book coverAs I review and re-read the book in preparation for various programs, I can’t help but notice some mistakes or other items needing clarification.  So, I’m crafting this post, and will add to it, as necessary, if other things come to my attention needing correction or clarification.  I welcome suggestions here. (more…)

book coverAs explained here and here, my book,  Reinventing Crediting, will be published September 18, and this month I’m previewing the book by sharing a set of excerpts from the book.   By contract, I’m restricted to sharing only a total of 5000 words here on the blog, ten percent of the book as a whole.  

Here, I offer an excerpt from one of my favorite chapters, Chapter 6, entitled “Learning from Experience:  Case Studies of Competency-Based Learning Transformation.”  In this chapter, I provide case studies of transformation– competed in some cases, recently undertaken in others–  for seven schools and school systems. After these seven profiles, I conclude the chapter with seven key insights for educators preparing to, or already immersed in, these change efforts. 

In the excerpt that follows, I share two of the shorter (due to my contract limitations) case studies, and four of the seven themes I’ve identified as especially important in this work.  The five other case studies in the book, not included here, come from the Putney School (VT), Christchurch School (VA), New Zealand,  Lindsay Unified School District (CA), and School Year Abroad working with Global Online Academy. 

Leading schools and school systems through this competency-based  crediting and transcript transformation won’t be easy. Some educational leaders may find this project the largest and longest exercise of substantial instructional leadership in their entire careers; we can expect and hope that it is also their most consequential and proudest accomplishment.   Fortunately, a number of schools and systems have begun this work, and their experiences provide illuminating lessons for the work.  

Note that these short case studies are not limited to new crediting and transcript models alone, but look more widely at examples of both competency-based education and competency-based crediting shifts. 

In Alaska, a remarkable story of educational transformation comes from a school district that is among the very largest districts in the nation in area, nearly the size of the state of Virginia, yet serves an enrollment of only about 500 students.  These events are chronicled in the fascinating book, Delivering the Promise.  Alaska’s Chugach School District, in 1994, was a failing district in nearly every statistic one could imagine; in the previous twenty years only a single graduate had enrolled in college.   Ninety percent of students were below grade level in every assessed area. That year, new leadership arrived, and the transformation began. (DeLorenzo, 2009)

51wJSle2gwLAll previous incremental efforts to improve performance had gone nowhere.  New Superintendent Roger Sampson and new Assistant Superintendent Rich DeLorenzo determined that “change had to happen at the system level.”  They didn’t know what the change would entail, but they did know they needed the kind of people who could handle the challenge, and so they set out to hire people “who were problem-solvers, who were resilient, and who had a moral purpose to serve students.” (DeLorenzo, 2009)

Stakeholders were engaged, particularly the business community, who were asked to define as specifically as possible their concerns and needs from the district; the faculty, to whom “the brutal facts” were fully addressed;  and parents, with whom real relationships were developed for the first time. DeLorenzo, deeply curious and a fan of educational research, read widely in Hunter, Maslow, Deming, and Bloom, and brought that research to the work at hand     In 1996, a new vision was declared that included “Basic Skills; School to Life Transition; personal, social, and character development; meeting the individual needs of students; and technology.” The vision, though, was relatively the easy part; the next task was creating a set of detailed standards, from scratch, in ten domains: math, reading, science, social studies, technology, service learning, career development, cultural awareness, and personal/social development. (DeLorenzo, 2009)

For each area, they determined graduate proficiency levels, backward-mapped developmental levels, and began to design aligned assessments for each level.   As they did all this hard work, the energetic DeLorenzo encountered educational research expert Robert Marzano’s thoughts on a standards-based grading model in which students only progressed upon mastery of each standard.  Marzano cautioned that this model “is very difficult to implement because of the massive changes requires in scheduling, reporting, and resource association. It is for this reason that no school or district has seriously attempted to implement this model.”  DeLorenzo happily accepted the challenge. After a half-hearted attempt to manage dual report card systems, letter grades were dropped over some objections, a waiver was sought and received from the state for ending Carnegie unit requirements, and students could only progress and graduate upon demonstrated competency in all ten standards. (DeLorenzo, 2009) (more…)

book coverAs explained here and here, my book,  Reinventing Crediting, will be published September 18, and this month I’m previewing the book by sharing a set of excerpts from the book.   By contract, I’m restricted to sharing only a total of 5000 words here on the blog, ten percent of the book as a whole.  

