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What did we learn from standardized tests?

“Frankly, it never made any sense to argue that parents everywhere were hungering to compare their own child’s test score to children in other states. Maybe it is just me, but I never met a parent who said, “I’m desperate to know how my child’s test score compares to children in the same grade in Alaska and Maine and Florida. And to insist that having this information would somehow improve education or benefit students made no sense either. What we learn from standardized tests is that family income matters. Having the same test everywhere doesn’t change that fact. What if the same energy had gone into reducing poverty and segregation? We might have made a dent. Instead, our whole country is pointed to the wrong goals.”

—Diane Ravitch

What does an experienced teacher turned politician say about the direction of education?

“I saw education before No Child Left Behind. I also experienced education during No Child Left Behind up until I got elected to Congress. Basically, test and punish did not work. Because of No Child Left Behind, I suddenly had to follow a syllabus and a pacing guide dictated by the district office. There was less trust of the teacher, and that’s a mild way of putting it. We began being treated like we were a transmitter of someone else’s idea of what is good education. Effective education doesn’t work that way. Effective education is building relationships with students. It’s about teachers strategizing on how to engage students. You can’t do the canned lesson or scripted content.”

–Rep. Mark Takano of California, U.S. Congressman, 24 years of classroom experience

I Am That Teacher Too (Letter 4) Technology—14 years of growth

Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 11.43.27 PMDear Former Students,

What do I hope you remember about me as your computer lab teacher?

My enthusiasm! I was so fortunate. In the middle of a job I loved, teaching first graders in a school that valued developmentally appropriate, early childhood instruction, I was given the opportunity to create a computer lab and the curriculum to go with it. I loved teaching kids and I loved technology. What could be better?

Our beginnings were quite humble. We pulled together a lab using one Mac computer from each classroom, but also leaving computers for classroom use. Children had to share computers in the lab, and computers had to share printers. We’re talking primitive sharing, not networking; I unplugged the printer and plugged it into the neighboring computer so you could print your stories using tractor pin feed paper. And I did it very carefully. If one of the pins in the Imagewriter cord got bent, it could be a minor crisis. No printing from two computers and no spare cords. Over time, the lab was continually updated, expanded and kept state of the art.

We were a school where few students had computers at home, but you had a reputation for being able to use computers better than other students in the district. Your teacher joined me in the computer lab, and we worked together, learning and teaching. It was exciting for me and for you. It was learning at its best. I used my knowledge of good teaching to integrate what you were learning in the classroom with our technology projects. As the standardistas took over education, that became more difficult to do. Learning became focused on skills instead of knowledge. The computer lab became “child care” for teachers so they could attend Professional Learning Committees. It was a welcome release of pressure for you as a student. I tried to give you what you needed: mouse skills for K while you learned about jellyfish and celebrated holidays and paint programs for first grade to work on math and writing. In second grade you wrote and indulged in clip art in PowerPoint. Third graders, do you remember the excitement of beginning keyboarding and using Publisher to create visitor brochures about the state of New Mexico? Some of you even got to proudly present them to legislators when you visited the state capitol. Older students, we worked on projects too, but we also dipped our toes into the emerging world of blogging, emails, and Internet safety (which I see many of you practicing today). Our district was trying to enter the digital world in a safe and thoughtful way. To look back now, it appears to have been baby steps, but that was the beginning and it was an exciting and important time. We also struggled with learning about the confusing world of copyright laws and fair use. I hope all of that helped you as you moved on to middle school.

Testing—the Beginning of the End

For many years in the computer lab we always had a word of the week, a technology term that we learned to expand our vocabulary. At the end, even that got put aside. Three times a year, the schedule was thrown out the window as we had to take the required Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests. It was quite high pressure. When you were younger, most of you didn’t understand and were thrilled with the seemingly high score. As you grew older, the “cut score” reality set in. Regardless of how well you scored, it was rarely high enough and you could have always scored higher. There were rewards given by individual teachers and by the school. Even more pressure. Some of you must have felt like failures. You weren’t. The system failed you. What you probably didn’t know was that people above your teacher were telling your wonderful, hardworking, caring teachers that they were failures as well.

At some point I became too expensive as a certified teacher. The only written qualification for my replacement was that he or she should be able to use Microsoft Word. Seriously, that was what was viewed as necessary to do my job? This “assistant” (who she was assisting?) was charged with the care of you, two computer labs, scheduling, ordering equipment, preparing reports, training staff members, and a lot of technology maintenance. I worked with my replacement on the transition, and she is very capable and wants the best for you. The hardest part of this transition was moving my focus from all of the students at the school to only a classroom. I felt so responsible for all of you. I was also a little disappointed that the administration did not announce this change to students. Many of you felt I had abandoned you. This was definitely not the case, and nothing made me happier than to see you on campus and get one of your great smiles and maybe a hug.

What do I hope you remember about me in the computer lab?

