Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Testing Disaster


I would like to know why those responsible for the Florida Standards Assessments disaster are not being held accountable for their ineptitude. If the DOE were a corporation, there would be firings and resignations. Consider just a few examples of mismanagement:

  • The flawed FSA ELA Training Tests (see other post on this website).
  • The disruption to the education of students across Florida through a day-by-day "we don't know yet" response to "Will there be a test today? Tomorrow?"
  • The inequity in computer resources among schools.
  • The grossly inadequate rollout of the test; the lack of specific, concrete information; the very poor communication.
  • The angst/frustration/anxiety that students have had to endure because of the foolish mistakes of adults who do not know how to plan, demonstrate intelligent foresight, and respond appropriately.
  • The blatant unfairness of students from several schools taking the same test on different days--Who is naive enough to believe that students won't tell friends from other districts about the content of the test? We are talking about children. Consider how adults act--take a look at the news.
  • Violation of solid research-based fair testing procedures.
  • Irresponsible use of revenue--taxpayer money. Millions of dollars wasted; an outrage.

This test is an embarrassment to the state of Florida. Parents should speak out and call their legislators to demand that the assessment be abolished for the current year. There should also be a thorough investigation, a conclusive report issued, and those responsible for the mistakes should face appropriate consequences.

Perhaps Mr. Marzano could make even more money by creating an evaluation system for testing leadership.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Sample Writing Prompt: "Clowns are the pegs on which the circus is hung" (P.T. Barnum).

It’s no secret that lack of preparedness can lead to big problems. Is being unprepared worth the problems, frustration, waste of time, and tremendous aggravation that not having foresight causes? 

Write an essay in which you take a position on whether or not lack of preparedness is worth the problems, frustration, waste of time, and tremendous aggravation that results. Make sure to include information from the cartoons in your essay.

Manage your time carefully so that you can
·       read the cartoons;
·       plan your essay;
·       write your essay; and
·       revise and edit your essay.

Be sure to
·       include a claim;
·       address counterclaims;
·       use evidence from multiple sources; and
·       avoid overly relying on one source.

Your written response should be in the form of a multi-paragraph essay. Remember to spend time reading, planning, writing, revising, and editing, as sometimes people don't.

Type your answer in the space provided.




                                                                      . . . ITSELF.

Testing Circus


Governor Scott has issued an executive order to stop the FSA for ELA testing at grade 11. This announcement, a few weeks before the actual assessment?! I agree with his decision to get rid of the grade 11 assessment (it is smart, logical, and admirable; Scott's executive order demonstrates true leadership). The situation, however, is a sad indictment of the rollout of this new test. The DOE should have been more proactive in planning and communicating from the beginning.

Timing of FSA in ELA


I hope that the FSA in ELA for each grade level is being administered on the exact same day and time across the state. Otherwise, the assessments would be unfair. Students from one district could easily tell students from another district about the content of their grade-level tests. Not having the tests administered on the same day and time would be an egregious mistake. If anyone can verify that the assessments are in fact synchronous, I would love to hear from you. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

AP English Language and Composition--Analysis Prompt

I give students the following suggestions for the Analysis Prompt on the AP English Language and Composition Exam.

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Analysis Essay Formula
Three People, Rufino Tamayo (1970)
  • No more than 4 or 5 sentences for the introductory paragraph.  Be sure that you have a strong thesis statement (can be two sentences) that directly and specifically outlines what you will be discussing in your essay.  Use key words from the prompt (or synonyms for key words).  If there isn't a clear thesis in the opening paragraph, the AP Reader has a difficult time assessing whether or not you adequately fulfilled the assignment as he/she reads the body paragraphs.  Be sure to address all aspects of the prompt in your thesis (if it is two parts), and of course, save the elaboration for the body of your essay.  Your thesis should be your "anchor," or "North Star" as you write the paper.  No elaboration or examples in the opening paragraph (save that for the body paragraphs).

Friday, February 27, 2015

AP English Language and Composition--Synthesis Prompt

Synthesis of Movement, Giacomo Balla (1914)
Responding to the Synthesis Prompt

I give the following suggestions to my students.

