February 2012

The old advertising phrase, “you’ve come a long way, baby,” can be applied to the evolution of practices in assessment. As a student, I don’t recall teachers using that term. We were just periodically given a test—sometimes announced in advance, sometimes not—that would be used to determine whether we were passing or failing the class. As a middle level teacher, I tended to use more of a project-based approach to assessing learning, but have to admit in hindsight, I wasn’t always good about reflecting on the results of the assessment to determine my next steps. Today, effective assessment practices call for both summative and formative assessments, or in the words of assessment expert Rick Stiggins, the assessment “of learning” or “for learning.” This month’s lead article by Betty Edwards shares the practices along this continuum of assessment and challenges middle level leaders to develop a balanced approach as to how, why, and when we assess student learning.

Another concept that’s “come a long way” is middle level education and with March designated as Middle Level Education Month, it’s a good time to look back on our history and how it all began in 1963. Middle level educators Tracy Smith and Ken McEwin from Appalachian State University in North Carolina spearheaded a project to preserve the legacy of the middle level movement that is detailed in a book released last spring, titled The Legacy of Middle School Leaders: In Their Own Words (Information Age Publishing). A short video introduction to this work, complete with interviews of key leaders, can be found on You Tube.  Enjoy the past, and carry its message into the future.

Patti Kinney

Associate Director, Middle Level Services     

By Betty Edwards
Assessment—the mere mention of the word often brings cold chills to the best of students. Even the names given to assessments—pop quiz, final exam—seem to reflect the gloom and forbearance depicted in Dr. Seuss’s last book, Hooray for Diffendoofer Day! In this story, the creative school staff must prove it has taught its students how to think. If the students do not score well on the dreaded state assessment, they will be sent to dreary Flobbertown. Recent news in the real world of high school students being paid to take critical college entrance exams for other students underscores the extent to which assessments have become so feared that students seek ways around them. (Continue reading)

School Communication and QR Codes: It’s Too Simple
By Dedra Stafford
You have seen the pixilated black and white boxes on everything from movie posters to food products, but have you thought about using this tool for school communication? QR (quick response) codes are extremely simple to create and can be used for unique opportunities to give information to parents, students, and the community. Using a smart device (phone, iPad, or iPod) and a QR reader app (free to download), anyone can access your information quickly and store it for use later. (Continue reading)

Research in the Middle: Common Planning Time: Part 2
By Vincent A. Anfara, Jr., Micki M .Caskey, Steven B. Mertens, and Nancy Flowers        
This article is the second of a three-part series. Part one is available online. It reports on an analysis of the National Middle Grades Research Project on Common Planning Time (Mertens, Flowers, Anfara, & Caskey, 2010), which explored middle grade teachers’ perceptions of common planning time. During this qualitative phase of the national project (Phase 1), the project researchers observed 81 common planning time meetings and conducted 221 individual interviews with teachers who had participated in the common planning time meetings. Using standardized observation and interview protocols, 22 project researchers collected data from 29 schools in 13 states from 2007 to 2009. Following data collection and transcription, the project researchers submitted the data transcripts to the project’s national database. In this newsletter article, we share the results of a preliminary analysis of the national dataset. (Continue reading)

Spotlight on Middle Schools
Sandy Valley Middle School, NV
Students at Sandy Valley Middle School expressed concerns to the student council about some of the regulations in the school dress code policy. In the fall of 2010, Sandy Valley MS council members organized the concerns and set up a meeting with the school principal to share some of the students’ thoughts and to discuss options and ideas for amending the dress code.

During their meeting, council members and the principal discussed such issues as unnatural hair colors, jeans with holes and tears, and open-toe shoes. The principal challenged the student council leaders to submit their suggestions for new or modified guidelines. As a result of their efforts and careful thought, several of the dress code guidelines the student council suggested were approved and adopted. The new guidelines were positively received by the student body and serve as an example of the school being responsive to student interests. Although the council did not get all of their suggestions approved, they learned that with teamwork and compromise they could come together to address problems and come up with solutions.

