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Archive for the ‘Merit Pay’ Category

During the weekend, I attended my fourth #EdcampNYC. I have attended or participated in about a dozen Edcamps nationwide. I think that puts me in a solid position to make a few considered observations on the subject. In the interest of full disclosure, SmartBrief and SmartBlog on Education have supported the Edcamp Foundation during the past year.

The Edcamp movement has been around for a few years. It is a widely known professional-development format that was spawned from social media educator connections. Most connected educators are familiar with it, but most educators are not connected — hence a need for explanation and definition. I know that the model is based on BarCamp in Philadelphia. I have no idea about BarCamp. I know the image I have in my head, but that has nothing to do with education.

I am familiar with the unconference aspect, which is the driving organizing premise of Edcamp. There is no set schedule of sessions provided to participants as they arrive at the venue. There is usually a breakfast spread and a huge amount of coffee in a gathering area to start the day. Participants see a blank schedule displayed for sessions. Session times and rooms are clearly seen, with no descriptions. Session descriptions are created right then, by participants. All sessions are discussion driven. Although some people come with prepared materials to share, those materials might or might not be the focus of a session. Blank cards are available to participants who have a specific topic they want addressed. Each person writes that topic on a card to establish it as a session. Usually, the person proposing the session heads up the discussion. It is amazing how the establishment of one topic spurs the establishment of a related topic, or something on the other side of the education spectrum. The establishment of topics gets people talking about and exploring subjects that they might not have heard of before Edcamp.

The selection of topics stimulates discussion and questioning amid participants to determine where they will go, what they will attend and what they should expect. There is another element to the Edcamp model that is often not seen in other PD formats. Participants are encouraged to quickly assess the relevance of a session. If they do not find personal value in a particular session, they are encouraged to move on to another. When selecting a session to attend, participants need to consider backup alternatives. That is called “The Rule of Two Feet.” My best description of this is that it is a face-to-face, real-time, social media discussion. It is the application of a digital culture in a real-world situation. All sessions are open discussions that are patient with, and respectful of, all participants.

Edcamps are free to participants, but it takes a Saturday commitment to participate. That means educators in attendance are there because they want to be there. We must ask: If this is so popular and inspiring, why aren’t all schools employing this PD model? To answer that, I have to go back to a session for administrators at the last annual ISTE conference. Some founders of Edcamp presented a great session to educate administrators who might not be connected educators. The intent was to explore the possibility of using Edcamp as a source for PD from within the system. Edcamp is almost solely organized by passionate educators working outside the system. There was one question coming from admins repeatedly: “How do we control it?” The answer was clear. You don’t control it! Edcamp’s success is based on trust and respect, as well as a personal drive for professional development. It is the educator’s personalization that some of these administrators did not seem to get. Their questions seemed to indicate that they did not trust the ability of educators to properly determine what they needed in PD.

The Edcamp movement continues to advance with the passionate support of connected individuals. Hopefully, we will begin to hear from progressive-thinking administrators more interested in real education reform than in controlling what and how teachers are developed. Administrators’ control should be second to educators’ development. Edcamp should not be the sole method of PD, but it should be considered a serious addition to tools that develop educators. In our fast-changing, technology-driven culture, we need educators to be continually learning so they provide a relevant education to students. To be better educators, we need to be better learners.

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I am growing tired of the number of posts and stories I read about everyone’s plan on “teacher accountability”. I see too many holes in too many plans to deal with what is being categorized as “THE PROBLEM” with education; bad teachers. Unfortunately, when the outcome of many of these ill-conceived plans like Merit Pay result in failure, that too will be blamed on the teachers for its failure to work and not the fact that the plan itself was flawed. Teachers are in a no-win situation with targets painted on their backs. Nowhere was it more evident than in the reporter’s attack on Matt Damon for his support of teachers at the Save Our Schools March in D.C.. I guess we should be grateful for, if it wasn’t for the press coverage of Matt Damon, the entire March might have gone on with absolutely no press coverage. Why cover a bunch of protesting teachers when we all know that they are the problem with education? They cost too much and do too little. The newest added dimension, thanks to enlightened Missouri Legislators, is that all teachers are suspected to be potential child molesters.

