The most requested thing for dinner around here? Noodles. With butter.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Happy Memorial Day!

A big thank you to those who currently serve, have served in the past, or who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom!!!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Timing makes champions

In the last post I told you that standardized tests aren't a bad thing, and teaching to the test isn't a bad thing if the test is valid and reliable.  Today I'd like to address the problem (as I see it) with the particular standardized test situation in our state.

The problem is timing.  Timing of the test, timing of our bell schedule when it is testing season, and timing of the results- all problems.

We get out of school in June- usually in the third week or so.  But we take the test in May- usually around the first week or so.  This means we have to finish teaching all the state standards about 6 weeks before the end of the school year, and it causes quite a gap from when we are done testing to the end of the school year.  We try to maximize our time and the taxpayers' $$$ by starting the standards for the NEXT year of school so we can hit the ground running in the fall.  My 6th graders will start learning more about integers, measures of central tendency, and what the calculator buttons mean next week when the testing is over and we settle back to regular classes.  It's not a bad idea to do this, but it doesn't always work like we would want it to.  Many of our kids move a lot- they are in and out of school boundaries and district boundaries and there's no guarantee that the students who started the 7th grade standards with me in the spring will actually be enrolled in our school in the fall.  In a perfect world, the standardized testing would occur around the first week in June instead of the first week in May.

Changing our regular bell schedule to accommodate the testing also is a matter of timing.  In the past, we could just have the kids sit down with the paper and pencil tests and all take the tests at once.  But most of the tests are on computer now and we don't have a one-to-one student-to-machine correspondence at our building.  This means we have to take turns and do the test in shifts.  This takes two weeks of our schedule.  We still see all our students each day, but the class periods are short and it's tough to convince a 6th grader that they ought to keep doing homework when they have already taken the BIG TEST.  I've been showing math movies.  A good use of time, but two weeks is a bit much.

The last issue is with the timing of the results.  We take the tests in May but the results are not published until late August.  There is no way for a school to use the results to celebrate the successes or provide support for those who didn't pass.  It's not easy to track down my former students in the building in September and say, "Hey- you passed!  Great job!"  The 8th graders have moved on to high school, the incoming 6th graders are all new to everything, it's very anti-climactic and quite a let-down.  Also, I only know scores, I do not know which questions were problematic to my students.  Very hard to make plans for the next year, very hard to try to improve my teaching with so little to go on.  It is not an encouraging situation for teacher or student.  The weird thing is, they take most of the tests on a computer- certainly the results could be tabulated and sent to us much sooner than August.  Sigh.

So the next time you hear in the national news that a teacher has quit because of standardized testing, pay attention to the reasons they give.  Check and see if they are just spouting the same old stuff about teaching to the test, or if they have really given the issue some serious thought.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Standardized testing is in the air!

There are four reasons I really dislike spring:
1) Time change
2) Pollen
3) The advent of annual state testing and heightened expectations that make teachers and kids grumpy
4) It isn't fall

Let's talk about #3.  Lots in the news these days about the annual high-stakes state testing in schools.  What I hear most is the imaginary problem of "teaching to the test".  It's a catch-phrase that is really convenient to use and maybe put on protest signs, but no one seems to really stop and think what it means or what the opposite would be.

Let's start at the very beginning (a very good place to start).  What is the point of school?  Basically, school is to prepare a nation's youth to grow up and be literate, knowledgable and useful citizens of that nation.  The very beginnings of our country had some pretty interesting ideas about education, including the Old Deluder Satan Law in Massachusetts.  The point of this was to keep satan from using illiteracy as a way to keep people from the Scriptures.  We've come a long way since then, but much of what happens during a school day fits with helping kids grow up to be literate, etc.

Our state, like most others, has a set of state standards.  These are lists of things to be learned in each grade level so kids can progress to the next level and eventually graduate from high school and be able to choose college, trade school, military, etc.  Teachers plan their lessons around these state standards and try to make sure each student is able to accomplish the learning targets so they can progress.  How do we know they have hit the learning targets?   We test them.  We use classroom tests, computer tests, and the "big test" at the end of the year: the standardized test.

No one ever moans and groans about the classroom tests or the computer tests, but when it comes to the standardized state test, you hear about it from sea to shining sea.  Why?  What is so bad about those tests?

Nothing.  And nothing is wrong with teaching to the test if the test is based on the state standards.  If the tests are reliable (they produce consistent results with repeated administerings) and valid (they actually measure what they say they are going to measure), then there is nothing at all wrong with those tests.  If you don't teach to the test, what are you teaching to?  Learning targets must be clear and related to the state standards (which is what the test is all about!)

Then why is there such an uproar about the tests?  Some teachers say that it is cruel and unrealistic to expect ALL students to ALL progress at the SAME rate.  Those tests don't do that.  I've never heard of a student being held back a grade because of the results of the state test.  In our school, the test results are used to sort of "tailor" a student's education the following year.  The results are not punitive, they are helpful.

Here's what teachers don't like... the tests have sometimes been used to measure THEM.  Not that teachers don't want to be measured, but basing a teacher's evaluation on one test seems a little unbalanced.  Our local newspaper prints the scores of every school in the county every year and since I teach a subject that is scrutinized and tested to the max, I feel a little vulnerable when the scores come out in August.  Frankly, my students' scores are often not stellar. But you don't hear me making a fuss about the whole thing. Most school districts don't base a teacher's evaluation on only one test, but the teachers who are complaining would like you to think they do so they can get some sympathy and hand you protest signs that say "Teaching to the test is wrong!"

Don't be fooled.  Teaching to a valid, reliable test is not wrong. The only thing that is wrong is using just one tool (standardized tests) to judge a student or a teacher.  At this point, I know that is not happening in my district.

Next post- the real problem with standardized testing is not the test itself!