education website:

“In June 2012, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted regulations for the SEI endorsement that core academic teachers1 of English language learners (ELLs), and building administrators who supervise such teachers, must earn over the coming four school years. The new requirements are designed to strengthen instruction and better support the academic achievement of ELLs. Our work to address the ELL proficiency gap was accelerated in 2011 when the U.S. Department of Justice notified us that we must mandate professional standards for educators who provide sheltered English instruction to ELL students and must require incumbent SEI teachers to participate in updated SEI training to obtain the essential knowledge and skills needed to provide that instruction.

The centerpiece of the approved regulations is the SEI Teacher Endorsement, the credential that documents a teacher’s preparation to provide subject matter content instruction in English to students who are learning English. The new regulations require that all core academic teachers responsible for the education of one or more ELLs hold an SEI Teacher Endorsement by July 1, 2016. In addition, the SEI Administrator Endorsement establishes that a principal, assistant principal, or supervisor/director is trained to supervise or evaluate core academic teachers who provide SEI. The building administrators will be required to have their SEI Administrator Endorsement by July 1, 2016.

There are four options for incumbent SEI teachers and administrators to qualify for the endorsement:

Successfully complete a Department-approved course of study;
Pass a Department-approved test;
Hold a bachelor’s degree in a major approved by the Department (e.g., applied linguistics) or have other graduate level training approved by the Department that embodies the required standards; or
Hold an English as a Second Language or English Language Learners educator license.”

In short, our teachers are participating in a Master’s level course this year, on a series of Thursdays and Saturdays. It is a demanding course with assessments and homework.

So if it seems a little harder to meet with a teacher, there’s good reason, but don’t worry. They are still giving 110 % in our classrooms – and that’s where it really matters.

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Lunch Rules!!!

When I ask students what their favorite subject is, I often hear “Lunch!”, it is almost as popular as gym.  And that is understandable, it is a time to relax, be social, eat, and have some fun.

It can also be  stressful time for some children.  When we talk to the kids about friendships and bullying, the lunchroom can be a place where bad behavior surfaces, for the same reasons it can be fun – more chance for unstructured socialization.

To help lunchtime be a safe, happy, healthy and somewhat structured time, we do have simple rules that are non-negotiable.  When you talk at home about lunch time, it would be helpful for you to know the rules and why they were created.

#1  Speak respectfully to each other, using an indoor voice. (helps reduce volume, and foster respect)

#2  Walking only, no running. (safety)

#3  Keep your hands and feet to yourself. (safety)

#4  Go right to your seat, or line up politely to get your lunch. (safety and order, up to 100 children can be coming and going in a short period of time)

#5  Raise you hand to leave the table.  (safety and supervision)

#6  ONLY nut free foods are at the nut free table.  (safety – no lunches from home are allowed at this table as we can guarantee their ingredients; school lunches are nut  free, and students with allergies who bring nut free foods are allowed)

#7  Listen to the lunch monitors. (they are the adults and are in charge)

#8  Reports and ‘Double D’ behaviors to a monitor and your teacher, using your Open Circle skills.  (Open Circle is our social-emotional learning program that supports children in the development of good social skills)

#9  Do not exclude others from you table or play time.

#10  Please recycle.

Everyone wants lunch to be safe, happy, and healthy. We have over 272 children moving through the lunchroom in less than two hours.  In that time, our monitors do a great job of cleaning every table so the children sit at a sanitized spot, including the nut free table.  They help children open containers, cut food, put on clothing, and they supervise children inside, outside, and if they need to go to the bathroom.  This is a lot to handle, but they try to do is as kindly as possible.

When children move about unexpectedly, they will be asked to sit down or get into line with their peers.  Often, children are under the impression that lunch monitors don’t have the authority to do this, and it is important to remind them that the rules are there for safety, not to  spoil their fun.  The lunch monitors have a most important job, they are keeping our children safe.

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