I am not saying that teachers should not be held accountable. I am saying that there is no one factor that is creating the perceived failure of our education system. I recently read a post suggesting that the professional thing for teachers to do was to pick themselves up by the bootstraps and fix themselves through self-evaluation. Of course that was my take on it, and I did comment to the blogger. You may assess it differently. Teacher Accountability & PLCs.

The one big question that keeps nagging at my brain is: Where is our leadership in all of this?  Other questions: Who is standing up for teachers? Besides Diane Ravitch whose voices are we hearing nationally in support of teachers? But the most important question of all is: Where are our local, educational leaders in this? What responsibility are the superintendents, assistant superintendents, directors, principals, and assistant principals taking for the “demise” of our education system?

I do not want to enter the realm of Admin bashing, but there are some observations that can be made that might be helpful in leadership evaluation. After a career in secondary education, I have a longstanding awareness of the capabilities of teachers. Additionally, my recent experience with educators involved in Social Media is also very positive, and finding that most educators are involved to improve their craft and be relevant as educators. Most educators entered the profession for reasons more noble than to bilk the system with an easy ride for high pay and healthcare. The leadership of education comes from these very ranks. What happens to the educator who transitions to an administrator? Are all administrators leaders? How much of our administrators are still educators?

The industrial model of education requires a hierarchy of supervision. Unfortunately, for some Admins, this creates an adversarial relationship with an Us/Them mentality and teachers become the problem. Those admins may no longer be comfortable with teachers and tend to lead from their office. You won’t find them in professional development workshops. Some will never enter the student cafeteria at lunchtime. Walking the halls is the lowest priority on a long list of important administrative duties.

A stable school culture is developed over time. To affect that culture in a positive way, any admin needs to spend time working on  needed change. The system however, often requires that admins move on, to move up. Aspiring admins are too often not around long enough to affect needed change leaving that to the next admin to come along. This also creates a void in teacher evaluations. Any continuing guidance an admin may be offering  a teacher in need of such structure, leaves with the admin. The new admin generally does not want to rock the boat or create enemies, so follow-through is usually tabled for the time being. That usually means, until there is a problem that is visible. Some refer to this as falling through the cracks. administrator mobility causes many, many cracks.

Leadership works best when there is a mutual respect between teachers and admins. It has been my observation that this works best when admins view themselves more as educators than supervisors. An educator who supports other educators in the goal of developing learners is a much more respectful way to lead than the Boss and Worker model. Support of teachers requires trusting teachers. That requires giving teachers power. The Power and control issue in any school creates that adversarial thing that always gets in the way.

The whole educational philosophy idea can really muck things up as well. At the extremes we have conservatives and progressives. The conservative approach to education much as in politics, harkens back to the tried and true methods of olde. The progressive philosophy calls on teaching the 21st Century skills and employing tech tools for learning. Of course the bulk of educators fall somewhere in the middle, again, much like politics. This is where professional Development and life-long learning come into play. Better learners make better teachers. Better learners also make better leaders. This can’t happen with once or twice a year workshop day for teachers. We need Leaders to offer constant PD and to lead the way by modeling their involvement.

There is an Irony here that I feel the need to point out. I do not expect too many comments from administrators objecting to my opinions here. Most of the administrators who would even be exposed to this post are the administrators looking to learn and reflect for a better way to lead. The unfortunate part about that is that, they represent only a small, but hopefully growing number. So, the people who I need to have read this post for the most benefit, will never see it. Maybe they would, if someone printed it out and walked it into their office.

To be better students, we need better teachers. To be better teachers, we need better leaders. To be better leaders, we need better methods. To get better methods, we need more involvement. To get more involvement, we need to be better learners. Ta Da! To be better Educators, we ALL need to be better learners.

In addition to all of this, we need to be better marketers of education. Marketing is the key to success. I once took a marketing course for educators at, of all places, Disneyworld, the Mecca of marketing. That was a valuable course for me. I learned the four important points for marketing education.

