Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 13-02-2015

The recent news about the new state assessment “Smarter Balanced” has many asking questions.  I would like to give you some of my thoughts on the assessment and explain why my eyes are crossing.

Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (www.smarterbalanced.org) is a consortium of states that were funded to build a digital assessment aligned with the common core standards.  DPI selected this assessment to replace the ND State Assessment made by CTB-McGrawHill in 2009.  The previously used NDSA tests in Reading/Language Arts, Math, and Science were completed in the fall of each year, aligned to the ND State Standards based on the common core, and were completed on paper and pencil.  The results were usually received in the late spring and were used to determine if our school passed or failed per NCLB.  Starting this school year we are now directed to use the old NDSA for science and this was given in the fall of 2014.  The new Smarter Balanced Assessment, also aligned to the ND Standards based on the common core, will test Reading/Language Arts and Math starting in March.  The Smarter Balanced test is computerized and this will be the very first time that our students have taken this test.

Let me begin with what concerns me.  The Smarter Balanced test is new, aside from what teachers, administrators, and board members have seen on practice tests, this is the very first time we will see it in full use.  I believe the test is more demanding of our students.  I am not saying that is bad but I am concerned students will be fatigued by it and not persevere.  Please understand.. I know we have hard working kids, that is not the issue.  But, you and I both remember the old bubble sheet tests with a question and four answers.  If we didn’t know the answer or were just tired what were we trained to do…. Pick C.  Yes I admit I did it!  These new tests are asking more multiple step problems.  The practice questions I have taken require mastery of not just one single skill but several to complete them.  The questions I have seen are good, but demanding.  A student cannot simply pick C.  Will they have the determination to work through these types of problems?  Time will tell.

If you would like to give them a try yourself here is a link to their public practice test site – http://sbac.portal.airast.org/practice-test/

Secondly, I am concerned that once the test is done and the results are tallied we, like other states, are going to see a drop.  We are going to go from 84.21% proficient in Reading for the elementary (2013-2014 AYP report)  to immediately drop to less than 50% proficient, and honestly nothing would have changed except the test.  We will be teaching the same lessons, in the same fashion, at the same rate as we have for the past several years but the test will tell everyone we are failing.  That concerns me.

Here is why my eyes are crossing.  How can any school or business keep an eye on their performance, and improve, when the measurement device is changing.  Just think about it for a minute… if you were farming and the tool you used to measure effectiveness of your herbicide was changing.  In this example your tool would make a record of the total number of weeds you had in a 1000ft row.  Then based on that number it said (Great-Good-Poor-Awful).  Tool 1 (the old tool) said you were Great, even though you had just a few weeds, lets say 10.  Then a new tool comes along, tool 2, and it reports Poor.  However when you go out there the same 10 weeds are present.  What has changed?  Not your farming.  Not the number of weeds.  Nothing but the report from the tool.  Can you feel your eyes crossing yet?  As a school leader, I am focused on monitoring student performance and achievement.  It is the reason we are here, to teach our students and get them to learn.  So will I now watch the results from Smarter Balanced and immediately say “Oh my gosh we must be failing!”.  No.. I won’t.  I am going to encourage everyone to keep their eyes, like I am keeping mine, on our north star.  This for us is the NWEA MAP diagnostic.  We have used this examination since the spring of 2007 and it will be what I watch to see if we are successful or not.  I will not be putting my eggs in the Smarter Balanced basket for a few years.  After that test has a few years of data and we can see true trend information, I will shift my gaze toward it.  But, until that time has passed, please be patient.  Do not immediately believe that Ellendale or any school is immediately failing based on these results.  Parents, keep your eyes on your child’s MAP results.  Smarter Balanced is required to comply with NCLB and at this point, that is all it is worth to me.  I hope you can do the same.

Happy Valentines!  Thanks for loving the Cardinals and Ellendale Public School.
We really do love – the most valuable things you have in your lives – your KIDS!



Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Jeff Fastnacht on 03-02-2015

You are right, measles is an old disease.  It is reported to have been around since the 9th century.  In 1912 measles became a nationally notifiable disease with nearly 6,000 deaths from it being reported per year.  By the mid 60’s almost all children contracted the measles with 300-400 each year dying from the disease.  Then also in the 1960’s came the development of a vaccine for measles and the eventual path toward ridding us of measles complete, even though that did not happen.   However, in 2000 the disease was nearly no-existent in the United States.

Now measles is again making headlines.  Confirmed cases around the United States are making their way closer to North Dakota every day.  There are confirmed cases reported in South Dakota and Minnesota, affecting primarily young adults and children.  If you would like to learn more about measles you can follow this link to information on the CDC web site.  http://www.cdc.gov/measles/about/signs-symptoms.html

This nation wide outbreak does affect schools in our region. Due to the proximity of confirmed cases and the mobility of our population it is something Ellendale School and Dickey County Health are monitoring.  If you child is immunized (received the MMR vaccination two times- minimum 28 days apart) already your child is for the most part safe from measles.  However, even with the vaccination it is reported your child may still have a 1% chance of contracting the disease if exposed.  On the flip side if your child is not vaccinated they have a 99% chance of contracting the disease if exposed.  If you child is not immunized I would encourage you to contact your families health care professional to discuss your options.

Many people ask what would happen if measles would make its way to Ellendale.  First and foremost don’t panic, measles will probably effect a very small portion of the population.  But, in a school things must be address quickly to help prevent the spread of this disease.  NDCC 23-07-17.1 allows schools the right to exclude students from attendance if they are not current with their vaccinations.  This is only foreseeable in a time when a contagious disease, such as measles, is present in our community.  If that were the case we would work closely with each and every family to find ways to continue a child’s education, possibly using technology or sending home assignments, until the outbreak would pass.  As a proactive response we would again encourage families to contact their health care providers if they have a child lacking the MMR immunizations.

If you have other questions about measles you can also contact Dickey County Health at 349-4348 for more information.

Credit – http://www.cdc.gov/measles/index.html