Nearly 6000 words in Chapters 2 and 6 discuss the New Zealand NCEA (National Certificate of Educational Achievement) program, which is the national secondary school crediting for competency system.   By not requiring, crediting, or recording conventional coursework on transcripts, but rather organizing learning and crediting by competencies, schools are given great latitude to design schooling to engage and enrich students in deeply meaningful and authentic ways.

Below, I’ve share about a third–only a third– of the book’s extensive New Zealand NCEA discussion.   In addition to quoting from official NZ NCEA documents, the section below also quotes Richard Wells book, A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is Reimagining Education: A Guidebook for Parents and Educators Everywhere, and Grant Lichtman’s blog post, “High School of the Future.”   The photos of Hobsonville Point Secondary School are  my own, from my visit there in 2017. 

Secondary education in New Zealand experienced a massive shift almost fifteen years ago when the nation’s education ministry adopted the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA). It is the main qualification for secondary school students in NZ: in effect a high school diploma, the only high school diploma, available for Kiwi students.   NCEA is administered by the NZQA, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, a government entity tasked with providing leadership in assessment and qualifications. (National Certificate of Educational Achievement). 

NCEA operates, in a sense, in two dimensions.  In one dimension, as practiced in a high proportion (90%, one NZ educator estimated) of high schools, the innovative model has been corralled and configured into traditional modes of teaching, learning, and assessing.  Though the bottles may be new, the wine is old: little has been genuinely transformed. This is a caution and a caveat to US and global educators seeking to transform secondary schooling through the vehicle of an alternative transcript.  [Much more about this “caution and caveat” is explained and explored in the book, but has been cut for space in this post.] But in a second dimension, powerful transformation is occurring, made available by the flexibility that NCEA affords and inspires.   

NCEA academic subjects are divided into standards, literally, “thousands of purposefully open ended competency and knowledge topic standards” defining what students need to know and show they can do.    (Wells, 2016)

Some example English written language standards from Level 2: 

  • Analyse specified aspect(s) of studied written text(s), supported by evidence
  • Analyse significant aspects of unfamiliar written text(s) through close reading, supported by evidence
  • Produce a selection of crafted and controlled writing
  • Analyse significant connections across texts, supported by evidence
  • Use information literacy skills to form developed conclusion(s)  (NCEA Standards website)

And some example Level 2 Science standards:

  • Carry out quantitative analysis
  • Carry out procedures to identify ions present in solution

Each standard is worth some small number of credits, usually between three and six, that students earn and accumulate toward gaining a certificate at Levels 1, 2, and 3. Transcripts list the credits they’ve earned for each standard achieved.  Different NCEA levels achieved establish student qualifications for career and/or “uni” (i.e. postsecondary) tracks: Level 2, for instance, might suit some employers just fine; universities typically demand level 3. Attaining each level requires earning 80 credits. 

Image result for how ncea works

As explained by NZQA, “Credits may be accumulated from different learning institutions or workplaces towards a single qualification. All organisations with consent to assess against standards recognise credits awarded by others.”  

What about assessment of students meeting standards, and the consequential awarding of credits?   This happens in two ways: external assessments, via national exams or portfolio submission to a national agency panel, or internal assessments. Many students earn their credits for NCEA standards through national exams, called external assessments, administered by NZQA.  These national exams, or portfolio submissions, are  loosely analogous to AP or IB exams in the US.  