  1. Do a good job. 2. Do a good job. 3. Do a good job. 4. Tell everyone about it!

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This week we had a much energized #Edchat. #Edchat is an online discussion involving over 1,000 educators on a specific topic each week. This week’s Topic dealt with Professional Development being relevant for educators. This seems to be one subject that rivals in popularity the opposition to standardized, high-stakes testing. It seems that most educators have an opinion on PD. There are so many aspects of this subject that one post will not cover it all. It may however, be able to at least frame a discussion.

The best first change for Professional Development would be to rename it. PD has become a hot button issue amongst many educators. Since each district develops its own policy, there are some districts that do a fine job. Based on comments by many educators on social media sites however, these districts seem to be few, and far between. In addition to district mandates, there are also different PD requirements enforced by individual states.  Before the movement to change the name takes hold, let’s talk about PD as we know it today.

The most recent statements supported by Secretary Duncan tell us that a teacher with Master’s degree has little effect on students’ learning. Following this line of reasoning through, it would seem that the government would want our teachers to begin and end with a bachelor’s degree. Of course that would be a less expensive way to go, but the burden on PD would be that much greater in the future.

Demanding that any labor force spend time beyond that which is established by the job description requires that the employer pay the employee additional compensation. Since PD requires a time commitment in addition to an educator’s work week, this is what is done in most districts. Of course, if the school district is paying for additional hours, it has a right to make requirements for what it expects. Those requirements often become a point of contention.  This seems to create an “Us vs. Them” dynamic and the beginning of the PD problems.

Regardless of how far any educator travels in his or her academic career, information does not stop flowing when the degree is conferred. Although teachers are expected to be content experts, the content itself continues to develop and evolve. Of course that may not be as true for Math as other subjects, but most content for most academic areas continues to accumulate and evolve. Experts cannot be experts if they do not keep up with the evolving content. A writing teacher who knows nothing of blogging is a questionable expert. A social studies teacher without an understanding of social media can hardly explain the revolution taking place in the Middle East.

Aside from the continuing development in content areas, the methods used to teach and learn also continue to evolve. Methods are also affected by the culture of our society and that continues to change. The Huck Finn controversy certainly underscores this. The culture of the community, or the school itself, has an incredible effect on the school’s approach to learning. Sharing and reflecting on the ways we teach is the best way to change and evolve. The introduction of Social Media to PD gives it a new dimension. Ning sites creating collaborative learning communities; Twitter and Facebook connecting educators locally and globally; YouTube enabling creation of content to be shared and commented upon, are all influences of social media that affect culture.

With the rapid advancement of technology, the tools for learning are changing continually. Whatever tools teachers used in their methods classes in years past, would be hard pressed to be found today. Of course, Overheads and PowerPoint are still around. The concepts of Social networks, mobile learning devices, web 2.0, webinars, podcasts, blended learning, and cloud computing are new to all. They will have a huge impact on learning, but unless educators are up to speed, they will not have an effect in education. That is when education becomes irrelevant because our educators are technology illiterate.

Approaching PD as an extra item in a labor contract may not be the best approach. PD is something that should be part of the work week. It needs to be there in order to maintain relevance for all educators. It cannot be a one size fits all approach. Different educators have different needs. We insist on this for our students, why not for our educators.

The best hope we have for real reform may lie in reforming PD first. IT directors are tech content experts, and may not know what educators need to know in order to teach their respective subjects. Educators are content experts in their respective areas, and technology is not necessarily their strength. Educators need to learn what to ask, and IT managers need to learn how to answer to meet the needs of the educators. IT people seem to view many problems as insurmountable obstacles and are quick to deliver edicts and bans to stop the problems from occurring, rather than trying to solve the problem. IT staff are educators of educators. The same approach of guidance and patience to analyze and problem-solve should be employed by IT people when working with educators.

Administrators have a big role in PD as well. Too often when it comes to PD, administrators use the “do as I say, not as I do” method. They need to be a part of the PD as well. They are the leaders in education, and that requires that they must be out front. Being out front requires some idea of what is going on. Too often, too many administrators have no clue. If PD can lead education to reform our leaders must be there as well. Sitting in an office having IT directors develop PowerPoint presentations for board meetings does not make for cutting edge educational leadership. I know not all Administrators fall in this category, but what is an acceptable percentage of those who do?

