Friday, February 11, 2011

I-CAT Updates and an Apology

Well blog readers, sometimes we make a mistake. When we do, we need to take responsibility for that mistake and apologize. Below is some information about updates we are making to the I-CAT. Most of it I'm sure you will see as good news. But the last item addresses a mistake I made. Please read below for more information. And know that I am sorry I made the mistake. If you have questions, give me a holler. Spread the word. Thanks folks!

Iowa Curriculum Alignment Toolkit (I-CAT)

Upcoming Changes


How will changes to the Iowa Core in Literacy and Math affect the I-CAT?

Revisions to the Iowa Core in Literacy and Mathematics require the I-CAT be updated to include these changes. These changes will affect all five content areas of the Iowa Core: Literacy, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, and 21st Century Skills.

Literacy and Mathematics will be completely replaced in the I-CAT with the new content approved by the State Board of Education on November 17th, 2010.

Portions of the new Iowa Core in Literacy also apply to Science, Social Studies, and Mathematics. This means that Science and Social Studies also need to be updated with this new content in the I-CAT.

If I already entered data into the I-CAT this year, will I have to start over?

Literacy & Mathematics. If you have entered data into the I-CAT for Literacy and/or Mathematics while reflecting on the 2010-11 school year, you and your district should consider entering data again once the I-CAT is updated. Your previously entered data will remain in the database if you want to use it for a report, but it can’t/won’t be carried forward to pre-fill a new version. A new version date will be assigned for these two content areas. The version date will be the day they are loaded into the I-CAT.

Science & Social Studies. If you have entered data into the I-CAT for Science or Social Studies while reflecting on the 2010-11 school year, your data will be carried forward into the newer version. That means your existing data will remain in place, and you can just reflect on the additions.

A new version date will be assigned for these two content areas. The version date will be the day they are loaded into the I-CAT. In addition, the old version date will disappear. Please note, the data will not disappear, just the version date label that was used when the data were entered. In other words, don’t be scared when the version date you started with is gone, but there is a more recent date there. This is done by design.

There is a discrepancy between what is in the I-CAT and on the Iowa Core web page for Civic Literacy for 21st Century Skills. Why is this and what are the implications for the I-CAT?

When the Social Studies portion of the Iowa Core was updated in the I-CAT in October, 2010, this included changes made to Civic Literacy. Unfortunately, those changes were not applied to the Civic Literacy portion of 21st Century Skills in the I-CAT. Both sections of Civic Literacy are intended to be identical. This oversight is completely my responsibility and fault (Brad Niebling, Heartland Alignment Specialist).

What this means for users of the I-CAT is that if you entered data for the Civic Literacy portion of 21st Century Skills on or after October 27th, 2010, you were reflecting on an older version of the Iowa Core.

We are currently working on a solution that will allow the data you entered for the other four Disciplines for 21st Century Skills (i.e., Employability Skills, Financial Literacy, Health Literacy, Technology Literacy) to be carried forward. This way, you would only have to enter new data for Civic Literacy in 21st Century Skills. As soon as the I-CAT is capable of doing this, the field will be notified. In the meantime, it is recommended to skip the Civic Literacy portion of 21st Century Skills until the correction to the I-CAT is made.

Again, I am incredibly sorry for this mistake. It is our goal to make the I-CAT and related alignment services both helpful and of minimal invasion to your valuable time and energy. Please know that we will work both quickly and diligently to fix this problem, and to prevent something like this happening again in the future.

When will these updates to the I-CAT be ready for the field to use?

The documents for all five content areas are still being formatted for uploading into the I-CAT. Furthermore, the programming needed to enact the actions listed in the previous questions is under development and testing. The goal is for all changes to be completed and the I-CAT ready for use by the last week of February or first week of March.

Once the I-CAT is ready for use, it will be announced through the following channels:
  • Iowa Core State Network Team Communique´
  • Twitter (@bniebling)
  • Heartland Alignment Services Wiki, under Recent Alignment Announcements here and here.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Why is K-16 Alignment a New Idea?