Internal assessments open the door to much more innovative and interdisciplinary learning. Wells provides examples of teachers and students leveraging NCEA this way, evaluated and credited by “internal assessments.”  In one example,

“Teachers began to design projects that encapsulated two or more standards in larger pieces of work. Learning areas such as technology were able to switch from assessing isolated skill competencies (such as making a webpage or robot) to large, product-development projects issuing credits for developing briefs and analysing markets and stakeholders for their technology products.”  (Wells, 2016) (more…)

book coverIt was my great pleasure and honor when Kevin Mattingly, (Riverdale Country School and Klingenstein Center, Teachers College, Columbia University), an esteemed mentor of many including myself, agreed to compose the forward for my forthcoming book, Reinventing Crediting for Competency-Based Education.  Kevin and I spent many hours discussing the Mastery Transcript Consortium and its model of competency-based crediting at meetings in 2016 and 2017, and certainly a good deal of my thinking about this model has been informed by Kevin’s observations.

Forward by Kevin Mattingly

The term “wicked problems” entered the lexicon of organizational leadership almost fifty years ago, and has been a central concept in the field since that time. What are wicked problems? They are highly complex, often involve much uncertainty, are hard to define, have many causes, and can never be truly solved. What makes these situations particularly tough is that they frequently bring together constituencies with different value positions that do not agree about the nature of the problem. In other words, wicked problems are found whenever people come together and try to make things better.


In the book that follows, Reinventing Crediting for Competency-Based Education, Jonathan Martin has boldly tackled one of the educational world’s increasingly urgent wicked problems—how we document and communicate student learning in the form of the traditional transcript composed of grades. It is no doubt a complicated problem, fraught with the competing interests of various stakeholders—students, teachers, parents, coaches, college admissions deans, boards, and others—all with their own values and goals, each focused for different reasons at different times on this entity called the transcript, and all probably aware—to one degree or another—that it is an inadequate and outdated educational and decision-making tool. This book is not the first to decry the anachronistic nature of the academic transcript as a communication form for student learning in terms of its ambiguity, inconsistency, reductionism, and tendency to focus students on achievement (“doing school”) and high grades at the expense of deep and durable learning in transferable ways. But what this book does do is discuss at length what needs to change and how, providing plentiful models, exemplars, and suggestions for next steps.

It is a propitious time to be grappling with this set of issues. The college admissions world knows things are broken and need to be fundamentally retooled. Witness the two recent reports assembled under the guidance of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and supported by over 140 admissions deans of selective US colleges and universities. Among other recommendations they make is to affirm the meaningful consideration and re-weighting for admission purposes of student accomplishments and commitments in addition to grades and test scores. Another promising current circumstance for traditional transcript transformation is the ongoing digital revolution, which provides the means for ePortfolios in K-12 schools to more richly, complexly, and in varied formats capture and convey student learning, both for within-school student growth, but also as a way to convey student learning to admissions teams and employers. The newly formed Mastery Transcript Consortium, discussed in detail in this book, is one example of this sort of initiative, and now involves several hundred schools around the country. In addition, current conceptions of twenty-first-century learning goals are another change enhancer (e.g. P21, Hewlett’s Deeper Learning), expanding the notion of “what’s worth learning” beyond the purely academic into character qualities and the social-emotional realms, and into life beyond the confines of academia, none of which can be captured in the traditional transcript in readily interpretable forms. The ground is fertile for change.

That said, few people I know in the educational world are as well equipped as the author of this book to struggle with this enormously complex set of issues just described. Jonathan Martin’s experiences in the realm of learning are extensive and varied, including being a classroom teacher, leader of multiple schools, think-tank researcher, published writer, prolific blogger, and consultant to numerous schools and national educational organizations—an academic polymath if there ever was one. (more…)

book cover

Available now. 

Let me share a bit of the backstory that led me to writing the book, and a brief overview of what it contains.

In spring 2016, with the encouragement of friends and colleagues including Tim Bazemore (Catlin Gabel School) and Nanci Kauffman (Castilleja School), I accepted the kind invitation of Scott Looney, Head of the Hawken School, to attend a convening of educators to launch the Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC).  About 60 of us–mostly school leaders, but some writer/consultants too–spent several days at the Cleveland Botanical Garden to learn about Scott’s vision and explore aspects of what such a new form of crediting and transcript-writing would look like, how it would function, why it would be so transformative, and what it’ll take to bring it to fruition.

