Opting out of Testing Gaining Favor with Parents? My response

Another educator I follow on Facebook posted a link to an article on this topic. I want to thank him for posting it. Since a comment would have been too long for Facebook, this is my response:

“I think in any profession there are measures that professionals aim for. I have enjoyed the state test as a target most of my 14 year career (I say most because when I first started down in Santa Ana in 1997 it wasn’t yet such a polarized focus). Anyway, I wrote a song called “Get on Board the Standards Train” and did a countdown every year et al. It’s not such a bad thing, you can see it as a sport. When you are running your classroom with that as a corporate goal for improvement, you don’t want parents to opt out. I wouldn’t (and won’t) opt my three kids out because It’s a measurable goal we can celebrate the results of and/or use them to improve given areas. Anyway … I dig all your posts and links so keep em comin’ – just thought I’d give you a perspective where the test is kind of cool and may even be missed. Having said that, I am really looking forward to the transition into common core and the more holistic sort of assessment on a computer that will bring. I agree that the test can produce stress for some kids, that is where the teacher as coach idea comes in. The relaxation of the classroom is just as important as the rigor. A great teacher needs to work at fostering both throughout the year.”

Below is an excerpt from the article that prompted my response:

A small but growing number of local parents are deciding to have their children opt out of the state standardized tests in English and math.

Some parents say they don’t want their children subjected to the stress tied to the tests. Others say they are protesting a school climate they say has become too focused on standardized tests, at the expense of critical thinking, hands-on learning and nontested subjects — from art to social studies.

And some say they don’t believe the tests are even reliable.

“It’s all about the test scores. I’ve seen so much time and so much money spent on this. And they’re not really a valid measure of student progress,” said Chris Cerrone, a social studies teacher who kept his own third-grade daughter home from state tests last week.

via Opting out of testing gaining favor with parents – City of Buffalo – The Buffalo News.

What Should we Test in Public Education?

What should we test in public education? How about: practical job skills, traditional academic skills, and citizenship? To me, these are three great targets to start with.

There’s been a lot of talk this past year about standardized testing in public education. To get a teaching degree requires a lot of discussion on this. There are many points being made on the internet and in books about how standardized tests are not the best assessment of the quality of schools. So what should we test in public education? How about: practical job skills, traditional academic skills, and citizenship? To me, these are three great targets to start with.

Practical job skills are missing in our k12 system now. There are some classes in high schools across the country that attempt this but it should have precedence over all else if we are to prepare our students for a rough economy. Think tanks, collaboration, parent groups, and administration need to come together and brainstorm on this sort of curriculum. Teaching online is proving to be one innovative method toward this. It will have to be a malleable framework since the marketplace changes year to year and sometimes even sooner. One question these think tanks might address is this: “What skills have been universal through the decades in productivity at work.” I think this is the #1 Topic “A” priority item we should address as we reform public education. Teaching to a test gets very few people hired after graduation.

Traditional academic skills should still have priority as well. Language arts and math and crucial to surviving and thriving at work. We should keep the standards and standardized test models and use them but at a second priority. As it has been, the standardized test has been given more attention and focus than it merits, in my opinion. It does however give us a measuring stick that can be useful in planning classroom goals and lessons. This should be woven into the practical job skills aforementioned.

Finally, students need to be taught citizenship. As our system goes through the major changes it is going through now in attempt to escape the recession, our students should be prepared to make their contribution to keep the country strong. There is much material out there on teaching citizenship and behavior skills. This should be sorted through and a new “curriculum” of citizenship should be created. Tests of citizenship would do well to model what good citizens do in America. Very soon, our students will be the citizens of America and the world. How will they be prepared if we don’t guide them with our public schools.

To conclude, I do agree with many out there saying standardized testing is not the answer. At the same time, I feel it may be the answer if the test is based on the right priorities. If we focus on the practical first, we will be doing our students and country a much better service as public educators. Just like the road showing how to be a teacher, every child should have a clear path whatever she/he wants to be.

Public schools gear up for new standards | standards, victorville, gear – Victorville Daily Press

“This is going to be my restaurant,” the fifth-grader said proudly, without breaking her focus. “All my tables are different shapes.”

Ulloa, who attends Eagle Ranch Elementary in Victorville, created detailed plans for a pizza restaurant, which was just one of many group assignments that she and her peers have been tasked with doing in their GATE class.

