The Late Great Standardized Test and Happy Birthday Common Core

48095_10151460458076117_1282058836_nI wrote this post a couple years back. These are my impressions of the Common Core back then I think this post is relevant when deciding the worth, or lack thereof, of these still new standards.

Based on what I have been reading and hearing, the multiple choice standardized test as a state assessment is going away. Will absence make the heart grow fonder? Today I gave my kids a math test that is very similar to the type of standardized test they will take in May. Using explicit direct instruction
may yield results but unless you have a measurement tool, you’ll never really know. Giving some sort of assessment is crucial in determining whether kids have gained mastery over the material.  Finding that sort of assessment can be challenging but once you do find it, it can be encouraging and educational to you the teacher. My students performed better than I imagined they would. As I examined their scores I saw clearly that everything we’ve been doing this year has worked. I will be sending home color coded results to parents because I want the home to know the child is getting it. It certainly isn’t the only measure of growth in a learner but it is a clear and accepted one for most people in California.

As a parent myself, I always like to see growth in my children’s standardized test scores. I say all these good things about the “test” because it is under fire these days. In fact, it appears Common Core is going to revolutionize the idea of state assessments. I am all for that but in a way, I will miss the ABCD bubbles. They do provide us with a concrete score that holds widespread clout. There are a lot of things I don’t like about them but I certainly have seen value today in preparing for a traditional multiple choice test with a traditional multiple choice test. teaching materials are likely to change drastically. I wonder how we as educators and parents will look back at the multiple choice standardized test once we transition over to Common Core. My understanding is that it will be after one more year of the status quo. The traditional standardized test will definitely be something I reflect on after Common Core comes into use. Here’s to the future and what is next for us in k-6 education.

What I Want for Public Education (as a Parent & Teacher)

5 things I as a parent and teacher want for my kids. I want my kids to believe in themselves and to learn how to nurture their own self esteem. Since peace with ones self does so much for our lives, including repairing cells, this is a non-negotiable for a growing child.

14585284216_10c6f5ccb5I should post a disclaimer that I am a parent of 3 public school aged children who is also a teacher at a public school. Ok, now that I am somewhat introduced … here are my points: As a parent I want these things from the public education system:

  1. Programs that foster self-esteem and self-love – I want my kids to believe in themselves and to learn how to nurture their own self esteem. Since peace with ones self does so much for our lives, including repairing cells, this is a non-negotiable for a growing child. Without this, children will have a host of problems greater than any lack of academics. Of course this starts at home.
  2. Academic instruction, based on grade level standards – In my state, this will be the Common Core standards starting next year. This is something I see the public school system fearing and putting at the highest emphasis. I think it is indeed valuable and in some ways a non-negotiable.
  3. Mutual respect and social mores review/training

PBIS is aiming at this. I think more money should be poured into this and self esteem training than academics. Because our country is so barraged with stories of hate and self loathing, like the recent shootings, it is a “no brainer” this area should be our top priority. I want my kids to know how to behave and how to live with others peacefully. Again and of course, this starts at home.

  1. Music and art appreciation – Without music, life would have been a mistake.
  2. Health and stress management training – (put your “humor me” hat on) If life expectancy is 70, health ignorance will make it 55. If the same with stress is true, 40. I want my child to live the most full robust life possible.

We as teachers are often given a schedule and curriculum that lacks the above. As a parent, I would like to see more emphasis put on nurturing the child while teaching the standards. I think we focus too much on getting the child to perform and not enough on helping the child be healthy and happy in mind and body. Parents and teachers are invited to make a comment below as to what you would like to see in public education, and/or what you think should stay that is already there.

What to Focus on After the CST

Even if it’s only 30 days or so, It can be helpful and inspiring to teach subjects outside the daily grind of what we think of as CST preparation. Teach them to sing American History songs for example.

3IsAfter the CST in most districts there are still around 30 days or so of instruction. When so much of the emphasis is on test prep and standards based instruction, then comes the question to ALL teachers after the standards test: “What now.” There are many things to teach once the CST is over for the year. Regular, district curriculum is still required and of course a balance of these things is in order throughout the year. Having said that, as academic instruction continues it can be a good idea to something like a field trip to the public library. This is a great way to get the kids a tour of “academia.” While most searching these days is done on the internet, the library remains an incredible resource the kids should know about. There are so many other things you can teach and do with your class after the CST.

Teaching kids music has a proven effect of increased academic performance. Get some Disney music or other choir based music and teach them to sing. You don’t have to be great at it yourself. Some of the old songs like “Davey Crockett” or “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” have historical content that you can teach across the curriculum with history. If you have access to musical instruments, take some time to expose them to those. Art or course has value. One type I like to explore with my kids each year is “rip art.” The kids come up with truly talented work when we try it. As you work more art, music, sports, etc. (stuff outside of Language arts and Math) I think you will find ways to embed the academic standards into these areas. Life included academics but that is not all there is to life. Teach them about jobs and nutrition, all the while bringing in what you have taught them in the content standards. The Sky’s the limit. I think it’s a great idea to continue imparting eclectic knowledge after the standards test. It can even be helpful and inspiring to try subjects outside the daily grind of what we think of as CST preparation. In time, I hope teachers will be encouraged to teach and be tested more on topics outside of standardized testing. Now for your input: What do you teach after the test?

Teach Your Own Teach

420834_10150716047846117_1713767169_nI derived the title from one of my favorite slogans: “Run your own race.” Teaching should never be a pure competitive sport. In a similar way, I think it’s healthy to “Teach your own teach” and let others teach theirs. We all bring a set of skills to the table and the more your value that the more you’ll be satisfied in your job. It can be easy to walk by the window of one teacher, hear a shout and tell yourself, “Oh my, she must yell at her students a lot.” I would urge you to give them the benefit of the doubt because for all you know that teacher could be giving kids the best lessons you’ve ever seen day in and day out. That could be an isolated incident or there could be some other reason you heard that. The mental energy you spend thinking about other teachers an be much better spent planning and delivering excellent lessons. Continue reading “Teach Your Own Teach”

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.

Teachers and Public Image

I would say teachers are free to write and create art on their off work time. The trouble is, they are morally responsible for the effect their work has on children. For this reason, they have a responsibility to keep adult activities or art out of the classroom psyche.

How much does a teacher’s private life enter in to the job they do? In a recent article, ‘Fifty Shades of Who Cares’, I read about a teacher who has been suspended for writing and selling erotica. I wouldn’t have thought that was a giant problem until I read that the teacher used the school computer to use social media and compose this writing. Was this teacher dropped as a child or something? Things like this are so blatantly wrong they hardly merit an article. Still, the question of a teacher’s right to have a private life and to pursue other interests is an important topic I think.

I would say teachers are free to write and create art on their off work time. The trouble is, they are morally responsible for the effect their work has on children. For this reason, they have a responsibility to keep adult activities or art out of the classroom psyche. This might seem like common sense but in the past year I have read about teachers appearing in porn and others buying drugs. Teachers, let’s come together and get real. You may be a lousy teacher or the cream of the crop, you still work with kids. Teachers have an obligation to uphold a certain standard in the public eye. We are different from other public jobs that way but all public jobs to some extent carry that burden. Of course, one might say that just living a clean life is the best way to avoid negative public perceptions. That probably goes without saying.

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.