Like many others there, I was greatly impressed with the model Scott Looney and some of his colleagues,  including Doris Korda,  were designing, and enthusiastic about its potential.   In the year and a half that followed, at Scott’s request, I assisted in the early phases of the project’s evolution, including by

  • preparing draft competency rubrics that the MTC distributed to its members in 2017-18;
  • participating in a two-day planning meeting at Phillips Andover in summer 2017 with, among others, Scott, Trish Russel (then MTC Executive Director), Kevin Mattingly, Eric Hudson, Nicole Furlonge, and Nigel Furlonge, during which we prepared MTC informational programs and resources for the first set of MTC Site Director meetings; and
  • researching, curating, and composing a set of draft competencies that could be used for those Site Director meetings in 2017-18.

That same year, in the Fall of 2017,  I had the opportunity to tour New Zealand for a week, during which I visited four schools, inquiring about and studying the New Zealand National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) system, which, as is explained at length in the book, has many parallels to, and lessons for, the development of a competency (or mastery) based crediting system in the US.   I should express here my gratitude to my many guides and informants in NZ, especially Richard Wells and Claire Amos, two remarkable Kiwi educators.

Accordingly, when an editor at Routledge Press, Daniel Schwartz, with whom I’d been working on another (stalled) project asked me what else I was working on, about what I might like to write a book proposal for, the topic of competency and mastery based crediting was top of mind.   Dan was intrigued, and assisted me greatly in moving this project from concept to, now, completion and publication by Routledge/Taylor & Francis.

I should be clear, and this is carefully explained in the book’s acknowledgements and in the (one) chapter dedicated to the Mastery Transcript Consortium, I have no current affiliation with the MTC  (and haven’t since 2017),  and the book is not in any way authorized or approved by the MTC.   It does not purport to present the MTC as it exists today in 2019 (or whenever it is read in the future) and should not be used that way, given that the MTC has been and will likely continue to be fast-evolving, but instead looks at MTC as described in presentations and meetings I participated in and on its website in 2016-17 as a model of competency-based crediting.


8 stepsSharing here a new ebook I’ve authored, (revised and expanded from a previous one), for ACT.  Title pretty much speaks for itself.

Click the image to link to the free download.

Hope you find it helpful, and don’t hesitate to contact me for more information or any assistance you might desire.


Pleased to share my new ebook, for Blackbaud, on using rubrics for enhancing student learning.   It covers evidence-bases for Rubrics, methods of developing and deploying rubrics, using them for formative and summative assessment, and much more.   It’s also free!

Enjoy, and let me know if you like it or want more information.  (

Click the image to access the site to download it.


Time for this year’s Summer Reading for Educators Top Ten List!  These are my ten favorite educational titles I’ve read in the past school-year, 2016-17, and that I recommend for summer reading.   Though I try to make this list pretty current, composed primarily of titles published in the past 18 months, sometimes I am slow to encounter older books, and so I’m not strict about that rule.

As you scroll down, you’ll also find honorary mentions, books that just missed the top ten, and additional suggestions for free educational reports and e-books of the past year or so, and a smaller set of reading for  pleasure suggestions.

For the past years’ recommendations/top ten lists, you can click the following for

Note: Asterisks attached to book titles below indicates the book would be a worthy selection for suggested (or required) faculty summer reading; asterisks by author names indicate (for full disclosure) that the author is someone I count as a friend—(though whether or not he or she views me the same way I cannot say.)

Also,this year, for the first time, I’m making available a complete list of the books I read all (or most) of in the past year.  If you are interested, it is available here. 

NeuroTeach+COVER1/ NeuroTeach: Brain Science and the Future of Education* by Glenn Whitman* and Ian Kelleher (and the 21k12 2016-2017 Book of the Year).    This is a great book, explaining with perfectly clear writing many key insights that mind and brain research is revealing for the improvement of teaching and learning.   It is careful, at least to my non-expert eyes, not to overclaim, but it is also not afraid to be very insistent about what we do know and what that knowledge means for good practice.    The chapter entitled “Top Twelve Research-Informed Every Teacher Should Be Doing with Every Student” ought most certainly to be required reading by every educator everywhere, but if there isn’t time for that, at minimum encourage folks widely to study the “The Unconscionable List (AKA The Despicable Baker’s Dozen): Things a Teacher Should Never Do Again.”  Please. Pretty Please: get this list into the hands of teachers everywhere.