A teacher who cared about you as a person and not a number on a test.

A teacher who cared about where you came from and what you went home to. A teacher who helped you learn about writing, language, art, math, science and developing technologies as well as about computers.

A teacher who tried to share with you things that would help you in your classroom and in your life.

A teacher who loved school and tried to provide opportunities for you to love learning as well.

A teacher who respected you because YOU are a person worthy of respect.

Will Great Scores on a High Stakes Test Land You a Job at Goodreads?

Goodreads is a website that has created a huge community of readers, and their goal is to hook up readers with books they will love. In browsing today, I came across their Jobs page. I’m not looking to come out of retirement, but I was interested in their values:

  • Ownershipchild_books_fr
  • Create Fun
  • Be Humble
  • Think Big
  • Customer Obsession
  • Be Passionate
  • Help Each Other
  • Always Be Learning, Always Be Teaching.

Goodreads says they want people that are creative and care about the customer. Reread their list of values. Are any of those items on a standardized test? Are any of those values part of the Common Core State Standards? Would they be integral to a private school education where neither the CCSS nor standardized testing is required? Then WHY are we not including them in a public school education? All of our kids deserve a first class education.

If you want to see the source, go to:

https://www.goodreads.com/jobs?utm_medium=email&utm_source=ya_newsletter&utm_campaign=2015-05&utm_content=hiring

The Pendulum

pendulum2_frAt the Vanderbilt University physics building there used to be a huge, several storied pendulum with a mesmerizing swing. I know about pendulums; I believe in the pendulum swing. Education philosophies, methods, and approaches go through full pendulum swings with regularity. I’ve both observed and read about the swings. For example, phonics was relegated to one end of the arc and whole language to the other end. In the middle, for a brief time, we get to experience teaching that makes sense. Some of us have always tried to maintain that focus, rather like keeping true North on a compass.

My latest posts have been reblogs of a few of the many outstanding posts about testing and opting out. I have interrupted my blog posts “I Am That Teacher Too” (Letters to Former Students) because of what is currently happening in education. It is that important. I have waited for it. I have hoped for it. I have prayed for it. The pendulum is starting to swing back towards the middle. I know it is a small movement, but it is movement, and compared to the recent years of intransigence, this is a big thing. The catalyst was the actual testing. For every force there is an opposite and equal reaction. When the force of testing was applied, brave parents and students reacted and said “NO!” They said “no” not just once, but over and over again and in many states. For the first time in years, I have real hope that future generations of students and teachers will not have to endure CCSS and over-testing. I have real hope that joy and creativity will be restored to the learning process.

I Am That Teacher Too (Letter 2)

Ready for the first day of school and student input!

Ready for the first day of school and student input!

Dear Former Students,

What do I hope you remember about me?

Our Special Learning Space

I hope you remember our room. Bright, colorful, creative, inspirational. Most years, our room and our studies focused on a theme which varied from year to year. It might have been dinosaurs or space or animals. Maybe you were with me when we explored the rainforest. Whatever the topic, it was real; it didn’t just provide decorations. It was the springboard for learning—reading, math, language, science, social studies, art and music. We did it all centered around our theme. Sometimes we jumped outside the theme and that was OK. Creativity, learning, and children—none of them belong in a box.

I spent the summer vacation dreaming, planning, and creating for our learning base for the coming year. Until the Testing Monster emerged to swallow up the joy and adventure of learning. After that I spent summers investigating Common Core State Standards. I learned that first graders should be ready to do what had always been expected of second graders. I learned that a Kindergartener was a failure if he or she was not reading by the end of the year. I had nightmares of angry administrators and nonsense posters and charts. I tried to make sense of a disjointed melange, a mishmash of portions of reading programs, books, and plans stuck together by an “expert” to create a hideous and unworkable mess. BUT even then, I tried to create a warm and welcoming place to learn with a fun reading corner and an area for some messy art and forbidden science.

I know you must have felt my efforts. You would come into the room before school (and again at lunch) when you should have been on the playground.

You wanted to put your things away.

You wanted to say hello, to find out what we were going to be doing that day, not from the required posted chart, but from your teacher who had big plans for you.

You wanted to be reassured that despite your problems at home, you were safe at school and could have a good day.

Then after a hug or a smile or a moment to chat, I shooed you outside and we were both happy and ready to begin the adventure.

I Am That Teacher Too (Introduction)

IMG_0185I have an enviable viewpoint: I am retired after 34 years as an educator. I loved being in the classroom, but then I received an incredible opportunity to work with the entire student body. I spent 14 years as a computer lab teacher. That job began as the ultimate in creativity and technology curriculum development and disintegrated into the role of babysitter so teachers could attend their Professional Learning Community (PLC) meetings and the role of proctor for the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) exams. Then I ($$$$$) was replaced by an assistant ($) and offered a job in the classroom again. The enviable part is that I only put in three years as a classroom teacher during the current epoch of Testing and Tears. At that point, I had more than enough time in the system to say, “I will not do this to kids or to myself anymore.” I walked away at the end of the school year. Since I am blogging about education issues, it is obvious I have not stopped caring.

