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  • Street Cred: A Zoology Major, Mother of Four, and Online School Counselor

    by LearnEd

    Teacher with her students

    Street Cred: A Zoology Major and Mother of Four

    "I have four children of my own," says Penny Reeves who is Manager of College and Career Counseling for Connections Education.

    She worked for a time as manager of counseling for four public schools in California.

    "My oldest son went to West Point, served as as Captain in the Army, and is now a professional golfer," she says. "My second son went to UCLA. My oldest daughter went to New York University where she majored in film and television. And my youngest, another daughter, went to a small liberal arts school."

    "I had a unique education experience: I majored in zoology," Penny says. "That, plus my experiences with my children, gave me a good perspective for helping other students find their right paths for college and beyond."

    "So, putting all this together, I think I have some good perspective about helping children find the right pathways to college and beyond."

    Connections Education-supported schools ask students about their career aspirations—an important step in a child's learning experience, especially when it happens early.

    'Every Goal is Achievable'

    Connections Education, part of Pearson, offers virtual learning solutions to K through 12 students worldwide. Students using their materials are in traditional and full-time virtual public and private schools, as well as blended learning schools.


    "My job is to help students find a pathway to college and career that's possible," Penny says. "Every student's goal is different and I never want any student to feel like their goal is unachievable."

    "When helping any child, my first question is always: 'What do you like?' or 'What gets you excited?' or 'What do you want to do in the future?'," she says.

    "They may not be top of their class, but they have goals and schools they are interested in attending—we  can explore different ways around it. There are usually multiple paths to get where they want to go," Penny says.

    Exposing Learners to All the Available Pathways to College and Career

    Penny and her colleagues offer a variety of clubs for K-12 students attending Connections Education-supported schools. Many of the clubs are focused on life after high school—college clubs, career clubs, first generation clubs—where students can explore the available options after graduation.

    "We bring in speakers: recent graduates, grad students, professionals, college admissions officers," Penny says. "The best thing that can happen is that these students hear about all the pathways that are possible to reach their goals."

    From 'I'm Stupid" to 'I Want to Be a Lawyer'

    Years ago, Penny started a lunchtime program for students at a traditional middle school who had multiple low grades.

    believe it

    "These were at-risk students and, at first, they hated those sessions," Penny says.

    "Over time, things started clicking," she says. "We brought in teachers to help students with courses they'd had trouble understanding. Other students who'd had trouble with completing homework started doing their homework during our sessions."

    "One young lady had been a 'problem' student for all her teachers," Penny recalls. "She was argumentative and challenged me at every turn."

    Penny says her parents had told her she was 'stupid.' Her classmates started calling her 'stupid.' And she started to believe it.

    "She worked so hard during our lunchtime sessions," Penny says. "She brought me her next report card, a real improvement in grades, and gave me a hug."

    Penny says the young woman told her she wanted to be a lawyer.

    "A year later, when those students went to high school," Penny says, "their guidance counselor told me that none of them were on academic probation."

    "I wanted these students—all my students—to see all the resources that are available to help them succeed," Penny says. "They started to understand the importance of doing well in class and that teachers, rather than the enemy, were there to help kids reach their goals."

    light up

    What If a Child Doesn't Know What They Want?

    Not every student has a clear idea of their goals.

    "I often hear 'I have no idea where I want to go' from students," Penny says. "So the questions turn to their interests. What do they light up about?"

    "Maybe it's sports," she says. "I can then connect that to something like math—and show them how doing well in math can help them be successful with their dreams."

    "We also have to manage the stress on these students," Penny says. "Nobody is perfect in everything and they're all still kids."

    "Any student can find value in their life experience," Penny says. "Someone might say 'I haven't done anything to put on a resume.' So I ask them if they've been babysitting, or taking care of the family pet, or delivering papers, or mowing lawns, or doing jobs around the house."

    "All of these soft, intangible skills are valuable," she says. "And even these things can help children achieve their goals."

    Finding the Pathways

    "I love the creative puzzle when engaging with every child," Penny says. "We start with their goals, then map back to the various pathways that will lead them to those goals."

    "We're helping these kids make college and, eventually, a job possible."

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  • Personalized Learning: What Do We Know About How Kids Learn To Do This Well?

    by LearnEd

    Boy looking at a globe of the world

    Personalized Learning: From an Idea to Infrastructure

    Earlier this spring, Chicago Public Schools announced an opening for a position it called "the nation's first": an Executive Director of Personalized Learning.

    "The Executive Director will work with a highly skilled team of internal stakeholders to improve the way schools deliver instruction to 21st century learners" and be responsible for executing a "Personalized Learning vision to increase the number of personalized learning schools within the district."

