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Mar 022014

Last Thursday, February 27th, Norwalk Public Schools superintendent, Dr. Manny Rivera, presented his recommended PreK-5 English Language Arts Program to the Board of Education Curriculum and Instruction Committee.  Following the 60-minute power point presentation,  the committee voted 3-1 to forward his recommendations to the full Board of Education for review.  His plan includes the recommendation to go with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Journeys as the primary English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum,  with Core Knowledge (CKLA) as an optional pilot alternative,  in a couple of schools for K-2 classrooms, and the adoptions of  Scholastic’s Core Knowledge Classroom Libraries to create independent reading libraries in every classroom.  The curriculum is expected to be voted on within the next 30 days, with implementation in the classrooms next fall, as districts get ready to deploy curriculum  that  supports the new Common Core State Standards.



Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Journeys

Core Knowledge Language Arts



Jan 012013

Low reading scores are a major contributing factor to Connecticut’s largest in the nation achievement gap and Norwalk also suffers low reading scores for its Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL) student population and English Language Learners (ELL.) The following article  addresses how colleges and universities teach teachers to teach reading.  Teachers who come out of two highly selective programs — Teach for America and the Neag School at the University of Connecticut — have strikingly better scores on the state  Foundations in Reading Test that assesses their ability to teach reading than other schools in Connecticut.

The Foundations in Reading Test is major initiative in Connecticut’s efforts to close the achievement gap is to improve students’ reading skills, particularly in the early grades. In the fall of 2007, a Reading Summit was held with private and public advocates for children to coordinate state efforts to improve childhood literacy. This summit established as one of its recommendations that Connecticut require a test for prospective teachers in the teaching of reading.

Beginning on or after July 1, 2009, teacher candidates in Connecticut applying for an Integrated Early Childhood, NK–3 Endorsement (endorsement #113) or Elementary Education Grades K–6 Endorsement (endorsement #013) will be required to take and pass the Connecticut Foundations of Reading test, a test of reading instruction knowledge and skills administered by the Evaluation Systems group of Pearson.


Click here to learn more about the Foundations In Reading Test.


Oct 182012

Wireless Generation products are currently being trialed at 3 elementary schools for reading assessment and instruction.  Fox Run, and Marvin started using the m Class software last year following receipt of  private foundation grants.   Jefferson is starting this year with more trial deployments planned across Norwalk’s elementary schools, following receipt of  grant monies.

Wireless Generation is an educational and  instructional software company that  delivers innovative  tools, systems and services directed at improving student achievement, helping schools implemented innovative organizational changes, and delivering professional development to teaching staff.  The company has developed instructional and assessment software tools in both reading and math, as well as other assessment tools designed to assist teaching staff with  delivery of  individualized instruction to students.

NPS is currently trialing their  m Class reading 3D software which is directly at observational reading and assessment software for grades K–5.  It fuses best practices across a variety of pedagogical approaches by combining a running record of  text and reading diagnostics with quick indicators of foundational skills development.  The end result is a  complete picture of a students’  reading comprehension.

Click below to read more about the company and its products.

Wireless Generation


Jul 052012

With all of the controversy surrounding the reading program at Nathan Hale Middle School, we decided to take a look at CMT trend data for the  past 6 years.  Nathan Hale consistently outperformed the other middle schools, despite having feeder elementary schools that were not ranked # 1 in their reading  scores.   Did you know that Nathan Hale was #1 in reading scores for 4 out of 6 years in 6th grade and # 1 in 5 out of 6 years for 8th grade from 2006-2011.

6th Grade CMT Scores By Middle School 2006-2011

8th Grade CMT Scores By Middle School 2006-2011


Copy of CMT Scores Reading Middle Schools by class (3 years)

Jun 302012

With the passage of the SB 458 this spring, one of the strengths in the bill is the new legislative language regarding the need to  improve student reading and literacy BY 3rd GRADE.  With that in mind, we thought it beneficial to benchmark the reading scores of  Norwalk’s 12 elementary schools.  While a score of proficient had been an acceptable standard, with Connecticut’s recent promise of reform and federal government waiver of the No Child Left Behind legislation, the real objective for Connecticut’s educators will be the need to be raise the bar and focus on getting students reading at GOAL LEVEL in order to be considered to be on grade level.

Below are the last 3 years of 3rd Grade CMT Data:

2011 3rd Grade CMT Scores By Elementary School

2010 3rd Grade CMT Scores By Elementary School

2009 3rd Grade CMT Scores By Elementary School

May 092012

This week, Connecticut legislators in both the Senate and House  voted in favor of  Governor Dannel Malloy’s wide-ranging education reform bill SB 458 (formerly SB 24.)  Mired in controversy from the start and perhaps a bit  ambitious given the laundry list of reforms, a compromise was finally reached.

REd APPLES  leadership provided testimony in support of the bill last February and have strongly advocated with local state representatives to support the bill   SB 24 Op-Ed  as Norwalk stands to benefit from a better evaluation process and improvements in reading instruction.

