Posts Tagged ‘Art of teaching’

Failing Students Based on Standardized Test Scores is Irrational… but Persists Because of Our Mental

May 16, 2018 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch wrote a post drawing from an op ed piece written by Michigan teacher Nancy Flanagan decrying the Michigan’s third grade “mandatory retention legislation” that requires schools to fail any third grader who scores below a certain level on the standardized tests used to determine “proficiency”. Ms. Flanagan writes:

What to do about children who are not confident readers in third grade? We could begin by taking the resources it will cost to retain them for a year (minimally, $10K per child) and spending it on supplemental instruction: in-school tutoring, libraries filled with easy, engaging books, after-school programs, summer reading clubs and books for children to take home.

We could offer smaller instructional groupings. We could stop the merry-go-round of silver-bullet ‘solutions,’ from emergency managers to charter schools to one-size-fits-all scripted curricula.

We could genuinely invest in our children, believing in their capacity to master not only the skill of reading, but to become an informed, productive citizen.

Reading this brought to mind my favorite Peter Senge quote: “Structures of which we are unaware hold us prisoner”…

Politicians, parents, and pundits view time as a constant and learning as a variable instead of the other way around because we group and asses children based on their age. Standardized testing reinforces this structure and when standardized testing is linked to “promote” students from one grade level to the next by politicians it creates a group of “failures” who in many cases just need time to mature. It would be preposterous to “fail” a child whose physical maturation rate was different from his age peers, but somehow it is “rational” to “fail” a child who can’t learn reading and math skills at the same rate as his or her age peers… especially if that learning is measured by a seemingly precise tool like a standardized test!

It is possible to tailor instruction to meet the unique needs of each child by matching instruction to their rate of learning… but our current structure reinforces the practice of grouping children by age and comparing children to each other, which holds us prisoner to the current factory paradigm.

Ms. Flanagan essentially urges us to change the dominant paradigm by changing the one-size-fits-all scripted curricula. I wold take it a step further to suggest we need to stop the one-growth-rate-fits-all structure we impose when we group and assess children by age.


Truthdig Article Reminds Us that the FIRST Amendment is Imperiled

May 12, 2018 Leave a comment

I just finished reading Truthdig columnist Amy Goodman’s inspiring account of speech given by the 2018 Teacher of the Year, a speech that received little press coverage because the press was not invited to hear it.   As Ms. Goodman reports, Mandy Manning, who teaches math and English to refugee and immigrant students at the Newcomer Center at Joel E. Ferris High School in Spokane, Washington, offered these words to the President and the Cabinet officers in attendance:

“I am honored and humbled to be the vehicle through which my students may tell their stories,” Manning said in the historic East Room, as billionaire Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Labor Secretary Alex Acosta looked on. “I am here for David, a future IT specialist who hopes to one day be able to attend university. I am here for Tamara, who is currently studying pre-med at Eastern Washington University. I am here for Safa and Tara, both future elementary school teachers. I am here for Solomon and Gafishi, who believe that the United States is the place where they have found the center of their lives, where they can have dreams and hopes to be someone.”

Ms. Manning gave her address to a small gathering that did not include any members of the press and was not recorded save a cell phone recording. Why? As Ms. Goodman notes, no explanation was offered:

We don’t know why the press wasn’t allowed to be in the room. Perhaps they didn’t want reporters to see the six buttons Mandy Manning was prominently wearing on her dress. Her buttons included artwork from the 2017 Women’s March, a rainbow flag and the slogan “Trans Equality Now!” One displayed the quote “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

While Mr. Trump assures gun owners that the Second Amendment is sacrosanct, he effectively conveys to teachers and students across our country that the First Amendment may be imperiled. Thanks to Democracy Now and Truthdig, media outlets that will likely be removed from social media, some Americans will be able to read what the Teacher of the Year stands for.


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“You’re the One Creating the ‘Bad’ Schools”: Nation’s Top Teachers Denounce Devos During Closed-Door Session

May 2, 2018 Leave a comment

Huzzah to the Teachers of the Year for speaking truth to power. Too bad more of them didn’t do the same thing when Arne Duncan was advocating Race to the Top and Margaret Spellings was promoting NCLB. Here’s hoping their voices will resonate in districts across the country!