The Synthesis Prompt appears first in the Free-Response Section of the AP English Language and Composition Exam.  Synthesis is a blending of ideas from other sources to create a new whole (your essay).  In this exam, there will be either 6 or 7 Sources (A through G) that you will need to read and gather ideas to support your argument--your response to the prompt. At least one of the Sources will be visual (a chart, a graph, a picture, a cartoon).  The directions on the exam tell you that you must incorporate at least 3 different Sources into your discussion (essay).  You may think of the Synthesis Essay as a mini Research Paper.  You are being tested on your ability to read, evaluate, and utilize the Sources in a coherent written argument.  Below are some pointers that I have come up with after teaching AP English for many years, as well as from my experience as an AP Reader.  The suggestions below are not necessarily part of the rubric from The College Board.  They are based on the conclusions that I have drawn after reading and evaluating many Synthesis Essays over the years.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Modeling Responding to an AP English Language and Composition Argumentative Prompt

Below is an example of a written response to the AP English Language and Composition Argumentative Prompt (2011). I will use this in my classroom to model for students the writing process on the AP Exam. (The response was written in a 40-minute timed session when I attended an AP Summer Institute.) I want to show students that AP Readers understand that their writing is a draft and that they will not be marked down because of cross-outs and penmanship that is difficult to read. The caveat I would tell students is to of course try to write as legibly as possible. If the penmanship is very poor, the AP Reader will struggle and may miss important content in the student response.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

How to Write an Evaluative Essay

I use the following rubric with my Freshman English class:

"Evaluation is the act of considering or examining something in order to judge its value, quality, or importance" (Encarta World English Dictionary).  In an Evaluative Essay on Literature you choose to compare and contrast the qualities of a few texts based on certain criteria and then make a judgment/evaluation about which text you feel was most successful.

For example, you might compare/contrast stories from a particular writing genre, such as Mystery/Horror/Suspense stories.  First you need to decide the criteria that you will use to evaluate the different texts.  For literature, your criteria would be some of the elements of fiction.  Consider plot, setting, characterization, dialogue, figurative language (similes, metaphors, personification), description/imagery, mood (emotional atmosphere), climax, theme, ending, foreshadowing, irony, pacing, etc.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Vocabulary Development


Over the years I've experimented with ways to increase vocabulary skills in students.  Formerly, I would give straight quizzes/tests on the vocabulary, but found that testing alone was not a very productive way for students to learn the vocabulary.  They might remember the words briefly for the test, but quickly their knowledge of the vocabulary dissipated. Now I give the students a list of words and two weeks to complete an assignment such as the one below:

A Flawed Test--Observations About the Florida Standards Assessments (FSA) for English Language Arts (ELA) Training Tests on the Department of Education Website (Updated Yet Again)


My goal in this analysis is to offer constructive feedback and encourage proactivity so that we administer a well-written, fair assessment to our students.

Writing Component of FSA ELA (March): If one of the criteria in the writing rubrics (rubrics posted on DOE website) is spelling, why does the notepad function allow students to check if a word is misspelled? Why does the tutorial included in the actual training test say students have access to a spellcheck? Are we testing a student’s ability to use a spellcheck or his/her knowledge of spelling?! The Writing Rubric reads: "Adequate use of punctuation, capitalization, sentence formation, and spelling [emphasis mine]." Should teachers tell students to expect a spellcheck or not? If we want to appropriately prepare students for the actual assessment, we need to have this question answered. (This spellcheck inconsistency has been fixed in the Training Test. I commend the DOE for lessening the confusion.)

Writing Component of FSA ELA (March): When a student clicks on the tutorial for the Writing Section of the test (the "i" icon to the far right of the blue question number on the line above the actual prompt), the tutorial explains that students are allowed to use a spellcheck by clicking on an icon that is supposed to appear in the menu above the box students utilize to write their essays. In the actual Training Test, the spellcheck icon does not appear in the menu bar above the box. This ability to spellcheck is illogical since students, per the rubric (DOE website), are being assessed on spelling. The lack of the spellcheck icon (mentioned in the tutorial) adds even further confusion. Again, will the assessment have a spellcheck or not? A simple question. We need a definitive answer. (This spellcheck inconsistency has been fixed in the Training Test. I commend the DOE for lessening the confusion.)