According to Eagle Ranch Principal Peter Livingston, the school has started to implement the Common Core State Standards, an instruction method designed to teach students to develop higher-level thinking skills, especially in English, language arts and math. Livingston said that group-work is one of the trademarks of the new Common Core standards.

via Public schools gear up for new standards | standards, victorville, gear – Victorville Daily Press.

Avoiding Procrustes’ Bed

IMG_2454.JPG
If you haven’t heard the myth of Procrustes and his bed, it’s the story of a man who invited weary travelers to lay in his guest bed. Once in, if they were too tall he lopped off their feet and if too short, he’d stretch them to fit. Horrifying I know and yet aren’t we as educators often guilty of trying to get our students to “fit” the curriculum? Continue reading “Avoiding Procrustes’ Bed”

In the Mean Time, Just Teach Kids

tony-lays-it-all-out-on-the-chalkboardI loved the Nike slogan in the 80’s “Just Do it.” This is something we as teachers in negotiations need to remember. If you read too much of the news around education, it will leave you feeling left out to dry. For some reason the climate in political circle is bad toward teachers. It’s not warranted however. We in education have seen so much good happening in our classrooms, schools, districts, and regions. We know teachers are continuing to pass on knowledge and students are receiving it. There is an issue of economics that has center stage. The conservatives for the most part want higher test scores and they want the ability to produce them without traditionally credentialed teachers. They open chart schools, of which some are very good I must say, that employ low paid teachers that are not unionized. I assume they still must be credentialed but if they can save money I am sure they will find a way around that. We studied hard to get two degrees in college and we long to show our ability in the classroom. We work hard to see measurable growth in our students. Unfortunately, this is not being seen by some voices in our culture.  Continue reading “In the Mean Time, Just Teach Kids”

Common Core – The National Word Problem

1619_131794753693811_1561166653_nIn most math programs in California, you have two types of assessment of the standards: a multiple choice format and an open-ended word problem. Most teachers are too busy to grade a lot of written answers for math so the multiple choice assessment has been the mainstay for teachers. In Language Arts, the same has been true. Why assign 2-3 long written answer assignments when you can just feed multiple choice tests through a scanner and have data immediately … in colored charts. After some more exposure to Common Core, I have come to see it metaphorically as the long written response. It will be harder to grade but the states have stepped up and hired graders to do it. As a parent, I think this is great. It is preparing my kids for the real world. As a teacher, I recognize that the days of the bubble sheet are all but gone.

We can use bubble sheets to build the skill necessary but synthesis of those skills is a year-long revisiting. Practicing connecting standards and identifying them as such will be our challenge. I could almost always show growth when the assessment piece was standards based and each question like a sample of the standard. I actually loved teaching that way. I used EDI to cover every standard and item by item I could see what was strong ad what needed revisiting. Common Core takes that way of teaching about 3 steps beyond. My that I mean, what was “1D” is now “4D” testing. It is no longer multiple choice. We are catapulted into a “national word problem” if you will. I predict national scores will drop the first year. The second year they will rise a little as teachers and students get used to Common Core. The third year, I think we will see growth in the classrooms where teachers are willing to take up the challenge of casting away multiple choice and embracing testing that is more akin to word problems. But what about the kids that don’t do well with word problems? As Bruce says in the photo in this post, “People outside of that structure get lost.” Will we reach more kids or less with word problems? Time will tell.

The Written Behavior Log – A Win/Win/Win

Keeping a written record of things students do is powerful when dealing with parents, the Principal, and when seeking to improve the school’s behavioral programs. It carries more weight than your simple “recollection” of events.

20120817-141710.jpgProbably the best student behavior related advice I ever got as a new teacher was to “Write things down.” Keeping a written record of things students do is powerful when dealing with parents, the Principal, and when seeking to improve the school’s behavioral programs. It carries more weight than your simple “recollection” of events. If Johnny misbehaves, the parent and administration wants to know exactly how and when he did so. This can be a fancy three ring binder you create or just a lined sheet of paper on a clipboard. The only essential is that it must be written in regularly. It’s so important, I say it should be part of any sound classroom management.

