Big Changes for New Jersey State Assessments

By Jaclyn Scotto Siano

As you have probably already heard, the New Jersey assessments have been changed for the 2019 testing window. Let’s take a quick look at these few important changes!

Name Change

So, the first major difference in the New Jersey assessment world is the change in name of the test. What was once known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is now the New Jersey Student Learning Assessment (NJSLA). In regards to content, the new test still covers the same skills so there is nothing new that needs to be taught.

Math Changes

For all grades, the test has been shortened (hooray for our students)! On the grades 3 through 5 tests, the NJSLA now consists of three 60-minute units instead of the four 60-minute units the students took in 2018.

For grades 6 through 8, there are still three units. However, the unit times have been shortened. As opposed to the 80-minute testing windows we saw in the past, the 2019 test consists of three 60-minute windows.

At the high school level, students will only be taking two 90-minute testing units. In 2018, they took three 90-minute tests.

ELA Changes

Once again, for all grade levels, the students will spend less time in front of the computer for the ELA sections. For all grade levels, students will be taking two units in 2019 (as opposed to the three units they took in 2018).  Instead of completing a Literary Analysis Task (LAT), Research Simulation Task (RST), AND Narrative Writing Task (NWT), students will be doing only two. Depending on the blueprint the student receives on test day, the test will consist of one of the following combinations:

  • a LAT and an RST
  • an NWT and an RST

So, regardless of the test versions they receive, all student will be doing an RST.

In regards to time, grade 3 will be sitting for two 75-minute units, and all other grades will take two 90-minute units.


So, there are a few major takeaways in regards to the changes in New Jersey’s state assessments. First, the name has been changed from PARCC to NJSLA. Secondly, there has been a reduction in number of units and total time spent testing for all grade levels and in both subjects. If you want more information, try New Jersey’s assessment web page.

By |2019-03-26T22:44:34+00:00March 26th, 2019|NJSLA|0 Comments

Improving Student Achievement through Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)

By Jaclyn Scotto Siano

One of the major goals of any school is student achievement. But did you know that Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) can contribute to increased student success?  In our last blog, we discussed how PLCs can be used as a method for improving teaching and pedagogy; today, let’s focus on some strategies that can be used in PLCs to improve student achievement.

Reviewing Student Work and Using Data Analysis

Having a set, recurring PLC time provides teachers with a place to review student work. One way this can be particularly helpful is when teachers are encouraged to bring graded performance-based assessments to their PLCs. Using the rubrics, teachers can focus on areas of strength and weakness for individual students. From there, individual support plans can be created to provide extra help in struggling areas. For example, if a particular student scored low on the grading rubric section for using MLA citations correctly, the teacher could provide the student with extra practice on this topic.

Similarly, teachers can work together during PLC time to analyze data from traditional assessments, like multiple choice tests. Reviewing graded tests as a group provides the teacher with objective feedback on both student scores and the test itself. In regards to student achievement, data analysis can assist the teacher in locating problem areas/topics. If many students perform poorly on the same question(s), then the teacher can consider re-teaching that topic for clarity.

Best Practices

PLCs provide educators with a venue for sharing best practices. In PLCs where the teachers share the same students, it provides an opportunity for discussing strategies on dealing with certain students. For example, one teacher may have found a helpful website to use with a struggling non-native English speaking student.

In all PLCs, educators can use that time to “bounce” ideas off each other. One teacher may have taught a very successful lesson or assigned a great project; he or she can share that with the group so that it may be adapted for other classes. When teachers share their victories, their peers can benefit and so can the students.


Multiple research studies show a direct link between teachers who are involved in PLCs and increased student achievement (Vescio et al., 2008). In its most effective form, a PLC should be utilized for all of the activities listed above. When teachers find new and more efficient ways to teach their students, students are more likely to succeed. We learn more when we learn together!


Vescio, V., Ross, D., and Adams, A. (2008). A review of research on the impact of professional learning communities on teaching practice and student learning. Teaching and Teacher Education, 24, 80-91.