Source: “You’re the One Creating the ‘Bad’ Schools”: Nation’s Top Teachers Denounce Devos During Closed-Door Session

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My Modest Proposal: Test for Student Understanding Instead of School and Teacher Accountability

May 2, 2018 Leave a comment

Yesterday Diane Ravitch posted a “Modest Proposal” on testing and asked for feedback. She began by posing this question: “Why do our policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels continue to require and enforce annual testing, despite the non-existent benefits?” Her proposal to counter this testing mania was this:

Why not give the tests in the first week of school and use only a test whose results may be returned within a month? Let machines score the standardized questions, and let teachers score the constructed responses. The testing vendor would know that they would be chosen only if they could report the results in a month, in a format that informs teachers what students do and do not know. That way, the teacher can find out where students are as they begin the year and tailor instruction to address the needs of the students.

That way, tests would no longer be high-stakes. They would be expressly designed for diagnostic purposes, to help teachers help students. The results would come too early to misuse the tests to stigmatize students, punish teachers, and close schools. There would be no punishments attached to the tests, but plenty of valuable information to help teachers.

My reaction to her question about why policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels continue to require and enforce annual testing and my own “modest proposal” follow:

Why do legislators and those who elect them want to use standardized tests to measure schools? Because they are relatively cheap, relatively easy to administer, and provide seemingly precise data that can be used to sort and select students and schools in a fashion that is easy to understand. And so schools are using tests designed for accountability of adults instead of tests designed to measure student’s understanding.

It strikes me that teachers could crowd-source formative assessments using social media, formative assessments that would enable them to accomplish what Duane Swacker suggests: “… teacher-made classroom testing and assessments designed to help the students learn where they are in their own learning.” Such tests would be untethered from “grade levels”. These crowd sourced formative assessments would not only promote self-actualization on the part of students but also provide classroom teachers with valuable feedback on how the approaches they are using are work for the specific children in their classroom. Assuming someone with technological expertise would be willing to provide the expertise needed to design this kind of “testing network” without making an unseemly profit, these crowd-sourced tests would be very inexpensive to design and relatively easy to administer. Indeed, these formative assessments might replace the “unit tests” teachers use to measure student performance. The only downside of these assessments— or any formative assessments— is that they could not be used to rate schools.

I believe we have the technological ability to design specially tailored FORMATIVE assessments that would enable students to progress at their own rate in subjects where there are clear hierarchical skills to be mastered. Instead of using SUMMATIVE assessments to hold SCHOOLS and TEACHERS accountable for students achieving specific outcomes based on the artificial construct we call “grade levels” we should use FORMATIVE assessments to “…help students learn where they are in their own learning.” We should let time be the variable and learning be constant instead of the other way around.

John Tierney’s Atlantic Article Misses One KEY Point: APs Are Being Taken to Game a Bogus Rating System

March 18, 2018 Leave a comment

Wayne Ridenour, a current Facebook friend who taught my daughter’s AP History Course over two decades ago, posted an article from the Atlantic by John Tierney titled “AP Classes Are a Scam” and left the comment “Sorry but this is all too true”. Both Mr. Tierney’s article and Mr. Ridenour’s comments are valid, but Mr. Tierney’s article overlooks a key factor that is driving the expansion of AP courses and Both Mr. Tierney’s article and Mr. Ridenour’s comment overlook one key positive factor about AP courses.

John Tierney’s analysis of why AP courses are a scam hits all the flaws of the test:

  • AP courses are NOT equivalent to college courses
  • Because fewer and fewer colleges recognize AP courses for credit, the monetary savings that once existed are no longer possible
  • High schools are no longer screening admissions into AP courses (more on that below)
  • Minority students are under-represented in AP enrollments despite the expanded pool of this taking the courses
  • Small, economically challenged schools divert resources to AP courses which has the effect of limiting non-AP courses
  • And worst of all, AP courses are prescribed, robbing the best and brightest teachers of the opportunity to offer their own creative courses that might challenge and engage the best and brightest students in a school.