3Is2Win 1: The parent. We live and teach in a time where the teacher/parent relationship is constantly being redefined. For one student, you are the “guide,” the “mentor.” This is of course the ideal situation we hope for with all our students. Unfortunately, there are other parents who can be hostile toward teachers. They can complain to no end and even enter the classroom sometimes to share their discontent about their child. These are the ones we must give our full attention. They may have a real concern but in other cases, they may just want someone to hear their complaints. In either case, you need to be a listener #1. Imagine if you were in their shoes, wouldn’t you want to be heard? What if your child was being bullied? On the other hand, what if your child were accused of bullying? I have seen upset parents calm down quite quickly simply because I didn’t react or reply, I only listened and gave active listening feedback. If something has happened with their child on the offending end, you will have a much better case if you have a written behavior log. You can examine your well reasoned points if you are lucky. Without a behavior log of the events their child was involved in, you don’t have a leg to stand on and they may try to assault your character, saying you have no proof or you make things up. Let me not here that the goal of a teacher should always be so find a positive solution with parents. We, in a real sense, work for them. We do not, however, have to be at the mercy of ones who seek to disparage us because we are allegedly disorganized or without proof.

With_SupesWin #2: Your Boss. The Principal will greatly appreciate your log as well. I think they have one of the hardest jobs in education. They field complaints all day as well as attempt to foster an ideal learning environment. When they get a phone call about a child in your class, you can get out your log and show your observations. Without the log, it is your word against the parent and that put the Principal in a very precarious situation. We all want the needs of the child to be met. The Behavior log can help us to that end, even if it documents what the child has done wrong. We can look at positive solutions. If you simply try to recall what has happened in class, you run the risk of being the problem! That’s right, a Principal may choose to see you as the problem even when the child has done wrong. The solution? Write it down as it happens. This can also be a great tool to pull out during a time of teacher evaluation.

IMG_0045Win #3: The School. The best reason to have a behavior log is to help constant improvement of the school’s behavior plan. You can bring that information to a school site council meeting (or other meeting) and make informed statements about what behavior problems are occurring. If multiple teachers see trends, it can be possible to brainstorm solutions. You can show statistics at parents meetings as well as any meetings that concern student behavior and safety. This benefits the school and the child as well as the family. Most schools in the 21st century recognize the value of those three entities.

To close, I encourage you to keep a behavior log in your classroom. It will foster your professionalism with parents and administration as well as benefit the school. Sounds like a win/win/win right?

Please leave a comment! This is a blog that thrives on other peoples’ opinions. Thank you in advance for commenting.

What Great Teachers Do

Here’s 7 things taken from a great article. Click on the link below them to visit the original post and read the rest. What a great post for teachers.
“1. Great teachers never forget that it is people, not programs, that determine the quality of a school. 2. Great teachers establish clear expectations at the start of the year and follow them consistently as the year progresses. 3. When a student misbehaves, great teachers have one goal: to keep that behavior from happening again. 4. Great teachers have high expectations for students, but even higher expectations for themselves. 5. Great teachers know who is the variable in the classroom: THEY are. 6. Great teachers create a positive atmosphere in their classrooms and schools. 7. Great teachers consistently filter out the negatives that don’t matter and share a positive attitude.”
What Great Teachers Do Differently

Educational Opportunities for Students in Low-Resource Schools

Although free K12 public education is available to all students in America, the fact is that not all public schools have the resources to fully educate students. Many schools, particularly those in low-income rural and urban areas, lack fundamental educational tools like computers, microscopes or even current textbooks. Other schools have eliminated programs like art and music entirely.

If your school district only offers limited resources, what can you do to help your students get the educational opportunities they deserve? Whether you’re a teacher or a parent, consider implementing one or more of these options to give kids a chance to improve their education even in a low-resource school district.

Online tutoring

Not every school has a dedicated music teacher, Spanish teacher or physics teacher. Fill the gap with online courses. If your school doesn’t have a functioning music program, encourage interested students to take online piano lessons during lunch, study hall or after school. Invite students to join teams and sign up for online language lessons, math tutoring or book clubs. If your school doesn’t have the resources to teach a particular subject in-house, chances are there’s a great way to learn it online.

Donated Computers

Not every classroom has enough computers for all its students. This is becoming a critical literacy gap, as computers are now a fundamental part of life and students who graduate high school unable to type, navigate an Internet browser or handle fundamental programs like Microsoft Excel are at a huge disadvantage for both college and the workforce.

Meanwhile, plenty of companies and individuals find themselves upgrading their computer systems every few years, meaning there are many functional machines that are no longer being used. Talk to your school district about setting up a computer donation request; a few states, such as Delaware, actually require companies to offer old computers to schools before sending them to be destroyed. Look for sources of donated computers in your area and use them to teach your students computer literacy – it’s an essential skill for today’s connected world.