By |2019-02-04T14:42:04+00:00February 4th, 2019|PLCs|0 Comments

Improving Teacher Practice: Creating a Collaborative Culture through PLCs

By Jaclyn Scotto Siano

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb

As educators, we know that there are multiple benefits that come from teacher collaboration; one of the biggest is improved teacher practice. In past blogs, we’ve established the basics of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) in regards to purpose and initiation. Today, let’s get a little more specific and discuss how PLCs can be used as a method for improving pedagogy.

Problem Solving

PLCs provide a forum for educators to engage in open and honest discussion about relevant topics, such as dealing with educational issues. For example, if a teacher has recurring discipline issues with a particular student, he could refer to his PLC for ideas. This discussion of “what works” or best practices provides the struggling teacher with strategies that he can apply in his own classroom. In turn, this provides the teacher with a larger repertoire of strategies to use that could even prevent further issues! An added bonus is that these types of open discussions increase levels of interpersonal trust among group members (Tschannen-Moran, 2009). In turn, this increases the likelihood of teachers going to their peers for help even outside of PLC time.

Group Inquiry

Another way teacher collaboration can improve teaching is through the use of a group inquiry cycle. The majority of us have engaged in some kind of data analysis process; typically, this is done individually. However, in a PLC, members can work together to not just analyze data but to further understand educational issues and then assist their peers in creating more effective practices for the classroom based on the results.

One example of a recommended inquiry process is the Stamford PLC Cycle. In its simplest form, this cycle uses five steps:

  1. The PLC chooses an area of focus and then analyzes data
  2. The PLC reviews and discusses student work samples
  3. The PLC members take turns observing the member requesting assistance
  4. The PLC will create an assessment to identify strengths and weaknesses.
  5. The PLC will come up with a plan for “next steps” that the requesting teacher can apply. (Thessin and Starr, 2011)

Lesson Planning

Even if you work in a school that does not require collaborative or aligned lesson planning, a PLC is a natural conduit for it to occur. If groups are created based on subject matter (i.e.: all English teachers are in one PLC), then teachers can be encouraged to share their favorite lessons and activities. Many can be adapted to fit varied subjects. If PLC groups are arranged by grade level (i.e.: all fourth-grade teachers are in one PLC), then teachers should be encouraged to engage in cross-curricular planning. An easy way to initiate this is to ask each teacher to pair up with another who teaches a different subject and create a combined lesson. In either case, the result is a larger “toolbox” of effective pedagogical strategies from which your teachers can pull.


As the proverb implies, educators must work together in order to achieve success. Each teacher comes to a school with different ideas, activities, and strategies; encourage them to share the wealth via PLCs!

Keep an eye out for our next PLC blog where we will get into the nitty gritty of data analysis in PLCs and how it can improve student learning.


Thessin, R. A., & Starr, J. P. (2011). Supporting the growth of effective professional learning communities districtwide. The Phi Delta Kappan, 92(6), 48-54. doi:10.1177/003172171109200611

Tschannen-Moran, M. (2009).  Fostering teacher professionalism in schools:  The role of leadership orientation and trust.  Educational Administration Quarterly, 45(2), 217-247.  doi:  10.1177/0013161X08330501

By |2019-01-10T19:39:06+00:00January 11th, 2019|PLCs|0 Comments

NGSS in Action

In an NGSS classroom, students do what scientists do in real life!

The NGSS calls for deep linkages between the three dimensions of crosscutting concepts, disciplinary core ideas, and science and engineering practices. To do this effectively, students need to gather evidence from a variety of sources, make sense of that evidence, and construct strong scientific arguments about real-world phenomena.

  1. Gathering evidence…In an NGSS classroom students collect evidence from a variety of sources.
  • Hands-on investigations
  • Physical models
  • Interactive digital simulations
  • Scientific texts
  • Media, including video clips, photographs, maps, and data sets
  1. Make sense of evidence…Students make sense of evidence by:
  • Highlighting and annotating texts
  • Iteratively revising models
  • Weighing the strength of scientific arguments
  • Analyzing trends in data sets
  • Manipulating variables and recording observations from digital simulations
  • Discussing ideas and questions with classmates
  1. Construct convincing scientific arguments…Students use evidence to formulate convincing scientific arguments:
  • Write a scientific argument supporting a claim using evidence they’ve collected
  • Construct and revise models and write sophisticated scientific explanations
  • Engage in oral argumentation in Science Seminars (grades 6-8)
  • Evaluate the strengths of competing claims

What Do Lessons Look Like?