    Nearly 400,000 students are enrolled in Chicago Public Schools, according to statistics compiled by the district. 86-percent of them are economically disadvantaged. Nearly 17-percent of them are English Language Learners. The largest racial groups are African-American and Hispanic students.

    Driving the Conversation

    Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 9.10.07 AM
    Pearson produced a conceptual video titled "A Vision for Personalized and Connected Learning." We've also embedded the video at the end of this story.

    You're likely familiar with how personalization of learning is a hot topic in education at the moment.

    Maryland's Baltimore County Public Schools is in the middle of a multi-year plan, called Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (STAT), to provide personalized learning "to our increasingly diverse student population at a time when the economy requires more from our students for future success."

    And it's not just a K-12 phenomenon.

    The Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, an advocacy organization that represents institutions with a total of 5 million-plus undergraduates and graduates, has launched the Personalized Learning Consortium to "improve student learning, retention, and graduation."

    Breaking It Down Into Fundamentals

    "Everyone is talking about personalization of learning," says Kristen DiCerbo, Pearson's Vice President of Education Research. "Often, there are a lot of disparate conversations and studies that are not in synch."

    "From my perspective as a researcher," says Kristen says, "I'm thinking: what do we need to know from the research about how kids learn to do personalization well?"

    "How can we pull together a cohesive framework to link all this research in a way that helps educators tailor the best learning to students' needs and goals?" she says.

    The Research Building Blocks of Personalization

    Kristen has started crafting an approach to this cohesive framework with four "building blocks of personalization":Box Progression

    Building Block 1: The Map

    How do students progress from novice to expert in a particular learning topic?

    "Students could be learning calculus, how to compute area, or the best way to apply critical thinking skills to a passage in literature," Kristen says.

    "What does a novice look like? What does an expert look like? And what does the path look like as students move from being a novice to an expert?" she asks.

    "This is one of the key things to know before starting students through a personalized learning process."

    Building Block 2: The "You Are Here Sticker"

    How do we assess where a student is in the progression process defined by Building Block 1?

    "Where are students on the progression spectrum?" Kristen says.

    "We're also looking for ways to understand their position without having to test them all the time," she says.

    LearnED previously posted a story about how an iPad game helps teachers in this way called: "How An iPad Game With Robots Teaches Kids the Art of Persuasion."

    Building Block 3: The Map Offers Directions

    What should a student do next to move forward in the progression process?

    "What should a student do next?" Kristen says. "What are the next activities and then the next activities and then the next activities to help a student learn?"

    "Learning science already has a lot to say about learning and memory during this process," she says.

    Building Block 4: Trip Review

    What are the best ways to provide feedback to students, teachers, and parents?

    "Sometimes immediate feedback to students while learning is not the best approach," Kristen says. "When students have already developed some expertise in a topic, they can learn more productively when feedback is delayed."

    Challenges to Personalization

    "One challenge, of course, is a large classroom," Kristen says. "How can a teacher provide personalized learning across a large number of students every day?"

    huge"Technology can help," she says, "but not everyone in the world is totally hooked up to the Internet yet."

    "The other key challenge is how a student's pathway is governed during the learning process," Kristen says.

    "Sometimes it's best if a student decides to take the next step in a progression," she says. "Sometimes it's best if it's a teacher. And sometimes technology or software can make a good decision."

    "Figuring out the best way to do this is a currently a huge research question."

    A Global Approach

    Kristen wants to apply an eventual framework to learners at all levels—in any school across the globe.

    "There are additional factors like cultural differences and disparities in technology," she says.

    "We're still looking for the best pathways to tailor learning experiences for every student."

    LearnED will return to this story in the coming months to explore more of Kristen's research.

    read more
  • The Long Road for a Question to Make It Onto a Test

    by LearnEd

    Young boy dressed as a professor with a clip board

    Parents prepare their kids for a big testing day with the right breakfast and a hug of encouragement. How does Pearson help states and other education agencies develop test questions for a big test day?

    An Extensive Review Process

    Before any question makes it onto a student’s test, many experts inside and outside of Pearson have reviewed the item, tested it out, and determined it is fit to be used.

    Every state (or local education agency) has a different process for developing tests—but we tend to follow a 9-step process.

    STEP 1: Item Writing

    An item, also known as a test question, is created by an item writer.

    To build a pool of diverse, authentic test items, Pearson contracts with professional item writers. In general, item writers need the following qualifications:

    1. Teaching or assessment experience in the subject
    2. Know how to align test questions to standards
    3. Experience writing items/passages

    Because every test is different, we give the writers expert training specific to the assessment and requirements and needs.


    industry standards

    STEP 2: Internal Item Review

    Once Pearson gets the item from the writer, Pearson assessment specialists review it to make sure it is a good item.