If we want reform in education, we better start paying attention to how educators learn and teach to enable that learning. They are not yet teachers when they leave their college classrooms with a degree. Great teachers come from what they learn in their own classrooms as a teacher. They need guidance and support to maintain relevance in the ever-changing world for which they are preparing kids. To be better teachers and better leaders, we need to first be better learners. Without a thoughtful system in place to enable that, the results will be limited at best.

Instead of forcing a merit pay model in education, which will not work, let’s consider using that money differently. Why not use it to compensate teachers who are being successful with their methods and are willing to share their methods with colleagues. Teacher to teacher sharing is a great way to professionally develop teachers. It also supports innovation and excellence in learning. When asked how to reform education, we should consider reforming how we educate our educators, and our educational leaders. We need to reform Professional Development in order to reform education.

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I am growing tired of the call for the ouster of older teachers and the elevation of the younger. I am of the older generation (some might say very older) after a career in education spanning four decades. I was also a victim of budget cuts during that career losing my job at the end of every year for my first nine years in three school districts. After 34 years, I am no longer in Public education, but I am involved with Higher Education. My assignment is to train and observe Pre-service teachers, student teachers. In that role I get to travel from school to school and observe educators on all levels.

I teach and observe student teachers for a living. I know that my students have observed over 100 hours of lessons by teachers in the field prior to their becoming student teachers. Additionally, they must show mastery in a program of courses in both philosophy and methods in Education. This is all in addition to the courses required in their content area. By the time these students have an opportunity to stand as teachers in a classroom they will literally have hundreds of thousands of pieces of information floating through their heads, being arranged and rearranged depending on the situation in the classroom at any given point.

I remember reading an article in Time Magazine in the 60’s that rated the most stressful jobs in America based solely on the number of decisions that had to be made in the course of a day. I expected Air Traffic Controller, or Brain Surgeon to be at the top. I was pleasantly surprised to see my own occupation at the top of the list. It was very specific; an Eighth Grade English teacher was listed. That was me, and it was true.

Experience is the best teacher in life. When observing student teachers, I often note that the mistakes being made will be eliminated with teaching experience. So often these student teachers are pumping and processing so much information through their brains that it is amazing to me that they don’t crash at the end of every class. I guess that can be attributed to the energy of youth. As experience mounts up, the brain begins to file away and store those thousands of pieces of information which are repeated over and over each day, so that the teacher no longer needs to bounce that around in the brain. many things become an automatic response. This frees up the experienced teacher to focus more on more important decisions for motivating kids to learn. As a general rule, my personal measure is about ten years in teaching before I consider a teacher truly experienced. Of course any teacher with less than ten years experience will loudly disagree.

These experienced teachers are the foundation of each school’s culture. They become the mentors of the younger teachers. They are advisors to the administrators who often come and go in a never-ending cycle. They are connections to parents whose families have moved through the school over the years. They are the keepers of the keys. This is not how they are being portrayed by politicians and people with agendas for education. These experienced teachers are becoming targets. They are being demonized as the bad teachers, the burn-outs. The only hope, we are told, is the new youthful teachers entering the system. We are told that if cuts must be made, and they must, we need to base it on merit and cut the old, bad teachers, and keep the good, young teachers. We cannot consider any loyalty or obligation to any employee, even if they were loyal to the school district for years.

This has nothing to do with good or bad, young or old. It has everything to do with a political agenda. Older teachers are more experienced and better educated, making them more expensive. Younger teachers are eager to volunteer, less experienced, less credentialed and ultimately less expensive. You have to see where this is going. It is about the MONEY. Politicians want the ability to cut the least number of people with the most impact on the budget. There is little thought given to the educational impact. Having the ability to cut the older teachers is also the best way to push through other needed reforms like: Larger classes, elimination of collective bargaining, reduction of the arts, increasing the impact of high stakes testing, and fewer extracurricular activities. These may all be good for the budget, but not great for kids needing to be educated.