By |2018-12-18T17:04:16+00:00December 18th, 2018|NGSS|0 Comments

Sustaining Change by Leveraging Instructor Data

The dreaded “D” word.  Data.  How do you use your data?  And we don’t mean the data you’re thinking about…

We collect data on students all the time: assessment item analyses, student observation, running records, summative assessments, etc.  You get the point.  We analyze the data, we group students, we use the data targeted to target instruction and close achievement gaps.


What about doing the same for the adults we coach?


Consider the goals of coaching for a minute:

  • Making sure teachers use best practices
  • Making sure teachers create engaging lessons that reach all learners
  • Consider where a teacher is on September 1 and prioritizing needs to get them a few steps closer to becoming a superstar teacher
  • Ultimately, as coaches our goal is to CREATE MASTER TEACHERS

Coaching is about building capacity.  You are one person, in closing gaps in teaching practice, you are building capacity and creating master teachers that can share the best practices with each other.  The better you do your job, the less hands-on you will have to be. That is, the more you go from “guru” to facilitator.  It’s about giving a man a fish and feeding him for a day or teaching him how to fish and feeding him for a lifetime. Sustaining change.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could shift from doing all the demos in classrooms, for example, to setting up labs sites, creating mentoring partnerships, and having teachers take ownership and “train” one another?  Think about the community you’d be building in the process!

How do you get there?  Data!  Here are a few ideas for your toolbox:

  • Create a folder or binder for every teacher. (We’re fans of color coding: blue for best practices, yellow for reading, you get the idea…)
  • Make it a point to visit classes every day. Even if it’s just stopping in to check out the student work on the walls.  Be visible, be available to the teachers.  (And take notes on your observations.*)
  • Speaking of visiting classes…stop in and sit with a group of students for a few minutes or hang out in the back of the room during a mini-lesson. You really can see a lot in a 10 minute visit! (And take notes on your observations.*)
  • Ask teachers how you can help them. Do they want to try Socratic Seminars?  Are they frustrated because their class is having trouble with a certain math concept? (And take notes.*)
  • Check out this handy Data Collection Sheet

*When we say “observations” we don’t mean as an administrator.  We just mean take notes about what you saw, heard, or had a conversation about.  These notes are just for your reference.  When you go back to your office, review your notes and consider how you will support the teacher based on that data and then provide the support.  Remember to notate your support and follow-up, too!

The reason for this kind of data collection is three-fold:

  1. While you have your agenda about what teachers need to work on, teachers may perceive different needs and professional goals.  By talking to them about those goals and supporting them, you are not only helping them to become the best teachers they can be, you are also building a relationship with them.  Successful coaching is most built on positive relationships.
  2. You can reflect on these notes and identify what works, what doesn’t, and what else you can try.  It’s a paper trail of your coaching.  Strategies you’ve used and conversations you’ve had with teachers can help in working with other teachers and cohorts in the future.
  3. In addition, you are building your own toolbox of coaching strategies.  For example, if two teachers present with same problem, you may try a strategy that works with Teacher #1, but not Teacher #2.  A different strategy works with Teacher #2.  Tuck both strategies away.  Next year, when Teacher #3 presents with the same issue, you have two strategies from your toolbox from which to draw.

Remember it’s about sustaining change.  It’s not all going to happen at once or even in a semester or necessarily in a school year.  Give yourself the grace to realize that it’s about incremental shifts in the right direction.  Every step forward is a reason to celebrate.

Want to learn more about successful coaching?  Join us for our Lunch and Learn pilot program.  Click here to learn more and register today. 

From us to you, Happy Holidays and…

Happy Coaching!