But Mr. Tierney fails to mention one factor that has driven increases in AP enrollments: the many rating systems that use some form of AP enrollments as a proxy for “quality”. It all began when Washington Post education writer Jay Matthews began ranking schools in his region using the percentage of students enrolled in AP courses as primary factor. While he acknowledged the limitations of such a ranking system, his use of them had a national impact. The result: an explosion of AP course offerings, an expansion of the pool of students who enrolled in AP courses, and the consequent forcing out of “honors” courses with teacher-driven courses of study with AP courses whose course of study was determined by ETS.

But Mr. Matthews use of AP enrollments as a metric DID recognize one practical reality: absent some kind of national standard there is no ready means of determining if a student who received a high grade in an “honors class” at a small or underfunded school met the same standards as a student who earned high grades in an affluent school district. The high school my daughter attended in the early 1990s did not send many students to competitive colleges and so the caliber of its courses was an unknown. I believe that both her SAT scores and her AP scores helped validate the balance of her transcript and provided evidence that she might succeed in the classrooms of those schools, two of which she was accepted to. This reality— that competitive colleges use APs as a validation for transcripts— is why Jay Matthews included AP as a proxy for “quality”. Whether the expansion of AP enrollments that followed is a virtuous circle or a vicious one is open to question. Having led five different school districts, I observe that the more affluent a district is the less it is concerned with proxies: if a district has a well established “brand” in the admissions offices of elite colleges it has no need for AP course and the teachers at those schools eschew AP courses… and that, in my judgement, is a virtuous circle.

You Can’t Help Someone Who’s Not There… And Without a Change in Focus, You Can’t Even Help Someone Who IS

February 16, 2018 Leave a comment

Here’s a short but powerful post I pasted from Facebook describing the circumstances that contributed to the ill-being of the student who shot and killed 17 of his former classmates at a FL high school on Wednesday:

“So the killer’s father died 3 years ago. He started posting scary racist images of guns and hurting animals. Then his mother died 3 months ago. His girlfriend broke up with him and got a new boyfriend. He started telling people he wanted to shoot up the school. He got expelled. Why expel a messed up kid whose parents just died? What do we do with people who cannot handle immense pain and loss? Kick them to the curb and let them buy guns?” – Sarah Schulman

You can’t help a student who is not in school… yet as a society we seem unwilling to raise the funds we need to provide the kind of intensive counseling children like this young man require. At some juncture the needs of 3000 children forced the school administrators to permanently expel the shooter. Once the shooter is out of school, he is out of the only safety net that could conceivably help him cope with the stresses associated with the loss of parents and his inability to relate to others.

Disconnection and alienation manifest in other ways as well. Teens who feel socially ostracized turn to drugs and other detestable behaviors that make them hard to love and relate to. If we hope to use public schools as a means of connecting with alienated and troubled youth, we need to change the focus so that relationship building is taught and learned the same way conformance to rules is taught and learned.

Conservatives Invite Public School Teachers to Blow the Whistle on Frivolous Spending… and the Plan Backfires

February 14, 2018 1 comment

A recent Dallas Morning News story by Corbett Smith described the hilarious and heartwarming unintended consequences of an effort by a conservative anti-public education group to enlist teachers in a whistleblowing campaign. When Empower Texans, a powerful conservative group in that state, attempted to solicit examples of the “misuse of school district funds” in the State, they instead sparked an effort by public school teachers to provide countless examples of how their colleagues selflessly donate time, energy, food, and clothing to school children who were experiencing problems at home. Here are some examples Mr. Smith cited in his article:

“Hey, @EmpowerTexans, I have a colleague who took a kid’s clothes home (in an inconspicuous backpack) every day & washed them for her AND brought it back filled with snacks [because] the kid lived in her mom’s car.”

“I’m #blowingthewhistle on a teacher of mine that gave me a shoulder to lean on when I was crying, food when I was hungry, and a second family. Teachers don’t get enough credit for what they do. They do more than teach. They change lives.”

“@EmpowerTexans I am #blowingthewhistle on one of my public school teacher friends. She has purchased several pairs of cool tennis shoes for some of her students. The kids aren’t positive who they are from. They just magically end up in their locker. This way no one knows but them.”

Public schools do a terrible job of trumpeting their successes, which occur on a daily basis and are too often taken for granted by teachers, administrators, parents, and students. If “success” was determined by the acts of kindness described above instead of by standardized achievement tests we would be hearing far more heartwarming stories and far fewer tales of woe and despair.