We should all be for maintaining good teachers and removing those who may not be making the mark. We have procedures in place to do this. (Please refer to an earlier post, Tenure’s Tenure ) What needs to be worked on is a program for Professional Development that enables every teacher the ability to stay relevant and knowledgeable about the tools and methods of their profession. It cannot be a voluntary or incentivized program, but an ongoing required program scheduled for all educators to participate. It must be a priority, if we are to improve the quality of education. This requires an investment in Education and not budget cuts and reductions in staff and services. We need an explanation as to why we give $40 billion in incentives to an Oil Industry that shows $100’s of Billions in profits every year while we are cutting back teachers and programs to educate the very people who we will need to call upon to lead us out of this mess.

 

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NBC should be commended for shining a light on what should be a national discussion on Education Reform. Expense was not spared to create more than just a venue for this examination of education. It was an atmosphere created from banners hanging from streetlights to a modern tent pavilion which encased the iconic skating rink in Rockefeller Plaza. All of this created an air of excitement and passion to finally gather educators in a public forum to clearly state what so desperately needed to be clearly stated in the pursuit for education reform. With all that sizzle, I could not wait for the steak.

The Town Hall style meeting began with a touching film about the experiences of a first year teacher. It was well received by the several hundred educators under the big tent. That was a great start with all the members of the tent in accord and reminiscing about their first days as a teacher. The next big question further solidified that feeling of solidarity. Do you feel that teachers are under attack? There seemed to be no one standing up and saying, “No, it ain’t so”. It was shortly after this that I viewed the big tent as more of a circus tent with three rings in the center and a different activity in each of the rings. There was no focus.

I understand the Town Hall meetings are for everyone to get up and say their piece, so I really should not be so critical. Maybe I should be critical of the selection of this format as not being the forum of choice to advance Education Reform. It seemed to me anything but productive in moving reform forward. If this were a class discussion, I would say that the teacher needed a better lesson plan. I don’t know if it could have been done in this format, but I wanted a moderator to summarize, focus, refocus and lead with facts and questions. There were some facts flashed on the big boards, but they were not addressed or reflected in the questions or answers from the participants.

One big objection I had with the entire discussion was the lack of definition. I always have problems with people addressing a problem without defining what the problem is. I bet if you asked a dozen of those educators, “what does a successful education look like?”, you would get a dozen variations. We easily point out all of the failure signs, but even the failure signs are determined by standardized tests and few educators agree on that as a valid assessment. One problem we can identify is that we as educators do not all agree on what a good education is let alone how to get there.

The other lack of definition was that of a “Bad Teacher”. The only thing clear as to what a bad teacher was, was the fact that anyone using that term did not include him/herself in that category.I sumized that a “Bad teacher was similar to the definition of pornography. “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it. It always gets ugly when teachers go after teachers. Why do we always find a need to FIRE the offenders? We are teachers. Do we fire our students who don’t get it or do we go back and continue with a different approach. Teachers are amongst the most educated people in this country. One would think that they are at least trainable. Is it possible that some of these “Bad Teachers “are victims of poor leadership and/or a lack of professional development? We are talking about people’s careers. They too had that first day in the classroom experience that we all reminisced in the opening movie.

Where the entire meeting seemed to be sidetracked was when someone brought up the topic of TENURE. As an educator of 40 years it was obvious to me that there is a huge disconnect on the part of young teachers as to what tenure is and why it is necessary. It was also obvious to me how naïve some of these young people are about thinking the only thing that would affect their maintaining a secure teaching position was the quality of their teaching. This subject also seemed, at least to me, to open a rift between Charter School educators and Public School Educators. I was getting a feeling that each felt threatened by the other. This was when I noticed that many of the audience members were wearing shirts identifying their schools. Of course my Hawaiian shirt did not give anyone an inkling as to who, or what I represented.

I came away from the Education Nation Town Hall Meeting more frustrated then when I went in. I understand that by a number of assessments our education system needs to make changes. I consider myself a reform advocate. The changes are many and it will require that we define things clearly and dispel any of the myths that people seem to hold onto from their education experience. Of course, with education the common experience of all citizens of this country with compulsory public education, everyone is an expert. There is no single answer to solve this problem. We can’t fire the Bad teachers and expect all will be right with the world. We also need to be truthful about agendas. Education Reform to many people is the code for “Lower my taxes”. Or fire the most expensive teachers. Or, let’s get in on the profits and make money with charter schools. Or, I need to get re-elected by jumping on the education bandwagon.