By |2018-12-14T19:04:50+00:00December 14th, 2018|Inspired|0 Comments

NGSS & You: Addressing the Needs of Curriculum and Science Supervisors

Three dimensions…




The NGSS are performance expectations focused on the connection between the three dimensions of science learning. These dimensions are combined to form each standard—or performance expectation—and each dimension works with the other two to help students build a cohesive understanding of science over time.  The model is as follows:

Dimension 1: Practices

The practices describe behaviors that scientists engage in as they investigate and build models and theories about the natural world and the key set of engineering practices that engineers use as they design and build models and systems. The NRC uses the term practices instead of a term like “skills” to emphasize that engaging in scientific investigation requires not only skill but also knowledge that is specific to each practice. Part of the NRC’s intent is to better explain and extend what is meant by “inquiry” in science and the range of cognitive, social, and physical practices that it requires.  Although engineering design is similar to scientific inquiry, there are significant differences. For example, scientific inquiry involves the formulation of a question that can be answered through investigation, while engineering design involves the formulation of a problem that can be solved through design. Strengthening the engineering aspects of the Next Generation Science Standards will clarify for students the relevance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (the four STEM fields) to everyday life.

Dimension 2: Crosscutting Concepts

Crosscutting concepts have application across all domains of science. As such, they are a way of linking the different domains of science. They include: Patterns, similarity, and diversity; Cause and effect; Scale, proportion and quantity; Systems and system models; Energy and matter; Structure and function; Stability and change. The Framework emphasizes that these concepts need to be made explicit for students because they provide an organizational schema for interrelating knowledge from various science fields into a coherent and scientifically-based view of the world.

Dimension 3: Disciplinary Core Ideas

How to Start?

Disciplinary core ideas have the power to focus K–12 science curriculum, instruction and assessments on the most important aspects of science. To be considered core, the ideas should meet at least two of the following criteria and ideally all four:

Have broad importance across multiple sciences or engineering disciplines or be a key organizing concept of a single discipline;

Provide a key tool for understanding or investigating more complex ideas and solving problems;

Relate to the interests and life experiences of students or be connected to societal or personal concerns that require scientific or technological knowledge;

Be teachable and learnable over multiple grades at increasing levels of depth and sophistication.

The three dimensions should be used together, not separately; they collectively empower students to direct their learning.


Disciplinary ideas are grouped in four domains: the physical sciences; the life sciences; the earth and space sciences; and engineering, technology and applications of science.

Using all three dimensions is like cooking a meal:
  –  SEPs are the cooking utensils and tools
      –  DCIs are the basic ingredients
      –  CCCs are the spices/herbs that combine all 3 dimensions
      –  If any of these are missing, the meal does not taste good

Model Curriculum?


CCC:   Cross Cutting Concepts

DCI:   Disciplinary Core Idea

PE:   Performance Expectations

SEP:   Science and Engineering Practices

SLO:   Student Learning Objectives


By |2018-12-10T15:21:23+00:00December 11th, 2018|Inspired|0 Comments

The 4 C’s – Preparing your Students to be 21st Century Learners

Technology is everywhere today. Our interactions with the world and with one another are mediated by computers, tablets and smart phones. The answer to practically any question you might have, at any moment, is a few keystrokes and a millisecond away. In the same way, technology changed how humans perceive information, and now it has flipped the educational world on its head.

Preparing students for the future, demands that education be delivered in a vastly different manner than what we’ve seen in U.S. schools thus far. In this world where information creation and discovery are taking place faster than we can bring that information to our classrooms, true 21st century learning must involve more than information literacy alone.

Certainly, the traditional “3 Rs”, a shorthand way to talk about traditional content areas like reading, writing and arithmetic, play a core role in the 21st century classroom. But in this new world, those “content domains” become avenues for imparting a whole array of 21st century skills; skills that will allow students to function, learn and adapt throughout life in this post-modern world.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), one of a number of organizations advocating for a revamped educational system, says that for our young people to be able to compete in the global economy, they need more than the 3 Rs; a new “4 Cs” are also required. These 4Cs are: Critical thinking and problem solving, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity and innovation.

Similarly, the National Research Council of the National Academies of Science in Washington, DC breaks the same idea down into three areas:

Cognitive skills: critical thinking and analysis

Interpersonal skills: teamwork and communication

Intrapersonal skills: resiliency, reflection and contentiousness

In the same way that handwriting is a skill that crosses every domain, likewise our students need these essential 21st Century skills if they are to be successful.

P21 has taken the lead to construct and advocate for the adoption of the 21st century framework that has become a touchstone among education leaders across the nation. This framework offers an elaborate vision that brings core subject knowledge together with creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication skills; life and career skills; and information, media and technology skills.