There’s a lot more to say about this book, but I will just put particular attention to what to me is especially novel about it, the chapter on Teachers as Researchers, which brilliantly offers up a different way of thinking about an educator’s professional journey and an alternate career ladder that genuinely professionalizes a profession that has been humiliatingly de-professionalized in recent decades.  Through the embrace of this kind of learning science widely promulgated and deeply embraced, though,it can and I believe will rise again.   Over the past several months in conversation, this title has been my go-to recommendation to clients and colleagues everywhere.  Bravo.

41SqXaZtZ1L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_2/ The Space: A Guide for Educators* by Dr. Robert Dillon* and Rebecca Louise Hare (Book of the Year co-runner up).   This is a beautifully designed and illustrated book that is probably no more than 5,000 words: it is intended, I’d infer, less for reading straight through (and returning to a shelf) and more for scanning and skimming and visually appreciating and returning to again and again for inspiration and guidance on how to rethink and redesign your learning spaces.     It recalls in various ways the astoundingly comprehensive 2012 title, Make Space: Setting the Stage for Creative Collaboration book from Stanford Design School that was a 21k12 book of the year runner up on my 2014 list.  But as great as that book is, it is also a bit overwhelming, quite hard to fully appreciate and then internalize.  Part of the power of Dillon and Hare’s succinct book is that it is to the point using diagrams, white space and pictures, asking all of us to rethink how we can provide spaces to collaborate, create, showcase, and be quiet.  They suggest to readers as they peruse this to “take your time. Share with others.  Be the Change.”  And they ask, in something of an epigraph, “What is this book actually nurtured the soul of education and gave us reason to believe that a beautiful world is filled with thoughtful spaces.”

9781119253457.pdf3/Learning that Lasts: Challenging, Engaging, and Empowering Students with Deeper Learning* by Ron Berger, Libby Wooding and Ann Vilin. (21k12 Book of the Year Co-Runner up).    Regular readers here know that I’ve long been a Berger fan-boy; his 2003 Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship is one of my all-time favorites, and his 2014 Leaders of their Own Learning was my 2014 Book of the Year.   Berger is that rare bird in any field, someone who is both a master of his domain and a wordsmith of gorgeous craftsmanship.   This book surveys four major academic disciplines to unpack and consider how disciplinary knowledge and skills can better be cultivated through deeper learning practices, and there are takeaways on almost every page.   Which word comes first in the subtitle?  “Challenging.”  That’s not an accident.   Deeper Learning isn’t something designed to make students more engaged, first and foremost; it isn’t, in Berger’s vision, something we do to make it more “student-centered.”  If it is to last, it has to be serious.   As he writes, “Grappling with new ideas and problems will productive challenge students when they have enough background knowledge to feel anchored, enough scaffolding to feel supported, and enough time and intellectual freedom to wrestle with complex ideas… First, students must be challenged with rigorous, sophisticated material that engages them in higher-order reading, writing, thinking and discussion.  Second,  students must be challenged to gain conceptual understanding they can apply to new situations.”   This is the through-line for Berger’s long career: shifting instructional strategies to student inquiry and production without every compromising on rigor or excellence– quite the opposite.    (more…)

Don’t know how many readers are already aware of the Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC), but probably a pretty high proportion: it has recently received a fair amount of media attention, including in Insider Higher Ed, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Washington Post.  My friend and consulting colleague Grant Lichtman has written on it several times as well, including here.  The E.E. Ford Foundation, headed by another friend and colleague of mine John Gulla, recently awarded the MTC its largest-ever donation, of two million dollars

I’m a fan, and feel privileged and grateful for having had the opportunity to attend and participate in the MTC inaugural meeting in Cleveland in April 2016 and the NAIS launch meeting in Atlanta in March, 2017.  I’ve also been, in a small way, advising the MTC in its preparation of sample rubrics for establishing mastery and, this summer, in developing sample student portfolios.