I recently read a blog post written by a colleague who teaches reading to sixth graders in New York state. She has to teach using modules aligned with CCSS and to subject her students yearly to the NYS high stakes test. Those tests sound comparable to the PARCC exams. Her post “I Am That Teacher” (https://standingupforthefuture.wordpress.com/2015/03/22/I-am-that-teacher/) describes how she wants to be thought of by her students as “that teacher.” Her post is the inspiration for my thoughts on how I hope my students remember me and my time with them. I will be writing from an Early Childhood perspective with a touch of PreK-6th grade computer instruction. I will be addressing my thoughts to my students as I used to do in a daily letter to them, but I hope that current teachers will get some ideas of what a classroom can be like without CCSS. Perhaps, if you are a renegade, you will feel support as you try to sneak in real instruction. Hats off to the blogger of STANDINGUPFORTHEFUTURE! You are a kindred spirit, and I know your students will remember you with smiles.

The information I want to share is much too long for one blog post, so I have divided it into sections (letters). I hope you will follow me and return to read these letters. Also, I encourage you to read the original post of “I Am That Teacher” for more inspiration.

The Value of Experience

I jIMG_3189ust finished reading Anne of Avonlea in which Anne (of Green Gables fame) becomes a teacher.  At the age of 16. Teaching students she went to school with.  She has been to school for teacher preparation. Before the year begins, she and two other first year teachers discuss their planned approaches to discipline and disagree on which method will be most effective.  Anne’s plan  works in general, but she has to deviate for a student who just doesn’t fit the mold.

As her second year of teaching begins, the author, L.M. Montgomery, says “School opened  and Anne returned to her work, with fewer theories but considerably more experience.”  As soon as I read that line, I knew that L.M. Montgomery must have had teaching experience.  She had.  Her statement reflects the importance of opportunities to explore and try out new things in the classroom.  Certainly for the first year, but also for every year after that.  Every class of students is different.  Even if you take the same class and loop grade levels with them, there will be differences. And not just because there will be a few students who are new, but because life has happened to these students during the year, they are a year older, and the curriculum and expectations have changed.  Every class is different.  Every teacher needs the professional and academic freedom to try out new variations every year.  Is this experimentation going to happen with CCSS and excessive testing? Is this experimentation going to happen with the evaluation of teachers based on test scores, teachers marching lockstep with their grade level colleagues, or with administrators scripting manically  on iPads while missing the important things that are happening in the classroom?

Another issue that arises from “fewer theories but considerably more experience” is that our policy makers have lots of theories but little or no teaching experience.  Current teachers should be included in the decision-making process. Instead they are disrespectfully treated as incompetents. Teachers and children are being set up for failure. We must fight back for academic freedom accompanied by a healthy dose of creativity.

Opt-Out of PARCC???

perfect-score-mdThe Internet and news reports are filled this week with articles about the PARCC test and about the advisability and consequences of opting out of taking the test.

One of the strongest arguments seems to be that if fewer than 95% of the students take the test, then the school’s grade will be low. For example, according to the Zannesville Times Recorder, “The consequences, however, mean the district and child’s teacher will not be given credit for progress that is made, affecting the school’s department of education report card and educators’ individual evaluations.”

So, it’s always good to ask yourself, “what is the worst thing that could happen?” In this case if fewer than 95% of the students take the test, across the board, then the affected districts and state departments of education would have to admit defeat and develop a new plan. And that sounds like a great plan to me!

Who seriously thinks a state is going to give a rating of “F” to all of its schools?

High school students, teachers, and parents are being told that instead of civil disobedience, they should take their concerns to school administrators, school boards, state legislators, the governor, and the Department of Education. That advice sounds really good except for the fact that people have already written letters and made phone calls to the appropriate people and their concerns have been ignored. School districts publish official statements provided by state departments of education that attempt to explain why they are wasting so much instructional time on testing and contributing so much to Pearson’s coffers. Pearson constructed the PARCC tests and the test preparation materials that support the test. They are also the ones that mandate a blackout on test discussions. The people who need to make changes, from the district level all the way up to the political powers in each state, are ignoring the real problems in the name of better education for our children and are lining their pockets at student expense.

Opting-out is not an easy decision. Parents receive a lot pressure from school districts to “do the right thing.” Students are putting themselves at risk for a variety of unspecified punishments. Since the decision makers obviously underestimated the anger of the people, they have not yet decided what the consequences of this civil disobedience will be. Threats have included not being allowed to graduate and suspension. Teachers are caught in the middle between a system that financially supports their families and a career that focuses on doing the right thing for students.

Opting-out has certainly gotten the attention of policy makers at all levels. Now what will they do about it?

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