While they are not in the majority, many districts and schools, have taken the lead and implemented 21st Century teaching and learning. So, what do these settings really look like?

According to 21st Century Schools, such settings will be enhanced with a project-based curriculum for life aimed at engaging students in addressing real-world problems, issues important to humanity, and questions that matter. When true 21st Century learning is taking place:

  • Schools stop being buildings defined by walls and times of day; they transform into community “nerve centers.” Walls become porous and transparent, and teachers and students become connected to the outside world, from the immediate surrounding community to people and knowledge across the planet.
  • Teachers stop being dispensers of data and become something more similar to coaches, imparting skills that help students become not just content experts, but expert learners.
  • Learners are excited by flexible, open-ended, project-based, real-world learning situations that not only teach content skills, but instill curiosity, which is fundamental to lifelong learning, develop communication and teamwork skills, and the freedom and responsibility that comes from taking charge of their own learning.

When we can look at a school and see these things happing in sync, we can be confident that the students are getting the great education they’ll need in the future. Creating 21st Century classrooms, schools and districts is no small order, but it is being done across the nation.

If you are one of those forward-thinking people who is reading this and saying, “It sounds amazing, but it’s just too much to undertake given our resources,” think again. If you are an educator, ask yourself, what is one small change I could make that might transform my students’ experience?

Could you try grouping students more often for more team-based learning? Or embed the teaching of a math skill within the hands-on study of pond ecology? Or study an aspect of Chinese culture by setting up a virtual student exchange connecting students with their counterparts in Asia via Skype?

Once we begin to consider the possibilities of the 21st Century classroom, our schools become more than just places for preparing students for the next level of education. They become places where we truly prepare and empower learners for lifelong success and personal fulfillment.

And as educators, isn’t that our real goal?


By |2018-12-05T18:44:05+00:00December 6th, 2018|21st Century Learning, Technology|0 Comments

PLC Quick-Start Guide for Coaches

by Jaclyn Scotto Siano


Congratulations, you’ve decided to initiate Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) in your school! Now, the question is how do we get started? There are a lot of considerations to be made when implementing PLCs. Here’s our handy-dandy Quick Start Guide to get you rolling.


First off, you have to determine how your staff will be grouped. Some popular options are by grade, subject, department, and/or shared students. How you determine grouping may be affected by when PLCs will meet. Do certain groups of teachers have common planning time? If so, it might be a good idea to group teachers that way. Will PLCs meet before or after school? Then, you have more flexibility in your groupings. Whatever method you choose for groupings, keep in mind that an ideal meeting length is at least thirty minutes.

Topics and Agendas

Before each PLC meeting, an agenda should be created and distributed to all team members. This agenda should include the date, time, and location of the meeting, and the topics of discussion. Ideally, topics and agendas should be connected to the PLC’s yearly goals. Although some schools choose to dictate PLC meeting topics, it is not recommended as a regular practice (for example quarterly exam data analysis or PARCC practice test creation). The ultimate goal of an effective PLC is to allow an equal distribution of leadership between administrators and teachers while providing teachers a place to collaborate in regards to teaching and learning.

Group Norms

Not all teachers know how to effectively work in groups. Before their first official PLC meeting, encourage each team to create group norms. Basically, these are ground rules that all PLC members are expected to follow in order for meeting to run smoothly and effectively. They should be clear, concise, positively phrased, and collaboratively created. Some examples of PLC group norms could include the following:

  1. Be on time.
  2. Be respectful of others’ opinions.
  3. Participate regularly.
  4. Come prepared (ex: with data or lesson plans) per the agenda.

Remind PLC groups that these norms should be posted in their meeting spaces and reviewed at the beginning of every PLC meeting.


Congratulations on taking the first step on the road to PLCs. Keep in mind these basic elements (scheduling, topics, agendas, norms) as you begin your journey, and build from there.

Keep an eye out for our next PLC blog on how to maximize the positive effects of your PLCs!


State of New Jersey Department of Education (2017). Collaborative teams toolkit. Retrieved from

By |2018-12-04T16:41:59+00:00December 4th, 2018|Coaching, PLCs|0 Comments

Quick-Start Guide to Coaching Part 2 – How to Sustain Change

So you’ve constructed your cohorts, you’ve created your goals, now what?

