OCR, Meet Common Core

Posted by Jack Jarvis on September 8, 2013

Smart phone scanning text for OCRAs we move into Common Core, a new emphasis is upon us in the form of text-related instruction. Thankfully, the days of teaching isolated skills are being replaced by deep examination of complex text.

You might think we would have the necessary techniques and strategies already ensconced in our teaching repertoires, but the uncomfortable truth is to the contrary. This is not surprising, considering the weighting of comprehension questions on the standardized tests that have driven all our instructional decisions during the last decade. While comprehension of what one reads would seem to be the only “standard” that counts when it comes to skills that get you through college or into the workplace, we now find many students who can score in the basic or even proficient levels in reading while missing half or more of the reading comprehension items on the test!  Ultimately, the deficiency shows up in middle school or high school, where the inability to really understand what you are decoding dooms many students to lag behind or drop out.

Are we on the same page?

In Common Core reading comprehension instruction, directing students towards examples of text in books on their individual desks isn’t satisfactory.  How can you ensure all students are looking at the same page, let alone the same paragraph you are teaching from? All a teacher really knows is the kids are looking down—and then probably at a smart phone!

The crucial need to be addressed will be finding a way for elementary and secondary schoolteachers to display rich examples of complex text on their presentation screens for all to see at once.     Where will this text come from? Some textbook publishers already allow copying and pasting of their text; Harcourt Science and Holt Social Studies are two examples. The Houghton-Mifflin Medallions eBooks do not allow that access.  And many great examples will be found in hard copy texts that are not online.

OCR to the rescue!

One solution that is, amazingly, little known in K-12 education is optical character recognition software (OCR). OCR takes a scanned picture of text and recognizes the characters as text, converting them to “regions” where the text can then be pasted into PowerPoint or other applications and manipulated, highlighted, et cetera.

To me, the best product for this task is Omni Page Pro, the industry standard since OCR was first developed. I have used Omni Page Pro extensively as both an administrator and teacher for ten years and am amazed at how few educators are even aware of this application.

There are other similar products, including Presto! OCR, which received the second highest marks in a recent review. Microsoft OneNote also has some ability to perform OCR, but in a limited fashion. When Omni Pro was virtually the only game in town it was expensive, but the price has come down by almost 75%. Now, there is not much price difference between it and competing products.

Understanding and mastering this technology will prove extremely valuable as applied to Common Core.  Yes, there are issues of copyright that are involved and one must be diligent and abide by local acceptable use policies.  But by being familiar with fair use and exercising care and good judgment, there are a lot of useful pieces of text in many hard copy books that would be great for Common Core instruction.  The chore is getting them up front and center, and OCR does the trick.

Learn more about OCR tools.


Common Core Too Much for Special Ed Students?

Posted by Stephen Vaughn on July 28, 2013

Boy looking up at palm
Source: teachprimary.com

On the surface, some educators might think the higher level thinking skills needed to be successful on the Smarter Balanced Assessments are too much to ask of special education students, but I propose those higher level thinking skills are just what special education students need.

Here’s why:


Reason 1

The Common Core Standards will motivate special education teachers to expect more of their students than ever before. We are all familiar with the research related to high expectations and learning. Simply expecting—and believing—a student can and will learn something has great positive impact on the student’s progress. I have seen this first hand. By the same token, as an administrator of special education programs, I have seen teachers limit student progress because they thought the student could not handle harder work or curriculum.

Reason 2

The adaptive nature of the Smarter Balanced Assessments will help special education students take the test in a successful manner. Shorter testing time and correct levels of questions will help special education students do their best. Typical standardized tests frequently do not show correct levels of academic progress of special education students because the tests are too long.

Reason 3

Synthesizing, analyzing and transferring knowledge are done by most special education students every day, though they may not be doing them very well. They make judgments about people, events and things. They make decisions to act or not to act all based on these skills. The Common Core will force educators to create opportunities for special education students to acquire and practice these higher level thinking skills. Helping them use these skills in a more effective manner will help them be better people and learn more.