Below is ConnCAn’s high level summary of the strengths and weaknesses of the compromise bill.

High Level Summary of SB 458 (formerly SB 24)

5/8/12, 2:30 pm

SB 458, An Act for Educational Reform, is close to the original bill proposed by Governor Malloy on February 8 and presents a significant step forward for systemic, comprehensive reform. This brief summary presents strengths, weaknesses and items to keep an eye on. A more detailed ConnCAN analysis of the bill is forthcoming.

Strengths of SB 458

  • Reading by Grade 3: Establishes a pilot program to enhance literacy instruction in grades k-3.
  • School Turnarounds: Creates a Commissioner’s Network to intervene in up to 25 of lowest performing schools over the next 3 years.   High-performing non-profit partners (such as charter school operators) can run up to six of the 25 schools.  The Commissioner will have the ability to conduct impact bargaining, opening current collective bargaining agreements.
  • State-Authorized Charter Schools: Increases per pupil state charter funding to $10,500 in 2012-13, $11,000 in 2013-14, and $11,500 for 2014-15 (up from current $9,400).  Charter funding is now included in the state’s ECS funding statute.
  • Locally Authorized Charter Schools: Provides locally authorized charter schools with $500,000 start up grants and $3,000 per pupil in additional funding from the state.
  • Educator Quality: Requires annual educator evaluations, rating all teachers and administrators as exemplary, proficient, developing, and below standard.  Establishes a pilot of the evaluation system in 8-10 districts to build legitimacy of system as it moves to scale.
  • Teacher Tenure: Requires that teacher tenure be earned based on effective practice, with “ineffectiveness” added as a criteria for dismissal.  Also streamlines the termination process for ineffective or incompetent educators.
  • School Finance: Creates a common chart of accounts for all local or regional boards of education, regional educational service centers, charter schools, or charter management organizations.  System will be online by June 2013.
  • School Finance: Creates conditional funding for a set of Alliance Districts and Education Reform Districts.  The lowest-performing districts using the new accountability measures will only get funds if they meet certain reform conditions established by SDE.

Weaknesses of SB 458

  • Teacher Certification: No connection between educator evaluation and certification.  Continued requirement for a subject-area master’s degree for upper-level certification.  Eliminated proposed “master teacher” status in certification.
  • Educator Quality: Nothing on last in/first out layoffs (LIFO) or forced placement/bumping. Potentially insufficient incentives to recruit top teachers to highest-need schools.
  • School Finance: In Common Chart of Accounts, all entities (including charter schools) to disclose the receipt of revenue and donations of cash and real/personal property in the aggregate totaling $500 or more.

Items to Keep an Eye On

  • School Turnarounds: Could result in process- heavy requirements. Will need to make sure the commissioner has the authority he needs and that reforms don’t get bogged down.
  • Charter Schools: Gives preference to charter applications focused on English language learner (ELL) students, with two of the first four new state-approved charters requiring an ELL focus.
  • Charter Schools: Funding for state-authorized charter schools will now move from state, through locality, to the charter school.  Will need to ensure that districts pay the charter funds on time and in full.   Also need to ensure that future changes to ECS funding will not have a negative impact on state charter funding and that future efforts do not scale back the funding escalation.


To view the entire bill click here:  Education Reform Bill 458



Apr 072012

On April 5th the leadership of the Connecticut Black and Puerto Rican Caucus hosted a forum on early literacy intervention at the State Capitol entitled:  Urgent Policy Forum: Every Child Reading by Third Grade.  This was in support of HB 5350 which offers a  comprehensive approach to reading and the achievement  gap. Strategies in the bill  include:

1. The alignment of reading standards, instruction and assessment for students in K-3
2. School district reading plans
3. A plan of teacher training in reading that is research-based
4. The end of social promotion for students who are not reading at grade level by Grade 3
5. Intensive class interventions to assure reading on grade level for those who are not reading at grade level
6. Communication with parents on how their children are faring in reading in an on-going and detailed way;
7. Incentives for teachers and schools that improve reading skills over time
8. A test in the science of teaching reading for pre-service special education teachers
9. A test in the science of teaching reading for existing teachers, K-3
10. Improved and frequent use of assessment tools in reading
11. Intensive reading remediation plans for those not reading at grade level including comprehensive summer school programs, an accelerated reading class and transition classes
12. An increased number of CEU credits required in reading
13. Examination of teacher training in the science of reading and the reduction in misidentifying and disproportionally placing of   minority students in special education services
14. Accountability to the Department of Education for strategies and outcomes in reading at the district level

Keynote speakers in support of this bill included:  G. Reid Lyon, Ph.D.  Ralph Smith,  Executive Vice President of Annie E. Casey Foundation and Jule MCombes-Tolis, Pd. D.