NASC publishes an electronic Projects of Excellence portfolio, featuring more than 1,500 projects from middle level and high school winners, which is accessible to NASC members. To find out more about how NASC can make a difference in your school visit If your student council is not a member, join NASC. Then you too can go for the gold in 2013 by applying for the NASC National Councils of Excellence Award.

News and Notes
In Memoriam
We are saddened to report the passing of Dr. Gordon Vars, often considered one of the founding fathers of the middle level movement. Dr. Vars was instrumental in establishing the National Middle School Association (now Association for Middle Level Education) and served as its first president in 1973. He was a prolific author, frequently published and referenced in many NASSP publications. AMLE has posted a more complete biography of his life.

Empowering English Language Learners Webinar
Join Bill Truesdale, principal, Douglas Taylor Elementary School in Chicago, IL, and Bonnie Zambrano, a bilingual lead teacher at Douglas Taylor for a webinar on Empowering English Language Learners Using the Breaking Ranks Framework on February 28, 2012, at 2:30 (EST). The webinar will examine the success of the English language learner (ELL) program at Douglas Taylor, a K–8 MetLife Foundation–NASSP Breakthrough School with 97% or more of its students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch. Truesdale and Zambrano will discuss the committed teachers they refer to as "language detectives." They have the professional tools, clues, and resources required to "solve the learning case." Other topics include beginning the ELL process by making participants feel uninhibited and accepted, and how to strengthen the program using strategies such as cooperative grouping and simple matching activities. Register online.

March Is Middle Level Education Month
March is coming soon and so is Middle Level Education Month! One of the ways we can improve our own skills in working with this sometimes challenging age group is to learn from the successes of others. Go to to find ways to celebrate Middle Level Education Month at your school.

Collaborating on the Common Core
NASSP and the College Board have collaborated to develop a series of six webinars on Common Core State Standards. These free webinars are designed to help school leaders plan for and implement these standards. The webinar schedule and topics will be:

  • Janaury, 18, 2012: Overview  (archived)
  • February 1, 2012: ELA Standards  (archived)
  • February 15, 2012: Math Standards
  • February 29, 2012: Schoolwide Instructional Practices
  • March 14, 2012: School Leadership Role
  • March 28, 2012: Changing the School Culture and Climate

All the webinars begin at 4:00 p.m. EST. Registration information is available online.

The NASSP Annual Conference Is Coming Soon
It’s not too late to register for the NASSP Breaking Ranks K–12 Conference, March 8-10, in Tampa, FL. There will be a wide array of events and sessions targeted specifically at the middle level, including presentations by award winning middle level schools, a strand of middle level sessions running through the entire conference, and a middle level general assembly featuring middle level expert Nancy Doda. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to network and learn from middle level colleagues from across the country.

Middle Level Research Summaries
AMLE (Association for Middle Level Education) has recently posted three new research summaries on their website that share pertinent information about topics of interest to middle level leaders. Learn more about what research says about Perceptions of Inclusion of Students with Disabilities in the Middle School, Assessment Practices, and Professional Learning Communities.

Apply To Be a MetLife Foundation–NASSP Breakthrough School

  • Does your school serve 40% or more students on free or reduced-price lunch?  
  • Can you document improvements in academic achievement for at least the past three years?  
  • Can you speak to how your school has used the three core areas from Breaking Ranks—Collaborative Leadership, Personalization and Curriculum, and Instruction & Assessment—in your school improvement areas?  

If so, you are a great candidate to apply for this recognition and receive a $5,000 grant for your school. All schools, regardless of grade configuration, that serve middle level or high school students are eligible. Applications are now available online and are due June 30.

Save the Date
Back for the fourth summer, Rick Wormeli will be presenting Differentiating for Diversity, a two-day workshop for school leaders. This interactive, hands-on workshop will take place on June 28 and 29, 2012, in Reston, VA. Come and plan to stay for the July 4th festivities in Washington, DC. Watch for further details in this newsletter and on the NASSP website.

Schools to Watch Conference
NASSP is a member of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform, which sponsors the Schools to Watch program. The 2012 Schools to Watch Conference will be held June 21-23, 2012, at the Crystal Gateway Marriott near Washington, DC.