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Hot Topics for the 2014-2015 School Year

Communicator
August 2014, Volume 37, Issue 12

As the summer winds down, big changes for the 2014-2015 school year are heating up. Gear up by reviewing these latest developments on Common Core, nutrition, and more.

Online Assessments
Many students will take new assessments this year—but those tests vary from state to state, as more states retool their standards and strategies. Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia are using assessments from Smarter Balanced or the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) this school year. The rest are either undecided or are using their own standards. This map presents the outlook on the testing landscape.

Regardless of the test being used, educators are worried about students’ readiness. Just a quarter of teachers say their students were prepared for the new Common Core assessments, according to an Education Week Research Center study conducted in October 2013, and released this month. This same study indicates that many teachers are not familiar with test resources: four in 10 say they haven’t reviewed practice tests or scoring rubrics. 

Resources:

  • This pilot study suggests that young learners might struggle with certain aspects of the online assessments. 
  • This communication guide from Phi Delta Kappa can help principals discuss Common Core assessments and shifts.
  • Linda Darling-Hammond, in this article for Principal, explores how the new assessments can support deeper teaching and learning.

Common Core Professional Development
Schools and districts will continue to grapple this year with helping teachers prepare to teach to new standards. What training do teachers need most? According to a recent Education Week Research Center study (mentioned above), most teachers say they have received some Common Core professional development but want more. The professional development they receive typically covers the reading and math standards, and alignment between new and old standards—but trainings are less likely to explore teaching the standards to specific groups (such as ELLs), online assessments, and developing classroom-based assessments.

Resources:

New Snack Standards
The USDA’s Smart Snacks in School standards went into effect July 1. These mandate that any food sold during the school day—including vending machine or snack bar items—be whole-grain rich and fall within specific calorie, fat, and sugar limits.

Resources:

  • This flyer explains the new nutrition requirements.
  • What about fundraisers? Events outside of school hours are exempt. Plus, states can give schools a certain number of exemptions for fundraisers. This handout clarifies these exceptions.

Discipline Policies
In January 2014, the U.S. Department of Education released the first set of national guidelines on discipline policies. These guiding principles aim to help educators administer student discipline without discriminating or enacting overly harsh punishments.

Resources:

Educator Evaluations
Teacher and principal evaluation will continue to be hot topics, especially as states grapple with implementing new evaluation systems and the Common Core simultaneously.

Resources

E-Rate and Technology 
An FCC order on July 11 authorized changes for the E-Rate program, a federal program that funds technology infrastructure for schools and libraries. If the order works as planned, the application for applying for funding will be smoother. This Education Week article explores the changes.

Beyond E-Rate, this year’s top tech issues include student data privacy, online safety, and mobile devices (including BYOD).

Resources:

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