Summer Camp Scholarships

Summer camp is a great way for kids to pick up skills they might otherwise miss in a low-resource classroom. There are camps for kids interested in science, math, art or drama; in fact, there’s a camp for nearly every subject! The best part is that these camps nearly always offer scholarships to low-income students. If you’ve got a student in your classroom who can benefit from an educational summer camp experience, take the time to help the student apply for a scholarship and make sure to write a glowing letter of recommendation.

Problem-solving Opportunities

Many schools focus their curriculum on “teaching to the test,” and this is especially true in low-resource schools which require high test scores to receive much-needed funding. However, this kind of education means fewer classroom hours are spent giving students problems that require innovation or invention to solve. The working world – not to mention life – is about solving problems, and students need these skills to perform successfully as adults. (For more information on why innovation and invention are key skills for students to learn, read the Suggested 3 I’s of Education Reform.)

Create problem-solving opportunities by setting up a science fair, asking students to write and stage a play or pulling out one of the tried-and-true problem-solving games like the toothpick bridge project. If your curriculum is already too jam-packed to include these items, start an after-school club or announce that an upcoming Saturday will be “Science Day.” The more opportunities you give your students to solve their own problems through innovation and invention, the better they’ll function in our complex, problem-filled world.

Local Libraries

No discussion of educational opportunities would be complete without mentioning the importance of your local library. Many libraries offer tutoring, after-school clubs and other opportunities, and even the smallest libraries have that most magical of inventions, inter-library loan. Take your students on a tour of your library and show them how it can be used to help with homework, college applications or independent study on a favorite subject.

Use these ideas as ways to augment your low-resource school and give your students a better chance to compete in today’s world. Do you have other ideas for boosting a school’s resources? Start a discussion in the comments. The more we share ideas, the more opportunities we’ll be able to offer our students.

Suggested 3 I’s of Education Reform

My article below was first published as Three “I”s Suggested for Education Reform on Blogcritics.

Public education in America is in a state of flux. In 26 states, including California, legislators are adopting the “Common Core” standards and curriculum to teach our nation’s kids. As a teacher for the past 14 years, I have taught mostly from the multiple choice assessment standpoint. It has its pros but there are certainly many aspects where it just doesn’t work. What I would like to see is a more “real world” curriculum where kids are nurtured in their individual ideas and inventions. Currently I see this in education reform California. We don’t just want kids that can pass tests, we want kids who can invent the next iPad and help save hour healthcare system. Inspiration, innovation, and invention

Most agree with the thought above. Unfortunately however, the path is not as clear. I don’t have many ideas on how to make every school successful. I do, however, think there are some universals that should be taught in the public school classroom. The first one is inspiration. The simple question teachers should ask themselves here is: “What things inspire ME to be productive.” I don’t know how everyone would answer that question but I can tell you my answer: music, movies, restaurants, travel, the beach, just to name a few. Listening to great music empowers me and makes me want to do amazing things. All the other things do as well. We need to help kids identify passions and then make the connection to inspiration so they can lead productive lives. Students that have been shown the inspiration connection will make a larger contribution in their early adulthood.

The second classroom “must” is innovation. We need to put kids in situations where they can make solutions in adversity. A great way to do this is to show them how we do it as adults. This can include bringing in successful grown-ups as guest teachers to share how they get through their day to day, not just paying the bills, though that is important, but creating inspiration for themselves and others through solving problems. Kids who learn how to innovate and solve problems in school will be more productive members of society. In the advanced cases, these are the types that will cure cancer or create pathways to peace.

The final part of classroom curriculum we should focus on in education reform is invention. Bill Nye the Science Guy has an amazing episode on this topic. He shows how important it is to every day life. When I put a piece of tape on my alarm clock button, it makes hitting snooze easier. That is a simple example of human invention. Students who have coaching and practice inventing will invent better things in their homes, communities, and worlds. If a teacher can inspire invention in her/his students, they can truly change the world.

Once again, there is much disagreement on what education reform should look like. At the same time, I think all Americans want to see higher productivity in our land. I really feel that as well look to alternative frameworks, we should consider these “three I’s” as equivalent in value to the “3 R’s:” Inspiration, Invention, and Invention. Our kids, the future citizens of America will thank us if we make urban education reform a reality.