To sustain change it is important to plan ahead, be consistent, and be transparent.

Tips to sustain change:

  1. Inform your cohorts about their group.  You can even have them assist in creating the goals for the cohort.
    1. Be sure to only select two or three goals for each group.
    2. Ensure that your goals are SMART:
      1. Specific
      2. Measurable
      3. Attainable
      4. Relevant
      5. Time-bound (consider working with each cohort for a specific amount of time: a semester, marking period, six weeks, etc.)
  2. Inform them of the schedule for visits and the objective(s) of each visit.

Want to learn more about SMART goals?  Check out this free worksheet!

Demo Lessons:

  1. If you are doing a demonstration lesson or a teacher is doing one, have a list of look fors for the teachers observing. For example, if the focus is on asking rigorous questions have teachers document the questions asked and then (in the debriefing session) identify the levels (Bloom’s) of questions, the use of open-ended questions, wait time, text-dependent questions, scaffolding questions, etc.
  2. Plan ahead for a debriefing session where teachers can ask questions, share ideas, and plan for application in their own classrooms.  Tip: These share-outs and planning ideas should be shared with the cohort for accountability and support.
  3. Consider using one classroom as a lab site, offering teachers in the cohort the opportunity to observe in this one classroom.  Alternatively, you can rotate classrooms.


  1. To create buy-in, be sure to set norms that encourage trust. 
  2. Consider having each member of the cohort lead a PLC meeting.
  3. Mid-way through the cycle, consider a check-in point where teachers can:
    1. Brainstorm how to handle obstacles/challenges
    2. Check progress on SMART Goals
    3. Share student work related to the goal

Tip: If you are working on 6-week cycles, for example, the coach can lead the first and last sessions and teachers can take turns leading the sessions in between.  If you have a larger cohort, teachers can team up to present a topic pertinent to the cohort goals.

For example, if mastering Socratic Seminar is an objective, the teacher(s) leading the PLC can share best practices about setting up Socratic Seminars. They can include a video (even one they created of their own classrooms), templates, and handouts in their presentation. Remember to leave room for discussion and planning for application!


We’d love to hear from you!  Please share your success stories and tips with us in the comment section below.

Happy Coaching!

By |2018-11-29T17:51:06+00:00November 29th, 2018|Coaching|0 Comments

The 5E Model & NGSS

For Curriculum & Instruction / Supervisors, and Principals


The 5E Model, developed in 1987 by the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, promotes collaborative, active learning in which students work together to solve problems and investigate new concepts by asking questions, observing, analyzing, and drawing conclusions.

The 5E Model is based on the constructivist theory to learning, which suggests that people construct knowledge and meaning from experiences. By understanding and reflecting on activities, students are able to reconcile new knowledge with previous ideas.

In the classroom, constructivism requires educators to build inquiry, exploration, and assessment into their instructional approach. In many ways, this means the teacher plays the role of a facilitator, guiding students as they learn new concepts.

The Model Explained

Engage:  ask a question about objects and events in the environment.

When students Engage, they:

  • Express prior knowledge
  • Ask questions
  • Make observations

Explore:  conduct a simple investigation.

When students Explore, they:

  • Think freely
  • Test predictions and hypotheses
  • Record observations and ideas

Explain:  use data to construct a reasonable explanation.

When students Explain, they:

  • Explain possible solutions
  • Listen to others critically
  • Refer to previous activities or experiences

Elaborate:  extend the concept.

When students Elaborate, they:

  • Apply new labels, definitions, etc.
  • Record observations and explanations
  • Draw reasonable conclusions using evidence

Evaluate:   demonstrate understanding of concepts and ability to use inquiry skills.

When students Evaluate, they:

  • Answer open-ended questions
  • Demonstrate understanding of knowledge
  • Evaluate own progress

The 5E Model allows educators to create a unique learning experience for students. Teachers who can incorporate instructional models like the 5E Model into their classrooms help students build a strong foundation of knowledge through active participation. 

By |2018-11-27T15:02:33+00:00November 27th, 2018|NGSS|0 Comments