What do you think?

What do you think? Will educators be able to leverage the demand for higher level thinking skills required in the Common Core without demanding too much?   Click below and leave a reply with your thoughts.




Getting Parents on Board, Part 2

Posted by Sheila Grady on July 5, 2013

Men, ladders, standards cartoonAs our elementary school prepared to take the STAR tests this spring,  a parent—who, as it happens, is also a former student of mine (sigh!)—stopped in and said, “Hey, whatever happened to the old CTBS test?  What’s this STAR thing?”  Oh my, did  I feel, well, experienced.

At the same time, the question made me realize that we have some parent education to do!  Smarter Balanced is on its way and our parents should know what to expect!  Here is what I came up with for my parent newsletter.  Fellow principals, feel free to cut, paste and mash up for your own purposes.  It’s all about collaboration! 

Common Core State Standards

California’s state education standards that have been guiding curriculum and instruction for years are being replaced with Common Core State Standards.  This new set of standards began development in June 2010 at the request of the Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association.  Now simply known by the shorthand “Common Core,” they represent a change in our expectations of student learning.  Keep in mind the 21st Century Skills (see “Getting Parents on Board with the Common Core)—critical thinking, communication, creativity, collaboration—as we explore the Common Core.

We will start off with a comparison of the current California standards to the Common Core.   As you consider the contrasts shown in the chart below, think of how the world has change since 1997, the year that the current California standards were adopted. To help ground you, in 1997 the movie Titanic hit the theaters for the first time; Steve Jobs returned to a pre-iPhone Apple; and the new name “Google” was coined for a fledgling search engine that had originally been called BackRub.

California Standards Common Core
Adopted by California in 1997 Adopted by 48 states 2010 – 2012
Purpose to establish content of learning for California students at each grade level Purpose to prepare students to compete in a competitive global society
Developed by California Department of Education for California to reflect a strong consensus among educators Developed by educational professionals in 46 states and informed by national and international research, evidence, and standards from countries that are recognized for high-quality education.
Current (albeit 1997) state standards Built on the strengths and lessons of the current state standards
Each state had its own unique set of standards, varying in content and rigor. Standards are the same for students in all states that have adopted the CCSS.
Assessments designed by commercial educational testing services Assessments designed by two consortia; each state choses one.  CA has chosen Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).
Assessments are multiple-choice items based on the California State Standards 1997. Assessments are “Next Generation Assessments” that assess depth of knowledge by analyzing and synthesizing information, writing essays and applying knowledge.
STAR Test for all students in California in Grades 2 – 12 Smarter Balanced Assessments in Grades 3 – 8 and Grade 11
STAR Results reported 3 months after test. Smarter Balanced Results reported within several weeks.
STAR testing consumes several days of class time. Smarter Balanced is expected to take 1 to 2 hours of student time.


In the simplest form, here are key changes in what we expect children to know and do at the end of K- 12 education:

English/Language Arts

Students must be able to demonstrate these skill “shifts” in English Language Arts/Literacy:

  • Read as much non-fiction as fiction
  • Learn about the world by reading
  • Read more challenging material closely
  • Discuss reading using evidence
  • Write non-fiction using evidence
  • Increase academic vocabulary


And under Common Core math, students must be able to…

  • Focus: learn more about fewer, key topics
  • Build skills within and across grades
  • Develop speed and accuracy
  • Really know math and really use it
  • Use it in the real world
  • Think fast AND solve problems
Map of states that have adopted Common Core State Standards
Green states have adopted Common Core State Standards. Click map for more information.

Getting Parents on Board with the Common Core

Posted by Sheila Grady on June 10, 2013

When it comes to implementing the Common Core State Standards, we have much to do, not the least of which is parent education.  Parent newsletters are one obvious avenue for getting the message out.  Here are some topics and ideas that can help you get a head start on next fall’s newsletters.  Principals, you are welcome to cut and paste and, of course, contribute your own “open source” musings in the comments!