    To maintain consistent quality, Pearson assessment specialists evaluate each item to verify they are clear, accurate, and meet expectations. Sometimes items get rejected or sent back to the item writer to be improved. But, if the item is acceptable, the specialist verifies that the item meets the required criteria and sends it to a few more experts:

    • A research librarian fact checks the item to make sure it is accurate
    • An editor reviews for clarity, style, and grammar
    • A graphic designer adds art or graphics such as charts or tables



    STEP 3: Content Committee Review

    Experts and educators representing the state review the item to make sure it fits the criteria of a good test item for the test and for their students.

    STEP 4: Bias Committee Review

    Each item has to pass a bias review by the state working with Pearson, so that every student has to have an equal chance to answer the item correctly.

    Items that do no measure up to standards for fairness and sensitivity can affect the credibility of an assessment and its results. Pearson avoids content that might offend, unfairly penalize, or offer an advantage to students based on personal characteristics or culture.

    STEP 5: Final Internal Review

    After the state reviews each item, Pearson incorporates that feedback and makes edits.

    An item that doesn’t pass this review cannot make it to the next stage.



    STEP 6: Field Test

    Now, the item gets put on its first test, which is called a “field test.”

    Students answer the item, but their responses don’t count toward their test scores or teacher evaluations. If it is a new program, field tests might be held separately. Once a program is established, field-test items are usually embedded in the operational test.

    STEP 7: Data Review

    Pearson experts and the state look at data from the field test to make sure the item is performing as expected and it is giving customers the information they need. For example, if a group of students is struggling with an item significantly more than expected, we can remove that item from the pool.

    STEP 8: Operational Test

    If a test item passes all these reviews, it can be put on a test where it counts toward student scores.

    STEP 9: Retirement

    Once an item has been used too many times, it is ready for retirement and is no longer used on tests. By refreshing the items, students see test questions that haven't been used before and the old items can be released to the public.

    read more
  • Getting More Latino Students to Graduate from Selective Colleges

    by LearnEd

    Smiling Latinos that have just graduated

    Strengthening Latinos, a Large Part of Tomorrow's America

    This is a staggering statistic:

    By 2060, Latinos are projected to represent more than one third of all U.S. children.

    It's a figure compiled by Excelencia in Education, a non-profit organization that analyzes Latino trends in U.S. education.

    Low Attainment

    Today, Latinos account for more than a fourth of all K-12 children. In some cities, it's over forty percent.

    "It's a massive portion of our future American population in the education pipeline right now," says Deborah Santiago, Chief Operating Officer and Vice President for Policy at Excelencia. "But, when compared with other groups, educational attainment among Latinos is low."

    (Pearson partners with Excelencia in putting on the Accelerating Latino Student Workshop (ALASS).)

    Seeking Answers, An Unexpected Approach

    Taking an unexpected approach, Deborah and her colleagues have just finished a study to understand some of the reasons behind low Latino educational attainment.

    "From Selectivity to Success: Latinos at Selective Institutions" unpacks why such a small percentage of Latinos are enrolled in the most selective colleges and universities—despite the fact that Latinos fill such a large portion of the K-12 cohort.

    With that research, the study asks three questions:

    1 - What does Latino postsecondary enrollment and graduation look like at selective institutions?

    2 - What do we know about these selective institutions where they enroll?

    3 - Are the most selective institutions doing anything specific to serve Latino students that other institutions can learn from?

    Answers to these questions, according to the report, could have a positive impact on America's future:

    "As Latinos continue to be a significant and growing proportion of the American population, awareness and insight about the flow of Latino talent in to and through colleges and universities becomes increasingly more important."

    Key Findings

    cohort model

    Deborah and her colleagues discovered three important things about Latinos matriculating through Stanford University, the University of California, Santa Barbara, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of La Verne:

    1 - "Intentionality matters," she says. That is, when a school provides programs and services, are any of them focused on Latinos? "Many of these students are first in their family to attend college," Deborah says, "they might not see support as often as they could. So outreach makes a difference."

    2 - "The cohort model works," she says. "Latinos are more likely to defer to a friend to think things through." Cohort models provide services to groups of students, versus one-on-one interaction. "These students learn together, share together, and evolve their awareness of the college experience together," Deborah says.

    3 - "Use financial aid for retention as much as admission to school," she says. "It's not just about getting these Latino students in the door. Many of these students need financial help in their second and third year to help sustain their progress."

    'It's Not Just About Money'

    "It's no surprise that the schools with the most resources are able to tailor more programs to Latinos," Deborah says. "But it's not just about money."

    "The more successful schools really engage their Latino constituencies and empower them to help each other," she says.

    "They provide a lot of the recruitment and outreach and mentoring and support for Latinos," Deborah says.

    "That doesn't cost a lot of money."


    Excelencia in Education produced an infographic for its report. It can be found online here.

    Excelencia Graphic
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