We need to make changes in the system, but they must be made by people who have an understanding of the problem. It can’t be left to town hall meetings. These meetings are useful in underscoring the concerns, but emotions tend to cloud the facts. We need educational leadership to step up and replace the business people and politicians who are stealing what should be our issue. We need educators on every level to be aware of not just their problems, but how they fit into the big picture. We need to take responsibility for our actions. We expect nothing less from our students. We need to model that which we teach. We need to be educated about our profession in order to guide the discussions to a positive outcome for reform.

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Industry: refers to the production of an economic good (either material or a service) within an economy.

Industry: a group of productive enterprises or organizations that produce or supply goods, services, or sources of income. In economics, industries are customarily classified as primary, secondary, and tertiary.

Although the words industry and education are often paired together, I have not seen the words combined within the definition of Industry in the few sources that I have considered. That is not to say that they do not appear together somewhere. However, either in the definition of “Industry”, or in a listing of the major classifications of industry, they do not seem to appear together.

I have seen, and heard, many references to the “education Industry” over lo these many years as an educator.  I understand that there are many industries tied into education, textbooks from the Publishing Industry, Hardware from the Computer Industry, busses from the Transportation Industry, educational applications from the Software Industry, and chairs and desks from the Furniture Industry. The use of so many industries within education does not necessarily make it an industry onto itself.

The concept of public Education is said to be based on the industrial model. It was formed and designed to provide industry with a source of educated people to fill the ranks of workers needed by industry for it to succeed. This goes back to observations of an earlier post. “The 3 R’s of Industry” https://tomwhitby.wordpress.com/2010/02/21/the-3-r’s-of-industry/

This is the background to my latest reflection about the need to change the culture to reform education. I again engaged this ongoing reflection after commenting on an educational Blog site. When the investors of the education industry look at what their industry is producing for their investment, what do they see? They, the taxpayers, are the stockholders and investors in this local industry, so they have a right to ask.

The question is easy, How much bang are we getting for our buck? The answer is more difficult, because we need to agree on what the buck is. If we think of education as an industry, we should be able to look at the end product and see the ROI, return on Investment. What is the widget that comes out after a 12 year production? This is easily defined by most industries. We simply look at the profit line. Money talks or somebody walks.The problem is that the Education Industry makes no money. there is no monetary profit. Without money as an indicator of success, what do we use?

This is where Education as an industry falls apart. We do not have agreement on what the product is without money as the measure. Is it how many kids graduate? Is it how many students passed standardized tests which assess knowledge of content? Is it based on how many students go on to college. Is it based on how many go on to be employed in a meaningful way? Is it based on how many become lifelong learners?Is it based on how many learning skills each can exhibit?

To further complicate it we need to evaluate: what skills are important; what facts are necessary; what do we place an emphasis on vocation, or higher education. The focus of these directions depends on whom you ask. Students, parents, teachers and politicians each have different expectations for the outcomes. This further confuses whether the investors are getting a return on their investment. If we cannot agree on a common measure for success we will never be able to satisfactorily answer the question.

Now we need to look at the management of the Education Industry. If education is not an industry, why would we run it like an industry? According to Dan Pink, research tells us that merit pay for teachers will not only be unsuccessful, it will be counter-productive. Further, which of  the criteria for success should be used to determine whether the entire staff of a district should be fired as punishment for failure. Do we ask: the Students, the parents, the teachers, the politicians? Does mass firing, in addition to being a punishment for failure, also serve as a great incentive to attract better teachers who will work harder to meet the goals of that district?

In my humble opinion we have to stop thinking of Education as an industry. We need to come to some agreement on what the outcome of a good education is. The outcome or the Profit is never going to be in monetary terms. Maybe each student needs develop an Individual Educational Plan with desired outcomes clearly stated and agreed upon by all parties. We can then assess every student’s progress and success as they proceed in a formative assessment and not when it is too late to change course. This would enable us to assess reflect an adjust individuals’ educations, which is our product. We would shift from report cards to IEP meetings. This, although a time-consuming alternative, could save time for students over a 12 year career in school. With successful results meeting times would be less, unless a program of more rigor is indicated to challenge those who need it.