 The journal and website Education Next recently published a sharply framed critique of the MTC, entitled “Fancy Private Schools Want to Abandon High School Transcripts and Grades,” by Chester Finn, President Emeritus of the Fordham Institute, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and longstanding conservative commentator on education. 

After I pointed out on Twitter that as much as I appreciated the value of debate, and thought the piece added some important perspective to the topic, I believe the piece was plagued by error, mis-interpretation, and misunderstanding (at least seven such errors, I wrote).  Having been asked to itemize them, I’ve prepared the following, citing several sections of the Finn piece and then offering my reaction.   My responses are arranged only in the order the items they respond to appear in the Finn piece, and not by any order of importance or priority. 

“A founding group of one hundred of them—dubbing itself the Mastery Transcript Consortium—has set out to eliminate the high-school transcript and the pupil grades that go onto it, seeking instead to press colleges (and presumably employers and graduate schools) to evaluate their applicants holistically, basing those judgments on subjective reviews of the skills and competencies that individual pupils are said to have acquired during high school.”

  1. “Holistically?”   That  is simply not the correct word here; the transcript clearly breaks down analytically each skill or competency and asks teachers to assess them individually, not holistically.   Holistically might be when schools write a single narrative summarizing a student’s overall quality as an applicant, not where it reports with supporting evidence on mastery in a set of distinct competencies.
  2. “Subjective.”  True in the sense that judgment of student work generally is subjective, but not significant in that this is the norm in the evaluation of students: there is nothing distinctive in the MTC anticipated practice.  Because the MTC will support schools in the use of carefully developed and practiced rubrics, and to work to strengthen inter-rater reliability, the resulting awarding of credits and determination of mastery will in the end be less subjective than most current grading practice.
  3. “Said to have acquired.”  The MTC will entail “judgments” being accompanied by evidence, easily available to college admission evaluators, as evidence for the “judgment,” rather than relying exclusively on letter grade “judgments” as is currently the case.   In practice it is quite the opposite of “said to have acquired;” it rather could be better characterized as “demonstrated by evidence as having acquired.”


Tessera teacher playbook cover

Pleased to be able to share a link to a 26 page sample of this new 175 page Social and Emotional Learning (and Noncognitive Skills) Teacher Playbook.   I am one of four “lead developers,” or co-authors on the playbook, along with award winning Salt Lake City teacher Leigh VandenAkker, research scientist Jeremy Burrus, Ph.D., and doctoral candidate Dana Murano.   City High School (Tucson, AZ) Director of College Access Eve Rifkin also contributed to the playbook.

The Playbook is designed for teaching and learning skills and habits of teamwork, resilience, and grit in both middle and high school classrooms; dozens of lessons and classroom activities are provided for each competency.

The sample includes some overview and introductory materials, as well as several sample lessons from the teamwork unit.  The free sample is easily available for download (after a quick registration) here.

The full playbook is, I’m afraid, available only to educators in schools, districts, and organizations using the Tessera SEL system, at the center of which is an innovative noncognitive skill and SEL competency assessment instrument providing schools, teachers, and students reports on student proficiency in six constructs, including teamwork, resilience and grit.  I’ve been advising the Tessera system in its development over the past 17 months.  For more, click here. 


Just published over at NAIS, this 85 page e-book I co-authored with the excellent NAIS Senior Director of Academic Research  Amada Torres provides guidance to school administrators for best utilizing the HSSSE, the High School Survey of Student Engagement, and the new MGSSE, the Middle Grades Survey of Student Engagement, for school improvement.

The Table of Contents includes:

While HSSSE used to be widely available through Indiana University for high schools nationally, recently its availability has been limited to only NAIS member schools, and the e-book, published by NAIS, is accordingly only available to NAIS member schools.

A new tradition for 2016, an opportunity to look back and reflect, take some pleasure in positive experiences of the year concluding, and pass along some recommendations to others who appreciate such things: sharing my top ten books, tv , meals and hikes. 