Learning and the Brain--Myths about Learning

The following information was culled and, at times, adapted from a lecture series by Professor Monisha Pasupathi, an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Utah. ("How We Learn," © The Teaching Company, 2012). I highly recommend Professor Pasupathi's series of lectures.
http://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/how-we-learn.html

Myth 1: Learning is aware and purposeful.
  • We don't always have awareness of the learning process or its outcomes. In addition, we learn all the time and we often do so without awareness that we're leaning--without meaning to learn anything at all.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Novel Excerpt Four


A short while later, two patrol officers showed up. The older one, a man with steel-gray hair, Paul Newman eyes, and thick black glasses took Nonna and me into Mrs. Muldoon’s kitchen to ask a few questions, while the young officer, clearly a newbie by the pale and frightened look on his pudgy face, stayed in the living room. I overheard him calling his supervisor to report the scene. His voice was high and agitated. I thought he wouldn’t last long in this profession.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Format of Item Types on Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) for ELA Reading Component


(Information from Florida DOE website)

Hot Text items require the student to either click on a response option or drag a response option to another location. In the drag-a-response option, the student may be given five possible responses, for example. The student then must click on and drag one or more responses to an space in a chart, list, or graphic organizer. Hot Text items may also require students to select/highlight details from a text (words, phrases, or sentences). Some Hot Text items are two part. For example, Part A asks the student, "Which is a theme of the passage?" and Part B asks the student, "Which detail supports the development of the theme in Part A?"

Monday, February 9, 2015

Brainstorming/Planning Strategies for Answering the FSA ELA Writing Prompt (The Prewriting Process)


I teach the following strategies to my students:

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Brainstorming/Planning Strategies for Answering the FSA ELA Writing Prompt—
Note Taking While You Read and Highlight


Know that this prompt requires you to plan and revise. You will be given a sheet of paper to take notes. All good writing requires planning. Below are some suggestions for the reading, note-taking, and planning process:
  1. As stated in the previous handouts on how to write the essays, you must keep the key words of the prompt and the exact task foremost in your mind while you read the different texts. Highlight the key words in the prompt before you begin reading the passage set.

Saturday, February 7, 2015


For My Brother Mark, A Letter on His Fiftieth Birthday, February 7th, 2011

You are missed.

Lawrence Mark Mulhern.  The name suits you.  "Lawrence," after your grandfather and uncle who enjoyed people and storytelling as much as you.  "The gift of gab" we Irish call it. . . . "Mark": direct, unpretentious, authentic, and strong.  A name derived from Mars, the God of War and God of Agriculture, the one who created conditions for crops to grow, and a power that warded off the hostile forces in Nature.  He was a protector of the people's livelihoods, a sustainer of peace, a spirit of strength, a mediator of justice.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Novel Excerpt Two


It seemed I was engulfed by believers in those days. The Italians and the Irish were obsessed with church, religion, and the pope. I think part of it stemmed from their pride in having witnessed the first catholic president.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Thoughts about Testing


Our children are losing valuable learning time because of the testing frenzy. The assessments themselves, the practice tests for the assessments, the infrastructure testing for the assessment days, the computer practice tests to familiarize the students with the testing vehicles, in addition to every other interruption that occurs in the typical school day, have lessened the quality of education.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Poorly Written Essay Prompt?--Comment on Wording of the Sample Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) Argumentative Prompt (Grades 6-8) on the Florida Department of Education Website


Sample Argumentative Writing Prompt 

It’s no secret that sometimes great discoveries come as a result of really big mistakes. But are they always worth the problems they cause? Sometimes the mistakes lead to greatness, and sometimes they lead to disaster. Are mistakes key to making discoveries?

AP English Language and Composition Argumentative Essay Rubric


The following rubric is a creation of mine, not that of The College Board. The College Board creates individualized rubrics for each prompt.  My students find the guidelines below helpful.

Argumentative Essay Rubric
  • Your essay should have a strong definitive thesis statement.