Reid Lyon used the term ‘educational malpractice‘ in describing the way public schools teach children to learn to read but thought that  SB5350 an ‘exquisite bill’  and one of the best he’s seen in his 30 years.  Jule Mc Combs Toll has studied education colleges and universities across Connecticut and nationwide and provided an overview of what doesn’t get taught  but needs to be taught in the teacher’s colleges.  Below are their presentations:

McCombes-Tolis 2012 Reading Summitt

McCombes-Tolis Reading Psychology Blueprint Study

Lyon Connecticut -Final April 5 2012


Apr 042012

On March 8th, the BoE Curriculum Committee met with central office staff  to review the district plans for roll out of the Common Core State Standards across Norwalk’s 19 schools.  There are interesting changes afoot that will be made to both the Math and Language Arts curriculum.  Math will focus on depth over breadth and  will remove some  content previously viewed as sacred in certain grades and will shift the content to other grades.  Language Arts will see an more emphasis placed on  non-fiction and informational texts and an increase in evidence based writing and vocabulary.

Click  on the presentations below to see what was reviewed:

PRINCIPALS Presentation___ Common Core State Standards

CCTT mtg_2_29_12





Feb 092012

The  statement below was read at a BOE meeting the other night and not the Norwalk BOE.  This is not from a Norwalk parent but this letter could just as easily be applied here.  Read the letter and try to figure out what town you think this parent is from.  Parents get angry because the system is so ridiculously broken–nationwide.  (The name of the town is at the bottom–don’t look, read the  letter first, see if you can guess).  A presentation and  information on what SRBI is  and how it is supposed to be working in our public schools  is attached at the bottom of this post.


My comments are intended to provide a balanced perspective – what many parents experiences feel is a spiral –  cause and effect the general ed reading curriculum for K – 3, SRBI and the resulting increase in our special education budget.

We are told that SRBI is a tiered intervention to identify struggling readers – to get our children help and reduce the need to have intensive services in special education.

I was told that Tier I of SRBI – my children’s general ed classroom has adequate instruction in teach all children to read.

I disagreed.

So I met with our Administration to find out more, to find out why SRBI failed for my children:

I was informed by the Asst. Superintendent the district does not require explicit, systematic phonics instruction in general ed.  I asked why – when phonics is the basic foundation of reading?

The Administration informed me that kids in _______ enter Kindergarten not needing phonics.  This is quite simply a frightening assumption and untrue.

The Administration told me that silent reading is valuable more valuable than teaching reading explicitly.  Research shows – that until children are fluent readers – this is waste of precious time.

There is no way to monitor all students silent reading.  My child learned to memorize the words instead of decoding for two years.  There is abundant research that shows reading aloud to an adult does improve phonics and fluency.

Struggling Readers are referred Tier II for more help. Surely the instruction methods are scientific and phonics is instructed there.  No — actually they get more of the same instruction… only more often in pull out.  Teachers have the title of instructional reading specialists in SRBI but do not have reading Masters degrees or a standard of performance to meet.

I assumed that of our District was accountable to showing the data that SRBI was effective for my children and that they were making progress.

It is of course called “SCIENTIFIC RESPONSE BASED INTERVENTION”.  I requested evidence of my son’s progress.  After two months, I found out it doesn’t exist.

I have been told my family is an unexplained anomaly. I talked to other parents and this appears to be routinely unavailable.

I asked to see samples of what progress monitoring is supposed to look like — tracking that somehow was not done for my kids.   How long are children in Tier II?

I am still waiting and either this information does not exist or is not provided to the public –  I sent my letter to all of you and received no response – I request a response again tonight.

Parents have a right to respectful, civilized treatment, that our Administration does not attack us for expecting an appropriate education.  Your press releases are an offensive, inaccurate and inflammatory profile of parents that file for due process – explain how these “marginal” and “frivolous” complaints?  What parent would spend tens of thousands in due process if there wasn’t clear evidence that our school district had failed our children?

I ask the BOE to show us a review of why families win an outplacement by mediation to remedial reading LD schools that cost the District up to $50K a year?

To get into an LD school, a child has to be at minimum two years behind and of average or above average intelligence.  So it’s not the parents or the kids who are at fault here.

If the District was accountable, parents and the district wouldn’t be engaged in monetary settlements.

It’s an easy target to throw your hands up and say that the costs of special ed and lack of state and federal funds make it inevitable that we go over budget.  And it’s true that Special Ed is a complex and confidential business.  If residents don’t know the system, they are unaware and it seems reasonable to think these costs are out of control.

This board and administration must stop blaming and look inside to the inefficient management of your general ed curriculum.

If we had systematic, explicit curriculum in the early years to teach kids to learn to read, all our kids would be reading to learn after third grade.

The result of my SRBI – my child entered second grade reading at a PreK level.  He has to work for 11 months of the year every day to have any hope of catching up.

Thank you for listening and I look forward to the seeing improvements in the curriculum in general ed, the system does not add up and our budget reflects this.

(The town is Darien)


SRBI srbi_basic_training_introduction_srbi