This is a simple plan that only needs us to get the students, parents, teachers and politicians to agree to the change and agree on the outcomes. I guess that would be the part of the reform equation where we need to change the culture. It may take a few weeks.

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In the movie, On The Waterfront the main character, Terry, played by Marlon Brando had a discussion with his brother, Charlie, played by Rod Steiger. The discussion explained how the big brother talked the younger brother to ignore his beliefs in himself and take a dive in a fight. In trusting his older brother’s advice the younger brother asked, “what do I get? a one way ticket to palookaville You was my brother Charlie, you should’ve looked out for me …”. It is with that image of a discussion in the back of a mob-owned Limo that I will now make this post.

Teachers need assessments. We need to assess what students know, in order to determine what it is we need to teach. We need to assess how effective our teaching is with our students, so that we can move forward, change direction, or go back for a better take. In assessing the learning of our students we can be creative. We can use Tests, Rubrics, Projects, or Portfolios developed in accordance with those who are being assessed, the students. Assessments are both needed and useful tools to an educator.

Now let us look at standardized tests. I cannot address any specific test in any state because these standardized tests are not standard from state to state. We were told at the outset of this test movement, that tests were needed to make sure our education system was maintaining the same level of teaching and learning throughout the country. It would be more accurate to say that was my understanding. So, now we have several different tests, developed separately by various groups across the country, testing whether kids are all at least at minimal levels of learning achievement and calling it standardized.

We should consider how the Test results are applied. We know how teachers use assessments, so let us list the uses of the standardized test results by individuals other than teachers. Administrators use the results for many things. There is funding tied to test results. There is programming tied to test results. There are purchasing decisions tied to test results. Staffing and scheduling are also tied to test results.

Additional applications of the test results would be for political influence. School Board members always pull them out at election time. Superintendents use them at most public meetings. I do not know for sure, but I would imagine, that the test result numbers might be bandied about in contract negotiations with teacher unions. My favorite observation of all would be the use of these results in Real Estate offices. I imagine that some real estate agents have laminated sheets of good test results for districts in which they are trying to sell houses. If the houses are in districts with poor test results the subject will never be brought up.

Now there is talk of tying a teacher’s pay or even the teacher’s continuance in the career to be dependent on these test results. How can that be justified to teachers that have students who must take the test after only being with that teacher a short time. Maybe we could go back in the students academic history and also hold previous teachers responsible. It should be noted at this point that there are some subject areas that are not governed by standardized testing. Language courses, Elective courses, Physical Education courses, Tech and Business courses are among those not requiring standardized tests. How will these teachers be affected by the reliance on tests?  Is there a different standard for English, social studies, math and science teachers?

My thoughts now go to when is it that we are doing this testing. Formative testing is an as-you-go assessment. It allows the teacher to reflect and adjust. The Summative assessment is the culminating assessment. How successful was the teacher with the Big picture. In this respect standardized tests are best compared to an Autopsy. I would propose that we need more ongoing healthcare.

I try to teach my Methods students that if they do their job as they are trained and teach kids to be learners, that those kids will do well on any standardized test. They should never teach to the test. Their veteran colleagues however, often tell them the opposite. They tell them that the test is everything. We are judged by the test results of our students. To underscore and emphasize that statement, teaching for the test is not discouraged by administrators.

My quandary: What do I tell my students? Higher order thinking skills are paramount. Follow Bloom and teach through creativity, and assess creatively. Pay no attention to standardized tests, for if your students are learning it will show as success on the test. Am I being Charlie as my students are Terry. With the advice that I give them, will they ask…“what do I get? a one way ticket to palookaville You was my brother Charlie, you should’ve looked out for me …”.

I have no answers, or suggestions for change on this subject because I need more information. Therefore, I believe it is time to assess the assessment. We need to clearly understand our objective and use the assessment to determine if we are accomplishing it.We may need to find other ways to make political statements about education and other ways to sell real estate. Let’s use assessment to determine learning.

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