I recently came across an Education Week commentary on Twitter called High School to College: The New Alignment. So, being the alignment aficionado I am, I, well, actually, put off reading it for a few weeks. January has been crazy busy!

Anyway, I finally had a chance to read the blog, and I wanted to share a few reflections not necessarily on the blog, but rather on some of the issues raised by the author, Jordan E. Horowitz.

The Problem. The basic premise is this: many students are not ready for the transition to 2- or 4-year institutes of higher education. The main hypothesis posed by the author seems to be that K-12 academic standards (and the standardized tests that are hopefully aligned with them) are not the same as college- and career-readiness standards, which in turn are not the same as college-entrance expectations. While there is likely merit in these distinctions, it tastes like so many "education meals" people have tried to feed me since I got into the alignment biz in graduate school: grown-ups arguing semantics while nothing ever changes for kids and teachers in classrooms.

To the author's credit, he has been working on solutions to this potential problem.

Alignment Redux, Good or Bad. Relatedly, the idea of alignment redux is posed for our consideration. To quote: "...we continue to align high school curricula and work to state standards and assessments." First of all, most of the research and experiential evidence I've examined would contradict this statement. Our alignment with state standards and assessments is typically quite low. But let's go on with the premise laid out by Horowitz.

Here's my take: if we aren't aligning something to something else, then we are purposefully setting up a system designed to confuse and frustrate all members of that system. The problem isn't alignment redux. It's that what we are aligning our assessments (and hopefully instructional content) to isn't the right "stuff." Hopefully the work of the Iowa Core, now with the Common Core State Standards in English/Language Arts and Mathematics, will get us closer to what students need to be successful beyond the K-12 system (college-bound or otherwise).

Why is K-16 Alignment a New Idea? To answer my own question, I have no idea. I don't think it is. I just don't think we've spent much time genuinely considering the idea and doing something about it. The culture of education in the United States is one of autonomy, though I fear this doesn't typically lead to individualizing student learning experiences.

We should not be surprised many students struggle when they make the transition to college. If the culture is one of autonomy, by definition we would expect to see a potentially infinite set of educational experiences. Let me be clear on this point: we may need a wide range of instructional methods and experiences to best meet the needs of each and every student, but when we provide them drastically different opportunities to learn different topics, concepts, and skills, we are setting students up to struggle.

Like it or not, prior learning affects current and future learning. We may want students to be able to generalize and transfer learning to new and novel situations with minimal direction from teachers, but research from both constructivist and "direct instruction" or behavioral perspectives both point to the need for practice with feedback. This gets difficult if the topics/concepts/skills are repeated with shallow coverage, or if big gaps exist between transition points in the K-16 system.

Potential Solutions. Before we can talk about solutions, one has to perceive there to be a problem. Since I'm the blogger here at the moment writing this, we'll go with my perception, which is that there is a problem, and alignment can and should be part of the solution. Horowitz suggests three potential solutions to tighten alignment between high school and college.

(1) "First, postsecondary institutions must be able to clearly state and explain what is expected of entering students."

(2) "Second, we must develop longitudinal student-data systems that allow us to track students from year to year, school to school, and educational segment to segment."

(3) "Finally, this must be done by faculty members."

I think these can all be part of the solution, no doubt. I actually really support these ideas. I have some additional ideas as well.

(1) Purposefully engage in increasing the degree of alignment in the K-12 system. If we aren't working on alignment at all times in the K-12 system, it will be impossible to work on alignment with the post-secondary system. Misaligned + ?? = Misaligned. We are beginning this work with the Iowa Core in Outcome 4, as well as with the work of other Outcomes like Assessment for Learning in Outcome 6.

(2) Include groups like ACT in the process for creating an increasingly aligned K-16 system. Despite the ever-increasing loudness about the shortcomings of large-scale standardized assessments, ACT in my opinion continues to provide useful information and services. This Iowa-specific report provides some potentially useful information about student preparedness for college. ACT provides reports like this for all of the states, as well as overall.

Collectively, I think improving K-16 alignment is potentially a win-win. The K-12 system has a better picture of what they are supporting their students to get to, and the post-secondary system should be getting better-prepared students. That is why we are all in education, right? For the students?