 21st Century Learning

Things are clearly different in our 2013 world, and school is one of those things!  The model of schooling that most of us experienced was established in the 19th century and fine-tuned in the 20th century to develop a citizen workforce for the Industrial Revolution.  In many ways, the schooling we adults received was based on an assembly line model.  As we educate your children, we are not preparing them to work in a factory.  The skills they will need in the workforce will be a “blend of content knowledge, specific skills, expertise and literacies”.   (Source: Partnership for 21st Century Skills.)

Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity

The new basics are critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity.  In fact, at our school, we add a fifth “C” to this: conservation.   Let’s review what these skills are and think about how we may already see them being developed in our school.

  • Critical Thinking requires one to reason effectively, solve problems, make judgments and decisions.  We scaffold our students’ opportunities to think critically and provide a foundation upon which to base their thinking.  (Hint – our “Character Counts” program) 
  • Collaboration is the ability to work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams, to be flexible and able to compromise, to assume shared responsibility for collaborative work, and to value the individual contributions of each team member.    (Hint – Parent-Teacher Committees, Fundraising Drives)
  • Communication is the ability to express ideas clearly in a variety of ways—written, spoken, drawn, built, acted out—and to receive ideas from others by effective listening, watching, and questioning.  (Hint – Reading and Writing for sure, but also Art, Music, Tech)
  • Creativity not only means having new ideas.  It is the ability to elaborate or refine  the ideas of others and to be open to new ideas and possibilities.  (Hint – PTA Meetings, Science Night)
  • Conservation means that our students will take individual and collective action towards addressing environmental challenges.  (Hint – our school Green Team!)

Push to the core with “Teaching Channel.”

Posted by Lisa Marie Gonzales on March 22, 2013

TCH logoWe seem to now live in a world abuzz with the “Common Core,” and the resources are plentiful. Great problem to have, right? Wrong! Too many resources and so many require time to sift through for quality, applicability to our differing student populations, and then finding them later when we realize the resource was good.  It’s exhausting.  That’s why, when Teaching Channel (Tch) was recommended by a colleague, I thought, “Finally!”

As part of a county office team, I work with many school districts.  We regularly run across superintendents or board members who want to know, “How will classrooms look different in the Common Core era?”  Tch can help answer that question.  To start with, Tch has introductory videos the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) with a toolbox and an ongoing series of video conversations that address the stages and challenges of implementation.

The next highlight is the depth of videos they have on every subject (currently 155 in ELA and 113 in Math) that are broken down by grade level and concept. For example, I previewed a 2nd-3rd grade video on “number sense.” When you click on the lesson, the standards are highlighted and when you scroll over each standard, it details each beyond the number and header. This particular lesson has an 8 minute long video that focuses on the teacher leading a group of students through the lesson.

The teacher models a couple of ways to count to a specific number using counters, with students attentively watching. She asks questions and students come up to model how they might record their answers.  A quick check for understanding leads students into a group activity that was rich with academic vocabulary and mathematical conversations. The teacher moves around the room, working with small groups and asking probing questions that require the students to defend their thinking and math processes.

Grade level ranges are broken down into preK-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12. The videos are also delineated by topics, ranging from student engagement to differentiation to digital literacy. And although the actual lesson plans are not provided, there is enough solid modeling in the videos that a novice teacher can pick up the particular lesson and run with it.  Likewise, a superintendent or board member—or anyone—can get a good look at how classrooms implementing CCSS are different.

Since much of my work in CCSS also focuses on the arts, I had to check out some of the 41 videos already created for the arts. I was pleasantly surprised to find the art lessons were tied to other core subjects, especially the ever-so-popular STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). From high school vocal warm-up techniques to kindergarten science/math/art animal patterns, even the arts have a central place in Tch. More importantly, the videos on Tch are rich with student engagement, conversation, clear instructional objectives that students articulate, and strong examples of formative assessments.

I have been most impressed with the reach of Tch. Check it out.