Books (Non-Education)

This is a list of of my favorite “non-professional” titles read in 2016, drawn from a list of something over 80 books read in total (every May or June I publish a post of the top ten summer reading recommendations for educators, and it makes no sense to duplicate that here.)

The top three on the list below do stand apart as the very best: McEwan’s Nutshell, so short as to be effectively a novella, I adored and couldn’t put down, amusing and sexy and bizarre as it is.  Wulf’s biography of Alexander von Humboldt, The Invention of Nature, told the story of an early nineteenth century polymath who first deeply recognized and appreciated the interconnectedness of all living creatures, and is gorgeously written (the accompanying title by the same author isn’t quite as great but still very worthy.)  And the third title is the the story of Quanah Parker, who has to be among the very most fascinating creatures ever to exist on the North American continent, and whose story deserves to be as well known and as deeply considered as that of almost any other American.

  1. Nutshell (McEwan)
  2. Invention of Nature  and Chasing Venus (Wulf)
  3. Empire of the Summer Moon (Gwynn)
  4. When Breath Becomes Air (Kalanithi)
  5. Eligible (Sittenfeld) and Emma (Smith)
  6. Modern Romance (Straub)
  7. Underground Airlines (Winters)  
  8. Underground Railroad (Whitehead)
  9. The Wright Brothers (McCullogh)
  10. TV: The Book (Sepinwall and Zollar-Seitz)

Honorable Mention:  Night Life (Taylor), The Girls (Cline), American Heiress (Toobin), Sapiens (Harrari), The Terranauts (Boyle), Hero of France (Furst), Commonwealth (Patchett), The Innovators (Isaacson).

TV (more…)

Reposted from original posting for client company ProExam.

Most readers are probably familiar with the fascinating curve ball the 2015 Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known as ESSA, has thrown into state-level mandated accountability indices. In addition to a set of “substantially weighted” academic indicators, states are to add to them “at least one additional indicator of school quality or student success beyond test scores.”

Although we are presently in a moment of political uncertainty with regards to the future of all federal policy and legislation, there is some reason to think ESSA will stand as is: it was passed, after all, in legislation by the Republican-controlled House and Senate before being signed by a Democratic President.

Let us first applaud the inclusion of this additional indicator, what the media is usually labeling (though not entirely accurately) the “Non-academic Indicator” (NAI) or “Non-academic Factor” (NAF) to the mix. This is great news: we know today more than ever before how important it is to broaden our gauges of educational effectiveness.

Consider the hugely interesting finding from a 2016 NBER study (C. Kirabo Jackson), which is summarized in a recent excellent report from the Hamilton Project, “Seven Facts on Noncognitive Skills”:

When considering only the effect of a teacher on students’ test scores, Jackson finds that higher-quality teachers provide a small boost of 0.14 percentage points to high school graduation rates.

When Jackson considers the effect of teachers on both test scores and noncognitive skill factors, their effect on noncognitive skills is shown to matter more, with higher-quality teachers raising high school graduation rates by 0.74 percentage points.

Moreover, teachers who are adept at raising test scores and teachers who excel at instilling noncognitive skills are often not the same people.

In other words, if and when we incent, recognize, and reward those teachers who successfully raise test scores, and we don’t do the same for those teachers who enhance noncognitive skills, we have the potential unintended consequence of actually depressing high school graduation rates—by driving away or changing the practices of the very teachers having the most positive impact on graduation.

It’s been about a year since ESSA was made law, and in that time much attention has been directed to the new non-academic factors requirement, with some wide debate about which particular additional factor(s) should be selected for inclusion in the state level accountability index. There have been multiple recent studies and presentations, including:

When reviewing these reports, four key themes emerge:

  1. Emphasis on use of multiple NAF data sources
  2. Debate over the pros and cons of the use of SEL measurement
  3. Frontrunner status for chronic absenteeism
  4. Importance of support for educators’ effective use of NAF data and for accompanying evidence-based interventions

Let’s look at each in turn.